Purely anecdotal, but my own personal experience suggests Hatfield is correct. My interactions with local government has pretty consistently been characterized by courteous service and reasonably efficient results. From the state and Federal governments I have encountered mostly arrogant service and slow responses. Sometimes in the negative, in that I did not get from them what I was legally entitled to.

One exception in the Federal government was the citizenship process. It's a separate division in USCIS and dealing with them is oddly pleasant.

I'm the type who usually fights my traffic tickets, so I have often dealt with local courts. They don't seem to have any incentive to give me good service. I'm the one with the ticket. I'm a culprit. Yet I have always received courteous and expedient service from them.

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Re: housing policy, the thought process described here results in policy that is good for existing homeowners while horrid for everyone else. People who already own a home are "protected" from newcomers, but those newcomers get locked out of being able to live where they want.

This is another way that nonprofit competition is inferior to for-profit competition, because for-profit competition doesn't value incumbents' dollars more than newcomers' dollars.

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Totally agree on housing.

The other thought I had was this is another example of Dunbar's number coming into play. The proper size of a government is about 150-200 residents, or about 50-75 households.

I think you get pretty efficient at that size.

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I think that I agree with Caplan's underlying point that non-profit competition is far inferior to for-profit competition. The counterfactual would be a profit driven organization running a town and the true test of efficiency would be in comparison with that provided you have relevant controls. As for the weaker claim that they are better than non-local, I'm not sure whether or not I agree.

If we look at homogenous suburbs, then I think we're going to see that our sample has better than average examples of functioning government but it might not be a consequence of competition. For example, is the schooling better because competition enhances the scores or because it draws students from a wealthier and better behaved population which better teachers want to work it?

I think the point about housing is misguided for the same reason a country supporting tariffs and totally eliminating free trade to make their constituency happy is economically inefficient. It's not about popular support, it's about the regulations put in place and whether they are economically efficient. The cigarette example isn't inefficient but it's not a good counter example. Because this confuses two things: wanting a product and wanting a regulation. The people can want an inefficient regulation but wanting cigarettes is inefficient in a different sense of the word. Maximizing homeownership is inefficient.

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I think John is trying to explain a mirage. He claims that "most people, when they have a choice, eschew “big urban government” and instead choose local government"

Income per household in urban areas is about 90% that of suburban ones (https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/07/29/prior-to-covid-19-urban-core-counties-in-the-u-s-were-gaining-vitality-on-key-measures/). When you assume even a modest age-linked preference, and consider the impact of household composition, my suspicion is that the difference at least vanishes. But more than that, there are so many other differences between urban and suburban living patterns that it seems strange to assume that a preference for suburbia reflects a strong preference for suburban governance quality.

In a world where suburban governments were provably 10% worse at everything than urban governments, many people would still prefer to live in the suburbs. For cheap space, for self-concept, for quiet, for faster access to a forest, for excluding people from your environs who don't have a minimum income or wealth (often this is called "safety", but the perception of safety flows from the exclusivity), for all the normal reasons people give.

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Can someone explain why states tax local govts for school expenditures? Seem like it should be the opposite, but idk how the system works.

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Originally, local school districts funded their own schools, usually from property taxes within the school district. This led to wildly different funding between districts. So some states began taking some of those tax receipts from the local districts, pooling it together, and redistributing it to level out money per child.

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