The Rent is Too Damn High: One Issue That Unites Matt Yglesias With Conservatives and Libertarians


Matt Yglesias came out with a new book this week, The Rent is Too Damn High, in which he explores the topic of land use restrictions. These policies — such as zoning laws, height requirements, and historic preservation — drive up the price of housing by limiting the supply.  

Yglesias's views commonly come under criticism in conservative circles because he often supports policy solutions that are left-of-center. Even though conservatives and libertarians don't agree with Yglesias on other issues, they should agree with him on land use reform because they share the free market position. 

Free market thinkers may disagree with Yglesias on the details of the policy, but they generally argue that it's better when the government gets out of the way of land use planning. Notably, Ed Glaeser says that land use policies slow the growth of cities. Thomas Sowell argues that land and zoning laws led to the housing crisis by distorting the housing market. Randall O'Toole, the anti-planner, asserts that zoning laws impede density and its benefits.

As I argue often on PolicyMic, the government generally makes matters worse when it intervenes. Land use planning is just another form of government intervention — its costs outweigh its benefits.

The bad effects of land use planning are easy to see. For example, I live in Washington, DC, which has strict restrictions on building height. Buildings can only be as tall as the width of the adjacent street plus 20 feet. Fewer floors means fewer people can live in the building. If this land use policy didn't exist, then DC would have a higher supply of housing, and I wouldn't have to pay so much in rent.

Given that land use restrictions affects millions of Americans directly, it's unfortunate that the issue doesn't get much attention in policy circles. If people started paying more attention to the damaging effects of zoning laws and height requirements, then perhaps they would see that there is a lot of agreement on how to fix the problem. Yglesias's book is a very good start to the conversation.

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