Thomas Sowell

My favorite salesman in my favorite camera store in Palo Alto, California, happened to mention that he lives in the town of Tracy. That is about an hour and a half drive to work in rush hour traffic. Why was this man spending three hours a day on the highway? Because housing prices are so high in Palo Alto -- and up and down the whole San Francisco peninsula.

This is not due to supply and demand in a free market. It is largely due to rich busybodies who have promoted severe restrictions on the building of housing under a variety of high-sounding names like "open space" or "environmental protection." I don't begrudge such people the inheritances that have allowed them to live their whole lives without ever having to lift a finger to support themselves. But it is galling that they are imposing huge costs on hundreds of thousands of other people who have to work for a living.

People used to complain about "the idle rich." But the idle rich did not do the kind of harm being done by today's busybody rich, who feed their own egos by bankrolling political crusades on the left which hurt the very people that the left claims to care about -- working people, minorities, and children.

One of the painful but untold stories of our times is the forcing of working people, minorities, and children out of liberal communities where severe restrictions on the use of land have made housing costs too high to be affordable for most people. The consequences can be seen in the population changes in these communities.

Affluent and politically liberal-left communities like San Francisco and Monterey are places from which blacks have been forced out economically, even as they are cheered in political rhetoric. In San Francisco, for example, the number of blacks declined from more than 79,000 in the 1990 census to less than 61,000 in the 2000 census, even though the total population in the city increased by more than 50,000 people.

In adjoining -- and equally affluent and politically liberal -- San Mateo County, the black population fell from more than 35,000 to less than 25,000 during the same decade. Here too the total population rose by more than 50,000. More than half the land area of San Mateo is off-limits to building under "open space" laws.

In Monterey, another bastion of affluent liberalism and environmentalism, the black population in this community of more than 30,000 people declined from 937 to 749.

These are all bastions of liberal Democrats. In all these places, Ted Kennedy would be a middle of the roader, if not right of center.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate