August 6, 2010
Vilfredo Pareto argued that, in an optimal (or “Pareto-efficient“) system, it is impossible to make anyone better off without making someone else worse off.  As a matter of public policy, then, a Pareto improvement makes at least one person better off without making anybody else worse off.  Without assigning a value judgement to the outcome, a desire of public policy is, at a minimum, to achieve a Pareto improvement with every decision.

It is in this light that I consider the tenure of Mayor Sam Adams to be a complete and utter failure.  In no particular order:

– His drive to ban plastic bags from being used by stores and charge customers extra to suffer using worthless 1950s-style paper bags – or bring their own bag.  News flash: it’s a common practice in this city to either re-use these plastic bags (as garbage bags, among other things) or recycle them.  Banning them only makes life in this city that much more expensive, a task Sam Adams and his merry band of likeminded yes-men and yes-women have excelled at.

– His renaming of 39th Avenue to César Chávez Boulevard, which I’ve posted out previously.

– The installation of speed bumps on NW Germantown Road.  This shortsighted move satisfies a few local residents, making them, in Pareto terms, better off.  However, the rest of the city who uses that road – one of the few arterial roads allowing access that direction – now has to suffer with more brake wear and suspension wear on their cars, a more jarring travel in any sort of vehicle, a less enjoyable road, and less responsive emergency access.  I would say that most of Portland was made worse off by this decision, just another in the long line.

– The drive by Mayor Sam Adams to boost water and sewer rates – already among the highest in the nation, as pointed out in the article – to pay for more bike lanes.  I’m pretty sure this isn’t legal use of tax fees; instead, perhaps we should use the extraordinarily high sewer rates to fix the problems with the Portland’s sewer system.

… and here’s another interesting fact.  I was at a Central Eastside Industrial Council meeting a few months ago and someone mentioned that commercial occupancy in downtown Portland had been in a notable decline for almost a decade.  While I’m sure bike lanes make it more accessible to those people who don’t have to otherwise travel during their workday, it’s a benefit to a decreasing number of people while everybody in the city has to pay for it.

The aforementioned reasons are what stick out in my mind.  I can’t find anything that Sam Adams has done that benefits more people than it harms.  He truly has embraced the selfish idea that “the wants of the few outweigh the good of the many”.  Instead of focusing efforts on trying to help Portland thrive in a challenging economic environment, he and the city council have focused efforts on pet projects and headline-grabbing agendas, guaranteeing that my city will have that much more work ahead of it when he’s finally out of office.