Los Angeles Times
February 14, 1999, Sunday, Valley Edition
HEADLINE: VALLEY PERSPECTIVE; PERSPECTIVE ON SECESSION; REPRESENTATION FEARS UNFOUNDED; MINORITY RESIDENTS ARE LIKELY TO BE BETTER OFF IN A SMALLER CITY, EVEN IF ETHNIC PERCENTAGES DECLINE, BECAUSE SMALLER JURISDICTIONS PROMOTE ECONOMIC WELL-BEING.
BYLINE: ADAM GIFFORD JR. and SHIRLEY SVORNY, Adam Gifford Jr. and Shirley Svorny are professors in the, Department of Economics at Cal State Northridge. Gifford chairs the, department.
A major concern of Latino leaders, who met recently to consider the implications of San Fernando Valley secession, is that Latinos would be less well-represented in a Valley city than in Los Angeles.
The most recent census found that Latinos comprise 39% of the population in Los Angeles but only 31% of the population in the Valley portion of the city. This leads some Latino leaders to conclude that Latinos' needs would be easier to ignore in the smaller jurisdiction. At a recent forum on secession sponsored by the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, it was argued that Valley African Americans would similarly be harmed by secession.
In our opinion, these views are mistaken. Representation surely matters when it comes to obtaining government funds. And clearly, government programs that transfer funds to politically powerful groups increase the well-being of those groups.
But these benefits pale in comparison to those offered by a vibrant, healthy economy and efficient provision of government services. If a smaller city promotes economic well-being and creates incentives for more efficient, responsive local government--as there is reason and evidence to think that it would--then minority residents can be better off in a smaller city, even if their ethnic representation declines.
Breaking up Los Angeles would create competing governments, which would increase residents' ability to influence government, regardless of race.
Competition is valued when in the private sector (as seen in support for enforcement of antitrust laws), but its benefits are less well-understood when it comes to the public sector.
The argument against monopoly applies even more to government than it does to industry. Not only does the government have a monopoly, but it also can force you to do things no private firm could. For example, Microsoft cannot force you to buy its software, but Los Angeles' government requires that you "buy" (with your tax dollars) all kinds of budgetary allocations and programs that you might not find attractive.
In smaller cities, due to inter-city competition, politicians face pressures to attract residents and businesses. This creates incentives for more responsive government. Not only would Valley minorities be better off, but Los Angeles' minority communities would benefit from an increasingly vibrant Valley next door.
The argument for smaller cities is not unlike that for breaking up the Los Angeles Unified School District. Smaller jurisdictions have been shown to do a better job of educating all children, including minorities.
Our point is that ethnic representation matters less than the incentives that are created when jurisdictions are downsized.
Many of the most vocal opponents of secession, of all ethnicities, are politicians; politicians benefit from bloated monopoly government. The ability of politicians to win political support by catering to special interests is greatest when cities are large. A smaller city would increase resident participation and monitoring of government activities, making it more difficult for politicians to serve special interests.
In our view, the unresponsive, monopoly government units currently serving Los Angeles residents are not well-designed to serve any ethnic group. Smaller government units offer relatively responsive, effective government more inclined to deal with issues that face neighborhoods and individuals, regardless of race.