‘Dunkirk’ and the Battle of Ideas

Wars are battles of ideas, which is why ideas matter. This concept was brought home in the recently released movie, “Dunkirk” which I strongly urge you to see.

The movie is based on real events, events that threatened the very existence of our modern western civilization and its values.

For those of you who ditched your history classes, let me give you a synopsis. (more…)

Fake Legislation For Fake News

A California state senator, Hannah-Beth Jackson, a prominent Progressive, has proposed yet another bill in the California Senate, SB 203, to protect our children from fake news. Jackson, a prolific legislator, introduced the bill because she was “concerned about the recent proliferation of fake news during the Presidential election …” She said,

This legislation is about ensuring we have an informed citizenry. The role of the media and technology is only growing. The skills we teach kids today about critical thinking, the role of media in their lives and how best to interact with social media, fake news and technology will help keep them safe and serve them into adulthood.

Fortunately, her bill, along with a more draconian bill (AB 1104) making it a crime to publish “false or deceptive statements on the Internet about a political candidate or ballot measure”, have been sidelined because of objections from pesky advocates of free speech (like the Electronic Frontier Foundation). Political speech is speech and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees us the right to speak freely no matter how wrong we may be. Politicians are fair game and the courts have given us much leeway to criticize them.

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Culture and Capitalism

A Letter From Santa Barbara

My wife and I attended the Santa Barbara’s Music Academy of the West’s Academy Festival Orchestra’s performance of Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring. We were dazzled. I am not a critic, but I thought they were spectacular. To think that a local, but famed, music organization can gather here in Santa Barbara the best and brightest young musicians from America and the world and hone them into a world-class orchestra in a matter of week is, well, world-class. (more…)

Myth of the Infrastructure Cure-all

Every year the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) comes out with a report card on the condition of America’s infrastructure. We got a D+ this year. According to them, “Deteriorating infrastructure is impeding our ability to compete in the thriving global economy, and improvements are necessary to ensure our country is built for the future.”

They calculate that every family in America will lose $3,400 a year because of infrastructure deficiencies. If the problem isn’t fixed, they say, GDP will lose $4 trillion a year by then (2025) and 2.5 million jobs will be lost. They recommend an additional $1.1 trillion of spending on transportation (roads and bridges) over the next 10 years to correct this problem.

President Donald Trump says that we need to spend $1 trillion to “transform America’s crumbling infrastructure into a golden opportunity for accelerated economic growth and more rapid productivity gains.”

Liberals and conservatives alike get teary-eyed when they hear this. They think that massive spending, especially on roads and bridges, will “put people back to work” and make America more productive.

Here is the reality: America’s infrastructure is not crumbling, massive spending won’t create any permanent jobs, and productivity is not suffering because of our infrastructure. These are economic myths that lobbyists, infrastructure contractors, and the ASCE perpetuate to get fat contracts. (more…)

The Dispirited Class

Bankrate.com’s most recent survey on savings reports that only 41% of Americans had enough savings to cover a $500 unplanned expense. Which means 59% didn’t. Before you jump off a cliff, this doesn’t mean they can’t pay their bills—many have access to credit in one form or another. And, it doesn’t necessarily mean these people are poor—but they are spending more than they make and are struggling to maintain their lifestyle.

The issue here is not wealth inequality. There always has been and will be “inequality”. The fact that some people are wealthier than most people is not relevant. If the top 1% are living fabulously well that doesn’t mean they are doing so at the cost of the rest of us. It means they are better at creating wealth and jobs than the rest of us. This is about how bad economic policies are hurting Main Street.

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The New Robber Barons

Cottage Hospital and Sansum Clinic, Santa Barbara, California’s two largest health care providers, gave up on their proposed merger because of regulatory delays and a lack of clarity from the Federal Trade Commission, the government agency that protects us from uncompetitive trade practices and monopolies. Cottage is now our only remaining hospital and Sansum is our largest medical clinic. Both are large, state-of-the-art providers.

After almost four years, Cottage and Sansum called off their attempt to create cost savings from a more efficient organization. In a fast-changing health care world, the uncertainty of their status made it difficult for them to plan for the future.

It is likely that the FTC believes that these kinds of vertical mergers in the health care system will give the resulting organization “monopolistic” pricing power because a lack of competition which will lead to higher costs for consumers of health care services.

That may be correct, but it is not what is driving up health care costs and the problems with our health care system.

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From Glut To Prosperity: The Revival of Retail

How can State Street be revived? In my last article on State Street’s retail glut, I pointed out that there are 30+ retail vacancies in the downtown State Street corridor and that Santa Barbara is following a national trend in retailing. That is, there is too much retail space, online sales are challenging retail stores, and generational spending and shopping habits have changed.

The revival of State Street lies with the City, property owners, and retailers. They have to adjust to a changed environment. This is not a transitory phenomenon; we are witnessing one of the rare times in history when there are major shifts in human economic behavior. Shopping and life-style patterns have changed and to ignore them is to see the permanent decline of State Street.

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Rent Control: Politicians vs. Renters

There is a belief among Progressives that rent control and other tenants’ “rights” will make housing more affordable, more secure, and more attainable for renters.

Tenant advocates such as CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy) have been urging the City of Santa Barbara to adopt policies they believe will help poor tenants. At a special meeting on March 21, the Santa Barbara City Council decided (5-2) to form a taskforce to examine rent control as well as other tenants’ rights policies proposed by CAUSE. (more…)

The Retail Glut

Santa Barbara’s downtown core shopping district is in trouble. Santa Barbara is not alone; it is a microcosm of the retail world right now.

A lot of attention has been focused on the large number of vacant retail stores here. The Downtown Organization, a group dedicated to promoting the interests of its business members, has commissioned a study of the problem. They are concerned about the “exodus” of retailers. (more…)

How to Make Housing Worse for Poor People

I live in Santa Barbara, California, which by most measures, including my own, is a paradise. It’s also very expensive because everyone wants to live in paradise. The average home price in our south coast was $1,352,000 in 2016. There were 789 homes that sold for more than $1,000,000 in 2016. Trust me, if you could figure out how to make a living here, you would pay the price.

The reason things are so expensive is that we restrict growth. No condo towers or massive tract development for us. Which causes a problem for those who can’t afford to buy a single-family residence and must rent. Apartment rents are high because we aren’t building many new apartments either. Now, those of you living in NYC probably think $2,000 to $3,000 for a one-bedroom apartment is reasonable, even cheap, but … presently there are only 15 units available in town. (more…)