Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cato Institute: Urban Planners to blame for housing crisis

There's a .pdf of the full position paper at the bottom of the abstract. I haven't read it yet, but since we're talking the Cato Institute I'm guessing it's only a scanned excerpt from a staffer's copy of "Atlas Shrugged" with maybe some doodles of Ron Paul naked in the margins.

You can't gold-standardize shit like this



Robby Boyer said...

Prof Chakraborty and I are working on a paper on a very similar topic. We actually just read this paper. If you've never read anything by Randall O'Toole, you should. He's the libertarian equivalent of James Howard Kunstler-a fierce new urbanism and planning advocate. O'Toole is great at spinning an argument to make planners look like fools. Be very careful when you read this. Here is how O'Toole works in this article and others: he'll frame an argument by stating what planners are trying to accomplish by using a broadly defined tool (ie "growth management"). Then he'll highlight all the cases that failed or explain why planners have caused everything bad in the world. He's very good at it and he'll make you feel bad. Don't worry, though.

Here's where he's wrong. There's a big different between growth management and growth controls, for one. He even mentions this, but fails to carry the distinction throughout the article. Many cities in California, for example, have passed popular referenda that install absolute housing caps. This is usually done AGAINST the (better) judgement of planners, who often propose more carefully managed growth plans that accomodate steady growth and involve a variety of techniques including infill development, higher density housing, transit-oriented development, adequate public facilities, etc.

His general argument- land use regulations increase the elasticity of housing supply- is nothing new. This is probably true. Growth management has been around to some extent since the early twentieth century and it's no coincidence that it is being used in rapidly growing places. If you've ever tried to drive through Atlanta (or if you've tried to navigate Atlanta without a car) you've experienced first had the COSTS of rapid growth without growth management. This also hasn't changed the fact that Georgia has experienced foreclosures at a rate higher than most other states.

I would argue that many land use regulations need serious revision. High minimum lot size, for example, has been shown to increase housing prices (all other things equal) and it also results in sprawl. Zoning practices across the USA reinforce sprawl and large mono-cultural landscapes of single family homes...However, this doesn't show that all growth management is a bad thing. O'Toole has some more work to do if he wants to prove it to me.

But in the end, I'm glad O'Toole is around. He keeps us planners on our feet.

Stephen said...

Robby, you're much more diplomatic than me.

My response is something along the lines of "he's an Objectivist ideologue-sophist who calls himself an economist even though he misapplies 18th century macroeconomic theory to the problems of the 21st century global financial network, and he wrote an article about the housing collapse that doesn't include the words 'collateralized' or 'leveraging' or 'banks offering loans at the waiting room of a methadone clinic' yet expects to be taken seriously, and that the school who gave him a master's degree in econ (i.e., University of Oregon) should be unaccredited, and on top of all this the dude looks like Colonel Sanders."

I'm pissed he's around because idiocy like this is being touted by right-wing policy makers (since O'Toole is an "expert" after all, kudos to Oregon) as reasoned discourse. People from this point of view love the invisible hand until it ends up fisting them. at which point they grasp rhetorical straws while trying to argue themselves out of their own Randian assholes. So then what you get is this guy, with what I presume is a straight face, argues that housing prices were inflated by a shortage of supply. Really! He does this! I'm using exclamation points I'm so fucking surprised! Maybe he's being ironic? That'd at least explain the Colonel Sanders look.

Robby Boyer said...


myles said...

Thanks for the content Robby. My first inclination is also ad hominum ranting. It's hard not to take the attack personally because it is about our personal values.

jane said...

I mean, the other thing he doesn't talk about at all are the other objectives of growth management. He basically implies that in Nevada the federal government wussed out when they started restrict the growth on federal desert land and ended up curbing the growth in Las Vegas. Heavens to betsy! A government that is trying to balance values besides the free market? Well I never.

Growth management driving up housing prices--you're right, Robby--is nothing new and O'Toole might be right in noting that it is one part of the picture. But the bottom line is that it's just ONE part...!

I don't mind libertarians--normally they have some pretty good arguments--but this isn't one of them.