The high cost of liberalism

Thomas Sowell's picture

Liberals advocate many wonderful things. In fact, I suspect that most conservatives would prefer to live in the kind of world envisioned by liberals, rather than in the kind of world envisioned by conservatives.

Unfortunately, the only kind of world that any of us can live in is the world that actually exists. Trying to live in the kind of world that liberals envision has costs that will not go away just because these costs are often ignored by liberals.

One of those costs appeared in an announcement of a house for sale in Palo Alto, the community adjacent to Stanford University, an institution that is as politically correct as they come.

The house is for sale at $1,498,000. It is a 1,010 square foot bungalow with two bedrooms, one bath and a garage. Although the announcement does not mention it, this bungalow is located near a commuter railroad line, with trains passing regularly throughout the day.

Lest you think this house must be some kind of designer’s dream, loaded with high-tech stuff, it was built in 1942 and, even if it was larger, no one would mistake it for the Taj Mahal or San Simeon.

This house is not an aberration, and its price is not out of line with other housing prices in Palo Alto. One couple who had lived in their 1,200 square foot home in Palo Alto for 20 years decided to sell it, and posted an asking price just under $1.3 million.

Competition for that house forced the selling price up to $1.7 million.

Another Palo Alto house, this one with 1,292 square feet of space, is on the market for $2,285,000. It was built in 1895.

Even a vacant lot in Palo Alto costs more than a spacious middle-class home costs in most of the rest of the country.

How does this tie in with liberalism?

In this part of California, liberalism reigns supreme and “open space” is virtually a religion. What that lovely phrase means is that there are vast amounts of empty land where the law forbids anybody from building anything.

Anyone who has taken Economics 1 knows that preventing the supply from rising to meet the demand means that prices are going to rise. Housing is no exception.

Yet when my wife wrote in a local Palo Alto newspaper, many years ago, that preventing the building of housing would cause existing housing to become far too expensive for most people to afford it, she was deluged with more outraged letters than I get from readers of a nationally syndicated column.

What she said was treated as blasphemy against the religion of “open space” — and open space is just one of the wonderful things about the world envisioned by liberals that is ruinously expensive in the mundane world where the rest of us live.

Much as many liberals like to put guilt trips on other people, they seldom seek out, much less acknowledge and take responsibility for, the bad consequences of their own actions.

There are people who claim that astronomical housing prices in places like Palo Alto and San Francisco are due to a scarcity of land. But there is enough vacant land (“open space”) on the other side of the 280 Freeway that goes past Palo Alto to build another Palo Alto or two — except for laws and policies that make that impossible.

As in San Francisco and other parts of the country where housing prices skyrocketed after building homes was prohibited or severely restricted, this began in Palo Alto in the 1970s.

Housing prices in Palo Alto nearly quadrupled during that decade. This was not due to expensive new houses being built, because not a single new house was built in Palo Alto in the 1970s. The same old houses simply shot up in price.

It was very much the same story in San Francisco, which was a bastion of liberalism then as now. There too, incredibly high prices are charged for small houses, often jammed close together. A local newspaper described a graduate student looking for a place to rent who was “visiting one exorbitantly priced hovel after another.”

That is part of the unacknowledged cost of “open space,” and just part of the high cost of liberalism.

[Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is] COPYRIGHT 2014 CREATORS.COM

stranger than f...
stranger than fiction's picture
Joined: 06/27/2012
The Higher Cost of Conservatism

Uncle Tom Sowell appears vexed to discover that practical costs are associated with ideological positions thrusts upon citizens in any community. And of course, he rounds up the usual suspects, those nefarious liberals, to castigate for this fiscal reality.

Isn’t it nice to note that conservative ideals never tax the populace. There are a few exceptions of course. The U.S. defense budget eats up 20% of all federal spending and is more than the defense expenditures of the next 8 countries combined. Oh yes, and the 2.3 million residents of our penal system – China’s second with 1.6 million even though their population is 4 times ours. We gladly fork over $24,000 per year for each of our inmates in the prison system because shoplifters must be taught the same lesson as murderers. The U.S. has only 5% of the world’s population but houses about 25% of the prisoners world-wide. Gun carnage, privatized probations programs, etc., the list goes on, but these are mere exceptions.

It’s comforting to be reminded that high costs are associated only with ideological spending of those naughty liberals.

PTC Observer
PTC Observer's picture
Joined: 04/23/2007
STF - Dr. Sowell

Ideological positions thrust upon citizens against their will? Like the AHA? Ideological spending and government overreach indeed! I think any rational person would prefer to be taxed to protect our county than to be robbed of the choice of doctors and medical care.

As to the issue of prisons, I can't agree with you more on this point. "While only 8 percent of federal prisoners were sentenced for violent crimes in 2011, almost half of federal inmates – 48 percent – were in prison for drug crimes, according to Department of Justice statistics." This is a failed policy of both parties. There are no easy answers to the use of drugs in our society, but I think we have proven that the war of drugs has been lost, lost on our boarders, lost in the heartland, lost in our cities and at the cost of thousands of our finest law enforcement officers.

We simply need to understand that regulating human behavior and choice doesn't work. The lessons that we should learn from the war on drugs is that you cannot regulate human action, through regulation you can only make your fellow man miserable, and institute a country of prisons not freedom of choice. The force of law should be used sparingly and for the protection of one citizen against the force of another citizen. This is the basis of the Pursuit of Happiness.

"The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first." T. Jefferson

Our Constitution is considered a "rag" by politicians today, I wonder why?

stranger than f...
stranger than fiction's picture
Joined: 06/27/2012
Ideological Choices have Price Tags

Practical implementation of ideological strategies often is accompanied by financial costs regardless of which side of center one's ideology leans. Sowell, as usual, castigates left-of-center ideological costs while ignoring the practical costs of his right-wing agenda. His unabashed unfairness released each week in this newspaper is shameful. Sowell’s presence at Stanford is perhaps the most inappropriate affirmative action hire in the nation because he so thoroughly disregards any truth that doesn’t fit his very narrow world-view, and he seems far too intellectually limited to recognize these contradictions.

conditon55's picture
Joined: 03/12/2010
Thomas Sowell has never been to PTC

Open space and undeveloped land goes to standard of living. San Fran prices are high because it is a desirable place to live. Apparently liberals have money too.

Robert W. Morgan
Robert W. Morgan's picture
Joined: 10/26/2005
Yes I love our "open space" as well

Difference being in Palo Alto open space is created in large chunks as an alternative to building, so there is no growth or expansion of housing inventory. In PTC open space is created (or left alone) with each subdivision or commercial area and there was good steady growth for a long time. In my opinion, it adds value. I have had many visitors here who are not sure what they are looking at, but they just like the feel of the place. When I tell them about open space, the cart paths, buffers and setbacks, along with the great landscaping on Hwy 54, they get it, but at first it is just an intangible feeling.

I love to visit San Francisco, but living there would be a chore if you had to actually talk to your neighbors.

Recent Comments