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Laissez-faire governance and the archetype laissez-faire city in the USA: exploring Houston

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This article explores the governance of Houston, the archetype laissez-faire city in the USA. The research examines the complexity of Houston's minimal government intervention rhetoric, which in practice involves extensive federal, state and local government involvement in economic development in combination with a disinterest in social service and income maintenance programmes. This governance strategy is outlined through an examination both of regional public policy and local public finances. The analysis illustrates that Houston's local governance has historically been based on a management approach that attempts actively to minimize costs for potential investors to locate in the City, through public intervention, while at the same time generating an unattractive urban environment for the socially marginalized — hence the disinterest in social services. Thus, despite the local laissez-faire rhetoric, government intervention in Houston's growth has been vital and has produced the extraordinary impacts usually expected from public involvement in local economic development. The foundations of this local governance strategy are both predicted and advocated by the public choice approach, a theoretical framework whose emphasis on inter-municipal competition advances management tactics based on maintaining low taxes and low expenditures on public welfare. The research also shows, however, that Houston is unique, when compared to other economically successful US cities, in following such an extreme approach of this management strategy.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Michigan State University

Publication date: 2003-03-01

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