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Liberal Hypocrisy is Fueling American Inequality. Here’s How. | NYT Opinion

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There is a question I’ve
had for a very long time. And it has to do
with this map. This is a map of the
18 states in the U.S. where Democrats control the
legislative and executive branches or else have
some veto-proof majority in the legislature. Democrats in D.C. often
blame the G.O.P. for foiling their progressive vision. “When middle-class families
see their taxes go up, they’ll know Republicans
are to blame.” But if you zoom
in to these 18 states, there’s effectively
no Republican standing in the way. So my question is, what
do Democrats actually do when they have
all the power? To answer this question, I
teamed up with the Times editorial board writer
Binya Appelbaum. OK, you got my attention. He’s been thinking about
and writing books about and reporting on this
topic for decades. I think Americans
tend to view politics as a competition
of us versus them. And they tend to think that
if they would just get out of the way, then we can do
the things that we want to do. There is no them
standing in the way. There’s just the
we of Democrats and their supporters.

And they get to decide
what policy should look like in those states. And that is an opportunity
for them to implement their vision. For this story, I also delved
into this giant document. It is the 2020 Democratic
Party platform. If you want to really
understand what Democrats say they want, what their
vision is for America, it’s found inside
of this document. This document serves as a
guide as we zoom in to these states to answer
this question: What do Democrats really
do when they have all the power? “Nearly 554,000
homeless people — “— from the 25 wealthiest
Americans shows they’re paying little in income taxes
compared to their fortunes, sometimes nothing at all.” “We cannot, in good faith,
blame the Republican Party when House Democrats
have a majority.” “There’s still very intense
segregation happening in all kinds of forms all
over this country.” OK, so let’s start
with California. To me, California is, like,
the quintessential liberal state. From the state legislature
to the whole executive branch to most of the big cities,
Dems hold majority control. So what do they do
with all this power? Looking at California, you
have to look at housing.

OK, now wait, listen,
when I hear the words “housing policy,” I tend to
sort of doze off. But Binya insists that housing
policy and what is happening in California is definitely
worth looking at. You cannot say that you are
against inequality in America unless you are willing to
have affordable housing built in your neighborhood. And Democrats
completely agree. Here in this document, the
word “housing” is mentioned over 100 times.

The neighborhood where
you were born has a huge influence on the
rest of your life. Children who are born in
neighborhoods with degraded environmental conditions,
with a lack of access to high-quality public
services, poor schools, poor public transit are at
a permanent disadvantage. And they even say verbatim,
“Housing in America should be stable, accessible, safe,
healthy, energy efficient and above all, affordable.” “Housing is a human right.” “Housing is a human right.” “The rent is going
through the roof. Housing is a human right.” How does California do
when it comes to housing? You know where
those signs are, when you drive into
a state, it says, “Welcome to California”? They
might as well replace them with signs that say “Keep
out.” Because in California, the cost of housing is so
high that for many people, it’s simply unaffordable. The state has simply,
for the most part, stopped building housing. I mean, there are cranes. There’s housing going up. But it has slowed down over
time really, really sharply.

And it is nowhere near
sufficient to keep pace with California’s population. So what you have is not enough
housing and too many people trying to get it. And the inevitable result is
that prices have gone up, up and away. “The median price of a home
in San Diego County is now a staggering $830,000.” All around California, there
are cities full of people who say that they are
progressive, they’re liberals, they believe in a
more equal America, a more diverse America. They show up to the marches. They put in the lawn signs
about everyone being equal. But at the same time, they’re
actively fighting to keep their neighborhoods
looking like this. OK, wait, but that
doesn’t look so bad. It’s just a bunch of houses
in a neighborhood, right? No. It turns out that
this is actually the result of
specific policies, intentional
policies that keep these neighborhoods
spread out and full of single-family
homes, as opposed to higher-density buildings
like duplexes or apartment complexes. This is a real, serious fight. And you can get
a glimpse into it by looking at a zoning map.

Yes, we’re looking at a
municipal zoning map of Palo Alto, Calif. Don’t leave yet. This is really
where it sinks in. So just stick around. So everything on this
map that is yellow is zoned for single-family
homes, like this and this. One family can live here. But here in Palo Alto,
there are a lot of new jobs. This is a desirable place to
live for new opportunities. Over the past eight years,
the San Francisco area has added 676,000 jobs but
only 176,000 housing units.

So a few years ago,
the City Council voted to change the zoning
of one section of the city right here, specifically,
this two-acre plot of land. They wanted to change it
from low-density housing to higher-density
housing so that they could build a 60-unit
affordable housing complex for elderly
members of the community. OK, so they
changed the zoning. Start building the
60-unit complex. No. The overwhelmingly liberal
residents of Palo Alto decided to hold a vote
to overturn the decision, to revert it back
to low-density, single-family housing.

Back to yellow. And it passed. And the zoning was overturned. So now when you go
to this plot of land, instead of an affordable
housing complex for the elderly, what
you’re going to see is this, a row of just a few houses,
all of them massive, and worth around
$5 million each. I think people aren’t
living their values. You go to these meetings in
these neighborhoods where they’re talking about
a new housing project, and it’s always the same song. And it goes like this. “I am very in favor of
affordable housing. We need more of it
in this community.

However, I have some
concerns about this project.” “We have the
hearts to do this. But we’re doing it wrong. And we’re dictating harm
onto the neighborhoods.” And then off we go
with the concerns. And then nothing
ever gets built. This is happening
all over California. And the result is that
these neighborhoods are so expensive that they keep
anyone out who isn’t a part of this small group of
superrich residents, many of whom bought their
properties decades ago and who spend their time
fighting vigorously to keep the value of their real
estate assets superhigh. “If you want to keep Palo
Alto the kind of neighborhood and community that we all
treasure — low intensity, low density, safe for
kids to walk to school — you’ve got to vote
against Measure D.” There’s an aspect of sort of
greed here and of nervousness about actually sharing
those opportunities. Let’s go to another liberal
bastion up here in Washington State. The Democratic Party
talks about taxation, saying that our tax
code has been, quote, “rigged against the American
people.” Democrats all the time are decrying the
fact that tax cuts are going to the wealthiest Americans.

“It is time for a
wealth tax in America.” Democrats believe in a
progressive tax system, where the rich pay a larger
share of their income than the poor. This is like the most
basic policy vision of a progressive movement. It’s front and center in
Democrats’ policy platform. But if you go and look
at Washington State, what you find is that
in Washington State, if you look at the state and
local taxes that people pay there, less-affluent families
pay a much larger share of their income in taxes
than the wealthiest residents of Washington State.

So people like Bill
Gates and Jeff Bezos, two of the state’s most
famous and wealthy residents, are in this lovely situation
of paying less in taxes as a share of their income
than the poor people who live in that same state. And this is a fundamental
inversion of the values that the Democratic
Party professes. There is no state with a more
regressive system of taxation than Washington State. And I’m talking, like, the
most regressive, meaning, Texas, which is the
conservative bastion of anti-taxes, is more progressive
than Washington State, liberal Washington State. How is that real? Oh, and guess what: Other
states on our map also are in the top 10 of most
regressive tax regimes, like Nevada and Illinois. There have been some changes,
particularly in recent years. But the overall situation
remains resistant to change. “So I am very concerned
that, at this time, which is a very poor time to
disincent people from creating jobs in
Washington State, that we’re even
considering it.” From that paycheck
that you earned, more of that money is
going to state government.

And so the effect of that
is basically to exacerbate inequality. OK, so rich liberals
don’t show up when it comes to housing or taxes. Another major theme in this
policy document is education. And the wording in here
I find quite interesting. The Democrats say, quote,
“We must provide a world-class education in every ZIP
code, to every child, because education is a
critical public good.” They use this word “ZIP code”
to represent the fact that in America, schools get their
funding based on the real estate taxes of the houses
within that school district.

The more expensive
the neighborhood, the more funding
goes to the school. So over here in Illinois,
which is the quintessential liberal state, there’s this
one county that contains the city of Chicago. It’s called Cook County. The residents here
voted overwhelmingly for Democratic
candidates in the presidential and senatorial
elections last year. Often, what would happen
is that this would just be one big school district and
that all the taxes from all the towns in this county
would be put into one bucket and distributed equally
throughout the county. But the residents of this
very blue Democratic county have actually decided
to divide themselves into more than 140
school districts.

So now you have all these
tiny school districts, like this one, which
are like gerrymandered around the richest
part of town. And so all of the taxes from
these rich homeowners go into one little bucket and
then only get distributed to the schools within this
rich region of the county. It can be on the same block
that the town line runs through the middle of it. And if you live on
one side of that line, you’re consigned to an
inferior education by virtue of the fact that you and your
neighbors don’t have as much money. And if you live
on the other side, you’re basically a member
of a club that is sponsoring a private school, essentially,
for the benefit of that small group of kids who are lucky
enough to live in that affluent community. And the result is that poor
communities have less money to educate their children
and rich communities have more money to
educate their children. This is crazy. It means, basically, that the
kids who have the greatest needs have the
fewest resources. The same thing is
happening in wealthy, liberal Connecticut, where
the inequality in education opportunities is shameful,
with some schools having huge budgets for their
libraries and facilities and others in the same state
having to use duct tape to keep wind and snow
out of their windows.

Like, this is a real thing. “We need your help in
establishing guidelines, procedures and funding to
address issues negatively impacting our students, like
extreme temperatures, mold, lead exposure and poor
water and air quality.” So, yeah, Binya tells me that
the states could change this. They could actually just
collect all the real estate taxes and then equally
distribute them. But if you look at some of
our liberal strongholds, that is exactly what
they are not doing.

Let me be clear
about something. In blue states, progress is
being made, albeit slowly. For instance, a few weeks
ago California finally passed a law that gets rid
of single-family zoning. It’s a small step in
the right direction. And in many cases, blue
states provide more and better public services. And historically have
given better chances to low-income families to
climb the economic ladder. But for some of these
foundational Democratic values of housing equality,
progressive taxation and education equality,
Democrats don’t actually embody their
values very well. “We’re talking, once again,
about a system that’s been rigged.” “Republicans, today —” “— are to blame.” What we’re talking about
here is that blue states are the problem. Blue states are where the
housing crisis is located. Blue states are
where the disparities in education funding
are the most dramatic. Blue states are the places
where tens of thousands of homeless people are
living on the streets. Blue states are
the places where economic inequality
is increasing most quickly in this country. This is not a problem of
not doing well enough.

It is a situation where the
blue states are the problem. Affluent liberals tend to
be really good at showing up to the marches and talking
about how they love equality. They’re really good at putting
signs in their lawns saying that all are welcome here. But by their actions, what
they’re actually saying is, yes, we believe
in these ideals, just not in my backyard. We are not living our values. People who live in
blue states, people who profess
liberal values, you need to look in
the mirror and need to understand that they are
not taking the actions that are consistent
with those values — not just incidentally,
not just in small areas — but that some of the most
important policy choices, we are denying people
the opportunity to prosper and to thrive
and to build better lives.

And it is happening in places
where Democrats control the levers of policy..

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