Saturday, June 27, 2009

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff 31

A Pointless Statistic
neoHouston presents a long argument showing that Houstonians pay much higher property tax bills than other major cities. This, he claims, makes housing less affordable. While there is truth in this, he fails to address one significant difference between Houston and other cities.

He uses a $100,000 home to compare tax rates between Houston, LA, New York City, and Chicago. While this is perhaps useful for his purposes, it is pointless. I seriously doubt that anyone can find a home in New York City for $100,000, unless you consider a cardboard box in some alley a home.

While our property taxes may be higher, we get a lot more house for our money. As I wrote in The Objective Standard:

In Houston, a house of two thousand square feet costs about $120,000. In New York City, the average apartment of fifteen hundred square feet costs more than $1.7 million.

As I demonstrated in that article, the primary cause of this difference is government intervention in land-use. So, while property taxes may increase the cost of home ownership in Houston, home ownership is still affordable to the middle class. Statistics are only useful when used in context--the full context.

Tinkering with Details

Earlier this month mayoral candidate Peter Brown held a press conference, during which he called for city council to cut its budget by 2%. He said:

[W]e need to use our resources smarter and more efficiently, but we’ve got to uphold our commitments to the citizens of the City of Houston. It would be completely irresponsible to cut off vitally needed resources for essential services such as police, fire and infrastructure.

I seldom agree with Mr. Brown, and this isn't any different. The city should get out of the infrastructure business. While using its resources more efficiently is always a good idea, the city should be reducing its intervention in the economy and our lives. Doing do would require fewer resources, and allow Houstonians to keep more of their money.

Brown is just tinkering with details, rather than addressing the real issue--the city government has expanded far beyond its proper functions.

Texas Secession

Calls for Texas secession have been going on for a long time. They probably started shortly after Texas joined the Union. While I harbor a teensy-weensy bit of empathy for those who would like to establish an independent republic, secession is not the answer. While Texans might free themselves from the dictates of Washington, the dictates from Austin can be just as destructive.

One secession group, the Texas Nationalist Movement, illustrates the inanity of the secession movement. Their web site states their goals, which include:
  • Preserving Texas history and culture

  • Educating Texans and the world about Texas history and culture

  • Celebrating Texas history and culture

  • Defending Texas history and culture

  • Improving and supporting the way of life of Texas communities
Texas was a slave state. I don't regard that part of our history to be worth celebrating or preserving. More importantly, this fascination with all things Texas is a crude form of collectivism.

Texas is certainly more pro-business than other states. But Austin is increasingly interfering with businesses, property rights, and the lives of the citizenry. Simply divorcing ourselves from Washington will not change much if current trends continue.

If the secession movement advocated laissez-faire capitalism and individual rights, it might be worthy of consideration. But it doesn't and it isn't. Ideas matter, and the secession movement embraces the same altruist/ collectivist ideas that dominate our culture. The results of those ideas will be the same, whether our masters reside in Austin or Washington.

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