*All That is Solid*, by Danny Dorling

I have written a review of this book, subtitled The Great Housing Disaster, for the Times Literary Supplement of 13 June 2014.  As I explain in the review, he tried to write a book about housing problems in the UK without accepting the Avent-Yglesias analysis that legal restrictions on supply are a big part of the problem.  Rather than looking to supply and demand, Dorling instead tries to blame “inequality, selfishness and hoarded extra bedrooms.”  It doesn’t succeed.  Here is an excerpt from my review:

There is not much of an argument in this book against a greater reliance on additional building and thus cheaper house prices.  Dorling refers to “slum landlords and cowboy builders” and complains that not all housing for low-income groups will be of high enough quality.  But that’s more of a general complaint about the nature of poverty than a problem with the way the housing market works.  He then retreats to the claim that the mobilization of space and empty bedrooms around the country, combined with refurbishing, will solve the problem.  On any given night, he argues, most bedrooms in the country are not being slept in.

But how to redistribute this unjust largesse of sheets and pillows?  It is not as if a bureaucratic authority can scour the country for the empty bedrooms of the elderly and hand over keys to struggling young families.  Dorling repeats the incantation that housing inequality is immoral, but without much of a recipe for turning spare rooms into cheaper housing.  Refurbishment, as the author suggests, is all to the good.  But why isn’t more of that happening already?  Either regulatory forces are holding back redevelopment (a suggestion Dorling is reluctant to entertain), or landlords are waiting because it is not yet clear which kinds of investments will be best on a piece of land.  In that latter case, the law would be unwise to force the matter too quickly and, more generally, legal control could well discourage entrepreneurs from refurbishing at all.

As I write in the concluding section of the review: “You can’t write a good book which attempts to repeal the laws of economics, especially when it focuses on an economic topic.”

I don’t yet see any link on line, not even a gated one.


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