The Housing Crisis and the City’s Miracle Workers:
We at LPSF have written and spoken ad infinitum about how San Francisco politicians are committed to performing the miracle of attracting folks with money that will pay high property taxes and astronomical business fees, while keeping the lower-income population in place. This is not an easy feat, since any rational human being would rather rent or sell at market rates to a newly arrived higher-income worker than keep a middle class family in a rent controlled space. It appears that the easiest path to accomplishing this feat is to encourage frequent use of a catchphrase, housing crisis, as if this economic event were the result of evil capitalism that just appeared, unwanted, on the scene, and then follow up with proposals on the November ballot to “strengthen renter protections.” One such proposal will be to encourage state legislators to place restrictions on the Ellis Act, since landlords of unprofitable rent-controlled housing are predictably evicting tenants in order to seek newly emerged opportunities. Perhaps Mayor Lee and the Board of Supervisors are counting on the newly arrived better paid workers to scoop up any formerly rent-controlled buildings abandoned by landlords who find themselves prohibited from making the most out of their investment? Of, course, if that is the case, we must ask how this scenario helps the lower-income families at all.
Income Inequality and Pretending to Fix it
When there is a rapid change in technology – say, automobiles replacing horse-drawn carriages – those who do not adapt to the new realities are left economically behind. The more disincentives there are to adaptation, such as long-term unemployment benefits, “job training” for activities that are one generation behind, and rental controls that render lower-income individuals fearful of moving in search of better economic opportunities, the more income inequality there will be. The progressive solution is to raise the minimum wage, which will affect a relatively small number of workers and will not affect those without a job at all. Mayor Lee and the Board of Supervisors are expected to predictably place such a minimum wage proposal on the November ballot. Their argument is that one can’t live in San Francisco on the current minimum wage. Indeed, one cannot.
Expect our Equally Predictable Response in November
The way we see it, politicians will buy votes in exchange for the illusion of safety. The subject of this post is the illusion of safety from displacement. When economic conditions change structurally and drastically, the only way safety from displacement can be guaranteed is to render individuals who do not adapt to the new conditions dependent on public assistance. Libertarians do not see that situation as real and meaningful safety. We would prefer that City government were honest about the consequences of giving tax and regulatory incentives to picked and chosen industries.