Short-Sighted Rules for Affordable Housing by David Boaz

The state of Maryland wants more people to have affordable housing -- at least if they've already got it. Concerned that the owners of mobile home parks might sell the land for other uses, "affordable housing advocates" succesfully lobbied Maryland legislators this year for
legislation that, they say, discourages owners of mobile-home parks from selling their properties. If the landowner does sell, it provides the homeowner with some protection. Under the law, which was passed earlier this year, a mobile-home park owner who wants to sell and change land use must give written notification to the residents and provide displaced homeowners with a relocation plan and relocation assistance that equals 10 months' worth of rent. The legislation applies to mobile parks with more than 38 sites.
Now the first thing to be said about this is that it is theft. That's become so common in legislatures that we've become accustomed to it. But we shouldn't lose sight of what happened here: Some people spent their own money to buy land. They rented that land to people with mobile homes, who knew that they were not buying the land, they were just renting a place to park their mobile homes. (The word "mobile" might be a tipoff that they're made to move.) And then the government took away the owner's right to change the use of his land. The owner could still sell it, of course, as long as he gives written notification of his plans, provides the renters with a "relocation plan," and pays them 10 months' rent to leave his land. That's a huge burden; the government has simply appropriated much of the value of the owner's land. But there's an obvious long-term consequence here, too, one that the Washington Post didn't get to in its 1000-word story. What's going to occur to a landowner as she reads this story? She's going to think, if I allow anyone to park a mobile home on my property, I'll be permanently harnessed to that tenant, like a medieval serf. So maybe I'd better not rent any space to a mobile home owner. But then she's going to think a bit further: What about other kinds of affordable housing? If I build inexpensive apartments or bungalows, and rent them to people who need affordable housing, will the state of Maryland decide that I shouldn't be allowed to change the use of the land or sell it? After all, wealthy Montgomery County, Maryland -- which doesn't have many mobile homes -- does have a 20-page handbook of rules and restrictions for any owner who might want to convert an apartment building to condominiums, including the county's right to buy the land and a guarantee of lifetime tenancies for low-income elderly tenants. William Tucker pointed out in a 1997 Cato paper how rent control laws usually had to be followed by condo conversion restrictions, as building owners tried to find some way to make a profit on their buildings. And then of course the whole series of attempts to "protect" affordable housing leads to housing shortages and sky-high rents. If you want people to supply affordable housing, it's probably a good idea not to pile taxes, restrictions, and threats of confiscation on the backs of those who do.

Posted on June 17, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Stossel v. Hannity on Drugs by David Boaz

Thursday night at 8 and midnight, John Stossel debates the war on drugs with Sean Hannity. Check it out on the Fox Business Network. John's other guests will include Jeffrey Miron of Harvard and Cato and Mary Anastasia O'Grady of the Wall Street Journal. And for more Stossel, don't miss last week's classic episode on Milton Friedman and Free to Choose with Tom Palmer, Johan Norberg . . . and me.

Posted on June 17, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Prizes for Writing on Freedom by David Boaz

Submissions for the Bastiat Prize for Journalism and the Bastiat Prize for Online Journalist close at the end of June. Journalists, bloggers, and writers of op-eds are encouraged to submit their work here. The International Policy Network awards prizes of up to $10,000 to  "writers anywhere in the world whose published articles eloquently and wittily explain, promote and defend the principles and institutions of the free society." Note that these prizes are not (just) for students. Last year's winners included law professor John Hasnas, for an oped published in the Wall Street Journal; Robert Guest, Washington Correspondent of the Economist; Robert Robb, editorial columnist of the Arizona Republic; British politician and blogger Daniel Hannan; and Shikha Dalmia, online columnist for Forbes and Reason.

Posted on June 15, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

If Only We Could Be More Like Djibouti, Haiti, and Afghanistan by David Boaz

When it comes to paid maternity leave, the United States is in the postpartum dark ages. One hundred and seventy-seven nations -- including Djibouti, Haiti and Afghanistan -- have laws on the books requiring that all women, and in some cases men, receive both income and job-protected time off after the birth of a child.

Posted on June 13, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

A Look Inside the Dark Heart of the GOP by David Boaz

Evidence that Republican leaders and conservative pundits want to shake off their anti-gay image continues to mount. Since the 2008 election, gay marriage has become legal in four more states and the District of Columbia, yet conservatives have been virtually silent. As Congress moves to repeal the don't ask, don't tell policy, Republicans are almost all voting against it, but they're not making a lot of noise about it.  Jonathan Rauch cites the lack of interest in Iowa in overturning the state court's gay marriage decision and Republican strategist Grover Norquist's observation that the Tea Party enthusiasm is focusing Republicans and conservatives on economic rather than social issues. Many politicians have had a long dark night of the poll. They know that public opinion on gay rights has changed. Gallup just issued a poll showing that more than half of Americans believe that “gay or lesbian relations” are “morally acceptable.” Seventy percent, including majorities of all demographic groups, favor allowing openly gay people to serve in the military. Those are big changes since 2003, much less 1993, and politicians can read polls. Indeed, one thing that gay progress shows us is that cultural change precedes political change. But out in the real world, where real Republicans live, the picture isn't as promising. In the Virginia suburbs of Washington this week, Patrick Murray defeated Matthew Berry in a Republican primary. Berry, formerly a lawyer for the Institute for Justice and the Department of Justice, seemed to be better funded and better organized than Murray, an Iraq war veteran. The Republican in my household received at least two mailers and three phone calls from the Berry campaign and nothing from Murray. So why did Murray win? Well, Berry is openly gay, and David Weigel at the Washington Post reports that the Murray campaign did send out flyers focusing on gay issues. They may have gone only to Republicans in the more conservative parts of the district. And Republican activist Rick Sincere tells me that "in the last few days before the election, I received numerous emails from the Murray campaign that included subtle reminders that Matthew is gay and supports an end to DADT. He also, in a Monday email, took a quotation from Matthew out of context to make it look like he supports a federally-enforced repeal of Virginia's anti-marriage law. In other words, Murray played the anti-gay card." Blogger RedNoVa made similar observations, adding, "If you were at the Matthew Berry party last night, you would notice that the average age in the room was about 30. Young people were everywhere. The future of our party was there. Murray’s campaign crowd was older, and full of party purists." Read more...

Posted on June 11, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Stossel Tonight! by David Boaz

Tom Palmer, Johan Norberg, and I are among the guests tonight on Stossel on the Fox Business Network. John Stossel interviews us all about the work and impact of Milton Friedman, especially his book Free to Choose, published 30 years ago. Political theorist Benjamin Barber provides the anti-Friedman counterpoint. Watch Stossel Thursdays at 8 p.m. and 12 midnight, Saturdays at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., and Sundays at 10 p.m. (all times eastern).

Posted on June 10, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Political Economy in Three Panels by David Boaz

Indeed, every improved product or service may make us no longer value products and services we previously used. That's what Schumpeter called "creative destruction." A longer version of the same phenomenon was on the front page of Monday's Wall Street Journal, in an article about how Wal-Mart's rivals secretly fund "grassroots local campaigns" against Wal-Mart, organized by political consulting firms, to protect the existing firms' positions. Every innovator puts somebody out of business, as Agnes's friend recognizes.

Posted on June 8, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Is Mickey Kaus Fashionable? by David Boaz

Why is a New York Times profile of blogger-turned-U.S. Senate candidate Mickey Kaus on the front page of the Sunday Styles section? He's smart. He's interesting. Stylish he ain't. Maybe it's because he's running his whole campaign against Barbara Boxer on a budget that would buy a Birkin bag. I probably disagree with Kaus on most things, including one of his two big issues, illegal immigration. But I'm glad to see a Democrat making an issue of the excessive power and cost of government employee unions just as a populist revolt against those unions seems to be building. You read it in the New York Times, Californians: Mickey Kaus is in Style this week.

Posted on June 6, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Charles Murray on Ayn Rand by David Boaz

Ayn Rand's books have been selling strongly for more than 50 years, a constant irritant to the literary and academic establishments. And since the acceleration in government growth about 18 months, they've been selling better than ever. In the middle of that surge of interest, two new biographies of Rand were published, whose authors were featured at a Cato Institute Book Forum last fall. Now Charles Murray, the author of such books as Human Accomplishment and What It Means to Be a Libertarian, reflects on Ayn Rand in a review of those books. Murray does a great job of showing what was wrong -- and what was very right -- with Ayn Rand. To the certain annoyance of her fans, Murray insists that "there is a dismaying discrepancy between the Ayn Rand of real life and Ayn Rand as she presented herself to the world. The discrepancy is important because Rand herself made such a big deal about living a life that was the embodiment of her philosophy." Nevertheless, he muses, "Why then has reading these biographies of a deeply flawed woman—putting it gently—made me want to go back and reread her novels yet again? The answer is that Rand was a hedgehog who got a few huge truths right, and expressed those truths in her fiction so powerfully that they continue to inspire each new generation." He concludes:
Ayn Rand never dwelt on her Russian childhood, preferring to think of herself as wholly American. Rightly so. The huge truths she apprehended and expressed were as American as apple pie. I suppose hardcore Objectivists will consider what I'm about to say heresy, but hardcore Objectivists are not competent to judge. The novels are what make Ayn Rand important. Better than any other American novelist, she captured the magic of what life in America is supposed to be. The utopia of her novels is not a utopia of greed. It is not a utopia of Nietzschean supermen. It is a utopia of human beings living together in Jeffersonian freedom. 
Read the whole thing. I note that the excellent new group blog Pileus got to this review before I did. Plenty of other good thoughts there, too, on topics ranging from Adam Smith to David Souter to a comparison between Rand and Marx.

Posted on June 4, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Driverless Cars — You Heard It Here First by David Boaz

Not five months after Randal O'Toole discussed the idea of safe, efficient, driverless cars in his book Gridlock: Why We're Stuck in Traffic and What to Do about It and in this full-page Wall Street Journal essay -- but 71 years after Norman Bel Geddes first imagined the idea at the New York World's Fair of 1939 -- the Washington Post (in an article picked up from the New Scientist) and Scripps-Howard columnist Dale McFeatters (in the New York Post and elsewhere) are writing about the benefits of such advanced technology. As the Post puts it,
Yet according to Jonas Ekmark, a researcher at Volvo headquarters near Gothenburg, Sweden, this is just the start. He says we are entering an era in which vehicles will also gather real-time information about the weather and highway hazards, using this to improve fuel efficiency and make life less stressful for the driver and safer for all road users. "Our long-term goal is the collision-free traffic system," says Ekmark.
Or as O'Toole had put it in the Wall Street Journal,
Driverless vehicles offer huge advantages over current autos. Because computer reaction times are faster, driverless cars can safely operate more closely together, potentially tripling highway throughput. This will virtually eliminate congestion and reduce the need for new road construction.... Driverless cars and trucks will be safer. They will also be greener, first by significantly reducing congestion, and eventually because vehicles will be lighter in weight due to reduced collision risks.
Stay tuned to the Cato Institute for more ahead-of-the-curve ideas.

Posted on June 3, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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