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Housing Debate Shows Why Capitalism Needs No Defense



Yesterday I pointed out that for the left, ideology trumps facts when it comes to the relationship between housing prices and housing supply. The left refuses to acknowledge the benefits to consumers from competition in a market with few constraints. As I’ve posted before, the left is predisposed to see price as a social construct, something set and determined by individuals rather than fluctuating as part of negotiations between buyers and sellers. This stubborn contention is a roadblock, but it also illustrates why there are few market oriented advocates for real increases in housing supply.

I hosted a three part training session for small housing providers from around the country. The topic was how changing the narrative about housing would help shift policy. My contention has been and remains that there are two factors driving daft housing policy in the country. The first is the stubborn resistance on the ascendant left about where price comes from and the second is the perception that rental housing is all about passive income; the only work attendant to owning and operating rental property is depositing the rent checks every month.

But a third element that keeps the country locked in a self-imposed housing “crisis” is a complete lack of interest by conservatives in the housing issue and willingness by developers to bribe their way beyond bureaucratic gate keepers to get their permits. I explore this in more detail in a post titled, “Esta es La Mordida.” I touched a bit on the “conservative” problem in a long and meandering post about conservative identity.

Why is there so little intellectual foment in favor of the market? Why do “conservatives” simply ape what they think are conservative views with knee jerk opposition to taxation and opposition to “big government?” Why do left-leaning academics and flashy efforts to promote a non-existent “eviction crisis” proliferate while so called conservatives sink millions of dollars in to issues like abortion and gun rights?

My hypothesis is that what we call capitalism and what I prefer to call value exchange needs no defense. What I have found is that developers and housing providers when confronted with regulatory roadblocks find ways around them. At first there is outrage: “How dare they ban eviction!” and “No credit checks! That’s insane!” Then, somehow, they all manage to figure out how to operate their businesses anyway.

A perfect example is mandates for inclusion of rent restricted housing in new development, the Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning (MIZ) scheme. At first, developers slap their foreheads about a per square foot fee on their product. They oppose it. Some even claim, “This will push us out of this market!”

Then developers start bargaining on the fee that will wind up laundered by the government and in the pockets of non-profit developers. Once the fee seems reasonable, they capitulate, and the fee regime takes effect. From the perspective of everyone watching, life goes on, housing gets built anyway. This validates the position of politicians: the opposition was just hype and worry about lost profits.

What really happens is that developers reset their expectations for land costs, debt coverage, and assumptions on rent. Ironically, what makes this possible is that demand continues unabated, rents stay high and thus rationalizes the fees. Individual developers could care less about rising inflation across the market; in fact it is the basis upon which they are able to keep building. Higher prices for consumers mean there is enough money sloshing around to keep projects profitable and absorb fees.

Purists like me ask, “Where’s the outrage?”

Then in walks Claude Rains as Captain Louis Renault from Casablanca. Captain Renault is not an intellect or a man of principle. Renault is a rational actor unlike the more romantic figure of Victor Laszlo. We didn’t need Ayn Rand to point out that human beings act like Louis Renault while wanting to be Victor Laszlo. In fact, in many ways, society is structured to allow us to be Renault while feeling like Laszlo. The excellent book by John Murray Cuddihy, “The Ordeal of Civility,” points out how Jewish intellectuals like Marx and Freud pointed this out precisely; the Christian-Capitalist vision of society is to not only allow the contradiction, but to hallow it.

The notion that price is a construct is poppycock. It simply isn’t true. That’s why the left has written book after book arguing points like “housing is a human right” as justifications to impose inflationary fees. While producers of housing might burst onto the scene now and then claiming to be “shocked, shocked to see gambling going on here” they soon enough find an accommodation with the regime and fade away, counting their money as they go.

I find this both frustrating and edifying. If I really subscribe to the notion of the Fable of the Bees, the “invisible hand,” and spontaneous order, how could I be anything but satisfied that value exchange continues no matter what the left tries to impose to create “equity.” Yet, the Richard Blaine in me wants to do the “right thing;” so instead of getting the girl I always seem to end up walking away with Louis. Oh well. We’ll always have Paris.

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How Canadian churches are helping their communities cope with the wildfires



As wildfires burn across Canada, churches are finding ways to support their members and the broader community directly impacted by the crisis.

According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, as of June 13, there are 462 active fires across Canada – and 236 of them classified as out of control fires.

Whether it’s through phone calls or donations to community members, here’s how a few churches across Canada are handling active wildfires and the aftermath in their regions.

Westwood Hills, N.S.: St. Nicholas Anglican Church

In Nova Scotia, St. Nicholas Anglican Church and other churches in the area are collecting money for grocery cards to give to families impacted by the Tantallon wildfire. 

Right outside of Halifax, N.S., the Tantallon wildfire destroyed 151 homes. More than 16,000 people evacuated the area due to the fire.

The fire is now considered contained, but Tanya Moxley, the treasurer at St. Nicholas is organizing efforts to get grocery gift cards into the hands of impacted families.

As of June 12, four churches in the area – St. Nicholas, Parish of French Village, St Margaret of Scotland and St John the Evangelist – raised nearly $3,500. The money will be split for families’ groceries between five schools in the area impacted by the wildfire.

Moxley said she felt driven to raise this money after she heard the principal of her child’s school was using his own money to buy groceries for impacted families in their area.

“[For] most of those people who were evacuated, the power was off in their subdivision for three, four or five days,” she said. “Even though they went home and their house was still standing, the power was off and they lost all their groceries.”

Moxley said many people in the area are still “reeling” from the fires. She said the church has an important role to help community members during this time.

“We’re called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the homeless and all that stuff, right? So this is it. This is like where the rubber hits the road.”

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Is it ever OK to steal from a grocery store?



Mythologized in the legend of Robin Hood and lyricized in Les Misérables, it’s a debate as old as time: is it ever permissible to steal food? And if so, under what conditions? Now, amid Canada’s affordability crisis, the dilemma has extended beyond theatrical debate and into grocery stores.

Although the idea that theft is wrong is both a legally enshrined and socially accepted norm, the price of groceries can also feel criminally high to some — industry data shows that grocery stores can lose between $2,000 and $5,000 a week on average from theft. According to Statistics Canada, most grocery item price increases surged by double digits between 2021 and 2022. To no one’s surprise, grocery store theft is reportedly on the rise as a result. And if recent coverage of the issue rings true, some Canadians don’t feel bad about shoplifting. But should they?

Kieran Oberman, an associate professor of philosophy at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the United Kingdom, coined the term “re-distributive theft” in his 2012 paper “Is Theft Wrong?” In simplest terms, redistributive theft is based on the idea that people with too little could ethically take from those who have too much.

“Everybody, when they think about it, accepts that theft is sometimes permissible if you make the case extreme enough,” Oberman tells me over Zoom. “The question is, when exactly is it permissible?”

Almost no one, Oberman argues, believes the current distribution of wealth across the world is just. We have an inkling that theft is bad, but that inequality is too. As more and more Canadians feel the pinch of inflation, grocery store heirs accumulate riches — Loblaw chair and president Galen Weston, for instance, received a 55 percent boost in compensation in 2022, taking in around $8.4 million for the year. Should someone struggling with rising prices feel guilty when they, say, “forget” to scan a bundle of zucchini?
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The homeless refugee crisis in Toronto illustrates Canada’s broken promises



UPDATE 07/18/2023: A coalition of groups arranged a bus to relocate refugees to temporarily stay at a North York church on Monday evening, according to CBC, CP24 and Toronto Star reports.

Canadians live in a time of threadbare morality. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Toronto’s entertainment district, where partygoers delight in spending disposable income while skirting refugees sleeping on sidewalks. The growing pile of luggage at the downtown corner of Peter and Richmond streets resembles the lost baggage section at Pearson airport but is the broken-hearted terminus at the centre of a cruel city.

At the crux of a refugee funding war between the municipal and federal governments are those who have fled persecution for the promise of Canada’s protection. Until June 1, asylum seekers used to arrive at the airport and be sent to Toronto’s Streets to Homes Referral Assessment Centre at 129 Peter St. in search of shelter beds. Now, Toronto’s overcrowded shelter system is closed to these newcomers, so they sleep on the street.

New mayor Olivia Chow pushed the federal government Wednesday for at least $160 million to cope with the surge of refugees in the shelter system. She rightly highlights that refugees are a federal responsibility. In response, the department of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada points to hundreds of millions in dollars already allocated to cities across Canada through the Interim Housing Assistance Program, while Ontario says it has given nearly $100 million to organizations that support refugees. But these efforts are simply not enough to deliver on Canada’s benevolent promise to the world’s most vulnerable.

The lack of federal generosity and finger-pointing by the city has orchestrated a moral crisis. It’s reminiscent of the crisis south of the border, where Texas governor Greg Abbott keeps bussing migrants to cities located in northern Democratic states. Without the necessary resources, information, and sometimes the language skills needed to navigate the bureaucratic mazes, those who fled turbulent homelands for Canada have become political pawns.

But Torontonians haven’t always been this callous.

In Ireland Park, at Lake Ontario’s edge, five statues of gaunt and grateful refugees gaze at their new home: Toronto circa 1847. These statues honour a time when Toronto, with a population of only 20,000 people, welcomed 38,500 famine-stricken migrants from Ireland. It paralleled the “Come From Away” event of 9/11 in Gander, N.L., where the population doubled overnight, and the people discovered there was indeed more than enough for all. It was a time when the city lived up to its moniker as “Toronto, The Good.”

Now, as a wealthy city of three million people, the city’s residents are tasked with supporting far fewer newcomers. Can we not recognize the absurdity in claiming scarcity?

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