Tuesday, February 20, 2007

More "Economics" for Politicians -- Floating a Sinking Golf Course

Thomas Sowell's most recent article describes the absurd treatment of San Francisco's oversupply of golf courses:

If you put San Francisco's golf courses on the open market, in a city with a serious housing shortage and sky high housing prices, chances are good that the land occupied by golf courses would quickly be bid away by those who would build some much-needed housing.

Of course, this would make the city's municipal golf course workers unhappy. And unhappy municipal workers can be a big problem for a politician, especially if these are union workers.

How have San Francisco's golf courses been kept going when they cost more to maintain than they are receiving in fees from the golfers who use them? Recent renovations alone cost more than $23 million.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "the city closed the gap with $16.6 million from state bond funds meant for recreation and park projects in underserved and economically disadvantaged areas." In other words, the poor have once again been used as human shields, this time to protect golfers.

Sowell identifies, astutely as always, the rift between politics and economics--or even common sense. But I can't help but think that Sowell is a little hard on politicians. Let's assume that Sowell was installed as mayor of San Francisco. Could he do better than the current leadership? However politics got unmoored from principles of economics and common sense in the first place, it cannot be turned around overnight. Putting politics back right is like separating conjoined twins. First, we need psychological counseling. Then, we need a series of complicated and delicate surgeries. In other words, just like you can't rip two conjoined twins apart, you can't just force cities out of their old habits. We need a practical approach.

The great tragedy in this is that we have idealists on the one side telling us the way things should be, and old-school politicians who are used to their bad unprincipled habits on the other. There seem to be precious few in the middle who could help bridge the gap and lead our broken system to recovery.

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