Jewish World Review March 9, 2000 /2 Adar 2, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- SOMETIMES YOU DON'T KNOW whether to laugh or cry. A California group calling itself Peninsula Interfaith Action has launched a campaign for more "affordable housing" on the San Francisco peninsula. Among their actions is pressing local governments "to create affordable-housing belts, in much the same way that greenbelts are established."
It never seems to occur to such people that greenbelts are one of the big reasons why housing is not affordable in much of coastal California. If you are going to take land off the market, then the land that is still on the market is going to go up in price -- and so will the housing that is built on that more expensive land.
There also seems to be a notion that there is some special kind of housing called "affordable housing" and that only the government can build it. But any kind of housing -- from studio apartments to penthouse suites and from cabins to mansions -- can be either affordable or unaffordable.
My son lived in affordable housing at $450 a month for a two-bedroom apartment in a complex with its own swimming pools and tennis courts. That same kind of housing in San Francisco or Palo Alto would probably have cost two or three thousand dollars a month.
As the realtors say, the three big factors in housing prices are location, location and location. In California, and probably some other places, there are three other big factors -- liberals, liberals and liberals.
Liberals love to have the government do nice things -- without the slightest regard for the costs or the consequences. Greenery is nice. Open space is nice. It is nice to have buildings that are not too tall. There are all sorts of nice requirements you can put on builders before granting them permits to build.
There is no cash register ringing as the costs of all these nice things keep adding up. It is all done with a wave of the government's magic wand. Not having added up any of these costs, liberals are then shocked and outraged when they discover that apartment rents are stratospheric and housing prices astronomical.
The only explanation they can think of is the "greed" of other people. In their own minds, they themselves will never be among the suspects behind unaffordable housing. Why people should happen to be more greedy on the San Francisco peninsula than in other places is one of many questions liberals do not even consider, much less answer.
One of the problems in trying to find out whether any given policy is a success or failure is that you first have to find out what those who promoted that policy were trying to do. The ostensible beneficiaries are not always the real beneficiaries. Sometimes the ostensible beneficiaries are actually made worse off.
Housing in liberal Palo Alto is often not affordable by the middle class, much less by the poor. If the ostensible beneficiaries, such as the poor, are not really benefitted, then who is benefitted? Those who proclaim themselves friends of the poor are benefitted.
This friendship may not do the poor much good but it helps other people to feel good about themselves for their busy efforts at social betterment. You would be hard pressed to find another place where more people feel good about themselves than on the San Francisco peninsula. Most of these are right-thinking people -- which is to say, left-thinking people.
Abraham Lincoln understood such things more than a century ago. Twenty-five years before he delivered the Gettysburg Address, he delivered a speech in Springfield, Illinois, where he spoke of the burning desire of some people for distinction -- which he said they would seek "whether by freeing slaves or enslaving free men."
In other words, the ostensible beneficiaries didn't matter. What mattered was their own ego gratification.
Lots of people in California are gratifying their egos by moral preening as they denounce "greed" and puff themselves up with words like "compassion" and "caring." Their policies and politics are a great success in that sense.
Here and there they can win symbolic victories, such as forcing builders to
sell some houses below market price -- for, say, a quarter of a million
dollars in Palo Alto, rather than the usual half a million or more. And the
social crusaders can go on being morally one-up indefinitely because
affordable housing will always be there as an unattainable goal under the
JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.