Central-Planning Failure Notes From All Over


It's been proven, in an error-filled yet notably uncorrected story in Slate, that only deluded zealots believe in the free market. After all, it's clearly impossible for the random processes of natural selection to have produced robust biological diversity, or for the pattern of day and night to be regularly predictable in a universe whose center is not Earth. So why would we expect economic health from anything other than a closely and judiciously regulated market? 

Still, it's notable how many folks lately have been realizing things they might have seen coming just for the low, low cost of a subscription to Reason. (Or even The Freeman, for cryin' out loud.) Some recent examples: 

Bob Shiller, one of this nation's most talented technocrats, inventor of the Case-Shiller housing index, and recent author of the Keynesian-revival book Animal Spirits, says the recession is back – and not because fancy equations with Greek letters say so, but because, when you've been in the game this long, ya just get a feeling in yer gut:

"Forecasting models would say no" on the question of whether the U.S. will face a double-dip, Shiller tells The Wall Street Journal. 

"But I'm seeing signs that encourage me to worry about that."

Shiller, one of the architects of the S&P Case-Shiller home-price index, says the housing market may see a pickup in prices this summer, but adds he's concerned about the long-term path the sector is taking… 

"It just doesn't look good."

Meanwhile, in the Great White North (an enormous, wide-open country with almost no libertarians!), the real estate market is about to collapse – not because of the "devastating cuts in public investment" that usually cause such things, but just because, to quote a recent report, housing valuations have "lost touch with fundamentals."

In the Golden State, meanwhile, a popular high-speed rail initiative that is 100-percent guaranteed to return the state to prosperity is getting attacked from a new angle: not Koch-funded haters of the commonweal but local nimbys who don't want a 200-mph train running through their farms. San Joaquin farmers are heavily subsidized and energetic in lobbying for all kinds of carveouts and publicly provided water. In making their case against high-speed rail, the folks at the Central Valley Watchdogs site use the kind of extrapolated-figures arguments (e.g., that a single dairy cow generates "$34,000 in economic activity") that worked us so much woe in the days of the ARRA Stimulus. But their main point that the bullet train will disrupt proven economies (in this case, one that employs three percent of the state's workforce) is, again, something you read here first

Because of the importance of agriculture we oppose the high-speed rail cutting through farm land. It runs the risk of destroying businesses; businesses that are already contributing to the San Joaquin Valley's economy. The High-Speed Rail has yet to be able to show a solid argument that it will generate revenue for the state. Besides all this, the rail authority hasn't been able to show a) how they will get the money (can't rely heavily on Feds) to fund this project and b) it doesn't seem that they're committed to actually completing the rail.

Until California has a balanced budget and paid off its debts and the Rail Authority can prove that the High-Speed Rail won't be a drain on the tax-payers it needs to be put on hold. There is no sense destroying businesses that are already generating jobs and revenue for the state.

Also in California, Gov. Jerry Brown – last seen in these parts protecting consumers from the predations of Amazon – has vetoed a statewide "card-check" initiative favored by the unions that heavily supported him in the last election. PJ Tatler's Bryan Preston

Gov. Moonbeam said "No" to the union power grab. I am genuinely surprised. My PJ colleagues in California…what happened here? Who got some Scott Walker in your Jerry Brown? Clearly, Brown failed to stay bought.

Brown has also been pushing to get rid of another sterling example of government of, by and for The People: the hundreds of "redevelopment agencies (RDAs)" that took over the mantle of urban renewal once "urban renewal" became a radioactive term.

Reports out of Sacramento say the governor just signed two RDA-defunding bills within the last few hours. If so, huzzah to him. [Update: Huzzah!] Regular readers know all about the RDA scam, and here's another argument from Institute for Justice's Jason Orr. But my friend Jill Stewart at LA Weekly, who isn't exactly a firebrand for unregulated markets where pot dispensaries are concerned, very clearly describes what redevelopment actually is – a massive transfer of wealth to the already rich

[Christopher] Sutton, the CRA critic and attorney, says: "What we're doing with redevelopment is destroying pillars of society to subsidize rich people — this whole game of taking money away from basic services and things we depend on for civilized society: schools, police, fire, health."

He points to three billionaires who, before this week's budget deal in Sacramento, attracted millions in public subsidies from redevelopment agencies.

"How much is Glendale going to give [developer Rick] Caruso?" Sutton asks. "How much are we going to give [AEG owner Philip] Anschutz? Fifty-two mil to Eli Broad could have paid for 1,000 teachers. We subsidize billionaires instead of schoolchildren."

I'm not a big fan of utilitarian arguments for freedom, which I think ultimately must be defended on principle. But it's striking how many pragmatists are looking at the results of public policy and deciding that they suck.

And in the day's most important example of oppressors accepting the limits of control, the Oxford Style Guide has given up trying to force the serial comma on the English-speaking peoples.