Good news for small-government fans

An inefficient government-run schoolhouse becomes a dynamic, productive free-enterprise strip joint.

In Neoga, Illinois, a building formerly devoted to bloated, inefficient nanny-state big-government fraud, waste, and abuse

has been converted to use in the real economy, where consumers, by spending their own money, demonstrate that the goods and services provided have real value.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

23 thoughts on “Good news for small-government fans”

  1. I'm not sure I understand what you are saying in this post. The school was abandoned right? It was empty and falling apart. And then I guess we should be annoyed because someone bought it and put a strip club there? Why should we be annoyed by that?

  2. I too, am puzzled–are we supposed to want the government to keep spending on old school plant that doesn't have enough students to occupy it, or are we supposed to be against strip clubs, or is any building that ever housed children sacred territory where only businesses of the highest moral standards should be allowed to operate?

    I mean, my Mom's home town and surrounding area are littered with these old abandoned school buildings, and they're very sad, but they wouldn't be less sad if they had a business that was providing jobs in them–even jobs I wouldn't take.

  3. I'll take a stab.

    I think what Mark is getting at is the absurdity of those who would endlessly decry the "waste, fraud and abuse" of "big government", despite the fact that one of government's biggest expenditures is public education, a service so fundamentally good, so civilized, so integral to the very core of who we are as a country. The point was not that strip poles were installed in this particular schoolhouse, or that there is an argument here that schoolhouses should never be put to alternative purposes – but merely to poke fun at those who blather on in tired rhetoric while forgetting the fundamental good that government – and no one else – spends most of its resources on.

    And as a fellow Californian reading the almost daily reports on drastic education cuts, I'd have to agree.

    Who knows, maybe kids in overcrowded classrooms can start working for tips???( …that was terrible, I know. …A modern twist on the old "bake sale" for bombers line…)

  4. "…education, a service so fundamentally good, so civilized, so integral to the very core of who we are as a country."

    Good reason to keep government as far away from it as possible.

    "Who knows, maybe kids in overcrowded classrooms can start working for tips???"

    It can be augured that kids should be paid for good behavior and good grades. Also, it gives them a head start on be in the worker drones that much of public education seems to be trying to turn out.

  5. So Charles, you want to keep government out of public education?

    ^f@lc'./ oblV^Cont efger pisonon.I^&Cg rghwrty.^$

  6. Charles has the perfect ideological stance above: keep gummint out of education, churning out worker drones for corporate America bad, liberal elite college educations bad….everything in America bad, bad, bad. Where are the folks with this stance Galting to? Where is this paradise that is causing our Best and Brigntest to Galt? Where is this Galtian Paradise on the list of strongest economies and where is it on the indices of th' freeeeedom?

    [/slight hyperbole, but not much]

  7. I loved the strip club owner's defensive hyperbole: "They didn't build the Taj Mahal overnight." Starting from?

    There are two distinct issues: the nuisance of the arrival of a strip club to neighbours, independently of the previous use (suppose the building had been a warehouse for dustbins); the genuine emotional corona of the previous use as a school, exacerbated here by the new owner's perverted use of school imagery, which increases the nuisance. It's not clear that this residential neighbourhood is at all suitable for a strip club anyway, but I can imagine a case where the previous school use would tip the balance.

    The Church of England for one keeps a very tight rein on alternative uses for its disused churches. See the baroque procedures set out here. A recommended covenant (here, page 179 (sic), prevents the new owner from turning the building into, inter alia,

    "a theatre cinema betting shop sex shop funfair dance hall or other place of entertainments or for sport or amusement or any purpose connected with the same."

    (Absence of punctuation in the original; a fetish of provincial English solicitors).

    But nothing about a pub, provided it doesn't organise bingo.

  8. The problem for the neighbors is that there's no human or civil right to not being offended. However, if they can gain enough political support, they could harass the club out of business through the enforcement of various laws and regulations. They might start with ADA by requiring that the showers used by the strippers be wheelchair accessible since that's been done before.

  9. The underlying thing is the decline of the real economy. Incomes are at Mississippi levels. Population is flat or declining. The chief other employment opportunities are at a low-margin women's underpants factory & an elder-care facility. Stigmatization of the women who work in this joint is repulsive, but the reality of human moral psychology is that many or most of them will themselves not be unambiguously happy that this is the best way they can find to make a living. It's not the acme of human flourishing for them, & the fact that it's in the school, which was a significant place for the community, devoted to cultivating human flourishing, just punctuates the sense of failure. It may be there's nothing to be done, but it's a bit obtuse to put a libertarian happy-face on it.

  10. Since it is suburban Illinois, it seems likely the school was abandoned due to demographics. Unless we want the government to keep schools open with no children… 😉

  11. About the only 'industries' that seem to be growing in this country are hospitals, prisons and casinos.

  12. When you have to explain a joke, you know you told it badly. But it seems I have to explain this one.

    I'm not against closing schools or recycling government buildings for private use. My point was simply that, according to Sarah Palin and Ron Paul and Fox News, what's going on in that building now is more valuable than what used to go on there, because it's private enterprise rather than government. That claim is stupid; it's probably not even what they believe; but it's what they say.

    The notions that building cars is productive, but building roads to drive them on is wasteful; that the drug companies that sold Vioxx were doing something useful, while the FDA officials who figured out the stuff was killing people were a drag on the economy; that the BP officials who just destroyed the Gulf of Mexico to make a buck were admirable, while the state and federal officials who are trying to clean up the mess are parasites: these ideas don't justify serious discussion, only relentless mockery.

    I'll try to mock more clearly next time.

  13. My grandma and I used to love to watch "The Red Skelton Show". Once he told a joke and no one laughed (only once that I recall). With perfect timing he stood smiling at the audience for a beat or two and then said, "We just tell 'em. We don't explain 'em." That line brought the house down.

    The irony of the story being lost on the folks who asked for clarification seems to stretch credulity. "It's a joke son, laugh."

  14. "The Church of England for one keeps a very tight rein on alternative uses for its disused churches."

    So, public education is a state religion? I'd believe that, it explains the immediate hostility to anybody who tries to educate their children privately: They're apostates!

    Mark, obviously government does some things that are productive. (Much of the time, it just pays somebody in the private sector to do them.) Equally obviously, it does some things which are negatively productive, we'd actually be better off if the money spent on them was buried in a landfill. Most of what it does could be best characterized as "overhead", not production.

    And EVERYTHING that it does is ultimately paid for by the private sector. So it's kind of important to keep the ratio of public to private sector down to a manageable level, isn't it?

  15. Brett:"And EVERYTHING that it does is ultimately paid for by the private sector." Wasn't this fallacy originally that of the Physiocrats (it's all farming really) before it was that of the Marxists (it's all manual labour really)? Strip out the convenient illusion of money, and all goods and services are paid for with all other goods and services. This holds regardless of the ownership of the means of production, in Soviet Russia a sin the Kalahari desert. In any system, the teacher pays for her bread with teaching; the baker pays for schooling for his children through fees or taxes. If the claim is that in economies vaguely similar to the USA today, government is inconceivable without taxes levied on the private sector, it's true but trivial. If the claim is that the private sector is conceivable without the services provided by government, it's nonsense. Of course, it's easy enough to find examples of private and public sector production (strip clubs and wars on drugs) that are not essential to the ecology.

  16. eb, many strip clubs don't serve alcohol. Thanks to the Twenty-First Amendment, states' authority to regulate the sale/purchase/consupmtion of alcoholic beverage is broader than the authority under the First Amendment to regulate nude dancing qua nude dancing. A state generally may require the holder of a liquor license to prohibit full nudity on the premises. Those showbars that do not serve alcohol often allow customers to bring their own beverages, and the house sells juice, soft drinks, water, etc. as setups.

  17. D*mn, both Sebastian and Megan don't get the point. Which is typical; neither of them is reality based.

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