Friday, August 12, 2011

More Naive Class Warfare from the LA Times

If you want to read something really dumb today, check out this brilliant piece of investigative journalism from Hector Tobar in the LA Times. After walking around downtown Los Angeles for a while, Tobar hits upon the stunning realization that the city's poor live worse than its wealthy.

This is what Hector Tobar really believes Los Angeles is like
Tobar takes us on a brief tour of slum tenements and poor sidewalk vendors downtown. Many of those he interviews struggle to make more than $200 a week, and some are harassed by city officials. Trust us, if you've never visited this part of LA, it's as bad as he says. He then contrasts this with the nearby Ritz-Carlton hotel, where celebrities gathered for Wednesday's L.A. Live event, and the 24th-story WP24 lounge offers pricy sushi and a stellar view of the traffic below. For him, the juxtaposition leads to the depressing realization that LA is "becoming a Third World city." And for this, he blames its political leaders. The Ritz-Carlton is, after all, one piece of the glittering new downtown entertainment complex that people like Antonio Villaraigosa have willed into existence through redevelopment loans and tax breaks to politically-connected developers. This complex, of course, is about to get an expensive new makeover, with the City Council agreeing to issue $275 million in bonded debt to remodel the Convention Center and build a new football stadium in the area. Rightly, Tobar points out the problem of issuing public debt to support a profit-making venture for private owners.

Unfortunately, he chooses to take things in a shallow, class-warfare direction, and mostly misses the point. In Tobar's eyes, this is a problem of heartless rich people run amok, and a political class eager to bend the rules to accommodate them. We won't argue that corrupt dealings between local politicians and land developers aren't as ubiquitous as sunshine in Los Angeles, but the problem isn't one of rich private citizens versus poor private citizens: it's one of the government and its cronies versus everyone else in the city. For one thing, rich Angelenos have no more right than the poor to forcibly extract anyone's wealth for themselves, and pretending otherwise is nonsense; only the government claims that right, and only the government is to blame for the situation Tobar depicts. For another thing, it's not just the poor who suffer here: middle-class Californians work hard and pay sky-high (and extremely regressive) taxes so that people like Villaraigosa can pursue ridiculous dreams of turning wastelands like downtown LA into New Urbanist paradises. When you talk about the many, many sins of government-directed redevelopment in California, remember that the money that paid for them wasn't confiscated from the poor. Is there a class war at work here? Of course. But its lines of battle aren't at all where Tobar thinks they are.


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