“It’s not easy to steal where the slumlord is a thief.”
- Irish Proverb
This past Wednesday I had a brief conversation with a young man at Emporia State University. He began our dialogue by telling me that my position on enforcing city livability codes was all wrong. “Let the market fix that problem,” he said. Government should have nothing to do with it. If people living in those circumstances work hard they’ll overcome their problems. I’ve worked hard to get where I am in life, and so can they.”
When I hear statements like that I become firmer in my conviction that denial is no longer an option for Emporia, Kansas
The implication of his statement was that my position against this city’s slum lords is tantamount to being against free market capitalism. Nothing could be further from the truth!
While my education was in communications, linguistics, and theology, I’ve also read the works of some great economists. I’ve read Adam Smith, F.A. Hayek, Daniel Pipes, Thomas Sowell, and, most recently, Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto. I’m a passionate advocate for free market capitalism. Like Hayek, I believe that the surest way to serfdom and economic slavery is socialism.
So, does my advocacy of free market capitalism mean that I also believe that government has no role to play in this complex economic dance? No! The city of Emporia has a right and an obligation to act. In fact, the city’s laissez-faire attitude on slum lords has produced the unseemly status quo we now have. The slum lords profit at the expense of Emporians living on the economic margins, the renters live in squalor, and the rest of us pay in high taxes. That’s not 21st century capitalism. It’s the laissez-faire capitalism that gave the world the great depression in the 1920’s. It’s the laissez-faire capitalism that cost millions of Irish lives during the Great Potato Famine of the nineteenth century. It’s the kind of laissez-faire capitalism that condoned slavery in America because of the economic benefits slave owners reaped at the expense of another human being bound in chains.
None of the economists I’ve read have ever suggested that government has no role to play in the economics and sociology of our nation or its states and local municipalities. None has ever suggested that government doesn’t have a role to play when an economy is in free fall. None has ever suggested that an economic policy of benign neglect in the face of millions of needless deaths is sound. None has ever suggested we return to involuntary servitude because of its economic benefits.
This is what free market economist F.A. Hayek said in 1944 about the false choice laissez-faire advocates present:
“The question whether the state should or should not “act” or “interfere” poses an altogether false alternative, and the term “laissez-faire” is a highly ambiguous and misleading description of the principles on which liberal economic policy is based.”
There are times when government has a responsibility to act and one of the tools at its disposal is policy. That’s what livability codes here in Emporia are supposed to be about. If enforced, they don’t inhibit fair, free enterprise. They address a problem.
At the root here in Emporia we have a human problem. Look at the photograph I used in my introduction and ask yourself whether or not you’d live in something like that. Ask yourself whether or not you’d want someone to intervene on your behalf if you were living in such conditions.
Sometimes it’s not enough to simply say “Work your way out of your situation.” There are times when the leverage of public policy is required so that the long trek up the rungs of our economic ladder can begin. The situation with slum lords here in Emporia, Kansas is one of them. The city must act, and if I’m elected to the commission I intend to do my part in that regard!