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John C. Goodman / Mar. 2, 2013

How Liberals Live

The Democratic Party has two reliable groups of adherents: the rich and the poor. Not all of the rich, of course. Not all of the poor, either. But a large swath of wealthy people, especially those whose wealth was inherited rather than earned, wouldn’t dream of voting for a Republican. Ditto for a large number of poor people who have discovered how to sign up for various welfare programs and intend to remain on the dole for the rest of their lives. What do these groups have in common? Nothing. They rarely meet. And if they did they wouldn't like each other.

The Democratic Party has two reliable groups of adherents: the rich and the poor.

Not all of the rich, of course. Not all of the poor, either.

But a large swath of wealthy people, especially those whose wealth was inherited rather than earned, wouldn’t dream of voting for a Republican. Ditto for a large number of poor people who have discovered how to sign up for various welfare programs and intend to remain on the dole for the rest of their lives.

What do these groups have in common? Nothing. They rarely meet. And if they did they wouldn’t like each other.

You might be inclined to think that the political union of these two groups is an accident of modern electoral politics. But there may be something else involved. Both groups have little use for the middle class? the poor envy them and the wealthy distain them.

To test the idea the there might be some sort of weird sociology involved, I decided to look in on some communities where limousine liberals are firmly in control and have no fear of being ousted in the next election by middle class voters with middle class values.

Welcome to the People’s Republic of Boulder, Colorado.

When you ask the residents what they like about Boulder, they are quick to respond. “You won’t find any large billboards telling you where the nearest Target is,” I was told. And, “Where you might find a McDonald’s or a Taco Bell in some other city, in Boulder you are more likely to find Starbucks or Whole Foods.”

To make sure that things stay that way, Boulder has virtually destroyed any possibility of new housing that people who shop at Target and eat at McDonald’s would find affordable. Through tight zoning restrictions, the city has virtually legislated new, middle class housing out of existence. The city has even purchased large tracts of land to make sure development doesn’t occur.

As a result, the average price of a home in Boulder is $375,000, in contrast to an average price of $220,000 in Colorado Springs.

Boulder has its own global warming policy. In fact, it is one of the few cities in the country that is about to jettison a private electric utility company for a publicly owned one. The reason: the private electric company isn’t “green” enough. This would be comical until you stop to realize that Boulder has a lot to atone for on the climate change front. Two thirds of all the people who work in Boulder must drive to work from outside the city because they cannot afford to live there.

That’s 60,000 automobiles spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every morning and every evening of every congested business day, thanks to Boulder’s land use planning.

While Boulder forces its middle class workforce to live in neighboring communities, it is surprisingly generous to the poor. A multimillion dollar homeless shelter is so luxurious, it actually attracts vagabonds from other Colorado cities. As one local writer explains:

Boulder Shelter for the Homeless is a multimillion dollar facility of recent construction. It has a spacious day room, a TV room, washing machines ($1 per load) and dryers (free) available, showers, a few dozen small storage lockers, and a large kitchen/dining room…It has a 160 person occupancy limit, and the nightly “overflow” is accommodated by a network of local churches and a synagogue managed by Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow.

There is also an active program to provide subsidized housing to low-income families. One development on prime real estate with a mountain view is estimated to have a market value of $500,000 per unit. In other words, low-income families are living in housing units that are worth considerably more than the average home in Boulder! Unfortunately, poor families cannot sell their homes to the highest bidders, however. Were they able to, they would immediately become non-poor and the property would go to its highest valued use.

Maximizing the value of property, however, is not the goal of the citizens of Boulder. If you have a house built, say, before 1950, there’s a good chance the Landmark’s Board will designate it a historic preservation site and not allow you to modify it. For new houses and renovations, the city virtually dictates how big the house can be. It also tells you what kind of fireplace you can have and what you can or can’t burn in it. If you want to tear down an existing structure, you can’t just bulldoze it. You have to disassemble it and recycle all the pieces.

When the owners of a trailer park decided to use the property to build condominiums instead, the trailer owners appealed to the city leaders, who rezoned the property so that it could only be used as a trailer park.

Then, of course, there is the nanny state desire to tell everyone what to do with their personal lives. Smoking in Boulder is banned in almost all indoor facilities and also outside on the sidewalk.

What’s my own view on all this? If Ted Turner buys a ranch at the foot of the Tetons and he buys up so much property that no one else lives within miles of him, more power to him. But if he buys a small ranch and then tries to get the government to keep everyone else out, that is the crass and illegitimate pursuit of self-interest.

If he does the latter, he should feel guilty. Very guilty.

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