The Wisconsin Recall Election, And What It Means For Ohio

Wisconsin’s big recall election showdown is over.  Democrats won two of the six elections to recall Republicans, leaving the Democrats one short of the number necessary to get a majority in the Wisconsin Senate.

Each side is spinning the results.  Republicans boast that they survived, despite an onslaught of union money, ads, and get-out-the-vote work.  Democrats tout what they say is an historic result in recalling two Senators.  In short, both sides think the election sent an unmistakable message to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the rest of the Wisconsin political establishment — they just disagree on what that message was.

Ohio is the next battleground.  In November, Ohioans will vote on Issue 2, which would overturn a law limiting public employee collective bargaining.  What do the Wisconsin results mean for that Ohio referendum?  I’m not sure they mean much of anything.  Wisconsin’s recall election necessarily raised questions about the individual candidates — one of the defeated Republicans, for example, had an affair that apparently hurt his chances — whereas Ohio’s Issue 2 will present a straight, up-or-down vote on the concept of limiting public employee collective bargaining.

Ohio polls seem to indicate that a majority favors repeal of the law.  Wisconsin’s relevance in Ohio, if any, may turn on the actual results of the Wisconsin collective bargaining law that gave rise to the recall elections in the first place.  If the results produce meaningful savings for local governments and school districts, as some argue is the case, that fact may resonate with Ohio voters who are worried about government spending and cause them to look more favorably on the idea of keeping the Ohio law on the books.

Your Landlord, Uncle Sam

Here’s a discouraging follow-up to a post about Fannie Mae’s enormous roster of foreclosed homes that require millions of dollars in upkeep: our government now owns so many homes it is thinking of getting into the rental business.

According to AP, the government owns 248,000 homes, about 70,000 of which are for sale.  What’s more, officials are expecting even more homes to fall into that category as foreclosures pick up after a brief lull.  So, what to do with so many government-owned houses?  One option is to turn them into rental units.  The acting head of the agency that oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac says changing the homes into rentals may reduce “credit losses and help stabilize neighborhoods and home values,”  because sales of foreclosed homes are, on average, at a 20 percent discount, thereby depressing the prices of surrounding homes.

I think turning foreclosed homes into rental properties would be a ludicrous mistake.  It’s bad enough that the federal government lost its shirt in the mortgage guarantee business and owns hundreds of thousands of unwanted properties — now we are going to hire countless people to try to rent and manage the properties and collect rent checks and security deposits?  And while the below-market sale of a foreclosed home isn’t great for a neighborhood, often living next to a rental home is worse because the renters could care less about upkeep on the property.  Speaking as someone who once lived next to a rental home, I think it is far better to sell the property to someone who will live there and take care of it, even if the sale is at a discount.

Renting just defers the problem.  I’d rather the federal government do whatever it takes to sell its inventory of homes, get out of the home ownership and upkeep business once and for all, and get back to focusing on doing what federal governments are supposed to do — like, say, providing for our national defense.

British Breakdown

It has been an evil week in England.  Across that country, there has been an outbreak of lawlessness that has overwhelmed police and firefighting forces and left law-abiding Britons frustrated and furious.

The problems began on Saturday, when what started as a peaceful protest of a police shooting in a London neighborhood suddenly turned violent.  The violence quickly spread to other London neighborhoods, and for three nights England’s capital city was the scene of arson, vandalism, and rampant crime as gangs roamed the city, burning cars and storefronts, looting businesses, and terrorizing citizens.  Police struggled to decide how much force to use to deal with the problem, while politicians at all levels were harshly criticized for failing to take action.  Last night, there was a massive show of police force in London that quelled the violence in that city, but the rioting and disorder spread to other British cities and towns, where hundreds of arrests were made.  (And don’t look now, but some American cities, like Philadelphia, are experiencing similar problems, on a much smaller scale, with teenager “flash mob” violence.)

Sociologists and criminologists will debate what has caused the rampages — is it boredom due to lack of jobs, or a reflection of general dissociation from mainstream society, or something so simple as a desire to get new athletic shoes and flat-screen TVs for free? — but the real tipping point would come if average citizens conclude that their government can’t protect them, their businesses, and their possessions, and therefore they need to protect themselves.  If that happens, a short-term outbreak of lawlessness becomes a long-term societal change with profound, and entirely negative, economic and political implications.