Economic Liberty after Obama


Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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162 Responses

  1. Avatar James Vonder Haar says:

    I fear that culture war politics will sink any free-market attempts to make urbanism more feasible by the republicans. At least we’ve got the institute for justice winning a few court battles and yglesias banging the drum.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Sure. So start a new party. Nobody wants the Socons/Racists anyhow — they’re electoral poison. Get some traction now, and you might be somewhere in four years. (or, failing that, take over a coupla city GOPs (there’s gotta be some places they win seats on the city council).)
      Make some friends, construct an effective, urban platform.Report

  2. Avatar George Turner says:

    Judging by California, taxing and regulating drugs is just taking the entrepreunerial dreams of young Americans and crushing them with the hard, cold reality of onerous paperwork and outrageous taxes. Many young liberals only learn important lessons about profit, mark-up, sales, marketing, and risk by establishing their place in the local production and distribution chain. If the entire industry is turned over to WeedMart, hiring cheap illegal immigrants to tend the crops, kids won’t be able to compete and will abandon the one semi-productive enterprise they can currently take part in.

    If weed was truly legalized then the production would shift to a relative handful of farmers in places like Kentucky, Tennessee, southern Ohio, and perhaps Kansas and Iowa, and ordinary people wouldn’t grow it anymore, for the same reasons they don’t grow their own barley, hops, and tobacco. In the end, the big choice you have won’t be between sativa and indica, it will be between RJ Reynolds and Phillip Morris. The consumer will of course win, but in the long term, the producers are doomed.Report

    • Avatar Lyle says:

      I don’t know about the regional impacts as reports seem to indicate that the Northwest might grow the best pot. So in that case it is Wa and Bc that win.Report

    • Avatar George Turner says:

      That might be true. The Ohio river valley used to be wall-to-wall with hemp, but part of that might be the economics of farming during that era, plus the fact that they were growing for fibrous tissue.

      But given that it grows like a weed, the state that will dominate production is probably the state that taxes it the least, meaning no state should expect signicant tax revenue or they’ll price themselves out of the market. in the final iteration, it will probably come down to soil, growing season, and John Deere or International Harvester developing a bug-harvesting tractor attachment.Report

      • Avatar bookdragon says:

        Dude, weed is still the (unofficial) #3 cash crop in Ohio. Back when I lived there, it was the extra $$ for small farms because you could grow it between rows of corn and hidden that way it was very hard to catch.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          hah! you should see the national forests (well, anywhere except pa…)!
          (actually, I hope you don’t. pot farmers come armed with guns and twitchy trigger fingers).Report

      • Avatar George Turner says:

        I used to run around with one of the two DEA agents assigned to northern Ohio. The agents are spread very thin on the ground (two for northern Ohio is a pretty good indicator of that).

        Years ago I asked what he’d do if his team ran across a moonshine still. He said, “Well, we’d probably sit down and have a drink with them, because it’s a dying art.” At that time rural Kentucky had people setting up PCP labs, and unlike growers, they were trying to bring down the helicopters with machine gun fire. Now I think the focus has shifted to meth labs and pill mills.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          I’ve got no idea how a legalized pot market will play out. Much will depend on how it’s regulated, which will no doubt be very heavily — but those regulations could favor small growers or big ones, local production or importing the stuff from Mexico.

          Whatever happens though, it’ll have to be better than the violence and the mass imprisonment we’ve got going now.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew says:

            The problem is that a little bit of economic liberty is still a little bit of economic liberty. Economic liberty isn’t something that’s either present, in which case it’s all present, or absent, in which case there’s none. There’s nearly always some, and nearly always there can be more. And nearly everyone wants some (even if their broad ideological rhetoric doesn’t suggest they do.) So the question is just, as always, what the should the laws be, and what are they going to be – including where might some restrictions on economic liberty be drawn? The question Economic liberty: yes or no?, whatever definition of economic liberty is used, is a pure distraction.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew says:

              This was meant to relate to the part of the discussion that turned to the question of the definition of economic liberty. Clicked the wrong Reply link.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Meth labs are fucking dangerous. The fumes/use of product drive people mad, and that madness tends towards paranoia. So they build traps, and eventually blow themselves up.

          Plus, even living in a house that used to contain a meth lab is really, really bad for you.Report

  3. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    Jason, I’d frankly love it if they repealed the DC height limit, but the whole “no buildings taller than the capitol” thing is a myth. Otherwise, though, from your lips to god’s ears–I’d be frankly curious to see what a GOP that actually tried to appeal to urban voters would look like. I’m trying to imagine it and failing.Report

    • Avatar taylor says:

      Uh oh, I’ve been repeating that myth for years then.Report

    • Avatar Wardsmith says:

      If the height limit is a myth why does the author state the following, ” However, it’s also true that the height limit is artificially raising rents downtown (DC’s downtown real estate value”?Report

      • Avatar Fnord says:

        There is a height limit, and a quite restrictive one, too. It’s just not based on the height of the capital. That’s what I got from the article.Report

        • Avatar Dan Miller says:

          Yes, that’s what I meantReport

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

            Agreed. The clear intent appears to have been that the Capitol and Washington Monument should not be obscured, however.Report

            • Avatar Kolohe says:

              The vista sightline thing is a different set of regulations.

              There are more rules than you imagine. There are more rules than you *can* imagine.Report

          • Avatar Wardsmith says:

            what I heard years ago from a tour guide when I was in dc for an IETF meeting was no building could be taller than the washington monument, not the capital building. I’m on my phone now and can’t look up its height.Report

      • Avatar George Turner says:

        Well, a height limit might not be that bad of an idea when you’re building in a swamp where foundations are a problem.

        There’s also the strategic consideration that dense urban areas are a complete write-off in the event of even a very limited nuclear attack, which pretty much all military planners know is a real possibility. Eventually we’ll lose some cities, and that likelihood increases with countries like Iran and Pakistan making bombs, along with Saudi Arabia and Egypt wanting to start their own nuclear programs.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          I’m not sure that, “In 50 years, Iran might have figured out how to build a ballistic missile that could reach the United States, therefore we shouldn’t build anything over 14 stories” is going to be a very convincing argument. Particularly in a city not that far from the ocean, when a more empirically sound counterargument would be, “Increasing population density decreases emissions from the cars people use to commute, which will help arrest climate change, which would stem the rise in sea levels, which means we might not be under water in a century or two.”

          The foundation one is a better argument, though it just means it’s going to cost a bit more to build stable tall buildings.Report

          • Avatar Dan Miller says:

            There’s no reason we couldn’t build taller buildings safely in DC. After all, they do it just over the river in Rosslyn. As for the “nukes are inevitable” argument, well, I’m not sure that shorter buildings (or anything short of living in bunkers 24/7) would help with that.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

              Indeed. They even have tall buildings in New Orleans, which is both swampier and hurricane-ier.

              Whenever most people are confronted by a regulation, their first impulse is to craft a reason for it, then expect that it’s a good reason. That impulse should be resisted, because sometimes there just isn’t a good reason at all.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Most regulations have good reasons (fire escapes have an especially entertaining one). But there’s always the few that really really don’t.

                And of course, there are the ones that they had a “good” reason for (Like SF’s building regulations)…Report

            • Avatar M.A. says:

              Today, yes, we probably *can* build taller buildings safely.

              In 1910, when the law was passed, the technology wasn’t nearly there.

              Something to consider, and probably part of why the issue is being revisited and studied now.Report

        • Avatar George Turner says:

          Well, it’s actually not all that hard to build an ICBM these days. Iran can already reach Great Britain with its Shahab-6 (6000 km range, which is enough to reach from New York to Paris) and they’re just waiting on the warheads. The same missile should be able to deliver 25-35% of its 6000 km-range payload to New York (a range of 10,000 km), or 50% of the 6000 km payload if configured as three stages. Their accuracy is going to be poor, which is why they’d have to target large urban areas just as the US and Soviet Union initially did.

          It’s a minor consideration, but I’m sure one that the government used to sweat about all through the 50’s and 60’s.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe says:

            “Well, it’s actually not all that hard to build an ICBM these days. ”

            It’s not like it’s rocket science.

            “It’s a minor consideration, but I’m sure one that the government used to sweat about all through the 50?s and 60?s.”

            Which is why we put our national military headquarters in a huge ass visible building. (ok we put it there before ICBM’s and long range bombers, but we kept it there all throughout the era to the present day)Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              See: Greenbrier, WV. Or that huge-ass base in colorado.
              We put a big spankin’ building out in plain sight, and then staffed it with peacetime generals. The military geniuses aren’t anywhere near it.Report

  4. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    When I was a kid, it seems to me that there were four areas where the Republicans were seen as being particularly strong, especially after Reagan’s historic win: culture, military defense, law and order, and business. The culture wars seem to be turning against them now, Americans are sick to death of foreign wars, and they also seem keen to roll back some of the country’s more draconian laws. This just leaves the economy as a Republican advantage. Since the Democrats have been fairly willing to surrender any advantage they might have had with American business to the Republicans, I would expect we will see future Republicans who will focus entirely on economic liberty and not want to get into cultural topics at all. It seems like their best bet to win elections.Report

    • Avatar MFarmer says:

      Reality is the friend of those who oppose progressivism. I’m convinced the Democratic Party is cornered by it’s interventionist ideology, and that the GOP is impotent. It will take serious economic pain and a third party to get out of this mess. It will take the type of crisis that created the Republican Party to start with. The system we have is broken — it’s set for collapse, and no one in power has the courage to break out of the negative loop we’re in spiraling downward.Report

      • Avatar M.A. says:

        Reality is the friend of those who oppose progressivism.

        So that’s why the Karl Rove and “Unskewed Polls” crowd won the election while Nate Silver and the normal pollsters were crying about how their models were wrong? 😉Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        You want a third party? now’s the time. Start building it, don’t just sit around and whine on the internet.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Obamacare’s a big winner for entrepreneurs. and Big Auto, who practically ran the lobbying for it.Report

  5. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Who are these people on the left who think that economic liberty is only an illusion?

    I don’t think that economic liberty is an illusion but I think it means something different than Republicans/conservatives think it means.

    When I listen to conservatives/Republicans talk about freedom and liberty, it seems to be the same message that they have been sprouting since The New Deal with the Liberty League. They are against any form of welfare state/safety net. Any sort of safety net feature was a march towards tyranny.

    This is bullshit. I see no reason, nor has anyone ever pro-offered to give me one about why you can’t have a capitalist economy and a strong welfare state. I think Google and Universal Healthcare can exist in the same nation.

    I am more interested in arguments like the one you made about building height restrictions. Presuming it is safe, I have no problem with allowing taller buildings. But I would like the right to shut up about how decency and social welfare is a march towards chain and oppression. It really isn’t.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Who are these people on the left who think that economic liberty is only an illusion?

      Try here.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        It doesn’t answer my other question though. I just don’t buy the Liberty League/Freedom Works logic.Report

      • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

        Or a perfect circle. It doesn’t mean I disbelieve in geometry. (I probably believe in more of them than you do 🙂 )Report

      • Avatar Scott Fields says:

        Help me understand here, James.

        I clicked through some, though obviously not all, of the links at the Google search and I didn’t see any of the articles stating any radical – mostly pretty basic premises (like “some level of regulation is necessary for a free market to function”, “corporate capture corrupts markets” or “price gouging is bad, but price controls could have unintended consequences”) none of which I would have thought you’d take issue with. And of course, I didn’t find any articles there written by anyone within a hundred yards of the left’s policy makers.

        My snark meter is out for repairs, so if you were joshing, I apologize. But, if you sincerely think the mainstream left believes that economic freedom is impossible versus economic freedom is a continuum and we can debate where on that continuum we want to be, I’d hope you could provide more solid evidence.Report

      • Avatar LWA (Lib With Attitude) says:

        “Economic liberty” is one of those words that means pretty much whatever someone wants it to mean; assuming we are not talking about total anarchy, what level of laws or regulations need to exist- or not exist- so as to define the threshold between liberty and non? That level is different for different persuasions.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          “Economic liberty” is one of those words that means pretty much whatever someone wants it to mean…

          Very well then. For the sake of argument, suppose I say that economic liberty means “all power to the Soviets.”

          Surely you’d have to concede that some definitions are better than others. No?Report

          • It still might be helpful to clarify what you mean by “economic liberty.”

            Here’s what I assume you mean: the liberty to enter into voluntary exchanges.

            That seems, to me, like a very workable, very defensible definition of “economic liberty.” But it is not always the obvious one. To a certain stripe of conservative, economic liberty might mean “the government needs to guarantee me a profit!” and to a certain stripe of liberal who opposes the notion of economic liberty, it could mean “the government protects your employers’ right to fire you for not voting the way he or she wants you to!” (These are caricatures, of course.)Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

              Quite true. There is an enormous amount of clarification and line-drawing that needs to be done. That doesn’t mean that the underlying concept isn’t a good one. On the contrary, useful concepts are precisely those around which we can often have meaningful discussion and disagreement. If you can’t, you don’t have a useful concept. You have a truism.Report

            • Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

              Any discussion about economic liberty is about the degree to which it exists, or should. It can’t be maximized, for obvious reasons, and it can’t be totally erased either.

              So its completely true that we have economic liberty, right here right now, in 2012 America.
              Less of course, than some would desire but more than others.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

        The second link seems to argue that gov’t regulation of things like intellectual patents is necessary to have a market (gubmint needs to stop me from selling my own Big Macs, or selling Big Macs might not be profitable) so if “free market” means “no government regulation” there is no such thing as a free market. (I think they mean a truly free market would suck, not that it logically impossible, but no matter.) I think this point is true to some extent, and I believe Marx was the first one to make it.

        The first link seems to argue that some regulation is necessary and good for other reasons, especially moral reasons, e.g. child labor regulations. The author suggests that pollution regulation can be seen as a regulation that is non-free market or an essential aspect of free markets (no pollution means better health, more productivity, something like that) depending on how positive the effect of the regulation is. I think he wants us to think that a “free market” is just a market that has good regulations, not a market with no regulations, which would suck because of child labor and pollution, etc.

        I don’t think either post is brilliant, but neither seems to say that economic liberty is an illusion, only (maybe) that some regulation of things like child labor and pollution is a actually conducive to more economic freedom, not antithetical to economic freedom, which seems right to me, but maybe not to people worried about a slippery slope from Dodd-Frank or the ACA to serfdom.

        Maybe the third link makes the point you want. I do think some hard core communists believe what you are talking about, but they are not part of the mainstream left, IMO.Report

        • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

          Wait, no the third link is a (libertarian?) attack on government regulating prices by imposing penalties for “price-gouging” on gasoline.

          The third post might prove the guys who wrote the first two posts have a point. 🙂Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

          The second link seems to argue that gov’t regulation of things like intellectual patents is necessary to have a market (gubmint needs to stop me from selling my own Big Macs, or selling Big Macs might not be profitable) so if “free market” means “no government regulation” there is no such thing as a free market.

          I don’t think that recipes are patentable. Even if they were, the patent would have run out long ago. The name “Big Mac” is protected by trademark, but you can sell an identical burger as long as you don’t call it a Big Mac. The purpose of trademark law isn’t to prevent copying, but to prevent confusion. If you sold a hamburger and called a Big Mac, customers may be led to believe that you and your product are affiliated with McDonald’s. Not only does this mislead the customer regarding what he’s getting, but also could unjustly damage McDonald’s reputation if you were to sell an inferior product under their trademark.Report

          • Avatar Ramblin' Rod says:

            Trademark infringement is essentially identity theft. I have serious issues with the existing patent/copyright regime but trademarks make sense.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              Our trademark system might not. It encourages excessive legalization, and excessive lawsuits. After all, if you fail to defend your trademark, then you don’t have it anymore.
              (not saying that’s a bad system, just that a quick arbitrage might work better than a long court case).Report

          • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

            Fair enough and all true.

            But the point still stands about Iphones and medicines and all sorts of other patents that the government enforces, including – I guess- trademarks over names.Report

    • Avatar Wardsmith says:

      “why you can’t have a capitalist economy and a strong welfare state.”

      Because it has Worked so well for venezuela and argentinaReport

    • New Dealer,

      When I listen to conservatives/Republicans talk about freedom and liberty, it seems to be the same message that they have been sprouting since The New Deal with the Liberty League. They are against any form of welfare state/safety net. Any sort of safety net feature was a march towards tyranny.

      I’m not sure exactly what the terms of the Liberty League’s critique were, but at least some New Deal programs evinced some potential in the direction toward what I assume you might recognize as tyranny. The NRA in theory gave the president the authority to approve, and in some cases impose, regulations of the economy, without much oversight by Congress. These regulations were–again, in theory–a big boon to some vested interests who wished to use the power of the state to stifle “unfair” competition. In practice, of course, things worked out differently, almost from the beginning, and at least in my research, I have found the NRA in practice to be much more hostile to these vested interests and much more solicitous of consumers’ interests in lower prices. (My research is limited to coal dealers, however, so other industries’ experiences may have been different.) But the potential for tyranny was there, and I don’t blame some people for pointing it out.

      One could make a similar critique of the AAA, and in my opinion one could also make a similar critique of the Wagner Act, although the Wagner Act’s terms, effects, and purposes are more complicated and the case against it on “it leads to tyranny!” grounds is much weaker.

      Finally, although I don’t think this was part of what the Liberty League argued, a robust welfare state might create a cycle of dependence on government, where a large population becomes clients of the state. Now as someone who supports a robust welfare state, I think that it’s possible to exaggerate that risk (especially when many of the people who benefit from the federal welfare state might thus be liberated from dependence on local-level elites) and I think it’s possible to check that tendency. But I don’t deny it’s a real risk

      I’m not trying to save the Liberty League from charges of disingenuousness. I’m trying to say that complaints that the New Deal might lead to “tyranny” were not entirely without merit. I’m also trying to say that although I agree with you that some people throw the word “liberty” around in question-begging and self-serving ways that obfuscate more than illuminate, there are certain tradeoffs and costs, and where to draw the line is not always easy.Report

    • Avatar Danton says:

      Because it will bankrupt you if combined with free immigration. And immigration from poor countries to rich countries is by far the best way to improve the life of poor people.Report

  6. Avatar North says:

    Good post. A point though Jason that I’m sure you know but zoning restrictions and all that regulatory kudzu that chokes urban development is drive primarily by NIMBYism among home owners first and any vanity on the part of legislators a distant second. Now I’m all for combating such regulation, I’d love for the buildings in urban areas to soar, but we can’t combat it unless we see it for what it is. Sadly building restrictions are very often products of some of the most decentralized and localized political power there is. It is the petty tyranny of the local busybodies and worse the local vested homeowners interests rather than the dramatic overarching tyranny of the evil statist capitol.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller says:


    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      I think a little (just a little) Nimbyism is always going to be around and this is largely okay.

      In short, not every city in New York needs to be Manhattan. In fact, most people move to cities like Boston, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle (or even into Brooklyn) because they are not Manhattan and filled with high-rises.

      What people want and aesthetics are also important.Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller says:

        Most cities don’t have a height limit nearly as draconian as DC’s. San Francisco is pleasant and aesthetically pleasing, but it has plenty of buildings that wouldn’t be allowed under DC’s restrictions.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer says:

          True but mainly in the downtown/business area.

          With the exception of close to the Financial District, there are not really many (or any) high rise residential buildings. I think there would be a revolt if a developer tried to tear down low-level apartment buildings in a neighborhood like mine and build a high rise.Report

        • Avatar Dan Miller says:

          It’s also worth noting that Manhattan is Manhattan because of the immense population there. Since no such population exists in DC, it’s unlikely that even unrestricted development would produce a similar effect. It would probably end up looking a lot more like San Francisco or Boston.Report

          • Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name says:

            Manhattan and SF both have nowhere to BUT up. Suburbs and exurbs may grow in area, but geography limits both cities.Report

        • Avatar Jeff No-Last-Name says:

          San Francisco had an ordinance that no building could obscure view of Coit Tower. There was a LOT of furor when the TransAmerica building went up! Once it did, the Market district exploded with skyscrapers.Report

          • Avatar Dan Miller says:

            Interesting bit of history–thanks! I think it proves my case, though. After all, sf is still one of the nicest places anywhere. God, I just moved away a few months ago and I could kill gladly if it would bring me sf’s burrito options.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        ND I would never suggest that property owners have no say in what happens in their neighborhoods but for economic, ecological and social reasons the situation as it stands is just horrible and the harm of the current policies lands disproportionately on the poor.Report

    • Avatar M.A. says:

      all that regulatory kudzu that chokes urban development is drive primarily by NIMBYism among home owners first

      Ever considered seriously what various measures of “economic freedom”, left unchecked, leave to neighboring property values and quality of life?

      Drop a factory in and you want it to have firm controls to prevent pollution. You want to make sure it’s not causing loud banging noises at 3 AM every night. You want to make sure that the local roadways can handle the increased traffic of trucks and workers.

      Now consider the effect of skyscrapers. Noise and access trouble, check. Restriction of sunlight access, check. You think that one is minor but where I live we have a developer trying to put in a 20-story condo in the middle of a residential area, and a lot of the existing houses (because it’s upper-middle income, lots of lawyers and doctors) have been putting solar panels on their homes, which stand to take a significant hit – what happens when you lose 50% of your sunlight time in the day due to being in the clockwork shadow of some giant concrete monstrosity to the east or west of your home?. Solar Rights ( can be a pretty hot topic.

      It is the petty tyranny of the local busybodies and worse the local vested homeowners interests rather than the dramatic overarching tyranny of the evil statist capitol.

      Hey, I thought you Tea Partiers were all about the “local control” and “local sovereignty” stuff. Or is this another of those modular-conservatism issues, where the “local sovereignty principle” means nothing because the plug-in “principle” is something else and the “principle” local sovereignty in this case is to be ignored?

      I can never keep the conservative movement’s discordant, contradictory “principle” structure straight here so help a fellow out would you? Which principle is important this time and why is “local sovereignty” not?Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Jason’s part of the “libertarian” movement.
        Theoretically, at least.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        M.A. I’m well aware of all your points (note: I am not a libertarian and I am infinitely less a Tea Pertier than that!) but all that said your points stand all the way down to the smallest changes and that is the problem.

        When a person buys property in a neighborhood they do so typically because they like that neighborhood so generally the property owner has a considerable desire that said neighborhood doesn’t change. Your extreme examples all stand of course but those same sentiments apply to useful things. Property owners fight against bus stops, shelters for the unfortunate, housing that is even slightly more dense than what is already present (or often any more housing what so ever) and really just about any change that isn’t installing a park. And that’s without even touching on the busybodies who get involved when you’re dealing with “historic properties”.

        That inclination to stasis and the current balance of power between new developers and entrenched interests is causing serious problems, urban sprawl, urban blight, lack of housing, lack of affordable housing, massive commute times, the list goes on and on.Report

  7. Avatar Katherine says:

    It’s not vanity, it’s aesthetics. Paris, for example, has notably benefitted from such building-height laws.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller says:

      Paris (even excluding la Defense) has levels of density that would never be allowed in DC. Again, DC’s height limit and zoning is more restrictive even than that of most other cities.Report

      • Avatar Katherine says:

        Yglesias observes that Paris has achieved that density while having height limits, through other measures (e.g., building less set back from the street).

        I’m very much a proponent of urban density. There are some cities – Paris is one, and I lean towards believing DC is another of them – which are unique enough architecturally that bringing in skyscrapers would have a seriously negative aesthetic effect. I’ve been to DC, and the way the low skyline shows off the Mall and surrounding buildings is fairly impressive.

        With DC it’s may be a more challenging public policy issue, as the non-civil-servant parts of it tend to be quite poor. I expect there’s a debate to be had about whether removing height restrictions would have enough positive economic effects on the population as a whole to outweigh the negative aesthetic effects, along with a debate about what the residents want. That’s a public policy perspective. That’s the way I think about it.

        Jason’s isn’t a public policy perspective. It’s not about the practical effect we want to achieve, and the optimal ways of achieving that effect. It’s an ideological perspective: height restrictions constitute unfreedom and therefore must be removed; whether this has an overall positive or negative effect on the people who live in DC is immaterial. It’s fairly typical of libertarianism.Report

        • Avatar Dan Miller says:

          Even if you accept the argument that dc’s height limit has aesthetic benefits–I’m a resident who thinks it’s a net negative–you have to acknowledge there are substantial costs to it, economically, environmentally, and in terms of people being allowed to build and live where they want. Those costs are largely borne by dc residents.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

            I’m going to side with Dan on this one. My perspective here is emphatically not an ideological one, and it is based wholly on the positive effects I expect to see for DC residents.

            It’s a simple fact that increasing the supply or even the potential supply of housing for DC residents will make their housing cheaper at the same level of quality.

            Given that DC residents are frequently poor, and given that they are currently suffering for the aesthetic pleasure of the upper classes — well, I find that appalling. Ideology has nothing to do with it, and to dismiss this concern as merely ideological evinces a frightening failure of empathy.Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

              Sorry, Jason: If Obama could survive killing expansion of the school choice program in DC, I don’t see how the GOP championing freedom of architecture will get it done.


              There is simply no way—no way—that President Obama could support an unlimited expansion in this successful, fantastically cost-effective education program. If he did, he would demoralize the most powerful force within the Democratic Party, the teachers’ unions, in the run-up to this fall’s election. Clearly he has no intention of doing that, given his recent advocacy of using federal dollars to grow the public school workforce (despite the fact that public school employment has already grown 11 times faster than enrollment over the past four decades).

              We have a president who, for political reasons, cannot throw his full support behind the only federal education program in the nation’s history that is constitutional, successful, and cost-effective.

              see also


            • Avatar LWA (Lib With Attitude) says:

              Lets stipulate that zoning laws are a frequent vehicle for private vested interests, whether it is homeowner NIMBYism, or commercial interests and regulatory capture, or whatever.

              Still- there are plenty of valid (nonaaesthetic) reasons for zoning restrictions.

              Constructing a building is inherently a public act; by their very presence and purpose, buildings affect dramatically their neighbors and community. These affects can’t always be easily measured (especially individually), but are drastic in the aggregate.

              Density is, for the most part, a positive development for a city; but the community has every right to determine the cost/benefit of development on itself and ask for mitigation accordingly.Report

              • Avatar Dan Miller says:

                True, but that emphatically doesn’t apply in DC, where the height limit is determined by Congress (a body in which DC doesn’t even have a single vote).Report

            • Jason,

              To be fair to Katherine, she did suggest that she’s open to critiquing the D.C. height ordinances on your terms. She wrote, ” I expect there’s a debate to be had about whether removing height restrictions would have enough positive economic effects on the population as a whole to outweigh the negative aesthetic effects, along with a debate about what the residents want. That’s a public policy perspective.”

              Now she also makes a claim that your position is informed mostly by “ideology,” and the sense in which she seems to use the term seems to me to be unnecessarily pejorative and I disagree with her claim that your position is merely “ideological.” (I might ask for clarification on her intentions before I stake my claim too much about this last point, however.)Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                Here’s my question to Jason:

                Would it be any different to you if it were a height restriction placed by local ordinance (County or City government, rather than the 1910 Congress)?

                You tea party types are always going on about “local control, local control.” Most height restriction laws are passed by the local governments, and some of them may obliquely intend to restrict buildings to a height lower than some local monument or item of interest while not mentioning the name in the statute. Take St. Louis’s Gateway Arch, for instance – the zoning laws for the city don’t mention the arch, but in practice they have kept all buildings well below the Arch’s height, which is a focus of tourism and aesthetics for the city.

                Also, “parachuting in a national park” and “commercial photography in a national park” (presumably without proper paperwork for permission) are misdemeanor offenses. Who knew?Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                Would it be any different to you if it were a height restriction placed by local ordinance (County or City government, rather than the 1910 Congress)?

                The economic effects would be precisely the same, assuming that the text and its enforcement were the same. I would therefore find this measure equally objectionable.

                You tea party types…

                I reject the label. I don’t consider myself a “tea party type.”Report

              • “You tea party types are always going on about ‘local control, local control.'”

                I assume you directed this at Jason and not me, but I’ll say the following:

                I do not see Jason as a “tea party” type. However, he can speak for himself.

                If it was directed at me, I’ll say I have A LOT of reservations about the “local control” mantra.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Control tends to be bad. Local control tends to be worse, as it encourages favoritism and busybodies. This is why I don’t have a homeowner’s association.Report

              • Avatar KatherineMW says:

                I was basing the “ideological” comment on what Jason said in the post, which did not mention the practical pros v. cons of removing DC height restrictions, but focused only on how ridiculous and contrary to liberty it was that something like height restrictions could exist at all. I don’t agree with that; urban policy is inherently about balancing the interests and preferences of a large number of people living together, and that involves looking at things on a case-by-case basis rather than a blanket perspective of “less regulations are always better”, which is the message I was getting from Jason’s post.

                As it’s now clear he’s got policy reasons for his view, I don’t have those same issues with it. I expect there are reasonable arguments for both sides regarding DC height restrictions; I won’t argue the specific issue since I’m not informed enough on it to make a useful contribution.Report

              • When I wrote my comment I did wonder whether I was too quickly reading something into your use of the word “ideological.” Thanks for the clarification.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              One might say that the aesthetic pleasures are passed down to all classes. In fact, one could make a pretty decent argument that green spaces reduce crime and increase community, judging by the research.
              (Still think SF’s POPOs are a better model).Report

          • Avatar M.A. says:

            Those costs are largely borne by dc residents.

            And benefits of them are also reaped by the residents. Skyline has an effect on tourism. It has an effect on available daylight, which sounds small but I’ve detailed the effects above for solar rights. It has an effect on traffic patterns (bigger buildings require investment in parking structure access, roadway widening and maintenance, etc). It has an effect on ambient noise and available nighttime quiet for sleep purposes.

            Nothing exists in a vacuum and considering only one side of the issue is foolish.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              *toothy grin*
              If those Southern states really want those Latinos to leave, they just need to take the sunlight away in the winter…Report

            • Avatar Dan Miller says:

              The point is that the decision should be made by DC residents, not Congress. I personally feel that the costs of the height limit far outweigh the benefits.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      Thinking that your one’s own sense of esthetics trumps the desires of people who would like to live there, but can’t because the shortage of housing prices them out, strikes me as the height* of vanity.

      *No pun intended.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        This raises the question of why do people want to live in and/or visit a particular area.

        I think lifestyle/aesthetics are often factors that come in. This creates a condrumn doesn’t it. Some cities have very iconic looks and cultures (I don’t think DC is one of these cities) that is part of their appeal in an unquantifiable way. Would people still want to move/live in those cities if their looks changed?

        I don’t have an answer to this question but I think it is worth raising. I imagine San Francisco would take a hit if it lost its iconic housing look.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        Would they want to live there if it looked different?

        I mean that seriously — part of anything’s appeal is asthetics.

        I don’t live in DC. I don’t have a horse in the race on height restrictions. But it’s still a pretty valid question.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      I’d offer Portland, ME for a different example. About a decade ago, the city banned new franchises. Existing franchies were grandfathered. But no new applebees, mcdonalds, starbucks, olive gardens.

      Today, the city has one of the best food scenes in the country. It’s filled with amazing restaurants, and supports local food production throughout the state. The move has increased tourism to the city (and this is Vacationland, tourism is our biggest industry), created stable markets for small farmers and artisan producers. The city’s becoming a proving ground for up-and-coming chefs. Banning large chains opened up the market to small owner-run businesses beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        Good example.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Well, there aren’t many big chain restaurants in DC’s Ward 8 either.

        (since that paper was published there are some at the new strip mall near Capitol Heights metro, but I still don’t think there’s a McD’s)Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Can we get an alliance then, in the war on food trucks? A war that serves the interests of the establishment and inhibits food culture?Report

        • Avatar dhex says:

          “Banning large chains opened up the market to small owner-run businesses beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.”

          how? i’m confused because i live in a place where they coexist, and in plenty of regions, the chains get murdered. (nyc)

          just seems so heavy handed and weird and grossly paternalistic. like a joke about liberals, but real.Report

          • Avatar zic says:

            Part of the answer to your question is where you live, nyc. Not all places have that population density to support both. Portland’s population is about 63,000, and it’s the largest city in the state. There simply aren’t enough mouths to feed for unfettered competition that gives the little guy a chance to win.

            Instead, the chains are in South Portland, next city down, clustered around the Maine Mall, the largest shopping mall in the state. Here, you’ll have trouble finding something to eat that’s not an appendage of a large company far, far away; you’ll dine of the industrial food chain. Everything will be as you expect it to be, no worries, no experiments, no surprises, and no soul.Report

            • I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting Portland, ME. And I will say that to the extent we’re talking about whether the good that is “economic liberty” ought to give way, in some cases, to other good things, I’m sympathetic to much of the argument you’re making about it. And I think I note as much in one of my comments below.

              But I should say I resist what I see as the implicit value judgment of those who patronize “the industrial food chain.” Sometimes it’s nice to go to a restaurant where you know what to expect. And the people who work there work just as hard as those who live in the locally owned restaurant (sometimes those who work in the chain might be paid better, too, although I expect most of them are paid worse).

              I’m also inclined to think that framing the regulations as giving “the little guy a chance to win” obscures that in at least some cases, the “little guy” is a well-off person who might be a petty tyrant in his or her own right. The flip side to my claim is that far from being a tyrant, he or she might be someone who donates a lot to his or her community, or pays his or her workers well. And of course, a dollar that is spent with a local merchant tends to stay in the locality more than a dollar that is spent at Outback Steakhouse ™. So I get the argument for smaller business. But I have a hard time signing on to the romanticism of the “small business owner” who deserves our protection because of his or her virtue.

              Perhaps I am reading too much into what you say, and if you didn’t intend to imply what I accused you of implying, then I apologize. At the same time, I do think the sentiment I describe is commonly held, and I would like to suggest that people reconsider the extent to which they might reflexively side with the local and the small as against the non-local and the large.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                At the same time, I do think the sentiment I describe is commonly held, and I would like to suggest that people reconsider the extent to which they might reflexively side with the local and the small as against the non-local and the large.

                The non-local and large has a competitive advantage in capital. Wal-Mart has a long tradition of opening up, keeping prices in a new store very low until it’s kicked out the local competition, and raising prices. Starbucks can afford to loose money in a new store until the local competition’s gone out of business and they gain the customers to be had there. Same with Home Depot and Lowes.

                Reflex has nothing to do with this. There’s a reason shopping districts the nation over tend to look the same; have the same relative mix of offerings. That’s a reality that forms a barrier for the success of small start-up retail and existing mom-and-pop retail.

                Further, the size of these large retailers presents problems for manufacturers of products. It’s really hard to scale up enough to meet their demands. When there are a variety of small-scale retailers looking for products, they have a chance to survive. When the scale is along the lines of Wal-Mart, the scale of manufacturing has to match.

                And from the customer’s perspective, it presents an ever-narrowing range of choice.

                The only mitigating factor has been the increase in internet sales; food and beverage being the exception.Report

              • That certainly is a good argument, assuming the factual claims are true. (I’m not saying they aren’t true, I just see them made so many times that I wonder to what extent they are true and to what extent they are not.)

                I should probably clarify the intent of my comment. It’s not that there isn’t an argument that we need to support smaller businesses and start ups. In fact as I just said, you make a good one toward that end, even if I am temperamentally inclined to be skeptical of it.

                Rather, it’s that in discussions of what we owe to smaller businesses, I often see what I interpret as an unwarranted valorization of smallness for the sake of smallness, and small business owners simply because they are small business owners. I’ll admit that many (maybe even a majority) are public-spirited people who deeply care about their communities and their employees and who put their money where their cares are.

                But they are also part of a local elite with its own interests, and using the state to protect them empowers them at the expense of people who have to pay higher prices. Maybe the tradeoff is a good or defensible one. There might be more choices–or at least more variety–and the community might be healthier because more money stays there. But it’s defensible because or to the extent that, it helps consumers, not because the smaller are therefore more virtuous.

                Again, perhaps I’m attributing to you a straw man sentiment that you do not share. If so, I apologize. I’ll add that perhaps the extent to which I see it in society at large is much more exaggerated than it actually exists. The only evidence of this sentiment I can offer probably amounts to anecdote.Report

              • Having said all this, Portland, ME does sound like a lovely place, and maybe my fiancee and I can visit it sometime.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Small businesses ought to be nourished. both in the sense that they can become larger businesses, and in the sense that any entrepreneur ought to be nourished.Report

            • Avatar dhex says:

              i guess what confuses me on this is the notion that fast food invariably defeats local restaurants. aesthetics aside – and as we’ve seen, aesthetics are apparently very important to nearly everyone, regardless of their political beliefs – how does that work?Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                It works like this.

                My tastes are refined, sophisticated, well-considered, urbane, and in general reflect very well on me.

                Your tastes are cloddish, simplistic, reflexive, bumpkinlike, and are badly in need of reform.

                The government is on my side, and it’s here to help you. See?Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                You know, this isn’t about your taste vs. my taste, it’s about a local community; the most basic level of government, adopting a measure that actually benefitted residents who start businesses there. And the success of those local residents has turned into a draw for food lovers from all over the world.

                And the franchises that were already there are, for the most part, thriving. A sea of franchises are available one town over; in the same metropolitan area, on the same public transportation lines.

                And it really, really bothers me that the capital advantage large firms have over small isn’t something that merits serious consideration. Because that just might be the path of individuals being indentured to the corporation as a nightmare alternative to the government.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                You still haven’t answered dhex’s question. If local, non-chain restaurants really are so much better, why do they tend to lose if they aren’t protected?

                This isn’t a “gotcha” question, either. There are potentially any number of answers. One I’d find at least plausible is that the costs of regulatory compliance are lower when their overhead component is spread across a chain, in which all restaurants in the chain perform identical procedures.

                I find that a lot more plausible than saying, in effect, “I’ve got the secret key to how to eat well, and nobody else knows about it!”Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                I did answer.

                The non-local and large has a competitive advantage in capital. Wal-Mart has a long tradition of opening up, keeping prices in a new store very low until it’s kicked out the local competition, and raising prices. Starbucks can afford to loose money in a new store until the local competition’s gone out of business and they gain the customers to be had there. Same with Home Depot and Lowes.

                And in my original post on the topic, I explained how removing the capital advantage large chains have actually improved the economic climate for people working to earn a living throughout the state:

                It’s filled with amazing restaurants, and supports local food production throughout the state. The move has increased tourism to the city (and this is Vacationland, tourism is our biggest industry), created stable markets for small farmers and artisan producers. The city’s becoming a proving ground for up-and-coming chefs.

                What I failed to report was pricing. There is still fast food; still mid-range food, still high-end fine dining. And prices are slightly higher for the fast food (which, for large chains, is subsidized by the farm bill), about the same in the middle, and much lower on the high end.Report

              • Avatar M.A. says:

                If local, non-chain restaurants really are so much better, why do they tend to lose if they aren’t protected?

                Because a big chain has major financial backing coming in.

                TGI Friday’s, Applebees, and the like will drop in to a neighborhood and start running a major advertising campaign along with constant coupon/special days, running at a loss until they run out the competition and then can discontinue the “sales” and put prices back up.

                Wal-Mart is well known for doing this in medium-small towns across the country. Home Depot and Lowe’s have pretty much destroyed any other competition in the construction and hardware store supply business with that model as well.

                The chain restaurants also do benefit from certain economies of scale (being able to simply ship in bulk-purchased “chicken fingers” battered fried and frozen at some centralized food plant, for instance) that the local restaurant lacks the economic punch to get into.

                Big chain restaurants don’t try out new recipes. They don’t experiment, and they don’t participate in local commerce to nearly the extent the small businesses do. At the same time, they are backed heavily enough that they can run at a loss for months and months until they kill off the solo restaurant across the street.

                If you can’t recognize that as being an unintended consequence of the sort of laissez-faire economic suicide policy that Cato Institute supports, then there’s no economic hope here.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                People sort of romanticize restaurant management, but the key to it is really just being as cheap as possible. Anything you can do to cut costs will make a difference because the profit margin is usually very slim. The chains have certain economies of scale, but are also really, really good at knowing exactly what everything costs and slicing off cents wherever possible. But, really, if you want to know why one restaurant survived and another failed, it’s probably because their belt was a notch tighter.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                That seems to using a loosey-goosey definition of better to ignore stuff like “price”.

                If an Applebees comes in and offers steaks for less than the price of the competition, they’re offering a better product. If a Chili’s comes in and offers steaks competitive with Applebees, that’s competition too. Now we’ve got Applebees and Chili’s competing with each other. I suppose it’s a pity that Jack and Diane’s Biscuits and Gravy cease to be frequented as often in favor of Sonic’s Breakfast Menu… but I don’t understand any way of making sure that Jack and Diane won’t have to put up with another restaurant opening in town that won’t immediately be of more use to McDonald’s than Jack/Diane.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. says:

                Moi? I wasn’t ignoring price. Fact is they’re all going to go as cheap as they can on price, but given that as a starting point, it’s mostly a matter of not having to throw a lot of food out. The ones that are best on figuring out exactly what they’ll need and throwing out as little as possible will have a higher profit margin, whether they’re Applebys or Jack and Diane’sReport

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Oh, sorry Rufus, I was more speaking to MA.

                Yeah, my experience with restaurant management mimics yours.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Read that study on walmart and hate groups (consumerist had it). Then we can talk about the externalities inherent in chains.Report

              • I know you directed this comment to Jason and dhex, but I’ll say, for myself, that the capital advantage large firms have over small does indeed merit serious consideration. And although I am probably by many objective standards more friendly to the idea of the “corporate economy” than you or most commenters at this site are, I recognize a danger in corporations becoming too powerful.

                At the same time and perhaps partly because my pro-corporate (or more accurately, less-hostile-to-corporations) bias, I admit that I might come to different conclusions from yours, as I note in our exchange above. But I don’t think the concerns you raise are specious. They are real ones and anyone like me who tends to disfavor protections for smaller businesses ought to keep that in mind.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                I suspect that it simply annoys upper-class liberals how many Americans frankly prefer the chain restaurants.

                I’ve had both good food and terrible food at chains and at independent places. Sometimes, when I’m traveling, I don’t actually feel like taking a chance, and that’s when chains are at their most valuable to me.

                I suppose that makes me a bad person.Report

              • I confess that I sometimes bristle when some people, upon hearing that I eat food at McDonalds or some Outback or some other chain, exclaim at how horrible the food is.

                Of course, some of the food is horrible. If we were to test the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” truism with the double cheeseburger I ate a few days ago, you might say it’s false because I’m not dead yet but I’m probably not much stronger.

                Still, I can have a chip on my shoulder about such things, and that’s not necessarily good either.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Who’s passing judgement here? If you want a fast food solution to your food needs, by all means, buy your burger and fries and supersize it, for all anyone cares.

                In this city where food is a religion, New Orleans, McDonald’s is doing land office business on Canal Street. The chi-chi little restaurants in the French Quarter are this city’s version of a gastronomic Disney World. I don’t go into the Quarter. It’s strictly for the rubes and yes, they are rubes because there are better places to eat and drink for half the price within spitting distance of it. And it doesn’t make me a snooty upper-class liberal to observe that fact, or to note a McDonald’s hamburger and a bowl of good gumbo are just about the same price and the gumbo’s better for you and tastier to boot.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Jason, I have to agree with you here. This all sounds terribly bourgeois to me: “Oh sure, now only people who make above X can afford to eat out more than once every few months, but when they do, their food will taste so much fresher and local (yeah, local has a flavor, I swear).”

                I’m all for supporting local businesses when local businesses add something to the community (I spend a lot of time on SoCo, which anyone who knows Austin will understand means I shop local), and I have problems with some big companies (like Walmart) because of their labor issues, but acting like chains are evil because they’re not local is, given our economic system, a pretty privileged way of looking at things.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                Jason, it would behove you to examine the economic demographics of Maine. Portland is not an ‘upper-class’ town; though there are wealthy towns around it do to it’s ocean frontage. But the folks in those wealthy towns did not get to vote in the referendum banning franchises, the residents of Portland did.

                You’re really caught up on this as a value judgement. So my value is that fast food chains rent seek; particularly in health-care costs.

                But really, my right to not be told what to do is every bit as important as yours. When I’m in the area (frequently, one of my children lives there, as does my brother), I have two choices: I can eat at one of the restaurants in Portland or go to a chain in South Portland.

                Now I don’t eat out all that often; I like to cook, I’m a very good cook, and I used to run a restaurant. But when I do eat out, I personally want something that’s going to inspire me to do more cooking at home, and a deep-fried breaded chicken breast doesn’t really fit the bill. Neither does a salad of iceberg lettuce and hot-house tomatoes. I the tastes, textures, and experience of eating good food, it’s among my greatest joys. Particularly since I cannot drink alcohol, which triggers massive migraines. The same medical condition — migraine — is also triggered by numbers of other additives in the industrial food chain, which is why I mostly cook at home.

                So all your bellyaching about liberals who prefer not to eat at chains is really offensive; the chains are there. What’s at risk over most of this country is an alternative to the chains.

                Free trade, global trade, does not automatically mean that only the large companies can succeed; but it does mean they likely have a capital advantage over smaller competitors, and have more tools available to capture markets and squelch competition.Report

              • Perhaps this will sound like fastfoodpatron’splaining, but you’re probably right that nobody here, whose comment I’ve read so far, has actually judged me or anyone for patronizing fast food, even if I see some judgment implicit in what strikes me as their valorization of small, locally owned businesses over chains.

                But again, perhaps I protest too much on that score. And I don’t think I ‘d go quite as far as Jason appears to when he seems to suggest that some of the liberals here are arguing he’s a bad person for sometimes patronizing chains.

                That said, I have encountered people in everyday life who exercise that judgment against my choices, and it’s not always in cases where I choose the McDonald double-cheeseburger over the healthier Thai (or whatever) food option, it’s when I choose the McDonald’s double-cheeseburger over that made by the locally owned burger joint that probably has a higher quality product but that costs $2 more.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                being lazy is not inherently bad. But you are being lazy.

                When I have surveyed the options, and decided that most of them suck, I eat noodles in my hotel room. That makes me cheap.

                I honestly don’t blasted care which restaurants people prefer. It REALLY chafes my hide that folks (have to?) live livestyles where they spend upwards of $3 on a burger that they could make at home for less than half that price.

                I don’t see much preference for the chain restaurants, at least not hereabouts. Yeah, sure, you’ve got them, but they’re just down the street from the local pizza place, and the local Chinese place, which both seem to be doing brisk business.

                Maybe if you love The Original Hot Dog Shop, you might be annoyed that someone else prefers Wendy’s… but have you seen its clientele? When limos park in front of a greasy spoon…Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                “Portland is not an ‘upper-class’ town”

                No, but it and even moreso the rest of Maine are very tourist oriented economies, which definitely affects the restaurant and hospitality ecosystems.Report

              • “So my value is that fast food chains rent seek; particularly in health-care costs.”

                Part of my own point, at least in our other exchange above, is that smaller, locally owned restaurants also rent seek, and any policy designed to protect them must take that into account.

                Of course, fast food chains and other chains are probably better at seeking rents, in part because of the capital advantages you cite and probably for other reasons as well. And anyone like me who is more sympathetic to them than you are needs to take that into account. Therefore, your point is well taken.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Hothouse tomatoes aren’t so bad. Some are delicious. Trick with a hothouse tomato, as with any other fruit of that sort, is to leave it on the vine long enough to ripen. Here’s the one place where these silly locavores are right: if that tomato is allowed to ripen, then sent over to the restaurant or grocery store right away, it’s excellent.

                Of course, many aren’t, and obviously it’s those Pink Cannonballs which give the hothouse tomato such a bad name. But I’m working on a plan to put hydroponic gardens into old run-down shopping malls. The HVAC is all there, the labour, too, in all those apartment complexes which grew up in the area around them. The goal is to put fully-ripened vegetables into local businesses on a regular schedule. It takes about 65 days from to flower to fully ripen a beefsteak tomato.Report

              • I have heard about how great tasting farm fresh tomatoes are and I don’t think I ever tried one. On some level, I’d like to try, but on another, I’m afraid I might like it too much and won’t be able to go back. 🙂Report

              • Zic,

                I think I need to acknowledge something else you wrote:

                Particularly since I cannot drink alcohol, which triggers massive migraines. The same medical condition — migraine — is also triggered by numbers of other additives in the industrial food chain, which is why I mostly cook at home.

                I simply haven’t thought about that type of issue before. I have had the good fortune not to have any food allergies (that I know of). Even though I tend to wear the chip on my shoulder that I mentioned above and even though I probably won’t stop wearing it, I guess I should realize that facile and reflexive assumptions about value judgments go both ways.

                Thanks for reminding me.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                You ever have a good CANNED tomato? (a year or so ago DelMonte had a FABULOUS year.) They’re picked ripe (sometimes a bit overripe). They may not be the best tomatoes, but they’re far better for you than those stupid supermarket monstrosities.

                I recommend a garden, if you want eating tomatoes.Report

              • I live in an apartment, so a garden might be hard, although we do have a balcony, so maybe it’s not that hard.

                We do eat canned, diced tomatoes all the time. I make sauces with it. I don’t know where the tomatoes come from. We generally buy generic at our local (alas, chain!) grocery store, so as a rule we don’t get Del Monte.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                Blaise, two businesses to look at here include Backyard Farms and Olivia’s Garden, which I couldn’t find a website for, located at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester.

                Both are doing indoor hydroponics, and sell amazing products.

                And I’d be looking to locate in states with Medical Marijuana on the books, lots of knowledgable workers available and the support businesses for full-blown hydroponics already in place.Report

              • Avatar zic says:

                Pierre, I don’t know where you live, but there are options in many places. First is farmer’s markets, where farmers sell directly to customers during the growing season. Second, for growing your own, would be victory gardens. Does you city/town have such a thing? If not, is there a group you can identify working toward that end? And if you want to search for such a group, make sure to ask at some of the churches, particularly the Seventh Day Adventist church.

                I’m atheist, but I firmly give credit to the Adventists for keeping organics alive during the 1980’s and 1990’s.Report

              • Zic,

                Thanks for the recommendations. I actually live in Chicago, and in my neighborhood at least, there seem to be a lot of options like the ones you suggest, although I haven’t investigated them. I know that in the summer months, there is a farmers’ market, and although my finacee and I haven’t shopped there, we have walked through it a few times to look around. I’ve seen community gardens in our general area, but am not sure how they work. (I could certainly ask, however.)

                Interesting fact about the Adventists. I hadn’t heard that before.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                One word: Location.

                I pull off the Interstate, past all the factory food outlets, looking for the old downtown. There’s where you’ll find the restaurants worth eating at.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Summerset Diner, on the PA turnpike. Some of the best damn greasy-spoon burgers (ground fresh) you’ll ever find.
                (and Pierre: half the price of McD’s (also less product, to be fair)… volume business, ya know?)Report

      • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

        Yeah SF’s zoning rules can ge pretty crazy too, IMO, but the resulting local shops and restaurants kick ass.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        “best food scenes”… for its size, of course. (my opinion would probably be higher if I actually ate lobster, or liked fish, I suppose. Duckfat was fantastic, of course).Report

        • Avatar zic says:

          I’m allergic to seafood, so I know there are good alternatives in Portland.

          Two doors down from Duckfat is Ribolita, amazing Italian food. Up the street is Pepperclub. Around the corner on India St., Mucucci’s, an Italian grocer, with the most amazing slab pizza ever. Up on Congress, Local188 is always a good choice. And on Pine St. in the West End, Ciaola’s. Walter’s, which just moved out of the Old Port. The Public Market’s always a good choice for lunch, with a number of vendors and a seating area inside, plus the best cheese shop in ME. I could go on and on, the point being it’s an amazingly vibrant food scene for such a small city, and it’s that way because the residents opted to ban new franchises and chains.

          I design hand-knits; that’s my profession these days. There continues to be hope that what’s happened with food will happen with fashion, but it hasn’t. There are plenty of local boutiques, but they haven’t turned into the supportive network for local production that we’ve seen in food.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            I’ll look these up next time I’m in the area… (probably ask you again for names. i’m a doof like that). If you ever get out to Pittsburgh, try our Eastern European restaurants, or our Asian ones. They are out of this world outstanding. We do a damn fine contemporary American too.Report

            • Avatar zic says:

              Thank you.

              Recently gotten interested in Eastern European food, particularly rye bread. Been experimenting. I’m blessed with a wood cook stove, and the the flavor a wood fire brings to bread making. Sitting next to it right now.

              I’m also intrigued by traditional salt fermentation used making eastern and northern European pickles and preserves. Sadly, the nitrates for cured sausage and ham are migraine triggers, so there’s much I can’t eat that I’d at least like to taste.Report

  8. Avatar M.A. says:

    Again, it’s economic freedom. There are no notable safety issues here that haven’t already been addressed, often and adequately, in every other major U.S. city. It’s purely a question of legislators’ vanity pitted against the freedom of developers and clients to conclude a peaceful business transaction, one that would in most cases yield cheaper housing as well.

    It’s not as simple as you make it out. A city’s skyline is, to whatever extent the city may define, a public resource. You can’t say that the image of the New York skyline wasn’t well known and didn’t change significantly with the loss of the WTC towers. You can’t say that most Americans wouldn’t recognize a shot of Chicago, or (in the days of Laverne & Shirley and Happy Days) the skyline of Milwaukee.

    By contrast, Vancouver’s skyline in Canada is so nondescript that it attracts the US movie industry – they can stage shots there and claim it’s in almost any US metro area without fear of someone seeing an iconic building in the background to break believability.

    These things have effects on tourism, trade, and in some cases surrounding property values (living in the shadow of a set a giant skyscraper restricts daylight to an absurd degree and can make it feel like you’re living in a giant sundial).

    If you want why they are studying the issue in Washington DC, there’s already a law on the books about it: Passed in 1910, of course.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      I am absolutely not claiming that there is no value to a particular skyline configuration.

      What I am claiming is that this value goes overwhelmingly to the wealthy and powerful, or else to tourists who don’t even live here and who would no doubt visit DC regardless of its skyline.

      And this value you’re insisting on — which I don’t altogether deny — it very definitely comes at the cost of more expensive housing for the poor. I suppose that their interests only matter when wealthy liberals say that they matter. Is that it?Report

      • Avatar M.A. says:

        What I am claiming is that this value goes overwhelmingly to the wealthy and powerful, or else to tourists who don’t even live here and who would no doubt visit DC regardless of its skyline.

        In a handwaving, no-evidence sort of way.

        I don’t live in DC. I live somewhere which has very lax zoning laws. I actually wish we had stronger zoning laws, and I support those who don’t want a 20 story condo building dumped in their building because they make very valid points about the traffic (there are nothing but 2-lane roads around the area), sunlight access, noise, and the eyesore level. The thing would look like a giant middle finger sticking up in the middle of nowhere from the neighborhood, and I base that on the developer’s own artist conception sketches and showcase model.

        And this value you’re insisting on — which I don’t altogether deny — it very definitely comes at the cost of more expensive housing for the poor.

        You’ve got to be joking.

        In the case I’m talking about, the condos are for yuppies, not the poor. It’s not a matter of “ooh they want to put low income apartments nearby.” They already did that, there are a set of low-income apartment buildings in the area and they’re doing just fine. There are also a number of existing town-home and condo structures in the area and those, too, are doing just fine.

        Please provide your next argument? Because these two don’t hold water.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          In a handwaving, no-evidence sort of way.

          The value goes to the wealthy in DC, because they can afford the luxury of a low-skyline city much better than can the poor. Because they cannot afford it, they are forced to make do with substitutes, like commuting from a long distance away, or just having smaller living quarters. For the rich, the restrictions don’t pinch as much.

          This isn’t even difficult to understand. It’s obvious. Want a liberal explaining how this works? Read Matt Yglesias’ book.

          The remainder of your comment is barely worth addressing at all. Do newly built condos go to “yuppies”? Perhaps they do. In which case, other housing stock opens up elsewhere, lowering the price. Unless you’ve found a way to repeal the law of supply, that is.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            Not that simple, folks.
            Land has value. Putting a condo in raises the value of the land around it, because it could also be condo-land.

            Housing for the poor is slums, and always will be as long as we continue to have building codes that make affordable (new) housing out of reach of the poorest cityfolk.Report

  9. I do believe that there is such a thing as “economic liberty” and that it is a good thing. (And per one of my comments above, I define “economic liberty” as the liberty to engage in voluntary exchange(s).)

    However, having identified or acknowledged the thing and acknowledged that it is good, I do not think it is obvious how to balance it against other good things. The D.C. example, about which I knew nothing until I read this post and the comments, strikes me as one of those easy cases, where the perverseness of infringements on economic liberty works so obviously (assuming if what I’ve read here be true) against the poor that it’s hard to argue for these infringements.

    But with instances of infringements, in other localities, such as the Portland, ME that Zic cites above, the case for “what is to be done” and “what ought to have been done” is a bit more murky, with tradeoffs that at least at first glance seem more defensible.

    Of course, Jason, I’m not addressing one of the key points of your post. I realize that you are trying to explore how policymakers might use economic liberty to their advantage, so the “easy case’ of D.C. works as a great illustration, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the lessons from that case might be easily expanded to other cities. (I for one think a more streamlined system of zoning requirements in Chicago might be a good thing for some of the city’s poor, provided it be done along more “liberal” (in the sense of “permissive”) lines. That’s only a hypothesis, because I know too little about zoning laws in general and Chicago’s in particular.)Report

  10. Avatar Damon says:

    “Let’s start with the second of these propositions. As Jaybird has already noted, Tuesday night was in one respect a huge win for individual liberty: Colorado and Washington states both passed initiatives that would legalize, tax, and regulate recreational marijuana for adults. ”

    The jury is still out on that. Is it liberty if the state police doesn’t arrest you but ATF does? We’ll have to see what the Feds do first before calling it.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      The DEA would have more to do with it than the ATF. I think that weed moving over to the ATF would indicate victory on a Federal level. They’re probably jockeying for it right now.

      In any case, I tackle your underlying point in my post. The Feds *WILL* arrest people in Colorado and Warshington and the case *WILL* go all the way to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court *WILL* find for the Federal over the States.

      But they will pay a price for doing so. One they don’t even see yet.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        But they will pay a price for doing so. One they don’t even see yet.

        Let’s hope.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        They haven’t paid a price for denying pot to a chemo patient so she can enjoy a meal, but they’ll pay one for denying it to a guy who wants to enjoy a concert? I am dubious.Report

        • Avatar Glyph says:

          Mike, I am starting to wonder if the MMJ movement, while totally sensible from one angle (because who in their right mind wants to deny a chemo patient some comfort, plus it did lead the wedge) was potentially a semi-mistake, from the angle of converting people who may have been on the fence, but definitely don’t like scofflaws or people who they see as gaming the system by getting prescriptions for medical conditions of dubious (doobius?) validity.

          Personally, I think that “insomnia” or “because otherwise, I am really, really stressed and angry all the time” or “because this DMB concert will sound totally awesome!” are totally valid reasons to toke up.

          But I can see many people going, “hey, wait a minute…that’s not honest, MMJ was supposed to be for people who needed medicine.”

          Legalizing or decriminalizing it for everybody takes away that charge. You can still not like it, but I hope the people I describe might then be able to adopt a live-and-let-live attitude.

          Like the way many people view welfare – there are people out there who don’t mind welfare per se, but they do very much mind (perceived) welfare fraud. MMJ just brings up the spectre of ‘MMJ Fraud’ in these people’s minds.

          Legal MJ is just legal MJ, and hopefully these people can say “Well, I don’t like it, but it’s legal, so it’s no skin off my nose if other people want to do it, and why is it the government’s business anyway?”Report

          • Avatar Kolohe says:

            Except look at the trend line with (non-wacky) tobacco. ‘No skin off my nose, none of the govt business’, is definitely not the state of play, nor probably the future.Report

            • Avatar Glyph says:

              Good point. However, tobacco is both physically addictive, and physically debilitating, in a way that MJ isn’t.

              Hell, we’d probably save a bunch of money if we could somehow get all the cig smokers to switch over.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                You mean lose money Glyph ol’ boy. Tobacco smokers kick off early.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Oh yeah. That they do.

                Maybe we can just put extra toxins in the MJ, so everybody wins!

                (NOTE: this idea actually sounds like something that some in the govt. might be OK with, sadly – “let’s keep people from smoking too much by putting something in there that makes you feel sick after 1 joint!”).Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Like this?Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                That, or I was even thinking of things like Percoset/Vicodin, where it’s the acetaminophen (which, why is a much milder painkiller added to a freaking opiate anyway?) that causes liver damage – people on high doses or long runs would be better off with just the opiate alone.Report

        • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

          I suppose we could count on the fact that there are a lot more people in the latter group than the former. A lot of this is abstract until you personally are the one in jail.Report