Your Good Intentions Mean Virtually Nothing

I am exhausted with folks, particularly on the Progressive Left, judging themselves and each other based on their intentions.  Your intentions mean virtually nothing.  I suppose it is better to have good intentions than bad, but beyond that results, particularly in the public policy arena, are what should matter.  And the results of most Progressive well-intentioned legislation are generally terrible.  For example, as I wrote earlier today, poverty in this country is mainly caused by lack of work rather than low wage hours, but Progressives preen over their good intentions in introducing higher and higher minimum wages that will only serve to reduce the work hours of low-skilled poor people.

Via Mark Perry comes this great article on Progressive good intentions in Seattle collapsing into rubble.  It does not except well, so I recommend you check it out, but I will summarize it.

Begin with a libertarian goal that should be agreeable to most Progressives -- people should be able to live the way they wish.  Add a classic Progressive goal -- we need more low income housing.  Throw in a favored Progressive lifestyle -- we want to live in high density urban settings without owning a car.

From this is born the great idea of micro-housing, or one room apartments averaging less than 150 square feet.  For young folks, they are nicer versions of the dorms they just left at college, with their own bathroom and kitchenette.

Ahh, but then throw in a number of other concerns of the Progressive Left, as administered by a city government in Seattle dominated by the Progressive Left.  We don't want these poor people exploited!  So we need to set minimum standards for the size and amenities of apartments.  We need to make sure they are safe!  So they must go through extensive design reviews.  We need to respect the community!  So existing residents are given the ability to comment or even veto projects.  We can't trust these evil corporations building these things on their own!  So all new construction is subject to planning and zoning.  But we still need to keep rents low!  So maximum rents are set at a number below what can be obtained, particularly given all these other new rules.

As a result, new micro-housing development has come to a halt.  A Progressive lifestyle achieving Progressive goals is killed by Progressive regulatory concerns and fears of exploitation.  How about those good intentions, where did they get you?

The moral of this story comes back to the very first item I listed, that people should be able to live the way they wish.  Progressives feel like they believe this, but in practice they don't.  They don't trust individuals to make decisions for themselves, because their core philosophy is dominated by the concept of exploitation of the powerless by the powerful, which in a free society means that they view individuals as idiotic, weak-willed suckers who are easily led to their own doom by the first clever corporation that comes along.

Postscript:  Here is a general lesson for on housing affordability:  If you give existing homeowners and residents the right (through the political process, through zoning, through community standards) to control how other people use their property, they are always, always, always going to oppose those other people doing anything new with that property.  If you destroy property rights in favor of some sort of quasi-communal ownership, as is in the case in San Francisco, you don't get some beautiful utopia -- you get stasis.  You don't get progressive experimentation, you get absolute conservatism (little c).  You get the world frozen in stone, except for prices that continue to rise as no new housing is built.  Which interestingly, is a theme of one of my first posts over a decade ago when I wrote that Progressives Don't Like Capitalism Because They Are Too Conservative.

Postscript #2:  So, following the logic above, one can think of building restrictions and zoning as a form of cronyism.  Classic cronyism is providing subsidies to politically favored companies and restricting the ability of new competitors to arise to compete with them, granting them an effective monopoly and the ability to jack up their prices.  So what do we do with housing?  We give massive subsidies to home-owners and restrict competition from new housing that might reduce their home value, thus granting current homeowners an effective monopoly and the ability to jack up their prices.  I challenge anyone to tell me that rising home prices in Palo Alto are not driven by the exact same government actions for favored constituents as are rising prices for Epipens.

Postscript #3:  I will ask a question using Progressive terminology -- you were worried about these young renters and their power imbalance vs. development companies and landlords.  So how much more powerful are they now with a thousand fewer rental units on the market?  Consumers have power when supply is plentiful.  Anything done to reduce supply is going to reduce consumer power.


  1. Dustin Barnard:

    I live in the bay area which is basically the poster child of restrictive zoning and building codes driving housing costs up. Talking to residents around here most people will say things like 'the schools are overcrowded and we don't have space or money to build more'. Which is absurd enough on it's own, given this area is one of the richest in the nation (and the world) and has a population density which is half of LA's. But it's especially amusing when stories like this are starting to pop up:

  2. Andrew_M_Garland:

    "( Progessives core philosophy is dominated by the concept of exploitation of the powerless by the powerful. They view individuals as idiotic, weak-willed suckers who are easily led to their own doom by the first clever corporation that comes along. )"

    This progressive outlook is validated every day. Their supporters, a majority of people, are weak-willed suckers who are easily led to their own doom by each clever, progressive, political proposal which is placed before them.

    This works for the progressives because the majority of people have tried using their own analytic abilities and have found them lacking, as a practical matter. Their fallback is to find a leader to describe things to them, present understandable and simple reasons, and propose agreeable policies. Those people cannot distinguish between a good and bad policy. The "leaders" are such as the Democratic party, unions, churches, and news networks.

    Claiming to have good intentions is vital. People will trust their future to people of good will, lacking enough ability to make their own analysis, and lacking ability even to judge an alternate analysis.

    Cognitive Dissonance takes care of the rest. After 10+ years of being fooled by progressives, people will grasp at any explanation for policy failure to avoid feeling fooled. The most useful excuses for failure are "we didn't do enough", "those evil Republicans opposed us", and "we/they didn't have the right people for success".

  3. SamWah:

    Progressives KNOW they KNOW BETTER what's best for non-progressives.

  4. SamWah:

    Good ideas are set upon by an army of rats. Progressives, I started to say.

  5. Not Sure:

    "They view individuals as idiotic, weak-willed suckers who are easily led to their own doom by the first clever corporation that comes along but amazingly enough, are perfectly competent when it comes to voting for politicians to rule them. As long as they choose progressive politicians, that is. And when they don't, it's because they're idiotic, weak-willed suckers."

  6. Matthew Slyfield:

    You forgot the FTFY :)

  7. Incunabulum:

    "Begin with a libertarian goal that should be agreeable to most Progressives -- people should be able to live the way they wish."

    Yeah, that's not actually something a libertarian would find agreeable. That smacks of 'positive rights' and obligations on others to accommodate and prop up your life choices.

    A libertarian position would be more along the lines of 'do what you will as long as it harms no one' (to paraphrase the neo-Pagans).m

  8. Ruggerbunny:

    "I suppose it is better to have good intentions than bad, but beyond that results, particularly in the public policy arena, are what should matter."
    I make this same statement every weekend reffing rugby.

    "But Sir, I didn't mean to be laying on the ball."

    "I agree that you did not intentionally do it, but I have to call the results not your intentions. And your results were to slow down their play. Back 10."

    It applies in most every field I have been involved in. The same thing can be applied to most other progressive legislation as well. The ACA comes to mind.

  9. jimc5499:

    I live in a small town in western Pennsylvania. A few months ago one of the buildings on our Main Street had a fire. The building was primarily an apartment building with a small store front. The building was not a total loss and can be rebuilt. The people who own the building were insured and want to rebuild it and keep the people who were living there at tenants.
    They are getting resistance from people who think that something else should be built there instead. Our Progressive City Council keeps holding meetings, to get input on this subject, denying building permits and threatening to fine the owners for the condition of the property. The main problem is that if the building has to go through Winter, snow and ice may damage it beyond repair.

  10. CC:

    I love trailer parks. Why? Because it is a way for people without much $ to get a foothold, to have their own place, to work up to buying a house.
    Progressives hate them. They want to effectively make being poor illegal. In the 60s/70s and post, they waged war on SRO (single room occupancy) hotels because some lowlifes lived there. But even the crazy and winos need a place to live.

  11. mesaeconoguy:

    No, My Intentions ™ are pure, and only meant to Nudge ™ you (check out my book – Nudge giggle) in their insipid intent to make you obey the state.


    Cass Sunstein

    PS, I’m really worried about your disobedience, in a nice sort of way.

  12. GoneWithTheWind:

    My mother in law and sister in law both live in affordable housing. It is not subsidized by federal, state or local taxpayers. They own it. It actually is affordable. My mother in law has two bedrooms and two bathrooms. My sister in law has three bedrooms and two bathrooms. They each pay $400 a month and that includes water an sewer. They live in a trailer park. Both "trailers" cost under $14,000. Don't laugh they are quite comfortable and like their homes. By contrast the city where they live built "affordable housing" costing more than $150,000 per unit for two bedroom apartments. They would rent for around $1000 in that city but with government subsidy (paid by you) they rent for $200-$300 to anyone with a sob story and the patience to wait for years to get in. Of course there is nothing "affordable" about these government units except of course to the welfare queens who live there (oddly no men, surely someone is protesting this lack of diversity).

  13. Jerryskids:

    The most aggravating part of the article is the conclusion where he suggests there's a simple fix for this series of screw-ups caused by government meddling - the government just needs to undo its meddling, step back, get out of the way and let the free market work. Why not propose the simple solution of having a magical flying unicorn come in and wave a magic wand? Government is not going to step back and keep their mitts off the situation - their whole raison d'etre is meddling with stuff. That's how they make their money and create their power. You might as well propose that, since McDonald's obviously does a better job of providing hamburgers than Wendy's, if Wendy's really was interested in making sure people are provided with hamburgers they should go out of business and leave the market to McDonald's. Government doesn't care so much that people get affordable housing, they care more that government is involved with providing people with affordable housing. If their involvement is what prevents people from getting affordable housing, oh, well. If government's not providing affordable housing, they're going to by-god make sure nobody else is either. Otherwise, people might start getting the idea that they don't need government to manage every little bit of their lives, that maybe there are better ways to do things without government involvement, and that's the most foul heresy government knows of.

  14. SamWah:

    Good Intentions: " What's worthless or harmful without good results?", Alex.
    His heart's in the right place...but upside down and backwards.

  15. ErikTheRed:

    "But even the crazy and winos need a place to live."

    Yeah, but if crazies and winos have a place to live besides the streets, then it's so much harder for progressives to conspicuously engage in virtue signaling.

  16. Joe Mama:

    A dynamic that you imply but did not explicitly discuss is the fact that the progressive "inputs" were sequential (i.e., in series) rather than in parallel. Since most people seem to be calibrated to pass/fail 50:50, then each hurdle reduces the overall system pass rate by fifty percent. Four hurdles (or requirements) reduces the buy-rate to about 6%.

    One fix is to have all stake holders show up for a single meeting (i.e., parallel processing) The project is either approved or failed. Failure to send a delegate with enough authority to approve a project is to abdicate the chance to make input.

    Resistance to parallel processing is probably due to the same reason that teenagers insist on having "last word". It is a power-and-dominance thing.

    Some governmental units "get it". One such unit is Perry Township, Michigan

  17. Bill Drissel:

    Central point: It isn't given to humans to be able to read each others' minds. "Speech was given to man to conceal his thoughts" - Talleyrand. So your guess about other people's intentions (or sincerity or group membership etc.) should play no part in assessing their policy proposals, likely outcomes or cost/benefit ratios.

  18. DanSmith:

    Here is my explanation. Progressive social warriors believe if they construct cargo cult subsidized housing for large families, that will eliminate all the crime, ignorance and fatherless families that inevitably follow such projects. Good luck with that.

  19. kbiel:

    "They want to effectively make being poor illegal."

    And why not? After all, they think they can legislate away violence by outlawing guns, physics by mandating absurd fuel efficiency, gender by public accommodation and anti-discrimination laws, & cetera, & cetera. Obviously, they can solve poverty by outlawing it.

  20. John O.:

    As expensive it as it can be, there are some lawsuits worth filing and fighting for and this would be one of them in my opinion. I would have immediately challenged the validity of the authority for the local government to second guess my wishes because this is clearly a retroactive change of the zoning which I would assume is unconstitutional.