JULY 2, 2021
Kuttner on TAP
The Condo, the Inspector, the Market, and the Government
The Florida condo tragedy is an object lesson in why we can’t trust market forces and market players to keep us safe, right? And why we need government, yes?

Well yes, but it’s more complicated. For starters, there is the practical problem of government getting corrupted.

South Florida has always been a bonanza for developers, who have immense political influence. And government there has long been in developers’ pockets (in both senses of the metaphor).

The way this filters down is that we get inspectors like the corrupt or incompetent Ross Prieto of Surfside, who kept giving the doomed condo complex a clean bill of health; the kind of inspector who didn’t make waves in the developer community.

Pull back to a wider-angle lens, and here’s the broader problem: Republicans hate government. Since Carter and Clinton, many Democrats have joined Republicans in government-bashing. Developers are big contributors to both.

Free-market economists, especially those of the “public choice” school, contend that since government is so readily corrupted, we need to look at how government works in practice, not how it could work in theory—and just trust the discipline of the market.

But recent events have blown that theory to hell. Market forces allowed these dangerous condos to be built on unstable landfills; market forces created global climate change that creates sinking coastal cities; and market forces did not produce adequate inspections or repairs. Market forces, you could say, killed over a hundred people in Surfside, and will kill hundreds of millions, probably billions, as climate change worsens.

Face it, the only way to keep relatively safe is to elect people to run the government who believe in the government, and who operate it competently and relatively free of corruption. They are called progressives.

All the rest is commentary. End of political economy lesson for today.

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