It is safe to say economist Randal O'Toole is an expert in many of the things that have caused Pittsburgh and other cities great pain -- government planning, government mass-transit systems and government attempts to shape or contain the redevelopment of cities. A senior fellow at the Cato Institute, he specializes in urban growth, public land and transportation issues. His daily blog is called The Antiplanner (ti.org/antiplanner) and his new book is "The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future." I talked to O'Toole Thursday, Nov. 1, by telephone from his home in Bandon, Ore.
Q: Can you give us a quick synopsis of “The Best-Laid Plans”?
A: Well, I’ve often heard people say, “I’m not against planning, I’m just against bad government planning.” After 30 years of looking at government plans -- forest plans, park plans, transportation plans, city plans, state plans, all kinds of plans -- I’ve realized all government planning is bad. Government planning -- that is to say, comprehensive, long-range planning that often tries to plan and control other people’s land and resources -- always does more harm than good because the planners don’t have an incentive to make sure that their plans are the right plans. Cities, forests and so on are just too complicated to plan, so they oversimplify, and since they don’t pay the costs of their mistakes, they don’t have an incentive to try to get it right.
Q: Who did you write the book for?
A: The book is aimed at people who are annoyed with planning but haven’t thought about what to do instead. I’m arguing that we need to stop planning. We need to repeal planning laws. Congress and the states should stop passing new planning laws. Cities should shut down planning departments and do other things instead that will actually solve the problems planning is intended to solve but too often makes worse.
Q: If you had to single out which kind of planning was most harmful, what would it be?