Published: Nov 20, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Nov 20, 2012 06:56 PM
Listening to the latest presidential debate where both candidates demagogued the others’ policies to convince the audience which party would do more to “crush the middle class,” I couldn’t help but think that both candidates should visit Chapel Hill and Orange County. With the highest costs in the state for life’s most basic necessity, water; and property taxes that are 30 percent higher than any other city in the state, our local officials could offer a PhD in crushing the middle class.
How can elected officials who intend to be so sensitive to the needy propagate policies whose consequences are so elitist? As Mark Zimmerman articulately pointed out in a recent column, the unintended consequence of our community’s anti-growth elite is to price middle-class families out of our community.
Our highly educated, well-intentioned cadre of local elected officials has produced a body of work that is very unfriendly to the middle class. One possible explanation for this is that we could be looking at the wrong metrics when evaluating our policies.
The chief explanation given for the high cost of living in Chapel Hill and Carrboro is that we have the best school system in the state. Do we? How do we measure the “best”? Many point to the fact that we spend so much more per pupil than other districts. That is like saying because gas prices have doubled in the past few years, our cars are much better off. Does $4 gas make our cars run better than $2 gas? We should measure outputs, not inputs.
Others point to the high test scores of our public school children. Are these scores the product of a superior educational system, or are they the logical consequence of having more children whose parents have advanced degrees than any jurisdiction in the state? When I asked a local official if there was any study done on test scores that adjusted for parents’ education, I got a blank stare. We need to measure outputs correctly, not simplistically.
We measure our degree of charity by how many free dental clinics we offer and a bus system that costs riders nothing. Yet, we ignore the fact that it is harder for a single mother to own a home in Chapel Hill than anywhere in North Carolina, and probably the entire southeast.
We boast about pushing big box retailers to contiguous counties. But no one measures how many middle class residents we have pushed out of the county with the excessive cost of water and property taxes.
So rest assured that no matter which presidential candidate you voted for on Nov. 6, by re-electing most of your local officials, you cast a ballot to crush the middle class. Michael Jacobs is Professor of the Practice of Finance at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Graduate School of Business and a former senior policy official at the U.S. Treasury Department where he was director of corporate finance and corporate governance policy.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published, broadcast or redistributed in any manner.