Jewish World Review Nov. 15, 2002 / 10 Kislev 5763

Thomas Sowell

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A San Francisco liberal | Now that Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi is becoming the Democrats' House minority leader, she is being celebrated as the first woman to hold such a high post. But she is also being described as a "San Francisco liberal" -- which she definitely is.

What do San Francisco liberals do? They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so just look at the picture on page 58 of the October 28 issue of Fortune magazine. It shows a small, nondescript wooden house, wedged in between two other houses on a street in San Francisco. The caption reads: "Is this house worth $1.2 million?"

San Francisco liberals, like liberals across the country, spend a lot of time talking and wringing their hands about the need for "affordable housing." Yet, wherever liberals have been politically dominant housing prices are most unaffordable.

Liberals proclaim their concern and compassion for minorities and people with low incomes. Yet these are precisely the people who are being forced out of places like San Francisco, which has the highest rents of any city in the country.

The black population of San Francisco went down 15 percent between the 1990 census and the 2000 census. The number of children in San Francisco has also gone down, since people young enough to have children can seldom afford San Francisco housing.

Despite liberals' professed concern for the poor, San Francisco is increasingly dominated by the affluent. It has the highest average income of any city in the country.

That is not necessarily because San Francisco employers are more generous. People who work in San Francisco, but are not paid high salaries, are likely to be living outside the city -- sometimes far outside -- and commuting to work.

All these things might be considered to be just unfortunate coincidences, if the same patterns did not appear time and time again, in other places where liberals have ruled the roost for years on end, whether in San Francisco or elsewhere. You can see the same thing in elite college towns like Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as in Berkeley across the bay from San Francisco or in Palo Alto, adjacent to Stanford University.

How do liberals manage to leave so much economic and social havoc in their wake, all the while feeling good about themselves and proclaiming their compassion for the poor, minorities, children and others? Economic illiteracy helps, but liberals are also tied in with environmental zealots who promote sweeping bans on the building of housing, using lovely phrases like "open space" and "protecting the environment."

Since housing is subject to supply and demand, like everything else, stifling the supply is enough to cause home prices and apartment rents to shoot up out of sight. History shows clearly that it was not demand which caused the explosive increase in California housing prices that began in the 1970s.

During the decade of the 1970s, when home prices quadrupled in Palo Alto, for example, the population of that city actually declined slightly. The number of children declined so much that several schools in Palo Alto had to be closed.

It wasn't demand that drove the prices up because the average increase in income in California was less than in the rest of the country during the decade when the state pulled way ahead of the rest of the country in the prices of its homes and apartments.

Why did housing prices go up then? Because this was the decade when severe land use restrictions spread through those places in California where liberals were politically dominant. Only in the remaining parts of California could you still find the "affordable housing" that liberals talked so much about.

In recent years, the closing down of military bases has left great expanses of prime land, with magnificent views, available in and around San Francisco. If all this land could be auctioned off on the open market for the building of housing, it could enrich the city, wipe out the housing shortage and bring down rents and home prices. But congressional liberals and San Francisco liberals have made that impossible.

So long as Nancy Pelosi remains in the congressional minority, the rest of the country may escape the effects of San Francisco liberalism. But if such people are ever in the majority, look out!

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late.


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© 2002, Creators Syndicate