Kevin Williamson, in “A Misunderstood ‘Diversity’” (National Review, March 7, 2017) quotes David Brooks from a New York Times oped:

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why so many Republicans prefer a dying white America to a place like, say, Houston.

Houston has very light zoning regulations, and as a result it has affordable housing and a culture that welcomes immigrants. This has made it incredibly diverse, with 145 languages spoken in the city’s homes, and incredibly dynamic — the fastest-growing big city in America recently. …

The large immigrant population has paradoxically given the city a very strong, very patriotic and cohesive culture, built around being welcoming to newcomers and embracing the future.

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 8.04.07 AM

Montrose Neighborhood in Houston

Brooks (and Williamson) note the lack of zoning allows for some ugly and jarring development, with without the complexities, delays, and litigation surrounding zoning, housing costs are low in Houston, welcoming immigrants from around the world. Families pay far less for rent or mortgages, keeping the cost of living lower.

Plus, housing the homeless is a lot less complicated and expensive in Houston. Around the country zoning regulations are used to block or delay low-cost housing as well as both public and private temporary housing for homeless people.

In “Houston’s solution to the homeless crisis: Housing — and lots of it,” (Seattle Times, June 14, 2016):

Rather than open more shelters, they focused on getting people into housing. They told charitable organizations to sign on or lose out on funding.

They built a computer system to assess the homeless, prioritize them based on vulnerability, then connect them with programs. And they collected data, lots of data.

The results are surprising and have Seattle officials taking note: There are an estimated 1,050 homeless people without shelter in the area, according to a recent count, down about 75 percent from 4,418 in 2011.

So… the Houston narrative supports the claim that restrictive housing regulations in and around major cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area, cause much of housing affordability and homelessness problems.

Against this claim is “What Housing Shortage?” (The Urbanist, November 22, 2016). The article argues there is a natural delay from employment booms to housing construction responses:

Based on the expanded survey of supply and demand in Seattle, there is virtually no general shortage of housing. The data show supply responds to demand, just not immediately. The delay is likely due to the natural lag in construction and, beginning in 2010 the effects of a global financial crisis. Not only are Seattle builders now matching new population growth with new housing units, they are building at or near the construction industry’s capacity. Skilled construction workers are hard to come by. Seattle has more cranes than any American city yet they are still in short supply.

I live just 20 minutes south of Seattle in the town of Burien. When Seattle had half the jobs it does now, nearby communities, like Green Lake, just north of Seattle, were mostly single-family homes. Now Seattle is booming, with Amazon, Starbucks, Nordstroms, many new tech firms, plus Microsoft and Boeing nearby, these communities still have single-family housing. Zoning regulations has prevented density increases that would have allowed tens of thousands to live closer to Seattle. These neighborhoods mostly have older and often run-down homes, and employees of Seattle firms face very high rents or struggle with congested commutes from distant suburbs.

Meet the YIMBYs, Seattleites in Support of Housing Density:
A new movement is saying yes to urban density in all its forms” (November, 2016), looks at efforts to return to natural urban diversity and density policies:

By embracing the YIMBY concept, Maxana joins a growing community of activists, researchers, housing experts and community-based organizations that see growth as an opportunity to create housing for all the new people who want to live in cities, rather than a hostile invading force. These groups make up a loosely organized, informal coalition of organizations and individuals across the country and, indeed, the globe (groups using the YIMBY framework have sprung up from Melbourne to Helsinki to Iowa City), who believe that the root of housing affordability is a housing shortage, and that the solution to that shortage is simple: Build more housing.

For more on the economics of housing, see “How the Housing Market Works” (The Freeman, August 22, 2016). The author compares  markets for expensive, middle, and less expensive homes to similar markets for new and used cars:

However, a family may buy a relatively run-down home and then renovate it gradually over time as they can afford to do so. Still, the less-well-off in each category could afford decent housing – especially if regulations allow old A and B housing to be divided into smaller units – in the same way that it’s possible for them to afford a decent used car.

Housing markets are similar to others, but homes last long than hamburgers. Imagine a society where rich people bought large hamburgers, ate just a third, then passed them on to others. Sounds unfair (and un-hygienic) with hamburgers, but with housing, used homes can be kept up or even improved (remodeled). If local housing demands increase, and local regulations allow, used homes can be expanded and sub-divided.

[I’m renting a small room in a single-family home in Costa Mesa, California while attending a local debate tournament. The homeowners rent two rooms via Airbnb. For $50 a night I can afford to be here. At $80 or $90 a night, the costs at local hotels, I probably couldn’t.  — Greg Rehmke]

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 8.07.41 AM


Nation-states can be more trouble than they’re worth. For the Middle East, federalism, soft-partition, enclaves, and charter cities offer non-state paths to peace and prosperity.

The March Public Forum topic: “Resolved: The United States should no longer pressure Israel to work toward a two-state solution.”

Consider the most economically-free place in the world, Hong Kong, is not a state and was long a colonial charter city before handed over (or back) to communist China in 1997.

The Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World: 2016 Annual Report: 2016 (September 16, 2016), is relevant for both the China policy topic and the Israel/Palestine two-state topic. The reports top-rated countries:Screen Shot 2017-03-06 at 4.07.10 PM

Hong Kong and Singapore, once again, occupy the top two positions. The other nations in the top 10 are New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada, Georgia, Ireland, Mauritius, the United Arab Emirates, and Australia and the United Kingdom, tied for 10th.

Small and independent formerly British colonial territories Hong Kong, Singapore, and United Arab Emirates (“Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah and Umm al-Qaiwain”), plus New Zealand, Canada, Australia make up the top ten. Also in the top ten is Switzerland, an association of mostly-independent and diverse cantons. (However, not all former British colonies are wealthy or economically free, and the success of many today should not be taken as a defense of British colonialism.)

What lessons for Israel, Palestine, and the U.S. can be found in these diverse economic success stories of charter cities, federal republics, and common law traditions?

The people of Hong Kong were poor in the 1950s, as were people living in Palestine. Through the 1950s, millions of impoverished refugees arrived in Hong Kong, escaping from communist China.

Across the Middle East as in Asia, World War II disrupted and impoverished millions. Hundreds of thousands fled or were expelled from Palestine in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Then hundreds of thousands in long-established Jewish communities in Arab countries fled or were expelled.

Over the decades since 1950, Hong Kong residents have prospered, as have residents of Israel, but the economy of the Palestinian territories and its residents have not prospered.

Hong Kong’s charter with England protected international trade and investment, and taxes stayed low. Economic freedom and a great port enabled Hong Kong to grow rapidly prosperous. Could similar charter cities and economic freedom policies have enabled Palestinians and others in the Middle East to similarly prosper?

Turmoil and violence in Syria today turns on the Alawite minority’s long political and military control. Syrian could have been a much more prosperous place had the Alawites been able to keep their enclave independent from Syria. “Syria’s Ruling Alawite Sect” (New York Times, June 14, 2011). The article was written before the Syrian conflict erupted from Arab Spring protests, and as part of explaining Alawite history mentions:

During the French Mandate, there was even a short-lived Alawite “state” based in and around Latakia, created in 1922. As William L. Cleveland explained in his “History of the Modern Middle East,” the Alawite state was “administratively separate from Syria until 1942.”

EuropeMap1444Enclaves, charter cities, and other administrated territories have a long history across Europe as well. Just check out a map of Europe in 15th Century.

Political decentralization invites conflicts, but also open political competition where families and businesses can relocate to better governed territories. For an introduction to political decentralization, the Hanseatic League, and the potential of charter cities, see “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Ending Poverty,” (The Atlantic, July/August, 2010):

[Economist and entrepreneur] Paul Romer [is] trying to help the poorest countries grow rich—by convincing them to establish foreign-run “charter cities” within their borders. Romer’s idea is unconventional, even neo-colonial—the best analogy is Britain’s historic lease of Hong Kong. And against all odds, he just might make it happen.

Could the West Bank be a candidate for a charter city, perhaps administrated by an Arab country like Dubai or UAE?

In the Arab world, similar Hong Kong size countries have flourished without full statehood. Consider the colonial history of UAE, discussed in “The United Arab Emirates – A Product of British Imperialism?” (British Scholar Society, January 16, 2012)

Until 1971, the seven shaikhdoms that were to form the UAE had been known as Trucial States and been part of Great Britain’s informal empire in the Persian Gulf. British power in the area had been based on an interdependent system of military presence, formal treaty relations with the Trucial States, Bahrain and Qatar, as well as informal political influence on the local rulers.

According to the Economic Freedom of the Arab World: 2016 Annual Report (Fraser Institute, December 3, 2016), Bahrain, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are the most economically free nations in the Arab world. From the Introduction:

Economic Freedom of the Arab World aims to provide a reliable and objective metric of economic policy throughout the Arab World. It measures the extent to which citizens of the nations of the Arab League are able to make their own economic decisions without limitations imposed by the government or by crony elites. The report provides sound empirical measurement of economic policy that can distinguish between phony reform that leaves economic and political power in the hands of crony elites, and real reform that creates new prosperity, entrepreneurship, and jobs, by opening business and work opportunities for everyone no matter whom they know.

Arab and Islamic societies have a rich trading tradition, one that celebrates markets open even to the humblest members of society. Economic freedom is consistent with that proud history and provides a path to a more prosperous and freer tomorrow. Economic freedom is simply the ability of individuals and families to take charge of their fate and make their own economic decisions—to sell or buy in the marketplace without discrimination, to open or close a business, to work for whom they wish or hire whom they wish, to receive investment or invest in others. As discussed later in this report, economic freedom has a proven fact-based record of improving the lives of people, liberating them from dependence, and leading to other freedoms and democracy. Unfortunately, many in the Arab world believe their nations have already gone through a period of free-market reform and that it hasn’t worked. This misconception deprives many of an economic alternative and vision for the future.

For Public Forum debaters considering past U.S. government pressure for a “two-state solution,” a focus on economic freedom provides an reform opportunity. It is true that Israel’s military control restricts freedom of movement and trade throughout the Palestinian territories, and Israeli officials and supporters insist this is to reduce possible terrorist attacks. But there are also major restrictions on doing business enforced by regulations and corruption of Palestinian officials.

Again, criticizing Palestinian officials is not to defend Israeli restrictions on economic freedom. But consider “Terrorists & Kleptocrats: How Corruption is Eating the Palestinians Alive,” (The Tower, June, 2014). (The Tower is Israel-based.)

By myopically focusing on “yes,” the U.S. is ensuring the Palestinian Authority will remain corrupt and therefore illegitimate in the eyes of the Palestinian people. My experience confirms Schanzer’s argument. The PA is an incredibly corrupt organization. So is its dominant party, Fatah. Together they form a motley crew of elites seeking to maintain power and the attenuating trappings, willing to do whatever it takes to ensure their power and position are not lost.

The 2016 Economic Freedom of the Arab World report rates the Palestinian Territories. Here is summary (page 23):

The Palestinian Territories overall score remained 7.3 and it stayed in 8th place. The Palestinian Territories maintained the same rank (5th) and score (7.7) in the size of government area. The territories’ score in rule of law declined to 5.7 from 6.2, coming in 13th, down from 10th last year. The Palestinian Territories had a score of 9.1 in sound money, up from 9.0, and ranked 11th, up from 12th. In the area of freedom to trade internationally, the Palestinian Territories scored 7.7, down from 7.8, with a rank of 8th, down from 6th. The rank in regulation remained the same as last year at 12th, with a score of 6.1, same as last year.


Comparing economic freedom in the PA to the freer and more prosperous UAE, Jordan, and Bahrain, the top three Arab countries, gives direction to reform proposals that the U.S. could encourage.

The report focuses on economic freedom’s role in increasing prosperity, creating jobs, and reducing poverty. …

Hong Kong and Palestine; what makes a country?” (REB Research Blog), offers some history of colonial Hong Kong and Palestine and a discussion of international agreements on what makes a county.

Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk want to set up operations on the moon. “An exclusive look at Jeff Bezos’s plan to set up Amazon-like delivery for ‘future human settlement’ of the moon” (Washington Post, March 2, 2017) reports Bezo’s Blue Origin plans to to set up moon habitats by mid-2020. From separate story: “Jeff Bezos says NASA should return to the Moon, and he’s ready to help,” (Ars Technica, March 3, 2017):

Bezos explained the philosophy behind this idea. “We are hoping to partner with NASA on a program called Blue Moon where we would provide a cargo-delivery service to the surface of the Moon, with the intent over time of building a permanently inhabited human settlement on the Moon,”

The same New Shepard booster that flew to space and then landed vertically in November 2015 has now flown and landed again.

Blue Origin Launch

The Washington Post also reported on Elon Musk’s plans for SpaceX moon flights in 2018: “Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to fly two private citizens around the moon by late next year” (February 27, 2017).

The Diplomat asks “Are China and the US Set for a Showdown in Space?” (January 28, 2017). China’s interest is more economic than military, exploration, or for scientific research:

… Chinese views on space resources are particularly under-studied. Space resources deserve to be studied because of the potentially vast economic value and potential to cause inter-state conflict. … China conceptualizes space activity principally within the context of economic development, which has important implications for space resources and property.

Elon Musk and other private U.S. space companies also focus on economic opportunity, beginning with lucrative satellite launches, and preparing for space tourism for wealthy customers, and then looking at mining and other moon resource opportunities. Like high-definition televisions, the wealthy buy high-tech goods and services first. Their early high-dollar purchases help pay for further development and innovations that bring costs down for wider markets.

This Motley Fool article looks at SpaceX as a for-profit business: “How Does SpaceX Make Money?,” (June 25, 2016). This article, “Blue Origin’s Sweet Spot: An Untapped Suborbital Market for Private Spaceflight,” (August 12, 2016) reports:

A central objective of the company is creating a commercial suborbital space tourism vehicle for paying customers. But Blue Origin also plans to make money by taking science experiments into the final frontier.

Critics complain that much SpaceX income comes from federal funding (“Without NASA there would be no SpaceX and its brilliant boat landing,” (Ars Technica, April 11, 2016). But supporters of SpaceX, Blue Origin and other private space companies reply that NASA is fully federally funded and its launch and exploration costs are far, far higher (in part because they rely on traditional NASA/military contractors).

So, the debate over private vs. government space exploration tilts now toward private firms. This TEDx presentation by Jeff Greason, “Making Space Pay and Having Fun Doing It,” then of XCOR, outlines how commercial space development brings costs down.

The Chinese are heading to the moon as well, and reports on “China’s Lofty Space Ambitions Include 2018 Landing on Moon’s Far Side” (December 28, 2016):

China’s Information Office of the State Council on Tuesday (Dec. 27) released an expansive white paper on that country’s space activities in 2016. The document also projected a look at China’s space agenda over the coming years, a plan that includes a lunar sample-return mission and the first soft-landing on the far side of the moon in 2018.

And from 2015: “China unveils plan to land on mysterious far side of the moon” (Christian Science Monitor, July 21, 2015).

Back to potential U.S./China conflicts in space, The Diplomat article above reports on controversial 2015 U.S. legislation:

While many analysts believe the topic of space resources is far removed, there are at least two companies in the United States working on mining asteroids: Deep Space Industries (DSI) and Planetary Resources International (PRI). In 2015, Congress passed the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, which established a “first come, first serve” principle for property ownership in regard to space mining, and the United States has granted a license for Moon Express to accomplish the first commercial landing on the moon.

The U.S. law has been controversial worldwide. Since China is a growing power in space and an active member in formulating international space policy, its attitudes are perhaps of greatest importance in normalizing activity related to space resource utilization.

Mining and other operations on the moon may be a legal challenge as well as a technical and economic one. “Mining the Moon? Space Property Rights Still Unclear, Experts Say,” (, July 25, 2014):

But it’s unclear at the moment who is allowed to extract and profit from the moon’s resources, leading to a growing debate within scientific, entrepreneurial and policy circles — a debate made more lively and complicated by the changing landscape of stakeholders in space.

Lunar exploration is no longer the domain of governmental agencies alone. With activities like the Google Lunar X Prize and private-public partnerships stimulating a “New Space” industry, commercial organizations have business plans and are attracting investment to develop low-cost, regular, reliable access to the moon within a decade…

See also, “Moon Mining Idea Digs Up Lunar Legal Issues,” (, January 13, 2011)

More on Google’s Lunar X Prize here: “Google Lunar X Prize: The Private Moon Race Teams (Images).”

Also opening possible paths to the moon is the nonprofit Waypaver Foundation:Screen Shot 2017-03-03 at 12.45.10 PM

WayPaver is a catalyst for possibility. Through our efforts to eliminate roadblocks to Lunar Settlement we generate momentum for sustainability on Earth, the moon, and progress in further space development.

Waypaver’s lunar settlement page is here.

For the March/April 2017 Lincoln-Douglas Debate:  “Resolved: The United States ought to guarantee the right to housing,” students enter the value side of a century old debate on policies to provide access to safe and affordable housing.

Students searching for “a right to housing” quickly find supporting articles and books, such as: “The Case for a Right to Housing,” “A Right to Housing: Foundation for a New Social Agenda,” “Housing as a Human Right – National Low Income Housing Coalition,” “The Right to Adequate Housing” and many others.

Everyday Debate’s The Right to Housing topic page notes students will have “little problem finding supporting evidence and points of view.” and the Introduction page explains:

The “right” has been written into several international standards documents and covenants and is widely supported by human rights groups.”

[Then quoting Alexander:]  The human right to housing, embodied in several international treaties, declarations, and constitutions, establishes that every person has a right to adequate housing and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.

After quoting the 1949 Housing Act goal of “the implementation as soon as feasible of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family,” Everyday Debate asserts:

However, to date, the goal has never been met since there has been no serious effort by the federal government to provide the needed resources.

It’s not clear what a “serious effort” would look like, but the federal government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars providing low-income housing and billions more have been spent by state and local governments for housing projects and subsidies. Affirmative debaters can advocate housing rights and for far more to be spent. Mixes with city, state, and federal housing programs are the efforts NGOs  (non-government agencies) like Habitat for Humanity and many other local, state, and national nonprofits. More on NGOs and private housing below.

Students find claims that governments are not doing enough for [food safety, housing, education, child care, health care, etc.] and claims by conservatives and libertarians that government is doing too much. Across the political spectrum critics insist housing policy and programs need reform.

Public Choice economists make a separate case that government programs are often subverted or “captured” by corporations and other organized interest groups. The history of housing for the poor in the U.S. illustrates the many ways local, state, and federal policies and regulations protect established interests (Section 8 landlords, housing developers, current homeowners, and some NGOs and housing agencies).

To the question of  federal spending on housing for the poor, according to the Budget of the U.S. Government, Fiscal Year 2017, Analytical Perspectives (quoted by Howard Husock of the Manhattan Institute):

Screen Shot 2017-03-01 at 8.41.29 AMFederal housing subsidies… In 2016, the federal government spent $30 billion on rental subsidies for low-income households and almost $6 billion on public housing. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 2016), Table 29-1. has page on total federal welfare spending, with housing expenditures in red in the chart at right, explaining:

There are three major welfare programs: relief (or income security), housing rent subsidies, and unemployment benefits.

The US Government Spending site also offers downloads of year-by-year federal housing expenditures, shown in table here for 2000 to Screen Shot 2017-03-01 at 8.35.08 AM
2017 (in billions of dollars). This is not a claim the federal government “already spends enough” or that current programs already address “a right to housing.” And obviously federal spending on housing subsidies is a lot less than spent in 2016 on national defense ($522 billion or $598 billion).

Students can dive into debates on local, state, and federal housing programs ranging from fraud and cronyism claims for Section 8 housing to stories of local misdeeds in diverting affordable housing funds.

Three housing stories some a range of housing issues: Philadelphia: “Affordable-housing dreams become Section 8 nightmares” (July 8, 2016), Texas/nationwide: “How Housing Policy Is Failing America’s PoorSection 8 was intended to help people escape poverty, but instead it’s trapping them in it,” and Seattle: “Anatomy of a Swindle: How a Rogue Non-profit Captured the Emerald City,” (September 13, 2016).

The notes and links above on housing policy history and spending may seem more for policy debate than LD value debaters. Students can research positive and negative rights, and the views of natural law classical liberals that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are negative rights. By negative they mean right to life and liberty should not be interfered with by others.

Every claimed right creates an obligation on the part of others not to interfere to restrict rights. A right to swing your arms freely is limited by your neighbor’s nose, and your neighbor’s right to not be hit in the nose limits your freedom of movement.

A natural right to housing would prevent others from interfering with our right to housing, and as a negative right would protect building, rent, boarding, or share a house, apartment, or room. A negative housing right would protect from neighbors or governments unjustly interfering with housing choices (though also would restrict new housing where it imposed unjust burdens on neighbors).

A positive rights claim for housing, on the other hand, creates an obligation on the part of others or government to provide housing. Negative rights claims insist others leave us alone to build, rent, or share housing as we please, but a positive rights claim call upon others to provide housing. This would create a positive obligation on the part of others or government to build, rent, or provide housing. Screen Shot 2017-03-01 at 12.45.51 PM

For much more on positive and negative rights claims for value debaters see the online collection Liberalism, Values and Lincoln-Douglas Debate, (pdf: liberalvaluesld), from “The LD/Extemp Monthly” and later debate newsletters.

In college, grandfathered economic freedom in housing helped me. I lived in a big house a few blocks from the University of Washington. My basement room was maybe 15′ x 12′. Another student room was next to mine as was the shared kitchen. Four or five more students lived in rooms up three floors, and we all shared two bathrooms. The owners with their two or three children lived in the same house, walled off from student rooms. Rent was affordable. Nearby fraternities and sororities were even larger, each housing dozens of students.
Multi-family homes and boarding houses were common for the mostly poor urban Americans–and poorer immigrants–of 100 years ago. Cities across the United States offered diverse housing options for single-parent families.  In Boston “triple-decker” homes housed tens of thousands. , SRO hotels in cities(1990 SRO article), flophouses (“Flophouse or refuge for the poor“), and tenements. Reformers called for safer, healthier housing, but also zoned out diverse and dynamic urban variety with ever expanding housing restrictions and regulations.
No easy answers, but some current policies seem to stand in the way of people and organizations offering housing for the very poor. See, for example, “L.A. is seizing tiny homes from the homeless.” People want to help, but neighbors object to cheap or free housing for people with drug, alcohol, or mental/behavior problems.
An article on homelessness in San Diego points to policies in Houston:
We know this because of remarkable success in other major cities. The best example is probably Houston (with Harris and Fort Bend counties), where a determined mayor, Annise Parker, built a public-private campaign that has rescued 77 percent of the region’s unsheltered homeless population, reducing their numbers from 5,194 in 2007 to 1,186 as of last January.
The Seattle Times: “Houston’s solution to the homeless crisis: Housing — and lots of it” (June 13, 2016) reports:
Houston’s unsheltered homeless population is down about 75 percent since 2011, and leaders there credit their new housing-first approach.
Housing authorities in other cities have focused on improving employment opportunities as a way to improve housing options. It may sound reasonable for families living in government housing to pay a percentage of their income for rent, but that also creates a strong incentive not to work or look for employment. People who find low-wage jobs are quickly punished by paying higher rent. In “Up from the Poorhouse: A new proposal has the potential to remake America’s public-housing system” (City Journal, Autumn, 2015), Howard Husock notes:
The Atlanta Housing Authority uses even stronger language to explain its work requirement for the nondisabled: “AHA continues to believe strongly in the value, dignity, and economic independence that work provides.” In some Atlanta developments, employment rates (or enrollment in education or training) run as high as 94 percent. The Abt report also found that 20 of 34 MTW [Moving To Work] authorities are moving to change rent rules that require tenants to pay 30 percent of their incomes in rent—implying a rent increase of 30 cents for every additional dollar earned and providing an unintended incentive to move to the underground or even criminal economy.
No easy housing answers, but Lincoln-Douglas students have a wealth of articles, studies, and policy proposals to consider in fashioning their arguments both for and against a “right to housing.” Consider how different the challenge of safe and affordable housing in the United States compared to, say India, China, Mexico, and Brazil. In much of India, China, Mexico, and Brazil, there simply isn’t enough wealth to build enough new housing for the very poorest families. Though incomes and housing are improving, families in these countries are far poorer than in the U.S.
In the U.S. it is existing wealth and housing that form the main opposition to housing for the poor. Downtown businesses and landlord oppose tiny apartments and new SRO hotels that could offer housing for the very poor. Few want more people panhandling next to their homes and businesses.
Utah’s solution for homelessness has been to give homes to homeless people. “Home Free?” in The New Yorker (September 22, 2014), tells the story:
In 2005, Utah set out to fix a problem that’s often thought of as unfixable: chronic homelessness. The state had almost two thousand chronically homeless people. Most of them had mental-health or substance-abuse issues, or both. At the time, the standard approach was to try to make homeless people “housing ready”: first, you got people into shelters or halfway houses and put them into treatment; only when they made progress could they get a chance at permanent housing. Utah, though, embraced a different strategy, called Housing First: it started by just giving the homeless homes.
Many news outlets reported on the success of the Utah program to provide housing to the homeless. However, a March, 2016 Huffington Post article is critical “Think Utah Solved Homelessness? Think Again” and another critical article: “Utah says it won ‘war on homelessness’, but shelters tell a different story
As usual, nearby resident oppose housing homeless people nearby. “Residents opposed to Sugar House homeless shelter site turn to state for help,” (Feb. 6, 2017)
So, at least two kinds of challenges in debating a right to housing: one is expanding options for safe and afforable housing for low-income families, and the other is finding housing solutions for people with behavior problems, from alcohol and drug addictions to mental illness.

Winners for the 2017 Young Patriots Essay Contest!

Three teens took home $9,000 in scholarships from Debate Central’s Young Patriots Essay Contest, sponsored by NCPA and Copart, with essays on whether international free trade agreements are in the best interest of the United States. Over 700 students entered and from those the 2017 Winners are [click to continue]

See more HERE.

Federal farm programs regulate and subsidize wheat, corn, soybeans, cotton, and rice production and exports. These subsidies are costly to taxpayers and consumers, and complicate trade relations with China and other Asian countries. Downsizing The Federal Government (Cato Institute) reports on Department of Agriculture programs:
The department will spend $154 billion in 2016, or $1,230 for every U.S. household. After adjusting for inflation, spending has increased 45 percent since 2000. The department operates about 268 subsidy programs and employs 90,100 workers in about 7,000 offices across the country.
These agricultural subsidies distort trade, which adversely affects poor farmers and environmental protection in developing countries. Subsidies also impose a fiscal burden on taxpayers. Conversely, reducing agricultural subsidies in the United States (and other developed countries) could help poor farmers in developing countries compete in the marketplace, reduce ecosystem degradation and help reduce federal spending
Rice subsidies have slowed access to China markets, and hurt farmers in poor countries. “Subsidizing Starvation,” (Foreign Policy, January 11, 2013), looks at the damage US rice subsidies have on farmers in poor countries like Haiti:
…the United States has been a major player in the global rice trade since the 1970s. The country may only produce around 2 percent of global output, but it is consistently among the top five exporters in the world. Arkansas rice is eaten around the world — from Japan to Mexico to Turkey — and roughly half of the rice grown in the state is sold in foreign markets.
U.S. Reaches Deal on Rice Exports to China, Trade Group Says:
American rice farmers to get foothold in world’s largest market for grain,” (Wall Street Journal, January 22, 2016) reports on progress for giving US rice producers access to China:

The U.S. reached an agreement that would enable rice exports to China, according to a trade group, a development that would give U.S. rice farmers their first foothold in the world’s largest market for the grain.

USA Rice, which represents growers, millers and exporters, said late Friday that officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture had informed it that Washington and Beijing agreed on a protocol to allow U.S. producers legal access to China, which has long barred American rice.

rice china-694651_640

hbeiser, Pixelbay

The article reports US rice production estimates for 2015-16 at 6.1 million tons, with over half, 3.1 billion tons, for export.

But federal rice subsidies distort rice production, encouraging marginal producers and artificially boosting rice supplies for export, foreign rice producers complain and lobby to restrict rice shipments from the US. Foreign governments also subsidize and protect domestic rice farmers, so trade negotiations often turn on “level of subsidy” claims.

US files trade complaint over China’s ‘excessive’ ag subsidies“(CNBC, September 13, 2016) reports Obama Administration formal complaints to the World Trade Organization:

“China’s excessive market price support for rice, wheat, and corn inflates Chinese prices above market levels, creating artificial government incentives for Chinese farmers to increase production,” U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said in a release.

Froman noted that China exceeded its allowable subsidy limits on corn, rice, and wheat by $100 billion in 2015 alone. America’s rice, wheat, and corn industries typically average $20 billion per year in export activity, according to government figures.

Compared to Thailand, the U.S. government spends far less on rice subsidies. According to CBO estimates cited in the Delta Farm Press (April 3, 2015):

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that under the previous farm bills, the U.S. government provided an average of $1.53 billion in annual support for rice between 2000 and 2004. Under the Agricultural Act of 2014, CBO projects the annual outlay for rice from 2014 to 2018 will average around $231 million.

Thailand’s government spent far more:

Thailand’s rice paddy pledging program is a textbook case of how not to run a farm subsidy program. What started as an effort to win farmer support during parliamentary elections in 2010-11 became an economic disaster that cost the government of Thailand $27.7 billion before it ended in 2014.

The Economist‘s leader, “Hare-grained,” (November 14, 2015),  outlines the mess that Japan, South Korea, China, and other Asian countries have made of the international rice trade:

Tariffs, quotas, floor prices, ceiling prices, producer subsidies, consumer subsidies, state monopolies—no measure is too meddlesome (see article). As a result, the market for rice is more distorted than that for any other staple. Rice growers pocketed at least $60 billion in subsidies last year, according to the OECD, twice as much as maize (corn) farmers, the second-most-coddled lot.

The full article, “Paddy-whacked,” explains the problem in its subtitle: “By meddling in the market for rice, Asian governments make their own citizens poorer.

Rice policy matters a lot for Asia’s 4.4 billion people, about 60% of the world’s population, as Asians consume 90% of the world’s rice,

Asia consumes 90% of the world’s rice. It is used to make flour, noodles and puddings. Babies and the elderly survive on rice gruel. Steaming rice porridge is eaten for breakfast in skyscraping hotels in Hong Kong and rustic village kitchens in Hunan.

The U.S. government supports domestic rice production through tariffs on imported rice and direct taxpayer subsidies based on production, prices, and historical acreage. Those programs make rice one of the most heavily supported commodities in the United States, with ramifications for U.S. taxpayers and consumers and rice producers abroad.

Back in 2006, Dan Griswold’s Cato Institute Trade Policy Briefing looked at “Grain Drain: The Hidden Cost of U.S. Rice Subsidies.”  Here is part of the paper’s Executive Summary:

Americans pay for the rice program three times over—as taxpayers, as consumers, and as workers. Direct taxpayer subsidies to the rice sector have averaged $1 billion a year since 1998 and are projected to average $700 million a year through 2015. Tariffs on imported rice drive up prices for consumers, and the rice program imposes a drag on the U.S. economy generally through a misallocation of resources. Rice payments tend to be concentrated among a small number of large producers.

Globally, U.S. policy drives down prices for rice by 4 to 6 percent. Those lower prices, in turn, perpetuate poverty and hardship for millions of rice farmers in developing countries, undermining our broader interests and our standing in the world. The U S. program also leaves the United States vulnerable to challenges in the World Trade Organization.

For our own national interest, the U.S. Congress and the president should work together to adopt a more market-oriented rice program in the upcoming 2007 farm bill, including repeal of tariffs and a rapid phaseout of subsidies.

Federal government rice subsidies have changed since 2006, but still involve significant taxpayer subsidies and price distortions internationally. The U.S. could be a leader in reforming damaging rice policies in China and across Asia.

Mercantilist policies still dominate across many industries, from steel to agriculture. Rice is no exception. Governments want to be self-sufficient in rice and where possible promote exports. Subsidies to domestic rice growers cost each country’s taxpayers millions, and tariffs on imported rice (and other grains) cost each country’s consumers millions more.

Public Choice theory explains how concentrated special interests (like rice growers, millers, and exporters) gain political leverage to enact legislation that benefits them while raising costs for consumers and taxpayers (benefits of rice subsidies are concentrated and larger per rice producers and lobbyist, while total costs, though higher,  are spread out across tens of millions of consumers and taxpayers).

The same mercantilist thinking and public choice pressures distort rice production and trade in the U.S..  This July 12, 2015 Wall Street Journal article, “Should Washington End Agriculture Subsidies?” offers a debate on current agricultural policies, after 2014 reforms. Vincent Smith, arguing against farm subsidies, notes:

First, many people seem to believe that farmers, like the Joad family in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” are poor, when in fact the average farm household enjoys an income that is about 15% higher than that of the average nonfarm family. What’s more, the 10% to 15% of farm families that receive more than 85% of all farm subsidies—amounting to millions of dollars a year in a few cases—have annual household incomes many times as large as those of the average U.S. taxpayer. Some estimates suggest that the farmers who receive the bulk of all subsidies—many of whom mainly raise corn, cotton, rice, peanuts, soybeans and wheat—are worth somewhere between $6 million and $10 million on average. 

Rice is one of the big grain crops still subsidized, and because rice is the major food of Asia, students could argue that it should be the first to be pulled out of the world of subsidies and left to market competition and international trade.

This May 15, 2015 Bloomberg View article, “Rice Gets a Bath Amid California’s Drought,” looks in depth at subsidized rice production in California: “much of it destined for sushi … shipped to customers, about half of them outside the U.S.”:

As you read this, farmers in the Sacramento Valley are flooding hundreds of thousands of laser-leveled acres under five inches of water as they prepare to plant the annual rice crop. After that comes my favorite part. From the California Rice Commission’s “How Rice Grows” tutorial:

Rice seed is then soaked and loaded into planes. Flying at 100 mph, planes plant the fields from the air. The heavy seeds sink into the furrows and begin to grow.

They will keep growing throughout the hot valley summer (temperatures regularly top 100 degrees Fahrenheit), in the midst of a historic drought. Harvest comes in September, after which the rice — mostly medium-grain, much of it destined for sushi — will be milled and then shipped to customers, about half of them outside the U.S.

The Los Angeles Times article, June 11, 2015, “California rice farmers find Japanese trade negotiators a bit starchy,” looks at other foolish rice policies, beginning with Japanese rice protectionism:

For years Charley Mathews Jr. has exported tons of his best Sacramento Valley-grown rice to Japan, but it grates on him that very little of that has ever ended up on the tables of sushi restaurants or Japanese households.

Instead, the Japanese government, which controls rice imports under a 2-decade-old quota system, has given away most of his and other foreign rice as food aid or sold it domestically as animal feed and an ingredient for rice crackers.

Again, however, U.S. rice farmers benefit from a range of water and price subsidies. Bloomberg View’sSave California Farmers From Themselves,” April 27, 2015, looks at the water subsidy values for California rice farmers:

In a 2004 study, the Environmental Working Group estimated that the total subsidies for the Central Valley Project added up to roughly $600 million a year. While farmers dispute that figure, they don’t deny they have a very special deal. Why else would they fight efforts to make the pricing of water more market-based and defend their “rights” to it?

This competitive advantage has been worth tens of billions of dollars. All over the West, farmers served by federal projects have benefited from 50-year zero-interest loans, with generous repayment rates, plus low-cost power. And about 45 percent of the farmers who receive irrigation subsidies are growing commodity crops (such as rice and cotton) that qualify for price supports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture — a classic example of double dipping.

This giant international rice farming mess seems endlessly complicated. But at the least the U.S. could be a leader in saving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars by ending the rice subsidies that also encourage rice protectionism in Japan, South Korea, and other Asian countries.

Ending the Cuba trade embargo would shift sugar production back to Cuba and away from ecologically fragile lands in the U.S. “Protect the Everglades, not sugar farmers,” (Florida Sun Sentinel, Feb 16, 2017) argues:

Unfortunately, the most important state agency involved with Everglades restoration remains committed to the interests of sugar farmers instead of the environment.

At Wednesday’s hearing, South Florida Water Management Executive Director Peter Antonacci restated the district’s opposition to Negron’s proposal. Antonacci told senators that buying the land actually could hurt restoration efforts.

Why does the water management district oppose the idea? Because U.S. Sugar opposes the idea, and U.S. Sugar has donated $425,000 to Gov. Rick Scott’s political action committee since the 2014 election cycle. The company owns only a portion of one of the two parcels, but U.S. Sugar doesn’t want any more farmland out of production.

Sugar production causes political and pollution problems. Since the Cuban embargo blocked sugar imports, acreage around the Florida everglades put into sugar production increased four-fold.

U.S. sugar prices are far higher than market prices because of federal sugar quotas, raising costs for American consumers and reducing competitiveness of U.S. candy and chocolate companies.

In “Protectionist sugar policy cost Americans $3 billion in 2012,” AEI’s Mark Perry looks at costs and consequences of sugar trade restriction:

…American consumers and US sugar-using businesses, who have been forced to pay more than twice the world price of sugar on average since 1982 (29.1 cents for domestic sugar vs. 14.4 cents for world sugar…

See also Wall Street Journal: “U.S. Sugar Soars Above World Prices: Candy Makers Prepare Price Increases,” (WSJ, Dec 7 2014).

Apart from money costs to consumers are environmental costs from water diverted from and pollution seeping from sugar acreage into the Everglades ecosystem. According to colorful Grist article “Is sugar production still wrecking the Everglades?” (Grist, Jan 4, 2016).

As happens in so many places where agriculture butts up against nature, excess phosphorus in run-off contributes to algal blooms and otherwise mucks up the area’s ecological balance — in this case, feeding weedy plants like cattails and choking out native species like sawgrass. This kind of nutrient pollution can be traced back to several human sources, but a recent analysis by the nonprofit Everglades Foundation found that 76 percent of the phosphorus problem there comes from agriculture — and in that neck of the woods, that primarily means sugarcane.

The Everglades Foundation report (March, 2012) notes:

New Study: Agriculture Industry contributes 76% of the pollution in the Everglades, pays only 24% of the clean-up costs.

The EPA is suing the state of Florida for not reducing nutrient flows into Florida waters. Nutrient runoff into Florida waters is caused in part by four hundred thousands acres of sugar plantations in south Florida producing some thirteen million tons of sugar in 2011 (Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, May 2012).

Reducing pollution from Florida sugar plantations seems costly, as does reducing sugar production. But actually it is sugar production in Florida itself that is costly for American taxpayers and consumers. Turns out much less Florida sugar would be produced without diverse Federal sugar subsidies and import restrictions.

This March 13, 2013 WSJ article, “Big Sugar is Set for a Sweet Bailout” explains the latest chapter in the decades-long interventionist dynamics of the sugar industry (may be paywalled).

Interventionist dynamics means the ongoing political and economic consequences of government intervention in the economy. Government programs to support sugar producers may be designed to be modest efforts but they soon cause sugar production to go up, which pushes sugar prices lower, which hurts producers. So government looks to further legislation to fix the overproduction problem, but that causes later problems inspiring further legislation. Over the years layer upon layer of legislation makes sugar production ever more complex and convoluted, and tends to benefit established sugar producers while costing consumers and taxpayers millions or billions of dollars.

Some history of US/Cuba sugar can be found in “U.S Sugar Subsidies and the Caribbean’s Sugar Economies,” (Council on Hemispheric Affairs, July 31, 2013):

The U.S. government heavily subsidizes its sugar sector, imposes quotas on sugar imports, and then hectors developing countries on the wisdom of cutting back on their own subsidies. These measures protect private U.S. sugar producers from foreign competition, allowing them to seek unreasonably high prices in the U.S. market. U.S. consumers are likely to lose from these policies, as they end up paying higher prices at U.S. supermarkets, and, moreover, Caribbean sugar prices also have been adversely affected by U.S. protectionism in the sugar industry.

The article continues with some history:

The United States now has an absolute trade embargo with Cuba after U.S.-owned sugar companies in Cuba were nationalized in 1961. Before the revolution, 69.1 percent of Cuban trade overall and 54.8 percent of its sugar trade was with the United States. [2] The revolutionary government nationalized the sugar industry, a move that was seen as against free market principles. Yet Washington violates similar principles by keeping its sugar policy narrowly in place. Such double standards that block sugar imports from struggling Caribbean markets will continue to impair and distort U.S.-Caribbean relations.

However, opposing the Cuban government’s seizure of privately-owned sugar acreage and then blocking imports of sugar from seized acreage isn’t a “double standard.”

If the Canadian government seized a Ford engine plant in Windsor, Ontario, and then tried to continue exporting engines made there to the U.S., Ford motor company would file suit for return of their plant and for damages. And the U.S. government would support Ford (or maybe send in troops).

But revolutions happen around the world, and when the bullets stop flying and dust settles, lawyers and title insurance companies begin the work of negotiating and litigating to determine compensation and the return or property to owners.

The challenge of the Cuban revolution has been tied up in Cold War politics, and Florida politics. (See: “Why has the US embargo against Cuba lasted so long?” (The Telegraph, Dec 18, 2014) Cubans who fled Castro and prospered in the U.S. know the damage caused by the revolution then, and know from friends and relatives still in Cuba, the ongoing suffering and repression. Many believe opening trade for sugar imported from Cuban government lands would provide income to the communist government, helping sustain the ongoing repression of political dissidents and everyday Cubans.

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