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Monday, May 27, 2019

Rent Control Did to Vietnam What US Bombers Couldn’t

Swedish economist Assar Lindbeck asserted that "in many cases rent control appears to be the most efficient technique presently known to destroy a city—except for bombing."

Image Credit: US Navy

[Gunnar] Myrdal stated, “Rent control has in certain Western countries constituted, maybe, the worst example of poor planning by governments lacking courage and vision.”

His fellow Swedish economist (and socialist) Assar Lindbeck asserted,

In many cases rent control appears to be the most efficient technique presently known to destroy a city—except for bombing.

This is from Walter Block, “Rent Control,” in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.

Rent Control Destroyed Hanoi

Unfortunately, Lindbeck was wrong.

NEW DELHI—A “romantic conception of socialism” … destroyed Vietnam’s economy in the years after the Vietnam war, Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach said Friday.

Addressing a crowded news conference in the Indian capital, Mr. Thach admitted that controls … had artificially encouraged demand and discouraged supply…. House rents had … been kept low … so all the houses in Hanoi had fallen into disrepair, said Mr. Thach.

“The Americans couldn’t destroy Hanoi, but we have destroyed our city by very low rents. We realized it was stupid and that we must change policy,” he said.

—From a news report in Journal of Commerce, quoted in Dan Seligman, “Keeping Up,” Fortune, February 27, 1989.

This is also from the Block entry on rent control.

Limited Rent Increases

This is apropos of Oregon’s state government imposing rent control statewide. The rent control measure, fortunately, has a lot of slack. This, for example, from the Seattle Times news story:

Landlords are now limited to increases once per year that cannot exceed 7 percent plus the change in the consumer price index, which is used to calculate inflation.

So the really bad effects we generally associate with rent control may not show up.

This article is republished from the Library of Economics and Liberty.

  • David Henderson is a research fellow with the Hoover Institution and an economics professor at the Graduate School of Business and Public Policy, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California. He is editor of The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics (Liberty Fund) and blogs at