Category Archives: News commentary

The Arrogance of the Elite

America needs less democracy to avoid tyranny, says Andrew Sullivan in New York magazine. America “suffers from too much democracy,” agrees Richard Cohen in the Washington Post.

Anyone who supports Donald Trump is a traitor, writes Charles Pierce in Esquire. James Traub in Foreign Policy calls Trump and Brexit supporters “ignorance masses” and says it’s time for the “elites to rise up” against them, or at least to “un-delude them,” perhaps in re-education camps.

These elites act like crybabies who don’t get their way. They use bad names for anyone who disagrees with them. They say they know best and anyone who disagrees must not (as Traub puts it) “believe in reason, expertise, and the lessons of history.”

Continue reading

Share

Class Consciousness

In a reversal of stereotypes, “Democrats have become a party of the wealthy” admits Fredrik deBoer in the Washington Post. Meanwhile, Republicans–much to the chagrin of some Republican “elites”–have become a party of the working class.

The Antiplanner was reminded of this when I saw a report saying that 29.4 percent of Americans were now “upper middle class,” which the report defines as having incomes of $100,000 or more for a family of three (or roughly $82,000 for a family of two, $115,000 for a family of four, etc.–see page 3 of the report). This highlights something the Antiplanner has said several times before: the real social divide in America is not between the 1 percent and the 99 percent, but between the 30 percent and the 70 percent. Specifically, about 30 percent of working-age Americans are “knowledge workers,” and generally have college degrees, while 70 percent do physical labor, and generally don’t have college degrees.

As the Antiplanner has previously noted, there is a lot of confusion about the term “middle class.” Surveys show that nine out of ten Americans consider themselves to be middle class, but in fact, six of them are wrong. Class is not distinguished by income, though it certainly influences income. The Antiplanner spent the first 20 years of my career earning a very low income, but I was college educated with college-educated parents and definitely had middle-class attitudes (never mind the fact that many of my peers scorned the “middle class” even as they formed a part of it).

Continue reading

Share

The West Isn’t Disappearing

“The West is disappearing,” claims a new report by the Center for American Progress. They should rename themselves the “Center for Alarming Americans,” as the report is pure hokum.

Based on data from 2001 and 2011, the report found that the West “loses” 432 square miles of land per year, or about an acre every two-and-one-half minutes. This sounds so alarming that the San Jose Mercury-News reported that California is “losing most land to development.” “Most” means “more than half,” but by any definition, far less than half of California has been developed.

The eleven contiguous western states have a total of 1,173,990 square miles of land. At 432 square miles per year, it would take 2,718 years to develop them all. Since half of the land is federal forests, parks, and rangelands that will never receive more than a modest amount of development, there doesn’t seem to be much to worry about.

Continue reading

Share

Memo to Foxx: Put Money Where It Works

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx came to Portland the other day and said cities needed to find “moonshots” to fund their transportation programs. He criticized Congress for passing a $302 billion, five-year transportation bill last year because it “locks in a sustained period of underinvestment.”

If by “moonshots” Foxx means a magic formula for fixing congestion and other transportation problems, then Portland is the wrong place to look. The Portland area has already spent well over $4 billion on a light-rail system, yet as of 2014 light rail carried only 1 percent of the region’s motorized passenger travel and no freight. Update: Meanwhile, the last shipping company that delivered containers to the Port of Portland has quit because the city and the port have put being “green” above freight mobility. Despite this, the region’s leaders now want to spend $2 billion more on another 11-mile line.

It would be great if we could build all the light rail, high-speed rail, bike paths, highways, and dirigibles that anyone would ever want to use. But some people don’t want to accept that we live in a world of scarce resources, and to be successful at anything we have to use those resources as effectively as possible.

Continue reading

Share

Happy Birthday, Jane Jacobs

As noted in today’s Google doodle, today is Jane Jacob’s 100th birthday. No doubt many people will write positive things about her. However, as the Antiplanner has noted before, her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is overrated.

Jacobs made two points, one of them right, and one of them wrong. Her correct point, which is celebrated by many libertarians, is in recognizing that urban planners don’t understand the cities they claim to be designing. The hubris of planners writing 50 year plans when they don’t even know what’s going to happen five years from now would be amusing if the consequences weren’t so expensive.

Jacobs wrong point, which is celebrated by many urban planners today, was in thinking that she did understand cities. She thought she understood her neighborhood, Greenwich Village, New York, but she didn’t understand it very well. She reduced her understanding to four simple “conditions” that she said all cities needed: mixed uses, short blocks, a mixture of old and new buildings, and density of residents and jobs. Her application of these oversimplified conditions to all “great cities” made her just as guilty of hubris as the planners she criticized.

Continue reading

Share

APTA Tinkers with the Deck Chairs

Your largest member has just quit, complaining that your organization doesn’t do enough to help it and other large members and that they are underrepresented on your organization’s executive committee. And, oh, by the way, you’re paying your chief executive officer too much.

So what do you do? If you are the American Public Transportation Association, you fire the CEO. That’s not really going to solve any problems, but after 4-1/2 years of getting paid nearly $900,000 per year (see page 17), he probably has enough to retire on. There’s no word yet on whether his replacement will get a similar salary.

A salary and benefits of close to a million dollars a year might make sense for a company that earns billions of dollars in annual revenues. It makes a little less sense for APTA, which uses its $20 million in annual revenues to lobby Congress to get billions of federal dollars funneled to its members. It makes even less sense since the federal funds going to APTA members did not significantly increase during the reign of the newly retired CEO, part of whose qualifications are that he once drove the bus for the Indiana University basketball team coached by Bobby Knight. It is particularly galling to outsiders since taxpayers are the ultimate source of the funds used to pay him.

Continue reading

Share

Why the Dollar Works and the Euro Doesn’t

The Greek debt crisis led some people to wonder why a common currency works in the United States but not in Europe. Then came the Puerto Rico debt crisis. Yet what happened in Puerto Rico actually shows why the dollar works when the euro doesn’t.

Normally, a country that finds itself with unsustainable debt can devalue its currency. This reduces the standard of living for the country’s residents but makes it easier for the government to pay off whatever debt it owes in the local currency.

Neither Greece nor Puerto Rico have that option since their currency is shared with other nations or states. As a member of the euro zone, Greece can threaten to leave, destabilizing the entire system, unless other members put up with its profligate spending. Greece isn’t the only one: Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain–the so-called PIGS–all seem to have unsustainable debts that threaten the euro.

Continue reading

Share

Refugees or Immigrants?

Early this week, the Antiplanner listened to a presentation in Greece about the Syrian refugee crisis. The presenter noted that almost all members of the European Union had signed the Dublin agreement defining how countries should treat refugees. A major exception, however, was Turkey, which treated people fleeing Syria as potential immigrants rather than refugees. The speaker made it sound as though Turkey was heartless and uncaring about refugee problems.

Arda Akçiçek, a researcher at Istanbul’s Medipol University and activist with the Association for Liberal Thinking, has a very different view: by treating Syrians as immigrants rather than refugees, Turkey is treating them as potential economic contributors rather than likely recipients of welfare.

Some sheer numbers support this viewpoint. Germany has accepted something like 300,000 to 360,000 refugees, more than any other European nation under the Dublin agreement. The country has allocated more than $19 billion to refugees for 2016 alone, or roughly $55,000 per refugee.

Continue reading

Share

The Deeper Problems Behind Immigration

Immigration is a major issue in Europe just as it has been in the United States. In the U.S., there has been a fear that illegal immigrants would become criminals and/or live off of welfare programs, costing taxpayers’ money. Similar fears underlie European resistance to helping refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries torn by war. There is also a a fear that, unlike previous waves of immigrants, those entering the United States or Europe today make little effort to assimilate, sticking with their own languages, cultures, and intolerances.

In the United States, these fears appear to be largely unfounded. Illegal immigrants are not eligible for many kinds of welfare, yet they pay well over $10 billion per year in federal income and social security taxes yet they will never be allowed to collect social security. Other than the fact that illegal immigration is a crime, immigrants commit far fewer crimes per capita than native-born Americans. Finally, Latino immigrants to the U.S. have been assimilating at least as fast if not faster than previous immigrants.

To the extent that illegal immigrants do end up using taxpayer-supported programs such as healthcare and some kinds of some kinds of welfare, this indicates there are problems with those programs, not with immigration itself. When Lyndon Johnson created many welfare programs in the 1960s, they were aimed at getting people out of poverty. When Richard Nixon became president, he dismantled those programs and replaced them with straight welfare. In other words, instead of helping people out of poverty, Nixon’s programs paid people to remain poor. That’s a problem that has only been partially corrected since then.

Continue reading

Share

Donald Trump Is a Class Act

Working class, that is. Though Trump himself doesn’t have a working-class background, he has focused his campaign on white, working-class voters. This is appalling to both middle-class progressives and middle-class conservatives because they don’t understand what it means to be working class.

Remember, the working-class includes people (and their families) who earn their incomes through physical labor while the middle-class is made up of people who earn incomes through mental labor. In general, members of the middle class have a bachelor’s degree or better while members of the working class don’t. As it happens, only about 30 percent of working-age Americans have a bachelor’s degree or better, so the vast majority of potential voters are working class.

Economists have excellent arguments in favor of free trade. Most intellectuals (who by definition are middle class or better), whether progressive or conservative, support free trade, so they can’t understand how many people support Trump’s “xenophobia.” But the economists who make those arguments are middle class, while it is working-class jobs that are threatened by the export of manufacturing jobs to other countries, so the working class is thrilled by Trump’s rhetoric.

Continue reading

Share