The Lesson, Version 2010

Who could have possibly found any long-lasting joy in the recent snowstorms that hit western Pennsylvania? Tree companies would certainly answer in the affirmative. In fact, several did in a news article this morning. Among the quotes: "It was just awesome the way everything happened this year, monetary-wise…This year because of the storm, it was a blessing. It’s really banged up here. Almost every yard has damage. We go from one property right to the next".

Sure, the snowstorm and resultant tree damage was like manna from heaven. Echoing themes laid out by economist Henry Hazlitt, we might even say "wow, how great for the tree companies, if not for the storm, how would they have made it through the winter?" But being able to look "not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of an act or policy" we have to realize that there are opportunity costs associated with the fallout from the storm.

For private citizens needing to pay for cleanup, the money spent is money that cannot be spent on other goods and services thus affecting the well-being of other businesses. The attention will be on the benefit to the tree companies, not the other businesses that will not get the benefit of a transaction.

This is likewise true in the public sector, as the article notes that the City and the County spent a combined $4.6 million on storm cleanup, with about 6 percent of that going toward tree removal. How do they intend to recover their costs? By seeking a reimbursement from the PA Emergency Management Agency. Numerous other communities will likewise do the same, and the money dedicated to reimbursement for this emergency will not be there for the next incident. For that the government will have to compel more sources of revenue, a power that private businesses do not have.

Does PA Have any Cities on a Hill?

Is there a conservative urban agenda? If so, what does it look like? Even more to the point, are there any cities in Pennsylvania exhibiting the traits if such an agenda existed?

A recent opinion piece in the Washington Examiner outlined "a conservative agenda for cities". Most of the components of the urban agenda of the last half of the 20th century did not work, as the author argued, or "Cleveland, Buffalo, and Detroit would all be booming".

The components ofa new strategy would include:

  • Crime-prevention oriented policing based on the New York City experience
  • Reform of public sector pensions toward 401k type plans and away from defined benefit plans
  • Private financing of infrastructure
  • A continued push for competition in public education from charter schools

One could see that there might be pieces of this strategy in some cities around the Commonwealth, but there likely is not any one municipality that encompasses them all. Of course, moving toward some of the reforms would have to come from Harrisburg, which could add revisions of binding arbitration and outlawing public sector strikes to help cultivate this agenda.