Tag Archives: New York City

New York’s Population Challenge

Last week at City Journal, Aaron Renn explored the New York region’s loss of domestic residents since 2000. He demonstrates that one of the world’s economic powerhouses is falling victim to the trend of domestic outmigration that New York state is seeing. Between 2000 and 2010, the New YOrk region lost 2 million domestic residents and they took with them billions of dollars of income. In Freedom in the 50 States, Will Ruger and Jason Sorens rank New York as the country’s least-free state based on its regulatory and tax regimes. They point to its tax burden — the highest in the nation —  and indebtedness as a factors contributing to the state losing 9-percent of its domestic population on net since 2000. Renn also posits that high tax rates are a leading cause for residents leaving New York City, many of them moving to Sun Belt states.

While the New York City region is only maintaining a positive population growth rate through births and international immigration, it’s far from the case that no one is willing to suffer its high tax rates in exchange for the city’s economic dynamism and cultural amenities. Rather the city’s exorbitant rental rates demonstrate that millions of people are willing to pay a premium to live in the region in spite of city and state policies that hamper economic development.  The vacancy rate for apartments is below 2-percent, well under many estimates for the natural vacancy rate. While lower taxes at the state and municipal levels in the New York region would reduce the flow of domestic outmigration at the margin, they would also increase competition for the city’s coveted apartments.

Are New York City’s amenities so desirable that its policymakers don’t need to worry about losing more residents to other states than they’re gaining? Its own not-so-distant history indicates that even the Big Apple is susceptible to the ravages of population loss. From 1950 to 1980, the city’s population fell from 7.9 million to 7 million, with most of that loss occurring in the 1970s. This time period corresponded with sharp increases in crime and the city’s famous default. These are predictable consequences of urban population decline, particularly in indebted cities where a decrease in tax base equates with inability to meet obligations to creditors .

While pursuing policy reforms designed to boost the state’s competitive standing to attract businesses and residents is a key piece of ensuring the city does not fall prey to population exodus, perhaps most importantly, city policymakers should examine their land use restrictions that limit would-be residents from moving to the city. Over the past decade, New York’s housing stock has grown only 5.3% in the face of the highest rental rates in the country for much of this time period. Historic preservation, density restrictions, and an onerous review process prevent the city’s housing stock from growing to meet demand.

Renn points out that most of New York’s domestic inmigration comes from midwestern cities and college towns across the country. Presumably many of these new residents are early in their careers and are on the margin of being able to afford New York rents. If New York housing were more attainable, more American young people would select the city as the starting place for their careers and it would attract more of the foreign immigrants essential to maintaining the city’s diversity and innovation. Ed Glaeser explains that those states that are successfully attracting more residents, like Texas and Georgia, are also those in which developers are able to build more housing with fewer restrictions. By allowing more housing in New York City and the surrounding areas, policymakers would both protect their tax base and help to maintain the city as a center of innovation and economic growth. In their effort to retain citizens — and particularly high-income retirees — New York City and New York state policymakers will need to revisit their punishing tax schemes. But at least as importantly they should focus on allowing those residents who would like to move to the city for economic and cultural opportunities to be able to afford to do so.

 

 

 

 

Will The EPA’s Environmental Justice Agenda Backfire?

In May, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new guidelines for incorporating “environmental justice” into its rulemaking procedures. Environmental justice is the idea that all people, regardless of income or race, should be treated equally with respect to environmental laws, regulations and policies. Sounds pretty good, right? Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as waving a magic wand and making low income and minority communities cleaner and safer. Instead, EPA’s new guidelines may have unintended effects that harm the very people they are supposed to protect. Perversely, the poor may end up paying for a cleaner environment they won’t get to enjoy, while wealthier people enjoy it instead.

In the new guidelines, the EPA talks at length about how lower income and heavily minority areas are often correlated with environmental problems and a whole host of health risks. It may be that the poor are less politically organized than wealthier people and interest groups. Perhaps for this reason there are companies that purposefully pollute in poor and minority neighborhoods because the companies know they can get away with it. That seems plausible.

But there may be other reasons that poor people tend to live in more polluted areas. For example, the poor may move to polluted areas because those areas are less expensive to live in. I myself am a case in point.

When I was in my younger twenties, I tried to make a go at being a musician in New York City. I spent most of my time practicing with my band, so I generally worked odd jobs at off hours, living month to month and paycheck to paycheck. That way I could focus most of my time on music. When I first moved to New York, I lived in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Then I moved to Harlem because it was cheaper. Finally, to save even more money, I moved to Greenpoint, a neighborhood in northern Brooklyn.

Most people don’t know this, but Greenpoint sits over one of the largest oil spills in North American history. In fact, there was a sign down the road from my house that signaled the end of my street was a “dumping station” where there was a physical pipe coming out of the ground dumping waste into a river, Newtown Creek. You could literally smell the oil in the air.

So why would I live like this? I paid $480 a month for a gigantic room with huge bay windows in a 3-bedroom apartment that was $1,300 a month in total, dirt cheap by NYC standards. My two roommates, also musicians, paid even less in rent than I did. We knew it wasn’t the best neighborhood; we weren’t stupid. We just thought the tradeoff was worth it.

So what does the EPA think will happen if it cleans up a neighborhood like Greenpoint? Would starving artists like myself and my old roommates benefit as we are finally freed from the exploitation of evil oil companies? Maybe, maybe not. The reasoning should be obvious to anyone who has ever lived in New York City.

Greenpoint is prime real estate situated extremely close to Manhattan. When the neighborhood gets cleaned up, real estate prices will rise as wealthier people, who previously wouldn’t tolerate the pollution, move in. Rents will go up as well. Those who own land will be better off, and some of them may currently be poor. But most low income people rent and don’t own property. Those people will have to move out as the area gets more expensive, or if they stay they will face a higher cost of living. Perhaps if they move, they will choose another polluted area to live in. Almost certainly, they will have a much longer commute if they work in Manhattan like I did.

The point of this story isn’t to say we should never clean up polluted areas. We should. But the EPA shouldn’t claim it is helping low income and minority populations when it is far from clear that they are the primary groups that will benefit from EPA rules. Regulations claiming to help the poor can be highly misleading if analysts don’t make an attempt to forecast (and analyze retroactively) adjustments in human behavior that result from regulatory changes.

There’s even more to the story. While the benefits to low income groups as a result of regulations justified on the basis of “environmental justice” can be highly uncertain, the costs are all too real. Costs of regulations are often spread evenly across everyone in society, much like the costs of regressive sales taxes are spread evenly across everyone who purchases a taxed product, and this includes the poor. We could end up in a perverse situation where the poor are actually paying to gentrify their own neighborhoods.

This is far from the only problem with the EPA’s new environmental justice guidelines, but it may be the most perverse. If the EPA really wants to help the poor, the agency should pay closer attention to changes in prices and human behavior that will result from its actions. The EPA should also seek feedback from, and provide detailed information on expected benefits and costs to, impacted communities before moving forward with a regulation. Otherwise, the EPA could be wasting a whole bunch of time with little to show for its efforts.

WMATA’s failures are institutional, not personal

Chris Barnes who writes the DC blog FixWMATA  is supporting a petition to replace the Board of Directors of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Frustration with the transit agency is growing among Washington-area residents as ongoing system repairs have made the system’s weekend service increasingly unusable. The situation has led to the birth of multiple blogs documenting WMATA’s failures. As an intern in DC from the Czech Republic recently summed up the situation, “Metro is both terrible and expensive.”

While the need for reforms at WMATA is clear, replacing the Board of Directors is unlikely to lead to significant improvements in the system. Rather, WMATA’s problems are institutional, and new actors facing the same incentives as the current WMATA Board are unlikely to produce better results. Some of the institutions preventing a Metro of reasonable quality and cost include:

1) Union work rules. Stephen Smith, my co-blogger at Market Urbanism, has done an excellent job of explaining how union work rules make transit needlessly expensive. One of the biggest culprits is requiring shifts to be at least eight hours and preventing the hiring of part-time workers. WMATA rationally runs trains and buses more often during morning and evening rush hours, but it is not permitted to staff these time periods at levels above mid-day staffing because of the eight-hour shift requirement. Combined with the above-market wages and benefits that WMATA employees make, these bloated employee costs prevent WMATA from achieving a higher farebox recovery rate and having more resources to dedicate to needed capital improvements.

2) Intergovernmental transfers. Over half of WMATA’s current capital improvement budget comes from the federal government, meaning that while the benefits of the system are narrowly bestowed on riders, a large share of the capital improvement costs are spread across U.S. taxpayers. This large dispersal of costs permits much more expensive transit than would be tolerated if all funding came from the localities that benefit from the system. Furthermore, with funds coming from the District, Maryland, Virginia, and the federal government, the flypaper effect comes into play. This means that a $100 million infusion from the federal government to WMATA will not reduce the cost born by local taxpayers by $100 million; rather, total spending on the project will increase with grants from higher level of government. Absent incentives to spend this money well, WMATA demonstrates that high levels of federal funding will not necessarily result efficiently carried out capital improvements.

At Pedestrian Observations, Alon Levy provides a comparison of transit construction costs across countries, and finds that U.S. construction costs are exorbitant. The reasons for these cost disparities are many and not well-understood. One reason for high costs in the U.S., though, may be that the prevalence of  federal funding comes with the strings of costly federal regulations.

3) Accountability. While all U.S. transit systems suffer inefficiencies from intergovernmental transfers and union work rules, DC’s Metro has a unique governance structure that seems to produce particularly bad and costly service. WMATA has the blessing and the curse of being multijurisdictional. On the one hand, the Washington region is not plagued with the agency turf wars that New York City transit sees. Several of the system’s rail lines run through Virginia, DC, and Maryland, providing many infrastructure efficiencies and service improvements over requiring transfers between jurisdictions.

Despite these opportunities to provide improved service at a lower cost, WMATA’s lack of jurisdictional control seems to do more harm than good. No politician can take full credit for running WMATA efficiently, so none prioritize the agency’s performance. It’s a tragedy of the political commons.

Josh Barro has recommended directly electing the Board of Directors of WMATA to create elected officials with an incentive to improve service. This institutional change would be more likely to improve outcomes than replacing the current Board with new members who would face the same incentives. Clearly, WMATA’s Board of Directors is failing in its job to oversee quality and cost-effective transit for the region; however, replacing the board members without changing the institutions that they work under will not likely improve outcomes. Intergovernmental transfers and union work rules limit transit efficiency across the country, but WMATA’s interjurisdictional status exacerbates inefficiencies and waste.

Chief Resiliency Officers Versus Antifragility

At The Atlantic CitiesEmily Badger writes about a new program from the Rockefeller Foundation called 100 Resilient Cities, focused on equipping cities with a new employee called a Chief Resiliency Officer. The program states its goals as follows:

Building resilience is about making people, communities and systems better prepared to withstand catastrophic events – both natural and manmade – and able to bounce back more quickly and emerge stronger from these shocks and stresses.

[. . .]

There are some core characteristics that all resilient systems share and demonstrate, both in good times and in times of stress:

  • Spare capacity, which ensures that there is a back-up or alternative available when a vital component of a system fails.
  • Flexibility, the ability to change, evolve, and adapt in the face of disaster.
  • Limited or “safe” failure, which prevents failures from rippling across systems.
  • Rapid rebound, the capacity to re-establish function and avoid long-term disruptions.
  • Constant learning, with robust feedback loops that sense and allow new solutions as conditions change.

In his book Antifragile: Things that Gain from DisorderNassim Taleb defines antifragile as something that not only recovers from shocks, but becomes stronger after recovery, in line with the stated objectives of 100 Resilient Cities. Following its Great Fire of 1871, Chicago demonstrated antifragility. It rebounded rapidly from a disaster that killed 300 people and left one-third of city residents homeless, many without insurance after the fire bankrupted local insurers or the blaze destroyed their paperwork. Despite this great loss, residents of Chicago quickly rebuilt their city using private funding and private charity that was small relative to the amount of damage, but without any government funding. In rebuilding, Chicago developed safer building techniques both through entrepreneurship and with new insurance requirements and  new municipal building codes. The city invested in a better-equipped fire fighting force to lower the risk of fire damage in the future. Despite not having the telecommunications that seem critical to allowing fast disaster recovery today, Chicagoans began building new, safer buildings immediately, investing $50 million in the year after the fire, and tripling the real estate value of the burned blocks within 10 years. Its difficult to imagine a twenty-first century city allowing property owners to move so quickly through the approval process, and its difficult to imagine a Chief Resiliency Officer widening this bottleneck.

A bureaucrat like a Chief Resiliency Officer would not be able to learn the lessons from a natural disaster that the residents of Chicago did in their rebuilding efforts because this knowledge is dispersed, only to be discovered by individuals acting in what they believe to be their own best interest. Taleb describes bureaucrats as fragilistas because they do not suffer from downside risks and therefore cannot learn and grow stronger from shocks. If a disaster strikes a city equipped with a Chief Resiliency Officer and it turns out the city was ill-prepared, he or she will not be held accountable for failing to predict what may have been a very low-probability event. In fact, we often see government efforts toward making cities more resilient introducing fragility contrary to their stated intentions. For example, federal flood insurance minimizes the downside risk of owning flood-prone property. In turn, this encourages more people to live in the highest risk areas, putting them at greater risk when disaster strikes. Cities will not have an opportunity to learn from this to better prepare for future flooding because their rebuilding is subsidized; however, bureaucrats cite this insurance as a success because it facilitates rebuilding without adapting to risk.

The Transportation Security Administration offers a preview of what bureaucratic disaster prevention looks like; top down planning for low-probability events results in attempts to prevent the catastrophic events that we’ve seen in the past without realizing that we’re unlikely to see these same events in the future. As TSA critic Bruce Schneier explains:

Taking off your shoes is next to useless. “It’s like saying, ‘Last time the terrorists wore red shirts, so now we’re going to ban red shirts,’” Schneier says. If the T.S.A. focuses on shoes, terrorists will put their explosives elsewhere. “Focusing on specific threats like shoe bombs or snow-globe bombs simply induces the bad guys to do something else. You end up spending a lot on the screening and you haven’t reduced the total threat.”

Likewise, preparing for low-probability natural disasters, such as 100-year storms, is not something that can be done from the top down. To the extent an event is foreseeable, some individuals and firms will prepare for it, as we saw with Goldman Sachs’ generator and sand bagging efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The disaster revealed successful preparation methods, allowing more individuals and the city as a whole to learn and be better prepared for the next disaster. Chief Resiliency Officers are unlikely to accurately foresee low-probability shocks to their cities. To the extent that they protect cities from these shocks, they will likely take away the learning process that would make cities better able to withstand larger shocks, introducing fragility instead of greater resiliency.

Freedom in the 50 States and Migration

In last month’s publication of Freedom in the 50 StatesWill Ruger and Jason Sorens point to net domestic migration as an indicator that Americans demonstrate their preferences for more libertarian states by where they choose to live. They explain, ”

In each case, the bivariate relationship between freedom and migration is positive. However, it is strongest for fiscal freedom and weakest for personal freedom.”

The authors go on to use regression analysis to control for some of the other variables that likely cause people to move from one state to another:

We also try a regression specification including state cost of living from 2000, as estimated by political scientists William D. Berry, Richard C. Fording and Russell L. Hanson.7 This is an index variable linked to a value of 10 for the national average in 2007, the last date for which a value is available. There is some concern that this variable is endogenous to freedom. For instance, it correlates with the Wharton land-use regulation variable at r = 0.67, implying that strict land-use regulation drives up the cost of living. It also correlates with fiscal freedom at −0.35, perhaps implying that taxation can also drive up cost of living.

Finally, we also try including growth in personal income from 2000 to 2007 from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, adjusted for change in state cost of living from Berry, Fording, and Hanson. This variable is even more clearly endogenous to economic freedom, as well as to migration (more workers means more personal income). Nevertheless, we want to put the hypothesis that freedom attracts people to the strictest reasonable tests.

With this more in-depth analysis, the authors find that the three types of freedom they study — fiscal, regulatory, and personal — are all positively associated with net migration (PDF p. 97). In particular, the relationship between land use regulation and migration strikes me as an interesting one. States with the strictest land use regulations prevent in-migration by disallowing new housing development. According to Census data, New York City grew by about 2-percent between 2000 to 2010, including natural growth and foreign immigration. This is a significant slowdown from the 1990s. While the Big Apple wouldn’t be expected to attract new residents through libertarian policies, it does offer many economic and cultural opportunities that people might value. Ed Glaeser explains that by preventing new development, city- and state-level restrictions have prevented more people from being able to move to New York City:

The high prices that persist in New York City suggest that the demand for city living isn’t falling. Case-Shiller data, which captures the metropolitan area rather than the city, shows that the New York area’s prices have risen by 67 percent since 2000 (32 percent in real terms), more than any metropolitan area in the sample except Los Angeles.

But the combination of economic strength and high prices need not lead to population growth if an area doesn’t build many more units. In that case, high housing demand leads only to higher prices — not more people.

[…]

The Bloomberg administration has worked hard to allow more building, but the recent Census numbers seem to suggest that a combination of slow growth and continuing high prices implies that New York’s barriers to building, such as a complex zoning code and ever more Historic Preservation Districts, are still shutting out families that would like to move to the city.

This is just one city-level example, but New York City demonstrates that locations with the strictest land use regulations are not just discouraging in-migration with policies that limit residents’ freedom, they are also preventing people from moving to their jurisdictions by restricting growth in housing stock.

The lessons of bankruptcies and near-bankruptcies

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the plenary session for the Association for Budgeting and Financial Management (ABFM)’s annual meeting in New York. My co-panelists included NYU finance professor Dall Forsythe who as Budget Director for the State of New York during the fiscal crisis that pushed New York City to near bankruptcy in the mid-1970s, gave us an inside look of what went into staving off fiscal collapse.  Professor Forsythe explained New York City may not be a generalizable example of municipal bankruptcy but it is an excellent study of  how a major city avoided collapse and rebuilt itself into a financial powerhouse over the following decades.

Ted Orson also spoke. As lead legal council for Central Falls’ recent bankruptcy proceedings, Mr. Orson gave a riveting talk about how leaders in Central Falls worked with the state government and retired workers to come to terms with the city’s empty coffers. It was not easy. Retired firemen and police officers were asked to take a 55 percent cut in their pension benefits. I think his talk underscored the importance of transparency and truth in pension accounting. No one wants to have it get to this point.

Newsmakers 9/23: Gallogly, Orson

My talk zoned in on pension accounting – the new GASB rules and what they mean. In a followup post I’ll explore how GASB 67 and GASB 68 are likely to affect government’s accounts. And also the role that Moody’s decision to discount pensions using a corporate bond rate is going to change the way we view municipal and state finances.

 

D.C. Council Considers Privileges for Taxis

I had an economics professor who once joked that it is a good thing that New York City imposes rent controls. Why? Because it helps economics teachers everywhere explain the folly of price controls.

I suppose that I should thank the D.C. City Council because today they are evidently considering a measure that illustrates an important economic concept: regulations often benefit entrenched interests at the expense of customers and would-be competitors.

In my latest paper I write:

Though business leaders and politicians often speak of regulations as “burdensome” or “crushing”…sometimes it can be a privilege to be regulated, especially if it hobbles one’s competition.

An amendment before the D.C. council today illustrates this point beautifully. First, some background: “Uber” is a San Francisco-based Internet startup. They offer a cell-phone app that allows you to instantly call a luxury sedan to your location (full disclosure: I have never used this service and only recently became aware of its existence). It is, as one might imagine, more expensive than a typical cab service, but apparently a lot of people are willing to pay more for the easy and convenience.

Now, some on the D.C. council would like people to pay a lot more. An amendment—you can’t make this up—called the “Uber Amendments” actually singles out the company by name and sets a price floor with the explicit aim of limiting competition with traditional cabs. According to the Uber blog, section C) 1) of the amendment reads:

The minimum fare for sedan-class vehicles shall be five times the drop rate for taxicabs, as established by 31 DCMR § 801.3 (a).

In case their intentions were not clear, the “rationale” section of the amendment states:

These requirements would ensure that sedan service is a premium class of service with a substantially higher cost that does not directly compete with or undercut taxicab service.

If you can’t win customers on price and quality, you can always go to government and enlist its help in boxing out the competition.

Update: I’ve just learned that language has been introduced to strike the minimum fare part of the amendment. Apparently it isn’t a winning strategy to be so overt when passing out government privileges.

 

NYC Taxi Reform Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Next week, New York Governor Cuomo is likely to sign a bill that will marginally increase competition in the NYC cab market. The new rule will allow passengers to hail some livery cars in outer boroughs and add 2,000 additional medallions for yellow cabs with wheelchair access.

Via Flickr user Ian Caldwell

The auction of these medallions  is projected to raise $1 billion. This figure might seem outlandish, but last month two medallions sold at auction for over $1 million. That’s right, it costs $1 million for the right to drive a cab in NYC, not accounting for any of the costs associated with owning and operating the vehicle.

The price tag of these medallions that are sold to the highest bidder demonstrates that in a free market, many more drivers would enter the cab industry. Artificially constraining the supply hurts both consumers and those who are not able to drive a cab because they are unable to purchase a medallion.

Unsurprisingly, the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade remains strongly opposed to this bill. The increase in the supply of medallions will lower the value of the medallions that cab drivers and larger medallion companies already own. Their lobbying efforts reflect their desire to profit through the political system.

While this increase in the number of medallions available for yellow cabs and allowing some livery cars to be hailed represents a small improvement for New Yorkers, the reform does not go nearly far enough. For real reform, Mayor Bloomberg should look to Indianapolis.

Before Stephen Goldsmith was elected as the city’s mayor in 1991, the number of cabs permitted in Indianapolis was limited to 392. Goldsmith created a Regulatory Study Council whose first project was to reform taxi regulations. The RSC recommended eliminating regulatory barriers to entry and allowing cab drivers and companies to determine their own prices. In a case study of regulatory reform in Indianapolis, Adrian Moore writes:

The main resistance came from existing taxi companies, and initially much of the city and county council sided with them in the name of the “public interest.” However, the support for reform by seniors, the inner city poor, minorities, the Urban League, and the disabled soon brought many of them over to the RSC’s side. The RSC expected little support from Democrats on the council, but the strong support for deregulation from that party’s traditional constituents turned the tide.

Some price controls remain in the Indianapolis taxi market, but the city has seen an increase in supply, a decrease in fares, and an improvement in service. Indianapolis and New York City are of course very different, but the laws of supply, demand, and rent-seeking are the same everywhere. By phasing out the medallion system, New York City would benefit consumers and allow many more people to make a living driving cabs. Medallion owners who have invested in some cases over $1 million in the current system would need to be compensated in some way, but not by continuing to profit at the public’s expense.

Trapped by Government Privilege

The right to operate two New York City taxi cabs has just been sold for $1 million apiece.

In order to operate a cab in New York City, the government requires drivers to affix little aluminum plates called medallions to the hoods of their cars. According to the article:

There are 13,237 medallions in the city; new ones, when issued, are sold at auction. But the medallion pool is rarely expanded, creating a scarcity that helps keep values high.

By restricting the supply of legal cabs, the policy effectively raises the price of a ride. It also leads to what Matt Yglesias calls “endemic taxi shortages in the outer boroughs.” As Felix Salmon notes, though, even if the city issued more medallions, fares wouldn’t go down since another city policy regulates those.

(Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Salmon then asserts that “utter chaos” would result if both policies were removed because riders would have to haggle with cabbies every time they rode. This seems like a rather absurd concern. Do you haggle with the local gas station operator every time you fill up? Is there utter chaos because magazine prices at newsstands are set by the market and not by regulation? Matt Yglesias adeptly dispatches with Samon’s concerns, writing:

In fact in Stockholm they’ve done what Salmon says can’t be done, and taxis are allowed to charge whatever price they like. The main solution to the problem he identifies is that most cabs are affiliated with one of a few large taxi companies that have posted fare schedules.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the economics of this. Both the price control and the medallion requirement seem to benefit cab companies at the expense of riders by raising prices above what the market would naturally bear. But as Gordon Tullock pointed out in a classic 1975 article called “The Transitional Gains Trap,” the cab operators really aren’t better off in the long run:

[T]he capital value of the monopoly profit has been fully taken into account in the industry. New entrants enter only by purchasing the medallion, with the result that they get only normal profits.

In other words, those who want to charge monopoly prices must pay dearly for the privilege of doing so. And today the going rate is about $1,000,000. This is essentially the same story with any type of rent-seeking activity. If you want the government to give you a competitive advantage against your competitors, you can ask for a subsidy or a tax on your competitors, but expect to spend a lot of money lobbying for these favors. In fact, as Tullock argues, you should expect to spend so much money that in the end, you will only make a normal profit! Indeed, that’s why protected industries like autos, steel, agriculture, and green energy do not systematically make above-normal profits. (In pointing this out, David Friedman has opined that “the government can’t even give anything away.”)

But the story gets worse. Now let’s imagine that the government tries to do the efficient thing. Let’s imagine it listens to Matt Yglesias or me and deregulates the taxi cab industry. Well you can bet that the poor person who just paid $1,000,000 for the right to charge a monopoly fare is going to be more than a little resistant to any policy change which would make his fares go to the competitive level. In fact, the political resistance would be so great that Tullock called the entire policy a “trap” concluding:

The moral of this, on the whole, depressing tale is that we should try to avoid getting into this kind of trap in the future.

Think of this the next time you hear about a proposal that is likely to benefit one group at the expense of others.

 

Trust Me On This One

Think about how often you depend on the kindness trust of strangers. You can walk into a restaurant, order the most expensive item on the menu and leisurely eat it without offering up any sort of collateral. The restaurateur may not know you, but he trusts you. Similarly, you can walk into a New York City hotel, put down a credit card and spend a week in the lap of luxury. The hotel doesn’t know you, but they know your credit card and extend their trust in Visa to you.

Like money, trust lubricates the wheels of commerce. It allows us to do business with people we’ve never met, expanding the “extent of the market,” and our standard of living. Indeed, as Steve Knack, senior economist at the World Bank, sees it: “If you take a broad enough definition of trust, then it would explain basically all the difference between the per capita income of the United States and Somalia.”

Why is it that strangers in the United States are so much more willing to trust one another compared with strangers in Somalia? More importantly: how can we build trust in places where it is lacking? Studies have found that humans have some rather ugly rules of thumb when it comes to trust. They are more likely to trust others if they are perceived as high status or if they are of the same race. That doesn’t offer much in the way of helpful policy advice for building trust.

But new research by Omar Al-Ubaydli, Daniel Houser, John V. Nye, Maria Pia Paganelli and Xiaofei Pan points to another trust-builder: experience with markets. They write:

In randomized control laboratory experiments, we find that those primed to think about markets exhibit more trusting behavior. We randomly and unconsciously prime experimental participants to think about markets and trade. We then ask them to play a trust game involving an anonymous stranger. We compare the behavior of these individuals with that of a group who are not primed to think about anything in particular. Priming for market participation affects positively the beliefs about the trustworthiness of anonymous strangers, increasing trust.

Progress depends on the extent of the market, the extent of the market depends on trust, and trust can be facilitated with familiarity with markets.