Predictive Analysis

15 March 2005

Craig Cantoni is now able to predict his local newspaper’s “slant” before reading it. The article he discusses hits close to home even though it is fifteen hundred miles away. Our local property assessor—believing that the “housing bubble” grants expansive powers to government—has just sent out new assessments that move already inflated housing prices up another twenty percent in a single year.

On a limb over Republic housing story
By Craig J. Cantoni
March 14, 2005

As I’ve done before, I’m going to crawl out on a limb and predict what an Arizona Republic story says and doesn’t say. Then I’ll read the story and let you know if I was right or wrong.

The story in question was a lead story in yesterday’s edition on the lack of affordable housing in metro Phoenix, due to the recent run up (bubble?) in housing prices. Because of a busy Sunday, I didn’t read the newspaper yesterday. I only glanced at the front-page headlines.

I predict that the story will follow the standard newsroom formula and state that public employees can’t afford to live in the communities where they work. It will make the specious claim that living where one works is an important public policy issue that the government should address, it will spotlight a public school teacher who says that she doesn’t make enough money, and it will spotlight a firefighter, police officer or other public employee who says the same thing. In doing so, the newspaper will plant a seed that teachers and other public employees should get a raise or some sort of housing subsidy.

The story will include sob stories about working people in the private sector who have to commute long distances to work in high-priced suburbs for low wages.

And the story will give statistics showing how housing prices have risen faster than other necessities of life.

Here’s what the story will not say:

  • In keeping with a gloom-and-doom theme, it will not say that only 37 percent of housing was occupied by owners 100 years ago, versus 66 percent today. Nor will it say that half of households consisted of at least six people living together 100 years ago, versus 10 percent of households that have at least six people living together today.
  • The story will not say that modern homes have amenities that were unheard of years ago. For example, as recently as 1950, only 50 percent of homes had central heat, only 47 percent had washing machines, only 76 percent had flush toilets, and none had air conditioning.
  • The story will not say that when pay, benefits and hours are considered, teachers receive more remuneration than workers in other occupations requiring similar skills and education. (I published an article with the facts on teacher pay in June, 2003, based on my primary research. USA Today ran a similar story a week later.)
  • It will not say that firefighters in my hometown of Scottsdale pay nothing for medical coverage and are eligible for a pension plan in addition to a 401(k) plan. To compare, only about half of private-sector workers have any type of company-paid retirement plan, and the vast majority pay $500 a month or more in health care premiums.
  • It will not say anything about the expensive cars, trucks and SUVs parked behind firehouses and in faculty parking lots at area schools.
  • It will not say anything about how tax policies and zoning regulations affect home prices.
  • It will not say that when my poor grandparents immigrated to this country in the early 20th century, they could afford a two-flat, because tax rates were about a third of today’s confiscatory levels. (My aunt and uncle lived downstairs and raised five kids in a two-bedroom, one-bath flat. That would be considered substandard housing today for people on public assistance.) My grandparents could afford the two-flat even though the average income in inflation-adjusted dollars back then was only about one-fourth of today’s average income.
  • It will not say that the Arizona Republic has advocated that $4 billion be spent on light rail, downtown development and publicly-financed sports stadiums, hotels and research centers. That is equivalent to the annual income of nearly 100,000 households or to 20,000 homes priced at $200,000.
  • It will not put the housing situation in perspective by comparing local housing to housing in other countries. It will not point out, for example, that the average home size in the workers’ paradise of France is about 500 sq. ft., and that the French social welfare state has produced double-digit unemployment. Nor will it compare local housing to Mexico, where some Mexicans actually live in garbage dumps, where the average daily wage is four dollars, and where a lack of property rights has kept people poor.
  • And last, it will not delve into the personal lives of the people highlighted in the article to find out if they have made bad choices in life or if they have squandered money on gambling, drinking, expensive cars, cell phones, big-screen TVs, and cable TV.

Okay, time for me to read the paper. I’ll return momentarily.

[Ten minutes later] It’s worse than I thought. Not only did the story in the news section follow the standard formula as I predicted, but the opinions section had five editorials that followed the same formula.

In retrospect, I was never in danger of falling off the limb.

* * *

Mr. Cantoni is an author, columnist and founder of Honest Americans Against Legal Theft (www.haalt.org). He can be reached at either ccan2@aol.com or haalt1@aol.com.

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