Wisdom on housing and land from across The Pond


It's a sad commentary on contemporary British politics that it would be almost impossible to even imagine an even vaguely lefty economic adviser making the following statement:

In today’s remarks, I will focus on how excessive or unnecessary land use or zoning regulations have consequences that go beyond the housing market to impede mobility and thus contribute to rising inequality and declining productivity growth.

While land use regulations sometimes serve reasonable and legitimate purposes, they can also give extranormal returns to entrenched interests at the expense of everyone else. As such, land use regulations are an example of a broader range of situations that may give rise to economic rents. By this I do not mean the check you write to your landlord every month, but a situation in which any factor of production—in this case, land—is paid more than is needed to put it in production.


I want to be clear from the outset, some land use regulations can be beneficial to communities and the overall economy. There can be compelling environmental reasons in some localities to limit high-density or multi-use development. Similarly, health and safety concerns—such as an area’s air traffic patterns, viability of its water supply, or its geologic stability—may merit height and lot size restrictions. But in other cases, zoning regulations and other local barriers to housing development allow a small number of individuals to capture the economic benefits of living in a community, thus limiting diversity and mobility. The artificial upward pressure that zoning places on house prices—primarily by functioning as a supply constraint—also may undermine the market forces that would otherwise determine how much housing to build, where to build, and what type to build, leading to a mismatch between the types of housing that households want, what they can afford, and what is available to buy or rent.

The tradeoffs inherent in land use regulations are well known and have been of concern to policymakers and academics for decades, since at least 1961, when Jane Jacobs wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities. In it, she argued that limits on density and mixed-use development, as well as an imbalance between preservation and new construction, can reduce housing affordability, socioeconomic diversity, and economic activity.

That's all from Jason Furman, currently chair of the Council of Economic Advisers to that well known right winger, President Obama. If only any single one of Jeremy Corbyn's advisers, heck, if just one of two of those somewhat to the left of us were this clear on the cause of our basic housing problems then we'd be able to solve them by next Tuesday afternoon.

We simply place too many restrictions on who may build what, where. To solve the problem we thus have to remove some to all of those restrictions. And that really is it.