Monday, 10 August 2015

In which a planner (inadvertently) shows us why lefties shouldn't be allowed to run cities

A town planning chap donned his cloak of leftiness and set about playing Cities: Skylines with the intention of testing "an alternative economic model which challenges the assumption that growth is only good". It didn't end well:

Whole districts are abandoned, public services have been shut down, employment has collapsed and the budget is crippled by Greek magnitudes of debt. There is also no democracy, or I would have been voted out of office long before the lights went out. “Where has everybody gone? #ghosttown” peeps my timeline. I had tried to break the rules of the game, and ended up with a broken city.

Not surprisingly our gamer didn't think that the problem lay with his strategy but, as is common with idiots of a left wing bent, rather 'the rules of the game'. His conclusion was: "what we could really use is a game that helps us develop and test a compelling alternative".

So let's look at his strategy and ask whether there might be some problems - even in the real world:

Jobs are in teaching, healthcare and public service – professions that contribute meaningfully to society and directly improve the quality of our lives. All energy production is renewable. Industrial districts are zoned for agriculture and forestry. There are no offices, no shops, and no landfill sites.

Ah, problem number one - nobody is doing a job that generates value, there is no means of paying for that education, healthcare and 'public service'. And, just as importantly, nowhere for these highly valued teachers, doctors and assorted public servants to spend their high salaries (the result of their high skills of course).

But my citizens are insatiable consumers, infuriated by the boredom of a good quality of life, and it doesn’t take long for them to balk at my pious, dematerialistic policies. I get complaints that “there’s nothing to do at weekends”. The blue bar, showing demand for commercial space, fills to the top. The game lectures me: “People want places to shop and enjoy themselves.” I’m tempted to placate them with a “Statue of Shopping”.

We live to consume and our intrepid lefty gamer has failed to realise this - people want places of leisure and pleasure and, quite frankly, his carefully manicured garden city is dull as dishwater. But instead of responding to what his citizens want the response is to ram more of the same down their throat (plus something they really don't want - very high taxes):

I build high schools, fire stations and bus routes. I plant trees on every street and put public spaces in every district. The logic of the game quantifies the benefits of this public infrastructure through private interests: “Parks and plazas raise the value of land around them, making citizens happy”. It also calculates infrastructure as a liability, which starts adding zeros to the expenses column of my budget. I’m soon pushing taxes up to 14% to balance the books, but this causes people to leave town in droves, shrinking my tax base and leaving behind vacant buildings.

You've noticed another problem - not only do we have a city with no productive workers and no service industry but our brave lefty gamer has failed to notice that the built environment needs looking after and, without income, that looking after falls on his city budget. We've a very expensive city built to provide jobs for public employees but with no shops to browse round, no pubs in which to celebrate, no bowling alleys to take the kids for a birthday treat, no cafes to chill in, and no restaurants for that first date. Plus no money to pay for anything.

And (given there's no momey) it's not surprising that the place is going bust - so our gamer compounds this:

I resist, but eventually have no choice but to take out a troika of loans at unfavourable rates. I’ve now been lured into a dependence on growth to service the public debt. But with no growth forthcoming, the city is on the brink of bankruptcy and I’m forced to accept the terms of a bailout.

What this game tells us (and I'll accept that the game's model may not be a perfect description of reality) is that private business is essential to successful places, that we are consumers before we are producers, and that value is better determined by markets rather than the arbitrary opinions of lefty planners. And we rather know all this - Finn Williams, our gamer, could have created a stable and resilient city if he'd embraced the things that really make cities tick. It's not about growth over all things but rather about generating enough value to sustain the nice things we want like parks, tree-lined boulevards and creative public space. Above all people want pleasure in their consumption, they want lovely things around them and they desire the latest gizmos and gadgets. I'm sure Finn has a top-of-the-range computer, an iPhone, and a snug flat in London lined with all the stuff he loves. So why is it he wants to create a city that can't provide those things and that place?


1 comment:

Neil Garratt said...

It reminds me of an old Churchill quote, which I always think is very apt: "Some people regard private enterprise as a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look on it as a cow they can milk. Not enough people see it as a healthy horse, pulling a sturdy wagon."