Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Regulating toward Utopia, or at least an affordable Colorado condo
Savarra Sullivan needs a home of her own.
Sullivan, a single mother with twin 4-year-olds, lives in Whittier. A preschool teacher and part-time community organizer, she has an affordable-housing apartment, but has been looking for a condominium for a couple years. Unsuccessfully. She is now pinning her hopes on proposals in the Denver City Council for an “affordable housing fund” which would funnel public money into subsidies for people in her position, that she may finally purchase one of these relatively expensive and rare properties.
Such subsidies and programs, which have proliferated in Colorado from Grand Junction to Frisco to Denver and points beyond, would be Keystone-cop hilarious if they weren’t so tragically, ironically unnecessary. Not that reasonably priced condominiums are plentiful in Colorado. They aren’t. The real question is why, and this is where slapstick politics emerges into the full light of day.
In 2003, Colorado passed a construction-defects law that was mostly effective, but was later amended and tightened, largely due to a few well-publicized cases of contractors failing to address complaints. Now the law allows contractors to be sued for defects that emerge long after construction, even if they may be due to, or exacerbated by, work done by owners of the property. So construction companies avoid building condominiums, fearing virtually permanent legal liability. This is wisdom in a market economy.
There were attempts to ease provisions of the law in the 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions; both were defeated by the Democratic majority, which apparently fears an accusation of “truckling to greedy builders,” or some such “Occupy”-style tommyrot.
Why does this matter? Because it’s a perfect illustration of the perverse effects of progressives’ penchant for regulating things better. Although the Left has argued for more than a century that strict government oversight of private business will speed the arrival of Utopia, in the real world there’s a different result. Faced with intrusive regulation and high taxation, businesses that can, flee the country. Last year this included Liberty Global, a Colorado company about twice as large as Burger King, the villain of the moment. Didn’t hear about it? Maybe the administration only thinks this behavior unpatriotic when done by a particular sort.
Faced with open-ended liability for any problem in a structure, companies also stop building low-cost condominiums. Far from being a petulant pout, this is entirely rational, having the goal of preserving both shareholder value and the company itself. Only those hopelessly ignorant of basic economics think otherwise. Unfortunately, these apparently comprise the majority of Democrats in the state legislature, not to mention Congress.
Another example of the dilemma of over-regulation comes from San Juan County School District No. 1 in southwestern Colorado, currently hovering on the brink of economic collapse. It missed one financial benchmark in state studies in 2012, three in 2013. The problem? State mandates. According to Superintendent Kim White, the district dipped into reserves in 2013 and 2014, and passed a mill levy override largely driven by state requirements for “quality teachers,” for measurement and for programs to serve non-English speakers. In smaller districts, these costs can be onerous to the point of destruction.
One might hope that, given evidence of the negative effects of over-regulation, Colorado’s politicos might be willing to tinker with the most damaging aspects of their various “protection” schemes, but alas — as last year’s legislative session showed, once implemented regulations are forever; rather like bedbugs or an infestation of vampires. Instead Solons of all stripes prefer to provide subsidies of the type Ms. Sullivan is anticipating: money appropriated from the successful and transferred to the less so, disguised as progressive largess to address the predictable consequences of control-oriented policies that were invisible to those advocating them, due to willful failure to see clearly. I know that seems complicated, but it’s the merest wire-frame simulacrum of the self-delusions and misdirection involved in the Left’s version of real life.
The virulence and ubiquity of the “regulate at all costs” crowd demands our vigilance, skepticism and aggressive questioning of the assumptions underlying the regulatory state. Why is additional regulation good? What are its costs? Are there simpler, less expensive or intrusive ways to accomplish the same end, and if so, why not resort to those first? Don’t accept a formulaic answer: It’s usually not only wrong but often clown-shoes stupid. Don’t fall for the emotion: Little Nell is unlikely to be run over by a train, whether bureaucrats mandate it or not. Above all, don’t be deceived: Immutable laws of nature, not feel-good legislation, will determine the outcome of events climatological and economic, political and social.
Whether progressives wish it, or not.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily. News.
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