Trouble in Detroit

Detroit officials recently booted 18 young goats who were working on urban renewal. Billionaire Mark Spitznagel was paying unemployed residents to serve as goat herds with the plan being to fatten up the unemployed neutered-sons of dairy goats, butcher them, sell the meat, and then give the proceeds to good causes.

Sadly, like most cities, Detroit has some ancient rules on its books prohibiting farm animals such as goats. City officials, not liking a billionaire butting in and breaking the rules, played hard ball and sent Mr. Spitznagel and his young goats packing.

I do not know the back story on all this. Had Mr. Spitznagel tried to push his weight around and offended city officials? Are city officials prejudiced against billionaires? I’m guessing there’s some sort of back story here that I’m missing.

But, let’s look forward. Here’s what I think needs to happen. City officials should toss out those anti-goat regulations and embrace the land clearing and economic development potential of goats. But, what’s with the anti-goat rules? How did they come about? Do they serve a purpose?

Anti-goat rules such as those in Detroit are extremely common. In the early 1900′s, thousands upon thousands of them were passed in municipalities around the country. According to Jaime Bouvier, adjunct professor of law at Case Western, the laws served two purposes. One, they enabled an easy land grab by real estate developers. By giving the boot to small-scale farmers, real estate developers were able to purchase their land for bargain prices and develop it. Two, anti-micro livestock rules were a way to get rid of the poor who were the most likely to keep goats and chickens. This theory is supported by Fred Brown in his University of Washington PhD dissertation, Cows on the Commons, Dogs on the Lawn.

Clearly, there is no reason to prohibit goats in Detroit today. What to do now? Here’s my advice to Detroit city officials and Mr. Spitznagel:

To Detroit City Officials — Get with it. It’s time to toss out your antiquated rules and do it fast.

To Mr. Spitznagel — my goat legalization public relations services are quite reasonably priced. Shoot me an e-mail and we can talk.

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