Thursday, May 05, 2011

Regional government or home rule?

Why can't Los Angeles be more like New York?  This is not something that Rex Harrison sings in My Fair Lady, but the subtext of "Los Angeles Is 88 Cities, Many of Them Corrupt" in the April 28 Atlantic.  It is all pretty predictable. 

The writer likes the way New York is run, Mayor Bloomberg, its City Council and the politics of the five boroughs.  He likes the centralization of NY and compares it favorably to LA county and its 88 cities.  This is all apples and oranges.  (The pun just snuck in.)

The LA metropolitan area is actually spread over parts of five counties and includes twice as many cities as writer Conor Friedersdorf cites.  The Orange county-LA county boundary is invisible to most of us.  And even granting Friedersdorf's view of the world, trading the 88 cities he acknowledges for even more authority accruing to the LA County five-member Board of Supervisors would be no great boon.  These five already have much more power and money than they can wisely administer.

There are many good reasons that Americans migrate to the suburbs and one of them is home-rule.  Another one is a measure of local government choice.  The City of Bell and some others have been found to be corrupt.  But the fact that the bad guys have a small jurisdiction to steal from rather than a big one is a good thing. 

One very important, though imperfect, check on local government corruption is competition among local governments.  This trumps the fact that Friedersdorf's girl friend has a dog not licenesed in Santa Monica, the place that she prefers to take him.  Yes, boundaries create problems, but there are also huge advantages.