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Weekend Reading

I haven't done this for a few weeks, but here is some SLOG content to read this weekend...

Economists call the forces that drive people to live in cities "agglomeration." There are a number of types -- reduced shipping costs, the specialization and insurance benefits of market depth (labor, social, etc) and information spillovers, or learning from proximate others. The last of these may be the most important, and can be described in the aggregate, but is the hardest to pin down. Exactly what mechanisms allow people to learn from others and thus become more productive. This paper does just that. It uses prohibition as an instrument, showing that places forced to shut down saloons, saw a decline in patenting. People who hung out in saloons suddenly stopped, and the flow of new inventions slowed, because they stopped learning and working collaboratively. Such a cool paper!

This Niskanen Center report argues that reforming the supply side of the economy should play a far larger role in our economic policy, but that this does not mean tax cuts, but instead changes to regulations largely made by state and local governments. Conservatives focus too much on the cost of federal programs, but not much on how to make those programs more efficient (which would allow more cuts, if that's what they wanted). Improving the efficiency of things like the houisng or healthcare market would have a far bigger supply side effect than changing marginal tax rates. Progressives usually offer demand-side subsidies -- health benefits, housing vouchers, cash benefits -- without acknowledging that if supply is limited, these subsidies will simply result in price appreciation, not greater availability. Ezra Klein has called this "supply side liberalism," but although it effects the federal budget, the types of reforms it suggests are mostly state and local reforms -- land use, medical and other types of occupational licensing, regulations of child care. I've written about these issues myself, but this report does a really nice job of linking the supply side questions to our national budget debates and to debates in economics about Baumol's "cost disease."

This paper by current Bigelow Fellow Michael Morse is a remarkable act of empirical and narrative scholarship. I'll let the abstract do the talking -- this paper is dope.

This Article offers an empirical account of felon disenfranchisement and legal financial obligations in the era of mass incarceration. It focuses on a 2018 ballot initiative, known as Amendment 4, which sought to end lifetime disenfranchisement in Florida. At the time, the Republican controlled state accounted for more than a quarter of the six million citizens disenfranchised across the United States. Marshaling hundreds of public information requests, the Article analyzes the petitions collected to qualify the initiative for the ballot, the ballots cast for its remarkable bipartisan victory, the voter registration records of people whose voting rights were restored, and the outstanding fines and fees that still prevent most people with felony convictions from voting. Part I offers a history of the campaign and the tradeoffs it made to win Republican support, including its decisions to deemphasize race and limit the scope of reform. Part II validates the campaign’s effort to depoliticize disenfranchisement by demonstrating the limited partisan consequences of restoring the right to vote to people with felony convictions. Finally, Part III shows how unpaid fines and fees undermined the campaign’s attempt to dismantle disenfranchisement. Despite Amendment 4, Florida continues to disenfranchise more citizens than any other state.

This article takes off from the fact that, when the State Department released a list of cities it deemed suitable for Afghan refugees, it did not list any from California (with a limited exception for Sacramento). California's vaunted liberalism -- all those signs saying "all are welcome here" -- didn't make California actually hospitable for migrants. Why? Housing costs. Whatever other political beliefs Californians say they have, their long-term commitment to stopping housing growth means migrants can't come.

"California, which has the highest share of foreign-born immigrants in the U.S., at 27 percent, is regressing from a golden land of opportunity for immigrants to a quasi-feudal society, where housing stability is a luxury available only to property heirs and the wealthy. The state’s median home price is now $800,000. Those Refugees Welcome signs you see on the lawns of homes in California's famously “progressive” cities, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco? Only the wealthiest people can afford to live in many, if not most, of those neighborhoods, thanks to the lack of affordable and available rental housing. The refugee signs sometimes sit next to Black Lives Matter signs, in neighborhoods with no Black people. That’s also by design."

California's pro-housing growth reforms, they argue, are the only way to make its other liberal commitments achievable. See also Michael Manville, Why California liberals turn into raging conservatives over housing, SF Chronicle and Noah Smith, The Left’s NIMBY War Against Renewable Energy, Washington Post. The issue in Smith's piece -- land use battles over renewable energy installations, and arguments by those in favor of community control or local environmental issues, is going to be a major issue going forward as we seek to build out a green energy system.


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