Less Government, Please

Mar 8, 2016 | Uncategorized

At a meeting this morning of the Chamber’s Red Carpet Committee I was asked what can be done about the issues of stagnant wages and unaffordable housing.

It’s a bit like being asked to tell the history of the world in a paragraph! Immensely hard to do, but possible.

The real short answer is that both issues would benefit from less local government bureaucracy. So, I want credit for answering a difficult question with one sentence! The longer answer could be much, much longer. I’ll spare us both from that but will add some clarification.

A number of trends and factors combine to make these complicated issues to ‘fix.’

First, by historic standards, the national economy has under-performed since the early 2000s. Expert opinion varies on this, but I attribute it to a couple of things: Internet-enabled global competition and unhelpful national government policies. The first means that local labor markets are subject to international competition like never before. Said another way, all of us are competing for work with workers around the globe, which has a damping effect on wages.

Locally, we lost a lot of jobs during the so-called ‘Great Recession.’ The good news is that we have replaced them. The bad news is that on average they pay less.

What can we do about any of this, you may ask? Compete harder for good-paying primary jobs. For the City of Fort Collins that means cutting the time it takes to get a decision made in half. Instead, the City makes matters even worse by adding more regulations and positions like a – I’m not making this up – Climate Economy Advisor.

Another interesting trend is population growth. In 15 years the population of Fort Collins will be 214,000, up from 161,000 today. To support a population of that size, the labor force will have to grow by 34,000 jobs.

Then toss in the glaringly obvious fact that almost all of the Baby Boomers will be out of the workforce.

Taken together, we need to focus public policy and resources on creating good-paying jobs and recruiting and developing a talented workforce.

The ‘affordable housing’ issue is a mostly self-inflicted. Keep that in mind as you hear government bureaucrats and politicians wringing their hands over ‘rising costs’ and ‘unaffordability.’ In fact, we are reaping exactly what we have sown from policies enacted over the past 30+ years. Remove thousands of acres of land from private ownership, outlaw rental arrangements that worked well for decades and impose hundreds of regulations on development and construction, and, of course, costs are going to go up!

I foresee a time when the City of Fort Collins will be forced to offer residential development incentives to developers to build in the city.

Our economic prosperity as a community, our individual and family prosperity and community affordability are all tied together, which is complicated. So, back to my original answer: less local government bureaucracy, please.