NIMBYism, Technocracy, and Democracy: When do we let people and communities make decisions that might be bad policy?

Related Post Roulette

169 Responses

  1. Patrick Cahalan says:

    People make “non-economically based decisions” all the time. Provided that they’re reasonably broad, I don’t have an issue with them.

    “We want this area zoned for low-density residential use” or “We want this area zoned for low density commercial use”, those are okay with me.

    “We want this area zoned for low-density commercial use, but no porn shops!” is insufficiently broad in the exclusion. I’m not okay with it.

    “We want this area zoned for mixed-use” is a kettle of worms, but if that’s what you want, okay. But then you’re stuck taking the union of {things that are appropriate for light commerical} and {things that are appropriate for mid-density housing}… not the union of {things that are appropriate for mid-density housing} + [the intersection of {things that are appropriate for light commerical} {things that aren’t icky}].Report

    • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:


      Make restrictions too specific & suddenly they get captured by commercial or political interests. It is not uncommon to see established and successful bars use their influence over city councils & liquor license boards to drive out competition, or to see political types use them to secure power, or religious types to push their morality (see Blue Laws, etc.).Report

  2. Will Truman says:

    Most of the time I think communities should be able to make decisions, but they should not be free from criticism for doing so. Especially if those decisions have bad side effects.

    I think the bars-in-DC is an odd hill to lay down on. I mean, ideologically I guess I’m with them, but there are far more important things: Housing. I am far more judgmental when it comes to housing, because poor decisions create scarcity that drives up cost-of-living. Throw in the fact that those making the decisions are disproportionately likely to be the ones able to absorb those costs, and it is something I look on sideways about.

    But even then, I default to it being a local issue and need to be convinced that there is a systemic problem before I would favor outside involvement.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

      This always makes me wonder how we define “local”. You can always keep slicing into more and more local units until you have a unit comprised of folks who will agree with you. But you can’t pretend away the effects on other people who are part of a slightly-less local grouping.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

        Yeah, that’s true. It sort of relates back to my post about doing away with municipalities because, back where I am from, they’re carved out like gerrymandered districts. But yeah, I am thinking of the city or county level.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

          I favor things being as local as possible (even as far down to the individual) provided there is a proper accounting of externalities. The guy on the corner can tattoo anything he wants on his body. He can build what he wants in his yard provided it doesn’t pose harm to his neighbors. He and his neighbors can hold block parties provided they don’t block a major thoroughfare. His neighborhood can convert an old lot into a dog run provided they absorb the costs. Etc.Report

          • Jeff No-Last-Name in reply to Kazzy says:

            “He can build what he wants in his yard provided it doesn’t pose harm to his neighbors”

            Depends on how you define “harm”. A car up on blocks can lower property values, even if it poses no direct harm.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Jeff No-Last-Name says:

              While I haven’t thought through the full implications of this position, I’d argue that the harm one can reasonably objected to must be predicated on a rights violation.

              You do not have a right to high property value… at least not in any way that overrides his right to do as he wishes with his property.

              Conversely, you do have a right to freedom from physical harm, which would supersede his right to house a nuclear reactor.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kazzy says:

                Well, this is one of those grandfathered things.

                If your local city has already passed an ordinance that says you can’t leave a car up on blocks in the front yard, and somebody buys the property and puts a car up on blocks, I’m okay with saying, “Er, no.”

                I think it’s okay – to a degree – for communities to provide some entailments to property. But you’re in dangerous territory, there. A couple of entailments is not a big deal. A couple of hundred is.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                And I say this as someone whose next door neighbor is exactly the sort of property that negatively impacts property value. While much of what he does bothers me, I limit my complaints to when his dog wanders onto my property… and even then I usually don’t make a fuss if the mutt isn’t causing a fuss (though that will surely change once the baby is in the picture). So, this is a principle I follow through in real life… as hard as it is.Report

              • dhex in reply to Kazzy says:

                speaking of dogs, neighbors who own them put an awful lot of negative externalities (if that’s the word to use) on those of us who don’t.

                – a small percentage leave dog poop everywhere. mega gross.
                – loud barking at all hours of the day and night
                – possible injury or death from attack

                even though i’m starting to get kinda racist against dog owners – especially tiny women with giant pit mixes they clearly can’t control walking on the goddamn children’s playground like they haven’t realized that they can’t control the dog that’s hip high and outweighs them and that it’s illegal as all hell to begin with – i’m not sure i could even begin to justify a dog ownership ban. despite most of the dog owners around here contributing nothing to my life and a few adding negative – and potentially deadly! – consequences. it just seems more lousy to be all schumer-bloombergian about it than having to constantly be on guard for off-leash ding-dongs who think yelling “don’t worry he’s friendly” is an acceptable substitute for not being an off-leash ding-dong.

                from public parks, though, maybe. dogs in the park are a lot like cigarettes in the park for people who don’t own/smoke them – a nuisance, often filthy, and (perceived as) potentially dangerous.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to dhex says:

                There is nothing… and I do mean nothing that infuriates a responsible dog owner more than seeing somebody’s dog’s crap in the neighborhood, or having a yelping/barking dog live next door.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                I’ve long wondered why it is socially acceptable for dogs to pee on the street but not me.

                At least I have the decency to go behind a dumpster.

                I’ve never heard my dog’s neighbor bark nor found poop on our yard and whenever it’s been on our property it has quickly retreated when I stepped outside. This last part bothers me because I often don’t see the owner and I’m not sure if he is aware the dog is out and even the safest, most well trained dog can still react unexpectedly in strange situations… but it has yet to cause a problem that has justified action on my part. I don’t know the owner, which precludes me from having a friendly chat… but right now it’s just a wait-and-see situation.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Wait… you want it to be socially acceptable for dogs to pee on you?Report

              • I’m glad your dog’s neighbour doesn’t bark. Dogs always have the best neighbours.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Well played, Mr. Callahan.Report

              • Will H. in reply to dhex says:

                I don’t think a cigarette is going to be as dangerous as a pit bull.
                Unless you’re thinking about taking a pack & ramming it up someone’s can.
                That could cause an injury.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Will H. says:

                I think a pack of pit bulls would indeed cause an injury.Report

              • dhex in reply to Will H. says:

                i meant in the sense of the occasional folk who will turn to someone smoking in public and yell about them giving the passer-by cancer or whatever.

                similar to how i am being irrational in viewing every off-leash dog as a threat. on the other hand, i’ve had a few run-ins at the park with people breaking off-leash hours rules (it’s before 9am and after 9pm) because i have a kid, and while he’s decent about the staying away from dogs thing, it’s hard to predict what children or animals will do. it’s only gotten nasty once, and that’s because you shouldn’t open a discussion with “you’d better keep an eye on your kid, my dog doesn’t like children”.Report

            • Depends on how you define “harm”. A car up on blocks can lower property values, even if it poses no direct harm.

              If Irish move into the neighborhood, what does that do to the property values?Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

                “being Irish” is sufficiently different from “putting your car up on blocks” that I notice a distinction, there.Report

              • Just wondering how much indirect harm might be measured… If someone doesn’t want to buy your house because of the neighbors, someone doesn’t want to buy your house because of the neighbors.Report

              • Will H. in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’m wondering on a not-quite-so-hypothetical level, how much harm is done when someone walks into a truck stop to take a dump, and the last guy (?) in there didn’t flush.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

                True enough. But I’m far more willing to accept some lumps because of essential properties of my neighbors than exercising of their will.

                My neighbors can’t help the fact that they’re Irish. They don’t have to put their car up on blocks on the front lawn. Even if they both affected me the same way, from a utility standpoint (the cost dropped equally), the first cost to me comes because society is prejudiced against Irish (in our hypothetical scenario), and that’s not their fault. The second comes because they have little consideration for their neighbors, and that’s a free choice of theirs.

                I have a problem with changing rules on people. “Hey, I don’t like Bob’s car up on blocks, so screw Bob I’m going to impose the tyranny of the majority on him.”

                I don’t so much have a problem with, “Hey, Bob? It’s been illegal to put your car up on blocks on your front lawn since 1976 in this burg, and you moved here last year. You’re gonna have to put that car in the back yard, at least, or the Stazi are gonna cite you.”Report

              • Will H. in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                True enough.
                If you sit down at a restaurant and order “something really greasy and slimy; some fried potatoes” it makes a big difference as to whether that’s on the menu in the first place.
                If you’re ordering that off the menu, they’re liable to take offense.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                For me, it depends on the reason for the law.

                If the law is there because cars that are left up on blocks tend to leak fluids into the ground water over time… I think you can justify it.

                If it is simply a matter of preferences… well… what happens if the cars-on-block people become a majority and decide that the true blights are those fancy fountains… or decorative mailboxes… or mowed lawns.Report

              • Fair enough. I am very much of the mind that we should make distinctions between “me problems” and “somebody else problems” and, for the most part, I can’t help but think that “property values”, as the argument has been held over the last howevermany years, is very much a “me problem” and “I” need to get over it “myself” without putting the cost on “somebody else”.

                My relations may or may not be “car on blocks” people, you see.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Typically, the laws are there because of black people, thirty years ago. Well, I shouldn’t say “typically”. But it’s certainly the case that my own town has a nice history of pervasive racism and a lot of the laws like this one were proxies for black people.

                They may also keep oil off the street, which is well and good. And to the extent they were used as a cudgel against black people thirty years ago, I’m willing to assign all sorts of opprobrium to ’em and even contemplate trying to correct some of the egregious injustice that may have been committed by using them that way.

                Still not sure that somebody who moved in next door in 2009 isn’t capable of accepting the property with the entailments that come with it. They aren’t a black person of thirty years ago.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                But the law is still very much about social control. We don’t like the sorts of people who’d do that almost as much, if not more, than we don’t like that actually happens. So not only does it prevent cars on blocks, but it helps us avoid cars-on-blocks people.

                Last I checked, there are no exceptions to rights for cars-on-blocks people.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                I’m a cars on blocks sorta guy myself. I can manage to keep that from showing up on my front lawn.

                I don’t think this is a terrible imposition on my liberty. I just don’t.

                Maybe I’m an exceptional human being, I dunno. Perhaps I should be more charitable to the weak members of the cars on blocks tribe, who simply cannot help themselves and must put them on their front lawn.

                For freedom.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                How far would you be willing to go to stop the guy from putting his cars-on-blocks?

                Fines? What if he can’t/won’t pay them?
                Confiscate it? Well, now you’ve gone and taken his rightful property.
                Jail time? Egads, man… surely THAT is a pretty big imposition on his freedom, no?

                If I knew that the laws were drawn up with some good intention and weren’t simply aimed at keeping THOSE people out of the neighborhood, whether this particular THOSE people are black or poor or rednecks or what, you might be able to convince me but I just can’t get behind increased restrictions on harmless behaviors that deliberately and unfairly target an already marginalized group.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                That’s a fair question.

                Here’s another one: if you buy a piece of property in a town where it’s part of the code that you don’t leave your car up on blocks, and you leave your car up on blocks, and you ignore the neighbor’s warning, and then you ignore the code compliance guy’s warning, and then you ignore the ticket, and then you ignore the second ticket, and then you ignore the summons, and then you ignore the last warning, and then they add X dollars to your property taxes, and then you refuse to pay your property taxes…

                How many iterations of encouragement are legitimate before punishment for the previous ignoring of the encouragement is sufficiently distanced from the original infraction that we can legitimately say this isn’t about his car being on blocks any more?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                I dunno… after how much civil disobedience do we just deem the person a criminal and be done with them?Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                I don’t think the answer to either question is fully expressible in first principles, which is sorta what I’m getting at over here. Which is funny because it’s right next door, today.

                I think sometimes you have responsibilities to your neighbors, and sometimes you don’t. And some individual expressions of will are legitimate, and some aren’t.

                I think libertarianism and communitarianism are both illustrative in expressing why these things are and aren’t. If you stick to one or the other, you’re shutting off half of what’s going on.

                And I think that encoding either of those things in law is very often problematic, and very likely over-used in our society, and that’s why I’m sympathetic to Jaybird’s “I think the ratchets are too tight” argument without needing to agree with how tight they ought to be, on the face of it. It isn’t – in and of itself – always justifiable or always not.

                I think it’s reasonable to ask that if you’re going to live in a community, and that community has fairly inconspicuous demands on your freedom of expression, it’s more legitimate to either use your freedom of exit (which I’m a fan of making easier over not) or agitate for change than it is to ignore it.

                Hey, let’s take the example of this guy.

                Let’s say, hypothetically, that this is not a legal way to paint your house in that locale.

                Now we have a choice, we can repeal that law, or we can cite this guy for violating the law. Maybe we can cite this guy for violating the law and the governor can grant him a reprieve.

                What we shouldn’t do is decide not to cite this guy, because this is a case where we approve.

                Because if painting your house is subject to approval rather than a set of rules, then we’re not providing equal protection, and that’s not okay.Report

              • aaron david in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                “Hey, let’s take the example of this guy.

                Let’s say, hypothetically, that this is not a legal way to paint your house in that locale.

                Now we have a choice, we can repeal that law, or we can cite this guy for violating the law. Maybe we can cite this guy for violating the law and the governor can grant him a reprieve.

                What we shouldn’t do is decide not to cite this guy, because this is a case where we approve.

                Because if painting your house is subject to approval rather than a set of rules, then we’re not providing equal protection, and that’s not okay.”
                You know, this is actually much more important than most people realize, and is in many ways related to the problem of Prosecutor Overreach. In other words, we have created a framework of so many laws, so much code, etc. that when a PA goes after someone for civil disobedience,say, and he looks at he case, not only does he have possibly hundreds of laws to choose from, isn’t he at some level required to indict on all of them, because to run from what you are saying, he either applies the whole of the law, or tacitly approves of the parts that he thinks are OK for whatever reason.

                So, in other words, should the executive branch, the Prosecutor, get to decide what laws the legislative branch enacted are “cool/not cool?”Report

              • NewDealer in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:


                There is always prosecutorial discretion but it is a double-edged sword. Some of the decisions are made because of limited resources. Others based on ideology: hence the recent issues with standing in the Prop 8 case and possibly in DOMA because the President refused to defend it.

                The paint example is a little silly because those are not passed by legislators but my neighborhood associations. I am a bit more iffy on neighborhood associations but they can have their place if done well. Aesthetics do matter to people and can effect economics though because all these things are weird. Generally I think there should not be strict laws about what colors a person can paint their house.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:


                I am actually a fan of requiring that all laws be enforced in all situations without discretion. Too often, when I hear “discretion” invoked, it means that certain people are being given favorable treatment over others. And I hate it. If there is a law on the books about how you paint your house, everyone who violates it should be prosecuted or fined or administered whatever the penalty is. Soon, folks will realize, ‘This is a pretty shitty law. You can’t do anything in this town!’ And the laws will change.

                So, I do not think that we should ignore violations of the law. But I think we should consider whether those actions ought to be violations in the first place. And I don’t think painting your house as a rainbow flag or putting a car up on blocks should be violations of the law, full stop.

                Now, to this statement… “…that community has fairly inconspicuous demands on your freedom of expression…” I always bristle when one group of folks, who are not particularly burdened by the demands, attempts to tell another group, who is, what is “inconspicuous” or reasonable and what is not. With all do respect, it seems the height of presumptuousness. Maybe that person *really* enjoys the look of cars on blocks and would be depressed without it. Maybe the person doesn’t have the money to get the car repaired just yet and has no where else to put it. Maybe the person prays to the god of cars on blocks and his display is a religious shrine. Ultimately, it is up to that person to decide the intensity of the demands being placed on him or her.Report

              • aaron david in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                But that just opens a larger can of worms, in that could not SCOTUS send back both of those cases, DOMA and Prop 8, ot just because of standing, but to ensure that the executive was actually doing its job, thereby delaying SSM?

                Also, as for Prosecutor discretion, why? Now, I understand if she can’t make a case based on the facts, and ideology is kinda covered by election, but discretion runs both ways, when the book gets thrown at someone such as Aaron Schwartz. We don’t like that because at some level, we agree with him. But those laws are all things we have agreed, through our elected representatives, are things we want.Report

              • NewDealer in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:


                What if the Obama administration or Jerry Brown argued for DOMA and Prop 8 even though they did not support it and the Supreme Court upheld both pieces of legislation?

                Obama was not in office when DOMA was passed. He has a right as a politician and head of a party to announce his ideological opposition and try to hasten the demise of the law.

                The standing issues are serious. For prop 8, it will mean that gay marriage is legal again in California probably. I have no idea about DOMA but the Supremes seem to dislike the law.

                As for prosecutorial discretion it exists for a whole bunch of reasons:

                1. Limited Resources. This is a hard and sad fact but we simply do not have the resources to investigate and jail every criminal. Governments and police need to decide whether to go after petty theft or burglary without any witnesses (this happened to my apartment in 2008) or more serious and violent crimes.

                2. Prosecutors are not supposed to go for a conviction if they feel they can not meet their burden of proof. Just because the police arrest a suspect to a crime does not mean that the prosecutor can prove guilt in a court of law.

                3. Politics and Compassion and Reform. Perhaps a liberal-minded prosecutor wants to send drug addicts/purchasers/possessors to treatment centers instead of prison. Or child defendants to programs aimed at reform.


              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                I am actually a fan of requiring that all laws be enforced in all situations without discretion. Too often, when I hear “discretion” invoked, it means that certain people are being given favorable treatment over others. And I hate it.

                I find it distasteful, myself, but this is one of those things where it usually does work, most of the time. Just as often I’m annoyed when I hear about people not using reasonable discretion (shall we talk about lemonade stands?)

                We have speeding laws, and they encourage safer driving, but every once in a while you’re the guy who gets the ticket even though everyone is breaking the law. There’s one CHP officer and 1,000 cars to choose from.

                As unjust as this can be in practice, usually it accomplishes it’s goal, which is to make the roads safer than everybody. So in that way it does what it was supposed to do even if 17 year old males get more tickets than soccer moms, or black people get more speeding tickets than white folks.

                I’m not entirely against discretion. If you’re going to put in discretion, though, you have to be discriminating about it. And if your law requires too much discretion (or too many exceptions), then yeah – “This is a shitty law” is probably the conclusion you ought to draw out of that.

                Like I said up above, one or two ordinances about what you can or can’t put on your front lawn aren’t particularly burdensome. Hundreds are.

                We have thousands, probably. Changing that is probably a really good idea.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Practically, you’re right that not every violation can be pursued. If there is one cop and 1000 speeders, he’s not going to get all 1000 of them. But he also shouldn’t say, “Well, that guy seemed nice, so I’ll let him go, ” or “That’s a Lexus… He’s probably someone important late for something important, I won’t even pull him over.”

                Pull over all the people you reasonably can and give them all tickets. Cops are not judges nor juries; they do not get to decide guilt or innocence. They report what they observe and it moves through the legal system.

                Of course, I’d be much more trusting of discretion if those folks trusted to exercise it could actually be trusted to be properly discriminating. I’m not too confident in that right now.

                I also don’t object to carving out specific exceptions within the laws that are universally applicable. “The speed limit is 55 but, practically speaking, we will only pull people over who are above 60. All tickets written for speeds between 55 and 60 will be thrown out.” Something like that.

                I also think laws should be as explicit as possible.

                “Loud music that causes a nuisance is outlawed” is too vague and prone for abuse.
                “Music above X dB’s when measured from a point on the sidewalk immediately in front of the main entrance to the domicile is outlawed” is a much better law.

                And even one or two ordinances on lawns that are purely aesthetic is problematic. The law should not concern itself with aesthetics.Report

              • NewDealer in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:


                Laws can be invalidated for being too vague. However, there is a reason to give leeway and let stuff be up too interpretation as well.

                The Sherman Anitrust Act merely bans unreasonable restraints on trade. It does not say what unreasonable restraints on trade are. This allows the government and citizens to sue for unfair business practices and does not require Congress to amend the act everytime a business or group of businesses comes up with a new and creative unreasonable restraint on trade.

                There are a few things that are illegal per se according to the Supreme Court in Antitrust Law. The rest are done on a case by case basis. Sometimes a practice might be okay, other times not depending on the context.Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:


                Personally, I’d argue that we amend the laws as new situations evolve. Leeway just leaves too much room for abuse, especially as it is so often employed.

                Regarding unfair business practices, I recognize you cannot draw up an exhaustive list of practices that might be unfair. So draw up a list of acceptable businesses practices.

                Generally speaking, I think we’re better served by fewer laws that are better articulated and leave little room for interpretation.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird says:

                “If Irish move into the neighborhood, what does that do to the property values?”

                Raises them, if it’s a city worth living in.Report

              • Chris in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                It definitely means more bars will open there.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                For the record, Jay’s wife is Irish-Canadian. (I grew up hearing stories about so-and-so ancestor visiting Boston and being turned away from places.)

                Perhaps relatedly, when we were buying a house, my FIRST priority was that there be no HOA. Jay’s first priority was that we have a big kitchen and a garage.

                Our house has none of those three things. It’s a good house.

                He’s a good husband.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Maribou says:

                I have always assumed that. I have also assumed that you are a good wife.

                Together you are pretty amazing.Report

              • Jonathan in reply to Maribou says:

                I still find it weird that HOAs have any actual real power, but that’s just me, I guess.Report

          • Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

            Kazzy, I am actually wary of hyperlocalism. I’m down with the “local of one” idea, but outside of that, the more local you get, the higher the degree of intruding norms everybody can agree on.

            By way of a discussed example, there’s no way my home county could ban cars on cinder blocks. But individual neighborhoods sure can. They can also more easily decide that these four colors are appropriate to paint your house. And, we don’t care what your schedule and financial situation are like, everyone here can agree that anybody who doesn’t mow their lawn once a week needs to pay a fine, right?

            If there’s one thing I’m going to miss about the wide open west (and there’s more than one thing), it’s that I can live in a huge house* on a double lot next to a house with a clawfoot bathtub in front of it where somebody put in dirt and is planting flowers. It gives me a tingly, patriotic feeling.

            * – We’ve moved (or are moving) out of it, but you get the idea. Now, we live in a workshop that was converted into a nice little house. I wish this place had been available when we first moved out here.Report

    • greginak in reply to Will Truman says:

      I think one of the underlying factors that separate liberals, conservatives, libertarians and berryilim types is how we see the degree of connection or how we influence each other. Each group see the affect we have on each other differently, so libertarian and non-so con conservities see the affects of laws on business or in econ terms. So con conservatives will see the connections based on an implies shared moral fabric that is irreplaceable and fragile. When one group sees no connection or influence the other groups are seeing a major connection.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to greginak says:

        I never thought of it that way but its a great way to frame it.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to greginak says:

        This is a very good point. I don’t see a lot of the major connections that social conservatives make especially the more pearl clutching ones. It goes right over my head.

        However, my liberalism is different than Matt Y’s neo-liberalism that is all about economic “pro-growth” things. I have no problem with a community with 4-6 bars (randomly selected number on my part) is enough and that adding more bars would just lower the quality of life for a community. I know this from first hand experience.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:

          I think that’s okay if those people seeking to restrict the bars are fully on board with what it means to restrict bars. If a smaller commercial footprint means reduced public transportation services, those folks should be ready to accept that. Etc.Report

  3. greginak says:

    To quote Jay in matters taste people, and i’ll add The People, should be able to do what they want. Proper policy means a million different things. Matty Y’s focus on econ is his own major blind spot. People always do things for far more reasons than econ reasons. The Homo Economus vision of people is pretty narrow and clunky. If anything people just like to state their personal preferences in econ terms to make them sound better. People should have a lot of sway in making the type of community they want.Report

    • Murali in reply to greginak says:

      I don’t take so dim a view of MattY’s econ view of things. Lots of people prefer policies esp coercive policies which give them or don’t take away from them some kind of privilege which is aesthetic in some way. like zoning. i.e. there are a lot of other values that people invoke other than economic ones to justify policy. But, MattY’s focus on the economics of it forces us to think about the cost to the poor. Is it ok to support nice zoned sub-urbanish neighbourhoods if such a policy comes at the cost of the wellbeing of the poor?Report

      • greginak in reply to Murali says:

        I think people look at their own wallets rather than how things affect the poor when taking an econ view of things. I agree that an econ view can be helpful at times. Some liberal solutions end up hurting more than helping when a useful econ frame is applied. But mostly i see the econ view used to justify what people want anyway or to make people like themselves better off.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to greginak says:

      I concur. I think one of the reasons many (but not all) people on the left get down on Matt Y is his narrow and clunky focus on econ, econ, econ.Report

      • Ryan Bennett in reply to NewDealer says:

        He bugs the hell out of me sometimes too, but I always assumed it wasn’t myopia that caused this but it was his desire to stake and defend some turf that was uniquely HIS in the blogosphere. If you want to talk about feelings and culture and sh*t you’ve got your choice of other guys and girls to read, but if you want purely economic reasons for battling unnecessary regulation as it pertains to domestic land use policy then, well, he’s is your man.Report

        • Murali in reply to Ryan Bennett says:

          One reason why I see all this talk about other non-tangible stuff by self proclaimed liberals as deeply problematic is that the use of reasons which rely on affirming the goodness of non-tangibles violates liberal neutrality.Report

        • NewDealer in reply to Ryan Bennett says:

          This might be because I am a lawyer but I disagree with him on what he considers unnecessary regulations much of the time.

          There is a reason for licensing in professions that involve anything that can cause physical harm to clients and/or the profession involves a fiduciary duty of some kind to the client. This is not to say that the regulations will catch all bad actors or prevent all injury but they do provide some training at least.

          There is a reason for saying that housing should have some basic functions and decency and preventing tennaments and making construction is safe and sound. Microapartments are only a solution to the housing crisis if you are a young single person and possibly well on your way to being a high-earner. They are not a solution for families with children.Report

          • Bob2 in reply to NewDealer says:

            I think Ryan Bennett has it down that he decided he wanted a topic of expertise in the blogosphere like Ezra Klein did with healthcare. He was definitely far too much of a generalist before he started writing on the subject, and he often isn’t very good at synthesizing other viewpoints or data.

            The other general criticism I see of MattY is that he tends to be too disassociated with consequences of the policy he prescribes. He doesn’t really go about asking enough real people whether cutting hair or doing nails should be licensed or not, but makes theoretical proclamations on how it would work in his mind.
            Instead of proposing limiting regulation in specific ways that people in the field would like to see, sometimes he throws the baby out with the bathwater because he doesn’t recognize the harm of no regulation at all.Report

            • Jaybird in reply to Bob2 says:

              He doesn’t really go about asking enough real people whether cutting hair or doing nails should be licensed or not, but makes theoretical proclamations on how it would work in his mind.

              Why is the question framed *THAT* way? Why not start with whomever wants us to move from “however we used to do it” to “the new way” has a burden of proof in the “we need to change” argument?Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

                “Why is the question framed *THAT* way? Why not start with whomever wants us to move from “however we used to do it” to “the new way” has a burden of proof in the “we need to change” argument?”

                Oh, but don’t you see? That already IS the way we frame the question… well, when it is non-Christians wanting to remove prayer from City Council meetings or gays wanting to get married or women wanting not to get raped or …Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

                So we can just point to all of the other times that we had moral justification to change things and just change things this time without pointing to any moral justification because, after all, we got rid of slavery?

                “Wait, why do I have to get a license to braid hair?”
                “Because we fought a civil war to free the slaves and we gave women the vote.”Report

              • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

                No no no…

                I’m agreeing with you. My point is that we tend to shift the burden based on what is convenient.

                When the powers that be oppose gay marriage, its proponents, the change seekers, shoulder the burden of proof.
                When the powers that be want to start licensing hair braiding, the opponents, those arguing for the status quo, shoulder the burden of proof.

                Convenient, no?Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kazzy says:

                The fundamental flaw of a democracy is that the majority decides where the burden of proof lies.

                That has a predicable outcome pattern.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

                The fundamental flaw of a democracy is that the majority decides where the burden of proof lies.

                Hmmm. I think I see what you’re sayin here. I’d say it differently, tho. The fundamental premise of democracy is that the majority has met the burden of proof, not that it establishes where it lies. Of course, in practice, having a majority does not constitute where that burden lies or being sufficient for having met it.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kazzy says:

                Let’s just say that when it comes to determining where the burden of proof lies, usually the majority decides that they’re not going to change their minds about anything unless you do the work. Effectively putting the burden on the minority.

                A Constitutional Republic has an advantage over a straight Democracy because there are some underlying rules about the burden of proof, which helps somewhat. In practice, though, it doesn’t work as well as we’d like it to do so.

                Granted, everything else is worse.Report

              • Bob2 in reply to Jaybird says:

                I framed it that way because I was trying to sum up the general complaints I’ve seen elsewhere about his writing on job licensing. I wouldn’t deign to tell a carpenter how to do their job unless I knew more than a little bit about carpentry. I’d ask more questions first.

                Moreover, I think framing it like you proposed misses the emotional point. Why should anyone listen to him in the first place at all if he doesn’t actually have any expertise? It’s too abstract to simply say that the burden of proof is on MattY when part of the issue is that his writing is offensive and patronizing to people who work in the fields in question.

                MattY’s has a bully pulpit that other pundits read and quote, and the people who are being licensed often don’t. His ideas often become the common wisdom to the pundit class as a result, and I believe that means he has the responsibility to at least do a bit more research before coming to conclusions, or at least frame his posts on the topic sometimes as more of an open question than a reached conclusion. He could start a conversation about the topic instead of an argument.Report

              • Ryan Bennett in reply to Bob2 says:

                Well, and his lack of specific expertise in any given field is why he usually picks examples where hidden “gotchas” that licensing protects us all are unlikely. For example, barbering, where it really does seem to be the case that the worst that will happen to you is a bad haircut.

                He uses other examples where it might not be quite as clear-cut but where the protection offered by licensing is of lesser value than the costs (not just in money) that it imposes. It’s also quite clear, regardless of stated reasons for licensing and anyone’s specific expertise, that the implementation of licensing often creates a framework for massive amounts of corruption and cronyism. For example: every taxi and limo commission everywhere. It doesn’t require us or Matt to deny there are real reasons for licensing in order to call out that it very frequently has these massive negative impacts.Report

              • Bob2 in reply to Ryan Bennett says:

                No one argued that there aren’t negative impacts with licensing and cronyism, just that Yglesias was not particularly interested in addressing counterfactuals that were in the comments. I don’t even dislike him in particular, just that he’s frequently wrong on a lot of issues because of this sort of thinking.

                There were a lot more objections than bad haircuts being an issue such as health/safety/independent contracting being the norm/chemical safety, etc. He also never really asked why licensing was the norm in the first place from a historical perspective. Claiming that the UK didn’t have licensing doesn’t mean they don’t have other liability or safety laws covering it or addressing UK complaints about a lack of licensing, which we would lack here.

                I don’t recall that he ever ran any numbers on whether there would be no cost because it was much too abstract. Given that licensing is the province of the state, state to state licensing requirements are at issue and not necessarily the licenses themselves. If you just read Yglesias, you get a pretty incomplete picture of the inherent problems.

                The purely economic framing he likes to use has a tendency to negate value in things that aren’t purely monetary, and he ends up posting monstrous pieces on how a woman shouldn’t complain her property taxes went up 3x, which she claimed would force a tax sale, because he automatically assumed her property value also went up 3x.Report

              • Bob2 in reply to Jaybird says:

                It occurs to me just now we may not even be thinking of the same piece.

                As such, I do agree with you who shares the burden of proof.Report

            • NewDealer in reply to Bob2 says:

              I agree with your second paragraph but it is also my general problem with pundits and bloggers. There is a certain Avignon Pope quality to many of them.Report

          • Kimmi in reply to NewDealer says:

            300 sq ft. was enough for your grandparents (or at least someone’s grandparents). Why is it not enough for you?

            Microapartments appear to be the solution SF’s Chinatown is pursuing, albeit illegally.

            Our laws on housing create slums naturally (in that there is no way to build an apartment to code cheaply enough for the poor to afford. But there’s little regulation on old apartments, so they get left to run into the ground). This is NOT the only way to do things.Report

            • NewDealer in reply to Kimmi says:

              1. Good enough does not mean that they enjoyed it. I never heard my grandparent’s wax nostaligic over their childhoods in the slums of the lower east side and poverty.

              2. We should seek as a society to improve overtime instead of just continuing standards of misery.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to NewDealer says:

                Nor should they! But I must say, I would rather there be a group of people who can afford to live in the city and work at low-paying jobs. I do not see crowded living conditions in the same vein as “lack of electricty” or “lack of proper sewage treatment.”

                I think a properly kept tenement is probably better than a house with mold issues, healthwise. Let alone slums with open holes in the roof, or black widows trying to bite you (both of which exist in my city, btw).Report

  4. Kazzy says:

    I loathe when folks think that economic reasoning is the only legitimate way to assess and evaluate a decision. It is why I didn’t like the logic behind “Whats the Matter with Kansas?” argument. Lots of factors should be considered; a bad economic policy may be a good social one (I’ve actually got a similar question-based post forthcoming).

    One thing I always dislike about NIMBYism is that it often seems folks want to have their cake and eat it, too. I don’t want more bars but I won’t be happy if housing/rent prices rise to reflect an increased family-friendliness.Report

    • Alan Scott in reply to Kazzy says:

      But are NIMBY arguments really a function of moral or social policy?

      If people were saying “I don’t want bars anywhere”, then it’s a moral or social argument. If people are saying “I don’t want bars in my in my city”, then it’s likely still a moral or social argument, just coming from someone who’s limiting the scope of their battles.

      If someone says, “I don’t want bars in my neighborhood, but bars across town are okay”, then that’s no longer a moral argument. Now it’s just the weighing of people’s preferences. That’s more or less what economic means. In New Dealer’s discussion about bars in his neighborhood, he’s pointing out the negative externalities that come with the bars in his own neighborhood. You could pick around a bit as to why largely doesn’t mind the bars, but I’ll bet those reasons are fundamentally economic too.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Alan Scott says:

        I was referring more broadly to decision-making, not just NIMBYism. My school has some financial restraints. But my boss wants to expand certain offerings that currently operate at a loss. We can make an economic decision and not expand or even cancel them OR we can make a progmatic decision and take a financial hit. Neither one is a “bad” policy… It just depends on what your goals and priorities are.Report

        • Alan Scott in reply to Kazzy says:

          But economics isn’t the science of what’s least expensive. It’s the science of goals and priorities. Deciding to take a financial hit based on your priorities is no less of an economic decision than deciding to save money.Report

      • greginak in reply to Alan Scott says:

        ND stated some of the reasons he doesn’t like the bars: loud drunks and trash. Those aren’t really econ, or if they are econ than everything is econ.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Alan Scott says:

        I don’t want to close down any bars in my neighborhood. I like having bars and restaurants in my neighborhood. The ones we have are pretty good and diverse.

        I don’t think it is being NIMBY to say we have enough bars because more would just increase the negative externalities.Report

  5. Alan Scott says:

    Obviously the tyranny of a majority should not be used to oppress or attack minorities: religious, ethnic, gender, sexual, national, political, etc.
    Just want to jump on this the reason we condemn a tyrannical majority that attacks minorities isn’t because of the minority as a class. It’s because each member of that minority is a person deserving of respect.

    When the state tells me I cannot marry because I’m gay, that isn’t a crime against some nebulous class of gays. It’s a crime against me. That’s it’s a crime repeated millions of times against others like me makes it more horrific, but doesn’t change that I, an individual person, am the victim. If the state were to tell my straight brother that he couldn’t get married because they don’t like his face, would that somehow be less of a crime?

    Minorities need to be protected from the majority because they’re a target of unjust and capricious action based on skin color, sexual orientation, or some other characteristic. We should absolutely condemn that. But it’s folly to draw the line there and not condemn other unjust and capricious action when we see it.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Alan Scott says:

      I agree with you.

      I did not necessarily always mean to imply that a majority is always right or should always get your way. All people are deserving of respect and should get protection of law, civil liberty, and a guarantee of being treated with dignity and decency whether they are in the minority or not.

      However, a democracy still needs to allow some forms of majority rule for it be a democracy and this comes with enacting preferences which might not be optimal economic policy. Perhaps a community will lose out on some cash because they limit liquor licenses but they should not be derided for being NIMBY because of a preference for a quiet neighborhood.Report

  6. LWA says:

    I’m a bit confused by the question- What makes limiting liquor licenses “Bad Policy”?

    City planning is always about balancing different uses and functions and activities. Were the citizens advocating no liquor licenses anywhere in their neighborhood? Or just not so many?Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to LWA says:

      I read it the opposite – that having as many liquor licenses as possible popular for some, but not a great policy for the people actually living in that neighborhood.Report

      • Griff in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        No, the argument is that artificially restricting the number of liquor licenses is “bad policy” in that it leads to a sub-optimal outcome — there aren’t enough bars, so the ones that exist are overcrowded, can perhaps raise prices beyond what would be charged in a more fully competitive market, etc. And also, that if you restrict licenses only in a few (presumably rich since that’s who gets the lobbying done) neighborhoods, then it pushes more bars into other neighborhoods whose residents will then be disproportionately affected by the negative externalities (noise, annoying drunk college kids) in a way that wouldn’t happen to the same extent if the bars were spread out more evenly.Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to LWA says:

      Generally speaking I’d say that if the granting of liquor licenses comes with externalities, then you should either not grant liquor licenses or you should take steps to correct the externalities.

      You can put some of the externalities back on the liquor license holders, but you’re then raising barriers and encouraging rent-seeking. So you may want to consider a certain degree of limiting liquor licenses, combined with a certain degree of correcting externalities through other methods.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to LWA says:

      Meh. As with everything, there’s an exception.
      A “neighborhood” nearby is dry. But it’s commercial district is on the other side of the street from a quite wet neighborhood. So, they get all the BYOB places, and people simply stop into the pub across the street and pick up the booze before they eat.

      Mildly awkward? Yes.
      Leads to better choices for eating? Probably, more variety from somewhat limiting the stores who are carrying the beer/wine.Report

  7. However, I don’t see why it is so horrible for a city or neighborhood to say that they do not want more bars and to make a decision that is not economic in nature but based on desires that are less quantifiable like quality of life and peacefulness

    First, I agree with you–and with some of the other commenters above–that there’s more to such decision making than just economic motivations. And I think peacefulness is a pretty good one. And I think it’s legitimate not to want to live near a bar.

    Still, it might not be horrible, but it’s worth while to ask whose interests are being served. I know nothing about the example Yglesias, but here’s an anecdote from my own neighborhood:

    A few years ago, a corporate (citgo) gas station / convenience store set up shop across the street from a local mom-and-pop store which theretofore had been the sole convenience store in a quarter-mile radius (for how long, I don’t know). That mom-and-pop store tried to apply for a liquor license so they could offer a product that would help them stay in business.* (there may have also been an issue of neighbors not wanting a liquor store there, but because the nearest liquor store was about a quarter mile away and a couple of neighborhood bars were even closer, I have a hard time imagining one more liquor provider would make much difference.) They were ultimately denied, and although I didn’t follow the situation very closely, it seems one of the reasons was that other local liquor stores lobbied their alderman not to approve it. About a year or so later, the mom-and-pop store went out of business.

    For the record, I’m not a big fan of the myth of the virtuous small business owner who by his or her very nature is better than someone who might have anything to do with a corporation and who therefore deserves a tax subsidy or antitrust exemption. But on a person-to-person level, the owners of that store were always nice to me when I came in, and I was very sorry to see them go out of business. And if some of the other liquor interests hadn’t combined (assuming they did combine) to lobby against the granting of that license, they might still be in business.

    None of this proves much of anything. But growth vs. nimby’ism might not be the only or, sometimes most important, issue at stake. And liquor laws, especially in Chicago, are opaque and their enforcement has a reputation of being corrupt.

    But again, I do believe that it is legitimate to oppose bars because they tend to make the neighborhood noisy.

    *I don’t know if the Citgo sold / sells liquor.Report

  8. Creon Critic says:

    This often leads to the neo-liberal and technocratic set seeming to be vaguely anti-Democracy.

    I think this is a cheap shot insofar as everyone with strong views on some policy who isn’t getting their way will have dissolve the people and elect another (The Solution) moments. Part of the reason for the debate is precisely an effort to convince opponents, or more likely the uncommitted, that this or that position is correct. Also, it is a lot more difficult to argue with vague feelings of good or bad versus actual data.

    For instance, Yglesias directly responds to one of your concerns, “empty beer bottles and 40s”, by saying cities ought “directly address perceived problems with crime and trash” (emphasis in original). Maybe bars and restaurants ought to pay for morning street cleaning, or find a way to align the neighbors’ interest in less noise with that of the bars and restaurants. Fines for excessive noise complaints, bigger police presence late night/early mornings, etc. But “I have a feeling I wouldn’t like it” is too nebulous a concern to be addressed.Report

  9. Jeff No-Last-Name says:

    I like and agree but
    “Matt’s view [won] the day in his neighborhood ”

    I think this is what you want…

    Now to read the comments.Report

  10. BlaiseP says:

    What’s that old Mel Brooks joke? Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.

    Same goes for Good Policy and Bad Policy. Good by whose lights? After Wrigley Field put in the lights, there was a goddamn epidemic of drunk Cubs fans urinating on everything that wasn’t illuminated by a street lamp. And I do mean Ever Thang.

    But because the park has so much pull in City Hall, not much has been done about it. Hell, 44th Ward tried to do something about the the pub crawls in Wrigleyville. Rahmbo wouldn’t do anything about it. You could turn about five blocks of Clark Street into a Vomit Slip-n-Slide after one of those things.Report

  11. KatherineMW says:

    I’m fine with NIMBYism when it’s a community deciding they don’t want to be an entertainment district; there are other places in a city that would probably like to be near one. And if nobody in the city is willing to live near bars, then the city doesn’t get bars until one more party-happy neighbourhood decides that the inconvenience of living near a bar is less than the inconvenience of having no bars.

    I do have an issue of NIMBYism when it relates to things that are more necessary, like when nobody wants a homeless shelter or halfway house near them – because those things need to be somewhere, and they serve a good purpose for the city/town as a whole, and because the needs of the poor and marginalized shouldn’t come second to the preferences of the better-off.Report

    • Dan Miller in reply to KatherineMW says:

      The problem with this is that the costs of having bars in the neighborhood is borne only by the neighbors; but people come from across the city and enjoy the nightlife. So the benefits are enjoyed by everyone, while the costs are borne only by a few, who have much more at stake. It’s tailor-made for there to be too few bars.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Dan Miller says:

        Yup. Not only across city but sometimes out of town depending on the bar and/or neighborhood. Yay for bridge and tunnel kids who return to their residential suburbs in the wee hours of the morning.Report

        • Dan Miller in reply to NewDealer says:

          When I lived in SF, I was in the Upper Haight, but frequently went out drinking in the Lower Haight and Mission. It’s unfair for NIMBYs in those neighborhoods to shut out new bars, without taking my interests into account, and that’s one reason these moratoria suck.Report

    • Alan Scott in reply to KatherineMW says:

      As Ryan Bennett discusses below, it’s more often the case that the area is already an entertainment district, and people decide that their lives would be easier if it were less entertaining.

      Also, while I wouldn’t call bar patrons “poor and marginalized”, I would say they’re overall less wealthy and less politically connected, simply by virtue of being young. Certainly the bar is a luxury for a set of people who are still well-off enough to patronize it, compared to the necessity that is a homeless shelter. But it’s still the kind of business patronized mostly by people who would be very out of place at a zoning board meeting.Report

  12. Tod Kelly says:

    I think this issues like zoning in one’s own town and neighborhood show better than anything else how our political ideologies have more to do with tribal signaling than they do values fro which we make political decisions that directed effect us.

    Ideologies more often than not have to do with how we want things outside of our own sphere to operate.Report

    • Plinko in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      I say this frequently, but local issues are where most of the petty tyrannies we deal with are decided, and frequently completely without regard to ideological consistency.Report

      • Ryan Bennett in reply to Plinko says:

        Exactly. As I note below, a lot of the NIMBYism I see comes from rich guys moving into a neighborhood and then using their wealth to make things nicer for themselves, as they see it. Shutting down bars, closing off restaurants with sidewalk tables, harassing clubs.

        At the same time, these are people that are liberal, moved to the city for all the activities available and who are more than happy to get loud and drunk in some other neighborhood, but it doesn’t cross their mind that they’re being completely inconsistent. Or maybe they do recognize the inconsistency and just don’t care.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Ryan Bennett says:

          I don’t know that it is specifically a liberal problem, though there certainly exist people who fit the mold you’ve described. More often, it’s people who want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want XYZ but don’t want to deal with the costs of XYZ so they export those to that guy over there and simply enjoy the benefits. And, as is so often the case, the person eating the cake is wealthy, white, and/or powerful and that guy over there… isn’t.Report

          • Ryan Bennett in reply to Kazzy says:

            Oh, I totally agree. It’s just in the context of where I happen to live (San Francisco) it’s usually a liberal problem, and in urban variants of NIMBYism it’s more likely to be a liberal doing it, probably because liberals are thicker on the ground in the urban areas.

            And, truthfully, it bugs me more when it’s a liberal doing it because:

            1. I’m a liberal
            2. Liberalism is based, in part, at working to limit negative externalities so to willfully disregard them is a problem for me.
            3. Conservatism seems to hold, in some ways, that he who has the gold makes the rules. If people have money then they must have done something right, and if they can afford to make a problem someone else’s problem then that’s just the way the world works.Report

        • Bob2 in reply to Ryan Bennett says:

          I’d say The Great Gatsby covers the inconsistency of which you speak.

          I think there’s a discussion here less on NIMBYism and more on technocracy in how education is affected by this particular phenomenon when the rich gentrify neighborhoods. The rich can afford to send their kids to private schools. Those still left cannot.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      This is why I made a point to note that my objection to anti-cars-on-blocks laws has a real world consequence for me, namely because my neighbor is a cars-on-blocks kinda guy (I don’t know that he actually has any cars on blocks… but he has multiple personal water crafts sitting around on his property). And I hate it. I hate the look of it. And if it ultimately harms the property value of our house if/when we sell it, I’ll hate that, too. Yet, I’d never lobby for him to be barred from doing so. I might attempt to persuade him to, but I’d never use the force of law against him. Because, ultimately, I think that’s wrong… even if advocating such is ultimately harmful to me.

      The principled life is a hard one.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Interestingly Matt Y and I are both part of the left. Though as stated above and before, I am one of those liberals who is constantly annoyed by Matt Y. There are a bunch of us.

      His focus on economics and in ability to understand non-economics is a large part. Also he is a bit blind to his privileged upbringing (he attended one of the toniest prep schools in NYC, Harvard, and married into more money) It is galling to see him argue for price gouging* as a solution because a Felix Salmon stated, he is the person who can afford it.

      *This was his solution to the gas shortage issue after Sandy. When criticized, he doubled down.Report

      • Plinko in reply to NewDealer says:

        Dude, he writes the business column and blog at Slate. That’s his beat, you’re complaining about him doing his job.

        Also, he’s completely right on anti-gouging laws creating scarcity. If all you have is that he grew up with money, you need better arguments.Report

  13. Ryan Bennett says:

    A huge NIMBY factor for me isn’t so much zoning or economics, but time (and history) and income. I live in San Francisco. I’m in my later 30s and I live on Haight St. and Fillmore, which is right smack in the middle of an “entertainment district”. There’s 5 bars and even more restaurants on my block alone. Sure, as someone in solid middle age it can be annoying to deal with packs of yelling, drunk 20-somethings. But… I’m the one who decided to live HERE. I take responsibility for the annoyance I sometimes feel as the price I pay to live in an area where there’s a decent sushi restaurant under my apartment, and live music in walking distance.

    That being said, I see income and culture and time being the primary factors at the root of NIMBYism. All over the city bars and live music places and pretty much any place that causes “a ruckus” are under attack constantly, even though they’ve been there for years. One or two well-connected rich guys who buy $2 million condos can, with some effort, get bars or clubs or porn shops shut down or hemmed in to the point of bankruptcy. Just takes time and money, and the impact isn’t just economic or to some concept of freedom but it can literally change the landscape and character of a place given 5 or 10 years.

    So, it’s NIMBYism as an adjunct to Gentrification, and I’m introspective enough to realize my white, reasonably well-compensated, programmer ass is a symptom too. After all, 20 years ago junkies and/or those economically on the edge would have been living in the apartment I now pay quite a bit for.Report

    • Will H. in reply to Ryan Bennett says:

      That’s funny.
      When I think of NIMBYism, I think of all the gated communities in Orlando, some the size of small cities; where no manner of commercial endeavor whatsoever is permitted.
      Everyone else seems to think of some jumbled downtown area.Report

      • Ryan Bennett in reply to Will H. says:

        That’s funny. I’m from Florida and I’ve also lived in a gated community in Orlando. It’s the last place I lived before saying “screw this” and heading to California. So, I’ve seen both kinds. I’d have to say, I think the urban variant is worse, because the disparities in income, economics and culture are so cheek-by-jowl there. A guy in a 5 million dollar house with 100 million in the bank might only be a block or two from a bunch of seedy bars or clubs. You don’t get that so much in the burbs.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Ryan Bennett says:

      I live about 10 blocks away from you on but I am on the other side of Alamo Square. You do live near one of my favorite Sushi restaurants though. And I know the bars you are speaking about like Molotov’s. Not my favored bar, but I don’t go. I like Torando even though it is very small, they have a good selection of beers.

      I am not arguing for a complete shutting down of already established places but I think a community can say X amount of bars and restaurants is enough. There are a lot near me on Divis and I like them there but would not necessarily want more.

      My main swipe was against the growth, growth, growth thing.Report

      • Ryan Bennett in reply to NewDealer says:

        It’s a small town, ain’t it? I actually used to live over there too, on Fulton St.. When I moved in there was still a lot of violence, a few crack houses, etc. etc.. Now it’s quite gentrified and a lot of my friends who still live over there get pretty NIMBYish about the Divisadero corridor. Like, no more parklets, no more bars because it’s hard to even get around the neighborhood because of all the activity.

        Though, in that case the paradigm is flipped to some extent. People who bought there 10 years ago are happy because they bought when kids were still getting shot and got in cheap. So, they’re willing to put up with noise because the place they bought for $300k is now worth $750k. Every new fancy restaurant and hipster cafe with parklet raises the property values, others aren’t so happy. I know when I lived over there I bitched constantly about all the people there, but mostly because I would have preferred the burned out rockers and punks and black kids over the hipsters. Just goes to show everyone’s inherent focus on me, me, me, right?Report

        • NewDealer in reply to Ryan Bennett says:

          I am not sure. I think the former Plant It Earth nursery store is going to become a bar or restaurant of some kind. The Mill is trying to crowdsource for a park-let. And someone is creating a brew pub next to Little Star Pizza. The only place that seems perpetually closed is the old theatre next to the Independent.

          Of course all the development kicks out long term residents who tended to be minorities as the neighborhood becomes filled with young professionals and young upper-middle class families.Report

  14. Plinko says:

    I think you’re projecting a little too much onto Matt, ND.

    There’s nowhere, ever, that you’re reading him say anything even vaguely anti-democratic. More often, he does decry that hyperlocal decision-making often cuts many people affected by those decisions out of it to their detriment. But I see that as a perfectly liberal view of things – hyperlocalism is just an excuse for excluding people from decision-making. Minorities and the poor are going to get the short end of that stick the overwhelming majority of the time.

    Secondly, the exaggerated version of zoning is kind of nonsensical, given we’re talking about permitting for commercial enterprises in buildings zoned for commerce, not moving industrial operations into residential neighborhoods.Report

  15. Kolohe says:

    “I am rather sure that Matt Yglesais would be upset if someone opened a glassworks, forgery, or slaughterhouse next to his home.”

    I’m not. I don’t the guy personally, but I’ve been reading him a long time.

    (in particular, I’ve been to a few trendy neighborhoods around North America with some sort of artisanal glass blowing place, though I’m not aware of any in DC itself. Hyattsville, though has one.)Report

    • Alan Scott in reply to Kolohe says:

      If some factory owner wanted to pay ten times as much to put his factory in the middle of a residential area instead of over by the edge of town where the property is cheaper, they’re closer to the railroad tracks and the interstate, and parking won’t be an issue, I think Matt would say go for it.

      Look, it’s easy to play the “would you want an X in your backyard” game, but that game tends to ignore the fact that X doesn’t really want to be in your backyard either. Sure, not a lot of soccer moms want the skeezy porn shop to open up next to their kid’s elementary school in the middle of a suburban residential neighborhood. But the Porn shop doesn’t want to be there either–it wants to be in a place where it will attract customers.Report

  16. Kolohe says:

    random find on fark, somewhat related to the OP.Report

  17. zic says:

    I live in a rural area; a place where there are a lot of farms, including tree farms, and mining. It’s also a recreation destination, and about 20% of the homes are second homes, owned by people who live someplace else, many functioning as short-term rentals for vacationers. (This is Vacationland, says so on our license plates.)

    It’s pretty common to have folk get riled when, come spring, the farmer’s spread chicken shit on their fields, which smells pretty nasty for a few days. Also common to have folks get all dithered up when the owner of the forest behind their house decides it’s time to log it, or perhaps mine some of the gravel, gravel being a very valuable commodity and the most commonly mined thing here.

    All of those activities are highly regulated, particularly to protect water quality and wetlands.

    The nimbyism about them can be pretty conflicted, it often marks those who are native from those who are from away, called flatlanders here about; sometimes it’s deeply cultural, not just ‘not in my back yard.’

    Right now, there’s a lot of discussion about an oil pipeline that may be used for tarsand oil in Canada; it’s an old pipeline, they want to reverse the flow, and it passes through town for several miles. At our last town meeting, there was a question before the voters on passing a resolution saying the town was against this use of the pipeline. When the question came up for debate, the first hand raised was to move the question. A majority voted yes, and so the pipeline officials who came to talk at the town meeting weren’t even allowed to speak. The vote was held, and the resolution was passed by a clear majority.

    There was a lot of press after, and Nimbyism was thrown around.

    But I’m not sure that’s right; we already have a pipeline, the resolution won’t change that it’s there, won’t change that it’s got oil flowing through it. There were a lot of other concerns, a lot of data about the corrosiveness of tar sands oil vs. the oil now flowing and the age of the pipeline.

    My point being that what’s Nimbyism and what’s local control are not necessarily the same thing; and at the end of the day, local people have to work together to decide.

    My biggest concern in land use and zoning regulation is that the people who actually live in an area get clear voice. Poorer neighborhoods, poor residents within wealthier communities, often don’t get a voice in the process, and often have stuff inflicted on their neighborhoods we don’t want in ours.Report

    • zic in reply to zic says:

      I should add: with logging, farming, etc., there’s a pretty sophisticated link between keeping the land in production and preserving it from development as open space. Only rich people can own land without having it pay for itself.Report

  18. Nob Akimoto says:

    I’ve often wondered if municipalities or states can’t do a better job of making the costs of NIMBYism more apparent. For example, if a certain part of a city passes an ordinance banning liquor licenses, why not make sure that that part of the city doesn’t get the benefits from the local/regional liquor taxes?Report

  19. James K says:

    So League, when do you think we should let people and communities make decisions that are not necessarily good policy? Or at the very least are not economically based decisions?

    My trouble with this question is that communities are hard to define. If “the community” really didn’t want another bar, it wouldn’t open (or would close quickly) because it wouldn’t make any money. In practice “the community” means a group of self-appointed spokespeople. When I hear someone talking about “the community” I hold tight to my wallet.

    Leaving that aside, if bars are causing a problem, there’s a better way to deal with it. Externalities should generally be taxed, not regulated. Issue licenses freely, but with a fee based on how many people the venue can serve at once. The reason you don’t want to impose restrictions on new licenses is that it privileges existing bars over potential new entrants to the market.Report

  20. Brandon Berg says:

    How does this thread have 94 comments without one mention of Coase?Report

  21. Bob2 says:

    I would be very interested in knowing what people think about NIMBYism in terms of the Yucca Mountain Waste Depository if you do a logical extension of what they think about local bars and noise ordinances.

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Bob2 says:

      I think Obama did that for Harry so he could get re-elected. Given how important it is to actually dispose of this stuff, which is all over the country, stored on-site, in facilities that were never designed to store it, this offends me mightily.Report

      • Bob2 in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        “My question is when do we allow communities and people to make decisions that are not proper policy but are a matter of personal preference or majority will? …..However, I don’t see why it is so horrible for a city or neighborhood to say that they do not want more bars and to make a decision that is not economic in nature but based on desires that are less quantifiable like quality of life and peacefulness. Matt’s view won the day in his neighborhood and that is fine but he seems a bit disturbed that other places would decide differently.”

        After watching Fukushima Daiichi, it seems pretty imperative to dispose of waste properly, but many residents of the state of Nevada were opposed to the plan, even though the county in question was for it. Like you say, Obama did do it for Harry Reid to get re-elected, but it was already incredibly unpopular within the state of Nevada.

        In the long run, we’ll likely end up eliminating nuclear waste in several depositories instead of one in Nevada, but the question posed when extrapolated to California’s Prop system or other more controversial topics than local bars seems troublesome to me, and I’m not sure I have a good answer.
        In this particular case, there was endless back and forth on geographic stability issues and fault lines until the project was ultimately killed years later, and relatively quietly too after the initial national outburst.
        Along the same lines, it’s why we can’t have new nuclear power plants because between onerous regulations and locals lobbying against them anywhere you want to put one.
        On questions like this, ultimately, majority will is going to always be no and it gets dragged out endlessly under our current system. Who can make a decision if the popular will or local preferences can keep anything from happening for decades, even on important questions that could have more catastrophic results.Report

  22. North says:

    I think you make an excellent number of points, especially about the conflict and impact when commercial and entertainment uses abut up against residential areas. That said, I think this post, while good, does restrict itself to the low hanging fruit with regards to pushing back on neoliberal and Ygglessian criticisms of zoning and NIMBYism. For example, the vast majority of, and by far the most destructive examples of, zoning NIMBYism are not commercial versus residential issues but rather residential versus residential issues.

    As soon as people own property in a neighborhood they immediately become incented to keep it as close to the level of built up it was when they moved in as they can. The overwhelming preponderance of NIMBYism is the use of zoning to prevent more and denser residential housing from being built. This directly harms the poor and non-home owning residents from being able to find affordable housing*, this directly harms the environment by contributing to sprawl and there’s not much of a moral defense of it other than vague sneers against the evil of developers or whines that they don’t want more traffic and people in their neighborhoods. Pro-tip for NIMBY urban dwellers: if you don’t want to be near people then move out to the blighted countryside. Oh but of course you want short commutes, employment opportunities, plentiful services and all the joys that city living provides? I’m sorry Sir or Madame, having your cake and eating it are two logically exclusive options.

    I am always puzzled by the Liberal defenses of ridiculous zoning practices. It cuts against just about every other liberal constituency’s interests. Maybe it’s because NIMBYism is especially prevalent among the urban wealthy who make up such a trend setting, influential and vocal constituency on both the left and the right.

    *And towering irony of ironies they then idiotically start advocating for rent control.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to North says:

      *snort* ya’ll should come live here. we still got a 20% vacancy rate in da burgh.
      If that changes, then we can talk.

      Note: it’s one thing to bitch about us not letting huge shadowmaking apartment buildings in the area… but people renovate houses all the time, making multi-unit dwellings. So, there are middle grounds that can keep everyone happy.

      (a Mansion in these parts could easily hold 6-8 apartments. And it’d look prettier than a 10 apartment complex).Report

    • Kimmi in reply to North says:

      Also, North, I believe you vastly underestimate how many people these “single family units” were designed to hold. Pittsburgh’s lost about 50% of it’s population from peak, but only 20% vacancy. Most houses are designed to hold at least double what they’ve got in ’em now, and probably 50% more wageearners (even for double-income households)Report

      • Dan Miller in reply to Kimmi says:

        People are having fewer kids nowadays. It’s not unreasonable for someone to be OK with living with their spouse and 3 kids, but not be OK with living with 4 random strangers.Report

        • Kimmi in reply to Dan Miller says:

          Except that’s not the point, really. My point is that you’d originally have had more income earners (uncles, grandparents) that were related. Boarders were relatively uncommon.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to North says:

      San Francisco and NYC are pretty dense as cities can be. Neither can annex new land. The only way for them to become more dense is to raze everything and build huge apartment towers and complexes. NY (especially in Manhattan) already has this. Plus old office buildings in NY are being turned to housing. In my brother’s neighborhood of Williamsburg, there are lots of old factories being turned into housing and towers being built (personally I think they look like office buildings and who would want to live in those).

      This brings up a few issues:

      1. What makes a city a city? This is tricky, non-economic, and often subjective but I have a rather strong feeling that people who live or want to live in San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Boston/Cambridge, etc do so partially because of a distinct aesthetic look that those cities have. People do not want everything to look like Manhattan and I imagine their would be an outcry if all the Edwardians and Victorians were razed.

      2. The housing that I see being built in droves is not affordable rentals for the middle class but luxury condos for the upper-middle class and above. This has been true for years now with no end in sight and and none of the desired effects that many neo-liberals and libertarians said would come like a lowering of rent or more options for people with moderate incomes. In fact, there is evidence that in some cities like New York many of these condos are being purchased by the global elite and are not primary residences. Many of the units in these buildings are only occupied for part of the year.

      I have yet to see a compelling reason to support luxury tower after luxury tower. This seems like another false trickle-down situation.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to NewDealer says:

        It’s impossible to build housing to code for the price lower income people want to pay.
        Whether you like slums or not, they fit a niche, that we have made into a requirement.

        Ya, I think you’re right to talk about renovating factories rather than building more houses.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Kimmi says:

          I wonder about that. Building to code doesn’t seem to be the barrier. It’s the building’s finances which dictate the price point for rent: the owner has to cover his note and taxes.

          Slums are a different story. Slums arise when landlords aren’t obliged to maintain their properties, when they can pack ’em in, dozens of people in an apartment built for five at most. It’s not all that expensive to rehab an apartment. Banks are quite willing to do a rehab loan when they see a good revenue stream. Often, slumlords are their own worst enemies: they let their properties get so bad over time they reach the point where it’s no longer a viable proposition to do anything but a teardown and rebuild, especially if roofs aren’t kept up. That’s why we have so few intact castles: you have to replace the roof every hundred years or the whole thing becomes a Romantic Ruin.Report

          • Kimmi in reply to BlaiseP says:

            Maybe your slums are a little different than my slums (wouldn’t be the first time, eh?)
            I’m thinking the “student ghetto” variety, where you have decent people-density, a high crime rate, and no heat (people buy electric heaters).

            They’re pretty clearly in violation of laws, but… they prey on innocence

            (this isn’t to say that some of them aren’t complete and totally evil. But I’ve been in “nice” neighborhoods with houses that were health hazards inside…)Report

      • Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

        Well no, it could have more microapartments! (This is a response to that as much as this.) Micro-apartments may not be “the solution” for families or housing in general, but it is a part of “increasing residential capacity” which is a part of the solution. Microapartments can create more family-friendly apartments by providing units for thrifty single people. Since San Francisco is naturally limited as you point out, as is NYC, which to me increases the importance of building up or building smaller units (I realize that earthquakes may make “building up” harder for SF). I think Yglesias is absolutely right to toot this horn. Indeed, it’s people like Yglesias, MarketUrbanism, and so on that have given urbanism a renewed credibility with me. That perhaps, if we did a better job of getting out of developers’ way, they would create more room and more people who want to live in urban environments would be able to.Report

      • North in reply to NewDealer says:

        Developers may or may not refuse to build affordable housing but if they increase the supply of homes in the area then more of the homes in general in the area become affordable (unless there’s such an influx of people that they overwhelmed the increased supply).

        To your #1 I sympathize since I like nice buildings too. But this logic is typically extended to all the nice buildings everywhere in your market areas and oh the rules to preserve these nice buildings become a useful guilt free tool to prevent housing from going up which keeps our nice sidewalks empty and our nice intersections quiet. What the logical conclusion of #1 is seems to be stasis. So if the cities are to be frozen in amber you have either A) only the wealthy live there or B) (rent control) only (fewer) wealthy and those well connected to the rent control offices workers live there.

        To #2 We’re talking housing in urban areas in general here ND and I don’t think you’re correct. Pull out 5 or six single family urban homes and you could put in a midrise condo that’d have 100 living units (and underground parking for the same) for people. I think you enormously underestimate the ability of modern architecture to build dense housing. It doesn’t require some skyline blotting tower. I guarantee you, though, that the NIMBY’s would scream murder and fight it to the bitter end.

        NIMBYism is one of the most infuriating things that I encounter as a fellow liberal. What this boils down to is people perfectly content to consign the homeless to street living, the poor to ecology destroying soul crushing long commutes and the city to unrelenting sprawl (because people do have to live somewhere) just so they can satisfy their own aesthetic preferences and feather their own neighborhoods. It strikes me as massively hypocritical and I wish we could get around it.Report

        • Bob2 in reply to North says:

          I believe this is also why they can’t get proper public transit built in portions of California.
          I am not sympathetic to eminent domain as practiced by the government now, but sometimes it’s tempting.Report

          • North in reply to Bob2 says:

            You don’t even need eminent domain Bob2, in high demand housing markets a developer will happily drive a dumptruck of cash up to homeowners to buy the necessary plots. The primary impediment is not acquiring the space; it’s acquiring the permits and permission to build.Report

        • NewDealer in reply to North says:

          I think San Francisco has other reasons for why they try to avoid hi-rise buildings and underground construction.Report

          • North in reply to NewDealer says:

            Even in San Fran they could build both safely and more densely than they currently do if they weren’t blocked from it by zoning and Nimbyism. They don’t even have to tear down their picturesque historic properties to do it either.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to North says:

      I dunno. It’s harder to be a NIMBY in the city of Chicago. But not impossible.

      So my business partner and I were eating breakfast and the owner of the restaurant cursed out one of the waitresses, a lovely woman who’d been there for years, well-liked, reduced her to tears. Horrible scene. Her name was Sharon. We ate breakfast and often lunch there, every day.

      Dan and I got up from our meals and told Jeff to his face: “we’re not coming back in here for a week.” Jeff sneers at us.

      So Dan had lived in that ward since the early fifties, knew everyone. Next day, we went down the street and talked to the ward heeler. He knew about the incident with Jeff and Sharon, agreed it was abominable. We said “Do something about Jeff’s dumpster out there on the sidewalk on Wells Street. It’s not supposed to be there.”

      Next day, we look out our kitchen window, there’s Jeff out there on the sidewalk, yelling and whining at some Streets and San guy who’s writing him up a ticket for obstructing the sidewalk and improper storage of refuse.

      This isn’t a question of keeping out hoi-polloi. Most Urban Hipsters like a bit of character in their neighbourhoods. I did. Old Town was great, right up until the yuppies moved in and priced everyone out of the area. Lost all its charm for me. I moved out, to another sorta down-at-the-heels burg, Elgin.

      Took my little son down to the Elgin City Council meeting. Mayor (also principal at my son’s school) was trying to get a zoning ordinance passed, something to the effect that felony crimes committed by renters were grounds for immediate eviction. Teacher in my son’s classroom says, much as you do now, “People ought to be able to live anywhere they want.” My son sticks his hand up. “Mayor Schock doesn’t think so.” She sends him down to the office. Schock gives me a call, laughing.

      She comes boiling in, Schock has to give her a block of instruction. “I’m trying to zone the crack dealers off Ann Street and I have no idea what you’re telling these kids but you can stop it now.”Report

      • So Dan had lived in that ward since the early fifties, knew everyone. Next day, we went down the street and talked to the ward heeler. He knew about the incident with Jeff and Sharon, agreed it was abominable. We said “Do something about Jeff’s dumpster out there on the sidewalk on Wells Street. It’s not supposed to be there.”

        Next day, we look out our kitchen window, there’s Jeff out there on the sidewalk, yelling and whining at some Streets and San guy who’s writing him up a ticket for obstructing the sidewalk and improper storage of refuse.

        One way to read this anecdote is that it’s really helpful to have an important person on your side if you live in Chicago. If you don’t have that help, well, you’re at the mercy of those who do.

        That manager sounds like a jerk. But what if he had been a valuable campaign funder of the ward’s alderman? Would the heeler have been so eager to enforce that regulation?Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

          Heh. Dan and I did a lot of work for the Democratic Party. Gave money, too. Dan was around for the 1968 convention. Both of us worked on Harold Washington’s campaign and I think I remember meeting Barack Obama, back in the day, though only in passing.

          As for the alderman, if push came to shove, you can’t buy these people. You can only rent them. One day in January of 82 I was down in front of City Hall, it was so cold I saw three aldermen with their hands in their own pockets.Report

  23. James Vonder Haar says:

    This is a good post, and I think Matt often does treat it as though the economic argument is the game-ender (in this particular case, he’s even ignoring a counter economic argument: bars impose negative externalities in the form of increased drunkenness and noise). Still, the economic view is so often ignored in these discussions that I think Matt’s point of view is a valuable one. And sometimes it really is a slam dunk argument. Matt’s posts make any advocate of height restrictions in Washington admit, “yes, I am okay with excluding the poor from the nation’s capital to ensure nothing is taller than the Washington Moument.” Ain’t nothing wrong with that.Report

  24. Brandon Berg says:

    I don’t think that this is NIMBYism. I take NIMBYism to mean “Not in my backyard.” That is, you want the benefits of the thing in question, but you want somebody else to pay the costs. You want it in someone’s backyard, just not yours.

    The thing is, bars don’t have to be in anyone’s backyard. You can put them in commercial districts, where there are no nearby residents to bother. So why put them in residential areas at all? Convenience. Whose convenience? The people who live there, because they now have bars in walking distance.

    The costs and benefits fall on the same neighborhood, so there’s really no NIMBYism. There’s just a disagreement between people who want bars in residential areas and those who want them confined to commercial areas, where they’re not in anyone’s backyard.Report

    • Ryan Bennett in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      .. but that disagreement hides a lot of other issues. It’s not nearly that simple:

      1. Bars located in commercial districts forgo a large amount of walk-in weekday traffic/revenue. There’s a ton of people who go to a local bar and grab a beer or two after work because it’s close and easy. If it isn’t close and easy they aren’t doing it. You’re also selecting out low-income folks who maybe want a drink now and then without the hassle of going cross-town to do it.

      2. The only-in-commercial seems to foster the worst aspects of this. Since people aren’t casually coming to a local bar, and getting to the bars is a hassle now, people are a lot more likely to get crazy drunk and wild, as it’s not something that’s easy to do more often.

      3. You’re basically killing the social aspect of the places. If I have to drive across town to get to a bar it’s not going to have that local flavor.

      4. If all the bars are far away you’re going to get a lot more people driving drunk, and/or driving further drunk. This is bad for all kinds of reasons.Report