Arnold Kling  

Efficiency or Rent-Seeking?

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The Washington Post reports


[New Jersey Governor John] Corzine, who presided over mergers and acquisitions as chairman of Goldman Sachs, is telling hundreds of New Jersey's smallest towns and boroughs that they are too small to exist. Multiple layers of government are financially wasteful, he says, and the littlest towns and boroughs need to merge with their bigger neighbors to achieve economies of scale.

Corzine's incentive -- more like a hammer -- is a threatened cutoff of state aid. Under the governor's proposed budget, the state's 323 towns with populations of fewer than 10,000 people would face drastic cuts if they do not consolidate. Towns with populations between 5,000 and 10,000 people would see their aid sliced in half. Those with more than 10,000 would have their aid frozen at 2007 levels. And those such as Moonachie, with fewer than 5,000 people, would get zero state funding. Zilch.

The tone of the story is one of amusement at these quaint little jurisdictions. No attempt is made to ascertain the basis for Corzine's claim that they are inefficient.

To me, a small jurisdiction has the potential for real democracy. See my recent post on Charter communitiies.

I have no first-hand information, but I would bet that a lot of the push for Corzine's comes from public-sector labor unions. My guess is that they have a harder time overpowering voters in smaller jurisdictions. If my suspicions are correct, then this is not a drive for efficiency. It is rent-seeking hardball.

Pointer from Tyler Cowen.


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The author at Roth & Company, P.C. in a related article titled NARROWING IT DOWN writes:
    The Governor of New Jersey, in either a commendable drive for efficiency or a cynical sellout to public employee unions,... [Tracked on June 2, 2008 1:57 PM]
COMMENTS (26 to date)
spencer writes:

man, this is a classic example of the George Mason syndrome of thinking you know something you do not really know.

EZ writes:

This is absolutely incorrect. Unions have a much easier time bargaining with small local goverments than they do with larger ones. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is that larger local government have access to better negotiators.

scott clark writes:

Arnold said he had no first hand info. He just proposed a theory based on his personal experience and knowledge of history of state and local government action. If you have evidence that negates his theory, share it.

I don't think this is indicative of any kind of syndrome, except maybe the scientific one where you come up with a hypothesis about why something happens, then you or someone else goes out and tests it.

conchis writes:

"I don't think this is indicative of any kind of syndrome, except maybe the scientific one where you come up with a hypothesis about why something happens, then you or someone else goes out and tests it."

Adherence to the scientific method isn't a defense against the criticism of silly or biased hypotheses.

As Eliezer's recently been arguing extensively over at overcomingbias, its perfectly consistent with the above version of the scientific method to come up with an endless stream of stupid hypotheses that conform to one's political views, as long as you admit it if/when they're falsified. But that doesn't mean that they weren't stupid or biased hypotheses to begin with.

(Note also that I can make this argument without necessarily accepting that Arnold's hypothesis was stupid or biased. Though I do tend to think this particular hypothesis fell in the latter category, my point is that such arguments should be evaluated on their merits, rather than by calling "science foul!")

FWIW, Arnold gave little indication of any inclination toward empirical testing in this case either.

Matt writes:

http://www.americansforprosperity.org/index.php?id=1952&state=nj

try this link

A choice quote:

"My hometown of Bogota, with only 8,200 residents, has a per capita municipal cost of $741, compared with $2,039 in Newark and $1,183 in Teaneck, our larger neighbor."

The op ed article goes on to explain why small towns have such better schools at lower cost, how local government is more responsive with fewer dead weight losses.

The small town mayos in New Jersey are getting together to try and form a coalition against the big government "mob", and I do mean mob in New Jersey.

I am with Arnold on this, and the facts will come out in a few days about how much money is saved by operating on smaller scales in New Jersey.

We have gone through this so many times before, and inevitably the big state government, when they win these battles, ends up in poorer economic shape. In this case, the fate bureaucrats will lose because small town New Jersey is the only economic viable plan giving the fiscal criss affecting state government.

Another choice quote:

"The main reason that towns like Ridgewood, Allendale and Leonia have excellent schools is effective parental involvement. "

Parental involvement is the big money saver in education, and education unions discourage parental involvement.

Matt writes:

http://www.nwrel.org/scpd/sirs/10/c020.html

Another link and quote.


:The perceived limitations in the program that small high schools can deliver and their presumed high cost regularly have been cited as justifications for our steady march toward giantism. The research convincingly stamps both of these views as misconceptions (10)."

This is a survey of research on education and district size. Most of the research points to a U shaped cost effectiveness function. There is a district size that generates the best results, and it is not the big districts.

I could go on, but I know what I will find. Relatively small school districts where parents can participate without teacher unions regulating their involvement do much better.

Using the power of the state to force small towns to buckle under the pressure of the education union is obscene, and small town New Jersey should fight this all the way.

Jesse writes:

Your willingness to unabashedly submit a hypothesis is refreshing and it (usually) leads to good discussion. Pay no attention to your critics unless they can either point out evidence conflicting with your theory or provide a better one.

Anyways, I think that you're right - there does seem to be something fishy about what Gov. Corzine is doing. It's pretty ridiculous - imagine what the citizens of Connecticut and Rhode Island would do if President Bush told them they needed to merge or else.

Perhaps we're wrong, though. Maybe the citizens in these small towns do get more state aid per capita than the average New Jersian. If that's the case then cutting their funding to match up with everybody else seems fair. If they want more localized control they should pay for it themselves.

Who knows?

I'd like to see some data on state government outlays by city/town in New Jersey before making a judgement.

Matt writes:


Do we really want to look up research on this topic? Is it going to change anyone's opinion?

Looking at academia, I find. 1) Inefficiencies with larger government cabinets:

http://sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/31927/title/The_undeciders_

2(
http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1540-6040.2007.00240.x?cookieSet=1

We find that civic structure—citizen engagement in solving public problems—is positively and strongly associated with perceived quality of small town public services. Although many rural towns have entered into service agreements with other local governments, this approach is not significantly associated with citizen ratings of overall service quality.
Citizens seem to prefer their local government directly providing police services rather than entering into interlocal agreements.


3)

http://www.njslom.org/magart_0508_pg59.html

COMPARISON OF 2005 EFFECTIVE MUNICIPAL TAX RATES

*
Seventeen municipalities have NO municipal tax levy.
Sixteen of them have a population under 10,000.
The 17th has a population of 11,696.
*
Of the municipalities with the 50 lowest effective municipal tax rates, 46 (92 percent) have a population
less than 10,000.
*
Of the municipalities with the 200 lowest effective municipal tax rates, 136 (68 percent) have a population less than 10,000.
*
Of the 50 municipalities with the HIGHEST effective municipal tax rates, 28 (56 percent) have a population over 10,000.
*
EVERY municipality with a population above 100,000 has an effective municipal tax rate that exceeds the state median.
*
Small towns with a population below 10,000 represent 56 percent of New Jersey municipalities. These data are clear: Small towns have lower tax rates than their larger counterparts.


I could go on, but I think it is to no avail.

Small towns in New Jersey know they are being played by big aggregators and long time pension managers in the big cities, and they are simply not going to go along with this program.

John Maxwell writes:

Maybe the big municipalities should be broken up instead?

Jim Manzi writes:

I posted some data and analysis relevant to this question here:

http://theamericanscene.com/2008/06/02/corzine-to-mayberry-drop-dead

8 writes:

In my town's (pop. less than 10,000) finance committee, members argue with elected officials and ask questions about line items as small as a few hundred dollars. I don't know if NJ has a similar structure, but the principle is the same. Smaller budget with more eyes on it. And at the very least, you can chat with elected officials when you see them in the supermarket or at a Little League game.

Jack M. writes:

Seems like a radical step to save cash. Corzine's no financial dummy, so I would suspect that he might have a financial point.

However, Corzine is probably reacting to constituencies in making this proposal. The state needs to save money in the current economic climate. That means either taxing someone or cutting something.

No successful politician would attack his own voters, but go after those who voted against him, since they don't like him in the first place. Corzine is successful (U.S. Senator, now governor) at running for office.

There are thus 2 possible reasons I see for making this move:

1. Most likely, these small towns voted against Corzine. Larger cities probably voted for him. So punishing the small towns to save money is better for him than punishing the big towns.

2. Also, by combining cities, he might reduce the success gap (if any) between his constituencies in larger cities and those in small towns---for example, large school systems foster worse students, or having one very poor rural town dragging down the median income of a number of other successful towns combined. What is the result? Presto! He can then take credit for reducing the gaps in state education and median income, all with a simple bureaucratic shift.

Of course, he could also believe in what he is saying. But he's a politician; that's giving him too much credit.

Boonton writes:

"My hometown of Bogota, with only 8,200 residents, has a per capita municipal cost of $741, compared with $2,039 in Newark and $1,183 in Teaneck, our larger neighbor."

I'm uncertain about this approach as well but I'll note the following:

1. The comparision above needs to incorporate state aid into the municipal cost. Or better yet, remove state aid from both and see what the difference is.

2. I'm unsure about the benefits cited in the article.

* As a NJ resident I'm not sure it is 'easier' to get a marriage license or building permit in our 'quaint local towns'. I've noticed many local towns keep very odd hours...as in show up on Tuesday or Thursday 11am-3PM. This doesn't seem very efficient to me, on the county level I can at least reach people during normal business hours of 9-5. There's also fixed costs of keeping a building running to accomodate extreme part-timers.

* Likewise as in NJ you can't drive more than a few minutes without passing through several towns, townships or whatever. Each town has its own police force. Whenever I drive I imagine that means each town also must have its own police captain, assorted lower officers, fire chief, mayor, municiple judge and so on. That also means they must have their own traffic court with a judge. These come with huge pension costs and again in return we get the strange hours and buildings that are run only a fraction of the week.

How much 'local flavor' do we really need here? Somehow I don't feel each town having its own birth certificates, marriage licenses, and police force really is much of an opportunity for 'local control'. Perhaps taxpayers do want to have local control over schools and building codes to shape the character of their town but I really don't think so. One small town I live by made the newspapers because the council debated a resolution to prohibit the purchase of coffee for the few people who work in town hall....sponsored by a taxpayer 'advocate'.

Maybe the towns don't have to merge but I suspect there's a lot of savings and improved services that can be accomplished by having counties take over more basics....including law enforcement. Let the school systems remain & eliminate all the state aid and direct it to the county level and larger cities. If Bogota and the other small towns are really such a bargain then their taxpayers can vote to keep up the property taxes needed to keep their mini-city halls running.

Boonton writes:

8

In my town's (pop. less than 10,000) finance committee, members argue with elected officials and ask questions about line items as small as a few hundred dollars. I don't know if NJ has a similar structure, but the principle is the same. Smaller budget with more eyes on it. And at the very least, you can chat with elected officials when you see them in the supermarket or at a Little League game.

But it is a smaller budget with fewer eyes on it. I discover over and over again that the higher up the more information there is out there and the more people pay attention to it. On the county level everyone in the county and even beyond has an interest in probing the budget. In the small town the budget is only probed by the local crank who has the time to attend the meetings and nitpick over stupid things (in the case of Mt. Arlington...should the town provide the office workers with coffee which costs maybe $100 a year at most...this 'scrutiny' saves very little in the long run as it ignores much larger questions like "why are we running a whole building on land worth a million dollars that is only open for business 2 days a week?")

Troy Camplin writes:

Apparently Corzine hasn't heard of power laws. Of course, this is all part of the dictatorial drive inherent in people like him. They think they can and should override the very laws of nature. When you do, you get disaster. If he succeeds, I predict we'll get to see what a political collapse looks like. Either that, or it will result in what amounts to a political dictatorship within the U.S. -- which is really the same thing.

Dave writes:

Town A merges with Town B to form Town C. Town A's workers get paid more than town B. What do you think the wages of city workers in Town C will be? Obviously Town A's (unless you can convince government workers to take an unnecessary pay cut).

Boonton writes:

Law of nature? There's a law of nature that a little state put you in a different town every 5 minutes of driving? There's a law of nature to run dozens of municiple buildings staffed by people who work 4 hours a week?

You lost me there, I know there's a limit to economies of scale but there's also a limit to the benefits of smallness. Why not make every block its own town with police, fire and schools? Not for nothing cutting state aid hardly seems like dictatorship to me.

Town A merges with Town B to form Town C. Town A's workers get paid more than town B. What do you think the wages of city workers in Town C will be?

Well I saw this happen in one town, Mine Hill NJ. They got rid of their police dept. and used Wharton's, a neighboring town. What essentially happened was that instead of having like 5 officers we ended up with 4. Even for that modest savings, though, it was a tough fight. The 4 cops were allowed to keep their jobs but they were upset because in Wharton they had to start at the bottom instead of getting senority pay. Gone though was the police chief and the 'Emergancy Response' SUV...a dubious piece of equipment in a town that had no geographical spot more than 5 minutes drive from any other.

Troy Camplin writes:

It's not a benefit of smallness, whatever that may be. Power laws simply state that there are a lot of small entities, a middle sized number of middle sized entities, and a small number of large entities in any naturally-occurring system. Population distribution is a naturally-occurring system. Corzine is trying to do away with power law distributions of population by consolidating the small entities into medium-sized ones. It's the kind (though not identical to) of nonsense the Communists tried in the USSR and China. Further, our federalist democracy was quite wisely designed along power law structure. Again, Corzine is trying to completely undermine this system. How many times do liberals have to learn that you can't legislate away nature?

Boonton writes:

Troy,

What the hell are you talking about? Are businesses violating the 'power law' when they consolidate offices and close down units that see little business?

How is the current status quo in NJ the 'natural state'? Could, perhaps, the reason there's so many small units in NJ possibly be to rent seeking behavior? The 'police chief' of a town that is three square miles telling voters they won't be safe if the police department of the next town over (also 3 sq miles) handles all the policing (and, BTW, the 'chief' also needs an emergancy response SUV). Could this have perhaps inhibited what would have been a natural drive towards consolidation as NJ's population increased?

Note we are not so much talking about towns merging together as much as sharing services...something that already happens a lot in NJ. Mine Hill, for example, eventually did choose to have Wharton handle its policing. It has an elementary school but sends its kids to middle and HS in Dover and actually 'shops around' to a degree since there are several nearby towns with high schools it can consider using. It doesn't mean that all the small towns disappear and everyone in the state merges into some type of Borg cube.

There should be a serious discussion here about optimum size. Yes small units have benefits but if they didn't have drawbacks there would be no big units, right? Every block...every house would be its own town with its own mayor and council!

the kind (though not identical to) of nonsense the Communists tried in the USSR and China

yea ok, and the Nazi's also wore pants. If some liberal were to write something as stupid as that above the right would pounce all over him....yet a state cutting aid to small towns is equated to the USSR and China. Not only that, but a violation of the laws of nature! Perhaps you can let us know when you want to be taken seriously.

Troy Camplin writes:

Boonton,

I'm going to assume honest ignorance on your part regarding the way natural systems work rather than to assume that you are purposefully fostering ignorance to support anti-human, dictatorial policies. To that extent, I intend to take you seriously despite your obvious ignorance of how natural systems work.

A corporation is itself its own kind of system. It is also based on power law structures, which in the case of human social organization, includes the 150-member social rule. Any organization which intends to remain stable will have a hierarchical structure based on the rule that no social structure should get above about 150. This can be done by compartmentalization, subdivision, etc. as a corporation gets larger. A stable large corporation will be one where there is a hierarchy, with subdivisions reporting to larger divisions, etc. all the way up to the board of directors and CEO. Companies who do not take this into consideration collapse.

We wee this too in a natural economy. There are many, many small companies, and the larger the company size, the fewer the number of them, until we get to there being a very few megacorporations. We see this too with company longevity. Most companies only last a few years, a medium-sized number last a few decades, and a handful last a century or more.

Or let's look at an ecosystem. An ecosystem is made up of lots of small organisms, a medium-number of medium-sized organisms, and a handful of large organisms. Or let's take a look at an organism. We are made up of a hierarchy which includes the organism at the upper end of size, the organs, which are more in number, the tissues, which are more in number than the organs, and the cells, which are more in number still. We can continue down, with there being even more chemicals, which are made of even more atoms. The smaller the entities, the more of them they are in a system.

So let us return to population distribution. Populations have been shown to naturally distribute themselves in a power law fashion. Lots of small towns, etc. China tried to violate this fact in the "Great Leap Forward," a population redistribution scheme which resulted in famine. You don't violate nature lightly.

Of course, Corzine isn't proposing to directly redistribute population, only to eliminate the smallest elements in the natural system by consolidating those elements. This would be a lot like government consolidating small businesses into medium-sized businesses because someone decided that small businesses were less efficient than medium-sized businesses. Indeed, when a country does this, it is typically called fascist. When Corzine does it with town governments, it's called Democratic politics. We know that doing this sort of thing has devastating effects on the economy. We should not be surprised when we see that violating nature yet again has negative effects. Corzine is the Lysenko of democracy.

Boonton writes:

Troy,

You are almost too pompous for words. In essence you've simply repeated your initial assertion which boils down to "it is a law of nature for NJ to have such an exceptional number of tiny towns and municipalities".

You simply assume the status quo in NJ is 'natural' while ignoring the question of whether NJ has an artificial number of towns because of rent seeking local politicians who resist consolidation because it limits their power, influence and access to money. (Again, one police dept. serving 3 towns has one chief...3 departments gets 3 chiefs). If you were as intelligent as you like to pretend you would look at this possibility...especially since the ancedotal evidence seems to indicate that not only does NJ have a lot of small units but an exceptional number compared to other states.

Considering that it is just as likely that right now NJ is in an 'unnatural' state and its fiscal problems are an indication that its system has set up barriers to the normal consolidation that would have otherwise been the 'natural' act in more healthy states.

Your characterization of Corzine is likewise wacky. Corzine is talking about eliminating state aid for certain towns that are very small. If these towns are so 'naturally' able to be more efficient than bigger entities then they will choose to remain independent and asorb the aid cuts themselves. It isn't like even if Corzine gets his way totally (and he won't because those who stand to lose will fight harder when more is at risk), it isn't like NJ won't have small towns after the dust settles. This is hardly chairman Mao declaring that millions of people must be asorbed into a massive collective.

Boonton writes:

Of course, Corzine isn't proposing to directly redistribute population, only to eliminate the smallest elements in the natural system by consolidating those elements. This would be a lot like government consolidating small businesses into medium-sized businesses because someone decided that small businesses were less efficient than medium-sized businesses.

Several decades ago the US had a huge number of banks. This was mostly due to banking regulations that made it very hard for any one bank to have branches in multiple states. As those regulations were dropped large and medium sized banks started buying up smaller banks to create large banking chains. There are still small banks in the US with only a few branches but not as many as there was several decades ago.

A 'natural' distribution here is hardly natural. There's never been a purely free market anywhere on earth. There are many gov't incentives to stay small (like the old banking regulations) as well as incentives to be big (such as special tax deductions, legal protections etc.). Therefore you can never begin with an assumption that the status quo represents a 'pure natural' state of affairs and intervention can only make things worse. The status quo might very well represent an imbalance towards one end of the scale (either too small or too big) and a shift in policy might make things better.

Needless to say, though, we aren't even talking about markets here but governments. A small town government does not face competition from bigger governments the way a small town bank competes with a big mega-branch bank. It is not very easy for towns to dissolve themselves and merge with other towns or larger county government. Even when such moves would make economic sense, there's usually a lot of institutional pressure against it. I return to my childhood example of Mine Hill and its decision to let Wharton handle its policing. Those who had an interest against it had plenty of incentive to put up a huge fight. The taxpayers in whose interest it was for had only a modest incentive to fight for it. Pretend for a moment it made sense for Mine Hill not only to give Wharton the job of policing but to just merge entirely. Do you think Mine Hill's mayor is going to be vote and advocate himself out of a job? Maybe his opposition would be countered by the support of Wharton's mayor but Wharton's mayor has no vote and no authority in Mine Hill, plus if Mine Hill has a popular mayor then Wharton's mayor might view him as a political threat in a merged Mine Hill - Wharton megatown.

Unlike the banking market, the citizens of either town have few options. A Wharton resident can open an account at a megabank or a small bank...he can even bank in a different town. He cannot buy his town services from anywhere. Yes he can move to Mine Hill but if a 'megatown' combination of Mine Hill and Wharton makes the most economic sense he cannot achieve it simply by moving.

This being the case I don't disagree with you that in a 'natural' system there will be a combination of small, medium and large units. Where you have gone off the deep end is by assuming any combination you happen upon is 'natural' and therefore perfect. In reality I see many theoretical reasons why NJ's system might be biased against 'natural' consolidation and therefore its huge number of small units is artificial, unnatural and unhealthy for taxpayers.

The only argument I've seen against this idea is ancedotal....itty bitty Bogota does better than larger Teaneck or huge Newark. So what? Maybe Bogota is optimal but that hardly means vindicates all the hundreds of other units in NJ. If Corzine was really seeking to steamroll the entire state into units no smaller than Newark you'd have a point.

Troy Camplin writes:

How is it that quoting facts is arrogant? I've noticed that name-calling starts when the facts become inconvenient to what you want to believe. Here's an example of power laws with city population. Power laws state that the second largest will be half the size of the largest, the third largest will be a third the size of the largest, etc. Indeed, with NYC at 8.2 million, we see #2 L.A. at about 4 million, number 3 Chicago at about 2.8 million, #4 Houston at about 2 million, etc. on down the line. Further, We begin to see groupings. There are 1 each of 1-7, but 2 at 1/8 NYC population, 2 at 1/9 NYC population, 3 at 1/10 NYC pop., 4 at 1/11th NYC pop., 5 at 1/12 NYC pop, etc. In fact, we start to see a small grouping of large, and a slightly larger grouping of medium-large cities. This is true as you continue doing the calculations.

These cities all grew naturally. Some art geographically constrained, while others (like Dallas) are not. Some are constrained, like Dallas, by the fact that they are surrounded by suburbs. Growth occurs by regular expansion and also by absorbing other communities (though that is rarer). If I assume that you are right that small towns have resisted absorption in the past, so what? That doesn't affect the natural distribution of population in NJ. Population distribution doesn't reflect perfection, but rather peoples' choices. Corzine is rather arrogantly trying to take away peoples' choices. Some people want to live in small towns with small local governments; others want whatever benefits may come with living in larger political entities. Who are you to decide that they shouldn't have those choices? Who is Corzine, for that matter? Corzine is acting like a petty dictator, and no matter how much lipstick you try to slap on that pig, it's still a pig.

I'll need more than anecdotal evidence to prove that NJ has more small towns than would be predicted by power law distributions.

Boonton writes:

Troy,

You've quoted no facts at all that are relevant. Corzine isn't proposing that Houston be merged with Chicago in order to have no small cities. He is proposing that consolidation and service sharing be used more to save money.

You assert that NJ has an exceptional number of small units because of 'choice' yet you present nothing to back that up. You ignore the real possibility that NJ's condition may be due less to voter choice and more to rent seeking by the political system.

Let's also be clear about something, most people in NJ do not live in 'small towns' as that term might be understood in the rest of the US. Many people in NJ live in 'small units'. You can drive five minutes at 50 miles an hour and cross over several town boundaries. These towns are 'small' but the area as a whole is geographically dense.

This is a bit over the top but imagine in NYC if each building declared itself a 'village'. People would still consider themselves to be living in a big city even though their political units might appear to be more like a quaint country village. Imagine if this new policy was in place for a while. People would start to notice that it is kind of silly for each building to be holding elections for mayor and staffing its own police force.

Even with Corzine's plan NJ would still have rural areas and areas that are less city and more country. It would still have small towns/political units. I'm not certain how much money Corzine's plan would save but I've seen nothing to support your hysterical comparisions to Mao, Hitler, Stalin nor you strange assertion that the status quo in NJ represents some type of natural law that we must obey least we court diaster.

So all of New Jersey is urban or suburban? Get real. And, yes, it is all about peoples' choices. I live in Richardson, TX, a suburb of Dallas. You would never know that you moved from Dallas to Richardson to Plato to Frisco if you weren't from here. That being the case, should we just consolidate into Dallas? Wouldn't that be more "efficient"? Then we could have one giant megalopolis with one mayor. Heck, why don't we just consolidate all the city and county governments into the state government. Wouldn't that be even more efficient? And you wouldn't have all these people out there trying to get power by becoming mayors and city council members. In fact, wouldn't it be even more efficient if we just had a governor ruling the whole lot of us in each state, without all those troublesome legislatures getting in the way? We're talking about efficiency here.

Now I'm sure you will just completely disregard my examples as being "hysterical" or some such, because you've already made up your mind that Corzine can do no wrong nor make a wrong decision. WIth no evidence to counteract my evidence (which any rational human being would understand as an example with application to the specific situation of NJ), you continue making unsubstantiated claims based on nothing whatsoever other than your deification of Corzine's opinion. Go ahead and continue to deny dictatorial behavior all you want. But don't come crying to me or anyone else when you find yourself in a rotten situation because you failed to recognize the will to dictatorship when you had it pointed out to you.

Corzine's efficiency is exactly like Soviet efficiency programs -- and it will have the same result. Political consolidation is one of the first steps toward dictatorship, and Corzine is doing what he can to make NJ as much of his own little dictatorship as he can by making this move . And you are supporting him doing it. So go ahead and support a petty-dictator-wannabe. I plan to oppose people like him -- and you -- when possible.

Boonton writes:

Troy,

I apologize for my comments being a heated but I find this discussion very frustrating because I feel we are talking past each other. For example:

So all of New Jersey is urban or suburban?

and

And, yes, it is all about peoples' choices. I live in Richardson, TX, a suburb of Dallas. You would never know that you moved from Dallas to Richardson to Plato to Frisco if you weren't from here. That being the case, should we just consolidate into Dallas? Wouldn't that be more "efficient"?

I am not saying nor is anyone else saying that all small towns should be merged into larger ones. I have no idea about Richardson TX. Maybe it should be merged into Dallas or maybe it shouldn't. I think what we can agree on is that sometimes merging makes sense and sometimes it doesn't. If we didn't agree that was the case then everything would either be one single huge city or millions of tiny towns.

Given that sometimes merging makes sense it is sensible to note that a policy can go too far in either direction. You can merge too much but you can also merge too little. Since the structure of government is NOT like an efficient market there is every reason to think that the distribution of gov't in a state may not be the best.

I'm being very conservative here. I don't presume to speak for where you live, I don't even presume to speak for all of NJ or any of NJ except me. I don't know which towns should merge or just consolidate services in NJ but I have good reason to suspect that NJ's local political systems are not perfect, are not without any rent seeking. I find it highly doubtful that NJ's exceptional number of municipalities represents its optimally natural level that just happens to be exceptional compared to other states.

Heck, why don't we just consolidate all the city and county governments into the state government. Wouldn't that be even more efficient? And you wouldn't have all these people out there trying to get power by becoming mayors and city council members. In fact, wouldn't it be even more efficient if we just had a governor ruling the whole lot of us in each state, without all those troublesome legislatures getting in the way? We're talking about efficiency here.

I could just as well ask you why not have each individual house become its own town with its owner as mayor? Wouldn't the represent the ultimate 'choice' for everyone? Clearly the best solution is a mix of large and small political units. All I'm saying is that, for reasons already given, I think NJ's mix is unbalanced. No one, neither Corzine or I, is saying the solution is to make the mix nothing but big units.

Now I'm sure you will just completely disregard my examples as being "hysterical" or some such, because you've already made up your mind that Corzine can do no wrong nor make a wrong decision. WIth no evidence to counteract my evidence ....

Evidence? Troy you haven't provided any evidence. You've given us a theoretical reason for why a mix of large and small units makes sense. No one is disagreeing with that. AS for your examples being hysterical, do you honestly feel it is sensible to use Hitler, Stalin and Mao as examples when talking about a modest change in municiple planning?


These cities all grew naturally. Some art geographically constrained, while others (like Dallas) are not. Some are constrained, like Dallas, by the fact that they are surrounded by suburbs. Growth occurs by regular expansion and also by absorbing other communities (though that is rarer). If I assume that you are right that small towns have resisted absorption in the past, so what? That doesn't affect the natural distribution of population in NJ. Population distribution doesn't reflect perfection, but rather peoples' choices. Corzine is rather arrogantly trying to take away peoples' choices. Some people want to live in small towns with small local governments; others want whatever benefits may come with living in larger political entities.

You are right that Corzine is not changing the distribution of NJ's population. Unlike Stalin, Mao or Hitler he is not ordering farmers in the country to be forced into big cities or vice versa. But the dynamic you describe above illustrates why you are wrong. Towns get bigger or smaller as a result of people's choices. Sometimes towns will attract a lot of people and they will grow into cities. Other times they will stagnate and decline. In a world with no friction the political boundaries would be just as dynamic as population changes.

But political boundaries are not as subject to market rules. Consider a city that is declining like Detroit. Perhaps at some point it becomes sensible for the city to simply divide along neighborhood lines into smaller townships. There will be a lot of political resistance to this because such a change would require local politicians to give up power. Likewise there are entrenched political interests that would resist a merger even when it makes sense.

In order to believe that NJ with its exceptional number of small municipalities is an optimal expression of people's natural desiers one has to believe that NJ's political system almost perfectly balances the interests of those who have to gain with those who have something to lose from sensible consolidation. As a NJ resident, I have to say that holding such a belief requires a tremendous amount of faith that I cannot think is plausible.

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