Saturday, July 27, 2013

Detroit vs. Houston: Laboratories for Liberalism, Conservatism

By Timothy Lee
Liberals incessantly claim fealty to “science,” while falsely caricaturing libertarians and conservatives as the ones stubbornly ideological and averse to real-world facts. Scientific method, however, involves objective observation and testing beliefs against results. In that vein, it is liberals who prove habitually impervious to facts and the disastrous real-world results of their philosophies.  
Take gun control as one recurring example. Liberals persist in their anti-Second Amendment crusade despite irrefutable data that America’s murder rate has been cut in half over the past three decades even while gun possession has reached record highs and firearms restrictions have drastically receded across America. Data proves that jurisdictions that relax gun restrictions become safer, whereas jurisdictions that tighten gun restrictions become more dangerous. According to Dr. John Lott, Jr., he has not encountered a single example either in the United States or abroad that contradicts that causal relationship. Not one.
As another example, liberals cling to anthropomorphic global warming hyperbole, even as worldwide temperatures have plateaued over the past two decades. According to their hypothesis, enormous increases in carbon output should have proportionately increased temperatures over that two-decade period. And now, the bankrupt city of Detroit provides the latest real-world laboratory application of liberals’ agenda. 
After all, if tasked with drawing up a policy wish list, liberals would include almost all of the practices that were implemented by Detroit over the past 50 years.
During that span, the city has exclusively elected Democrats as mayors, including the extremist and racially divisive Coleman Young for 20 years. It maintained the third-highest income tax in the nation, and just last year doubled its business tax. Liberals assert that labor unions boost prosperity and benefit workers, and Detroit has remained as hospitable to unions as any city in America. Its municipal employee force was approximately twice as large per capita as other large cities, and its leaders repeatedly agreed to lavish public employee retirement commitments.
According to liberals, those are precisely the things that should bring prosperity.
Instead of prosperity, however, those policies have pulverized Detroit into what we see today. Since 1950, when it was America’s manufacturing powerhouse after producing a huge portion of the arms that won World War II, its population has plummeted from 1.8 million to 700,000. Four out of every ten streetlights don’t even function, and in the past five years alone 70% of its parks have closed. Its crime rate is five times the national average, and its police force has been slashed by 40% in just the past ten years.
In comparison, the thriving city of Houston provides a real-world laboratory for conservative principles. It maintains a regulatory light touch and low taxes, refusing to raise tax rates during the post-recession budget shortfall. “I’d argue we may be the most libertarian city in America,” says Houston Strategies blogger Tory Gattis. “Live and let live, strong property rights, not much corruption, small-business culture.” Unsurprisingly, Houston has prospered. As summarized by The Wall Street Journal in its interview of Mayor Annise Parker: 
“For the calendar year ending in February, it saw the fastest pace of job growth (4.5%) among the country’s 20 largest metropolitan areas. (With a population of 2.1 million, it’s the fourth-largest U.S. city.) In 2011, the last year such data are available, Houston had the fastest-growing large metropolitan economy, at 3.7%. Add to that a cost of living that is 7.8% below the U.S. average – New York is 53.4% above the average – and you can see the attraction for waves of new arrivals. Houston costs run a third less than the average in the 29 largest metro areas. Adjusting for lower costs, Houston has the highest per-capita income of any city in the nation.”  
Confronted with these facts, liberals might scapegoat the domestic auto industry’s decline for Detroit’s ills and attribute Houston’s prosperity to the oil industry. But that doesn’t withstand scrutiny. Pittsburgh witnessed a similar decline in the steel industry, yet it and other Midwestern cities prosper relative to Detroit. Moreover, auto manufacturing itself thrives in more business-friendly Sun Belt states. Note also that Ford Motor Company refused the big-government federal bailout and as a result is today more valuable than General Motors and Chrysler combined in terms of market and estimated values. As for Houston, the energy sector has actually decreased from 90% of its economy just 20 years ago to half today. So that doesn’t explain its prosperity.
If liberalism worked, then Detroit and Houston would be reversed. Instead, Detroit has unraveled over the past 50 years into a morass of dysfunction, crime, blight and bankruptcy while Houston has prospered.
The two cities serve as laboratories of policy, and the results should be clear to liberals as well as conservatives. Finally accepting that reality can mean fewer future Detroits, and more Houstons.

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