Thursday 9 February 2012

Tragedy of the Anti-commons: Medieval Storytime and Christchurch

In the story of Sir Cleges, a generous Knight falls on hard times due to some extremely bad planning: he dissipates his estate in holding elaborate Christmas feasts. But as reward for his generosity, he finds a fruited cherry branch at Christmastime. He brings the fruit to King Uther Pendragon as Christmas gift, but is stopped along the way by three veto-players - the porter, the usher, and the steward - each of which in turn demands, in exchange for access to the King, a third part of whatever bounty the King might bestow upon him.

And so when Sir Cleges finally reaches the King and is asked what reward he might wish, he requests a dozen hard blows. A third go to the porter, a third to the usher, and a third to the steward.

It's a beautiful solution to the tragedy of the anti-commons. Recall that where the tragedy of the commons obtains when no player has veto rights over the use of a resource, the tragedy of the anti-commons ensures the underexploitation of a resource when there are too many veto-players.

If only a beneficent King existed to hear the entreaties of the Christchurch entrepreneurs being trodden upon by some of Tony Marryatt's functionaries [HT: Homepaddock , and see here]. A city can stand a lot of stupid during normal times. Examples of it are legion. And cities with nice climates that are otherwise desirable places to live see some erosion in the city's amenity value as consequence, but things tick along; there's a lot of ruin in a city. But we can't afford the normal local government stupidity when we're trying to convince people to stay here and rebuild.

I don't really care what Tony Marryatt is paid, although Glenn Boyle nicely surveys the relevant comparable salary packages and finds the Chief Clerk's been systematically overpaid by Christchurch City Council. Still, even if he were paid a million dollars instead of a half million, that would still be about three bucks per capita. Know what? I spend more than that on coffee on the typical day. And so do you. If you realized that the equivalent of your contribution to Clerk Tony's salary fell out of your pocket two blocks back on a walk, you'd likely shrug it off rather than go looking for it. It's a lot, and more than he's worth, but it's not something about which I'd go to the barricades. But if you're interested in the extent to which Marryatt is overpaid, go and read Glenn Boyle's analysis at the link above.

But I care that he's presiding over a local government important parts of which are failing at a time that they cannot afford to fail. As we're getting ready for the one-year anniversary of the February 22nd earthquake, we're only just starting to have land approved for subdivisions on the fringes of town. We could barely afford the stupidity of local land use regulations prior to the earthquake, but we were hardly alone in having those kinds of problems. But the rigidities imposed by those regulations verge on insane in a post-quake world. Hugh Paveltich notes here, about 2/3 of the way down, Christchurch's disastrous performance in getting new building consents through as compared to neighbouring Selwyn and Waimakariri.

Building regulations, zoning rules, insurer requirements, a less-than-friendly city plan still under development, RMA, EQC and CERA - each of those is a pretty substantial veto step in the way of developers who might want to reinvest their insurance payouts in Christchurch. More Council staff should be helping residents and investors navigate their way through the morass rather than providing additional veto points. There have been some moves in that direction, but it's getting a bit late.

It's also getting just a bit late for all the folks who can't fix their homes without CERA approval, can't live in their homes because Council won't let them, and whose temporary accommodation insurance payments are running out. Kafka rules. Council should be advocates for these guys.

I don't know whether firing Tony Marryatt and having early elections solves things. I'm less than convinced that a new lot of Councillors is likely to achieve much. But worries about employment law potentially requiring that Marryatt receive a substantial payout if he's fired quickly are a sideshow. I'm not yet convinced that it's worth doing. But if it's worth doing, I'm happy to pony up my $10 share to be rid of him. The costs of having a poorly performing Chief Clerk are an awful lot higher than what we'd have to pay to be rid of a poorly performing Chief Clerk. A good Chief Clerk, like King Uther in the story, would be distributing beatings to ticket-clipping veto-players.

Meanwhile, Joe Bennett's been given official permission to live in his own home (previously, and here). Small bright sparks.


  1. Jo Bennett is well aware why he is allowed to be a free man, and live within his own responsibility; unlike many other Christchurch Citizens.
    And that is because he was a lightening rod, and now that political reality has now been withdrawn from him.
    He is dismayed, because he knew that he could help.

    Political anger here is not about what may happen in new Council elections Eric, it is about the necessity to be rid of failed self serving Mayor and CEO clerk.
    We have to will deal with things as they evolve, and if necessary we have to deal with bully boy Jerry and NZ Nat Government when the time comes.
    Thank you for your good references above to relevant web sites .

  2. My scientific survey has so far asked this question to 43 Christchurch people: it goes like this:
    The good genie has just given you ten million dollars, good isn't it, but there is a proviso:
    You have to invest in property in Brisbane CBD, or London, or Christchurch CBD.

    There was rarely hesitation: 32 Brisbane, 8 London, and three Christchurch.
    This was pretend money of course.
    Central Christchurch is a good way to lose money. Harcourts are only there because no clients have to call, and they live in a dream world. All the rest will take their money elsewhere.