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Central Planning Didn’t Work; Let’s Plan Harder!

The Manhattan Institute’s Julia Vitullo-Martin reviews Samuel Zipp’s Manhattan Projects in today’s Wall Street Journal. Convinced that “bureaucratic and technical talent” had secured victory in World War II, she writes that post-war reformers trained themselves “on eradicating slums and rejuvenating urban economies.” The tools of their trade, unfortunately, were the power of eminent domain and a conviction in the efficacy of central planning.

The results were not good.  As Vitullo-Martin writes:

In the end, they bungled the job: The poor found themselves driven from their neighborhoods and resegregated into public housing. The modern utopias that supposedly awaited them turned out, all too often, to be hellish hives of alienation and anomie, rife with crime and devoid of human touches.

Though Mr. Zipp’s account is apparently “absorbing,” he ends with the odd conclusion that we need a more comprehensive vision of urban renewal.

This reminds me of the result obtained by economists Philippe Aghion, Yann Algan, Pierre Cahuc, and Andrei Shleifer. As Reason’s William Eggers and John O’Leary put it:

An important recent academic study called “Regulation and Distrust” shows that, paradoxically, the worse government performs, the more citizens demand greater government intervention. The authors’ explanation for this curious finding is that in societies where people distrust large institutions—whether government or big business—the demand for more regulation and for more government is higher, even when government is incompetent or downright corrupt.