Why Do Planners Plan?

Commenting on a recent post on this site, “Mangeek” expresses the socialist planners’ rationalization for undermining democracy:

Politicians generally prefer votes over growth, because votes are useful right away, whereas decisions to maximize growth often take longer to materialize; sometimes longer than an election cycle.

“How… do we suddenly get “good planning”?”

By insulating the planners from the voters and politicians, and recruiting/retaining good ones? I guess I’m a bit of a technocrat. If things like RhodeMap, Obamacare, and the EDC are properly done, they’ll have better outcomes than the hyperlocal model Justin seems to champion, because they’ll be backed by research and statistics instead of popular opinion and votes.

As I commented briefly in reply, just one more step in reasoning and a little more historical knowledge would bring this faith in government crashing down.  Stalin, for example, was a master planner insulated from voters and politicians.  How’d that work out?

Even if you think it’s too much of a leap from Rhode Island’s Kevin Flynn to Stalin, it raises the question:  Once we’ve “insulated” the planners from public accountability, what do we do if we happen — by some horrible twist of bad luck — to have bad (even wicked, self-interested) planners in place?

The disconnect may be the incorrect sense that mere planning is a benign, passive, objective activity.  That’s the substance of Mangeek’s subsequent reply, in which he supposes that only the state government has the resources to pay people to do the research, so planners should be insulated to do that, but local governments should be free to ignore the plans.

That misconception, too, would fall quickly upon scrutiny.  First of all, local volunteers appointed to planning boards do plenty of research, and political opponents do more, between which the public must judge.

More importantly, what’s the point of insulated planners if their suggestions have to be ratified by the popular will anyway?  No, if we’re going to create a technocratic class of planners, then it must be assumed that their “good plans” will be implemented.  That’s why RhodeMap RI includes plans on how to get communities to adopt the plan. 

As Glenn Reynolds summarizes, while posting an excerpt from an essay by Alicia Kurimska, “urban planning is about control.”  As Kurimska argues, Soviet planning designed communities in a manner intended to force people to structure their lives as the planners wanted… with the values that the planners demanded.

Reynolds follows the excerpt with this: “The planners promise more than they can deliver, time after time. And someone else pays the price, time after time.”

We must stop accepting the pretensions of the planners simply because they claim to have expertise and good intentions.

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