Matt’s new book

As I had predicted, it is very good.  Most of all I like the suggestion that the economy is becoming more Ricardian with higher resource rents.

I am assuming that most of the United States will not follow Matt’s policy prescriptions, which are unpopular with homeowners to say the least.  Which secondary adjustments and rent-seeking losses will result?  If you cannot easily live in Manhattan, next to the stylish people, how will you respond?  One option is to damn them and tune into NASCAR.  Instead you might compete more intensely for their attention and approval.  Write a blog.  Send them ads.  Try to chip away at the privileged status of their attention and capture some of that value for yourself.  Either way cultural polarization seems to increase.

For all their other virtues, lower rents also help satisfy the demand for affiliation.  I know people who are proud just to live in San Francisco and not only because it signals their income and status.  It sounds cool.  At what level of zoning is this consumer surplus maximized?

What is the most serious estimate of how much denser agglomeration — boosted by lower rents — would increase productivity?  I do not take the urban wage premium as the correct measure here, since at the margin the extra worker currently does not move in.  I would like to read a good study of this issue, which I have discussed with Ryan Avent as well.

Is this available improvement a level effect or a rate effect?

If people were the size of ants, without encountering any absurdities of physics or biology, how would the “public choice” of urban building change?  Would urban centers be equally exclusionary?

How much space do we need to live?  Say you have a 3-D printer nanobox which can produce (or obliterate) any output on demand.  Is a studio apartment then enough?  Just print out your bed come 11 p.m., or summon up your kitchen equipment before the dinner party.  How much of the demand for space is for storage and how much is for other motives?  My personal demand for space is highly storage-intensive, but I may be an exception in this regard.

If zoning stays too tight, are there (second best) general negative externalities from storage?

I don’t recall Matt calling for the widespread privatization of government-owned land, but would he agree this is the logical next step?  It’s hardly as important as freeing up more urban and suburban building, but is there any good reason for government to own all that turf?  I don’t think so.  Let’s keep the public works and military facilities and national parks, and sell most of the rest.

Here is Matt’s summary of the book.


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