Conversations about government and the real world

Periodically, something lights fuses connected to the flammable brains of a small group of local activists who blast off with irrational rants against the Titan American cement company planning to operate a plant north of Wilmington (this has been going on for several years). Editorialists at the Wilmington StarNews often add fuel to the fray and sometimes wander into intellectual subjects for which they seem ill-prepared.

The latest spark, a public gaff by Woody White, chairman of New Hanover County Board of Commissioners, resulted in anti-Titan people sending a flurry of letters-to-the- editor. Mr. White had the audacity to suggest that unnamed conversationalists shut up about Titan because it distracted “a broader conversation about” planning for growth in this area.

Editors weigh in saying the proposed cement plant is a “divisive issue” that has been “hotly debated” (that they have helped create). Further, they cite this as an example of why “it pays to update land-use plans”—the cement site is zoned for “heavy industry.” Editors call cement manufacturing a “dirty” business that, apparently, now has no place where once it flourished. Government land use plans are fickle. They change with political winds—and reality.(link)

Further, the practice of “zoning” creates dissension—as well as confusion and negative consequences. This happens because government interferes with normal markets: the business of private parties making decisions about uses of land and contracting for mutual benefits. Central planning bureaucrats hatching up maps that identify a scheme of arbitrary and shifting uses can’t keep up. Mostly they tinker with rules and regulations and work to justify their jobs.

In addition to the high direct cost of planning staff to taxpayers (about a year ago Wilmington had 43 people the Development Services department), bureaucratic meddling (a.k.a. coercion) imposes unnecessary indirect costs on consumers and restricts choices for those who value that freedom. Recently, some county officials, supported by anti-development activists, proposed “special-use permits” to inflict additional burdens on land developers (cement companies in particular) and their customers.

Finally, in their view of “The big picture,” editors suggest a “broad discussion about a vision for New Hanover County 20, 30 or 50 years down the road.” In my opinion, this is laughably foolish. Nobody, nor several nobodies, can see into the future and predict what will happen; although what Thomas Sowell calls the “elite intelligentsia” presumes they can.

Dr. Sowell in his 1995 book, “The Vision of the Anointed,” writes that the “self-anointed elite” including many in academia, the media and politics perpetuate social visions that come “dangerously close” to sealing themselves off from reality.

To that point, editors believe that identifying the line between protecting public health and overregulating “can only be answered correctly if city and county officials open the discussion to the entire community.” Talk and act on the “best ideas,” they say. That’s ridiculous.

This would result in chaos. Each individual thinks of his best interests; no one has an idea that satisfies everyone. In this republic, that’s why we elect representatives: to manage limited government that should protect our lives, liberty and property—and freedom to pursue our individual “Happiness”—not to set rules used to direct how and where we should live and work.

A “community” is a euphemistic illusion that helps statists avoid reality and politicians to serve interest groups. Communities don’t make decisions; individuals make decisions. Further, people can’t decide to act based on conditions expected generations from now. We have no crystal balls that give visions into the future. It never turns out the way we imagine. That’s not the real world.

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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