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Jewish World Review / August 3, 1998 / 11 Menachem-Av, 5758

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell "Affordability" strikes again

ACCORDING TO A RECENT STORY in the Los Angeles Times, there is "a crisis in affordable housing" in Los Angeles. As in so many other contexts, the word "crisis" is political Newspeak for: "The government wants more money and power." In this case, it is the Department of Housing and Urban Development that wants housing subsidized -- through HUD, needless to say.

This whole story is all too symptomatic of the Alice-in-Wonderland world of contemporary liberalism. In that world, prices are just unfortunate barriers to be overcome by having the government make things "affordable."

There is seldom a thought that prices are conveying an underlying reality about costs and scarcity -- a reality that is not going to be changed by throwing the taxpayers' money around to make things "affordable." Obviously, the more money you take away from taxpayers, the fewer things they will be able to afford, like having a one-income family, so that children can be raised at home instead of in day-care facilities.

But of course liberals would throw more money at day care too. Where all this money is coming from or at the sacrifice of what else is not a subject that interests them very much. Free-spending liberalism is like a dog chasing his tail and speeding up when he fails to catch it.

Those who have for decades blithely loaded new costs onto housing in California-- whether in the name of environmentalism, zoning or other policies dear to the heart of liberals -- equally blithely ignore those costs as they ask taxpayers in the rest of the country to pick up the tab.

Scare tactics are a standard part of this political exercise. We are told, for example, that home prices in Los Angeles may reach the point where they will be "well beyond the means of even much of the middle class."

Let's do something revolutionary: Stop and think. If housing in L.A. rises well beyond the means of middle-class people, who is going to live in this city that covers more than 400 square miles?

Either new -- and richer -- people are going to move in to replace those who can no longer afford to live in Los Angeles or there are going to be a lot of vacancies. Anyone who has taken Economics 1 and remembers supply and demand knows that a high vacancy rate and rising rents do not go together.

If the dire scenario of skyrocketing rents is to play out, somebody has to come in and replace those people who can no longer afford to live in L.A. -- and the replacements have to be able to pay housing prices that are beyond what the middle class can afford. Are there enough rich people out there waiting to replace the current 3 million Angelos?

And where are these 3 million rich people being housed today? Surely they are not living out on the streets or in pup tents. And if they vacate their current digs to move to L.A., will that not create 3 million vacancies elsewhere?

Like much that appears in the liberal media, this L.A. Times story is not news reporting. It is disguised advertising for government programs -- and false advertising at that.

Just a couple of years ago, my son rented a two-bedroom apartment in a modern apartment complex with its own tennis courts and swimming pools. His rent was $450 a month.

Was this a government-subsidized development? No. The free-market price for such an apartment in the community where he lived just happened to be $450 a month. It certainly wasn't in Los Angeles or New York, but it wasn't out in the boondocks either.

It was in one of many smaller cities and towns around the country where liberals either haven't gotten control or haven't yet had time to drive up housing costs with heavy-handed environmental laws, zoning restrictions and the innumerable other ways that liberals blithely pile on costs for others to pay.

A study of homelessness -- "The Excluded Americans" by William Tucker -- detailed the ways in which housing prices have been forced up by artificially created scarcities, many under pious political labels. In one of the hotbeds of environmentalism and other forms of liberalism -- California's Marin County, across from San Francisco -- the average price of a house rose five-fold in just one decade.

Real estate agents say that housing prices depend on three factors -- location, location and location. Perhaps they need to add: liberals, liberals and liberals.

7/31/98: Random thoughts
7/27/98: Faith and mountains
7/24/98: Clinton in Wonderland
7/20/98: Where is black 'leadership' leading?
7/16/98: Do 'minorities' really have it that bad?
7/14/98: Race dialogue: same old stuff
7/10/98: Honest history
7/09/98: Dumb is dangerous
7/02/98: Gun-safety starts with
parental responsibility
6/30/98: When more is less
6/29/98: Are educators above the law?
6/26/98: Random Thoughts
6/24/98: An angry letter
6/22/98: Sixties sentimentalism
6/19/98:Dumbing down anti-trust
6/15/98: A changing of the guard?
6/11/98: Presidential privileges
6/8/98: Fast computers and slow antitrust
6/3/98: Can stalling backfire?
5/29/98: The insulation of the Left
5/25/98: Missing the point in the media
5/22/98: The lessons of Indonesia
5/20/98: Smart but silent
5/18/98: Israel, Clinton and character
5/14/98: Monica Lewinsky's choices
5/11/98: Random thoughts
5/7/98: Media obstruction of justice
5/4/98: Dangerous "safety"
5/1/98: Abolish Adolescence!
4/30/98: The naked truth
4/22/98: Playing fair and square
4/19/98: Bad teachers"
4/15/98: "Clinton in Africa "
4/13/98: "Bundling and unbundling "
4/9/98: "Rising or falling Starr "
4/6/98: "Was Clinton ‘vindicated'? "
3/26/98: "Diasters -- natural and political"
3/24/98: "A pattern of behavior"
3/22/98: Innocent explanations
3/19/98: Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill
3/17/98: Search and destroy
3/12/98: Media Circus versus Justice
3/6/98: Vindication
3/3/98: Cheap Shot Time
2/26/98: The Wrong Filter
2/24/98: Trial by Media
2/20/98: Dancing Around the Realities
2/19/98: A "Do Something" War?
2/12/98: Julian Simon, combatant in a 200-year war
2/6/98: A rush to rhetoric

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.