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Barry Hess' Arizona Republic article in response to Columnist Jon Talton's statist positions

Written by Subject: Philosophy: Libertarianism
"Mesa doing just fine, thanks" - Arizona Republic 05/31/2006

City survived marauding politicians, will survive Jon Talton Editorial of May 21st (Jon's editorial included at the end of Barry's article)

Barry Hess

My Turn

May. 31, 2006 12:00 AM

Only my sadness held back the hysterics elicited by Jon Talton's column "Decline and fall of Mesa" (Opinions, May 21).

As I read his words, I could hear the tantrums of a 4-year-old who didn't get his way or who came to the realization that "his" opinion was completely irrelevant.

When the good residents of Mesa rebuked the attempt by politicians to tax their property and put a huge number of senior citizens over the economic edge, the writer wished to make Mesa disappear. He correctly identified the libertarian effort to constrain public "servants" to their assigned tasks and to follow the law of the constitutional charter, but he still missed the point completely.

Where Talton went terribly awry was in assuming that his concept of building pretty places at the expense of the quality of life of those called upon to pay for such whims had any moral, rational, legal or honest leg on which to stand.

Because the people of Mesa finally took a stand against marauding politicians, the writer's ire leads him into a rant of damn near casting an evil spell, an ancient curse or a pox upon them. The reader can hear him screeching like his tail got caught in the door as he gasps that libraries and museums would be shut down and the indefinable "poor" would have to foot an imaginary burden somehow created by the people doing nothing - the usual bogus liberal chant.

Maybe someone should tell this history-deficient comic character that our library system and most museums were set up and paid for privately. That's the reason they used to be so good.

He laments that no one in his liberal world seemed to notice that Mesa residents took Nancy Reagan's sage advice to "Just say no!" to self-destruction and finally took a principled stand.

The laughs just keep coming as he forwards the nonsensical notion that there might be a shred of truth to the supposition that light-rail has even one redeeming benefit . . . except for those on the receiving end of the people's money to build such boondoggles.

Should we tell him that before construction has even started on this misguided adventure in social experimentation, it's already heading toward $100 million in cost overruns?

Should we tell him that these aren't "cost overruns," they were well known to the planners who simply decided to not tell the public it was going to be a lot more expensive then the politicians told us?

Not content to whine about the rejection of new property taxes and the light-rail scam, the writer goes on to suggest that universities should resemble the Taj Mahal, not a useful facility, and then into a litany of his frustrations with people in whom the spark of individual freedom and respect for private property rights still smolders.

The one that stands out is this assertion: "The free-lunch promise of the anti-tax right remains seductive. Gone is the American presumption that with property ownership comes special obligations to the community. It only delivers failure."

This media spinmanship is a real knee-slapper since he is the one from the "free lunch" (at everyone else's expense) crowd who doesn't seem to grasp that there never has been a single definable example where respect for individual property rights has been a "failure."

All of our current problems stem from the practices of the Republican/Democratic party he holds in such high esteem. And his deliberate lies can't change that.

The punch line was the "special obligations" thing. It cracked me up because what made America unique unto the entire world was that there was no such thing as a "special" or "unspoken" obligation of property ownership.

We were founded as a nation of law. If it ain't written down, it doesn't exist. I'd be curious to know where this "special obligation" is written and exactly what it might be.

Yep, this column makes it clear that the funny pages are more useful than the opinions of a writer who must certainly be using a pseudonym. I'd recognize the style and substance of Karl Marx anywhere.

I say: "Yeaaah! Mesa, the city that doesn't want to go down the economic tubes."

The writer is a Libertarian candidate for governor.


Decline and fall of Mesa

Watching this city's economic implosion is like viewing a train wreck in slow motion





May. 21, 2006 12:00 AM

I wish it were simple enough to say: Mesa, be gone!

Now that you've voted down a property tax, live your libertarian state-of-nature fantasy. Allow City Hall to do no more than fix potholes, police the streets and fight fires. Shut down the public libraries and museums. Sell the Mesa Arts Center to a check-cashing outlet. Make the heaviest burden of a sales tax fall on the poorest people, those losers. Let freedom reign!

If only Mesa were an eccentric little burg in, say, Idaho. We could watch its deterioration at a bemused or horrified distance. Here is a city as a slow-motion train wreck. We can't quite avert our eyes, but it doesn't really affect us, thank goodness.

America seems to agree.

Mesa is more populous than St. Louis, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Pittsburgh or Cincinnati - not that Mesa has anything to show for it. A fiscal crisis, rejection at the polls and immediate layoffs and cuts to cultural programs in those cities would have been major news.

Yet as far as I can tell, the mess in Mesa garnered no national coverage, and little regional attention either.

Unfortunately, Mesa is too big and too close to ignore. The city's civic sickness, economic malaise and ongoing deterioration hurt all of Greater Phoenix.

If Mesa were boxing at its weight class, the entire regional economy would be stronger. Instead, some 65 out of 100 Mesa residents must commute elsewhere to find jobs. It has no major corporate headquarters and no economic engines equivalent to a city of its population.

Mesa should also be a powerful advocate for the urban issues it and every city face with the state Legislature and congressional delegation.

To take but one example, Mesa should have been a leader in creating the nation's best regional transit system.

Instead, it grudgingly allowed a one-mile link to light rail and asks the city of Phoenix to run its meager transit.

With so many people, Mesa should have one or two universities (Cincinnati has three major universities in the city limits). Instead, it is hoping ASU will enhance its minimal campus at the seedy former Williams Air Force Base, far from the heart of the city.

An entire column could be devoted to this failed city's missed opportunities in innovation, culture, quality of life and sustainability. Another could track how its legislators often lead efforts to keep the state backward.

Then there are lessons that apply to the entire region. Almost every mistake seen in Greater Phoenix has been taken to its absurd, entropic conclusion in Mesa. It proves:

• Minimal taxes and government don't produce a high-performance economy. Indeed, Mesa, like all of Greater Phoenix, would barely exist without mighty deeds of collective action and heavy government spending.

• Building a new shopping center, anchored by a tricked-out bait shop, is not a 21st century economic strategy.

• Denial of urban challenges doesn't make them go away; they get worse.

• Cities add to their "carrying costs" as they grow in population. Among them: stresses to infrastructure, economic diversity and social health.

• The free-lunch promise of the anti-tax right remains seductive. Gone is the American presumption that with property ownership comes special obligations to the community. It only delivers failure.

Perhaps the most ominous cautionary note is that of the single-flavor, self-selecting city. It's an open question whether Greater Phoenix is such a place, but there's little question about Mesa.

With the city's rising Hispanic population in the shadows, those in Mesa who vote and wield power are overwhelmingly White and "conservative." Many are retirees who apparently fit the stereotype of "I got mine, leave me alone!"

Lacking is any meaningful competition of interests and ideas that would help Mesa face the real world.

And make no mistake: The world will not let Mesa be just a quiet small town. Yet this city is poorly positioned to address global competition, climate change, higher energy prices or other 21st century realities.

I'll admit to using the term "city" generously. Mesa is more of a collection of real estate ventures connected by highways.

The sound civic design of the Mormon pioneers was abandoned as Mesa grew. Its subdivisions, and especially the so-called master-planned communities, were built to segregate people from a city's challenges, opportunities or even identity.

Mesa, be gone! If only Mesa alone could face the full consequences of its actions. Its voters would find out what the state of nature is really like.

Instead, it will continue to be carried by the rest of the region, with the most successful cities deliberately avoiding Mesa's policies.

Reach Talton at Read Talton's blog at

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