Embrace free markets in the Hill District

Embrace free markets in the Hill District

“To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge,” wrote legendary United Kingdom conservative Benjamin Disraeli in 1845. Pity that too few public policy makers have any knowledge of that axiom.

As the government’s search has begun in earnest to find a new grocer to replace the failed government-chosen grocer in the Hill District’s Centre Heldman Plaza, it’s painfully obvious that those involved haven’t even taken baby steps to such consciousness.

As the Post-Gazette reports it, the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh is taking the first steps to finding new tenants for the plaza. The URA repurchased the tract for $1.6 million last fall in the collapse of the Hill House Association.

One of the predictable casualties of this government-facilitated mess was the closing about a year ago of a heavily subsidized Shop ‘n Save. Government attempted to command the marketplace and – surprise, surprise – the effort failed.

And now, as if on cue, observers now are calling for more government intervention to cover up the lie of the first failed government intervention.

“It is likely that a grocery store at this time will need to be subsidized in some form or fashion given the risk component of following another failed grocer,” a prominent local commercial real estate magnate told the P-G.

Well, thank you, sir; may taxpayers have another?!

But, but, but, the same magnate virtually promises, development in and around the general area most assuredly will create demand for another subsidized scion of the publicly subsidized Shop ‘n Save:

“(T)he need for a grocery store in this area is becoming more apparent by the day,” he says.

Well, sir, if there’s such a “becoming … need” for a grocery store in this location – a location that another “expert” insists is “under served” — it should require no public subsidies, RIGHT?

Should not the expected pent-up demand for the store create wondrous profit potentials for the private owner?

There is a much better way to handle this matter. It’s called the free market. The URA should sell this property to the highest private bidder while accepting no bid lower than the property’s fair market value.

Then it should be up to that buyer, risking his own money in pursuit of profit — and with no public subsidies — to listen to the marketplace in order to ascertain the best use of that property, be it a privately run grocery store or some other enterprise or enterprises.

Another subsidized government intervention attempting to correct the failure of an initial subsidized government intervention is a tested recipe for one thing – yet another government-subsidized failure.

That governments and community leaders perennially partner to perpetuate such marketplace ignorance – lies, really — is anathema to sound public policy.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).