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Kristof in the Dark

Nicholas Kristof has one of the most prestigious perches in American journalism: a regular, twice-a-week column on the op-ed page of the New York Times. Yet on Wednesday he wrote a piece that, had it been turned in to a freshman expository writing class (if such things exist anymore), it would have deserved to have been flunked cold. It would appear to have been written off the top of his head, without any fact checking that I can discern. He just dipped deeply into his prejudices and hit the keyboard.

The column is about the perceived growing gap between the rich and the rest of us, this time manifested in the fact that an increasing number of  the prosperous have stand-by generators installed at their homes in case the power fails. Given the fact that I lost power for four days in August 2011 (Hurricane Irene), six days in October 2011 (the freak 10-inch snow fall), two days in July 2012 (a bad thunderstorm) and for nine days in October-November 2012 (Hurricane Sandy), a stand-by generator sounds like a damn good idea to me. (For Hurricane Sandy, I decamped from my cold, dark, waterless house to stay at the house of friends who were traveling and have a generator).

Kristof attributes the spread of auxiliary generators to … tax cuts for the rich! He writes:

That’s how things often work in America. Half-a-century of tax cuts focused on the wealthiest Americans leave us with third-rate public services, leading the wealthy to develop inefficient private workarounds.

Has Mr. Kristof never heard of an electric bill? Public utilities such as electricity are not paid for through taxes.  The problem is not lower taxes on the rich, but the fact that burying the wires would be prohibitively expensive  in many suburban areas. In my town (admittedly borderline exurbia) there are 66 miles of roads and about 2,500 houses. According to Popular Mechanics it would cost on average $724,000 per mile to bury the lines. That comes to $47,784,000 in my small town, or $19,113.60 per household. Increase everyone’s electric bill by $100 a month (more than doubling the average bill) and it would take 15 years to pay for the buried wires (ignoring interest costs, which would be very considerable). That’s just not going to happen.

So the rich, increasingly, are installing big, propane-fueled generators to power their whole spread, while the less rich buy generators at Sears that run on gasoline. You can get one for the less-than-princely sum of $500 that will power the necessities, such as lights, water pump, and refrigerator. That’s $500, Mr. Kristof, not $19,000 dollars.

Kristof goes on to give us the usual garbage about the rich not paying their fair share and climate change, etc. Any clever 10-year-old could design software that would produce liberal boilerplate of equal quality. And he would be happy to be paid a lot less than Mr. Kristof gets per column.



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