Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Houston is Only the Latest Libertarian Disaster

The middle of the country has been the laboratory of right wing and libertarian experimentation and the results keep coming in.

Houston is the latest. Libertarianism didn't create the hurricane, but 35 years of laissez-faire economics and rolling back environmental science did set up the worst case that has unfolded. The richest irony is Houston is the home of Big Oil, the industry that fueled the surge in global warming and hid the warnings of their own scientists.

The city itself is a libertarian paradise, with no urban planning, no regulation of land use, no real preparation for what happened. A worst case scenario, like the other "libertarian paradises" we've read about in recent years. Nobody predicted this deluge...

Actually scientists did predict it. The oil companies’ own scientists saw this coming but they were silenced by their employers. Scientists said not decreasing use of fossil fuels would lead to this kind of event. The fossil fuel industry spent millions denying it and hiding what they knew. Talk about "natural consequences."

There's been a lively discussion of the Trump administration's re-instatement of civil asset forfeiture, confiscating property and wealth from persons suspected of crimes. It's a medieval device but maybe there is a proper use for it here: pay for the huge costs of climate change by confiscating the massive wealth of the companies who have caused it.



"The Harvey-wrought devastation is just the latest example of the consequences of Houston’s gung-ho approach to development. The city, the largest in the US with no zoning laws, is a case study in limiting government regulations and favoring growth—often at the expense of the environment. As water swamps many of its neighborhoods, it’s now also a cautionary tale of sidelining science and plain common sense. Given the Trump administration’s assault on environmental protections, it’s one that Americans elsewhere should pay attention to.”


From the Guardian

"Added up, the facts evoke a social breakdown across the board. Not only does Oklahoma lead the country in cuts to education, it’s also number one in rates of female incarceration, places second in male incarceration, and also leads in school expulsion rates. One in 12 Oklahomans have a felony conviction.

"Rosa Brooks of Georgetown University Law Center wrote in an essay that states begin to fail when the contract between citizens and public institutions breaks down. States “lose control over the means of violence, and cannot create peace or stability for their populations or control their territories. They cannot ensure economic growth or any reasonable distribution of social goods.” "


From USAToday

There are many lessons from this fiasco, none more important than the need to be wary of free-lunch promises that sound too good to be true.
Gov. Sam Brownback pitched his tax-cut plan with classic "supply side" economics. Lost revenue from lower rates, he argued, would be made up with surging growth and rising incomes.

That never happened. In 2014, the first year in which the cuts were in effect, revenue from the state’s individual income tax plunged by more than $700 million, a 25% drop. Since then, tax receipts have stagnated at their reduced levels.

The promised revenue from increased business activity and higher wages never materialized. In fact, Kansas’ economy has not responded to this enormous fiscal stimulus in any measurable way. According to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, the state's annual rate of growth in personal income has been stuck in the low single digits since the tax cuts went into effect.

This lesson should be particularly relevant to lawmakers in Washington, where the Trump administration is pushing what Vice President Pence last week called "the largest tax cut since the days of Ronald Reagan." The irresponsible plan slashes taxes so much that it would likely hasten the arrival of a debt crisis already on the horizon as the result of surging spending on benefits.


From Politico

"The city’s experiment was fascinating because it offered a chance to observe some of the most extreme conservative principles in action in a real-world laboratory. Producers from “60 Minutes” flew out to talk with the town’s leaders. The New York Times found a woman in a dark trailer park pawning her flat screen TV to buy a shotgun for protection. “This American Life” did a segment portraying Springs citizens as the ultimate anti-tax zealots, willing to pay $125 in a new “Adopt a Streetlight” program to illuminate their own neighborhoods, but not willing to spend the same to do so for the entire city. “I’ll take care of mine” was the gist of what one council member heard from a resident when she confronted him with this fact.”

"…One of the lessons: There’s a real cost to saving money.

"Take the streetlights. Turning them off had saved the city about $1.25 million. What had not made the national news stories was what had happened while those lights were off. Copper thieves, emboldened by the opportunity to work without fear of electrocution, had worked overtime scavenging wire. Some, the City Council learned, had even dressed up as utility workers and pried open the boxes at the base of streetlights in broad daylight. Keeping the lights off might have saved some money in the short term, but the cost to fix what had been stolen ran to some $5 million.

“Sometimes the best-laid plans don’t work out the way you’d hope,” says Merv Bennett, who served on the City Council at the time and asked officials at the utilities about whether the savings were real.

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