Skip to comments.Thomas Sowell Must Read: High Cost of Busybodies: Part IV
Posted on 12/07/2003 7:12:45 AM PST by Mean Daddy
During the gasoline shortage that began in 1979, motorists were often waiting in long lines of cars at filling stations -- sometimes for hours -- in hopes of reaching the pump before the gas ran out. The ways that Ted Kennedy and Ronald Reagan proposed to deal with this situation speaks volumes about the difference between the left and the right.
Senator Kennedy said: "We must adopt a system of gasoline rationing without delay," in "a way that demands a fair sacrifice from all Americans."
Ronald Reagan said that we must get rid of price controls on petroleum, so that there won't be a shortage in the first place. One of his first acts after becoming president was to end federal price controls. Lines at filling stations disappeared.
Despite angry outcries from liberals that gas prices would skyrocket as Big Oil "gouged" the public, in reality prices came down within months and continued falling for years. More taxes were piled onto gasoline by the government but the real cost of the gas itself hit a new low by 1993.
"Fairness" is one of the great mantras of the left. Since everyone has his own definition of fairness, that word is a blank check for the expansion of government power. What "fairness" means in practice is that third parties -- busybodies -- can prevent mutual accommodations by others.
Busybodies not only prevent farmers from selling their land to people who would build housing on it, they prevent people on waiting lists for organ transplants from paying someone to donate a kidney or a liver that can be the difference between life and death.
Like Ted Kennedy, the organ donation bureaucracy is preoccupied with imposing their notions of fairness on people who are on waiting lists. And, like Senator Kennedy, they have no interest in freeing people to reduce or eliminate the shortage, which could make fairness in rationing a moot issue.
Such thinking -- or lack of thinking -- is not new. Back in the 18th century, Adam Smith wrote of politicians who devote "a most unnecessary attention" to things that would work themselves out better in a free market.
What is conventionally called "the free market" is in reality free people making their own mutual accommodations with other free people. It is one of the many tactical mistakes of conservatives to use an impersonal phrase to describe very personal choices and actions by people when they are not hamstrung by third parties.
When the issue is posed as "the free market" versus "compassion for the poor," which do you think is likely to win out?
Our bloated and ever-growing welfare state -- from which the poor get a very small share, by the way -- answers that question.
The fatal attraction of government is that it allows busybodies to impose decisions on others without paying any price themselves. That enables them to act as if there were no price, even when there are ruinous prices -- paid by others.
Millions of people's lives are made worse in innumerable ways, in order that a relative handful of busybodies can feel important and superior. Artificially high land prices in those places where busybodies reign politically, based on land use restrictions, make housing costs a crushing burden on people of average incomes.
Some of the busybodies imagine that they are preventing "over-crowding" or "traffic congestion." But what they are really doing is moving the crowding somewhere else, since people have to live somewhere, regardless.
As for traffic congestion, that is made needlessly worse because of long-distance commuting by those people whose incomes will not permit them to live in the artificially more expensive communities where they work. It is not uncommon in liberal California communities for many commuters to spend 3 or 4 hours a day in their cars, fighting traffic -- all for the greater glory of those with the mantra of "open space."
Because of the innumerable problems caused by busybodies who devote "a most unnecessary attention" to things that would be better without them, the rest of us should devote some very necessary attention to these busybodies and their sloppy arguments.
Is this supposed to make sense. He has not a clue.
He can look at micro issues, but the reality is that in the big picture, people are making the free choice to live in CA and chosing to live under the land use rules versus states that have lesser resrtictions. He would have all states offer the same rules - how is that the 'free market'?
All I am saying is that different rules in different places is not a bad thing. I have family in Los Angeles, CA and Cottonwood, AZ . . . you could not find two more different areas. I love them both, because of that. To try and have the same limitations in different places is a little idealistic.
Example, I live in Iowa and in the last 2-3 years, the state has proposed and will be building two new power plants in the next 2-4 years. How long has it been since Kalifornia has built or will build such a plant?
I live in Santa Monica, my rent would be a mortgage on a home in AZ, and I live in a grandfathered rent control apartment (which is a concept I am glad they got rid of, and which I am happy to benefit from). If my electric bill gets to high (and it was huge this month) I will consider moving. To me, is how it should work.
Second example, Sowell had an article several years ago about the red tape necessary to put a deck on his house. I went to the court house and was able to do it in a matter of hours.
Was it in Chicago that that overcrowded, un permitted, balcony deck fell and killed a bucnh of people? There are different rules needed for the dense city and Iowa, I think that is appropriate.
Third, Sowell talks about property values in San Francisco being comparable to those in other parts of the country and now they are astronomical due to restrictions on development in "green areas." You purchase a $300,000 home in certain parts of Kalifornia and you're buying a hole. A $300,000 home in Iowa/Nebraska will buy you a mansion.
I think the choice of what your $300,000 will get you is the greatest part of America. I can choose if I want to live 9 blocks from the ocean in an apartment with all kinds of regulations and rules. Knowing I will now be able to but a house around here....unless I get a big raise. But that is a choice. Do I want to see huge highrises go up at the ocean and block every view so there is cheap housing? No. I like the rules and restrictions on building around here. And for those like Sowell who don't, he can choose to live somewhere else.
Not that it should matter.
Once "compassion" is institutionalized, it becomes the worst sort of slavery, for it not only makes it permanent, but makes clear that the yoke of the state and all its weaponry is at the disposal of enforcement.
Never mind that the "infrastructure" is where most of the money goes.
It's just a variant of the some animals are more equal than others classic analysis of communism.
Someone does not have a clue.
And it isn't Dr. Sowell.
I could have documented this in painful detail, had I known where it was headed at the time.
Many of us have lived it from the inside, and his analysis not only makes sense, it is a perfect summary of the results of the process.
I will not bore everyone with the process, but I can say this: in one of the most expensive counties in the country, one could buy a comfortable 3 bedroom home for $13k. Thirty years later, when the "compassionate controllers" had taken over, the fees alone, for the "privilege" of building a home was twice that.
This is the dumbest statement I have ever heard, even allowing for some serious comprehension problems.
Nowhere in the article does Dr. Sowell suggest no rules.
As knowledgeable people are aware, rules were already in place when the busibodies took over, and if he criticized those I would be grateful if you would point them out for me.
It is the phony, artificial, laws, rules and sophistry controlling the development of a basic human need that he is addressing, including the Orwellian contention that the "ultimate" planning to accomodate future fellow human beings is not to plan for them at all.
If that makes sense to you, I would be interested in hearing any rational explanation for it.
I suspect this is all expanded to everyone's satisfaction in his new book, Applied Economics.
I suspect this is all expanded to everyone's satisfaction in his new book, Applied Economics.
Except for those who need to understand it the most, namely the above mentioned busybodies!!!
Of course, many native Californians have chosen to escape the high taxation and regulation, including the celebrated Tiger Woods. Las Vegas, Reno, Santa Fe and many other places are filled with transplanted Californians who voted with their pocketbooks as you suggest. You are left with an out-of-control state deficit and a state that has become a defacto third world country.
I myself left my native California in 1993 and it was the smartest thing I ever did. I came to the realization that, like all socialist societies, California had become a good place to BE rich, but an impossible place to BECOME rich.
When I've finished amassing my wealth, maybe I'll move to Palm Springs and play golf everyday as the poor working shlubs fight the freeways for 3 hours a day to pay $5,000 a month for a little matchstick house in San Bernardino.
Makes sense to me. And many other chose to live here. If I were Tiger, made his money and travelled most of the year, I am pretty sure my legal state of residence would be one with no income tax.
I doubt that's Dr. Sowell's position. I'm sure if a group wants to get together and declare they want that land used for this purpose AND purchased the land, he'd have no problem. It's when the group requires that others pay for their desires that a problem occurs.
A beautiful example of the substantive difference that Sowell is addressing.
I can give you another.
Before the "controllers" took over, the Sacramento area, in the traditional way, planned for the inevitable increase in human beings, and resulting traffic, by acquiring the necessary land to reroute future traffic around Sacramento, thus satisfying and accomodating both local residents and through travelers. Quite similar to the "ring " around DC or the peripherique in Paris. A rational solution to a clear future potential problem.
The "controlling twits" took over after all the necessary right of way was acquired.
They, in their infinite wisdom decided that it was "inviting" future growth, and therefore undesireable.
They decided, in their infinite wisdom, to sell off portions of the right of way to make any future solution impossible, and thus discourage those pesky newcomers.
The result? Predictable. The newcomers came anyway, but now they must suffer the price of their stubborness. Long commutes in horrendous traffic. Serves them right.
That it also victimizes local traffic, the people who have been there for generations, is a well-overlooked fact.
The mental process of little people, controlling to the end, is a sight to behold.
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