The Public Policy

The Public Policy

Charlatans and Sheep: Part III

By 10.8.15

The prevailing social dogma of our time — that economic and other disparities among groups are strange, if not sinister — has set off bitter disputes between those who blame genetic differences and those who blame discrimination.

Both sides ignore the possibility that groups themselves may differ in their orientations, their priorities, and in what they are prepared to sacrifice for the sake of other things.

Back in the early 19th century, an official of the Russian Empire reported that even the poorest Jews saw to it that their daughters could read, and their homes had at least ten books. This was at a time when the vast majority of the population of the Russian Empire were illiterate.

During that same era, Thomas Jefferson complained that there was not a single bookstore where he lived. In Frederick Law Olmsted’s travels through the antebellum South, he noted that even plantation owners seldom had many books.

But in mid-18th century Scotland, even people of modest means had books, and those too poor to buy them could rent books from lending libraries, which were common throughout Scottish towns.

The Public Policy

Charlatans and Sheep: Part II

By 10.7.15

One of the secrets of successful magicians on stage is directing the audience’s attention to something that is attractive or distracting, but irrelevant to what is actually being done. That is also the secret of successful political charlatans.

Consider the message directed at business owners by Senator Elizabeth Warren and President Barack Obama — “You didn’t build that!”

Assuming for the sake of argument that a man who owns a business simply inherited it from his father, what follows? That politicians can use the inherited resources better than the heir? Such a sweeping assumption has neither logic nor evidence behind it — but rhetoric doesn’t have to have logic or evidence to be politically effective.

The conclusion is insinuated, rather than spelled out, so it is less likely to be scrutinized. Moreover, attention is directed toward the undeserved good fortune of the heir, and away from the crucial question as to whether society will in fact be better off if politicians take over more of either the management or the earnings of the business.

The Public Policy

Charlatans and Sheep

By 10.6.15

One of the many painful signs of the mindlessness of our times was a recent section of the Wall Street Journal, built around the theme “What’s Holding Women Back in the Workplace?”

Whenever some group is not equally represented in some institution or activity, the automatic response in some quarters is to assume that someone has prevented equality of outcomes.

This preconception of equal outcomes requires not one speck of evidence, and defies mountains of evidence to the contrary. Even in activities where individual performances are what determine outcomes, and those performances are easily measured objectively, there is seldom anything resembling equal representation.

For 12 consecutive years — from 2001 through 2012 — each home run leader in the American League had a Hispanic surname. When two American boys whose ancestors came from India tied for first place in the U.S. National Spelling Bee in 2014, it was the 7th consecutive year in which the U.S. National Spelling Bee was won by an Asian Indian.

The Public Policy

Will Property Crime Uptick Become Crime Wave?

By 10.5.15

“Crime drops to new lows,” read Tuesday’s San Francisco Chronicle headline for a story about historic lows in crime statistics, nationally as well as in the Bay Area. I hope you enjoyed that headline, because it could be the last time you will read it for at least a decade. Though violent crime rates dropped in California in 2014, some property crime is rising. Some fear that changes in California law that have led to increases in property crime eventually could result in a rise in more serious offenses.

The Public Policy

The ‘Affordable Housing’ Fraud

By 9.29.15

Nowhere has there been so much hand-wringing over a lack of “affordable housing,” as among politicians and others in coastal California. And nobody has done more to make housing unaffordable than those same politicians and their supporters.

A recent survey showed that the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco was just over $3,500. Some people are paying $1,800 a month just to rent a bunk bed in a San Francisco apartment.

It is not just in San Francisco that putting a roof over your head can take a big chunk out of your pay check. The whole Bay Area is like that. Thirty miles away, Palo Alto home prices are similarly unbelievable.

One house in Palo Alto, built more than 70 years ago, and just over one thousand square feet in size, was offered for sale at $1.5 million. And most asking prices are bid up further in such places.

Another city in the Bay Area with astronomical housing prices, San Mateo, recently held a public meeting and appointed a task force to look into the issue of “affordable housing.”

The Public Policy

Obama’s Job Killing Gift to Big Labor

By 9.21.15

The Obama administration rewarded its union allies last month with a decision that threatens millions of jobs and thousands of businesses, from staffing agencies to cleaning services and auto-repair shops to construction companies. In a case involving Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI), the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decided to unilaterally redefine the concept of joint employment—when more than one business is responsible for an employee or group of employees—and made it easier to unionize large corporations. This ruling could have a devastating effect on small businesses, job creation, and the U.S. economy.

The Public Policy

Opportunity Versus Outcomes

By 9.16.15

A hostile review of my new book — Wealth, Poverty and Politics — said, “there is apparently no level of inequality of income or opportunity that Thomas Sowell would consider unacceptable.”

Ordinarily, reviewers who miss the whole point of a book they are reviewing can be ignored. But this particular confusion about what opportunity means is far too widespread, far beyond a particular reviewer of a particular book. That makes it a confusion worth clearing up, because it affects so many other discussions of very serious issues.

Wealth, Poverty and Politics does not accept inequality of opportunity. Instead, it reports such things as children raised in low-income families usually not being spoken to nearly as often as children raised in high-income families. The conclusion: “It is painful to contemplate what that means cumulatively over the years, as poor children are handicapped from their earliest childhood.”

The Public Policy

Public Safety Was the Last Thing on Their Minds

By 6.22.15

Everyone has a story: The time an unlicensed driver rear-ended me. The time an unlicensed driver ran a red light and killed a co-worker’s dog as her husband was walking the dog in a crosswalk. It seems as if there are so many unlicensed drivers in California that authorities are not capable of deterring the unlicensed from getting behind the wheel.

In fact, according to a report by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, 17 percent of licensed California drivers have suspended driver’s licenses — not for dangerous driving but for failing to pay off citations for minor traffic offenses. In March, the U.S. Department of Justice faulted authorities in Ferguson, Missouri, for engaging in a toxic pattern of burying African-American residents in fines and penalties for minor offenses with the goal of serving “revenue rather than public safety needs.” It turns out California has been dishing out the same dirty treatment to its diverse commuting class.

The Public Policy

Pension Roulette

By 6.16.15

Many states, counties, and cities are in a budget vise caused by funds they are required to set aside to pay pensions for retired public employees. California may be in the worst shape.

Ever since Jerry Brown—in his first incarnation as Governor (1975-79) —approved collective bargaining by public employee unions they have used the union dues the state deducts from public employee paychecks to fund legislators’ election campaigns. 

Over the last 40 years the legislature has been dominated by Democrats in all but a few years. It is not much of a stretch to say it is more-or-less owned by the public employee unions, on the one hand, and the environmental lobby, on the other.  

The Public Policy

Paying the Price

By 6.2.15

Baltimore is now paying the price for irresponsible words and actions, not only by young thugs in the streets, but also by its mayor and the state prosecutor, both of whom threw the police to the wolves, in order to curry favor with local voters.

Now murders in Baltimore in May have been more than double what they were in May last year, and higher than in any May in the past 15 years. Meanwhile, the number of arrests is down by more than 50 percent.

Various other communities across the country are experiencing very similar explosions of crime and reductions of arrests, in the wake of anti-police mob rampages from coast to coast that the media sanitize as “protests.”

None of this should be surprising. In her carefully researched 2010 book, Are Cops Racist? Heather Mac Donald pointed out that, after anti-police campaigns, cops tended to do less policing and criminals tended to commit more crimes.

If all this has been known for years, why do the same mistakes keep getting made?

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