In Which I Turn Into A Neoliberal Shill

Ryan Noonan

Ryan Noonan is an economist with a small federal agency. Fields in which he considers himself reasonably well-informed: literature, college athletics, video games, food and beverage, the Supreme Court. Fields in which he considers himself an expert: none. He can be found on the Twitter or reached by email.

Related Post Roulette

386 Responses

  1. Kimmi says:

    Working mail, like working phones, is a matter of national security. HOWEVER, we can deliver mail to rural areas once a WEEK. To their post office, not to everybody’s door.

    There. Solved problem. Legislate a longer billing time if necessary so that people don’t have to worry about bills arriving later than they need to be paid.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kimmi says:

      Working mail, like working phones, is a matter of national security. HOWEVER, we can deliver mail to rural areas once a WEEK. To their post office, not to everybody’s door.

      I don’t understand how anyone could hold these two opinions simultaneously.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Logistics? One delivers to centralized points, because they are more efficient. One then expects that one’s rural neighbors use the same transportation that they use to go to the market to go to the post office.

        Even the Amish have conveyances that would allow them to get to the local post office in a reasonable amount of time…

        A working telephone/internet service should provide for enough real-time communication. Post office is necessary for larger documents/billing/legal stuff (and maybe elections!)Report

      • Fnord in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        I’m not sure why you couldn’t.

        There are plausible reasons why you might want to be able to deliver mail to everyone in the country (in case you need to call up draftees in the event of war, for example). That doesn’t mean, though, that those reasons require you to do so every week (since can take multiple days to be delivered in any case, and training draftees into soldiers will take months, waiting a few extra days for draftees to receive their notices might not be a problem.Report

      • People own cell phones for emergencies.Report

  2. Jason Kuznicki says:

    The Post Office is going the way of the overland canal. It’s a clearly obsolete technology that’s just waiting around to die. We should put it out of its misery immediately.

    To head off one likely objection, this would not be unconstitutional. Congress is authorized to operate post offices but is not required to do it. Much like issuing letters of marque (or even declaring war), they are allowed to let the power lapse if they so choose.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      because everyone has internet… yeah, right.Report

    • Simon K in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Hey! I want a letter of marque!Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      I don’t think so. You can’t deliver medicine or other physical items through the internet and in rural areas, the Post Office is the only option.

      UPS and FedEx don’t deliver to rural areas and often hand over post offices for delivery.

      I live in San Francisco. Every now and then I order something on-line and have it sent to my office and the company decides to use UPS. UPS for reasons unknown to me decides to hand it over to the Post Office to deliver even though my office is in the height of downtown and not rural America.

      As I understand the main problems for the post-office are that they are required to make huge future payments to their health and pension funds in ways that other organizations are not. If you got rid of these requirements, the Post Office would be healthy.Report

  3. Remo says:

    You should look at why those laws, regulations and incentives were created in the first place. And the reason for that is massive immigration from rural areas to big cities back in the 50s.

    Big cities becoming ever bigger is a problem. In many places there simply isnt enough space to move around all that people with the current ‘amercian way of life’. You need efficient mass transportation systems, yet every american has a car and most of them will not use a subway or bus. You dont have more space to expand the internal roads of cities that were build 200 years ago. Having a lot of cars in a cramped space brings in plenty of health issues based on pollution and stress.

    Then you also have problems on the deserted areas. If no one is living within 100 miles of some area, that area is not going to be used for agriculture. Food is kind of important.

    The opportunity to earn big $ lies withing the big city, that by itself is incentive enough to emmigrate. If you take off all the modern facilities for the ‘Life on the Frontier’ as you call, then you WILL have people emmigrating to cities. You will have a lot of people coming to your big city, people that doesnt have the skills needed to earn the big $ that they want, and that indebted themselves by simply coming. You will end up with a lot of marginalized people with no income and no way to go back to where they came from. Go read up on Brazilian favelas (slums), especially on the state of São Paulo.

    Seriously. Go read up on Favelas on Brazil. You will quickly come to understand why it is a bad idea to just let people emmigrate to the cities and give them no incentive to stay on the rural areas.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to Remo says:

      $10 a gallon gas will fix a lot of people’s problems with the bus/train.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Remo says:

      Then you also have problems on the deserted areas. If no one is living within 100 miles of some area, that area is not going to be used for agriculture. Food is kind of important.

      Good point. Small towns still serve as business centers for agricultural areas. Grain elevators and equipment dealers are kind of a must. And since we need roads for them….

      That’s not to say we may not have more roads than we need, but rural roads are a critical part of the infrastructure that keeps urban folks fed.Report

      • North in reply to James Hanley says:

        Well yeah James and the way the politics in any given state in the union are set up there’s really no danger of viable agricultural towns or their supporting road infrastructure shrivelling away.Report

    • North in reply to Remo says:

      Remo I must disagree with you on pretty much all of this.

      Big cities becoming even bigger are not necessarily a problem. Environmentally it’s an unabashed win. Urban living has far less of an impact on the environment that rural living does in pretty much every measurable way. We’re learning more and more every day about improving urban design. Sure some large cities, New York and Los Angeles, suffer from geographic pressures but the true plagues that prevent their being able to grow to accommodate more people is relatively banal scourges such as restrictive zoning and the plague of rent control (short of aerial bombing there’re few better ways to devastate a city than rent control).

      Your assertion that all Americans have cars and refuse to give them up is also incorrect. One of the current phenomena happening right now is that entire generations of young Americans are turning away from cars en masse. It certainly has the car manufacturers worried. With increased urbanization the pressures to institute practical mass transit grow and those mass transits can be instituted. Even if you don’t install subways or trains; busses, bike rental kiosks or simply less constrained taxi services can take up much of the slack. Additionally the internet has allowed services like car sharing which allow urban dwellers to use a car when they need one and be rid of it otherwise.

      The problems of deserted areas are, to put it gently, bunk. If formerly low productive farm land is allowed to convert back to wilderness I have only one reaction: Great! Concerns of food supply are, again, bunk. If the cost of food rises then farm land simply won’t be abandoned. There’s no short supply of people who want to make a living in a farm on the countryside. If food prices go up it simply makes it easier on them. Note also that we can import food to our big cities from abroad; it’d be helpful to less developed nations if we paid them to grow food instead of, say cocaine*.

      Brazilian slums are prime examples of what happens when supplies of private housing is constrained usually by moneyed private and elite interests in conjunction with government regulation. Fortunately the US isn’t generally so scholeric in real estate regulation that favelas can develop here**.

      No, I just don’t see any reason to view urbanization with anything but satisfaction. The countryside is not in danger of disappearing; it’s just reshaping and that’s to our societal and ecological benefit.

      *Note I oppose the screaming insanity of the drug war.
      ** Note also that favelas were initially caused by large masses of soldiers being discharged without jobs or housing prospects. This simply is not typical of the US army. We’re no shining beacon but we don’t treat out veterans that poorly en masse (why would anyone sign up if we did?).Report

      • Liberty60 in reply to North says:

        “Brazilian slums are prime examples of what happens when supplies of private housing is constrained usually by moneyed private and elite interests in conjunction with government regulation. ”

        What? The monied elite operating in conjunction with the government?

        Certainly no danger of that happening here!Report

        • North in reply to Liberty60 says:

          So far there’s been no danger of that. It requires some really impressive levels of corruption coupled with poverty to create a favelas style slum Liberty. I certainly am not sanguine about poverty but this country simply doesn’t operate at the level of poverty and population necessary to create a favelas.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to North says:

            We also don’t make it impossible to gain legal title to property. That’s one of the problems in third-world slums–people will occupy the land because they need a place to live, but there’s reluctance to invest much in building decent housing if you can’t be assured of title to it.Report

          • Liberty60 in reply to North says:

            This must win some award for damning by faint praise: “Well, we aren’t as corrupt as Brazil!”

            We know from historical record that land use decisions are routinely made by a collusion of the monied elite- to their credit, libertarians speak the loudest about things like Kelo and whatnot.

            Poverty is rising;
            The influence of the monied elite is skyrocketing;
            Handing the police power of the state over to private interests is the primary strategy of governors from Florida to Michigan.

            What stands between us and American Favela?Report

            • North in reply to Liberty60 says:

              Poverty is rising in relative terms, agreed. We’ve had a historic recession.

              That said I still doubt we’re in danger of American Favela’s. To have them we’d need for:
              -The monied elite to seize control of the government to a very remarkable degree.
              -The majority of privately held land to somehow come to be concentrated in the hands of the monied elite.
              -The current system of title and land ownership to essentially be stolen.
              -The military to be switched to a draft system.
              -A significant war.
              -A large discharge of impoverished soldiers into cities with heavily restricted housing with no ability to earn or buy land for their own homes.

              Considering the reactions of Americans to even decreased rates of quality of life increases I find this scenario… unlikely.Report

            • Mark Reardon in reply to Liberty60 says:

              Q “Seriously-
              What stands between us and American Favela?”
              A The Second AmendmentReport

      • Kazzy in reply to North says:

        Can you elaborate on the devastation caused by rent control?Report

        • North in reply to Kazzy says:

          Yes I will but I’m gonna put a little time into it. Last time I responded to you I accidentally ended up making one of my most commented upon guest posts to the League ever. So this time I’m gonna make sure it’s proof read. Stand by.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to North says:

            Can I pre-emptively +1 it?Report

          • Kazzy in reply to North says:

            Thanks! I’m happy to be your muse any time! As a friend of many Manhattan renters, they generally sing the praises of rent control. But they tend to be the ones in rent-controlled apartments that have generally been handed down, often illicitly. I look forward to a more comprehensive and nuanced perspective.Report

        • North in reply to Kazzy says:

          Okay Rent Control Kazzy. Obviously you know what it’s about but for the edification of anyone else rent control boils to some level of government imposing a price ceiling on rental housing under its jurisdiction. Right now we have two categories of rent control: strong rent control where the price ceiling remains even if the tenant departs (strong rent control generally is the kind that can be inherited and passed down); and soft rent control where the price ceiling is allowed to adjust by a preordained amount, usually when a tenant departs and another moves in but occasionally this is permitted when one lease expires and a new one is signed. For the purposes of my little post we can consider both of these rent controls the same as pretty much all the criticisms that apply to strong rent control also apply to soft control just to a milder degree (soft rent control really just amounts to trying to apply lipstick to a pig of a policy to keep it popular).

          Keep in mind that I come at rent control from a (running dog) neoliberal perspective so I’m not going to talk too much about libertarian moral arguments involving people having a right to freedom of contract and sovereignty over their property etc… Just keep in mind that beyond my pragmatic complains there’s a whole constellation of libertarian moral objections to rent control as well.

          My primary and most fundamental objection to rent control is that it generally has failed to achieve the majority of the goals that it set out to solve and in the rare cases where rent control met its goal that goal was itself a bad (or at least non-positive) objective. I’m just going to structure this by stating intended goals of rent control and assessing its actual impact.

          A major asserted goal of rent control was to provide affordable low cost housing to the city’s more vulnerable lower classes. By restricting the ability of landlords to rents the price of the housing supply would be kept low. This of course has been an utter failure. The relentless law of supply and demand can’t be suspended by regulations this easily; since price has been frozen the remaining two variables (supply and demand) simply have adjusted to accommodate. What this looks like in the real world is that it’s very hard to find affordable rental housing in the rent controlled markets. If the price is clamped down then land lords have no incentive to construct new housing; who would want to when the return on the investment is so poor? As a result the supply of affordable housing has plummeted. In a non rent controlled market you can typically buy yourself a place to live if you have the money. In a rent controlled market on the other hand you pretty much can only get a place to live if you have a connection with someone who knows someone. So instead of providing an abundance of low cost housing rent control has caused a housing drought and people get houses by playing a game of cronyism and connecting hunting that makes the gritty business of negotiating rent from a landlord look downright wholesome in comparison.

          Rent control was also supposed to move renters closer to home owners in terms of their confidence in their home. A renter in a rent controlled apartment could make improvements to their unit and invest so called “sweat equity” without worrying that their landlord would evict them and seize the benefit or try and capture the improvement through raised rents. Here again rent control has been an utter failure. As the demand for housing has increased and as inflation and the natural increasing of the wealth of society occurred the frozen rents of rent controlled units went from strict to downright destructive. The maximum rents the building owners could collect were flat out unprofitable so, like any business owner, landlords simply stopped putting money into the buildings. Instead of communities of rent controlled buildings having tenants happily upgrading their units instead you have grim crumbling decades old buildings where tenants engage in a running war with building owners to force them to make minimum required maintenance. Rent controlled buildings are dated, dilapidated and run down. This also stresses the government’s building inspection department because tenants turn to government mandates to force improvements to their buildings.

          Another goal of rent control was to lend stability to the tenants. In this area it’s succeeded to their detriment. We have long since discovered that in a modern economy the ability to move around is a useful one but tenants in rent controlled apartments remain trapped clinging to their low rent residences even if it’d be helpful for them to be able to move. What this achievement of rent control has done is freeze the renters into the same destructive stasis as the building owners.

          In looking at rent control in, say, New York, what we see is that it has been devastatingly harmful to the very classes of people it was meant to help. Try landing yourself a modestly priced studio in downtown. You won’t find them unless you know someone. Instead of making an abundance of affordable housing for poor people it created no housing for poor people. Meanwhile the rich buy condos or they buy influence to get themselves a beautiful antique apartment in downtown Manhattan for fifty bucks a month.

          Rent control degrades regard for the law. How many of the people living in rent controlled units actually are adhering to the spirit of the laws creators? I submit not many. Most have long since divided up and sublet their units for obscene amounts of money or maintain it as a pleasant second home in the city to commute to from their larger homes on the periphery. In some cases renters simply stopped paying rent; why bother? Is cost so much to try and evict them the landlords didn’t even bother. Rent control also has transformed (especially in New York) into an instrument of profound NIMBYism. The extremely wealthy in New York have long since discovered they can join forces with the naive students and ideological liberal rent control advocates to enforce a form of stasis on the area. Now the wealthy can enjoy unobstructed views from their eight year old brownstones with no fear of new economically efficient high rise residential apartments rising up. As for the students and the poor; they can commute from Newark or sleep in boxes in the alley; perhaps their ideals will keep them warm.

          What rent control undermines is a fundamental classical liberal rule of money: it doesn’t matter who you are, if you have the money you can have the product. We forget at our peril that not very long ago there were places and things that you simply were not allowed to be or simply by virtue of who or what you were. Once upon a time you couldn’t wear certain clothes, ride a horse or carry a sword no matter how much money you had unless you were noble born. Once upon a time you couldn’t live or even walk through some neighborhoods no matter how much money you had unless you came from the proper class. Once upon a time you couldn’t get this service or obtain that good unless you had the right connections or knew someone who had the right connections.

          Rent control is hard to bust because so many people are invested in it where it takes root. The well connected the employee of the rent control board or the idealists in their ivory tower cares strongly about their cheap rent/sweet job/glowing sense of self accomplishment. Those who rent control hurts? Well first it’s hard for them to know how they’re being hurt: they can’t see the modest affordable apartment buildings rent control has caused not to be built. Second who would want to listen to them anyhow? They don’t live in the city, they don’t vote there. They commute in from three hours away. The politicians don’t care because they don’t need to.

          Rent control came about for very understandable reasons (really the same ones that birthed communism) the old classism’s and rich/poor divides (and rampant misbehaviors of the wealthy) produced a backlash and rent control was born from that legacy of abusive cruel generation of landlords. But the world’s changed and rent control has proven to be a mirage that has lingered long after the villains it purported to defeat were long dead. Even the liberals who once championed rent control have become uneasily aware of its failings so they try face saving tinkering. Soft rent control, allowing rents to adjust etc… but this is like trying to strap roller skates onto a person’s stumps after cutting off their legs; better to simply not cut off the legs in the first place. Rent control should be rooted out and repealed wherever it currently smothers cities and above all else it must be resisted anywhere people try and impose it (thankfully as far as I know it’s in mass retreat all across North America).Report

          • James Hanley in reply to North says:

            Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap.

            Fantastically well done, Mr. North. Excellent. For those wanting to delve in further, here’s a classic policy brief on the topic. It gives some more details and some nice data, but in its essence doesn’t say anything more than North has already given us.Report

          • Burt Likko in reply to North says:


            I am well impressed.Report

          • NewDealer in reply to North says:

            Some questions and I am not necessarily saying this in terms of being pro-rent control:

            1. Is there any evidence (not theory, actual evidence) that markets without rent control would produce adequate and affordable housing for the working class/poor?

            Matt Y wrote about San Francisco needing new housing quick a few months ago. This might be true but can anyone provide any evidence that landlords and developers would want to cater to anyone other than the upper-middle professional classes. All of the new housing in the Bay Area seems targeted towards educated types in the tech industry. Maybe there is a lot of demand here but some of the less-educated workers in my office have commutes of three to four hours a day because that is where they can afford to live.

            What kind of housing policies will allow people with modest incomes to have shorter commutes? I know NYC tried to offer lucrative tax abatements to condo developers to create 80/20 buildings (20 percent for modest or law income residents) but the developers found it more profitable to just pay a fine or sum to the NYC Housing Department than actually create subsidized rents for a small portion of the building.

            2. On the mobility issue, I think this is more tricky. A lot of people don’t want to move because they don’t want to move. They are close to their friends, families, and loved ones even if there might be jobs in North Dakota or whereever. Or other reasons. This is where people in life care more than economics. Why should people be forced to uproot themselves from their families?

            Even for those of us who want to move, there are issues. I have strongly considered moving back to NYC. I’ve done some steps towards this like take and pass the NY Bar but I can’t move back without a job but getting a job seems to require being in NYC. This is not a simple trick. Many landlords also want proof of employment like pay stubs. I have a good bit of untouchable savings but the simple fact is that moving back to NYC would require a job first.Report

            • James Hanley in reply to NewDealer says:

              On #1, yes, absolutely. See the Cato policy brief I linked to.

              The dynamic is essentially this: If there is rent-control, there are always certain exceptions, and they’re at the high end of the market, because nobody worries about controlling the rent for the rich. So if you’re a developer, you can’t make money at the low end of the market, you can only make money at the high end of the market. So high-end stuff gets built, low-end stuff doesn’t (except, then, by gov’t, as public housing).

              If there is no rent control, you can make returns even on low-end housing as well as high-end housing. Think of it like the car market–the automakers aren’t all making just luxury autos. There’s money to be made at the Ford Escort/Hyundai Accent end of the market. Restaurants likewise–we don’t just have variations of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, we have Joe’s Pizza Warehouse, too. And think of consumer goods–Wal Mart became the largest firm in the world not by targeting the high end, but the low end. There’s gold in them thar not-so-rich folks, and greedy developers will want to mine it.Report

            • North in reply to NewDealer says:

              ND, I’m happy to answer as best I can bud. First off these are excellent questions, good on you.

              First keep in mind that if I recall correctly San Francisco is a soft rent controlled market so keep that in mind when you’re reading these items.
              Now to the meat of your post I would be inclined to agree with you that you’re not going to find a large number of developers sitting down and saying “Hey I’m gonna build us a mess of low income apartments” but what you will have is have a building owner sit down and say “Hey, that developer built a new apartment building. Very nice and swank. So a lot of people in the previous upscale building moved into it… then a lot of people moved into that building and so on. Now we have an older building and our options are to either renovate or market to price conscious renters”. Think of housing like a sliding scale of tiles. New upscale housing goes on “upscale” side and the existing buildings slide downwards. You’re not going to demolish a building generally until the cost of maintaining it to code is less than what you can rent it for or unless someone’s offering to build a new building on the site.

              What I’m saying is that in a non-rent controlled market the creation of new housing at the upscale end displaces buildings down and that’s where a lot of low income housing comes from. It is usually cheaper to rent to low income tenants than it is to tear down the building and start over.

              When talking about NYC it’s very important to keep in mind that everything that happened there occurred with hard rent control looming on the landscape. Keep in mind also that in the 60’s and 70’s people cut deals with the city to upgrade or build housing and then later administrations reneged and folded the buildings into rent control anyhow. The very presence of a rent control system is poisonous. It’s like leaving your kid out in the yard with the neighbors angry dangerous dog while you run an errand. Sure it’s leashed right now but what about in fifteen minutes when you can’t pick your kid back up? Building a building is a huge inflexible investment; you need to be confident of where you stand when you build it.

              2. Mobility is of course somewhat open to debate but having the option available is a big deal. One thing the mortgage crisis has shown us is how debilitating immobility is when people find themselves in depressed economies with an anchor I mean an underwater house on their ankle. But this is probably pretty much moot in the case of NYC. The social understanding of the time was that rent controlled residents would grow, develop and help their neighborhoods. Instead rent controlled residents turned into a multitude of tiny rapacious landlords just like the building owners rent control was supposed to defeat.Report

              • NewDealer in reply to North says:

                I agree that mobility is important and that the financial/mortgage crisis showed us how bad immobility can be but there is more than being attached to a house that is worth less than paid for with a bad mortgage. I would say that home ownership has more to do with immobility than rent control. Most people I know with rent control in NYC are artist types who got their apartments decades ago. These people are often true bohemians and never going to leave New York.

                However this raises a lot more questions about home ownership than rent control. The idea that home ownership is bad is still very much a contrarian argument. Homeownership for better or for worse is still a corner of the American middle class/way of life. There was also questions about communities that are too residential/not economically diverse and too far from urban centers (hence preferences for urbanism by many policy and planning plates.)

                In the end though, most people are not nomads and want to settle down sooner rather than later. I imagine even in these days of easy traveling, many people do not move far from home or eventually come back.Report

              • North in reply to NewDealer says:

                I understand it, I’d agree the mobility question is probably one of the weaker points in my post but this rent control thing in New York just created another class of privileged undeserving people. If we scorn the wealthy for living off the inherited wealth of their forbears then why wouldn’t we scorn the rent controlled apartment dweller for
                A) smothering the growth of the core one of America’s greatest cities.
                B) doing immeasurable harm to other people looking for homes (especially people at the lower end of the income spectrum) and
                C) making typically a handsome profit off of it by dividing and subletting their rent controlled apartments in a way that spits in the very face of the principles that rent control was established. The authors of rent control didn’t do it to create a new subclass of tyrannical slum lords.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to North says:

            Thanks, North. I had a hunch this was the general route you would take and appreicate the comprehensive analysis. RC is not something I’ve thought too much about, as I never lived in an RC building, not even when I was in Manhattan (it was below market value for other reasons).

            My father, living in a suburb of Manhattan, lives in an RC building (apparently my whole hometown in RC… Who knew?). Rent can only go up X% (Y% if certain utilities are included in the rent, with X > Y). Whenever I explain his situation or here my New Yorker friends living in RC buildings (often in violation of the spirit of the law), there is sort of a wink-and-nod tone. Sometimes, they’ll even remark how ridiculous it is that they pay so little, but, hey, they aren’t going to pass up a good deal.

            FWIW, the few convos I’ve had with folks about RC included the notion that RC was intended to help folks stay in their apartments, so they couldn’t get immediately priced out when a neighborhood gentrifies or whathaveyou. I’ve never heard it argued as explicitly protection for low-income housing. There seems to be a perception at least that RC is less a huge public policy thing and more just a nice thing to do… Dn’t chase old ladies out of their apartments s yuppies can move in. I wonder if that perception impacts its acceptance, both in terms of its goal and how effective it actually is to that end.Report

            • North in reply to Kazzy says:

              I don’t know myself Kazzy, I’ve never had much facetime with RC as a phenomena in my own life. That said it’s entirely plausible that the program has many charismatic arguement and faces on its side. Entrenched interests always do. It’s a classic dichotomy. A strongly motivated and emotional minority supports it against an apathetic majority who both don’t recognize how it harms them and are displaced by it so they don’t have a voice in its survival.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to North says:

                Seemingy by definition, folks know exactly and explicitly how RC helps them but rarely know specificaly how it harms them. Those on the plus side see their low rent payments every month. Those looking for housing rarely know which of a myriad of reasons is making it impossible to find a decent spot. Quite a predicament.Report

              • North in reply to Kazzy says:

                Indeed, considering that it’s impressive how badly rent control has fared. It’s failed to spread and been steadily pushed back in many areas. In those areas where it hasn’t spread it’s been converted from hard rent control to soft rent control. I retain optimism that it’ll continue to retreat.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to North says:

                I wonder if it’s partly an issue of local politicians realizing the effect on property tax receipts? Or more generously, local politicians beginning to realize what the policy does to their city? Massachusetts repealed its rent control laws recently, and my vague impression was that they were motivated by an actual understanding of the problem.Report

              • North in reply to James Hanley says:

                Well yeah, it really does blight dense urban cores especially.Report

          • James K in reply to North says:

            Well said North.Report

          • Fnord in reply to North says:

            In general, “soft” rent control distorts the market less than “hard” rent control, as North notes.

            However, there is an additional distortion associated with soft rent control specifically. Because landlords are able to raise the rent (albeit, often, to a limited degree) when a tenant moves out, but not, generally, as long as they remain, landlords will have an incentive to encourage tenants to move out. In addition to the obvious problem of bad faith evictions and reduced stability for renters in general, this adds to the problem of poor maintenance and minimal improvement North mentioned; not only are landlords unable to capture the value of their improvements in rent, but they actually have an incentive to make their property as unpleasant as possible for long-term tenants.Report

          • damon in reply to North says:


      • James Hanley in reply to North says:

        Great points, North. Two really good reads on the cause of slums in Latin America cities are Hernando de Soto’s The Other Path, which has a great chapter on how the governments refused to make land available for housing and Jame’s Scott’s Seeing Like a State, which has a great chapter on how total top-down urban design pushed people into un-designed areas. (That’s not to rebut Blaise’s point about urban planning in Chicago/NY–some planning, to ensure open space in particular, is good; efforts to a priori plan every boulevard, plaza, and building, not so much.)Report

        • Partnering up with what I said below, there are often a lot of assumptions that “If we do this, people will just have to do this” when it turns out that people can be quite innovative at getting what they want.Report

  4. Ethan Gach says:

    I’m an urbanist as well. I’m also someone who works 8-5, so actually using the Post Office is pretty much impossible.

    It should probably be phased out (rather than swiftly abolished), in order for a steadier transition to private entities, but definite, eventually, completely shut down.

    One thing that I’ve always wondered about: how much of Amazon’s operation benefits from the ungodly cheap media mail rates?Report

    • Ryan Noonan in reply to Ethan Gach says:

      Presumably a lot, I suspect. When my now-wife and I combined our households, I needed to dispense with something like 500 books (I was a bit of a packrat in my single life). Using Amazon as a shell for setting up my operation, the only way to make the whole thing profitable was to use media mail. Which I did, with gusto. And Amazon took their $2-3 for each and every book I sold.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

        $2 – $3 per book? Seriously? That’s a pretty good take, especially considering how cheap some of the used books I’ve bought have been. (But imagine your search costs for finding customers without Amazon, right?)Report

        • Yeah, it depends. Large-scale sellers can pay a flat rate that will cover all Amazon fees (annually, I think). So sellers who have thousands of books can essentially reduce their per-book fee to zero-ish.

          On individual sales, though, there’s a flat rate of around 99 cents, plus some percentage of the final sale (I’m quoting this from memory, so don’t hold me to these exact words). For me, as sort of a medium seller, it was marginal which method was more cost effective.Report

    • Fnord in reply to Ethan Gach says:


      It’s true the UPS store has marginally better hours, based on the one near to me (although 8-6 instead of 9-5 isn’t going to win any prizes for convenience either). But the post offices (the three of them that are closer or about as close to me as the single UPS store) do all have Saturday hours (as does the UPS store).

      And mail drop-off boxes don’t close at night.Report

    • MikeSchilling in reply to Ethan Gach says:

      I’m also someone who works 8-5, so actually using the Post Office is pretty much impossible.

      There are none within walking distance of where you work? When I was working (more or less) 8:30-6, I managed to apply for a passport at the Post Office during my lunch hour, and still have time to grab a sandwich.Report

      • I am one of those unfortunate drones who works at a commerical center located in the suburbian wasteland. I also don’t drive to work (subway-train-bus) so I basically have to leave early or find a place with 8-12 hours on Saturday.Report

  5. James Hanley says:

    I’m with you on a lot of this, but you have something of a one-sided focus on subsidization of rural life. Is there similar subsidization of urban life? It’s a lot cheaper to pave over some farmland for a road than it is to build a subway line. Or consider the cost of Boston’s Big Did. And all public transportation is subsidized–god save the politician who proposes making customers pay the full freight of their bus service.

    I’m not saying urban residents are more subsidized than rural ones, and I agree that there are plenty of subsidies for rural living that I would support eliminating. But I think you’ve put more than just your thumb on the scale. (And how in the hell do food truck wars make rural life more attractive? We don’t have food trucks here, you know?)

    But what really gives me pause is that you base all this on your aesthetic preferences. I think there are a lot sounder bases for critiquing subsidies, but between your focus only on rural subsidies and your aesthetic preference for people to live in cities, I’m wondering if you don’t actually object to policies that make urban life artificially attractive? That conflicts, though, with your accurate claim that these policies are inefficient. So I’m left uncertain whether you’re seeking out efficiency or seeking to use policy to craft your aesthetic vision about the good life.Report

    • Roger in reply to James Hanley says:

      My initial thoughts echo James’ final sentence. Your aesthetic preferences are yours, but I am not sure why you want to inflict them on others? This is an example of left leaning intolerance. The right is intolerant of people who don’t eat the right sexually oriented chicken parts, but the left has a subtle type of intolerance too. I can disagree with why others choose to live where they do, but why would I want to interfere?Report

      • North in reply to Roger says:

        But James and Roger; the fact of the matter is that whatever liberals may think about rural living (and they generally are leery of it for very justified reasons*) public policy is very heavily geared towards subsidizing rural living and rural communities are much more heavily supported by government that urban living is on a per capita basis. Why on earth would you be frowning over this? It’s not like you’ve got a liberal here talking about using government force to compel urban living, they’re talking about removing distortive state policies. Shouldn’t this be a libertarian ticker tape parade moment?

        *Rural areas are the bastions of social attitudes liberals (and libertarians) generally dislike, ecologically they’re suboptimal, politically they’re overweighed.Report

        • Ryan Noonan in reply to North says:

          Thanks, North. I may be able to take a break from banging my head against my desk for a few minutes.Report

        • Kimmi in reply to North says:

          I don’t mind rural areas. I DO mind exurbs and other places that lack community, and I’ve got the studies to prove why they are harmful to our society.Report

        • Pat Cahalan in reply to North says:

          Ecologically they’re suboptimal only because of a large number of other factors.

          I know more than a few people who have worked out sustainable (or nearly so) homesteading. Admittedly, you can’t support a population of 300 million that way.

          But that begs the question of what’s the unsustainable part, the lifestyle, or the size of the overall population.Report

          • North in reply to Pat Cahalan says:

            Well yes, Pat, absolutely I’m talking about typical rural living not eco-homesteading.

            Maybe if you develop non-fossil fuel transportation you’d mitigate the ecology concern to a larger degree but right now with sewage disposal, water provision, power delivery and the raw brutal math of dragging the goods out there to live a typical rural lifestyle and then dragging the trash back, modern rural living as it is commonly practiced is ecologically a huge drain per capita compared to urban living. That’s without even talking about impact of the road you’re using to do all of this.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to North says:


          I’m not yet persuaded that the subsidies for rural living are as great as people think. Yeah, roads and all, but they’re mostly funded by gas taxes, and commuters pay more in gas taxes. Shit removal? Urban folks have a flush and forget public septic system, truly rural folks have a pay-for-your-own septic tank. Water? Are you sure your water delivery isn’t subsidized? My brother’s well surely isn’t.

          I’m just not sure what the actual balance is, and I haven’t yet seen anyone else provide solid evidence of it, either. And is the issue really urban v. rural, or do we need to talk about suburbs, too?

          And, frankly, I’m skeptical about applauding removal of subsidies for rural living so long as we’re continuing whatever subsidies there are for urban living, because at that point there’s an equality issue as well. “You rural people are on your own, we’re only going to subsidize the urban folks,” is not exactly a policy to make my heart go all aflutter. Nor would the reverse.Report

          • Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

            Electrical transportation costs, for one thing (I pay DOUBLE the electrical rate of people in the hinterlands of PA, because of their stinking subsidies). And we maintain too many roads in the middle of nowhere…

            I’m from Pennsylvania, when I speak of rural, I think of the meth population in small towns.

            Definitely need to throw in suburbs, as they’re a special case (and there’s multiple types of suburbs! some can function nearly-autonomously as small towns, and are designed that way. Others are purely car-based lifeforms).

            I DON”T mind rural communities, I in fact think it’s a good idea that we pay for their electricity!! BUT, I do want people to be aware that the costs are way more.

            Oh, postal costs are way more for outerlying people. I think per capita police may also be, dunno about that one??Report

          • North in reply to James Hanley says:

            Yes roads are mostly paid for by gas taxes but what about utilities? My understanding is the government pays to helps electrify the countryside. Postal service of course and every other government service that is provided (including libertarian ok services like law enforcement etc) are much more costly to provide to rural areas. In this country rural areas are propped up with a lot of government make-work programs like military bases and the like. As for urban equivalents those are paid for generally on a municipal level through property taxes so I’m pretty skeptical about claims that urban utilities are subsidized. I’m actually drawing a bit of a blank on urban subsidies in general though I’m sure that they exist (and likely in proliferation). But even if cities are more heavily subsidized, well, that’s where all the people are. Now maybe I’m misremembering this but my recollection is that the revenue flows for the government in general on pretty much every level is positive out of urban areas and negative to the rural ones.

            When I read the original post what I got was a liberal saying “hmm maybe a reflexive support on my part for subsidies is contrary to my interests both on a practical and an aesthetic level. Maybe these subsidies actually should go.” Your response mildly (and Rogers to a greater degree) sounded like a round scolding for him having the chutzpa to tell people where to live even though he wasn’t suggesting any such affirmative policies.Report

            • Plinko in reply to North says:

              I’d actually challenge the notion that roads even are mainly paid by gas taxes – I’m pretty sure many/most states spend far, far more on transportation than their gas tax collections cover.
              In general, I’m really not aware of much in the way of true urban subsidies at all – other than maybe various federal block grants, perhaps? So, where’s the beef? What pro-urban subsidies do we need to publicly decry before we can be taken seriously?Report

          • Liberty60 in reply to James Hanley says:

            I recall readin gthis study
            Back in the 90’s, in which the Greenbelt Alliance and Bank of America teamed to study suburban sprawl.
            The conclusion was that suburban sprawl was inefficient since the long term cost of the infrastructure- initial cost, maintenance, replacement cost- was more than the tax base could sustain.
            I know we are really talking about the rural areas, but the concept is similar, that they can’t generate enough tax revenue to be self-sustaining.
            Obviously a pretty broad blanket, but in my experience its more true than not.Report

            • Kimmi in reply to Liberty60 says:

              Don’t care. farming is a matter of national security. Not saying we have to subsidize their mayor/dry goods salesman, etc.
              but keep the farms, dammit!

              (also, cool cite)Report

              • Murali in reply to Kimmi says:

                Farming is not a matter of national security. A more secure basis for food supply is to unilaterally abolish all trade restrictions on food. In fact the local drought in Amrica shows how insecure relying on your own farming industry to supply your food needs is.Report

        • Lyle in reply to North says:

          Lets look at what subsidizations exist, taking both were I used to live in a Houston Suburb and in the rural Hill country as examples. First in both cases the streets were built by the developers. In Houston a municipal utility district build the water and sewer network, in the Hill Country it is a private water system and septic tanks. Electric and telephone are done by self supporting organizations either private or city/coop owned. Trash pickup is charged for separately. In the Hill Country we have the cluster mailbox concept which in addition gives one a locked mail box. In addition we pay a tax in the hill country for lateral roads. In addition of course highways in the country cost far far less than urban freeways.Report

      • Ryan Noonan in reply to Roger says:

        I’m not sure how you and James read the sentence “I just think all of this policy is massively inefficient” as indicating that “you base all this on your aesthetic preferences”, but… okay, I guess.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

          Yeah, you know neither of us said “you base all this on your aesthetic preferences,” now did we (despite your use of quotation marks, which implies you’re directly quoting us). What we said was we’re uncomfortable with basing policy on aesthetic preferences, which means we were focusing on that part, not the whole.

          If you want to read, and mis-quote, as us saying you’re basing it “all” on your aesthetic preferences, that’s on you.

          For christ’s sake, my first comment began, “I’m with you on a lot of this…” If you’re going to bitch about not recognizing where we agree, then take the frickin’ log out of your eye, eh?Report

            • James Hanley in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

              OK, mea culpa. Bad writing on my part.

              But, dude, you really seem to be looking to take offense at the fact that libertarians aren’t praising you as much as you think you deserve. I’m happy to side with you as far as we’re actually side-by-side, but you keep emphasizing the areas where we aren’t side by side then getting huffy when we take note of your warnings.Report

              • North in reply to James Hanley says:

                Well tempertures have been running high on the liberal/libertarian border lately, especially since the Cole volt face on sugar subsidies post. Perhaps the only lessed to draw is that we should all strive to read each others musings with more charity? I know I could stand to.Report

              • Ryan Noonan in reply to North says:

                I will admit that the Cole thing is what has me so on edge. He wrote something agreeing with libertarians, for libertarian reasons, and was castigated for failing to do so quickly enough or for not also doing something else. It was the exact opposite of good faith, and it pissed me off.

                But yeah, I clearly owe James more good faith than I’m giving here.Report

              • I’m not asking for your praise. I’m asking for you not to mischaracterize the things I write. You’ve now said that you misspoke/wrote, and I accept that.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

                No, I didn’t mischaracterize what you wrote; I typed a poor sentence that you in you in your turn read uncharitably, ignoring other parts of my comment. Lots of blame to go around, but I clearly indicated support for the extent to which you focused on the efficiency argument, and all I really said was “I’m uncertain whether you’re seeking out efficiency… or craft[ing] your aesthetic vision” What a s**tty thing for me to express my uncertainty about your purpose and to suspect that your motivations weren’t my motivations.

                The hell with it. It’s your post; sorry to have gotten involved with it and helped turn things ugly. Sincerely sorry. I’ll bow out now as I’m actually more irritated, and further involvement on my part is just likely to keep it ugly.Report

              • Yeah, seriously, that’s a good idea. You manifestly mischaracterized what I wrote, and now you’re just being an ass about it. Enough’s enough.Report

      • James Vonder Haar in reply to Roger says:

        I think he’s noting his aesthetic preferences in the spirit of candor, and throwing the question out to people who may not share his aesthetics in order to figure out whether they are unnecessarily clouding his judgment on the wisdom of the policies.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

      ALL transportation is subsidized. The “full freight” of bus service is MILLIONS less than the “full freight” of the equivalent number of cars needed to transport the same number of people to work.

      Urban living costs a HELL of a lot less to the taxpayer than Rural or Exurb living.Report

    • I tried to be honest in the post that I was doing both things. Maybe that didn’t come across.

      Like I said, I think there are things that encourage urban living that I would argue are objectively economically justifiable – congestion pricing, carbon taxes, leaving land-use decisions up to (or more up to) the land owners – and there are others that really are just my preferences – public transit subsidies were explicitly called out.

      My point with the food truck wars, which was left as an exercise for the reader for some reason I can’t explain, is that they’re part of an overall zoning approach that distorts urban life for the worse. That is, like other kinds of zoning or exclusionary regulations, they make urban life less attractive (or maybe just different, depending on your preferences about food trucks) than it would be in the absence of those regulations. Granted, that doesn’t make people go running to the hills for the food truck bounty to be found there, but it does change the characteristics of urban life in a way that, on the margin, makes people enjoy urban life less than they would in the counterfactual case. (This argument relies on the fact that food trucks appear to be profitable and popular, so the revealed preferences of urbanites indicate that food trucks are a net positive for urban life.)Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

        I tried to be honest in the post that I was doing both things. Maybe that didn’t come across.

        OK, thanks for the clarification. Obviously I’m fine with the one part, but not the other. In all honesty I just can’t see how using inefficient policies to move others towards one’s purely aesthetic preferences could ever be justified. Then again, I like public libraries and museums, so….

        I’m not fully persuaded by your food trucks argument (I’d put a lot of weight on “doesn’t make people go running for the hills”), but I am very pro-food truck, and the wars are an issue I’ve followed with some interest. It’s fascinating on multiple levels: it’s about foodies, about rent-seeking and competition, about externalities, and about ethnicity and class, all at the same time. Someone with the right talents could right an awesome social study of the issue, although it might be a project that needs more time to pass before it could be properly completed.Report

        • North in reply to James Hanley says:

          Since you watch them so closely let me ask for your opinion. Are food trucks primarily caused by the regulatory cost of restaurant operation or is the prime motivator one of the capital cost of occupying a restaurant space? Or is it something else?
          My point being are food trucks a sign of a distortion or are they just a natural consequence of increasing land value and population density?Report

          • James Hanley in reply to North says:

            I think that’s a part of it, but I think there are other factors, too. First let me note that there are at least two categories of food trucks: there are the snack/workday lunch ones, and then there are the specialty foods ones, offering higher-quality ethnic foods, which are more likely to show up where people gather in the evening.

            For the first, I think the time-limited nature of demand for snack/lunch service is the major issue. E.g., I used to work in at a place in the San Fernando Valley where the closest restaurant required getting in the car and driving, so the the food trucks would roll into the parking lots during break times and lunch hours. Of course in dense urban cores, where most of the “wars” take place, there are places available, but some folks like what they get from the trucks, or at least like them as an alternative to choosing between McDonalds and Wendy’s yet again. But a successful food truck in that situation maybe could be a successful restaurant, and that’s where land costs probably come into play.

            But with the specialty food trucks, I think part of the issue is the nature of craftsmen. They want to engage in their craft, they don’t want to find themselves managing others who do all the craftwork. So for some of them I think the food truck is a perfect solution; they can focus on cooking their specialty foods, rather than trying to manage a staff and maintain facilities. They get to be entrepreneurs who keep their business to the level they’re comfortable with. There are some nice wars concerning these guys, too. Santa Clarita, CA, an L.A. suburb, wants to keep these guys out, but occasionally all those “in the know” somehow coordinate on a time and place and all the specialty food trucks congregate there, and the foodies who find it tremendously frustrating to live in a suburb with mostly chain restaurants can get their eatin’ gig on. Then the local restaurants and politicos go nuts. Rinse and repeat.

            And of course these two types aren’t mutually exclusive categories, but surely have some overlap.

            And of course this is all casual observation and I could be full of s**t about it.Report

        • rent-seeking and competition

          Dammit, I forgot to put occupational licensing in the original post! I’m now officially the worst neoliberal ever!Report

        • Jason M. in reply to James Hanley says:

          ” In all honesty I just can’t see how using inefficient policies to move others towards one’s purely aesthetic preferences could ever be justified. Then again, I like public libraries and museums, so….”

          I know there was a discussion TLoOG about HOAs a while back, but I don’t remember any one commenter’s exact position on it, other that there seemed to be a general consensus from the libertarians that HOA’s were a-ok. HOA’s are the very definition of policies based on aesthetic preferences.Report

    • Also, seriously, this is what people went crazy about with you yesterday. It’s not enough for you that I support any number of things that would move overall US policy in a more libertarian direction; I have to do so for the right reasons (i.e., James Hanley’s reasons) too, or none of it counts.

      It’s just utterly infuriating.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

        Sorry to infuriate you, but it’s actually the reasons that matter more than the specific policies. If someone supports an end to a tariff on X only because there’s a current shortage of X, then that’s a person who I can’t actually rely on as a policy ally because as soon as there’s a surplus of X they may be advocating for the reinstatement of the tariff.

        Likewise, if you support more efficient policies only as they apply to rural life, but back off them when it comes to urban life, then you aren’t a reliably policy ally on more efficient policies in general.

        I’m not sure why this is infuriating. Let’s say you’re a pacifist, and you’ve been protesting the Iraq war, and I’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with you in condemning it. Then the U.S. invades, say, Colombia. Again you protest, and I go, “eh, screw the Colombians; I only protested the Iraq war because I’m an Arabophile.” Are you willing to tell me the reasons for my opposition to the Iraq war wouldn’t be relevant?Report

        • Don Zeko in reply to James Hanley says:

          Isn’t this a somewhat worrying line of reasoning when extended to, say, your position on tax rates or the welfare state? It seems to me that you’re going after Liberals for agreeing with you for the wrong reasons, but when AEI agrees with you on global warming or when downscale white voters in Alabama agree with you on opposing the ACA, or when Bobby Jindal agrees with you on school choice, there’s not the same hostility.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Don Zeko says:


            I can’t speak to the first two issues, but let me focus on Bobby Jindal on school choice. On the one hand, I can actually count on him as an ally, even though some of his purposes differ. He’s not likely to turn around and oppose school choice. On the other, he appears to want to turn it into public support for religion, and I do have a big problem with that.Report

            • Don Zeko in reply to James Hanley says:

              Well I would contend that, because school choice appears to be a stalking horse for state-funded Christian madrasas in Louisiana, you can’t count on him as an ally at all; or at least you it looks like he’s a much less reliable ally there than, say, North or Ryan are when it comes to sugar tariffs.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Don Zeko says:


                No, I’m pretty convinced that Jindal hates the public sector enough that he’d continue supporting school choice even if the courts banned church schools from getting the aid. Granted, his zeal might flag a bit. But he’d still sign the bill.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                Jindal is a whiny, two-faced git running his own Sacred Cow Ranch. Louisiana is a net recipient of federal largesse. The way Louisiana proposes to gain revenue is to capture federal tax dollars from the offshore oil platforms.Report

        • Ehhhhh, there’s a lot of nuance here.

          A) If you stood shoulder to shoulder with me on some particular issue for wrong reasons, I wouldn’t throw your support in your face. “Oh, sure, you’re totally right about this, but you’re still an asshole, so go away” is just bad politics and bad form, all around. Obviously, there is further nuance to this as well, so I don’t want to get into the weeds. We’d be there all day.

          B) As I’ve said, I think you and Roger are trying overly hard to make my reasoning fit a caricature you both have in your heads. I explicitly call out the inefficiencies and market distortions of the policies I’m against, but because I’m also honest enough to admit the ways in which my personal preferences influence me, anything I’ve said about economics is just completely discounted. Not only that, but I even admit that I have personal preferences for policies I can’t necessarily justify on the very grounds I’m criticizing other things! I didn’t try to hide that fact, which I could have done, so I’m beaten up for it. Maybe next time I’ll just pretend everything I want in the world is the most economically efficient thing possible, and then at least you’ll have a reason for toting out the old “you liberals don’t know anything about economics” line.

          I’ve used this twice in two days now, but my grandmother always used to say, “Quit your crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.”Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

            Well, speaking of caricatures, that “you’re still an asshole so go away” line is nothing but caricature. For fuck’s sake, I’ve spent most of the last two days complaining about liberals agreeing with us on issues but saying, “but that’s not my priority, so I’m not going to join in your effort.” As I said, that’s a legitimate position. But if I’m complaining that you’re not joining me on issues where we agree, how the hell does that get reinterpreted as “go away?”

            And “everything” you say about economics “is discounted?” Seriously, after I wrote:
            “OK, thanks for the clarification. Obviously I’m fine with the one part, but not the other. In all honesty I just can’t see how using inefficient policies to move others towards one’s purely aesthetic preferences could ever be justified. Then again, I like public libraries and museums, so….”

            I emphasize that I’m fine with the economic part, then admit to maybe supporting some inefficient policies myself, and you still think I’m somehow ignoring your economic arguments just to focus on how wicked you are for not being sinless? It begins to look like you’re so determined to be insulted, or so dead certain that you will be, that you’re going to insist on reading it as pure insult, regardless of what’s there.Report

            • Sorry, I think there’s a sense in which we’re talking past each other. I wrote that comment still stinging from the initial rebuke, which I thought was about 85% unwarranted, so it came off a little less nice than it should have. That’s on me, and I apologize.

              That said, I do think that my decision to take time out of my day to write an unsolicited blog post arguing, mostly on your own terms, for policy you support is probably not a good example of liberals agreeing with you but not wanting to put skin in the game. It would help everyone if we were all less spiky at these moments.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

                You took my first comment as a stinging rebuke? Well, perhaps the “thumb on the scale” comment was a bit sharp. But the bulk of your post, even on re-read, does seem to focus on subsidization of rural life and your personal preference for urban life. And urban subsidies are admitted, but not critiqued–they’re either Pigouvian or aesthetically justified. That seems to be your position, but you seem to object to it being pointed out that it seems to be your position.

                Honestly, I’m just confused now. You’re a good guy, but we sure as hell don’t seem to be able to communicate with each other.Report

              • I thought it was an unnecessary rebuke. I wrote this post about how much I think rural subsidies are unjustifiable, especially because they’re inefficient, then I had what I took to be the grace to say that my own preferences are a hodgepodge of things that I think are justifiable and things that are much more aesthetically-grounded, and your very first response was essentially, “We sort of agree, but I don’t trust you.” Maybe that’s not “stinging”, but it sure didn’t make me feel like I wanted to find common ground with libertarians any time soon.

                James Vonder Haar’s comment was a pretty good elucidation of what I was attempting with this post.Report

              • Also, while this isn’t your fault, Roger’s “This is an example of left leaning intolerance” was especially off-putting.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

                Roger likes to play that game. It’s silly. But he thinks we’re all secretly in collusion to blahblahblah, so when he does that he’s just reminding us that he knows.Report

              • Kris in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

                Just be glad Jay Bird (with Roger and James concurring) hasn’t said that you love Beria and you probably helped him murder some Russian chicks after you and Bill Clinton covered up the Vince Foster murder. Oh, and he’s only accusing you of that because its somehow related to your point about neoliberalism that he won’t respond to.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to James Hanley says:

      Speaking of aesthetic preferences.

      I also really like urban living, public transportation, and walkable neighborhoods.

      However, I don’t want urban living to resemble something like Seoul in South Korea where everyone lives in really large and anonymous concrete buildings or the hell sprawl that is Los Angeles (though Venice Beach and other parts are very nice).

      My preferred urbanism as always been low-rise urbanism. The kind you see in Brownstone Brooklyn, San Francisco, parts of Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Boston/Cambridge, Philadelphia, etc.

      I often get the sense from Matt Y that he would rid this all down.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to NewDealer says:

        I like small town urbanism. Where you basically pile enough little small towns, each with their own character, and single/dual family unit dwellings (along with some condos apartments) into a city.

        Less efficient? surely. but you’ll get tons more americans to move into a single family dwelling (witness the ones in batman)…Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to NewDealer says:

        I also really like urban living, public transportation, and walkable neighborhoods.

        Based on your pseudonym, I’m sure that your aware that one of the decisions made as part of the New Deal (at the federal level) and a variety of follow-on state regulations, there was a conscious decision that rural Americans would not be condemned to a second-class lifestyle. Not just the programs that almost guaranteed that farming would be a profitable undertaking such as price supports, guaranteed markets, and limits on overall production, but rural electriciation. At the state level, subsidies for telephone service, roads, and increasingly over the last few decades, public education.

        I’m not complaining about the programs per se. I do complain regularly about small farmer/ranchers like my brother-in-law who complain bitterly about the “burden” of the federal government, without acknowledging that much of rural access to contemporary tech and lifestyle depends heavily on federal and state enforcement of subsidies flowing from urban/suburban to rural. I live in the West, so I say “urban/suburban”; in much of the Eastern half of the country, it may be less clear about the urban cores sending wealth to the rural areas.Report

  6. Roger says:

    Libertarian confession time.

    I’ve never been displeased with the US postal service. I am serious. I can’t believe they do such a good job of delivering pieces of paper all over the country for such a small amount of money. My local branch is staffed with courteous, smiling people, lines are short, service is pretty good, if not state of the art.

    I think competition will make them better and more efficient, but am I the only person in the US that doesn’t share this revulsion of the UPS?Report

    • Ryan Noonan in reply to Roger says:

      No, I think the USPS does a masterful job given the constraints in which they have to operate. They are a testament to the effectiveness of well-designed public institutions.

      On the other hand, they are increasingly unnecessary and a financial drag on the overall federal budget. They also, as I’ve attempted to outline in my post, distort incentives in ways that I think are basically unhelpful. That doesn’t make them bad at their jobs.Report

      • scott in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

        Whenever this topic comes up, I notice that folks like the ones on this site and like me (urban professional types) who wouldn’t be hurt by the ending of the service argue pretty abstractly how unnecessary, old hat, and non cutting edge it all is, while the people who really need it cry bloody murder. I still have relatives out in the boonies, and stuff like wireless access and reliable transportation to some central hub (especially in blazing Southern heat) aren’t exactly universally available. Mail collection under those circumstances becomes at best significantly more inconvenient and at worst exacts a daily toll on the physically vulnerable that over the long haul compromises their lives. I have never heard weighed against that a convincing demonstration that the existence of the USPS is so fiscally devastating to the US government that it must be abandoned.Report

        • Ryan Noonan in reply to scott says:

          I did attempt to quote some broadband statistics up above somewhere. Questions about broadband access are pretty interesting, in general.Report

          • Rod in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

            You do realize that rural broadband is pretty heavily subsidized as well, correct? I live in an area that was one of the first in the country to get fiber-to-the-home broadband. And I live where people who live in flyover country call drive-through country.

            That didn’t happen by the free-market. (But it’s still pretty cool for us.)Report

            • Ryan Noonan in reply to Rod says:

              I do, in fact, realize that. I’m probably opposed to those subsidies as well, to some extent!

              I’m well aware that rural subsidies have improved the quality of rural life in lots of ways. There are good arguments that they are ultimately worth it for those reasons, but my starting position is that if we didn’t have those subsidies in the first place, people would stop living in those rural places and we wouldn’t have to care all that much about the quality of rural life. On some level, that assumption is almost certainly false.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

                I’m NOT! Let ’em talk, let ’em communicate. Fewer farmers needed if they can farm more efficiently…Report

              • Rod in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

                People would still live in rural areas. People need to eat and that’s where the farmland is. And so there will always be farmers and ranchers to fill that niche. And then you need other businesses to serve the farmers and still more to serve those people. So you naturally have a complete local economy.

                It’s just that without the net subsidies to the rural areas life would be more expensive, like it currently is in Alaska and Hawaii. And you notice that neither of those states has been evacuated either. And if rural life is more expensive that’s going to show up in the prices of food paid by the urban dwellers who generally have no fucking clue or interest in where the stuff they buy in the stores actually comes from or how it gets there.

                Such a situation may be more economically efficient but then you have to step back and ask who decided that economic efficiency was the highest moral value in society. In fact I would contend that the libertarian/free-marketer that decries aesthetics vs. economic efficiency in public policy is in a meta- sense herself making an aesthetic judgement.Report

              • Ryan Noonan in reply to Rod says:

                I agree with a lot of this. I especially like the end, since it’s a long-standing position of mine that ethical commitments are ultimately founded (to a very large extent) on aesthetic preferences.Report

              • Roger in reply to Ryan Noonan says:

                Ryan and Rod,

                Interesting angle on the conversation.

                My short answer is that I would substitute the word aesthetic for values. I would then ask what peoples values are and how they can go about realizing them in ways which minimize conflict and battles and which optimize the power of cooperation. That leads in many cases, though not all, to the realm of economics.Report

              • Roger in reply to Roger says:

                Surprised nobody engaged on this sub thread…

                Economic efficiency, in other words, is a path to achieve aesthetic preferences, just as logic is a path to arrive at valid inferences.

                Ryan, would you care to expound on the your ethical commitments are based upon aesthetics?Report

              • Ryan Noonan in reply to Roger says:

                It’s not terribly deep. It’s just that a lot of the ethical commitments we make are grounded in some idea of what we want the world to look/be like. They are fundamentally an aesthetic judgment about where we want to end up, and we build an ethical philosophy on top of that to get us to the end-state. Again, not particularly deep.

                I liked Rod’s mini-argument that libertarian insistence on economic efficiency has a large aesthetic component. It corresponded with my own ideas about these kinds of arguments.Report

        • Kimmi in reply to scott says:

          Would you mind a 1 day a week delivery, provided paying of bills (and other legal stuff) wasn’t compromised?
          Hell, I’m the liberal on the damn board! I don’t mind an “access” sort of thing, where the truly old get some sort of public help to get to the post office.
          And I don’t mind making more post offices!!Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Roger says:

      No, not even the only libertarian. I’m with you on this one.

      That said, I’m not persuaded it’s necessary anymore. My daily mail take consists almost solely of bills that could be handled electronically and junkmail that I would prefer not to get.

      I’m sure the last buggy whip makers were making a good product at a good price with good service, too.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

        why do people keep on using buggy whips as an example?
        Those have real world demand NOW… for S&M, admittedly, but still…Report

      • Roger in reply to James Hanley says:

        Whew! What a load off my chest. I finally got out of the closet, and find I am not the only one.

        I have another confession, but it is off topic (involving CAFE standards), so I will keep it in the closet for a while longer.Report

      • North in reply to James Hanley says:

        James my understanding is that legally speaking there’s an essential role for the USPS in delivering the various notices and summons of the legal system.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to North says:


          That’s a good point. But of course that could be changed by law. Whether that would be a good idea, I don’t know.Report

          • North in reply to James Hanley says:

            Maybe it’s just because I’m a liberal but the idea of contracting out a section of the judicial/legal system to private corporations makes my hair stand on end.Report

            • James Hanley in reply to North says:

              Well, I’m no fan of private prisons, but if we’re only talking about delivering notices to appear in court, I’m not sure what’s really problematic. FedEx has a pretty good track record of delivering important documents the very next day.Report

              • North in reply to James Hanley says:

                I think (but don’t know) that there’s more to it than that. Gos(ess) damn it where’re the League’s perennial lawyers at?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to North says:

                Yes, I’d like their input on this, too.Report

              • Pierre Corneille in reply to North says:

                I’d like to hear more from them, too. But I’ll say that I find it disturbing that I can be summoned by mail, and not receive the summons, and yet be held accountable. I admit I don’t see a way to get around this when it comes to jury service–although perhaps there’s a better way–but other types of summonses I would prefer to see done in person.

                Of course, there might be complications I’m unaware of (beyond “it’s harder to do it”), and that’s why I’d like to hear more from the lawyers, too.Report

              • There have been some… interesting… things happen over the years with regard to this and paternity hearings.Report

              • Don Zeko in reply to Will Truman says:

                Nothing like simultaneously discovering that you’re a father and that judges can just throw people in jail if they want to.Report

              • And finding out that even if you’re not the father, you’re still the father because you missed the court date to decide if you were the father and the judge decided that you are the father. (There has been some reform in this arena, though.)Report

        • Burt Likko in reply to North says:

          It’s certainly true that reliance upon USPS is heavily integrated into most legal systems. Initial service of process — starting a lawsuit and using compulsory means to require a defendant to participate in it — is typically not done through the mail. But nearly every other kind of service is. Whenever I file something with a court a copy of that thing must be given to all of the other parties in the case, and the U.S. Mail is the usual way that happens.

          But, in Federal courts, things are different and have been for a few years now. Most filings are done electronically and service of the filings is done concurrent with the filings. The Court maintains a master e-mail list of lawyers or parties to the case, and so when I file something with the Court through its online filing system, the Court’s computer sends copies of that to everyone on the case’s e-mail list.

          This does not eliminate the need for mail. Documents must be exchanged between the parties that are not filed with the Court — most notably discovery. Anyone who has been through litigation knows that discovery is the most paper-intensive portion of the case; in Federal litigation both sides to a case can easily exchange thousands of documents and the Court doesn’t want them. Sometimes I can agree with the other side to produce these things electronically and then it’s a CD or a thumb drive that goes back and forth rather than bankers’ boxes worth of paper. But you still have to get that object from one office to the other, and USPS is by far the most cost-efficient way to do that. (You might be able to figure out why lawyers are a little bit dicey about opening up FTP connections into their office’s computer networks.)

          There is no particular reason that it has to be that way, though. It’s as much a matter of expense and convenience, institutionalized into the law at the request of those who practice it, as anything else. Should other means of providing notice and process become available and efficient, those means will find their way into the way lawyers do business with one another. FedEx or UPS are still significantly expensive compared to USPS because USPS holds a statutory monopoly on first-class mail. If I could send my pleadings to my adversary by FedEx for fifty cents or so, I would not hesitate to do so. As it is, I only use FedEx or UPS when one- or two-day delivery is necessary, and I (often meaning my clients) pay a premium for that service.

          So — if the statutory monopoly on first-class mail were to be broken, and a competitor were able to provide functionally delivery serivce at a rate competitive with what the USPS offers, then I’ve little doubt that the law would adapt to that new reality in reasonably short order.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Burt Likko says:

            Do you ever use couriers? When I was a bike messenger I often took stuff from one lawyer’s office to another, but damned if I had any idea what was in them. Coulda been pornographic pictures of their mistresses, for all I know.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Burt Likko says:

            Private commerce, specifically the SWIFT system and the EDI VANs have provided functionality for non-repudiation for many decades now.

            America’s legal system is marching headlong into the 1970s.Report

          • North in reply to Burt Likko says:

            Burt, thank you very much. I truly appreciate your thorough answer.

            James, based on what Burt’s added I would concede that it looks plausible that the USPS could be privatized or replaced by a private entity without any serious repercussions to the legal system.Report

          • Don Zeko in reply to Burt Likko says:


            It seems to me that a private post office might be vulnerable to tort actions for failure to deliver a summons or some other critical document in a way that the current government-owned USPS is not. Does that seem plausible to you?Report

      • Fnord in reply to James Hanley says:

        It’s true that the majority of my mail consists of junk. But, heck, the majority of my personal email is spam or semi-spam, too.

        I wouldn’t say there’s no use for it just yet. I recently had to get my dental records shifted to a new dentist (and not just from my old dentist, also from the surgeon who removed my wisdom teeth a decade ago). They wanted confirmation in writing (and not email). I could have used a fax, I suppose, but mail was the most convenient way to do it.

        And while I pay my credit cards electronically, I receive the cards themselves via the mail.

        None of this requires daily mail service, of course.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to Fnord says:

          All any of that requires is a physical delivery service, which FedEx, UPS, and DHL will all do. Maybe USPS is better at it, I don’t really know, but they’re not necessary for it.Report

          • Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

            the other people don’t always deliver everywhere,a nd they certainly don’t always do it in an affordable manner.Report

          • Rod in reply to James Hanley says:

            I ordered a replacement battery for a laptop from Dell once. I paid extra for quicker delivery and was given a code to track the shipment through DHL.

            I watched it day-by-day as it left the warehouse in California, made it’s way through a Denver facility, then past me (I live in Western KS) to another sorting facility in St. Louis, where it then was passed off to the USPS and finally arrived at my door three days later. This all ended up taking at least as long as the non-expedited and cheaper delivery option would have.

            I was not amused.Report

          • Fnord in reply to James Hanley says:

            Sure. It doesn’t require a public postal service. But it means that the postal service is not technologically obsolete. That’s what you were getting at with the buggy whip argument and the reference to bills that you could handle electronically, right?Report

      • Kris in reply to James Hanley says:

        Post Office can do well if they do the following:

        -Eliminate Saturday mail
        -Convert most home delivery in many communities to delivery to a local PO Box, presumably near local grocery store. (How its done where I’m from.)
        -Allow post offices to expand into more retail than just money orders (they need approval to do this, sadly):
        -Increase price of stamps (seriously, what costs less than 99 cents these days?)
        -Change rules on Post Office control over its pensionsReport

        • James Hanley in reply to Kris says:

          Dude, if the mail carrier doesn’t walk up my sidewalk and up the steps to the mailbox on my porch, the USPS is a failed government bureaucracy!

          Seriously, though, I love the fact that I can get my junk mail without actually stepping all the way outside my house, but it does seem a little inefficient from a delivery perspective, doesn’t it?Report

          • Doorstep delivery is actually becoming less common anyway. Every new community built back home is going with community mailboxes. I get the sense that older places are mostly just grandfathered in and that community mailboxes will be a norm.Report

            • Lyle in reply to Will Truman says:

              And to boot the community mail box gives one a locked box, so that mail theft is more difficult than the middle urban step of a rural mail box at the curb (That came in after they stopped door to door in new developments. This was to save costs so the carrier stayed in his van. Now why the post office can not go to community mailboxes in grandfathered areas is not clear, postmen still walk beats in many areas getting bitten by dogs and the like.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Lyle says:

                Probably to prevent the residents from crying bloody murder. Community mailboxes may be safer, but they’re less convenient. To each their own, but I’d prefer take my chances than have to walk down the street. Out of curiosity, is there any reason you can’t replace your curb mailbox with one that locks?Report

              • Rod in reply to Will Truman says:

                The community mailboxes I’ve seen are built so the whole front is like a big door with a bunch of little doors built into it. So the mail carrier just has to unlock the big door, swing it open, put the mail in each slot, and then shut it up again. Then the resident can only open his own little door to his slot.

                I suppose all the community mailboxes on a route could be keyed the same so the mail carrier only has to have one key for the entire route. But to try to do something like that for individual curb boxes… sounds like a logistical nightmare. Can you imagine the keyring the guy would have to carry around?Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Rod says:

                I was thinking of something slightly different. Basically, a hole large enough to drop mail into, but hard to put your hand inside. Like they do for the slots that sometimes exist on doors. So that the mailcarrier wouldn’t have to unlock anything.

                (Outgoing mail would be an issue, though I’ve always dropped outgoing mail off at public boxes anyway.)Report

          • Kris in reply to James Hanley says:

            I don’t get how that’s relevant to my comment.Report

      • James K in reply to James Hanley says:

        The post office delivers junk mail in the US? Companies hire teenagers for that here.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to James K says:

          More than that, the cost for third-class (junk) mail is subsidized by first-class mail prices.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

            Oh, and it’s illegal for anyone but the USPS to place items in mailboxes, so companies can’t pay teenagers to put ads in your mailbox. And it also means that along rural roads in the U.S., everyone has a mailbox–plenty large enough to hold the newspaper as well as the day’s junk mail–and right underneath or next to it completely superfluous newspaper box.

            But at least we can have fish mailboxes.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to James Hanley says:

              Does this mean my dad could go to jail for leaving soup in my mailbox?Report

              • Rod in reply to Kazzy says:

                Yep. In theory at least.
                And for good reason, too. Why on earth would he do something like that? That must make a terrible mess.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Rod says:


              • Kazzy in reply to Rod says:

                If I’m back home at my mom’s house, my dad will sometimes bring me homemade turkey soup (my parents are separated). My parents relationship is fairly amicable and they actually live around the corner of each other, but they don’t go out of their way to see each other and my dad is a bit socially awkward, to say the least. So he often leaves the soup, in sealed containers themselves placed in bags, in the mailbox. And it is delicious.

                You all, on the other hand, should now be forewarned about soupbombs in your mailboxes. They will, naturally, be placed there legally via an official representative of the USPS.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Kazzy says:

                Unlikely, but he could be fined if you complained.

                Now if he puts a pipe-bomb in your mailbox, jail’s a real possibility. And now that you’re living out in the country, the ol’ pipe bomb in the mailbox potential of your life has increased exponentially (maybe not from your dad, but from some local adolescents).Report

              • Kazzy in reply to James Hanley says:

                The Post Office lady actually told us what we REALLY needed to worry about was mailbox baseball. Which I had assumed only happened in 80’s movies.

                Then again, this was the Post Office lady who spent 20 minutes hemming and hawing over the official place we had to place our mailbox… which turned out to be across the street from the mailbox that we already owned but hadn’t realized was ours. Had we put the mailbox where she said to, we would have received no mail, as all boxes are on one side of the street so the delivery person can do one pass.

                Of course, all of THAT was news to me since I grew up in an area where your mailbox was attached to the home and the mailmen actually walked up to your door and placed the mail in and, if you had a big picture, he’d even ring your bell to give you a heads up. It’s like everyone else is living prehistorically…Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Kazzy says:

                Oh, yeah, mailbox baseball is real. Legend has it that a guy not far from our town, sick of having his mailboxes destroyed, put his mailbox on a pivot, with a heavy metal object, like a mace, hanging from a chain on the back end of it. The next time someone tried for a home run, the device swung around and the metal object smacked the car. Sounds too good to be true, but I don’t really know. I have seen mailboxes surrounded by brick or iron pipe to deter the sport.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to James Hanley says:

                The fact that mailbox baseball is real makes me want to yell about so many different things…Report

              • Rod in reply to James Hanley says:

                I’m not sure the physics of that swinging mace thing would work out. Too much inertia and not enough of an impulse from the bat. But I’ve seen them armored like you said.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                I have a feeling you’re right. Makes a good story, though.

                I’d be tempted to make a double-walled mailbox, with the space between the walls filled with concrete or lead. A mailbox that would lure them into taking a whack at it, and then make them suffer for it.Report

            • James K in reply to James Hanley says:

              So the US Federal government claims possession of every mailbox in the country? I know there’s a reason why your country is said to have a small government, but right at this second I’m having trouble figuring out what it is.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James K says:

                No, that’s not quite it. I can take my mailbox and smash it, or take it out to my friend’s farm in the country and blow it up. I could fill it with concrete and leave it hanging up, just to puzzle the hell out of my mail lady. But I can’t legally deliver anything to Kazzy’s mailbox.

                The purpose is not to control the mailboxes themselves, but to limit first-class mail competition with the U.S. postal service. So I can write a letter to Kazzy and print out two copies, put one in a USPS envelope with stamps, and put the other in an overnight Fed Ex envelope, and one can be put in his mailbox, while the other can’t (if he’s not home, it will probably end up leaning against his door). For some reason this is an important public policy.Report

              • Rod in reply to James Hanley says:

                For some reason this is an important public policy.

                Damn, Hanley, now you’ve got me wondering about something I’ve never really pondered much before…

                Just spit-ballin’ here… maybe it has something to do with the way a lot of post offices in the past were inside-of/connected-to/run-by the local general store or trading post. Imagine a local business wanting to distribute flyers or maybe just a friend of the local postmaster/proprietor looking for a favor. The unscrupulous could circumvent buying postage for those things, thus depriving the USPS of some highly profitable business (compared to delivering a letter from Philly to Buttscratch Falls in the Oregon Territory). So maybe originally it wasn’t about your rural box or the one attached to your house so much as the one assigned to you (or rented by you) in the actual post office that was the actual property of USPS. And then that rule just got extended to the one in front of your house.

                Or maybe it’s something else entirely.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Rod says:

                Good luck sleeping tonight. 😉Report

              • Kazzy in reply to James Hanley says:

                But who defines what is or is not a mailbox? Can I setup a post with a mailbox and a milk box and a soup box and a pipebomb box (I, personally, would avoid checking the last one) and declare that only the first one is subject to USPS restrictions? I feel like you mentioned this elsewhere and I’ve seen it in certain rural areas where there is a newspaper box below or next to the mailbox.Report

              • Rod in reply to Kazzy says:

                I’m pretty sure the main requirement, perhaps only requirement, is that somewhere on the thing it has to prominently declare “U.S. Mail.” There may be other regs as to minimum dimensions or something.

                My “mail box” is actually built into the house. I have a slot next to the front door with a little lid on it that says “U.S. Mail”. Inside the house next to the front door is a little door that I open and, Presto!, there’s my mail. Which generally falls out of the box and lands on the floor when I do that.

                It should go without saying that I would be really pissed if someone decided to pour soup into the thing.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Kazzy says:

                Interesting question. I think the mailboxes you can buy down at the hardware store normally have some kind of “officially approved” stamp on them. But could I buy one, write “newspaper” on it, and set it up beside my “real” mailbox, to use for paper delivery? Could I build my own mailbox and have it used for both mail and newspaper delivery?

                Apparently not, according to a casual reading of U.S. Code title 18, section 1725:
                Whoever knowingly and willfully deposits any mailable matter such as statements of accounts, circulars, sale bills, or other like matter, on which no postage has been paid, in any letter box established, approved, or accepted by the Postal Service for the receipt or delivery of mail matter on any mail route with intent to avoid payment of lawful postage thereon, shall for each such offense be fined under this title.

                But by at least one account, the USPS doesn’t really care to enforce it (it could hardly be worth their time, I wouldn’t think).

                But back to your dad, since he’s not actually putting “like matter” in your mailbox and isn’t trying to avoid postage, maybe his soup deliveries are wholly legal? But remember, IANAL.Report

              • Did anyone ever play that old computer game “Paperboy”? Wouldn’t it have been cool if, instead of throwing the paper into the paperbox, you threw it in the mailbox, the feds would come and haul you off to prison.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to James Hanley says:

                My stepdad built his own. Maybe that is why it doubles as a soup box.

                The idea of someone pouring hot soup into a mailbox is increasingly funny to me. Pouring a liquid in seems a mean bit of vandalism. Pouring hot, homemade soup? Ha! Throwing soup from a bicycle? Double-ha!

                As a middle-school aged miscreant, I once put a giant snowball into a collection box. Right next to it was a UPS box, which had a little door you could open full of envelopes and forms and such (I don’t know how you paid for it… It was unmanned). I would sometimes take a whole stack of empty envelopes and dump those in. Both total dick moves. Though the UPS box did seem to be asking for it…Report

              • Kazzy in reply to James Hanley says:

                “I just had the worst day of my life… My dog died, I got fired, and my girlfriend left me.”
                “Hey, at least no one pourd soup into your mailbox.”
                “You always know how to cheer me up.”Report

              • Rod in reply to James Hanley says:

                The idea of someone pouring hot soup into a mailbox is increasingly funny to me.

                I know, right? I almost certainly overplayed it, but it kept running for me like an episode from Seinfeld.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to James Hanley says:

                I don’t think it cam be overplayed. When I go to the post office today, I fully intend to ask their policy on mailing soup.Report

              • Rod in reply to James K says:

                Not really. It’s still the property of the person who bought the box, but the USPS has the sole right to place mail inside it. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why that is, but I imagine it’s connected to their monopoly on first-class mail delivery.

                And to prevent people from pouring soup all over your mail…Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Rod says:

                I can’t even be mad about this one… well played, sir!Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Rod says:

                “Is not official USPS box! No soup for you!”Report

    • Don Zeko in reply to Roger says:

      Maybe this is why I’m a liberal. My experiences with the retail-level apparatus of government (the post office and DMV) have generally been positive and pleasant. My interaction with, say tech support or my health insurance company, on the other hand, have been paragons of bureaucratic dysfunction.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Don Zeko says:

        Everybody hates bureaucracy, but study after study shows that most people rate their interactions with government bureacracy (at all levels) favorably.Report

        • North in reply to James Hanley says:

          You’re joking! I had no idea, I’d always assumed it was the reverse??Report

        • Philip H in reply to James Hanley says:

          And yet, to hear certain politicians tell it, government employees are all numb, inarticulate, uneducated bloodsucking leeches. Sigh.Report

        • Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

          can you cite this?Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Kimmi says:

            Fair to ask, and I’m chagrined to say the relevant stuff is in my office, where I will not be for a few days. I’m working off info in James Q. Wilson’s Bureaucracy and the public administration book I use.

            I attribute the findings to the fact that most people are generally decent, that people who hate dealing with the public tend to avoid positions that require interacting with them (self-selection), and that most people in bureaucracies have relatively high job satisfaction, because salaries and benefits tend to be decent.

            It doesn’t mean all interactions with bureaucrats will be satisfactory, of course, and attention bias will naturally lead us to remember the bad ones more than the good ones.Report

        • Simon K in reply to James Hanley says:

          The best customer service I ever had was from the IRS over a (fortunately erroneous) automated examination notice. Some of the worst has been from the Social Security Administration, mind you. Based on my limited size sample (2), US bureaucracy is some more user-hostile than other countries, but not extraordinarily so. A lot of apparent hostility can be explained by overload, and by federalism that pushes some tasks down to very low levels of government that have trouble handling them efficientlyReport

          • Morat20 in reply to Simon K says:

            The most frequent bureaucracy citizens come into contact with is the state-level DMV/DPS.

            Which is, at least in Texas, underpaid and overburdened. So there’s always lines, angry people in those lines, and underpaid people trying to deal with angry people all day long.

            Frankly, it’s surprising there aren’t more shootings.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Don Zeko says:


        Though I have mixed feelings about Verizon. On the one hand, I’ve been having ridiculous amounts of trouble with the software in my new phone (it’s not a Windows phone, but it’s displaying Microsoft-like levels of bugginess.) On the other hand, their tech support has been unfailingly pleasant and helpful.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

      Nope. I don’t mind it. Haven’t even had much of a problem with PennDOT, honestly, and that’s nearly a miracle!
      Have had isolated problems with governmental agencies deliberately losing paperwork…

      Not nearly as bad as what Verizon pulls regularly, honestly.Report

    • North in reply to Roger says:

      I’ve had no complaint about the USPS. My own suspicion is that if they were eased up on in the department of congressional interference* in their business operation they very likely are capable of continuing as a going concern.

      *Congresscritters are always messing with the USPS whether it’s the ideological agenda to simply destroy it from the right or the bipartisan sports of preventing office closures and mandating service levels.Report

      • Philip H in reply to North says:

        Their current financial situation is a PERFECT example of this interference. A decade ago, to make the books LOOK balanced, Congress REQUIRED the USPS to pre-pay pension and retirement benefits in ways that, frankly, were and still unnecessary and probably illegal If done in the private sector). Now then, Congress didn’t adjust the federal portion of the funding stream to allow the USPS to compensate for that requirement, and as a result USPS is now in real danger of default. Had they been able to handle pensions and healthcare on an asneeded basis, like the rest of government, they’d actually be operating in, or really near, the black.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to Philip H says:

          This places the USPS perfectly for privatization. A group of investors can buy it cheap, lay off any workers near retirement age, spin off mail delivery, and pay themselves out of the pension fund.

          I wish I were joking.Report

        • Will Truman in reply to Philip H says:

          Had they been able to handle pensions and healthcare on an asneeded basis, like the rest of government, they’d actually be operating in, or really near, the black.

          It’s not a settled question whether we’re doing it right with “the rest of the government.” The requirements for the USPS might be too stringent, or might not be, but the fact that they are out of line with other government and private pensions don’t tell me much.Report

    • Citizen in reply to Roger says:

      I am happy giving up my postal mail service, if my obligations to the IRS goes along with it. Subsidized and rural infrastructure is a laughable context. The first and last road I see each day is county road.

      Maintenance budget according to the narrowly re-elected county commish (50 votes) is slightly above $30,000 for the district. Pothole patrol is a 3 man and a shovel 100 degree day marathon. The first road away from a farmers field is typically dirt, or a patchwork of asphalt with the edges eroding away. Have ya ever drivin 300 bushel of wheat over a 30 year old wooden bridge? You know your in a wealthy county when the wooden bridges have side railings.

      $10 a KWh will fix a lot of problems with city life. Ya really wanna compare subsidise?Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Citizen says:

        Dirt roads seem awful scarce in West Virginia, and I’ve been lost there, well off the beaten path.
        Now if you’re talking Arkansas, and fords, that’s a different story.

        But PA still has gobtons of farms, and they tend to be off shiny nice new highways (or, allright, older highways)Report

        • Citizen in reply to Kimmi says:

          Some farmers live the charmed life in such lush environments. The calloused hands tribes that are more geologically central live a tougher life. The amount of farmland turned back to grass in my lifetime could cover NY. Toying with grain prices killed many family farms.Report

  7. Loviatar says:

    Whats the over/under that sometime within the next 5 3 years Matt Y will be caught plagiarizing and/or creating quotes. I happen to think he has already done both, but just hasn’t been caught yet.Report

    • Plinko in reply to Loviatar says:

      The level of sheer enmity Matt engenders from people that can’t/won’t articulate any serious criticism of his work never ceases to amaze me.Report

      • Plinko in reply to Plinko says:

        *in, not from. sigh.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Plinko says:

        I have leveled my criticism’s at him in other posts.

        It is my general critique of neo-liberalism. I think, like Libertarians often, they are not good at dealing with realities. Ne0-Liberals are highly complicit in growing income inequality and not being too critical of stuff in the private sector. They focused too much on the privitization and not enough on protecting workers or equal growth for all socio-economic strata. Matt Y is typical of writers in the Brooks/Friedman set where it is more about coming up with a routine and counter-intuitive arguments than truth. He is the kind of policy wonk that seems to find electioneering and convincing people to be distasteful.

        I am not arguing for income caps but you can’t have all the growth in the one percent.Report

        • Plinko in reply to NewDealer says:

          This is what I’m talking about, I am not sure how you could read his stuff and credibly believe that’s what he advocates for. There must be some kind of dog whistling in his writing that only certain kinds of liberals can hear.Report

          • NewDealer in reply to Plinko says:

            Well you can’t say I did not level any criticism.

            It is merely an ideological disagreement with neo-liberalism. I remain unconvinced that it will lead to what Matt Y says it will and I do think he is too technocratic.

            He is certainly a polarizing writer/figure.Report

    • North in reply to Loviatar says:

      Pretty weak dude.Report

    • I’m actually not familiar with Yglesias’ work. I’ve heard of him. A lot. But I’ve just never really read him.

      I do think that a lot of published authors (and bloggers) create quotes or plagiarizing, and not wholly consciously. That doesn’t mean they ought not be held accountable, but there’s a certain “we gotta get ’em” ethos to all this, except for when (inexplicably) there isn’t or when it’s short-lived *cough* Doris Kearns Goodwin *cough*.Report

  8. BlaiseP says:

    Around the time of the Civil War, American railroads began to build across the continent, spurred on by huge land grants along the right of way. The railroad firms started printing up brochures and taking out advertisements in newspapers all over the world, extolling the virtues of their land grants.

    On the strength of these (wildly optimistic) promises, immigrants arrived by the millions and were packed onto the trains and shipped like cattle into the hinterlands, at subsidised rates, all to get them onto that land and making payments. But the railroads weren’t the only companies to benefit: Sears Roebuck made fortunes, selling everything from horse collars to houses via mail order. Mail order would put a stick in the spokes of drug laws as well: the various states tried to get the snake oil salesmen to honestly label their products. Nothing doing. The snake oil salesmen got around those laws via the US Mail.

    I did a gig for USDA for a program called RUS, a holdover from the mid-1930s, rural electrification. Now it puts in long stretches of light fibre to bring Internet to the hinterlands. America’s always had a bias toward the rural life: look at the makeup of Congress: there will always be a rural bias to American government.

    Urbanism isn’t an entirely wonderful thing. Mere competence isn’t enough to govern a large metropolis: it requires vision. A well-planned city is a delight. Los Angeles is not a delight. Nor is Houston. Or Atlanta. Or Baltimore (though Baltimore is trying). St Louis has a few nice areas but it’s mostly a horror story. Charlotte’s a mess, Raleigh/Durham even more so. Baton Rouge has some interesting corners but it’s blighted. Phoenix: a wasteland. And these are just cities I’ve lived in over the last decade. Look at the cities where things are much better: New York: planned. Chicago, planned.

    Privatising the US Mail was a horrid idea. Privatising passenger rail, equally stupid. Why? Because they weren’t really privatised. While Congress can act like the Board of Directors, we can only expect more of the same crap. Turn the US Mail into a truly private enterprise, with shares and a board with fiduciary responsibility. Same goes for Amtrak.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Jeepers christ, who the hell planned New YORK?
      SF, LA and all the western cities were reactions to the rickets from new york.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Kimmi says:

        Ever seen Central Park? Or Chicago’s lakefront?Report

        • Kimmi in reply to BlaiseP says:

          over a hundred years after it was founded? nah, doesn’t wash. D.C. was a planned city.
          Granted Manhattanhenge makes it seem like the city was more planned (at least than pittsburgh! home of acute angles)Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Kimmi says:

            Please. Baron Haussmann gave Paris the greatest makeover any city ever got in the 1850s. Still a lovely city. Washington DC is a lovely city, I just won’t drive in it. I’ll fly into Baltimore and stay in Bethesda and take the metro into DC rather than contend with Reagan Int’l. DC was designed to be defended.

            As for NYC, it’s more planned than effing Disney World. I remember the 70s in NYC and it was grim. Koch was elected, things got a little better, NYC started to pull its head out of its ass. After Rudy G got through with Times Square, there wasn’t a sinner left in that ZIP code. Rudy went through that town like a dose of salts and so has Bloomberg.

            My point is this: a metropolis needs a visionary mayor, someone who loves his city, I mean loves it with a fierce and abiding love. If the mayor doesn’t love the town, nobody else will, either. I love Old Town Chicago and always will.Report

            • Kimmi in reply to BlaiseP says:

              ha! you should look at gritty old Pittsburgh. It’s a great counter to what you’ve got to say, I’d wager.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kimmi says:

                Pittsburgh hasn’t been gritty for a good long while now. I don’t think a ton of steel has been produced there since Hector was a pup. Pittsburgh is an interesting town but the South Side is completely overrated. A great hangout for students, though.Report

  9. Liberty60 says:

    It seems funny to me that the USPS becomes such a fixation for politial football.

    The USPS is a unionized, government-controlled entity;
    UPS is a unionized, private entity;
    Fed Ex is a non union, private entity;

    Yet in areas of head to head competition, all three entities are very closely competitive, offering pretty much a similar product at a similar rate.

    What lessons do we draw from this?Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Liberty60 says:

      Heh. That we should have a shareholders’ meeting and replace the USPS board of directors?Report

    • Roger in reply to Liberty60 says:

      Ooh, ooh, ooh! (Roger raises hand like Arnold Horshank)

      Competition is good!Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

        If only there was real competition for mail delivery. In its current predicament, USPS is neither public nor private. Every other civilised country can run a mail service. We can’t. Ever seen a DHL delivery truck? You’re looking at the German postal service.

        We could have done the same. DHL does something we can’t manage in this country: certified email. They have all sorts of innovation at work.

        But the USA? Nothing doing. Congress is hell-bent on wrecking the USPS. Amtrak, too. It’s really the worst of both worlds, what we’ve got now.Report

        • Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Oddly, I sense agreement.Report

          • BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

            Well sure. This is all common sense. Common sense exists independently of ideology. Back in the day when the mail came in on the stagecoach, the country was doing the same. Lots of folks don’t realise the USPS contracts with private haulers all the time. Every morning, early early, a private hauler brings the mail into Augusta WI.

            If you read the Constitution closely, you’ll see the establishment of both “post offices” and “post roads”. The USPS has always been a bone of contention: John Jay thought the Post Office shouldn’t have to deliver newspapers. And it was always a great filthy rats’ nest for patronage. It’s had to be cleaned up several times.

            I’m a Liberal. Not an idiot. The USPS is still a vital institution in the USA and ought to be preserved. DHL is the model we could and should use to get it back on track.Report

    • Liberty60 in reply to Liberty60 says:

      The answer, from what I can gather, is that the USPS must be destroyed because it is too expensive-
      no wait, it offers crappy service-
      no wait, it sucks at the public teat-
      no wait, it, um… I had it just a moment ago.

      But it really, really, must be destroyed!Report

      • Roger in reply to Liberty60 says:

        LOL, Odd comment if you bother to trace back to the original three compliments two libertarians and a liberal gave to the USPS.Report

        • Don Zeko in reply to Roger says:

          You know how LoOG rolls; its comments section is a perfectly distilled cross-section of prevailing opinion in the corridors of power.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to Roger says:

          Tried to warn you
          About Gino and Daddy Gee
          But I can’t seem to get to you
          Through the U.S. Mail

        • Liberty60 in reply to Roger says:

          Naw, I was referring to the near-fixation that conservatives have about the USPS.
          But as far as this thread is concerned;

          We’ve established that the USPS operates pretty well, even in the face of the burdens placed on it by Congress; It offers the same product at the same price as the private sector competitors; and does this all universally to every mailbox in the country.

          Yet we still have discussions about why it even exists.


          • Don Zeko in reply to Liberty60 says:

            Maybe it’s just because “USPS delenda est” has a decent cadence to it if you don’t pronounce the Latin right?Report

          • Roger in reply to Liberty60 says:

            Maybe because people suspect that it can be done more even more efficiently and effectively by others.

            But, again, libertarian confessions, I have to agree that effective mail service is the kind of fundamental institutional foundation I think governments can be involved in. Not saying they should always be, if it could be done as well by others, just that it’s a pretty reasonable request for a modern infrastructure to ensure some mechanism for efficient material communications and transportation.Report

            • Liberty60 in reply to Roger says:

              Well, I know thats the argument.
              Which is nutty, isn’t it?
              I mean, would parcel delivery by UPS, FedEx and others be improved by removing one of their competitors?

              Would private carriers deliver a first class letter cheaper than 45 cents?

              To what end are we having these discussions?

              I do think that this is being driven by abstract ideology, an axe grinding session in the Great and Eternal War Against Collectivism whereby every letter carrier is an agent of Stalin and every public road leads to the gulag.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to Liberty60 says:

        That’s it. Go Postal on the Postal Service.Report

  10. Burt Likko says:

    Paging Will Truman… Paging Will Truman, please… An urban/rural tension post has been placed on the front page…Report

  11. Will Truman says:

    Okay, a few things…

    First, it is a common misconception that but for the USPS, most of rural America wouldn’t get delivery. We would get delivery from a private counterpart for the same reason we get it from FedEx and UPS (yes, sometimes they are piggy-backing on USPS, but less often than a lot of people think). The latter two don’t charge all that much more for rural delivery and I’m not sure that it is actually worthwhile to tier rates for a letter anyway. There is economic utility in price uniformity (which is easier for letters than for packages).

    Some places would cease to get delivery, but they are actually very few. The relatively small number of people who live in truly rural America, more than 2-3 hours out of a city, is actually pretty limited. Most of them still live near a town of some sort that is a useful pitching point (I live in such a town – we are the hub for a three-county farming area.

    That is not to say that rural America doesn’t add costs to the system. Nor that we don’t “need” the post office. People out here were freaking out with the proposed post office closures and not without reason. The sheer number of post offices do add up. The USPS’s problems cannot be laid at that particular doorstep, but it’s a contributing factor (and one that could be greatly assisted by consolidating the USPO’s with local retailers the way that FedEx and UPS do and the USPS does elsewhere but not much out here).

    Kimmi, of all people, opened the door for what I was going to say. Without USPS support of ruralia, the “give point” would likely be delivery times. I think you’d still actually get to put a stamp on a letter and have it arrive at a cabin in Salmon, Idaho. It would just take longer to get there. Guaranteed Delivery Times would become Roughly Estimated Delivery Times Unless You’re Sending It To BumFarmEgypt.Report

    • Kris in reply to Will Truman says:

      “Most of them still live near a town”

      Are we talking driving distance or walking distance. Old people (and some poor people) don’t drive and often lack internet access. So if its not walking distance, its a problem.

      They rural, elderly, poor are the community that needs the Post Office: no internet, no access to UPS. My grandma falls in this category. It would be a massive problem to help her without the post office. And she has help. Lots of older folks would have it harder.

      I mean, this is a lot of old people in rural areas, no?

      BTW, I think converting to more local PO boxes, eliminating Saturday delivery at least for most areas, and allowing delays for more rural communities are all fine cost-saving measures.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Kris says:

        We’re not talking about the same thing. I’m not saying “They’re close to town, so they can pick up their mail there.” I’m more saying “They’re close to town, so private delivery services would deliver there.” Victor, Idaho, may be a small town in the middle of nowhere, but if you live there, and UPS and FedEx have a distribution center in Rexburg and a deal with a retail outfit in Driggs, they will deliver to Victor directly rather than relying on the USPS.

        I’m confronting the common misconception that the private outfits only deliver to large places and that but for the USPS, places like Victor would be off the grid. This misconception exists because sometimes UPS and FedEx do rely on the USPS to deliver where they don’t want to. I’m saying that the places they don’t want to deliver are actually very few.

        If we did away with the USPS (which I am not advocating, but if we did), most likely they would still get delivery of some sort. It would just take longer because they wouldn’t be making the daily trips that the USPS currently makes.Report

        • Kris in reply to Will Truman says:

          Cool. Sorry, I misunderstood.

          But I’m still confused. Why would UPS go to Victor if they haven’t already? Are we going to subsidize them to do so?

          UPS goes to a bigger town that’s drivably nearby. Obviously, UPs does that. But that hardly solves the problem for old-people. And yes, UPS could -if they want- do direct delivery to small places. But that’s inneficient and unprofitable -as evidenced by the USPS- so why would UPS do it.

          It seems like we either subsidize UPS or continue to subsidize USPS to deliver to rural grandmas who live in Super-Small-Town who can’t drive to Medium-Size-Rural-Town. There’s no way to deliver their profitably, unless we charge grandma big bucks.

          I guess I’m okay with USPS charging more to send to and from rural areas. But its not clear whether this will do anything good for society because these small places are usually pretty poor and they’re dying anyway.

          My plan is to make the changes I recommended to the USPS now and wait another 10-15 years until there are fewer older people who can’t go to a local libary to use a computer instead of mail. Then reevaluate whether to kill USPS. (All that paper is bad for the environment, too, IMO.)Report

          • Will Truman in reply to Kris says:

            But I’m still confused. Why would UPS go to Victor if they haven’t already? Are we going to subsidize them to do so?

            They do, which is my point. A lot of people think they don’t and have the misconception that they cherry-pick where to deliver and where not to deliver, which they do in the sense that they don’t deliver everywhere, but they actually deliver a lot more broadly than people think. As far as package and premium delivery are concerned, very few people would be cut off if the USPS went under.

            I see no reason to think it would be different for envelope delivery. UPS and FedEx don’t presently do envelope delivery, but with the USPS doing so, why should they? If the USPS went under, I suspect one or the other or both would come up with envelope delivery of some sort. It wouldn’t be 40-something cents, and it wouldn’t be daily delivery, but I am pretty sure it would be something.

            Again, I’m not saying that this is desirable, just that the resulting scenario would be quite different than a lot of people believe. The only people cut off would be people further from civilization than Victor. That applies to really, really few people.Report

            • Kris in reply to Will Truman says:

              I would bet that UPS goes to some small places, but that leaves a couple of issues. 1. Does UPS pickup from here too? 2. Aren’t there other small places it doesn’t go to.

              Here’s my worry. If its inefficient and not profitable for USPS to deliver to little places, then won’t it be inefficient and unprofitable for UPS to do it, too? And UPS won’t do something unprofitable unless we subsidize them.

              Now you could say that UPS will make letter delivery and rural delivery more profitable by charging more, and delivering less regularly, and delivering to central PO box sites. But if UPS can be profitable with those changes, then so can USPS.

              The real question here is how can we subsidize delivery to rural areas as cheaply as possible. That means cutting services. But you probably don’t want to cut off delivery entirely. And it seems like an open question whether the pared down rural delivery can be profitable for USPS or UPS.

              Anyway, I’m sorry to sound like I’m disagreeing. I think we’re agreeing and I just sort of misunderstood you initally,Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Kris says:

                The real question here is how can we subsidize delivery to rural areas as cheaply as possible.

                Or is the question, pace the OP, whether we should subsidize delivery to rural areas?Report

              • Rod in reply to James Hanley says:

                As I think about it, it’s unclear to me just how much subsidization is actually necessary. Are all letter carriers everywhere paid the same per some union contract, or do carriers (and other postal employees) get more pay for living in high-cost areas? For instance, the military pays service members that are stationed in high COL areas a per diem to make up the difference.

                One of the reasons that I like living where I do, in a decidedly rural area, is that with my line of work it doesn’t really matter much where I live, so I can enjoy a lower cost of living while making the same pay as some other driver living in/near-to an urban area. And the biggest rural/urban differential wrt COL is undoubtedly housing.Report

              • If delivery isn’t assured (and assuming that subsidy is required for assurance), then how do we deal with those that there is not a way to send forms and bills to and the like?

                I think the problem with looking at it as a subsidy (talking about delivery here rather than having a post office on every corner or daily delivery or whatever) is that it ignores the network effect. Being able to deliver something to Barrow, Alaska, is not just important to people in Barrow. It’s important to people who need to be able to send something there.

                I am relatively sure that both UPS and FedEx are not making money by delivering to some of the places they deliver. The cost difference between sending something from Tampa to Wolf Point (MT) is not, I don’t think, fully covered by the price difference. I think that they accept some losses here to be able to deliver there. The subsidy we refer to is rather common in private as well as public enterprise.Report

              • Sorry, absent words:

                The operations cost difference between sending something from Tampa to Wolf Point (MT) compared to sending the same thing from Tampa to Salt Lake City is not, I don’t think, fully reflected by the price difference to consumers.Report

              • Kris in reply to James Hanley says:

                My grandma would suffer without the mail. She is poor and rural and can’t use automated phone systems or the internet to pay. (Believe me.) These costs associated with the elderly, rural poor will be born somewhere. (Say banks, credit card companies, government organizations all having to spend more time on the phone with those who needed mail.)

                I think subsidizing the elderly, rural poor is a sufficiently good public good that ot deserves the small amount of subsidization that we’re talking about.

                But, then again, I think questions about what is a good policy should take utiltiarian goals and the public good into consideration, not just freedom maximization.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Kris says:

                Having an 82 year old rural (well, flyspeck farm town) mother, I fully get what you’re saying. Here’s the rub, though. If we continue to subsidize my mom and your grandmom, we encourage future generations of old people to live in areas where maybe they shouldn’t, and wouldn’t if not subsidized.

                Face it, our beloved mums are entrenched interests, and to the extent we focus on whether they get hurt by a policy change we aren’t considering what incentives our policy should create for future individual decision-makers.

                That’s not an argument that we should cut the old girls off. I don’t know where I stand on it. I’m just saying that the best way to look at these things is to look at the future, not just the present, effects.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Kris says:

                1. UPS does pick up packages on request, though there may be a charge for it.

                2. Yes, but if they deliver to Victor, I struggle to think of what places they don’t deliver to. Some Tribal Reservations (which, to be honest, the government would have some responsibility for regardless of the existence of a USPS) and I would bet Alaska, but I’m not sure where else. Maybe somewhere in eastern Montana? Though, if they didn’t have the USPS to lean on, they would probably deliver to at least some of the places they don’t deliver to now. Right now they don’t have to.

                I think the degree to which it is unprofitable to deliver to little places is overestimated. I mean, they lose money, but there are so few places that I don’t think it factors in nearly as much (I think the existence of post offices factor in more.

                UPS can make changes that USPS can’t because the latter is a political entity. We can argue that it shouldn’t be, but it is. I am in agreement with those who say that the USPS is the worst of both worlds. The only reason I can even contemplate the USPS ceasing to exist is that it’s political easier to kill it or privatize it (as in, selling it to an organization) than to reform it. That’s messed up, but I do wonder if it’s where we are.

                The other thing I want to mention is that, just as there is value with flat pricing, there is also value in being able to deliver anywhere. UPS and FedEx don’t want me to have to look up an address to see if it can be delivered. They don’t want me to even think about that. So they might actually make arrangements for complete delivery within the United States, if only to prevent that from happening.

                To give you an idea of what I mean, I point to satellite TV. When the courts said that they couldn’t run national networks, they had to start taking up satellite real estate for the markets. Well, initially it was just going to be the bigger markets. When I worked with one of the companies, they made it clear that they were never going to offer local channels in some markets. What they discovered, however, was that they didn’t want people to have to look up their zip code and see if they could get local channels. They wanted to be able to say “We have your local channels!” So they ended up taking up valuable satellite real estate to show the local stations in places like Twin Falls, Idaho. The per-viewer costs of Twin Fall’s channels are way higher than for Denver’s, but they did it anyway and did not charge people in TF more for the privilege. They took their lumps so that they could say that no matter where you are, we’ve got your local channels (Well, Dish boasts 100%, DirecTV 99%, but the latter is putting up local channels for TF in HD! They want to eventually be able to say “Wherever you are, we offer your local channels in HD!”

                When you’re talking about a national organization, you sometimes simply accept the fact that some places are going to cost you more than others. You sometimes launch satellites just so that you can support the second-tier and third-tier markets. Would UPS and/or FedEx ramp similarly up their rural support so that they can say “Wherever you want this sent, we will get it there”? I honestly don’t know. I consider it a real possibility, though.Report

            • Kris in reply to Will Truman says:

              i agree that UPS could do letters. And they could do rural service. The question is whether they can do both at the same time and make a profit without subsidies and whether USPS could do the same.Report

              • Kris in reply to Kris says:

                I mean, they don’t go to Victor and deliver as many little pieces as the USPS does, I’d bet.

                Indeed, if USPS just had to deliver a few packages on a truck to Victor and other local destinations, they could do it as affordably as UPS. If not, why not?

                I got the sense that getting to Victor isn’t what costs USPS. Rather, its getting all of these cheap little pieces of flat-rate mail all organized to dozens (are there dozens?) of homes in Victor. USPS wastes money doing that, so how would UPS not waste money doing it?

                And if UPS can do restricted service to Victor at higher prices and make a profit, then so can USPS. Thus, there is no reason to close USPS.

                I agree that USPS should charge more for letters to harder to get to places. But some of these places are pretty poor. We are subsidizing them with some postal help. That hardly seems awful given that we might have to subsidize them in other ways if we punish them postally, e.g. with more foodstamp aid.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Kris says:

                We’re talking past each other again. I don’t think that USPS should charge more for mail going to Victor. If they entered the business, I don’t think UPS would charge more for mail going to Victor. For the same reason that satellite companies don’t charge more for Twin Falls stations than they do for Denver stations.

                Rather, I believe that UPS might succeed where USPS fails simply because the latter is constrained in ways the former is not. UPS could charge more to deliver mail in Victor (I don’t think they would), or they could deliver only once a week. The USPS could theoretically do these things, but we simply won’t let them. I think it’s more likely that we let the USPS die than we let it do these things.

                This is not what I think should happen, but it’s what I think could happen. I’m not making an argument about what should happen so much as I am laying out what the ramifications would be if such-and-such (the USPS collapsing) did happen.

                I think collapse is more likely than true reform. I think perpetual subsidy is more likely to happen than either of these things. If they can’t find a way to make money under the constraints we place on them, it’ll be like DocFix; we just keep emergency-funding it.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Kris says:

                And if UPS can do restricted service to Victor at higher prices and make a profit, then so can USPS.

                That assumes they are fundamentally similar types of organizations, but they are not. UPS is a private for-profit firm, whereas USPS is an independent government agency. UPS’s decisions won’t provoke legally controlling political responses; USPS’s will. They can’t do what UPS does, not because of inherent inability to do so, but because Congress won’t allow them to (unless it totally privatizes them).Report

  12. Jaybird says:

    There was a lot of, erm, let’s use the word “flight” from urban areas in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

    I imagine that people left for a handful of reasons.

    Have the reasons been addressed sufficiently that there won’t be a great deal of resentment when the subsidies for living in a sprawly area are removed?

    One of the things that was going on, if I recall correctly, was that a phrase that said more or less “if you don’t like it, move to Somalia” was in effect. I think we’re going to have to assume a different attitude than that if we’re going to re-urbanize all of those folks who left in a huff.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to Jaybird says:

      1) The subsidies are going to be removed anyhow. Say hello to $6 a gallon gas, say buhbye to the farthest suburbs.
      2) The people moving BACK to the city aren’t living in the places CREATED to compete with the Inner ring suburbs. They’re living in the places that “feel city” to ’em.
      3) I’m all for impoverishing the fuckers who abandoned the cities (via MARKET FORCES, mind). Let the boomers burn, they’ve been like locusts anyhow. Gen X ain’t much better.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Kimmi says:

        Lastly: all those suburbs built in the 80’s? falling apart now. Nobody wants to rebuild there (by which we mean the South, mainly), because they used crappy construction in the first place. Better to build on virgin ground, or back in the cities.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Kimmi says:

        I would guess that most commuters live within 30 miles of work. A rechargeable electric car, once the recharging network is built, is going to enable them to stay right where they are. Or they’ll demand public transportation systems out to where they live, like SoCal’s MetroLink or the various Chicago rail services (Metra, South Shore Line).

        It’s easier to adjust your commuting method than your whole life style.Report

        • Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

          What “whole life style” adjustments are we talking??
          You’re saying these people are going to continue to put 15% of their income into something that’s no longer “critical” to go to work?
          I’m mostly in favor of reducing the number of cars on the road, and reducing the number of trips taken in them. Figure we can afford vacations.Report

          • Will Truman in reply to Kimmi says:

            You’re saying these people are going to continue to put 15% of their income into something that’s no longer “critical” to go to work?

            It won’t cease being critical. Even public transportation distance commuting is as likely as not going to involve park-n-ride. In the vast majority of places I’ve lived, many of them not suburbs*, not having a car is a pretty massive inconvenience. Relocating for the sake of getting rid of your car is definitely a lifestyle adjustment.

            * – I’ve commuted from the city to the suburbs more often than I have commuted from the suburbs to the city. I’ve commuted from what is essentially one town to another, more suburban than urban. What works in the northeastish is going to be a much tougher sell in the south and the west. I truly don’t believe $6/gal gas will do it.Report

            • Kimmi in reply to Will Truman says:

              Am expecting the South to empty out with higher gas prices (particularly some of the mountainous parts), and the southwest to empty out as drought hits.

              Maybe I’m lucky in pittsburgh, but when I was looking to commute to outside the city, it was just hop the bus going the other way…

              (note: am explicitly advocating time-sharing cars, not “getting rid” of them, although that would be good too.)

              appreciate your perspective on places i’ve only visited. Now, what economic c changes can you expect when you have places which are essentially “car optional” and places where cars are still required (and thus draining people’s budgets)?
              hmm… I wonder.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Kimmi says:

                Gas prices will have to increase extraordinarily for it to become too expensive to live there. In between here and there, you’ve got options for cheaper cars, intra-metropolitan relocation, and so on. Cost-wise, other than cities straining to keep their population (which, as soon as people start moving back there, will reverse itself very quickly), the competition is in the west. I agree that water might be a very big concern there. It’s really difficult to figure out how development patterns are going to go, if that comes to fruition. I suspect it will involve new cities (rather, places that are relatively small towns now becoming cities) and development patterns that, at best, follow your connected cities model (if you are saying what I think you are saying).Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Will Truman says:

                meh. you’re right. I’m wrong. the current tax structure of a lot of the South is more likely to change than to have the entire place leave. And people leaving I can pin more on drought than on anything else (Atlanta, anyone?)

                Actually, the biggest downside for the South right now is probably the cultural attitudes that tend to drive away Creative Professionals (we’ll reserve judgement on whether that’s intentional, or just hurt feelings…)Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Kimmi says:

            Kimmi, the lifestyle is not being in the city. If people can remain in the suburbs, they will. If they can remain in the small towns or countryside not too far from the city, they will.

            With electric cars and expanded public transportation, they can. So they will.

            If I read you right, you’re a city dweller. You may not grok the mindset of non-city dwellers. For some people, visiting a city is ok, but living there is truly stressful. It’s a real quality of life issue for them. I’ve lived in the urban core (San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood), the suburbs (north L.A. county) medium-sized towns (Eugene, OR, population 140k or so), small city (20k) and no-stop-light farmtown (1,300). The smaller the town, the less stressed I am. The less stressed I am, the healthier I am. That’s worth paying for.Report

            • Kimmi, the lifestyle is not being in the city. If people can remain in the suburbs, they will. If they can remain in the small towns or countryside not too far from the city, they will.

              Yeah, this is what I think a lot of people really don’t understand. I am all for making suburbanites pay their own way, ending the subsidies we have, and seeing who stays and who goes. My guess is that a lot fewer people will go than the people who talk about this believe will. There will be a lot intermediate changes that will be considered before they consider a lifestyle upheavel that would come with living around the availability of public transportation and the nearest car-share.

              I say this as someone who would actually be content enough to live in the city. My wife and I couldn’t be more different in this respect. The stresses just put her through the roof. I was raised in the suburbs, but spent a fair amount of time in the city, when to college in the shadow of downtown, and after college lived in the inner-most rungs. I’m used to it* and would take it if I could find affordable housing with like neighbors and decent public transportation. It’s hard to say whether we will ever get to that tipping point for people like me. It’s even tougher for people like Clancy.

              * – Well, not right now. I’m spoiled with the pace of ruralia. When I go back home, it does raise my blood pressure. A lot of that is car-based, though, which urbanists would seek to alleviate. Either way, though, I would expect to adjust pretty quickly since I spent so much time in that environment.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Will Truman says:

                Yeah. I don’t expect the boomers to change. They’ve got no reason to, they’ll be able to afford nursing homes anyway.

                1) Most people in my neighborhood have two cars.
                2) My “single-unit-dwelling” house sits on a third of an acre, and I’ve got a playground within two blocks.
                3) I can easily walk to the grocery store.
                4) People don’t tend to use burglar alarms in my area.
                5) Public transportation door-to-door for the elderly, and plenty of buses to other places.

                I’m predicting the demise of the 20 mile out suburbs, except for your “upper middle class” ones, which will be fewer, anyhow, as more of those will live in the city.

                I’m predicting a general decay of the inner ring suburbs, as richer people move back into the city (okay, maybe that one’s just pittsburgh, but NYC has been seeing gentrification too…), caused by the poorer people moving out there.

                I do indeed see both “less change than you’d expect” and massive dislocation, if you can believe it.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Kimmi says:

                I actually have a post coming up on why we should consider making it easier to own more cars rather than fewer… for the environment. Basically, if they can have a high-cargo third-car, they might also keep around a lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicle for when they don’t need a high-cargo vehicle. We got rid of our third car for reasons that don’t make a whole lot of sense, from a systems perspective.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Will Truman says:

                … and I say, why not just car-share the third car? save the insurance at least! But that only works once you hit certain threshholds of walkability, etc.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Kimmi says:

                I’m predicting a general decay of the inner ring suburbs, as richer people move back into the city

                You’re still ignoring electric cars. No or minimal gas cost means no pressure to move further in from the inner ring.

                I’m predicting the demise of the 20 mile out suburbs, except for your “upper middle class” ones, which will be fewer, anyhow, as more of those will live in the city.

                Maybe fewer built, but not demise. Again, you are radically unaware of the psychology of the non-city dweller, even though your own neighborhood is not hard-core urban.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Plus, 20 miles out is still close enough for electric cars. If I’m unaffected by $10 a gallon gas because I’m not buying gas, how will it cause me to move into the city?Report

              • Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

                Okay, let’s be good here. $6,000 a year for two electric cars (assuming nearly zero electric costs, because). That should be easily enough to make your house tax free, even in a high tax city.

                Now we’ve got some people like Plinko who would move into a city if possible, and cheapskates — like me! who are willing to only take trips once a week…

                And then we’ve got the people who are barely scraping by right now, who will need to move in towards the city. Because I predict more than just gas going up in cost…Report

              • Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

                *nods* Pittsburgh’s in general creative class. We like cities. I’m seeing the entire east end gentrify before my eyes — and we’re working on the north side next.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

                I think I might have some idea of the psychology of the non-city dweller.
                Suburban living, strangely enough, tends to drive people insane. Not everyone, naturally… (again, lack of citing sources is why this didn’t get into a full – on guest post).Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kimmi says:

                You’re joking of course. First few nights after I moved out to the exurbs from downtown Chicago, I realised I wasn’t waking up every half-hour with the sound of echoing ambulances and car horns and the aircraft coming in to O’Hare from over the lake.

                City life has its advantages. It’s lovely, to have your friends over and walk down to a jazz bar and a pizza joint and down to the lakefront. It’s a mess if you’re trying to save money or raise children.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Kimmi says:

                This. 100% this.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kimmi says:

                @Kimmi: and then there’s the crazy man, the neighbourhood Satanist, walking up the stairwell at 1818, throwing lit matches as he advanced. I remember pointing a Remington pump shotgun at him, assuring him the rounds were eight shot, enough to blow him down the stairs without really damaging the building.

                He retreated. Old Town in those days was a rum neighbourhood. It still is, in certain quarters.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Kimmi says:

                “My “single-unit-dwelling” house sits on a third of an acre,”

                I think it’s worth pointing out that for a lot of people, having a single unit on its own plot of land means “suburb”, regardless of the size of the property or the walkability of the neighborhood.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Will Truman says:

                Yep, that’s it. I’m the opposite of you (vive le difference!). I love visiting the city. I always have a great time in Chicago, and flying into L.A. and driving up the palm-tree line freeway still gets my juices flowing. But after a few days I’m enervated.

                The expense of abandoning suburbs is being underestimated, too. I think what we’d actually find first is changes in zoning regulations that promote more businesses moving in. In fact one suburb I happen to be familiar with because my wife’s from there, Santa Clarita, CA, has for years been working on a policy of bringing more employment within the city. My in-laws have a grocery store around the corner, a Lowes across the street from that, restaurants galore within a few miles, and my sister-in-law works for a corporation that’s located in what passes for a downtown. The place is not walkable at all, but on the other hand you don’t have to drive very far to get to anything you need. If gas gets too expensive, it will be be cheaper to buy a Chevy Volt than to move into the city proper.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

                all those mcmansions would be great places to raise pineapples. Why abandon them Before they fall apart? 😉Report

            • Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

              James, hold up!
              I’ve seen little to no difference in living in a suburb versus where I’m currently located. In both places i could walk to school, or to the grocery store. Both places, single family dwellings, and a movie theater to walk to as well as parks.

              So what differences are we talking about here?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Kimmi says:

                Frequently, housing prices are one. For some, being in a more politically conservative polity matters. Some people like the feeling of being further away from urban crime (I’m not saying your area is less safe than a suburb, I’m saying there are people who will perceive it that way, and there’s not a damn thing that will persuade them differently, certainly not the truth). Some are afraid “those kids” will end up in their schools.

                Some of the motivations are good and decent, some are not. But they’re all motivations.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kimmi says:

                When I lived in Old Town, I was within walking distance of a grocery store, a very expensive grocery store, Treasure Island. It’s great if you want to buy imported French cheeses. Not so good for anything else.

                I kept a car, a big old Chevy Caprice. It was a great annoyance to find parking for it. It was stolen, twice. All the people in my building would prevail on me to take them out to the burbs, to the big box stores, so they could stock up on comestibles, you know, the sorts of things Treasure Island could rip us off for.

                So off we’d go, the bunch of us, coming back with a small fortune in groceries. We’d all pile out like so many clowns and grab our grocery bags out of the back at the intersection of Wells and Lincoln. Everyone was very grateful, except for me, who’d still be at the wheel, often an hour later, trying to find a parking spot again.

                Walking to the grocery store in the city is a fine thing. Walking back, a different story.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Now, sir, you should have seen me. I walked 2.5 cases of pepsi back from the grocery store. On my back. (that’s roughly 50lbs.) I should have worn better boots. But safe and sound, and right all round.

                Sides, I do use costco. once a month. I approve of car sharing!Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Kimmi says:

                And you expect my 82 year old mother to do the same? Or expect to do the same when you’re, god willing, 82?Report

              • Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

                I expect more leisure time, and to be able to haul at least 10 lbs home on my back. 10lbs of food is enough for a week, I think?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kimmi says:

                Then let us have less of this brave talk about a grocery store within walking distance. It’s absurd. Even inside the store, your purchases are trundled about in a shopping cart.

                Over the last decade, about eight solid years have been spent in hotel rooms. I no longer fly anywhere. I take my truck everywhere and all my things with me. Augusta WI has a nice grocery down the street, a hardware store, two good restaurants, three bars, an excellent public library, two municipal parks and two antique stores. More convenient than Old Town was. Everything within walking distance, too. Of course, I can also walk the length of town with my dog in the morning and catch trout within a stone’s throw of my place.

                City life is overrated. I’d advise every young person to spend at least four years in a major metropolitan area, then the rest of their lives in a small town.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Damn, I overshot by 2 years. That probably explains what’s wrong with me.Report

              • Lyle in reply to BlaiseP says:

                We forget the bicycle, which if you buy a set of panniers you can carry a good bit of groceries in (front and back after all if people can get all the gear they need to camp in them …) Or again in fairly flat land a 3 wheeled bike which has even greater cargo capacity. This moves the distance one can cover out to a couple of miles if hills are not involved.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Why not? If i use a car once a month, that’s 29 days I’m not driving it to the store.
                Augusta sounds an awful lot like where I live, honestly (except the fishing, and that’s only because of CSOs). I live in a city, mind, but it feels like a small town.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                All the people in my building would prevail on me to take them out to the burbs, to the big box stores, so they could stock up on comestibles,

                I read that as “combustibles.” I think that would make for an even better story.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                Them too. A bunch of us went down to Indiana to purchase fireworks. We also purchased a good deal of beer and liquor and hauled our trove up to the roof.

                I rigged up a piece of PVC pipe which served admirably for a mortar tube. Fortified by the aforementioned booze, we fired bottle rockets from three stories up, where they would detonate a few feet above the sidewalk on the opposite side of Wells Street with predictably hilarious results.

                Guess it was one of those things where you sorta had to be there. Other stories about that rooftop abound, like the one where my roommate and business partner was receiving some — erm — oral affection, sorta forgetting the Hotel Lincoln was right across the street.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Heh, I’ve been in that area a few times, going to 2nd City. Glad you weren’t firing them then. I might of crapped my pants and had an embarrassingly smelly taxi ride back to the hotel.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Kimmi says:

        1) Unless, of course, it becomes easier for employers to set up in the suburbs. I’ve been doing some looking into oil company headquarters for a Monday Trivia idea that I have discarded. They’re as likely to be headquartered in places called The Woodlands and Irvine as they are places called Houston or Dallas. That leaves aside satellite offices and the like. When push comes to shove, it may be easier to mass-relocate employers than employees.

        2) This is true. There is a market for more urban-living. The catch here is going to be making housing affordable. That means more urbanish development in what are now suburban areas, or building up and hoping that people go with that flow. Otherwise, the more people who move into town, the more unaffordable it will become. This is where your “small cities” thing comes into play.

        3) We’ll see.

        4) This is where what people are telling me what is happening in suburbs in the south (usually with some anecdotal evidence or an article focused on some particularly poorly built developments and extrapolating that they are mostly or all like that) runs headlong into what I have seen with suburbs in the south. There are some suburban developments that I would have thought would be in trouble by now, with gas at $3.50 a gallon. Instead, employers and businesses have moved closer to them. Go figure.Report

        • Kimmi in reply to Will Truman says:

          I don’t just want the employers to set up in the suburbs, I would like some local stores too. That’s all. It’s good for the community.

          2) Yeah, totally. I don’t mind more “streetcar suburbs”

          4) I know a guy who crunches numbers all day — he’s not pulling just from anecdotes. (still moving the employer does make a good deal of sense…) Where are you pulling your data from? (always, always possible he’s looking at different parts of the south than you are — he just got done steering someone over to asheville, instead of tennessee)Report

        • Plinko in reply to Will Truman says:

          1. Moving to the suburbs can be quite a burden on employees, though, too. Often, it means half your workforce suddenly has their commutes double. Something that can be overcome, certainly, but a drag on relocation nonetheless.

          2. This is where we “neo-liberals” start to pound our heads on the desks. Almost no city in the US is even close to overcrowded – they’re maxed out because of strict zoning requirements. The suburbs also have limits on how much they can grow because their zoning restrictions tend to be even more draconian – they might have some more space to grow today, but there’s a distinct ceiling they won’t be able to grow past without a massive revamp of their policies.
          I always hear the preference arguments from people, but prices tell us the exact opposite story – people move out to the suburbs because they’re cheap. Desirable urban areas are expensive in no small part because the supply is limited. Many (myself included), would love to live in town but can’t afford it. Or, more accurately, the suburban subsidies change the equation sufficiently such that it’s more cost-effective for me to live 33 miles from work than it would be for me to live 1 mile from work. I think that’s nuts, but I’m not going to pay more just to prove a point.

          4. There are tons of suburban developments down here in trouble and plenty of the cities and counties are nearly broke because of the dramatic erosion of their tax base that’s resulted.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Plinko says:

            All agreed with number 2. I think preferences are more involved than Plinko thinks (I know people who love the suburbs–I don’t get it, but they’re them, not me), but there’s no doubt that price plays a big role, and there’s no doubt that city zoning rules play a big role. One of the things that drives me nuts is commercial only zoning. That’s all right if we’re talking about factories; I wouldn’t necessarily want somebody buying the three houses around me and setting up a factory. But when we’re talking about retail it’s a really bad idea. Mixed residential/retail streets are a big part of what makes urban life good, and it packs a lot more residents into the same amount of space.Report

          • Kris in reply to Plinko says:

            And then urban public schools have worst test scores and higher crime rates because there are only two groups left in the local schools: the inner-city poor and the rich, and the rich send their kids to private schools.

            This just worsens the cycle. Because people think the public schools themselves are causing the problem, creating more middle-class flight to suburbs to avoid paying for private school.

            Its crazy.Report

            • Will Truman in reply to Kris says:

              Without getting into the whole charter school debate again, the coupling of real estate and schooling really exacerbates a lot of these issues.Report

              • Kris in reply to Will Truman says:

                Agreed that public schools shouldn’t be funded locally by real estate. That is a mess of a policy that would be changed in an ideal world.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Kris says:

                The tying of real estate and schooling isn’t just a matter of funding. Even if the funding were equal, they still wouldn’t want their kid going to the local public school. People end up grouping in “good school district” areas and “bad school district areas” on that basis, which warps real estate values and living patterns. That’s the point I am getting at.

                If you want people to move back into the city, let there be charter schools for them to try to get their kids into. Telling them that they must go to the neighborhood schools will, among other things, serve to keep them from living in those neighborhoods (unless they can afford private school, of course).Report

              • Kris in reply to Will Truman says:

                My claim was that the urban public school is a good school that looks worse because of the demographics of its students. Changing the good urban public school to a good urban charter school will change nothing. (Unless the charter is not unionized, and we have debated the pros and cons of that ad nauseum.)

                Here’s another way of putting the same point: I agree that moving to an urban area seems difficult to lots of middle class people because they think they have to pay for property, property taxes, and private schools. Well, if the local charter has lots of kids from the same demographics as the local public school (which it will eventually because charters aren’t for just the rich, which is their real distinction from private) then families won’t view them as a better option than the local public schools. Thus charters won’t solve the problem.

                A better solution than charters (though possibly a deeply unjust sloution) might be to have some local schools be elite and require high test scores to get into. This would allow cities to offer middle class people the appearance that their kids are getting a better education like private schools do (as a result of demographics). And the best students from local poor families would go to the more elite school, too.

                It’s not clear what effect this would have on the remainder of kids from the poor schools who have the worst scores. The schools that had them would likely be blamed. Then those schools would be changed to charters or new public schools and blamed again.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Kris says:

                Well, on a practical level, the school will be less desirable due to the demographics of the students there. Take the same teachers, facilities, and everything, and the resources will be stretched more thinly by having to root out misbehavior and devote more attention to more struggling students. Which means less attention to your kid.

                Your solution (or a series of tracked schools like Germany has) would or could also alleviate the problem. So would busing, for that matter. Something to say “Your school is not determined by where you live.”Report

              • Kris in reply to Will Truman says:

                Also, different provinces in Canada have very different policies about how much property taxes pay for education. Some provinces have schools that are paid for almost entirely without property taxes. Others use property taxes heavily. It hasn’t made much of a difference in urbanization that I can find.

                Thus, its not clear that there is any empirical data to suggest that paying for school with property taxes has this impact.

                Nonetheless, funding schools at the state (or federal) level makes more sense. So we’re in agreement on that. And I’m okay with Charters that are unionized, not too religious/Scientologesque (a la Louisiana), meet national curriculum standards, are accountable to democratic oversight. I also want some system to ensure that Charters don’t “succeed” just by stealing better students from the other charters. Public school is meant to help start all adults in a somewhat level playing field. But a charter like that is really a public school of a very different sort.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Kris says:

                Kris, my view was not based on funding sources, property tax or otherwise*. My view is based less on property taxes and more on where one sends one’s kids to school. (Overall tax rates may push people to the suburbs, but that involves a lot more than just school taxes – the big city I refer to had higher taxes overall).

                * – Where I grew up, it was the case that the urban district spent far more per-pupil than my posh suburban district. Which makes sense, since they had a tougher group of students to teach. But whatever disparity there was at the local level was compensated for by state and federal spending. At least in strict budgetary forms.Report

              • Kris in reply to Kris says:

                I think we’re not quite understanding each other and are arguing past each other, but I’m having understanding problems today, so its probably not you.

                I don’t think charters or changing to vouchers will help cause a reverse white/middle-class flight back into the city at all. Charters, school-choice, and vouchers will just shuffle the kids who are dragging average test scores around but they’ll remain in the city, dragging down test scores. Anyone outside of the city will still see bad schools whether they’re bad public schools paid with property tax or bad charters paid with a voucher. You could allow white middle-class kids in the city to use their vouchers to buy entrance into non-local public schools. But then, you’d have to allow the poor black kids to do that too.

                And that would be effective to school busing. I don’t think busing solves the educational problems of the poor in this country, but it would spread the poor black kids to different schools. I’m not against it, but I can’t see any policy that is tantamount in effect to school busing work in the U.S. We’re just too racist a country to allow it. Thus, I predict charter schools would end up segregated too.

                But if charters meet all the other requirements I listed: unions, curriculum standards, etc, and they create school busing, I’m okay with it.

                But the devil is in the details. Charters a hope skip and a jump from private schools were everybody gets a voucher and the middle class kids pay a bit more on top of that to ensure segregated schools. IMO.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Kris says:


                I’m not sure if they (charters, busing, tracked schools) would or would not make a difference. It depends on whether people with kids want to move back to the city to begin with. I can say, however, that absent some educational arrangements being made, it makes moving back into the city a much tougher sell.

                Up above, you refered to a cycle by which the urban schools lose the good students, retain the troubled one, and so on. At least, that’s what I interpreted you to say. I mostly just wanted to point out that to the extent that this is an issue that contributes to families moving and staying out in the suburbs, it’s something that can be mitigated by decoupling housing and schools.

                Personally, I think that there is a lot more to what’s driving parents to the suburbs than schools. Therefore, while it may be necessary to decouple housing and schools, doing so may not be sufficient to reverse the trend. I’m not sure you’re wrong here. It’s hard to say, but any serious reurbanization has to confront the issue.

                I probably should have tried to find a way to bring it up without attacking the charter issue again head on. The specific solution isn’t as important as separating housing and schooling. And, of course, even that may not be enough if people genuinely like the suburbs and what they have to offer.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Kris says:

                Yeah, schools are a big part of everything.
                Am convinced that if you did something to decouple schools & housing, people would just find new ways to couple them again (includign homeschooling).

                the incentives are too great.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Kris says:

                this breaks suburbs wway way more frequently than it breaks cities.

                Suburbs go into downspirals at teh drop of a hat, because there’s no reason (other than good schools) for someone to prefer one over another.

                Poor investing, generally, because by the time you get aroudn to selling, many places are already hitting the down part of the spiral.Report

        • 1) In my experience, stores are typically there first. Not walkable, but not a far drive, either. The troublesome places, for me, are the track-mansions where it seems like you have to drive for ten friggin’ minutes before you get out of the dang neighborhood. These are the places I was referring to in #4 that I thought might be in trouble if gas got to $3 a gallon. They seem to be doing just fine and in fact stores are moving closer to them (and in some cases, they’re putting “corner stores” in the tracks themselves. The business parks came last.

          4) It’s based on my observations. A sort of “trust me or your lyin’ eyes” sort of thing. Maybe if I spent more time where Plinko does, my view would be different.Report

        • Plinko,

          1) Sure, a lot of employers aren’t going to move for that reason. Others, though, are going to be moving anyway because they’re relocating from one city to another. Or they’re expanding, and will go with a satellite office and put that satellite office out of town.

          2) In case it wasn’t clear, I agree with you on this. You can create more real estate in the city. I think it would be desirable. I am more skeptical as to whether or not it would actually happen. Even urbanists often oppose highrises when they’re going up nearby. I think we’re stuck.

          However, even if I’m wrong, the amount of area available in the city is still limited. You can build more urban real estate and make it more affordable, you can build more urban real estate and draw more people in, but the amount of real estate you have to build to be price-competitive with the suburbs while drawing in more suburbanites is gigantic. That’s if you can get the permits.

          4) Is this due to dwindling population or the financial state of those living there? I get the sense that Kimmi is talking more about the former. People moving out and not being replaced because the houses are falling apart. Is that what we’re talking about, or the unusually high unemployment rate in (what I believe to be) your state? Not that these things are mutually exclusive, if people are leaving your area because the jobs are somewhere else, though that doesn’t speak to the construction quality of homes or commute-allergies.Report

          • Plinko in reply to Will Truman says:

            On 2 – I don’t think we fully appreciate how sparse even our cities are in the U.S. Of course, there are absolute limits, but few areas of the U.S. are even close to butting up against them. Taking this back to Matt, he’s done a lot of good posts on how much more density is possible without even resorting to high-rises.
            I’m letting my free-market side out, but I if we relax the zoning and land-use restrictions and curtail subsidies and approximately the same urban/suburban/rural populations remain, aren’t we sill better off? On the other hand, if people’s preferences are being distorted, then we’re also better off if they move around, right?

            4. Mostly it’s just a lot of developments that were started/built under the assumption that housing prices couldn’t stop going up back in 2003-2007. When the music stopped, we had a lot of partially-built and/or partially occupied developments that found out we had built a lot more supply 15+ miles out from the core than people really wanted. To this day, you can buy new 4-bedroom McMansions for barely over $100K in my town because there’s no one to buy them.
            Of course, that puts significant downward pressure on the prices of even non-distressed properties as well, so property tax collections are down even where the population is stable. I don’t know the inner workings of Georgia laws as well as I’d like yet, but I get the feeling that it’s much harder here to raise millage rates to keep collections constant when values fall vs. back in Wisconsin.Report

            • Will Truman in reply to Plinko says:


              Hey, I am all in favor of allowing more dense development in our cities. Give me a petition and I will sign it! My skepticism comes mostly from the belief that we are on the losing side, politically speaking, and that the mitigation of the cost differential would be relatively minimal even if we won. That doesn’t mean it isn’t something worth pursuing, but it does make me skeptical that it will move a whole, whole lot of people. The more interest you create in going to the cities, the more competitive the real estate, the less prices can drop.

              The other thing being that we’re not only talking about the cost of “a place” in the city versus the suburbs, but we’re also looking at what kind of place. It’s going to be hard to fit 2,500sqft housing into an urban environment (and the more you do, the less units you can have, the more competitive the cost of each unit, etc). As people have gotten more and more used to having more space, I think it’s generally a tough sell to get them to make due with less space.

              Which is really a catch-22, I guess. Either more interest in city living is generated and prices don’t fall, or prices fall because it turns out that people like having the space the suburbs provide (among other benefits). Either the units in the city are small, decreasing interest, or they are large, decreasing the number of people we can move in them.

              If there is a solution here, it’s going to be more new developments with density being more in-mind. Maybe if you restricted land-use requirements and whatnot, that’s exactly what would happen. Maybe not because people do like things they way they are. But either way, I think more action will be happening outside the cities (or what are now the cities) than inside of them.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Will Truman says:

                2500sqft housing? jeepers creepers?! who needs that much!
                (also, I think rising energy costs will do a lot to squash those ideas … or impoverish those who choose to continue…)Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Kimmi says:

                Once you have it, you use us. Once you use it, you get used to it. Once you see someone else using 3000, it’s not enough.

                Each kid gets their own room. Home offices. His and her offices. Computer room. Library. Guest room. These things are not necessary, but once a person has them, I think there is some reluctance to give them up.Report

          • Kimmi in reply to Will Truman says:

            It’s more where people are choosing to build new developments, and collapsing infrastructure in the current places… I’m not saying that places are collapsing in population… (that’s pittsburgh! 20% vacancy rate!)Report

            • Will Truman in reply to Kimmi says:

              Well, people are choosing new developments. Back home, it’s keeping home prices from rising too much in the older suburbs, even in suburbs that are pre-mcmansion. This is driven mostly by the fact that the houses are “too small” and hey, look, a much bigger and newer house over there! But… people move into the older housing , too. The (pre-mcm) neighborhood I was raised in has become “starter home” territory. Still pretty nice (nicer than a lot of the newer mcmansion neighborhoods, by my accounting), though not quite the family place it used to be. Folks don’t want to live in 2000 sqft houses anymore (when there are 3000 ones nearby).Report

  13. Citizen says:

    If the dollar does de-value to paper, things change. Your capital turns back to food, fuel/(energy) and materials. I am against sprawl to an extent, but the suburbs look like a place to mesh the requirements of survival with the necessity to develop resources that aren’t available in the inner big city. Its nearly like having a foot in each world.

    Will, I do agree rural mail could easily be reduced to once a week. Personally once a month would do it for me.Report

  14. James K says:

    A good piece Ryan. There’s one major rural subsidy you’ve missed out though – agricultural subsidies and tariffs. Without them these would most likely be a smaller rural economy and therefore less reason for people to remain in the country.

    While like most libertarians I’m a little leery of using aesthetics to drive policy (and I have to be extra careful here sine I share your aesthetics), It doesn’t bother me so long as we’re talking about removing market distortions. If it were up to em I’d say let everyone pay the full cost of their lifestyles (including the costs they impose on others of course), and then we’ll know how efficient it is for people to live in the country.Report

    • Ryan Noonan in reply to James K says:

      I did actually say “Probably even agriculture subsidies, for all I know.” I don’t have a strong argument that goes from ag subsidies to increased rural population, but I could gesture at one.

      In any case, ag subsidies are such an obvious disaster even without considering density policy that throwing this onto them as well is merely icing on the cake.

      Thanks for the kind words.Report

  15. MyName says:

    1) As was mentioned earlier, I don’t get the focus on the USPS. It will need to change as technology changes, but in terms of government waste it pales in comparison to Defense, or the past round of financial bailouts, or subsidized student loans or any number of other government enterprises. It’s a lot of light and heat over small potatoes.

    2) I don’t understand the environmental attack on rural America either. A century or more ago, a large majority of Americans lived in the country on family farms and I guarantee they had a smaller impact on the environment than urban dwellers of today. The issue isn’t rural life, but rather the changes brought by industrialization that are the root of it.

    3) There areReport

  16. MyName says:

    1) As was mentioned earlier, I don’t get the focus on the USPS. It will need to change as technology changes, but in terms of government waste it pales in comparison to Defense, or the past round of financial bailouts, or subsidized student loans or any number of other government enterprises. It’s a lot of light and heat over small potatoes.

    2) I don’t understand the environmental attack on rural America either. A century or more ago, a large majority of Americans lived in the country on family farms and I guarantee they had a smaller impact on the environment than urban dwellers of today. The issue isn’t rural life, but rather the changes brought by industrialization that are the root of it.

    3) There are a number of subsidies that exist to benefit urban dwellers as well. They may not call them that, but you can’t get money to go to college in places that don’t have a college because they’re too small. You can’t get approval for a small business loan in a town that is too small to support such a business. The clinics and other healthcare incentives don’t matter when the nearest hospital is a two hour drive away.

    The US is a sparse country, but most of the population lives in major cities near the coast. This leads to a number of political trade offs where you can either work to benefit more people or you can work to benefit the rest of the country which still produces food and raw materials that the people near the coast needs. Good governing requires incentives to help both areas.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to MyName says:

      “A century or more ago, a large majority of Americans lived in the country on family farms and I guarantee they had a smaller impact on the environment than urban dwellers of today. ”

      I think the buffalo would disagree (not to mention the Indians), but anyway we’re talking per capita, not aggregate.Report

    • Liberty60 in reply to MyName says:

      In most green design frameworks (the most common being LEED), agricultural land is considered a very sustainable and environmentally sound use of land; the wasteful practices of agribusiness are a separate issue.

      What most consider to be insanely wasteful is suburban sprawl, which has the worst of both worlds- the destruction of habitat that comes with cities, but without jobs or the density of infrastructure that allow people to live and work efficiently.

      And as the libertarians have pointed out, suburbs would for the most part not exist without the active and deliberate subsidies and intervention of government.Report

  17. Kolohe says:

    Tangentially related to the OP topic (well, at least no more than 2 degrees of separation) these are all pretty funny