Forbes is back on the case of how the aggregation of local land use regulations can distort metropolitan land markets, creating barriers to entry in agglomeration economies, and possibly even slowing economic growth by depriving such economies of desperately needed new blood. This closely follows some of the insights that Ryan Avent hit on, last year, in The Gated City.
To the list of grievances against overzoning, I would add the appalling inequity of making entire metropolitan regions effectively off-limits to the middle and working classes, to the young, and to those who have children– including so many of those regions’ own long-time residents. Government and academic research have almost completely dodged the question about what has driven the massive, native-born out-migration from places like California and the Northeast– and whether this migration has been truly voluntary. To hear the press coverage, millions of stupid people have eagerly given up their proximity to friends, family, and relatively stronger economies in order to snap up cheap, new houses in Godforsaken places. I’m cynical, but not that cynical.
The truth is that housing costs have been forcing people out, and it is apparent that the labor forces in those cities that have been abandoned by the US-born working class have been steadily replaced by migrant workers who see being crowded and overworked in an American city as an improvement. On a long-term basis, this is not a sustainable arrangement. But the ultimate challenge is in overcoming the myopic politics of municipal government, writ large, that resists even the most modest changes to existing land use patterns. I really appreciate that Forbes is keeping up on this story. I feel like this is a drum that needs to be beaten until the harm of overzoning becomes clichéed.
Back in the 1970s, in a harbinger of what has come, the New Jersey Court addressed the issue of what was then called exclusionary zoning in its first Mount Laurel decision. In 1983, Justice Pashman described the specific land use devices that were resulting in the wholesale exclusion of market uses in his concurrence to the second Mount Laurel decision. In those days, only the housing markets for poor and working-class people had been strangled. By the 90s and 2000s, the suburban middle class was starting to get screwed. Today, Silicon Valley and Forbes are complaining. Maybe now it becomes an issue.