Virginia Postrel, Texas, Land Use, and Krugman Derangement

A blog about business and economics.
July 20 2012 8:46 AM

Virginia Postrel, Texas, Land Use, and Krugman Derangement

Virgina Postrel has a pretty good Bloomberg View column out today about the basic themes on land use, urbanization, and productivity that drove me to write The Rent Is Too Damn High. Strangely, though, instead of ending the column with some kind of productive effort to move the policy dialogue forward, she ended it with an off-topic swipe at Paul Krugman:

Finally, there’s the never-mentioned possibility: that the best-educated, most-affluent, most politically influential Americans like this result. They may wring their hands over inequality, but in everyday life they see segregation as a feature, not a bug. It keeps out fat people with bad taste. Paul Krugman may wax nostalgic about a childhood spent in the suburbs where plumbers and middle managers lived side by side. But I doubt that many of his fervent fans would really want to live there. If so, they might try Texas.
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Meanwhile here's a column Krugman wrote about Texas during the Rick Perry political bubble:

For this much is true about Texas: It has, for many decades, had much faster population growth than the rest of America—about twice as fast since 1990. Several factors underlie this rapid population growth: a high birth rate, immigration from Mexico, and inward migration of Americans from other states, who are attracted to Texas by its warm weather and low cost of living, low housing costs in particular.
And just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with a low cost of living. In particular, there’s a good case to be made that zoning policies in many states unnecessarily restrict the supply of housing, and that this is one area where Texas does in fact do something right.

There are a lot of political and institutional impediments to improving land use policy in the United States, and a lot of them I have no idea how to overcome. But a good start might be for people who agree with each other to not pick fake fights grounded in some kind of other disagreement. Postrel's implication that it's hypocritical for people who live in high-cost coastal cities to not move to Texas is contradicted by the entire rest of her analysis, and the underlying problem cannot be solved by individual-level decisions about relocation. Land use policy in the suburbs and central cities of Boston, New York, Washington, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, etc., has to actually change.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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