The "Revelopment" Hoax: Rich Liberals Despise the Urban Poor

Article by Thomas Sowell.

If development is considered to be so bad, why is redevelopment considered to be good, by many of the same people?

Redevelopment imposes the supposedly superior wisdom and virtue of an elite on the rest of us. That is its ideological appeal to self-congratulatory elites.

Its political appeal is more mundane. By bulldozing low-income neighborhoods and replacing them with upscale malls and condos, local political leaders get more tax money into their coffers, offering more opportunities for them to do things that enhance their chances of being reelected.

A politically successful redevelopment project enables those who promoted it to show “before and after” photos of the neighborhood that has been bulldozed and replaced by shiny new buildings, tree-lined vistas and clearly upscale new housing. This is easily portrayed as a welcome new addition to the community, both aesthetically and economically.

In reality, what redevelopment does is transfer wealth from one place to another place, with no net addition to the wealth of the country as a whole. But it increases tax revenues in the local jurisdiction, which is what local politicians care about.

When money that would have been spent and taxed elsewhere is transferred into a particular jurisdiction, that is no net increase in tax revenues, or of jobs, in the country, however.

Redevelopment exports low-income people and imports high-income people – with no net addition or subtraction of either segment of the population in the country as a whole. The huge costs of redevelopment projects turn what would otherwise be a zero-sum process into a huge net loss for society as a whole.

Between restrictions on development and the destruction of existing low-income housing by redevelopment, low-income and even moderate-income people are forced out by high housing costs.

Often this process takes the form of ethnic cleansing. Blacks, for example, have been driven out of communities up and down the San Francisco peninsula, including East Palo Alto, which was once 61 percent black, and is today only 17 percent black.

But that 17 percent is still the highest proportion of blacks in any community in three whole counties on the San Francisco peninsula. None of the 38 other communities in those three counties has a population that is even 5 percent black.

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4 replies »

  1. Sowell wrote this???? This is why I need to actually read his actual work and not just rely on people who claim to be a “fan” of him. (ie. Larry Elder, Rush Limbaugh, etc.)

  2. Sowell tends towards vulgar libertarianism at times, and he has awful views on foreign policy and law enforcement issues. But when he sticks to his areas of real expertise, such as the sociology and economics of race and ethnicity, he’s unbeatable. Unfortunately, right-wing propagandists like Elder and Limbaugh borrow selectively from Sowell to support their own pro-neocon worldview.

  3. By “development” is he referring to suburban sprawl? And by “redevelopment” is he referring to walkable urbanism that’s meant to counter sprawl and work towards undoing the havoc it’s wrecked on America’s cities since the end of WWII?

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