Helpful Housing Hints

Marty Zupan's July editorial ("Gimme Shelter") on the fallacies of making the same mistakes all over again in contriving "new" housing policies and Rita McWilliams's article on tenant management of public housing ("Revolution in the Projects") bring a needed reality to housing policy discussions.

They also emphasize a common point in housing that is rarely recognized. Housing's heterogeneous and decentralized nature—by virtue of being attached to a specific and unique location—means that centralized housing policies are doomed to failure.

Builders, occupants, landlords, and repairmen, and bureaucrats alike must go out to the site in order to know what is going on. You can't bring the housing unit into the office to build it or fix it. That's why the world over, centralized approaches to housing don't work. Either the central agency "solves" the problem through standardization (that occupants inevitably come to reject) or it devotes its limited attention to only a few sites, resulting in symbolic but ineffectual efforts.

In a decentralized housing system with numerous landlords, particularly resident landlords, owners may lack some of the sophisticated but generalized cost-accounting and cash-flow analysis of a centralized bureaucracy (whether private, nonprofit, or public). But they do have a particularized and immediate knowledge of what is gong on at the site—and what else is needed. This is most important when dealing with housing problems of the poor.

William C. Baer
School of Urban and Regional Planning
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA

Often overlooked in the arguments over adequate housing (which everyone favors provided it doesn't entail building any) is the fact that it is not necessary to build specifically for the poor in order to house the poor. It is necessary only to increase the total housing stock. When it is permitted to build sufficient housing where middle-income people really wish to live, what they leave is available for the next income group. At present, the poor must compete with the middle class for existing space in tightly regulated markets. It is hardly surprising that they sometimes fail.

Even with existing square footage, the crunch could be eased (as Marty Zupan noted) by lifting zoning bans on multifamily uses. An end to rent control and a return to terms set by negotiated leases rather than by legislatures would improve incentives. In short, it would be helpful to defend private property.

To be sure, this is not the complete answer. But it is a larger part of it than any past or prospective government program.

Richard Bellush, Jr.
Mendham, NJ

Cops, Drugs, and Guns

Future historians will recognize the current war on drugs as one of the most frightening aspects of late 20th-century America. This is a time when we will either complete the transition to authoritarianism or experience a new era of personal freedom. As a vote for freedom, I heartily applaud your article "The Soldier's Story" by Philip Smith (Aug./Sept.). It is very gratifying to know that some people involved in our legal system are more enlightened than the ones we see each night on the six o'clock news.

If we are to maintain and expand our personal freedom, it is time for our legislature, judiciary, and law enforcement to once again recognize the Constitution as the law of the land, above which they cannot rise. The current practice of legislating morality—combined with law enforcement practices that only serve to propagate the alleged problem (in the case of drugs, by maintaining the high street price of the merchandise)—must be stopped. The citizens of the United States must realize that an unchecked government is far more dangerous than any drug, and the true way to prevent drugs from ruling the society is for people to take responsibility for their own lives.

James A. Brownfield
Pomona, CA

While Kurt Schmoke and John Buckley recognize the futility of drug prohibition, they also inhabit the loony fringe of the gun control movement in this country. Their failure to draw an analogy between the two issues is as ironic as the pronouncements of some National Rifle Association spokesmen with regard to drugs. If only both sides would appreciate the real issue: individual liberty versus government paternalism.

Allan Walstad
University of Pittsburgh
Johnstown, PA

Hunger Politics

Karl Zinsmeister correctly points out in "All the Hungry People" (June) how political decisions have helped create famine situations in the 20th century. His description of the situation in Ethiopia, however, misses on several points.

The Mengistu regime is deserving of severe censure both for its agricultural policies and for harsh political repression. But the government of Haile Selassie, which preceded the Dergue, should not be portrayed as a better situation. Selassie's government was probably the most oppressive and feudal regime of any indigenous African system. Peasants were oppressed, not prosperous. The country's food exports came at the expense of the lowest standards of living in Africa. Selassie was overthrown in large part because of public revulsion within Ethiopia over the way in which his government suppressed information about the 1972–74 famine. Indeed, his government exported food that had been shipped as famine relief.

Also, without justifying the abysmal policies of the Dergue, it should be noted that Ethiopia is subject to periodic droughts that have been recorded for over a millennia. It is a region especially subject to crop failure. Thus, the failures of the Mengistu (or Selassie) government are magnified by natural factors.

Stephen Commins
African Studies Center
University of California
Los Angeles, CA

Elvis Is Alive, But What About Bush?

Many of your highbrow readers may consider themselves above reading tabloids, so I will fill them in on the news: Elvis Presley is alive and well. And what's more, he would have been the perfect running mate for George Bush.

He would bring to the ticket years of experience in capitalist ventures, a large and fervent southern voting bloc, and a wardrobe completely empty of those tiresome red ties ("The Ties That Blind," Jan.). Plus, you can be sure the King would find ways around our meddling drug laws.

Let's face it, these candidates are BORING. If the veeper were smart, he would have selected Elvis, a man committed to excess and vice. With a little luck, the White House would once again rock as hard as it did in the days of Nixon's two lovely daughters and their drug orgies with the Stones.

Jeff Deist
Akron, OH

Korean Conflict

After reading "Does Korea Need Us Now?" (June), I must answer this question by saying yes. I have lived here in South Korea for three years, and my impression is that we are indeed needed and our presence is welcomed by most South Koreans, although there is a very vocal minority.

I do not think that the American people want to be responsible for a war that would bring death and suffering to thousands of people and result in the destruction of perhaps the greatest success story the free world has ever known.

To set a timetable for U.S. withdrawal would only make the communist North dream of victory, a victory they could not achieve by peaceful means. If you think war is unlikely here, then please come for the Olympics in September and while you are here take a tour of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). I am quite sure it will change your mind and you will see as I have that the war is not really over in Korea.

Tim W. Thomas
Osan Air Base, Korea

Plane Complaints

Your July Trends article, "Petite Planes Pay Their Price" shook my faith in your objectivity. How can you blindly take the word of a government agency without even researching the situation?

The largest air carrier in the United States is not Eastern, American, or United, it's general aviation. Of the 470 million passengers traveling by air last year, 140 million were carried by general aviation General aviation constitutes 98 percent of all the aircraft registered in the United States. Of the tens of thousands of airports in the United States, 96 percent are served only by general aviation.

General aviation has been the air carrier's scapegoat for the problem of congestion at major airports for years. Congestion is not caused by the 5 percent of general aviation using large airports, it's caused by airlines that schedule as many as half a dozen departures from the same airport at exactly the same time. Ask an air traffic controller! It is caused by the FAA, which will not spend the billions of dollars in the Aviation Trust Fund to upgrade and construct airport and control facilities, because that money makes the federal deficit look smaller.

The air carriers need general aviation to feed their deregulated hub-and-spoke systems. How many major airlines do not have a commuter airline partner?

What do you suppose the reaction would be if private cars were economically evicted because they are less efficient than buses? Tell me that there are no congestion problems on the ground. General aviation pays its way through fuel taxes and landing fees. All we want is free access to the facilities we have paid for.

Michael J. Gibbs
Surprise, AZ

I'll make a flat-out prediction that if general aviation pilots decide not to use Logan Airport because of these fees, there will be no measurable effect on airline delays at the airport. That's because general aviation is not causing the delays. During the hours when the delays occur—morning and afternoon peak travel times—less than three general aviation aircraft an hour use the airport. At the same time, nearly 100 or more takeoffs an hour have been scheduled by the airlines. This type of scheduling and Boston's decision years ago not to expand to keep pace with airline growth and demand are causing the delays. They will continue whether the three general aviation planes an hour land there or not.

Edmund Pinto
Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association
Frederick, MD

The editors reply: According to numerous studies, general aviation covers only about 20 percent of its proportional share of the cost of the airport and airways system. Airline passengers contribute the vast majority of the money in the Aviation Trust Fund (via the 8 percent tax on tickets), while general aviation makes a token contribution via its fuel tax. But the funds are parceled out to airports of all sizes based on political rather than economic criteria. The new fees at Logan Airport are only a step in the direction of market pricing; it would be far better if they were much higher at peak hours than at other times. But because they open Pandora's Box, they are being fought tooth and nail by interest groups like AOPA that are desperate to preserve the huge cross-subsidies inherent in the present system.

Incidentally, REASON also favors applying market pricing to freeways; we have congestion on the ground for the same reason we have it at airports—demand exceeds supply at peak hours.