Coasean markets in everything (the culture that was Sydney)

by on June 29, 2011 at 11:51 am in Current Affairs | Permalink

From a distance Sydney may seem like one of the world’s most desirable places to call home: a sparkling harbour, enticing beaches and a climate to die for. It’s regularly rated as one of world’s 10 most liveable cities. But, as of Friday, the state government of New South Wales will pay residents A$7,000 (£4,500) to leave it.

It’s part of a new scheme to boost the population and economy of country areas.

Here is more and for the pointer I thank Bruno Hernan.  Of course by global standards Sydney isn’t crowded at all; this also relates to an earlier Megan McArdle post about whether we are willing to let our cities become much more dense.

1 Douglas Baines June 29, 2011 at 1:30 pm

What I love about Australia is they haven’t drunk the politician’s Kool Aid about ‘the beauty of density’ — and are not ruining their cities the way so many other countries do. You can breathe in Sydney…you’ve got ROOM. In so many American cities, including the one where I live, LA, there is a divinely evil collusion between real estate power, elite university urban planners, and corrupt politicians — the goal is to pack more and more people into tinier and tinier living spaces. It means more money for the developers, who then shovel more bribes to the politicians, who also win votes from the new immigrants in the crowded areas (pushing out the voters who might not like this ‘rich density’), more crowded freeways (which allows them to punish the automobile drivers they hate, and push for public transit, which is their preferred method for citizen travel), and, for the urban planner, the aesthetic pleasure of seeing crowds on the street (which is simply considered, by itself, evidence of a ‘vibrant’ city.) It’s just hipper to be crowded, yes? If you disagree, you are a Republican, and a bore. Australia is a place where you can have room and quiet and peace, without feeling like you’ll be labeled a Nazi (except by the urban planners.) But does the whole world have to resemble Bombay? It will if we let this corrupt triangle keep winning our culture and zoning wars. Australia says fie to that. I love it!

2 Rahul June 29, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Goodwin’s law sighted in Comment #1 is always invigorating; Nice!

When did anyone call country dwellers Nazis? Are freeways crowded because people live outside the city or in it? You say Americans have “tiny” living spaces; relative to which other country I wonder. Even if urban planners wanted to how exactly are they preventing people from living in the country?

There’s things to be said for country living; and so also for cities. To each his own!

3 k June 29, 2011 at 2:49 pm


what about urban sprawl? Have you seen Dallas? Or Atlanta? Or North Dakota (although some say this is a mythical city)?

And what about the we-can’t-invest-in-public-transport-because-population-density-is-not-enough argument?

4 k June 29, 2011 at 2:49 pm

I meant mythical state, not city

5 dch June 29, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Bizarrely written passage – the fact that you need to pay people to leave Sydney does not in any way contradict the notion that it’s a desirable place to live. The “but” makes it seem like the payments are somehow evidence of undesirability when they clearly support the opposite conclusion.

6 Yancey Ward June 29, 2011 at 2:10 pm

I can imagine a lot of country folk will move in, then back out.

7 Rahul June 29, 2011 at 2:17 pm

What if they had instead, say, raised property taxes a wee bit. How does one compare these two alternatives to get people out of a city? A reverse-subsidy or a higher tax? Not a big fan of either; but which is the lesser evil?

8 k June 29, 2011 at 2:50 pm

“Tax” = evil bureaucrat

“Subsidy” = they care!

9 Andrew Montgomery June 29, 2011 at 9:30 pm

Absolutely – it’s called Land Value Tax. Charge home owners an annual tax equivalent to the rental value of the land, and the poorer ones will soon be scurrying off to the bush. Australia even has this tax already, but home owners get an exemption on their primary residence.

At the very least, the retired folk who live downtown would move out, freeing up housing for workers, who also gain shorter commutes.

10 Adrian Ratnapala June 30, 2011 at 4:53 am

The city councils will be the ones to raise such a tax (rates), but they might not want to. The state government could probably achieve what it wants by creating a statewide property tax, at which point they will be crucified in the next election.

11 Dan Cole June 29, 2011 at 3:02 pm

What makes this a “Coasean” market, as opposed to other kinds of “markets” of buyers and sellers engaging in (supposedly) mutually beneficial exchange?

12 Laserlight June 29, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Sydney is a beautiful city, the sort of place Norfolk/Portsmouth VA would like to be if they ever grew up.I’m not surprised people don’t want to leave.

13 Paul Johnson June 29, 2011 at 5:01 pm

They’re pushing against the tide. People are leaving the country towns, they can’t find doctors to work there (even imports from abroad under a special visa scheme) and so on. The same problems familiar to US country towns. They should pay them to move to the smaller cities instead. Like Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Darwin.

14 dearieme June 29, 2011 at 7:11 pm

“a climate to die for”: apart from the horribly sticky summer. If you like a
Mediterranean climate go to Adelaide or Perth.

15 Paul Johnson June 29, 2011 at 7:30 pm

And Adelaide has the wine country.

16 TallDave June 29, 2011 at 8:44 pm

One might be moved to stop and think a bit about the tension between the incentives for politicians and for the citizenry, in terms of population density.

17 Ronald Brak June 30, 2011 at 4:07 am

An alternative to paying people money to leave would be to use the money to make the organisation of Sydney less silly so it could comfortably accomodate more people. Unfortunately at today’s property prices it probably is cheaper to pay people to go away rather than buy the land that’s needed for extra rail lines, improved public transport, and so on. If an evil doer ever collapses the Australian property market, my money would be on someone working in the Sydney Department of Planning and Infrastructure being responsible.

18 Danny Yee June 30, 2011 at 2:37 pm

I think the Sydney property (with median price-income multiples higher than California in 2007) will manage to crash all by itself, without any help from Planning and Infrastructure bureaucrats.

19 Bradley Gardner June 30, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Australia does have the highest crime rate in the developed world. I’m guessing that’s probably the biggest factor in local preferences for sprawl over density. (Same thing with America)

20 DKB @ NYU July 4, 2011 at 10:39 am

I live in Manhattan, for what it’s worth. Could more density be supported? Megan’s piece forgets, I think, that we can always find ways to get more liquid through the hose. If subways are the issue, why not shift hours? Lots of jobs would support that. Hours of stores, restaurants, etc already pretty long, so that’s fine. After visiting Hong Kong, it’s clear we’re a long way from the max, even if quality of life is a major factor.

21 Ronald Brak July 6, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Bradley – Australia has the highest crime rate in the world? Not really, although it is so difficult to compare crime rates between countries, weight different crimes by severity, and account for differences in reporting rates that I don’t really have much to offer other than the words, not really.

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