Essays by Joel Kotkin are often frustrating. On one hand, he’s clearly more reasonable than the typical mainstream liberal and willing to consider evidence even if it leads him to conclusions that conflict with the standard liberal line. On the other hand, he pulls up sharply short of following his thinking all the way through. Consider this, from a column attacking Baby Boomers for their role in constructing the civic society that has produced our terrible presidential choices:
Trumpian boomerism is easily evidenced in my own neighborhood of Villa Park in Orange County. Our lovely, well-maintained and aging little enclave is friendly, civic-minded and civil. But it also is the center of opposition to such things as school bonds that would improve local schools now in a shocking state of disrepair. Villa Park residents helped defeat the last school bond, and it’s a former (thank heaven) City Council member who seeks to lead the effort to overturn the one on the ballot this year.
The arguments of the anti-bond advocates, like those backing Trump, base their pitch on accusations of public incompetence but rest on a culture of selfishness. Many opposing the bonds, which would cost them a few hundred dollars a year on their property tax bill, think nothing of spending lavishly on luxury vacations or home upgrades. The fact that better schools might increase their own property values seems to sail against their mind-set, which apparently renders them oblivious to the penury imposed on the next generation.
Kotkin seems not to consider that bonds typically require higher tax bills for 20 to 30 years. Boomers are more likely to have purchased their homes when property values were much lower (even if only 15 years ago), and they are more likely to have finished paying off their mortgages; they’re also farther along in their careers and wealthier. “A few hundred dollars a year on their property tax bill” is therefore not as big a deal to them as it is to those in Gen X who may be struggling to get on the other side of life’s financial hump or Millennials looking to buy houses (or even rent them) for the first time. Long-term debt will also affect whatever generation comes after today’s kids in the same way.
In fairness, it’s entirely possible that Boomers in Kotkin’s suburb of (typically liberal) coastal California haven’t thought this through, either, and are, indeed, acting out of greed. But even if we cede that point, we still must challenge his assumption that more money will improve education. The same teacher unions that have helped to diminish public education in the United States have spent decades driving up the cost, pushing taxpayers toward antipathy to new expenses and forcing administrators to cut corners when it comes to maintenance and capital improvement.
That is, to the extent greed is involved, it is in no way one sided.