Liberals, Speculation Aversion, and Housing Costs
In News that should be absolutely unsurprising to anyone, liberal metro areas are not affordable to the middle class but Research from the real estate site Truila found that the bluest cities have building regulation policies that are most likely to drive up housing costs.
The reasons seem to be the ones that are always discussed. Liberal cities and citizens tend to like historical districts more, like environmental regulation, and often have geographic constraints. Boston, New York, and San Francisco can simply not sprawl in the way that Houston and Dallas and many other red state cities can or even some blue cities like Los Angeles and Chicago.
I think all of the reasons above have some truth in them but I would phrase them a different way. Liberals and conservatives are both accepting and unaccepting of change but they are accepting and unaccepting of change in very different ways and areas. Liberals generally are fine with social changes or not worried about the unintended consequences of social changes. We see this in debates of sex and same-sex marriage. I think the general liberal stance is that pre-martial sex is not new and it is not going to destroy society, it is just out in the open now where it used to be kept very quiet. Liberals are are more suspicious of aesthetic or physical changes. The changes can be to already existing cities and to nature.
The general response to the housing crisis in many areas seems to be that the only solution is to relax regulations and let developers “build! build! build!” like they are junkies on a bender. I wonder if this makes liberals uneasy because liberals have an innate speculation aversion. For argument sake, let’s say that modern American liberalism really did not take off until the Great Depression let the Democratic Party sweep into Congress in 1930 and then have a 20-year streak controlling the White House from 1932-1952. The modern history of the Democratic Party is that we generally get control during very bad recessions and depressions and I think this marks the psyche of liberals. We feel like it is our responsibility to control rampant speculation because we are attuned to the suffering that happens when the bubble bursts.
I am not really concerned about the head guys at Lehman losing their jobs. I am really concerned about all their support staff and other people who tend to lose their jobs during recessions and depressions and almost always from no fault of their own. Construction workers and administrative assistants did not cause the recent financial crisis but it is usually the masses who suffer most of the pain during recessions and depressions. The dream and mantra I hear from liberals is usually for “smart growth”. Yes we want the economy to grow but we also want to try and avoid the boom and bust cycle. Whether this is a pipe dream or not depends on your prospective.
When I raised this point about speculation aversion with my brother, he pointed out that New York and San Francisco are home to two of the most speculative industries in America: Finance and Tech. I think this is more of a historical accident than anything else. New York is the Financial Capital of America because it started as the Financial Capital of America. Tech is in the Bay Area because Tech has always been in the Bay Area since HP started in the 1930s.
This also does not mean that everyone in NY and SF are all about finance and tech. I am deeply perplexed by the Tech 2.0 Bubble and how much money gets thrown at companies which basically seem to solve the social and laziness problems of well to do 20 and 30 somethings. A woman I know said that a “tech company” dedicated to solving these problems is basically every Ivy-League MBA graduate project. She has an MBA from an Ivy League University. This makes me wonder if there is a problem with our MBAs. There is nothing very techie about a wash and fold service that uses a smartphone app. I also also deeply suspicious of the cult-like feeling that these tech companies seem to demand where you have to be a true believer in disruption or you are an outsider. I think I would have more respect if everything was not described revolutionary and paradigm shifting but you probably don’t make customers by admitting you are just putting this out there because people are lazy and don’t want to do their own laundry or walk five minutes (or less!) to the corner store to pick up a six pack. There is too much kool-aid drinking in “tech” for me but that is another post.
The remaining factors are true. Liberals generally care about the environment and think that sprawl might lower prices but we wonder if the environmental costs are too great in the long run. We also seem to like walkable cities with mixed use or at least a walkable commercial area instead of highly residential suburbs with strip mall shopping. Liberal cities do tend to be in older areas that can not annex or sprawl easily. San Francisco can only build up and there is a reasonable question about whether it is smart to build 40-story towers in an area prone to earthquakes.
I am not sure if there is anything that can solve these issues. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being adverse to speculation because of what happens to ordinary citizens during recessions and depressions but liberals. I do find it curious that Americans on the right tend to be okay with unregulated financial and business speculation but pause on social change while Americans on the left tend to be the opposite way. There are also probably deep issues with consumption and how much consumption is enough. I tend to strike a middle ground here. I wonder why anyone would need a 4000 square foot home but think that wanting more than a microhouse or apartment is pretty reasonable as a desire. I am not part of the radical medium chill/minimalism view on consumption. Historical preservation is important but should not be abused, this might be easier said than done but I am not willing to get rid of the concept of historical preservation. I don’t think there is anything wrong with saying certain buildings are historically and aesthetically important to a city and our nation and should be preserved.
It a bit of a problem
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