Quick Roundup 337

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Houston Zoning Debate Returns

Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States. It is also the largest without zoning. The ability of its landowners to exercise their property rights without encumbrance (and thus adapt to changes in their neighborhoods and the economy as a whole) has doubtless contributed to its economic strength and helped make possible its recent rankings -- by Kiplinger's Personal Finance and Money as the best city in the nation to live.

Unfortunately, too many Americans have become used to the idea of pressuring politicians for political favors, falling in some respects into a mindset of dependence that mistrusts freedom and its corollary, independent judgement. To such a mindset, absolute freedom by others to dispose of their own property as they see fit is a threat. Every few years, people afflicted with this mentality attempt to convince the people of Houston that they should adopt zoning.

As the Ad Hoc Committee for Property Rights recently put it on its new blog, Houston Property Rights (which is linked permanently at the right), paranoia about how others might use their own property is not just wrong on principle, there are mountains of evidence that it is wrong in practice.

Among the reasons for the ratings are our relatively stable housing market, our certainly affordable housing, and our growing economy. Interestingly, the cities that zoning advocates would have us emulate are suffering from a collapsing real estate market, exorbitantly expense housing, and a loss of jobs.

Even a cursory examination of history or recent events demonstrates, time after time, that freedom -- i.e., the absence of government coercion -- results in a more stable and vibrant economy. [bold added]
Have I not recently experienced the ridiculous housing costs of Boston on my own hide? And was anyone in Houston paying attention when all the comparisons between free Houston and government-controlled New Orleans were being made shortly after Katrina?

Why in the world should Houston start imitating failure just as it is on the cusp of greatness? If we change anything about Houston, it should be to make it even less like New Orleans and other such helpless cities. I am glad to see that the Ad Hoc Committee for Property Rights -- which stopped zoning a decade ago -- is back in the saddle: I'd like to come back some day.

Be sure to take a look around their blog, and tell them I sent you.

Statutory Obsolescence Update

Awhile back, I noted an inane Texas environmentalist law that entails declaring perfectly drivable cars obsolete and then buying them from their owners at inflated prices -- with money looted via taxation, of course. The cars are then destroyed.

Thanks in part to our lucrative PhD's -- and the fact that she isn't yet a practicing physician -- my wife and I actually qualified for this program last year and, based on a line of reasoning similar to the one Ayn Rand took in "The Question of Scholarships" in The Objectivist, we decided to apply because one of our cars had been declared "not green enough" recently:
Since there is no such thing as the right of some men to vote away the rights of others, and no such thing as the right of the government to seize the property of some men for the unearned benefit of others -- the advocates and supporters of the welfare state are morally guilty of robbing their opponents, and the fact that the robbery is legalized makes it morally worse, not better. The victims do not have to add self-inflicted martyrdom to the injury done to them by others; they do not have to let the looters profit doubly, by letting them distribute the money exclusively to the parasites who clamored for it. Whenever the welfare-state laws offer them some small restitution, the victims should take it. (93) [bold added]
Well, guess what? The state wasn't done playing around with us! From the "How to Apply" page link for Harris County comes this little gem: "H-GAC To Stop Issuing Vouchers on May 9". We learned this a day or two after the fact, just as we were applying.

That figures. On the one hand, I am somewhat glad to see that this rathole for confiscated money is plugged. On the other, this program remains in place because the hole was plugged for purely pragmatic reasons. This means that it will likely be reopened in the future.

This program is immoral and should be abolished entirely.

Pop-Culture "Atheism" -- or Mainstream Irrationality?

James Taranto, at the end of a recent "Best of the Web" (scroll to the bottom), reminds me of an emotionalist I knew in college who apparently could not conceive of someone actually not believing in God. Upon learning I was an atheist, she thought I was merely "angry at God".

Taranto notes that many people who called themselves "atheist" in a poll also expressed a belief in God. He then mentions the report's probably correct offering of confusion about the term "atheist" as a likely reason for the discrepancy.

But then he says that ambiguity about the word "believe" might be the real culprit and cites the petulant lyrics of a song by the British band XTC as an example. He summarizes the attitude thusly: "[T]he XTC atheists' attitude toward God is like the Arabs' attitude toward Israel. They don't deny that God exists, but they blame him for all their problems, and they refuse to recognize his right to exist."

This is spot-on in one sense and disingenuous in another. To the degree that this band accepts Christian teachings, they are being petulant. But in the sense that Taranto imputes petulance to all atheists, he is being dishonest. He both evades the legitimate question of whether there is a God and psychologizes atheists in one fell swoop.

It is not terribly surprising to me that, many emotionalists who really are "angry at God" (and haven't given the question much rational thought) would call themselves "atheists".

Nor is it surprising that Taranto, like other conservative commentators with a heavy emotional stake in not questioning religion, would leap at the chance to set such people up as straw men for atheism. After all, they've had thousands of years to make their case that God exists and have still come up empty. Rather than own up to the fact that they are not even wrong and move on, they petulantly scapegoat the atheists.

Can we say "projection"? I knew you could!

-- CAV


Joseph Kellard said...

A fundamental reason religionists such as Taranto paint atheists with one brush is based on their belief in God and His capacities. If, as they believe, God is the giver of the one true morality and wisdom, then to reject Him is to reject morality and knowledge as such. So, of course, anyone who rejects God rejects morality and wisdom He has set in stone.

It makes no difference to the Tarantos if an atheist is a subjectivist or an Objectivist--their so-called morality and wisdom is false because they all reject the fundamental giver of the only morality and wisdom that truly exists: God. If God's morality is an absolute, then those who reject him are absolutely all the same--their differences essentially mean nothing.

Gus Van Horn said...


Furthermore, epistemologically, religionists can't conceive of objectivity apart from mystic revelation, and so on a psychological level, their feeling of well-being is threatened by anybody who raises doubts about whether there is a God.

(This may, come to think of it, just be mostly a re-hashing of what you just said, but I think it's a useful re-hashing.)

The Tarantos of the world thus equally despise and equally fear all atheists....

Joseph Kellard said...


Yes, religionists like Taranto don't recognize objectivity -- they regard all atheists as essentially subjectivists. While Ayn Rand's morality part of a philosophy called Objectivism, i.e., based on objectivity, that’s merely an empty label that hides that fact that her ethics is essentially no different than, say, the moral relativists who just makes up his own values and ethics.

All atheists are essentially subjectivist whim-worshipers who just make up their morality as they go along—because they reject God, the giver of the only true morality as contained in the Bible, they are all essentially the same.

Joseph Kellard

Gus Van Horn said...

This equating of subjectivists (who are mostly leftists with Objectivists on this level reminds me of how many leftists will equate conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh with shock jocks. Both are "offensive", although a shock jock might be rude or cruel, whereas Limbaugh's ideas are regarded as inherently offensive (because they are held out to be objective or correct).

In both cases, you have a rejection of objectivity and a demonization of those who are more objective in some respect based on what aspect of reality a particular breed of irrationalist directs most of his animus towards.

Religionists don't want to think, and yet want intelligible rules for their lives -- so they castigate people who bring reason to bear on the matter of the existence of God. Leftists oftenn regard themselves as thinkers, but don't want to be constrained by arbitrary rules like (religious commandments). They feel that all ideas are arbitrary and cannot conceive of an objective code of morality.