Thomas Sowell
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Someone once said that Senator Hubert Humphrey, liberal icon of an earlier generation, had more solutions than there were problems.

Senator Humphrey was not unique in that respect. In fact, our present economic crisis has developed out of politicians providing solutions to problems that did not exist-- and, as a result, producing a problem whose existence is all too real and all too painful.

What was the problem that didn't exist? It was a national problem of unaffordable housing. The political crusade for affordable housing got into high gear in the 1990s and led to all kinds of changes in mortgage lending practices, which in turn led to a housing boom and bust that has left us in the mess we are now trying to dig out of.

Usually housing affordability is measured in terms of how much of the average person's income it takes to cover either apartment rent or a monthly mortgage payment.

There were certainly places here and there where it took half a family's income just to put a roof over their heads. Many such places were in coastal California but there were a few others, here and there, on the east coast and elsewhere.

But, vast areas of the country in between-- "flyover country" to the east coast and west coast elites-- had housing prices that took no larger share of the average American's income than in the decade before the affordable housing crusade got under way.

Why then a national crusade by Washington politicians over local problems? Probably as good an answer as any is that "It seemed like a good idea at the time." How are we to be kept aware of how compassionate and how important our elected officials are unless they are busy solving some problem for us?

The problem of skyrocketing housing prices was all too real in those places where this problem existed. When you have to live on half your income because the other half goes for housing, that's a real downer.

Almost invariably, these severe local problems had local causes-- usually severe local restrictions on building homes. These restrictions had a variety of politically attractive names, ranging from "open space" laws and "smart growth" policies to "environmental protection" and "farmland preservation."

Like most wonderful-sounding political slogans, none of these lofty goals was discussed in terms of that one four-letter word that people do not use in polite political society-- "cost."

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Thomas Sowell

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

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