Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Incoherence and panderers

I was recently asked to referee a paper wherein the authors took great pains to prove that neighborhood accessibility improvements cause gentrification. I recall that Thomas Sowell once asked (I am paraphrasing) "Why do they write so much when they have so little to say?"

Back to that paper, better access means raised land values which screen out low bidders. Not very deep. The harder part is that the facts of life are not easily squared with casual notions of "fairness".

I thought of this when I saw the PBS NewsHour's "How private tech industry buses became a symbol of the economic divide in San Francisco."  Have a look. To the producers' credit, the report mentioned that high rents can be linked to the area's tight land use regulations.  One commenter also noted that most people, most cities, would rejoice having the benefits of the world's premier high-tech hub located nearby.

But the rest was not pretty. Transit is a "good" thing but not when privately provided. Not when offered just to techie-types. People want "affordable" living in one of the planet's most desirable places. They want it as a matter of right, etc.

Incoherent yearnings are nothing new. What is troubling is a political leadership class that panders to them.  The Spring 2014 Independent Review (issue temporarily gated) includes a "Symposium on Successful Presidential Economic Policies." The collection includes Brandon Dupont's essay on Grover Cleveland's presidency, "'Henceforth, I Must Have No Friends' ..." The author cites Cleveland's famous veto of the "Texas Seed Bill":  "I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution ..." Political leaders do not have to pander to the incoherent.