Sandy Springs Eternal


Over at Out of Control, the Reason Foundation's policy blog, Geoff Segal has replied to my article on Sandy Springs, the newly independent Georgia suburb that is delivering nearly all its services via private contractors. He makes a good point when he notes that the new government isn't taking on any new functions, and therefore isn't an ideal specimen of the pitfalls of the contract model of privatization. (Indeed, the hypothetical example I offered of a private monopoly—trash collection—is a basically free market in Fulton County, and the new town doesn't plan to change that.) He also acknowledges that the city is still involved in areas even a moderate libertarian would consider objectionable, but suggests that "at least under the contractual arrangement they're doing it for much less."

I'm less sympathetic to his argument that "Sandy Springs is simply enforcing the codes and laws on the books." For one thing, where the local "adult" industry is concerned, they're adding new regs as well as reviving old ones. More importantly: If the old rules were essentially a dead letter, why revive them now? Where genuine nuisances are concerned—fire hazards, pest magnets—I can appreciate the neighbors' frustrations. (Believe me, I can appreciate them. I live in the Rat Capital of the United States.) But where it's just a matter of not wanting to see an old car or a shaggy lawn, we've moved beyond the realm of harmful spillover effects and into the area of minding other people's business.

To reiterate my article's conclusion, it's probably best to regard Sandy Springs not as an example of full-fledged privatization but as an experiment in decentralization. I can defend it, and the other incorporations that might follow, on federalist grounds. But that doesn't mean I'm going to defend everything the new governments do.

Further reading:

* Geoff's original article on Sandy Springs is here.

* I stuck up for another wave of incorporations here.

* I wrote about the benefits and perils of another brand of devolution here.

* Robert Nelson deals with many relevant issues in his excellent new book, Private Neighborhoods and the Transformation of Local Government. Buy a copy today!