Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Politicians and their “solutions”

“It is remarkable how many political ‘solutions’ today are dealing with problems created by previous political ‘solutions.’”

Thus begins another carefully reasoned and informative Thomas Sowell column.

Sowell continues:

Three examples that come to mind immediately are the housing market crisis, the wildfires in southern California, and the water shortages in the west.[…]
I’ll link to the entire column at the end of this post. Here I’ll just offer and comment on the wildfire and water shortages portions of it.

Sowell says:
As for the flames sweeping across southern California, tragic as that is, this has happened time and again before -- in the very same places in the very same time of year, just like hurricanes.

Why would people risk building million-dollar homes in the known paths of wildfires?

For the same reason that people choose to live in the known paths of hurricanes.

Because the government -- that is, the taxpayers -- will get stuck with a lot of the costs of dealing with those dangers and the costs of rebuilding.

Why is there such a huge amount of inflammable vegetation over such a wide area that fires can reach unstoppable proportions by the time they get to places where people live?

Because "open space" has become a political sacred cow beyond rational discussion.
The same severe government restrictions on building that drive home prices sky high also lead to vast areas with nothing but trees and bushes. Where it doesn't rain for months, that's dangerous.

No matter how much open space there is, it is never enough for environmental extremists, who will make political trouble if anyone is allowed to break up those miles and miles of solid vegetation with buildings, even though pavement and masonry don't burn.

In other words, government preserves all the conditions for wildfires and subsidizes people who live in their path. (emphasis mine)

As for water shortages, they are as endemic to California as wildfires. But when an economist hears about a shortage that persists for years, the first question that comes to mind is: Why doesn't the price rise until supply and demand are equal?
If you said, "the government," go to the head of the class.

The federal government's water projects supply much of the water used in California that enables agriculture to flourish in what would otherwise be a desert.

The government sells this water to farmers at prices artificially lower than the cost of providing it -- and at a tiny fraction of what people pay for water in Los Angeles or San Francisco.

Is it news, at this late date, that people waste things that they get cheap? It's been happening for centuries.

But none of the political "solutions" through drastic water rationing schemes will touch the cheap prices of water that lead farmers to grow crops requiring huge amounts of water in a desert.
There you are: politicians and some of their solutions.

And they're just a few of the many government “solutions” Sowell could have mentioned.

The agricultural price support program comes to mind. That “solution” was put in place during the 1930s to shore up falling farm prices and preserve “the family farm.”

The American people were told it was only a “temporary solution.”

Now, almost three-quarters of a century later, it remains in place, a yearly, multi-billion dollar give-away to mostly agr-business corporations.

Does it scare you that the same people who brought us the Post Office and the IRS tax code are working hard to “give” us health care?

Sowell’s entire column is here.