The Best‐​Laid Plans

How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future
About the Book

Some people think they know all the answers. They know how far you should live from your job. They know how big your backyard should be. They know how cities and forests should grow.

Government planners claim to know all of that and more. They say that if you want to live in pleasant communities, enjoy beautiful wilderness, and get to work on time, you should put them in charge. But 30 years of research has convinced Randal O’Toole—one of Newsweek’s top 20 “movers and shakers in the West”—that they’re wrong. In The Best‐​Laid Plans, he shows in case after case that government planning frequently causes the very problems it is intended to solve.

Although national economic planning has been widely discredited in theory and practice, government planners still control much of our infrastructure and land. O’Toole examines how the schemes of the planners go horribly wrong. Planners, obsessed with “smart growth,” think they can make our towns better places to live, but their plans result in unaffordable housing, more congestion, and increased crime. An Oregon native, O’Toole specifically examines how smart growth failed in Portland. He shows how the U.S. Forest Service tries to plan millions of acres of national forests but ends up making them more susceptible to catastrophes than ever.

Combining theory with case studies to underscore his analysis, O’Toole calls for repealing federal, state, and local planning laws and proposes reforms that can help solve social and environmental problems without heavy‐​handed government regulation.

PODCAST: Listen to the author discuss the book on the Cato Daily Podcast.

The Best‐​Laid Plans is a powerful challenge to the conventional wisdom about public lands, urban growth, and government planning.

About the Author

RANDAL O’TOOLE is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Described by U.S. News & World Report as a researcher who “has earned a reputation for dogged legwork and sophisticated number crunching,” he has served as senior economist at the Thoreau Insitute and as the McCluskey Conservation Fellow at Yale University. His previous books, Reforming the Forest Service and The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths, have significantly influenced public land management and urban planning in this country. An Oregon native, O’Toole currently resides in Bandon, Oregon.

What Others Have Said

“O’Toole presents an across‐​the‐​board indictment of government planning. Whether zoning suburbs, designing rail systems or determining how much timber to cut in national forests, he says, federal, state and local planners are trying to simplify dizzyingly complex problems. Inevitably, they focus on one or two resources, fall prey to planning fads and succumb to pressure from interest groups.”
—Alan Cooperman, Washington Post Book World

“A hard‐​hitting, fact‐​filled, well‐​written volume. Fascinatingly, Mr. O’Toole explains why elected officials tend to favor government planning. Namely, they are happy to turn over hot issues to the planning bureaucracy rather than make the decisions — and take the heat — themselves.”
—William H. Peterson, The Washington Times

““An outstanding recent book, The Best‐​Laid Plans, gives a richly documented account of government actions and their consequences, and shows a far from flattering side of politicians, ‘experts,’ and environmentalists–who have ruined cities and suburbs in countries around the world.”
—Thomas Sowell, Town​hall​.com

““O’Toole documents example after example of government planning gone hideously awry. He demolishes the widely held belief that government planners are somehow smarter or more capable of managing the future than market forces. Yet despite all evidence to the contrary, many Americans still expect the planners to miraculously get it right the next time around. Better to fire the planners and let free people, free minds and free markets use the genius of their freedom.”
The Washington DC Examiner

“As O’Toole shows, whether it’s failed ““smart growth”” schemes, oppressive zoning policies, expensive light‐​rail boondoggles or mismanagement of public forests, government planners have caused us trouble and cost us freedoms. Their misguided, top‐​down, faddish rules and regulations have brought us higher housing prices, more‐​crowded roads and forests that are susceptible to diseases and catastrophic fires. O’Toole says it’s time to liberate society from planners’ control.””
—Bill Steigerwald, Pittsburgh Tribune‐​Review

“Government planners will want to ban this book. But O’Toole’s exorcism of planning should be required reading for elected officials at every level of government.”
—Andy Stahl, Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics

“O’Toole has convinced me that—in some cases—markets can work to protect the environment. Conservationists who always support planning and are always disappointed at its outcome should read this book.”
—Andy Kerr, Former Director, Oregon Natural Resources Council

“O’Toole today looks a lot like Jane Jacobs did in 1961. They’re both outsiders with a detailed grass‐​roots view of how planners—with the best of intentions—are following a fashion into disaster.”
Planning magazine

“Everyone plans. The problem is that people have gotten the idea that government has the ability to plan very large entities, including whole cities and regions. O’Toole documents the problems that occur when this planning fails to work.”
—Peter Gordon, Professor of Urban Planning, University of Southern California