Vancouver's Communism

by Jeffry R. Fisher

In June 2002 I read a Vancouver City Flyer that described an awful lot of city projects that looked like commercial ventures. Since I'll someday be annexed or asked to foot the bill for these schemes, I wrote the mayor the following letter:

Mayor --

I have just read the City Flyer that came with my water bill. I had no idea that the city government built, owned, and operated so many commercial ventures! Apartments, condos, offices, retail shops, and soon, even a sports complex!

When did we become a command economy in which the government's central planners decide for all of us what to do with our money and physical resources? I am aghast, horrified at the degree to which city government has waded into realms that are absolutely, positively none of its business. (And don't whine about other cities doing it; as I would say to uppity children, other's errors are no excuse for yours).

Get this: If a project would be useful to someone who would buy it (or its products and services), then somebody will be able to attract private investors without any government intervention. If they have calculated correctly, they will be rewarded with a profit. All you have to do is avoid throwing roadblocks in their way and not begrudge them their profit for risks taken and a job well done.

This applies to all enterprises whose utility accrues to definite customers in a manner that can be easily metered and charged. That means that commercial real estate, housing units, and even your precious sports complex should be wholly private. Your only role should be to rubber stamp permits for plans that are neither fraudulent nor dangerous nor offensive.

If it appears that government participation is necessary for something, then either benefits would accrue to those not made to pay for them, or the government is already doing something that is inhibiting the project, or the project is not worth doing. Only the first case justifies government participation. In the second case, the government should stop obstructing, and in the third case, the project should be shelved until private investors are willing to risk losing their own money in the belief that they're right while others are wrong.

Government should not risk taxpayer's money in the belief that office holders are right while private investors are wrong. Take risks with your own money, not mine!

You should confine your designs to things like roads (usage not easily billed) and parks (value accrues to all property in the vicinity). Please read "Basic Economics" by Sowell to get clearer ideas of both what government should do and what it shouldn't.

This especially applies to the controversial special events center. If it's a good idea, then there should be no shortage of private capital. Let some private developers raise the money, take the risks, and then charge admission, fees, and rents to maybe make a profit. Government should only build the roads around it, taxing it fairly on its property value to offset the cost.

This way, the government never need worry about the profitability. If it sinks, the original investors will go bankrupt and be forced to sell at a loss to new owners who will then operate at a lower cost because they bought at a discount. The city can just go on collecting taxes, albeit at a lower rate. If the center is a runaway success generating extraordinary profits, then new investors will certainly appear to build a second one, cutting into the action and driving prices down, a benefit to consumers. And, the city goes on collecting even more property taxes.

This is the paradigm of free markets in a free country. Get used to it.

Copyright 2003-2008 by Jeffry R. Fisher: Permission is granted to reproduce this article in whole, but only in combination with attribution, the original title, the original URL, and this copyright notice.
Jeffry R. Fisher is the founder and president of Propagate Ltd, which is liberating digital content as