Zoning Xenophobia Degrades the Division of Labor

Technologies have made people's lives better through the epoch of history. However people themselves, don't seem to improve, for instance, they don't seem to grasp what makes society great: the division of labor.

Technologies have made people's lives better through the epoch of history. People themselves, however, don't seem to improve.  For instance, they don't seem to grasp what makes society great: the division of labor.

"The high cost of all housing is first and foremost the result of a failure to build.”

The entrenched and unenlightened attempt to keep out those who wish to fill the many roles in the division of labor miracle. "More menacing than barbarians storming the walls from without are the seeming citizens within – those who are citizens in gesture, but not in thought," wrote Ludwig von Mises in his book Socialism.

Recognizing California has an affordable housing shortage, a California lawmaker has proposed, “extraordinary legislation to, in effect, crack down on communities that have, in their view, systematically delayed or derailed housing construction proposals, often at the behest of local neighborhood groups,” the New York Times reports.

Stating the obvious, Adam Nagourney and Conor Dougherty writes, “economists say, the high cost of all housing is first and foremost the result of a failure to build.”

State Senator Scott Wiener is one lawmaker who understands less supply and increasing demand means higher prices. And the only reason builders don’t build is local restrictions politicians put in place because neighborhood anti-growth groups don’t want any more neighbors and they certainly don’t want neighbors who can only afford low-priced housing.

Nagourney and Dougherty report:

The bill sponsored by Mr. Wiener, one of 130 housing measures that have been introduced this year, would restrict one of the biggest development tools that communities wield: the ability to use zoning, environmental and procedural laws to thwart projects they deem out of character with their neighborhood.”

California’s Housing Problem

People believe their property rights extend beyond their own property to the entire neighborhood.

The Golden State, despite high taxes and an oppressive government, has a rockin’ economy again and people are living in vans parked in out-of-the-way places, while Silicon Valley has “lines of parked recreational vehicles are a daily testimony to the challenges of finding an affordable place to call home.”

As one might expect, the mayor of Santa Barbara and her constituents don’t care about affordable housing. “The proposed legislation,” says Helene Schneider, “It’s giving developers a great gift and not giving residents and voters a chance to cast their opinions about what happens in their own neighborhood.”

That’s always the argument, allow a builder to try and satisfy demand and it’s considered “a great gift.”  Development entails risk. How soon people forget the 2008 video of homes in a new subdivision in Victorville, California being bulldozed.

People believe their property rights extend beyond the borders of their property to the entire neighborhood. They wish to exclude people that don't look like them, act like them, or have as much money. Unfortunately, local politicians are sympathetic to their views.

“California is a beautiful place with great weather and a terrific economy,” Issi Romem, the chief economist with BuildZoom, a San Francisco company that helps homeowners find contractors told the Times. “To accommodate all those people you need to build a lot, and the state’s big metro areas haven’t since the early ’70s. To catch up, cities would need to build housing in a way that they haven’t in two generations.”

Brian Hanlon, policy director of the San Francisco Yimby Party, a housing advocacy group, told Nagourney and Conor Dougherty, “Cities have proven time and time again that they will not follow their own zoning rules, “It’s time for the state to strengthen their own laws so that advocates can hold cities accountable.”

We Don't Need No Stinking Neighbors

This “we don’t need no stinking neighbors” attitude is not confined to California. Boulder City is a little city near Las Vegas where a noisy group of residents wants to stop all growth and voted for no-growth candidates in this spring's election. Comments on Facebook like this are typical, "Boulder don't need no damn young people. Build the walls."

The prosperity of society is at stake.

I wrote in a piece for FEE.org late last year about citizens protesting slight variances for an affordable housing subdivision being voted on by the planning commission. "A gentleman snarled that the town didn’t need affordable housing and it wasn’t the city’s business anyway."

A couple years ago in college town, Auburn, Alabama I reported on a town council meeting. One woman, complaining about new apartment projects, said, “students are just nomads” and they don’t care about the city the way homeowners do.

She continued on, saying that new apartments create vacant older units whose owners must lower rents and attract low-income tenants. “No more poor people in Auburn,” she concluded, not embarrassed by the collective groan in the room. She clarified she was talking about poor people from Mexico.

Mises wrote:

"Thus we find, again and again in history, that epochs of strongly progressive growth of the liberal world of thought, when wealth increases with the develop­ment of the division of labor, alternate with epochs in which the principle of violence tries to gain supremacy – in which wealth de­creases because the division of labor decays."

Some commentators believe these zoning battles are merely between the "haves" and "have nots." It's bigger than that.

The prosperity of society is at stake.

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