Home On the Urban Range

Printer-friendly version

The book explains that cities suffer from three problems: lack of user fees, too much public ownership of city services, and lack of city democracy. These problems combine to make the city an open field where citizens graze on services without restraint, public employees feed on taxpayers, and voters are powerless to change the city for the better.

The author, Filip Palda, associate professor of economics at the National School of Public Administration in Montreal, makes his case using the most up-to-date research on city development, in a writing style that is humorous and accessible to all readers. His central point is that cities could go much farther towards reaching their full potential. Lack of user fees has short-circuited our sense of thrift. We put out 40% more garbage than necessary, and use up to 30% more water than we would if we were charged directly for these services. We clog city streets with wildly wasteful rush-hour jams. The technology exists to charge people for driving on city streets and make them think about whether they need to be there at rush hour, but we don't use it.

Few people complain, says Palda , because 40% of city services are paid for by subsidies from higher levels of government. If a provincial government is picking up the tab for an city's excess, what incentive does anyone have to stop and complain about the quality of services? In this climate of fiscal anesthesia, government utility monopolies, and garbage collection monopolies thrive. Palda explains that if citizens understood the true cost of the city services they would demand more city democracy. With this democracy, they would push for government to privatize city services to get the proven 30% reduction in operating costs this brings.

The book explains the benefits of privatizing garbage collection, street maintenance, police, fire, water, parks, and libraries. It also explain how to charge user fees for these services and how to bring democracy down to the city level.

Its all about control, explains Palda. Right now, the city is out of control. Once people are made to see the true costs of city services, they will demand value for their money. The voter-consumer will demand more control over the politician- producer.

More from this study

Subscribe to the Fraser Institute

Get the latest news from the Fraser Institute on the latest research studies, news and events.