Worstall’s Fallacy in the wild

America’s homeless population has risen this year for the first time since the Great Recession, propelled by the housing crisis afflicting the west coast, according to a new federal study.

The study has found that 553,742 people were homeless on a single night this year, a 0.7% increase over last year.

No, really, no.

The bottom 10% of the US does about as well as the bottom 10% of certain generous European welfare states. The bottom 5% does rather worse (20 to 30% perhaps). Yes ,this is a reflection of that US welfare state, for that’s going to be a major determinant of the living standards of those at the bottom. And as it happens single able bodied people get very little help indeed. Well, you know, their gaff, their rules. They do very much better in pulling up children above their own rather different idea of a poverty line. Shrug.


The government mandates that cities and regions perform a homeless street count every two years, when volunteers fan out everywhere from frozen parks in Anchorage to palm-lined streets in Beverly Hills and enumerate people by hand. Those numbers are combined with the total staying in shelters and temporary housing.

What this is is a measure of those who would be without shelter if it were not for what that welfare state does to reduce the number of people without shelter. Which is Worstall’s Fallacy of course. In deciding what we should be doing we must look at the effects of what we’re already doing – so that we can decide if we should be doing more, doing something different. What we should not be doing is measuring the original size of the problem then deciding that more must be done – without evaluating the effects of what we already do.

As it happens I think the US could and should be doing rather more. Like, abolish very large parts of the zoning laws so that it’s possible to build cheap housing. But that’s still different from the facts about these numbers being presented.

9 thoughts on “Worstall’s Fallacy in the wild”

  1. It would probably help if instead of throwing unemployed divorced fathers in jail they acknowledged that if Section 8 housing is the right answer for those with breasts, it might also be the right answer for those with testicles.

    However, given the insidious relationship between the state and their private prisons contractors I suspect that nothing will change.

  2. If the bottom 5% does worse in the US but the bottom 10% is no worse off, does that mean the second from bottom 5% does better than the equivalent Eurocohort?

  3. “US could and should … abolish very large parts of the zoning laws”: I doubt if they are the responsibility of the US. Presumably they are a matter for individual states, counties, cities, and what have you.

    Not that the Constitution much matters these days.

  4. True, dearieme. Zoning laws are local – town, city, or county – not state.

    And they are a good thing. Real property taxes are the main source of money for these jurisdictions. So they have a real stake in property values. Zoning lets them control who builds what where. This is also important because of their infrastructure responsibilities.

    Zoning laws are actually pretty elaborate.

    ‘Like, abolish very large parts of the zoning laws so that it’s possible to build cheap housing.’

    Would result in all housing being cheap.

  5. Bloke in Costa Rica

    The number of ‘homeless’ people in the US has very little to do with which party is currently in control of the White House, but the reporting surrounding it certainly does.

  6. Indeed, BiCR. Rush has reported frequently that “homelessness” goes up in Democrat administrations. Reporting goes up in Repulican ones.

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