The Boundless Progressive Faith That More Money Will Solve The Problem This Time

By now you very likely know that the voters of San Francisco have just approved a new business tax designed to raise $300 million per year to finally deliver the coup de grace to the problem of homelessness. In approving this measure, the San Franciscans were undeterred by the abject failure of places like New York, Los Angeles and Seattle to reduce “homelessness,” let alone eliminate it, through comparable massive spending increases. Indeed, all of those places have seen “homelessness” soar right along with the spending supposedly designed to have the opposite effect.

Readers here know well about the pervasive issue of government spending worsening the social problems it was supposedly going to fix. See, e.g., “poverty.” There are enough examples out there to fill this blog and many others. For today, let’s take a look at the fascinating subject of public schools, with a focus on those here in New York City.

Perhaps you recall the wave of teachers’ strikes that swept through Republican-led states earlier this year, including West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky. The claim was that the schools needed additional “resources” to properly educate the kids. In each case the legislators backed down and upped the spending. Of course, most of the money went to the teachers to continue doing exactly what they were doing before (although somewhat higher pay was not necessarily inappropriate in these states). We’ll have to wait to see whether any evidence emerges that the spending increases lead to improved educational results.

But in the meantime, it should be extremely enlightening to see whether the highest spending states achieve superior results in return for their efforts. . . .

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More On The "Morality" Of Throwing Money At The Problem Of Homelessness

After reading the comments to my post on Friday about the upcoming voter initiative in San Francisco to cure “homelessness” by throwing lots more money at the problem, it occurred to me that there were several more points that I should have made.

Here is a quote that comes near the end of Mr. Benioff’s New York Times piece:

It’s also time to put to rest the claim that more generous support for the homeless will only attract more homeless people to our community. The city’s own analysis found “no research” that expanding homeless services increases homelessness. An overwhelming majority of homeless people in San Francisco are from San Francisco. They are our neighbors and they desperately need our help.

Interesting. I don’t know if it rises to the level of “research,” but did San Francisco’s genius analysts look at the data from New York City, where since 2013 annual city spending on services for the homeless has soared from about $1 billion to well over $2 billion, and the number of people counted as “homeless” has gone from about 43,000 to about 76,000? Other cities that have greatly increased spending on services to the homeless, only to see the number of people counted as homeless skyrocket, include Los Angeles and Seattle. Cause and effect? I can’t even think of how, after looking at the data from New York, Los Angeles and Seattle, you could say with a straight face that “no research” supports the proposition that expanding homeless services increases homelessness. I guess that theoretically somebody could always make the argument that without all the extra spending the number of homeless people would have been even higher; but at some point such a contention becomes completely preposterous. . . .

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The Morality Of Our Progressive Elite

Have you heard of Marc Benioff? He’s one of those tech billionaires out in San Francisco. After becoming the youngest vice-president of Oracle back in the early 1990s, he went on to found, where he continues to serve as Chairman and co-CEO. Today, Salesforce has a market cap of over $100 billion, and Bloomberg puts Benioff’s personal net worth at over $6 billion. Not quite Bezos or Zuckerberg territory, but still impressive. Benioff clearly deserves credit for starting and building a very successful business. Like many others of the tech elite, he also exemplifies the progressive world view and sense of morality.

Yesterday Benioff put that all on display in a big op-ed in the New York Times, headlined “The Social Responsibility of Business.” The immediate reason for the op-ed is to advocate for something called Proposition C, which will appear on the ballot in San Francisco on November 6. Proposition C will impose a gross receipts tax — one half of one percent on revenues in excess of $50 million — on large businesses in San Francisco. The purpose is to raise revenue to combat the explosion of “homelessness” in that city. The projection is that the annual revenue from this tax will be in the range of $300 million per year.

Benioff pitches his case in terms of basic human morality. With human suffering all around us, businesses must now stand up and take “social responsibility”!

Back . . . in the 1980s, I was taught . . . that the business of business is business. . . . [But t]he business of business is no longer merely business. Our obligation is not just to increase profits for shareholders. We must also hold ourselves accountable to a broader set of stakeholders: to our customers, our employees, the environment and the communities in which we work and live. It’s time for the wealthiest businesses and business owners to step up and give back to the most vulnerable among us.

Yes, it is the classic statement of the morality of our progressive elite: There is an important human need that must be addressed, and therefore “we” must “hold ourselves accountable” and “step up” and “give back” in the form of a tax.

Am I the only one who sees a problem with this? Here’s my problem, Marc. . . .

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What Are The Prospects For Progressive California?

In the New York Times last Thursday, Thomas Edsall had a piece titled “Is California a Good Role Model?” The piece summarized different views from pundits on the right and left as to the future prospects for California as it continues and adds to a growing menu of the latest progressive policy prescriptions — highest in the nation state income tax rates, highest in the nation sales tax rates, aggressive energy policies to address “climate change,” and so forth. A fair summary is that the right-side pundits chided California for having highest-in-the-nation inequality and poverty rates, while the left-side pundits responded that it also had strong economic growth.

I actually wrote a post on exactly this subject way back in February 2013, titled “Let’s Start A Pool On How California Will Do Over The Next Five Years.” That post began by describing three of the then-recently-enacted progressive policy favorites (highest-in-the-nation tax rates going up to 13.3% on incomes over $1 million, intentional increasing of electricity prices via a cap-and-trade system, and the high speed rail project). Would those things knock California off its high growth pedestal? You may be surprised with my take at the time:

I'm certainly not predicting an imminent collapse for California.  The consequence of making yourself way out of line in taxes and costs is not rapid collapse, but slow relative decline.

Before getting more specifically to the case of California, let me illustrate what I mean by “slow relative decline” by describing the case of New York. . . .

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Progressive Cities Go To Work On The Problem of "Homelessness"

A persistent theme of this blog is that progressive social programs supposedly intended to solve  societal problems inevitably make the problems worse.  Of course, few pay close attention while this happens; and the performance of the journalism profession in reporting on the phenomenon is nothing short of disgraceful.  But if you look into this subject enough, you will realize that it is not actually possible for a bureaucracy to solve a major societal problem.  To solve the problem would be to undermine the very basis for the existence of the bureaucracy, and to put it at risk of cutbacks or even elimination.  Bureaucracies have as their fundamental imperative the need to continue and to grow.  Therefore, no problem entrusted to a bureaucracy will ever be solved, nor even substantially ameliorated.  In fact, the problem will certainly worsen over time, the better to justify a bigger budget and more staff for the bureaucracy. . . .

Recently, the progressive movement has turned some of its focus to the problem of "homelessness."  Now here we have a problem that is clearly different -- obviously much less complex and intractable than "poverty," and therefore subject to being immediately solved by well-intentioned and well-funded progressive minions.  As super-progressive New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in 2014, shortly after getting elected, "We are simply not going to allow this kind of reality to continue.”  After all, homelessness is just an issue of lack of housing.  So it's easy:  just hire some people, spend some money, build some housing, and presto! you're done.  Or at least, that was the fantasy. . . .

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At NYCHA, Spectacular Failure -- Or Is It Spectacular Success?

Anyone who pays even a little attention to the bureaucratic/socialist business model quickly figures it out:  the fundamental problem is that the people who run the system view "success" not in achieving their stated mission, but rather in growing their own staffs and budgets.  And the way to grow your staff and budget is to reveal that the problem you are tasked with addressing is worse than anyone ever thought, and only more money can cure it.  In other words, the way to "success" is through failure, and the more spectacular the failure, the better.

Last July, I highlighted a particularly notable example of this phenomenon in the New York subway and commuter rail system, in a post titled "In Government, Failure Is The Way To Get Yourself More Money."   The system had just suffered a disastrous series of derailments and other major delays -- things that should have been completely avoided through normal, ordinary maintenance.  Facing a political firestorm, the Governor demanded immediate fixes; and the bureaucracy responded as you would expect they would:  We can do it for an immediate cash infusion of an extra $800+ million!  And, why wasn't the previous multi-billion dollar annual budget sufficient to do the job?

The genius of this is that, in the crisis of the moment, with derailments and delays constantly in the news, nobody stops to ask why the vast sums of money they were already getting were not sufficient to maintain the system.  Is the current budget being used effectively?  This question is just too crude to be asked in the middle of such a crisis.  Certainly, the politicians are unanimous in their view that this is not the time to start blaming the inefficiency of the unionized work force, but rather is an opportunity to hit up the taxpayers.

Today the functionaries at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority are in the process of being shown up as rank amateurs at this game by their compadres at another New York bureaucracy, the New York City Housing Authority.

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