Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review June 4, 2001 / 14 Sivan, 5761

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Shocked by the obvious -- THE obvious makes headlines in California. Maybe this shows that a sense of reality or common sense is not something that can be taken for granted among Californians.

A recent headline stretching across the top of the front page announced that "Population dwarfs housing" in San Mateo County, on the San Francisco peninsula. The same headline would have applied throughout most of the state -- and it should not have surprised anybody anywhere. But apparently a recent release of Census data brought much news that should not have been news.

Census statistics showed that the housing supply in San Mateo county grew only half as fast as the population. Should this have surprised anyone, given that more than two-thirds of the land in that county is off-limits for building anything? But, in California, there seems to be no connection in most people's minds between "open space" laws and housing so scarce that it is outrageously expensive. Often the very same people are passionately in favor of both "open space" and "affordable housing" -- and see no conflict between these goals.

Nor do they see any conflict between arbitrary height restrictions on buildings and the clogged freeways that plague all of California. They would undoubtedly be shocked if told that open space and limits on building heights increases traffic deaths by forcing more people to drive greater distances from their dispersed housing to the places where they work. Such obvious common sense would undoubtedly produce headlines in California if someone would just go collect the statistics.

Whether the fear of looking like Manhattan would overcome the fear of death, if people stopped and thought about it, is not clear -- because very few have stopped to think about the costs of most of Californian's sacred cows. Only recently have blackouts caused some to reconsider their automatic opposition to building power plants in general or nuclear power plants in particular.

For years, California's movie stars and environmental activists so demonized nuclear power plants that nobody bothered to find out what scientists thought or what the experience has been with nuclear power plants in Western Europe over the past decades. Facts play a very minor role in many decisions.

For example, to many Californians, the words "public power" still have a magic ring, despite the fact that people around the world have discovered the hard way that having politicians run economic activities produces disasters. That is why even left-wing governments in various countries have started selling government-owned enterprises to private industry. But few Californians either seek or welcome such facts. Nor are they likely to consider that Chernobyl was "public power."

Another headline on the same front page which announced that housing was lagging behind population growth also announced that the median age in the San Francisco Bay area was rising. Of course. As housing becomes ever more expensive, those who can afford it are increasingly restricted to those with higher incomes.

Contrary to political rhetoric, these are not some separate class of "the rich," but are simply people who have reached an age where their earnings have peaked, even though many of those very same people were counted among "the poor" in earlier years. Once you get past political rhetoric, it is easy to see why the most expensive places in the bay area tend to have the oldest ages and the poorest places the youngest ages.

In upscale Marin County, for example, the median age is 41. In San Mateo County, posh Portola Valley has a median age of 47.5, while run-down East Palo Alto, with a predominantly minority population, has a median age of just under 26.

Another headline, inside the same newspaper, declares: "Housing grows more nationwide than in state." Lots of things grow more nationwide than in California. That is because California politicians so heavily restrict, tax and micro-manage so many economic activities that people are left freer to grow elsewhere.

The missing link in many Californians' thinking is the link between what they do and the consequences that follow. In California, you show what a good person you are by being in favor of all sorts of politically correct goals -- and blithely disregarding the costs these goals will impose on others or the consequences for the whole society. That is why these obvious consequences produce such shocking headlines.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy.


Thomas Sowell Archives

© 2001, Creators Syndicate