Economics and the mid-life crisis have much in common: Both dwell on foregone opportunities

C'est la vie; c'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre . . . . . . . . . . . . . email: jpalmer at uwo dot ca

. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Tom Sowell, Green Spaces, and Community Choice

I really enjoy about 95% of everything that Tom Sowell writes. He is an articulate spokesman for letting the market decide resource allocation, and he is firmly opposed to most gubmnt interventions in the marketplace.

One area where he is incorrect deals with the preservation of open green space in some counties of California. His most recent attack is on San Mateo County. He constantly [in this piece and many previous ones] rails about how "open space" laws have led to a shortage of developable land and to astronomical housing prices in the San Fransisco area:

Who can afford to live in such a place? Fewer people apparently. The population of the county declined by about 9,000 people over the past four years.

Who's leaving -- and who is coming in? By and large, young adults who have not yet reached their peak earnings years are finding it harder to afford housing in San Mateo County and in other such counties up and down the peninsula from San Francisco to San Jose. So they are leaving.
Schools have had to be closed because there are not enough children. The number of children is declining because people young enough to have school children are increasingly unable to afford the sky-high housing prices in communities that ban the building of housing.

...Among other things, this means that many young adults cannot afford to live near their parents, unless they actually live in their parents' home. This isolates the elderly from their children, which can be a growing problem as the infirmities of age set in and their contemporary friends die off. [h/t to BF for the link]

The positive economics in the column is correct, but I do not agree with the implied normatives. What is so horribly wrong with these effects? People who live in a given area want a given outcome, and so they vote to obtain it. People who do not wish to pay the price to live in San Francisco, surrounded by open spaces have plenty of options elsewhere; they can get different jobs and live in Kansas, for example.

Why should people who now have the benefit of the open spaces be forced by Tom Sowell to give up their open spaces so that more housing can be built in their communities?

What is wrong with letting communities decide for themselves how much open space they want and letting people, over time, vote with their feet?

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