I thank Howard Ahmanson for his bold developmentof my arguments in "SuburbanSecession" (Local Liberty, #1). I had addressedthe failed San Fernando Valley secession measurein light of the theoretical debate that hasraged in the academy over the proper structureof local government. That debate has largelybeen between liberal public administrationtypes who favor super-sized regional governmentsand conservatives of one stripe oranother who favor a more decentralizedapproach.
The liberal mega-governmentvision—what one might call theConsolidationist perspective—is derived fromProgressivist notions of a pure politics, run byadministrators, devoid of the messy and noisyinstitutions of democracy.The core of the Progressive vision is thatthe problems of government are not inherentto human nature.They are simply the result ofan absence of proper organization and leadershipby those educated in the modern university,preferably in the social sciences.The conservativeview, or what passes for it, can becalled the public choice perspective.This view,overwhelmingly in the minority among elitereceived opinion, sees a healthy local governmentstructure as one that is allowed free reignto take on many forms, break apart, or maintainthe status quo according to local necessityor choice; let cities behave like firms whosearch for customers (residents).In his reply,Mr.Ahmanson gives a detailedcritique of the Public Choice position.Although more critical of the Consolidationistperspective,Mr.Ahmanson holds deep reservationsabout a situation where local governments"in pursuit of capitalistic goals...begin tobehave like the mercantilistic kingdoms ofEurope." Furthermore, Mr. Ahmanson arguesthat public choice itself is no panacea for theonrushing juggernaut of the administrativestate. The people could reject freedom: "Thevote to prohibit San Fernando Valley secessionwas, then, not a rejection of Public Choice, butan expression of it." Finally, Mr. Ahmansonreiterates the basic point that cities should beallowed a great deal of freedom to organizetheir affairs as they see fit. However, he adds adaring suggestion of his own that counties begranted stronger powers in order to preventthe chaos brought on by LULUs andNIMBYs.I find very little that is objectionable inMr. Ahmanson's response. First, I agree withMr. Ahmanson's assessment of public choicetheory as insufficient because it is focused toomuch on economic matters instead of politicalones. In the original article, I argued that,"Public Choice theorists play into the hands ofthe Consolidationists by using the same vocabulary.Perhaps future arguments could movebeyond the vocabulary of the public costaccountants and more towards questions ofjustice, the principled reason for the desire forhuman freedom."Second, I concur with Mr. Ahmanson'srecognition that public choice qua choice isinsufficient, because people can choose tyranny.In my original piece I make it clear that suchchoice is vindicated in the end by an attachmentto firm principles grounded in humannature:"What drives the Public Choice modelis not consumer activity but, more fundamentally,human equality in light of what ThomasJefferson in the Declaration of Independencecalled the 'laws of Nature and of nature'sGod.'" Third, I would not object to thecreation of stronger counties as long as thegovernment of these counties would be politicaland not administrative.The form is not asimportant as the substance. The questions ofcounty government—where to put an airport,landfill, or nuclear plant—should be placedclearly in the hands of the political branches ofgovernment instead of administrative bodieswhose decisions are made in camera obscura.Let the questions of government truly bepublic. Let those who make the choices trulybe held accountable. Let political questions riseto the surface where the agitation of controversycan breathe new life into the depletedsoil of local liberty. Certainly, this is a vision ofpublic choice upon which we can all agree.* * *Brian Janiskee teaches political science atCalifornia State University, San Bernardino.With Ken Masugi he is co-author ofDemocracy in California and co-editor ofThe California Republic.