Letter: It’s economics, stupid

Locals who lobbied Aspen City Council to regulate chain stores should be applauded for upholding a rich, local tradition. This is how government should work: an interest group talks to elected officials to seek a change the group thinks will improve life for the group.

It’s not clear what improvement this group seeks. It could be lowering commercial rents so that locally produced water bottles can be sold in local stores, or changing the commercial mix so Aspen isn’t Rodeo Drive, or substituting the tastes of a small group for those of the market. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Aspen perpetuate a richly observed local tradition — attempting to repeal the laws of economics.

We’ve tried limiting development, thus limiting the supply of leasable space, then complained about escalating rents for the limited leasable space. We’ve tried banning fur sales, having no effect on fur sales but driving the resulting revenue and sales tax receipts to other communities. We’ve tried building an uneconomic hydro-electric plant instead of buying far less expensive renewable energy from our utility provider. We’ve tried mandating that a developer install an affordable restaurant in its basement only to create a perpetually vacant basement. We’ve tried offering below-market leases in city-owned buildings on the condition of below-market pricing without any way to measure that pricing.

In the tradition of these quixotic causes, I say go ahead. Regulate “chain stores.” Persuade yourselves that you know what to do and how to do it, and that you can predict the consequences. But before you do, I suggest another endeavor.

Recently there’s been a trend of amending Aspen’s Home Rule Charter when deficiencies are identified. Before taking on more pointless causes, we should amend the Home Rule Charter to empower the City Council to repeal the laws of economics. Maybe then these Rube Goldberg schemes can work.

Maurice Emmer