I nearly snorted coffee onto my breakfast when I read Denver Post editor Matt Sebastian’s claim (based on a Post article by Nick Coltrain) that Colorado Democrats will prioritize “affordability” in the 2023 legislative session.
Thanks to the progressive legislature’s past bills, Coloradans are starting off the new year with grocery bag taxes (officially “fees”); a new payroll tax; taxes (“fees”) on online orders, ride shares, and deliveries; more-expensive housing and food due to regulations; coming costly recycling mandates; and more. For details, see my report on taxes, regulations, and Jared Polis’s “libertarianism.”
Coltrain’s article, which largely serves as a PR puff piece for legislative Democrats, suggests that they will make housing more “affordable” through subsidies, discriminatory taxes, and more regulations regarding “eviction protections and slowing the growth of rent.” In other words, to make housing more “affordable,” Democrats plan to redistribute wealth and impose higher regulatory costs.
Another article by the Post offers more detail: “As rents surge, pressure grows for Colorado to reconsider rent control ban.” Freshman legislator Javier Mabrey, who, along with Elisabeth Epps, was endorsed by the Denver chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, endorses rent control. I’ll be interested to see whether the famed “abolitionist” Epps rationalizes sending in armed agents of the state to enforce price controls on housing.
Progressives seem absolutely incapable of dynamic thinking. They reflexively see high costs and think “government should forcibly lower costs,” without considering how price controls affect incentives. Rent control discourages the building of new housing and the maintenance of existing housing.
As I Tweeted, “Rent control leads to less and worse housing—the exact opposite of what we need! If you want lower housing costs, fully legalize the construction and use of residential properties. More freedom, not more bureaucracy and central controls.” See also my previous columns on the topic.
Generally, freedom works. Generally, individuals have the knowledge about their own lives to make good decisions, whereas politicians and bureaucrats lack such knowledge. And generally individuals have the incentives to improve their lives and to enter mutually beneficial relationships with others, given the right institutions, whereas politicians and bureaucrats have the incentives to expand their power, appease the interest groups that support them, and force costs onto others.
The most plausible theoretical basis for government intervention (beyond areas of crime and national security) is the existence of “externalities.” Most cases of pollution can be handled through torts or through common-sense regulations that clearly aim at protecting people and their property. For example, it was a good idea for government to get lead out of gasoline and other products, as lead damages kids’ brains. Arguably government should provide certain “public goods” such as fire protection, although I always want to see if a service can be privately provided and if government involvement creates more problems than it solves.
Rather than make a good-faith effort to solve real externalities, progressives tend to pretend than every problem, real or imagined, is one of externalities, and that any government reaction, however nonsensical, is justified as a response. And they steadfastly ignore how their own policies created many of the problems that they now wish to “fix” using the heavy boot of bureaucracy.
The proper default is freedom. As a recent report from the Common Sense Institute puts the point, “At its heart, the free enterprise system is one in which people are free to make choices about what’s best for their own particular circumstances and needs. Individuals are free to work in roles that play to their strengths, businesses can compete to provide goods and services that cater to their customers, and markets are able to bring people together to transact. Those countless decisions and interactions, when taken collectively, make up the free enterprise system, which has proven to be the greatest economic engine in history and has lifted billions of people out of extreme poverty.”
Freedom is affordable in the usual sense that, when people are free to produce and trade, they tend to economically create goods and services that make themselves and others better off.
Freedom is “affordable” in a deeper sense. The term “afford” originally meant something like to contribute, advance, or accomplish. An “affordance” is a possibility the environment provides. Freedom is affordable in the sense that freedom affords individuals and members of voluntary organizations the best opportunities to make the most of their lives and to make the decisions that work for them.
Statism, the illegitimate reliance on government power, is costly and oppressive. Freedom is affordable. Let’s hope the legislature remembers that.
Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.
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