Quick Roundup 156

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Free-Market Solution for NOLA?

Nicole Gelinas of City Journal has been following developments in and about New Orleans ever since it was hit by Hurricane Katrina. Friday, she suggested one of the more creative solutions to the problem posed by the presence of housing projects throughout the city: selling them off. She notes that the projects, unlike those many in other parts of the country, consist of architecturally interesting townhomes and that the buildings are structurally sound, although still in need of renovation.

And nearly 18 months after Katrina, New Orleans certainly isn't lacking for an underclass. In fact, the city's murder rate is once again out of control, mainly due to unparented, impulsive young men shooting other unparented, impulsive young men.

What New Orleans is lacking is enough middle-class and working-class residents, who began leaving the city long before Katrina. Without such citizens, the Big Easy won't have the committed voters and tax dollars it needs to become a functional, healthy city -- something it hasn't been for decades.

To attract a new middle class, the feds and New Orleans should do a full-scale renovation of the apartments, hiring contractors who agree in writing to do the work quickly (and who face penalties if they don't). Then the government should get out of the way, selling the newly renovated apartments as condos or co-ops to returning middle-class New Orleanians or newcomers who want to make a go of it in the city. It’s likely the market rate for each apartment would be below $150,000, making them accessible to families who earn $30,000 annually or so.

The federal and city governments, as sponsors, could certainly draw up rules about ownership, like those that other condo and co-op residents live by. They could mandate, for example, that purchasers actually live in their apartments most of the time, rather than rent them out long-term to tenants, and that buyers have decent credit records and work histories. New residents would take over the administration of the rules once the federal government had sold off a majority of the units. [link added]
There are many things wrong with this proposal, but it remains the closest to a free-market idea I have heard raised for New Orleans yet. As such, its assumptions speak volumes about where our public debate is today. (As far as I can tell, Ms. Gelinas is a fiscal conservative.)

I have yet to hear a truly capitalistic proposal for the rehabilitation of New Orleans. What might one for the projects sound like? Here's my stab.

The projects should be privatized not for the sake of bringing more tax money into a bloated city government, but because the government has no business supporting some citizens at the expense of others or serving as a landlord. It is true that selling off the buildings would bring a more productive class of person into New Orleans, but even the proposed government-financed renovations still wrongly place the burden of rebuilding upon non-owners. Furthermore, the government ought not tell people what to do with their own property once they purchase it.

Indeed, if the government simply auctioned off the properties (and assuming for the moment they could be profitably rennovated) only buyers who could afford to renovate them themselves -- because they thought they could turn a profit if they did -- would line up to buy them. Would not this class of stakeholders have an even greater interest (and ability) to impose (or support) the necessary measures to reduce crime in order to protect their investments?

And if nobody buys the properties? Perhaps those who would stand to lose their shirts if they placed winning bids think New Orleans still inadequately protected from future storms, has not decided to get serious about crime, or will sink into the sea in another couple of decades. If that's the case, why burden the public with a moment's further support?

Note that the guiding principle for government action should always be: "Does this protect individual rights?" Note also that when individual rights are protected, the energy and drive of private individuals functions best. This is why one can take any argument based on the positive economic effects of a small step towards freedom, like this proposal, and point out the even greater positive effects of more freedom. In this case, we would see a decision made on whether to renovate based on how valuable the property is to its owner.

And this leads me to ask, "Why not argue for more than just limited freedom?"

Why are atheists despised?

Via HBL, I learned of a very interesting post by Ilya Somin on American attitudes towards atheists.
[I]t is worth noting that the 53% figure for those unwilling to support an atheist presidential candidate of their own party is statistically indistinguishable from the 50% who, in another recent survey said they had a "mostly" or "very" unfavorable view of atheists, and the 51% who believe that "[i]t is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values" (see here). The 50% figure, by the way, is much higher than that for any other other minority group, with Muslims a distant second at a 31% "mostly" or "very" unfavorable rating.


As I have argued in the Legal Times Article linked above, and here , the widespead prejudice against atheists is in large part due to the false perception that atheism is equivalent to immorality or moral relativism....
Indeed, and with "intellectuals" like William Rees-Mogg, fanning the flames, who can blame them?
The modernist attack on religion was based on the victory of science, and particularly of neo-Darwinism. Yet science was open to the same challenge as religion; it could explain only half the world. The scientists, or some of them, sneered at religion for being unable to explain the developments of nature. Yet science itself was unable to produce a science-based morality for society. Marxism attempted to create a scientific social order that ended in monstrous and bloodthirsty tyranny. Social Darwinism either meant eugenics and the slaughter of babies who were not thought fit to survive, or it meant nothing. The Social Darwinism of George Bernard Shaw, or indeed that of Adolf Hitler, has been rejected by mankind.
Many people will read arguments like this and find them plausible, despite the fact that it is not science, but philosophy which is the proper discipline for studying such issues as the fundamental nature of existence, how we know what we know, and morality.

Rees-Mogg should know the difference between the special discipline of science, and that of philosophy, on whose conclusions about the validity of man's faculty of reason it rests. But he's interested in perpetuating the groundless belief that man "needs" religion for morality, and so he chooses to sow confusion like this instead.

Given that the religious conception of morality consists in lists of commands supposedly issued by a divine being, but always delivered by men like Rees-Mogg, his motivation for perpetuating the myth that "atheism equals immorality" should be obvious.

When more people understand this, perhaps fewer of them will be suspicious of atheists and more will look askance at salesmen of intellectual snake oil, like Rees-Mogg.

That (Should've-Been in) Science Article

A couple of years ago, I blogged about the complicity of two major scientific journals in perpetuating global warming hysteria by suppressing scientific dissent. Via HBL, I recently learned of a location for the article by Dr. Benny Peiser that I mentioned.

-- CAV


Galileo Blogs said...

There are so many problems with New Orleans, but one over-riding problem looms large: lack of confidence in the reconstruction of the levee. I saw a photo of a rebuilt house that was built on stilts in one of the flooded out zones.

Do people build their houses on stilts on land in Holland that is below sea level? I doubt it.

All this talk about grand government-led plans to rebuild New Orleans, and the waters lap at the city gates...

Gus Van Horn said...

And remember: This isn't just government incompetence, it's Louisiana's special version. Not only were the levees not built to the required specifications, I've also heard that levee inspections were basically fun junkets for the inspectors. And then, of course, if I were the guy who came back to see my house deposited in the middle of the street (2nd photo at link; This was a pretty nice part of town, BTW), I'd really be paranoid!

There was a small chance I was going to have to follow my wife to live in NOLA for a few years for her career. I thank my lucky stars that won't be the case.

Inspector said...


Thanks for showing your post on Science again. I've used it I-forget-how-many-times.

Fun fact: Science has been pulling that same act for many years:

From that link, junkscience.com:

"Science journals were biased against DDT. Philip Abelson, editor of Science informed Dr. Thomas Jukes that Science would never publish any article on DDT that was not antagonistic."

That is circa the 1970's, I believe.

Gus Van Horn said...

And that is an example of why it is ultimately far more important to work for deep cultural change. If we're lucky, those of us who appreciate the scientific side of such debates can debunk the side used to make socialism look respectable. This time.

But until socialism wanes as cultural force, we will always have people like that editor in positions of power who will make us have to make such arguments so frequently that the attention span of the general public is taxed not only over the time of any given debate, but by the factual minutiae of each debate as well as their sheer number.

Come to think of it, these scientific debates related to what are really political issues also often serve as distractions. Even if global warming were due to man-made causes, the measures being advocated to stop it are wrong. Often, the debate never gets this far.