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Jewish World Review Feb. 11, 2000 /5 Adar 1, 5760

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
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Pandering to the anointed -- IN POLITICALLY CORRECT California, there are two things you must believe in, if you want to be regarded as a decent human being -- "open spaces" and "affordable housing." The fact that these two things contradict each other is of interest only to those who are old-fashioned enough to take logic and evidence seriously.

Economists may talk about how supply and demand determine prices. But, in California, there is not the slightest discussion of the very possibility that reducing the supply of land by taking it off the market drives up the price of the remaining land and the housing built on it.

Here, on the left coast, high prices are considered inexplicable or explicable only by "greed" on the part of landlords. Presumably, other landlords in other places are just nicer people.

One of the reasons housing is not affordable in many parts of California is that there are so many people devoted to keeping it from being built. An absolutely stereotypical specimen of this mind-set is a middle-aged hippie and Berkeley dropout who has devoted himself to "saving" something called "San Bruno Mountain."

Only if you call a hill 1,300 feet high a mountain does even the word make sense. Moreover this is not some rural Walden. It is a hill next to the baseball park where the San Francisco Giants have been playing for years. Like other things, this hill can be used for many different purposes. When other people use it for what they want, that is called "destroying" San Bruno. When the Berkeley hippies of the world use it for what they want to, that is called "saving" it.

Now that we know the local language, we can understand why the San Francisco Chronicle lavishes praises on the San Bruno activist "in his black plastic sandals" for saving "his beloved San Bruno Mountain." Of course, if this really was his mountain -- or even hill -- there would be no story.

What someone does with his own property is of little interest or concern to anyone else.

The reason there is a story is that this hill does not belong to the hippie activist at all. He simply arrogates to himself the right to obstruct other people from building on it, whether by chaining himself to a construction fence, organizing other activists or propagandizing school children who are brought there by their teachers to learn political correctness from a local guru, instead of spending their time on anything so mundane as reading, writing and arithmetic.

Meanwhile, a few miles to the west, there are nearly 1,500 acres of rolling land that San Francisco has acquired from the federal government after a military base was closed there. That is nearly twice the size of Central Park. Surely this could add a vast amount of housing to the city's supply and ease the strains that have everyone wringing his hands over a lack of affordable housing.

Not on your life. No way is this vast stretch of real estate to be allowed to fall into the grubby hands of developers, who would build housing for the unwashed masses. It too has to be preserved for the benefit of the nobler sorts.

One set of these precious people favored by the political powers that be call themselves the San Francisco Film Centre. Note that it is not movies but "film" and that the American way of spelling "center" is not good enough for them.

How did they get onto this land? The San Francisco Chronicle explains: "A seven-member panel of business, community and government leaders, appointed by the Clinton administration, reviews proposals from prospective tenants and decides who gets to occupy the converted historic buildings."

In other words, the old collectivist way of doing things, which has failed repeatedly on every inhabited continent and among people of every race and creed, is to be used to dispose of this land. The operation is supposed to "achieve financial self-sufficiency by 2013."

Can you imagine an area twice the size of Central Park taking more than a decade to get out of the red, in a city dying for more housing? Not if it were put on the market and the buyers were free to construct apartment buildings.

If this were just the usual story of political favoritism and corruption, that would be one thing. But this is the deeper corruption of people whose self-indulgence and ego trips are portrayed as some kind of noble concern for higher things.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate