Good Things can be bad for you

The Covington News - - Opinion - THOMAS SOW­ELL COLUM­NIST Thomas Sow­ell is a se­nior fel­low at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion, Stan­ford Univer­sity, Stan­ford, CA 94305. His web­site is www.tsow­ell. com.

Life has many good things. The prob­lem is that most of these good things can be got­ten only by sac­ri­fic­ing other good things. We rec­og­nize this in our daily lives. It is only in pol­i­tics that this com­mon sense fact is rou­tinely ig­nored.

In pol­i­tics, there are not sim­ply good things but some spe­cial Good Things with a cap­i­tal G and cap­i­tal T which are al­ways bet­ter to have more of.

Many things ad­vo­cated by en­vi­ron­men­tal ex­trem­ists, for ex­am­ple, are things that most of us might think of as good. But, in pol­i­tics, they be­come Good Things whose reper­cus­sions and costs are brushed aside as un­wor­thy con­sid­er­a­tions.

No­body wants to breathe dirty air or drink dirty wa­ter. But, if ei­ther be­comes 98 per­cent pure, 99 per­cent pure or 99.9 per­cent pure, there is some point be­yond which the costs sky­rocket and the ben­e­fits be­come mea­ger or non-ex­is­tent.

If the slight­est trace of an im­pu­rity were fa­tal, the hu­man race would have be­come ex­tinct long ago.

Not only does the body have de­fenses to neu­tral­ize small amounts of some im­pu­ri­ties, some things that are dan­ger­ous, or even fa­tal, in sub­stan­tial amounts can be­come harm­less or even ben­e­fi­cial in ex­tremely minute amounts, ar­senic be­ing one ex­am­ple. As an old adage put it: "It is the dose that makes the poi­son."

In other words, re­mov­ing ar­senic from our drink­ing wa­ter should ob­vi­ously be a pri­or­ity, but not af­ter we have got­ten it down to some minute trace. There is never go­ing to be 100 per­cent clean wa­ter or air and, the closer we get to that, the more costly it is to re­move ex­tremely minute traces of any­thing. But none of this mat­ters to those who see ever higher stan­dards of "clean wa­ter" or "clean air" as a Good Thing.

One of the things that have ru­ined our econ­omy is the no­tion that both Democrats and Repub­li­cans in Wash­ing­ton pushed for years, that a higher rate of home own­er­ship is a Good Thing.

There is no ques­tion that there are ben­e­fits to home own­er­ship. And there should be no ques­tion that there are costs as well.

But costs get lost in the shuf­fle.

Among the things that Wash­ing­ton politi­cians of both par­ties did for years was come up with more and more laws, rules and pres­sures on pri­vate len­ders to lower the qual­i­fi­ca­tions stan­dards re­quired for peo­ple to get a mort­gage to buy a home.

It was a full-court press from Con­gres­sional leg­is­la­tion to reg­u­la­tions and poli­cies cre­ated by the Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment and the Fed­eral Re­serve, not to men­tion the buy­ing of the re­sult­ing risky mort­gages by Fan­nie Mae and Fred­die Mac from the orig­i­nal len­ders — and even threats of pros­e­cu­tion by the Depart­ment of Jus­tice if the racial mix­ture of peo­ple who were ap­proved for mort­gages didn't match their ex­pec­ta­tions.

The me­dia chimed in with ex­pres­sions of out­rage when data showed that black ap­pli­cants for mort­gage loans were turned down more of­ten than white ap­pli­cants. Sel­dom was it even men­tioned that white ap­pli­cants were turned down more of­ten than Asian Amer­i­can ap- pli­cants.

Nor was it men­tioned that white ap­pli­cants av­er­aged higher credit rat­ings than blacks, and Asian Amer­i­can ap­pli­cants av­er­aged higher credit rat­ings than whites, or that black ap­pli­cants were turned down at least as of­ten by black-owned banks as by white-owned banks.

Such dis­tract­ing de­tails would have spoiled the story that racial dis­crim­i­na­tion was the rea­son why some peo­ple did not get the Good Thing of home own­er­ship as of­ten as oth­ers.

Even af­ter the risky mort­gages that were made un­der gov­ern­ment pres­sure led to huge bank­rupt­cies and bailouts, as well as dis­as­ters for home own­ers in gen­eral and black home own­ers in par­tic­u­lar, home own­er­ship re­mains a Good Thing. The Jus­tice Depart­ment is again threat­en­ing len­ders who don't lower their stan­dards to let more mi­nor­ity ap­pli­cants get mort­gage loans.

Too much of a Good Thing is bad.

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