2019-06-10 12:00:24

The authorities should stop equating a rational parenting decision—letting your kids wait in the car a few minutes—with criminal wrongdoing. A great piece in The Appeal by Joshua Vaughn calls this practice a “new moral panic that targets moms.” He opens with the shocking story of Amanda Forst, a Pennsylvania mom who let her three kids—ages 2, 5, and 7—wait in the car for ten minutes while she ran an errand inside a store:

While Forst was in the store, a passerby saw the children in the van and called county authorities. Cumberland County 911 dispatched [Sgt. Keith] Stambaugh, and Kohl’s alerted shoppers about the children over the public address system. Forst ran out of the store and drove off because she feared that the police would take her children away, she later told Stambaugh. She returned to the store minutes after leaving and waited for the police to arrive.

When he arrived on the scene, Stambaugh arrested and charged Forst with three counts of reckless endangerment, three counts of leaving a child unattended in a vehicle and a count of careless driving. Forst’s 10-minute errand now meant she was facing up to two years in jail.

Consider the state’s logic: For the crime of separating from her kids for 10 minutes—which the authorities view as criminally dangerous—Mom could be forced to separate from her kids for two full years.

Vaughn goes on to trace the origin of our car-wait panic, which he believes began in the 1980s when “stranger danger” was first sweeping the country. Missing kids’ pictures were put on milk cartons without anyone bothering to explain that the vast majority were runaways or taken by parents in contentious custody cases.

After that, the concern about hot cars started to grow. Hot cars are indeed a threat to child safety when the child is forgotten for a very long time. But the public has come to believe that any instance of a kid waiting in a car, however briefly, represents mortal danger. A brief wait is not only safe—it is safer than being taken out and crossing the parking lot. As truly gut-wrenching as cases of hyperthermia are, arresting moms who let their kids wait in the car for five minutes will not bring back the children forgotten there for five hours.

And yet, Vaughn writes:

Though the incident outside the Kohl’s occurred nearly one year ago, Forst’s case is still unresolved. In the meantime, she has incurred—and paid—hundreds of dollars in fines and fees, including nearly $200 for the county’s plea fee, $50 for the cost of prosecution, $100 for the disposition program and $23 for an expungement fee.

In August, Forst is expected to enter an accelerated rehabilitative disposition program, in which she will spend the next six months to two years under probation-like supervision and perform community service with the expectation that the charges will be dismissed after successful completion. If Forst does not finish the program, Cumberland County District Attorney Skip Ebert could prosecute her.

It’s time for this to stop. We can help turn the tide by demanding that parents not be arrested unless they show blatant disregard for their children’s safety and put them in real danger.

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Tell us a bit about yourselves.

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2019-06-12 13:30:21

Criminalizing kindness? An Arizona man on trial for giving food, water, and shelter to migrants is free for now after jury members could not agree on a verdict and were dismissed by the federal judge presiding over the case.

College instructor Scott Daniel Warren had been charged with conspiracy to transport and harbor undocumented immigrants, a felony that could come with 20 years of prison time. His attorneys argued that he was just providing “basic human kindness” to people on a perilous journey across the Arizona desert. From the Associated Press:

Outside the courthouse, Warren thanked his supporters and criticized the government’s efforts to crack down on the number of immigrants coming to the U.S.

“Today it remains as necessary as ever for local residents and humanitarian aid volunteers to stand in solidarity with migrants and refugees, and we must also stand for our families, friends and neighbors in the very land itself most threatened by the militarization of our borderland communities,” Warren said.

Glenn McCormick, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Arizona, declined to comment on whether Warren will face another trial. The judge set a July 2 status hearing for the defense and prosecution.

AP goes on to note that “border activists say they worry about what they see as the gradual criminalization of humanitarian action.” Migrant deaths in “Arizona’s scorching deserts” number in the thousands since the mid-1990s, AP says.

Warren is part of a group called “No Más Muertes,” or No More Deaths. Since his arrest in January 2018, “at least 88 bodies were recovered from the Ajo corridor of the Arizona desert,” he told reporters outside the courthouse yesterday, accusing the feds of targeting “prosecutions to criminalize humanitarian aid, kindness and solidarity.”


ELECTION 2020

Wonkette pushes the Harris campaign line that people hate her merely because she was a prosecutor (and that she shouldn’t have to explain herself about it). Others kindly point out that it’s not what she was but what she did in that position that matters. At National Review, Jim Geraghty elaborates on this theme:

What is interesting here is the adamant insistence that somehow Harris is being wronged by having her record as a prosecutor challenged, and that questioning that record is somehow inherently unjust or out of bounds, that something has gone terribly wrong with our political and journalism worlds when Harris feels the need to defend her past decisions and actions.

Meanwhile, at the polls:


AROUND REASON

Peter Suderman writes about the recent riff between Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.) and other members of the House Freedom Caucus, of which Amash was a founding member:

You can certainly read Rep. Justin Amash’s recent criticisms of President Trump and the vast majority of elected Republicans who back him as attacks against a president that Amash believes has failed the nation and the office—or on the GOP for its willingness to go along with the same—and you wouldn’t be wrong to do so.

But it would be a mistake to assume that’s all Amash is doing, or even that is it necessarily the most important aspect of his critique. Amash isn’t just a NeverTrump pundit with a congressional office; his target is larger than Trump and the party stalwarts who back him. Rather, he is taking aim at the binary choices offered by the Republican/Democrat duopoly, the unthinking partisanship it seems to require, and the ways that partisanship has made Congress less willing to exercise its constitutional duties as a co-equal branch of government. Amash isn’t just taking on Trump; he’s making a systemic critique of the two-party system.

Whole thing here. And on cue from Amash:


QUICK HITS

  • Facebook will leave up a “deepfake” video of Mark Zuckerberg.
  • Yujing Zhang, the Chinese woman arrested for entering Mar-a-Lago on false pretenses, will serve as her own lawyer, despite having “struggled with legal concepts and spoken English” during proceedings, as the New York Post described it.
  • The drug war never dies, it just takes new forms.
  • When even @TheTweetOfGod gets suspended…

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Sen. Kamala Harris (D–Calif.) is “leaning into” her history as a prosecutor, some observers noted after the 2020 presidential candidate gave a speech Saturday in South Carolina. Rewriting her history would be more accurate.

“In this election, regarding my background as a prosecutor, there have been those who have questioned my motivations, my beliefs, and what I have done,” Harris said at an event organized by the South Carolina NAACP. “But my mother used to say, you don’t let people tell you who you are. You tell them who you are. Let me be clear, self-appointed political commentators do not get to define who we are and what we believe.”

But if we’re to rely on Harris’ own words and writing about who she is and what she believes, we’re left with a whole lot of contradictions and all sorts of major gaps—as I note in Reason‘s latest print issue. Throughout her political career, Harris has been prone to playing up her progressive bona fides when it suits her and her carceral-centric side at other times. But her actions as a prosecutor almost always fell in the latter camp.

I don’t presume to know what Harris truly believes or who she really is behind the mask, which is why I think that her actions as a prosecutor and legislator are probably a better guide to how she would govern than anyone’s commentary. And that record bears little resemblance to the prosecutor that Harris has been conjuring on the campaign trail.

The Harris campaign slogan is “Kamala Harris For the People” (a callback to her days representing Alameda and San Francisco counties in court), and her campaign is pushing hard on the idea that America needs a prosecutor-in-chief to counter President Donald Trump’s corruption and lawlessness.

This seems to be missing the point of running for president. If Trump loses the 2020 election, we won’t need a president to relitigate his past. That’s not to say everyone should just write off any crimes committed by people in and around the Trump administration after it’s gone. But the job of the next administration is to lead America forward, not keep us an eternal loop around the 2016 election.

The Harris campaign argument makes more sense when applied to how she would handle Trump in the general election, but it still falls flat as something particularly aspirational for a candidate. A smiling Harris grilling Trump from the debate stage may satisfy some. But Democrats need someone who can show up Trump without making it feel like merely a self-interested, sneaky, and partisan attack if they want the sympathy of swing voters or of people tempted to stay home. Again and again, Harris has failed on that.

Here’s some of the rhetoric her communications person shared on Twitter as an example of “the kind of sharp, effective prosecution voters can expect from in a general election,” as well as a showcase of her “wit and humor”:

The quote above is from Harris’ Sunday speech in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. No matter what you think of health care or tax policy, that’s political grandstanding, not a realistic indictment of Trump or his administration. She goes on to crack a joke about Trump engaging in “securities fraud” for buddying up with foreign dictators.

None of the above comes across like much of a punchline when you watch Harris’ delivery, and no one can be heard laughing in the audience. It’s just the “sharp and effective” prosecutor casually suggesting that legislation passed by Congress could be a crime if Democrats don’t agree with it.

Harris wraps up the theme by joking that Trump was also guilty of “identity fraud” against Barack Obama by claiming to be the best president this century.

The line might not be terrible coming from an entertainer. But coming from someone who has spent nearly her entire career putting people behind bars and threatening to (often for petty crimes like drug possession, truancy, and sex work, and at other times when she knew federal law disallowed her arrests), during an administration that has at least flirted with using the power of the executive to punish political enemies, following an election filled with Republicans chanting about the same…joking about all the trumped up charges you would bring as president and all the tortuous cop logic you can conjure in service of it just don’t feel all that funny.

FREE MINDS

FREE MARKETS

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) has been calling for birth control pills to be sold over-the-counter:

Will she join her Republican counterparts in the Senate in sponsoring legislation to help see it through?

QUICK HITS

  • How “scores of articles” from a fake journalist got published in The Hill, Forbes, The Daily Caller, The Federalist, and other political outlets.
  • New regulations in New Jersey threaten to strangle the state’s craft brewery industry.
  • When does life not begin at conception for the life-begins-at-conception crowd?
  • Members of the House of Representatives vote tomorrow “on a civil contempt resolution against Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn.”
  • Following D.C.’s decrim bill last week:
  • Book banners never say die, they just take new forms:

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2019-06-12 12:20:05

In 2017, I wrote about an attempt to use a forged court order to deindex New Britain Independent articles critical of New Britain (Connecticut) volunteer Conservation Commissioner Ken Haas (a mayoral appointee). Then someone tried to get Google to deindex my post about the forgery and a Techdirt post about the same forgery, arguing:

In 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized an individual interest in the “practical obscurity” of certain personal information. The case was DOJ v. Reporters Committee for a Free Press. As well, this information is harmful to me as it concerns unfounded information which never resulted in prosecution. Not only has the dissemination of this information never been legitimate, but its internet referencing is clearly harmful to my reputation as my professional and personal surroundings can access it by typing my first and last names on the Internet.

A few months ago, it turns out, there was another attempt to deindex one of the original New Britain Independent articles, this time on a copyright infringement theory:

Copyright claim #1
KIND OF WORK: Unspecified
DESCRIPTION Text from a post that was on a private and personal Facebook profile stating, “You do know I have access to ALL city records. Including criminal and civil, right???”.
ORIGINAL URLS: No copyrighted URLs were submitted.
ALLEGEDLY INFRINGING URLS:
https://newbritainindependent.com/blog/2016/10/14/stewart-conservation-commissioner-accused-abuse-power/

The article had said, among other things,

At 9:21 PM Monday September 19th, 2016 Mr. Haas, in an exchange on Facebook, on a thread in which he was not originally included, tagged in, or involved with, injected himself.  Members of the community were having a conversation about the Tilcon deal that the Stewart Administration is pushing, regardless of community sentiment.  Hass interjected in this facebook conversation, threatening to embarrass one of the participants, who is a member of New Britain’s community, using government resource’s.  Hass said, “You do know I have access to ALL city records. Including criminal and civil, right???”.

And of course that’s “fair use” under copyright law, and not an infringement at all; criticizing a government official (even a volunteer) for this kind of short public comment, by quoting the comment, is fully legal—indeed, newspapers do it all the time. Google naturally didn’t act on the deindexing request; but I though it worth noting that 08someone seems to be pretty insistent about trying to vanish criticism of Commissioner Haas.

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First things first: President Donald Trump’s decision to back away from his threats to impose tariffs on goods imported from Mexico is a unambiguous victory for the American economy, for the hundreds of thousands of people whose jobs are part of that international supply chain, and for continued good relations between two deeply interconnected countries. Trump did the right thing, even if “the right thing” in this instance was simply backing down from doing the wrong thing.

But in typical Trump fashion, it apparently wasn’t enough to announce over the weekend that Americans wouldn’t be subject to a new $87 billion tax increase come Monday morning. Instead, Trump mashed all-caps for a tweet that bizarrely claimed Mexico had agreed to purchase more American agricultural goods in exchange for Trump revoking the tariff threat:

Remember, Trump threatened to hit Mexican imports with tariffs because he was unhappy with how the Mexican government was handling the influx of Central American refugees crossing Mexico to seek asylum in the United States. That a supposed national emergency regarding immigration across the southern border could be solved by Mexico buying more American farm goods is…well, rather odd.

Even more odd: There is nothing in the agreement between the U.S. and Mexico about agricultural goods. You can read it here; it’s only about two pages long. Mexican officials have told Bloomberg that there was no discussion of agricultural issues during the tariff talks, which focused on re-separating immigration policy and trade policy—two issues that Trump unexpectedly slammed together two weeks ago.

As the story unraveled on Sunday, Trump followed up with subsequent tweets suggesting that the agricultural deal was a secret part of the agreement to be revealed at a later date. That would be highly unusual. He also whined about not getting enough credit.

In a speech this morning, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard confirmed that the two nations had not reached an agriculture agreement.

Not that we need one! Mexico is already the second largest buyer of American farm goods, behind Canada. More than 14 percent of U.S. farm goods already end up in Mexico, with purchases expected to top $19 billion this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But Trump’s misleading tweets are more than just a bizarre aside to the tariff craziness of the past two weeks. They reveal the president’s biggest blind spot when it comes to understanding how trade works.

Trump doesn’t seem to understand that American goods are not nationalized commodities for him to buy and sell around the world. The federal government measures how much is imported from and exported to various countries, but that’s not the same as actually conducting those transactions. That may seem obvious to you, but the distinction continues to evade the president.

When “the United States” sells farm goods “to Mexico,” what’s really happening is a chain of private transactions. Farmers sell their products to wholesalers who sell to export brokers who sell to Mexican importers who sell to their own supply chains on the other side of the border. About the only role that the national governments of the United States and Mexico play is determining how difficult it will be to get a box of tomatoes or a bushel of corn across the border itself.

In other words, even if Mexican trade officials wanted to agree to buy more American farm goods to appease Trump, that’s not something they could agree to do. Individuals and businesses on both sides do the buying and selling, privately. Mexico can’t force consumers to buy American products any more so than Trump can force American farmers to sell their goods to Mexico. The complexities of those supply chains cannot be organized and controlled by central planners—or at least, they really ought not to be.

Given those realities, the best thing the Trump administration can do to boost the exporting of American farm goods to Mexico is stay out of the way. Trump may have stumbled onto that answer this time, but there’s no sign he’s learned the broader lesson.

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2019-06-12 12:00:21

Texas kids of the entrepreneurial variety are now free to legally peddle lemonade. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed a law on Monday that will allow children to set up lemonade stands without a permit.

Rep. Matt Krause (R–Fort Worth) introduced the legislation in order to eliminate licensing requirements for kids under 18 who seek to sell lemonade and other non-alcoholic beverages. Texas isn’t the only state to attract attention for its hardline policies on lemonade. As I wrote back in March:

A similar law recently passed in Colorado after the police shut down a kid’s lemonade stand over licensing woes. The makeshift business was operating next to a festival where adults were selling the same beverage.

The Dallas Morning News highlights that several young lemonade vendors across Texas have met the same fate. Unaware that their business endeavors were in violation of state law, sisters Andria, 8, and Zoey Green, 7, had their stand shuttered in 2015 by police who noted that they were operating without a permit.

The law goes into effect September 1. Abbott tweeted a video of him signing the bill, calling it a “commonsense” law.

“Cheers!” he said, holding a tall glass of lemonade.

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You can get five years in federal prison for selling llama poop, according to Title Seven of the United States Code, Section8313(a)(1)(B).

Title 21, Part 139 of the Code of Federal Regulations prohibits the sale of improperly shaped spaghetti noodles.

The Swine Health Protection Act forbids feeding a pig garbage that hasn’t been cooked by a garbage cooker with a garbage-cooking permit.

Criminal defense attorney Mike Chase, the man behind the popular @CrimeADay Twitter feed, has a new book titled How to Become a Federal Criminal: An Illustrated Handbook for the Aspiring Offender. It chronicles government power at its most arbitrary and absurd.

Reason‘s Todd Krainin sat down with Chase to learn the roots of his obsession with laws against improperly shaped cheese, whistling on a CB radio, and making unreasonable gestures to a passing horse.

Music: “Law and Order,” by Lloyd Rodgers under a Public Domain Mark 1.0 License.

Produced, written, and hosted by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Meredith Bragg and Mark McDaniel.

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2019-06-10 14:50:57

Last month, I crossed the border between Arizona and Utah with a cargo of contraband in my possession. The goods—hard to legally come by behind the Zion Curtain even after recent reforms—were carefully concealed amidst other cargo, to avoid the prying eyes of Beehive State enforcers. Most importantly, my illicit cargo paired well with meat and fish and could be enjoyed in the time, place, and quantity of my choosing.

That’s right. I smuggled liquor and wine on my hiking vacation to Bryce and Zion National Parks.

Utah isn’t the only place where it’s a joy to ignore stupid restrictions on alcohol consumption. But the state remains cluelessly proud of such rules, which are painfully tight even after a liberalizing law in 2017 made it legal for people to actually watch their drinks being mixed. When that’s viewed as a victory, you know the place has a way to go.

With few exceptions, “it is clear you may not bring alcoholic beverages into Utah for any purpose whether it is for personal consumption, to serve at a private social function, or to give or sell to others,” the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) boasts on its website.

Should you be fool enough to abide by such a ban, you’ll have to do a little planning to satisfy your thirst—unless you’re OK with the 3.2 beer available in convenience stores. The state has all of 44 full-service liquor stores scattered about, as well as “agencies” with more limited offerings. There is also “a world class wine selection at three specialty wine stores,” as the DABC puts it, all in Salt Lake City.

No liquor stores are near Bryce Canyon National Park—the nearest is in Panguitch, which is half-hour drive each way. The Ruby’s Inn General Store does have 3.2 beer available at the sort of prices you’d expect at the only shop around. You can also order drinks with your dinner at the lodge in the park and at restaurants outside the park gates and in nearby towns.

Springdale, outside the main gates of Zion National Park, is a larger community that offers greater choice than you find at Bryce. There’s an actual liquor store there—Switchback Trading Company—that was almost a quarter the size of the booze section in any of the grocery stores in my town. There are plenty of restaurants with full bars, too.

But, if you’ve had a full day on the trail, forget about a generous pour. Utah law allows for “no more than 1.5 ounces of primary liquor in a mixed drink,” which can be blended with other ingredients “not to exceed a total of 2.5 ounces of spirituous liquor.” Your choice of red, white, or rosé can’t exceed five ounces per glass.

Five ounces of wine? In Arizona, we call that a sip. My server at a Phoenix eatery last night offered me a choice of six or nine ounces of pinot grigio.

Utah’s restrictive rules and limited opportunities for relaxation with a beverage require a period of quiet contemplation. Heavy thinking of that sort is best done over a generous pour of zinfandel brought into the state courtesy of a large and heavy cooler.

To be fair, Utah has improved its liquor laws. Until 2009, would-be imbibers had to purchase memberships in private clubs before being allowed to sit down and order drinks. I doubt anybody mourns the disappearance of that law.

And the state’s lawmakers are hardly isolated in their silliness and presumption.

I like wine clubs, for instance, but when I tried to share the joy with my mother, I discovered that Maryland is among the many states that let a clique of local distributors dictate the rules. That means that “you must make arrangements to ship the wine to you through a Maryland wholesaler, using a Direct Wine Sellers Permit,” according to the state Comptroller’s office. Effectively, wine clubs operating in Maryland must be licensed as wine manufacturers—which limits the options, as you might expect.

I was able to find a club that would do the job. But I also discovered that lots of vineyards and wine shops around the country, fed up with restrictive shipping rules, have cut deals with shipping storefronts that will carefully package the goods and label them as something innocuous. If you look around in restrictive states like Maryland, it’s impressive how many people receive regular shipments of books and antiques from wine country.

Theoretically, Maryland even restricts residents returning from vacation to transporting one gallon of the good stuff per trip—to be reported to the state. “One quart per trip is tax exempt,” says the Comptroller’s office. “The remaining three quarts is taxed in Maryland.”

Uh huh. Remember to wrap those books and antiques carefully.

It’s not that government officials are unaware that their subjects scoff at ridiculous rules—they have such violations rubbed in their faces all the time. But being who they are, lawmakers see the fault not in their laws but in the insufficiently docile public.

When sky-high-taxes and an entrenched liquor-distribution cartel made it very attractive to smuggle booze from cheaper Indiana to Illinois, Illinois responded by making it a felony to import more than 45 liters without a license.

That doesn’t appear to have deterred the cross-border trade, to judge by news reports that portray a lively business that continues despite the occasional arrest. In January 2018 alone, the Illinois Liquor Control Commission asked 837 businesses to please stop illegally shipping booze to Illinois customers. That’s a good sign that the benefits of breaking the law vastly outweigh the small risk of getting caught.

Honestly, how many people can the authorities arrest when their rules are sufficiently restrictive that many people see ignoring them as just good sense? That’s true in all cases, of course, but it applies in particular to something as widely enjoyed as alcoholic beverages. On my many trips to Utah, cases of beer and bottles of wine and liquor have been constant companions. I’ve shared my stash with people I meet, who happily reciprocated with their own supplies.

So, keep the party going, no matter what officious party-poopers might say. Maybe they’ll eventually get the message that their rules are unwelcome and unenforceable. Or maybe you’ll just get to enjoy an afternoon drink without a lot of hassle. Just don’t forget the corkscrew.

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Philadelphia is finally cracking down on Public Enemy Number One: bay windows.

City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson has introduced an ordinance that would ban these protruding windows in the neighborhoods of Point Breeze and Grays Ferry. Balconies would be verboten too. His aim, he says, is to prevent undue clashing with the traditional brownstone homes that populate the area.

“I call them pop-out windows,” he told local radio station WHYY last week. “That’s where we have these monstrosity developments with windows with aluminum siding that are green or orange or blue, and they don’t fit on these blocks that are all red-brick rowhouses.”

For some, the bay windows that have been popping up on new townhomes and condominiums throughout the city are just the most outward sign of the city’s rapid gentrification.

“They are an icon of that change, and maybe for a lot of people, they are an icon of unwelcome change,” Patrick Grossi of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia tells the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Johnson’s bill passed unanimously out of committee last Wednesday, and the full city council may vote on it this week. It is expected to pass easily.

The bill has nevertheless courted opposition. The city’s Streets Department has said the ordinance would be essentially unenforceable, as well as a strain on limited city resources.

The Inquirer‘s editorial board has also opposed the measure, deriding the idea that gentrification could be stalled by selectively targeting a few of its most transparent symbols. The paper calls this the “bay windows theory”—a play on the “broken windows theory” of policing.

That editorial also notes that this kind of microregulation of buildings’ outward appearance could be used to block the development of affordable housing that doesn’t perfectly match a surrounding neighborhood’s aesthetic.

There’s a more direct way trying to preserve Philadelphia’s stock of brownstone rowhomes could lead to greater gentrification and affordability problems: Historic preservation is expensive, since historic buildings require wealthier owners that have the money to prevent them from falling apart.

This is a point made by free market urbanist Alain Bertaud on a recent episode of the podcast Econtalk.

“You cannot maintain a brownstone unless you have a lot of money. And it’s the same thing with any historical building,” said Bertaud. “It will have to go to rich people. If not they will deteriorate very, very quickly.”

Compared to other large cities, Philadelphia remains relatively affordable—in part, perhaps, because it has been more welcoming of development.

Yet the more and more minute regulations the city passes governing how home and apartments have to look, the more chances NIMBYs will have to stop needed new development it its tracks. Johnson’s bill is relatively limited, but it could represent a dangerous slippery slope.

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