Archive for the ‘Public Policy’ Category.

Boarding Houses

During America’s century-long ascent from sleepy colonial backwater to great industrial giant, the urbanization of the country was funneled through a consistent apparatus: the boarding house.

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Cities should move to relax their rules against boarding and SROs, so that the transient might again have grounding stepping stones, and the insolvent might once more be able to obtain footholds. Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighborhood was once, not coincidentally, home to both the lowest homeless population and highest SRO concentration in the area.

The Boarding Houses that Built America

Nowadays, in the Northwest as across North America, most people live in houses or apartments that they own or rent. But not so long ago, other, less-expensive choices were just as common: renting space in a family’s home, for example, or living in a residential hotel.

Rooming houses, with small private bedrooms and shared bathrooms down the hall, were particularly numerous. This affordable, efficient form of basic housing is overdue for a revival, but legal barriers stand in the way. This article recounts the forgotten history of low-rent dwellings. Subsequent articles will detail how to re-legalize these forms of housing.

Rooming Houses: History’s Affordable Quarters: An in-city room of one’s own.

Today the notion of the boardinghouse—a “big house full of strangers,” as Jo [March, in “Little Women”] writes in a letter home, where a variety of people would rent rooms and eat at a common table—seems at best quaint, and at worst unsafe and unsavory, as 19th-century critics had it. In the grand narrative of American home life—farm, small town, suburb, apartment—the boardinghouse feels like a long-vanished footnote.

In places like Boston, however, they were anything but minor: They were a key part of how 19th-century cities grew, and left an imprint that survives even now. Whole neighborhoods teemed with them. Boardinghouses for black, Irish, Jewish, and immigrant Bostonians filled the lower slopes of Beacon Hill, while even genteel landladies on fashionable Beacon Street advertised “rooms with a private family.” As American cities turned into true modern metropolises in the 1830s, boarding became a way of life; social historians estimate that between a third and half of 19th-century urban resident were either boarders themselves, or took boarders into their homes.

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Boston and other urban centers are seeing the development of new and denser housing. Some “micro-apartment” developments echo boardinghouses closely, with small private quarters and common areas in which residents can eat and socialize together.

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Boarding not only saved money and time, but to writers or others who craved exposure to a world beyond small towns, they provided an opportunity for social mixing, privacy, storytelling, and intimacy with strangers. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, and Edgar Allan Poe all lived occasionally as boarders.

Boardinghouses: where the city was born. How a vanished way of living shaped America — and what it might offer us today.

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“Lobbying”

What if you could bet on Wednesday’s NBA game between Golden State and Oklahoma City, and before the game or at least before the final buzzer, you could lobby the referees and the league to change the rules? Maybe you would bet on Oklahoma City and then lobby to abolish the three-point shot.

Hedge funds and other investment firms are playing that very game in Washington, D.C., these days. Recently, Capitol Hill has seen a blitz of lobbying on how Puerto Rico should handle its debt amid fiscal disaster, and how Treasury should deal with private investors in bailed out government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Behind the barrage of lobbying, op-eds and public relations is a handful of hedge funds who have gambled one way or another on GSE stock or Puerto Rican debt, in the hope that they could pull enough strings in Washington to make big bucks.

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Investors allocating capital according to which policy tweaks they think they can win doesn’t sound like the type of capitalism that maximizes economic efficiency. It’s just public-policy profiteering.

As government gets involved in more parts of the economy, hedge funds will increasingly engage in this public-policy profiteering. This will make lobbying on these arcane issues more common and more intense.

So maybe it’s a good time to be long on K Street.

Puerto Rico’s debt, Fannie Mae’s stock, and public-policy profiteering

Ozymandias

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Statolatry, Ancient and Modern

Ancient regimes were intellectually and morally self contained. They themselves were their own frame of reference for good and evil, better and worse. Their gods were the gods of the city or of the empire. When they worshiped those gods, they essentially worshiped themselves. There was no difference between politics, religion, and society. Hence, there was no basis for individual freedom. The closest to ancient polities in our time, prior to, say, the last forth years or so, was Japan—the world’s largest tribe.

Christianity, which gave medieval regimes their character, which character endured in the Western world up until recent decades, revolutionized life by recognizing each individual’s direct relationship to God—the creator of the universe, the essence of goodness, and hence the one and only standard of right and wrong. This, including Jesus’s mandate to separate duties to God and to Caesar, made it possible for life in the West to be lived on several independent levels. This is (or was) our charter of freedom. As Luther put it: “Be on you knees before God, that you may stand on your feet before men.”

Modern regimes, by denying the existence of God and his laws have, once again, placed their own human authority beyond any challenge but by power. Collapsing the distinction between freedom and power quite simply destroys the autonomy of individuals and of society—hence of freedom.

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In today’s America, right and wrong, better and worse, have become mere appurtenances of partisanship and power.

Politics, Religion, and the Ruling Class

A culture of death. Ozymandias

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Sugar

Robert Lustig is a paediatric endocrinologist at the University of California who specialises in the treatment of childhood obesity. A 90-minute talk he gave in 2009, titled Sugar: The Bitter Truth, has now been viewed more than six million times on YouTube. In it, Lustig argues forcefully that fructose, a form of sugar ubiquitous in modern diets, is a “poison” culpable for America’s obesity epidemic.

A year or so before the video was posted, Lustig gave a similar talk to a conference of biochemists in Adelaide, Australia. Afterwards, a scientist in the audience approached him. Surely, the man said, you’ve read Yudkin. Lustig shook his head. John Yudkin, said the scientist, was a British professor of nutrition who had sounded the alarm on sugar back in 1972, in a book called Pure, White, and Deadly.

“If only a small fraction of what we know about the effects of sugar were to be revealed in relation to any other material used as a food additive,” wrote Yudkin, “that material would promptly be banned.” The book did well, but Yudkin paid a high price for it. Prominent nutritionists combined with the food industry to destroy his reputation, and his career never recovered. He died, in 1995, a disappointed, largely forgotten man.

Perhaps the Australian scientist intended a friendly warning. Lustig was certainly putting his academic reputation at risk when he embarked on a high-profile campaign against sugar. But, unlike Yudkin, Lustig is backed by a prevailing wind. We read almost every week of new research into the deleterious effects of sugar on our bodies.

The sugar conspiracy

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines: A Scientific Fraud

For an alternative, see the Perfect Health Diet

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Free Speech

The Founders knew that liberty is never really popular, and that it cannot be entrusted to elected officials who must answer in the end to the demos, which is why they put the first liberties first, right there in the First Amendment. If we are willing to let a low-rent carny like Harry Reid take those liberties away from us, or a sanctimonious old crook like Hillary Rodham Clinton, or Elizabeth Warren, the most wooden Indian of them all, then maybe we didn’t deserve those first liberties in the first place.

From Classroom to Courtroom

First Amendment, Liberty, Free Speech

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Statolatry and Eugenics

By the end of this morbid session, I thought I was in a eugenics court. Then it dawned on me, I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, the modern Progressive movement has been dominated by a self-anointed elite, like several of the justices, who had contempt for the common people. In the early 20th century, they even promoted social and economic policies driven by anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic impulses.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Read the excellent new book by Princeton’s Thomas Leonard, Illiberal Reformers: Race Eugenics and American Economics in the Progressive Era. Under the banner of a “New Nationalism,” progressives called for a centralized administrative state manned by expert managers and planners, who would use “scientific methods” to enhance human welfare.

Believing that social progress “required the individual to be controlled, liberated and expanded by collective actions,” progressive intellectuals perceived human persons as “lumps of human dough” to be formed on the “social kneading board.”

That molding, Leonard points out, was to be done “by the best and the brightest, those who, uniquely, ignored profit and power to serve the common good – which is to say, the progressives themselves.”

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Today, however, the new “progressives” in the White House and on the presidential campaign trail are promoting an agenda, similar to their forbears, that includes ideological conformity, suppression of free speech and religious liberty, unlimited abortion, and euthanasia.

Progressivism’s Dark Side, by George J. Marlin

Statolatry and Eugenics, Ozymandias

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“Success” and Children

The prejudice against children begins from an immoderate desire for order. Order, the first need of all, is like all other goods in that it can be taken too far. And disgust with the intrinsic disorder of children (especially boys) takes this good to the point of denying the value of life itself. When one adds to this prejudice the social science myth that traditional societies remain poor because they include too many children, one gets a powerful argument against life. Some traditional societies are ruled by policies, such as subdividing inheritances and multiplying the obligations of family members, that do in fact discourage economic advancement. That said, however, contemporary policies in the West have gotten to the point of substituting the government for the family so thoroughly that they, too, have undermined entrepreneurship while having the further disadvantage of sapping the spirit out of communities and increasingly isolated individuals.

Traditional societies are poor for many reasons. They survive because their families remain strong. Modern societies, after decades relentlessly pursuing wealth, are becoming poorer, and increasingly have only the state to look to for “social” security. That state, while seemingly unstoppable in its growth and grasp for power, is running out of money and drowning in the bureaucratic red tape it uses to bind the rest of us to its will.

In addition, society itself is becoming increasingly disordered even as we in effect consume our children. As our middle class disappears, those children who do survive until birth are either palmed off to the state, then to drugs, technology, and further dependency, or put onto “the path to success” at the hands of various facilitating professionals who coddle them in a stress-filled manner creating sky-high suicide rates and the pathetically fragile creatures who inhabit elite institutions of education. This is a society suffering from a veritable death wish, as those with the responsibility for raising responsible adults either eschew children altogether or abandon them to others while they pursue their own vision of personal success, treating spouses and children as mere accoutrements, consumer items made more precious by emotional attachments that, alas, are rooted in precious little practical experience at shaping lives and characters together.

It would be all too easy to throw up our hands and say that this is the inevitable route of decadent cultures, and especially of cultures rooted in the drive for economic well-being. While understandable, such a reaction would be misguided on several levels. First, material goods are in fact good. It is pursuing them for their own sakes, rather than as necessary but limited tools in building a good life for one’s family, that is wrong. Moreover, the progress toward our atomistic society was not paved merely with greed, but more fundamentally with a revolt against nature. By this I mean not merely the rejection of traditional families and the necessary role of women as primary caregivers, but also rejection of men’s obligation to marry, have children, and stay married, supporting their families in good times and bad.

The West’s War on Children, by Bruce Frohnen

“[A]s communities become more ethnically diverse they in fact become socially frayed,” as Jonah Goldberg wrote in The Tyranny of Cliches:

Putnam found that as a community becomes more ethnically and socially varied, social trust plummets. People tend to “hunker down,” in Putnam’s words banding together with a shrunken and shrinking group of friends or alone in front of the TV. Trust in political leaders, the political process, and even voting decline precipitously. Volunteerism, from charitable giving to carpooling, deteriorates. Political activism increases as people look to government to solve problems that once might have been solved by a simple conversation across a coffee table or a shared fence between neighbors. Note: Putnam did not find that diversity fuels racism; the vast bulk of the people interviewed for the study were not bigots. What he found was that diversity promotes alienation, disengagement, and social isolation. This all runs counter to a host of prevailing clichés and pieties.

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A healthy, vibrant society requires citizens who see themselves as parts of things that are larger than themselves, in which they must play important, though rarely central roles. This means that families, churches, voluntary associations, and states are part of a way of life. They are aspects of our nature as social beings.

When we ignore our social nature—or substitute mere political activism for community life—we may enjoy ourselves as flies of a summer, whether singly or in swarm-like mobs. More likely we will merely make ourselves miserable in pursuit of pleasures and honors of the moment that will never satisfy because they have no place in any larger order and so lack any intrinsic meaning or value. And so, no matter how many toys we accumulate before we die, we die fundamentally alone and un-mourned, in a society that is dying, largely unnoticed even by its own members.

Gone to Texas

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Killing People

At Mass today, across the Archdiocese of Toronto, all homilies were suspended so that a statement could be read by our Cardinal Collins against the Ottawa government’s impending “euthanasia” legislation. This our Parliament was ordered to write and pass by Canada’s Supreme Court: a junto of nine who are a law unto themselves. The Parliamentary Committee discussing the matter, now dominated by the Liberal Party, has made recommendations such as forcing all doctors and other medical staff to participate in the killings; and arranging for children and the mentally ill to be terminated on the advice of one “care giver” or another. It is a monstrous, unambiguously evil measure they are contemplating — which, like abortion, targets the defenceless.

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Nor can the few remaining Catholics and others, still animated by the “traditional” human decency, hope to disentangle or separate ourselves, in a time when centralized government is increasingly able to track every individual, and control his behaviour and fate by external means.

Eventually the burden of overwhelming cost will inspire our keepers to cut their expenses by eliminating all their more expensive “clients,” whether they request it or not. The latest proposed legislation will surely be found insufficiently “inclusive” in a few more years. As we see, the great rush of Liberalism is accelerating. It is that of the Gadarene swine.

We cannot stop this “trend” except by growing more faithful and courageous; by raising children with the knowledge and backbone to resist the Devil’s works. We can, at best, struggle to recreate families that will take care of their own, without poisoned government assistance, and persist in doing so — until the jackboots burst in, and the matter is out of our hands, and into God’s.

Killing people

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The Right is deluding itself about law enforcement.

Is it really so difficult to believe that there is widespread wrongdoing, and widespread lying about it, among U.S. law-enforcement agencies, particularly those in big, Democrat-run cities infamous for the corruption of their other municipal institutions? Why do conservatives find it so plausible — obvious, even — that the IRS and the EPA and the Atlanta public schools are corrupt and self-serving, but somehow believe that the Baltimore police department isn’t?

It is possible that what is really at play here is an emotional response to protest culture. Seeing the Black Lives Matters miscreants and Baltimore rioters on one side of the line, conservatives instinctively want to be on the other side of the line. The same thing happened with the Iraq-war protests: When the dirty hippies take to the barricades, conservatives are drawn to the other side. That led to some bad thinking and poor decision-making about Iraq. Are we making the same mistake with regard to police misconduct and allegations of police misconduct?

Let him with eyes see.

Confused Statists

Why conservatives and Republicans should be defensive about the fact that Baltimore, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Honolulu are misgoverned to various degrees of criminality is a mystery. Conservatives with real political power in those cities are as scarce as hen’s teeth. Could it really be something so simple as the fact that we do not feel comfortable standing on the same side of a bright red line as the malefactors in Ferguson and such opportunists as DeRay Mckesson, now a Baltimore mayoral candidate, and Al Sharpton? Sharpton is a grotesque and one of the most dishonest men in American public life, but that does not mean that the people running Baltimore and its police department aren’t also crooked. Some police officers are indeed heroes. Some are villains. Most are ordinary, time-serving municipal employees like any other, and telling ourselves otherwise is sentimental rubbish.

These Are Not the Good Guys: The Right is deluding itself about law enforcement. By Kevin Williamson

See Radley Balko’s column for more examples.

Police Misconduct

“Why do you people love the state so much? It doesn’t love you.”
Michael Munger

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Super Bowl

Sunday’s game will be 60 minutes of football — an adrenaline-and-testosterone bath stretched by commercial breaks (two of them called “two minute warnings”), replay challenges, and other delays to about 200 minutes — embedded in an all-day broadcast of manufactured frenzy. It would be nice, but probably fanciful, to think that even 1 percent of tonight’s expected television audience of more than 110 million will have qualms about the ethics of their enjoyment.

The NFL’s fondness for Roman numerals is appropriate because the game is gladiatorial, as Romans enjoyed entertainment featuring people maiming and being maimed for the entertainment of spectators. But things change.

The Super Bowl’s 60 Minutes of Damage, by George Will

What of the cities that have ransomed their future to an NFL team? How have they fared? Just because Forbes Magazine values pro football franchises at between $2 and $3 billion does not mean that the citizenry sees much benefit from having a team.

For example, the Hackensack Meadowlands Giants are now said to be worth $2.8 billion, but New Jersey taxpayers are still paying interest on the old Giants Stadium, where the end zone was rumored to be Jimmy Hoffa’s resting place, and which was torn down so that a new stadium could be built in its place (“without public money”).

Most cities get a paltry rental stream from their subsidized ballparks, and that’s it. From the Seahawks, owned by Microsoft bigwig Paul Allen, Seattle gets $1 million a year in stadium rental income, while the team rakes in more than $200 million. And state taxpayers are on the hook for some $300 million in outstanding CenturyLink stadium bonds. (The 12th man abides.)

Super Bowl: Super Subsidy Sunday

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