Sound Off

27 Jul

This weekend my parents came to Boston and we sailed to the charted island of Nantucket. Formerly the whaling center of the New World, Nantucket has since become a harbor for tourists, wealthy elites, and college students looking to make relatively substantial piles of money doing relatively tedious jobs (e.g. being taxi drivers or waitresses). Here are a few trends and observations associated with life in Nantucket:

1)      A noteworthy proportion of the cab drivers are eastern European in nationality. Of the dozen or so cab rides from the three taxi services on the island, only once was our driver American (and he was the owner of one of the taxi companies!). He remarked that two of his drivers were from Bulgaria, one was from Macedonia, and I can’t remember the nationality of the final one. As far as I can recall all of the remaining drivers (and a number of the tourist guides) were from Eastern Europe. Full disclosure: One of our other drivers was from South Africa.

2)      There are few police. This was not surprising given that they are on a 14 x 3.5 mile island, but there was still an enforcement mechanism that was in place. They are “Community Service Officers.” Community Service Officers wear brown uniforms and black hats with their title embroidered on them to give a certain “authority” look. They, however, cannot arrest people. Apparently, they can stop people from breaking the law (by, say, driving drunk on a moped – a frequent occurrence) but they must wait for back up by an official police officer to make an arrest.

3)      There were no homeless people in sight. Again, it is an island. According to our cab driver, though, there are many rich, drug addicts. Also, there are thieves that try to break into homes during the winter when everyone leaves. The police try to hide both of these groups from locals but do a poor job of it. This leads me to suspect that there are some homeless people somewhere on the island.

4)      Everyone hates Cape Wind. Cape Wind is a massive offshore wind turbine project that is supposed to go in the Nantucket Sound. It is environmentally inefficient and the electricity is twice as expensive as the electricity from fossil fuels. However, Nantucket local don’t like it mainly because it obstructs their view and supposedly will destroy property values.

5)      The homes look nearly identical. The Nantucket government has strict regulations on the color, size, and shape of the houses built there. All houses must have grey, square shingles (which are supposed to be highly resistant to weather) and the trim must be white.

These observations lead me to a few questions:

A)     Given the expensive housing and living standards, how much are the police paid and where do they live? Are there any losses to wages for living in such a nice place?

B)      If it has relatively low crime rates, property values are high, and the area is beautiful, why haven’t we heard more calls from Keynesians to make most of the United States a series of islands? It would create jobs and command a lot of government spending.

C)      Similarly, why don’t we mandate that all coastal housing have the same shingle quality (perhaps we could let people choose the color)? It would make buildings safer and give a certain quaintness to the coastal cities.

D)     Most cost-benefit calculations of Cape Wind have ignored property values as a cost. Nearly all of the people of Nantucket would have to pay for the lower value of the homes. Is this a form of a tax? If we take this kind of cost into account, do government welfare programs appear more progressive or regressive than before?

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One Response to “Sound Off”

  1. Leaking Roofs Westchester July 27, 2010 at 3:11 pm #

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