April 07, 2003

Anarchy, State, and Rent Control

Serendipity. I'd forgotten about this, and just found it again on the web. But a couple of years after it happened (and I'm assured by people--friends of Eric Segal's--that this is a *fair* retelling of the story) I was teaching a seminar in which we read part of Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia. I also assigned this--and generated a ferocious discussion about whether Nozick's use of state power to break his contracted word and extort $30,000 from Eric Segal was or was not something that should affect one's interpretation of and confidence in ASU.


Anarchy, State, and Rent Control

(excerpted from _The New Republic_ Dec. 22 1986 pages 20-21) The underscore character indicates _italicized_ text. All emphasis and parenthetical comments are in the original.


Postcard Cambridge: ANARCHY, STATE, AND RENT CONTROL

Robert Nozick, a philosophy professor at Harvard, is the intellectual hero of libertarians. His book, _Anarchy, State, and Utopia_, winner of the National Book Award in 1974, argues that "free minds and free markets" are the key to a successful society. While endorsing personal choice on social issues like drugs and pornography, Nozick mocked the economic interventionism of contemporary liberals who, he said, are "willing to tolerate every kind of behavior except capitalistic acts between consenting adults." Alas, it now appears that like so many other advocates of the free market, Nozick is willing to make one small exception --himself.

In September 1983, Nozick signed a one-year lease on a condominium apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, owned by Eric Segal, the eminent classical scholar and author of _Love Story_. Segal, who bought the place in 1972, has lived there only occasionally and now resides in England. The apartment is a beauty, actually two combined units with 2,500 square feet of space, a wine "safe", Jacuzzi, sauna, and a 50-foot balcony overlooking the Charles River. As a consenting adult, Nozick agreed to pay Segal $1,900 a month.

When the lease came up for renewal a year later, Segal bumped the rent up to $2,400. A lot, but Cambridge is a hot real estate market and Nozick, as a consenting adult, signed again for another year. But he apparently was miffed. Cambridge, after all, has one of the nation's most draconic rent control ordinances --as do many college communities where students and junior professors have imposed economic regulations on the "townies" who rent them apartments during the school year. Was it possible, Nozick wondered, that Segal might be violating the law?

Less than a month later, Nozick showed up at the offices of the Cambridge Rent Control Board and asked if the city rent regulation applied to his apartment. "We told him it certainly did," said Bernard "Buddy" Packer, who makes sure all rents are fair and square in Cambridge. "The final, legal, maximum rent on that apartment should have been $1,900." And so the matter was settled, as far as Buddy Packer and the Rent Control Board were concerned. Nozick's rent was rolled back to $1,900. He received a $500 refund on his first month's rent.

But Nozick wasn't satisfied. Like the son of a missionary discovering pornography, Nozick apparently became fascinated with rent control. "I was up there showing the apartment to some brokers at one point," says Ken Edelman, a New York attorney who was soon representing Segal. "There was a copy of the Cambridge Rent Control Ordinance sitting on the coffee table."

Nozick decided the situation was more grave than even the rent control board had suspected. In Cambridge, rent increases are allowed only through occasional citywide raises, or through individual exceptions granted to petitioning landlords. But how was the _original_ rent determined? The law says it is the rent at which the apartment was let when the ordinance first went into effect. Multifamily unit housing was regulated in 1970 and owner-occupied condominiums were brought under the law as of March 31, 1976.

If an apartment was not being rented at the time, the first rent at which it was let becomes the base rent. All subsequent raises are figured by a complicated formula only the Cambridge Rent Control Board seems to understand.

Nozick knew he had not been the first tenant. Segal had rented out the apartment several times before to friends and acquaintances. After some investigating, Nozick turned up a couple in the building who house-sat the apartment for six months in 1976, without a lease, paying only $675 a month.

In September 1985, Nozick's second lease expired. Even though he had no contractual right to stay in Segal's apartment, he did not want to move out. The interventionist state to the rescue once again! Under Cambridge's rent control ordinance, even a tenant without a lease is evictable only if the owner himself wanted to move into the apartment. Not only did Nozick stay put, but a month later he filed suit against Segal in Cambridge District Court. Nozick argued the rent --based on the $675 base figure-- should now be only about $800. He demanded a $25,000 refund for two years of "overpayment" --plus triple damages.

The case dragged on for two years. In May 1986 the Cambridge Rent Control Board issued a new ruling. Basing the rent on a 1977 lease where the tenant had paid $1,000, the board decided the final, legal, maximum rent should be $1,303. (Rent control boards always seem to choose mysterious figures in order to give themselves an air of authority. Segal's monthly maintenance, property tax, and mortgage costs were more than $2,000.)

This fall the parties settled out of court. Nozick agreed to move out of the apartment on September 15, and Segal agreed to pay his tenant $31,000. "We thought it was a pretty good settlement," said Edelman, Segal's attorney. "Cambridge's rent control ordinance is one of the strictest in the country. Nozick was in a very strong position."

Based on the $1,303 figure, however, the refund for the entire three-year "overcharge" should have been about $21,000. Why the extra $10,000? "Eric wants to sell the place," said Edelman. "With Nozick in there, the apartment was virtually unmarketable. Any new owner would inherit the problem. Basically, we had to pay off Nozick to get rid of him. Otherwise, he might have been there forever."

Nozick refused all comment.

No one, not even a philosopher, is morally obligated to live as if the world were the way he wishes it were. Robert Nozick pays taxes and is entitled to enjoy the government benefits they finance --even benefits he thinks should not exist. Perhaps the libertarian philosopher should not be expected to opt out of rent control voluntarily. But should he be pursuing his landlord through the maze of rent control regulations like a man possessed? And should he be using his ability to make a nuisance of himself under these regulations for simple, if lawful, cash extortion?

They say that policeman make the best burglars. After a few years on the job, they know all the tricks. The same thing seems to be true of philosophers. If you're looking for someone to manipulate a rent control ordinance, find an advocate of the free market.

William Tucker

Posted by DeLong at April 7, 2003 11:36 PM | TrackBack

Comments

I suppose that you'll be telling us next that John Rawls drank Bollinger for breakfast, and didn't even pay his dozens of downtrodden servants the minimum wage.

Posted by: John Chave on April 8, 2003 12:26 AM

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One of the funnier "ideologist violates own principiles" stories I've seen.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on April 8, 2003 02:39 AM

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Exactly what one would expect of him, thanks.

Posted by: vieri on April 8, 2003 03:33 AM

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Rent control is almost universally condemned by economists -- but it is not a federal issue and so doesn't get much big-media attention. In fact, the California and New York cartels that dominate the information industry seem to be staffed by non-economists who take the dubious virtues of rent-control for granted and consider the obvious problems to be exceptional.

I would wish the Sowells, Krugmans, and DeLongs who use a soapbox to discuss econ, would tackle THIS major abuse of the citizenry a little more vigorously, and leave the problem of the federal tax code to rest and recover a bit.

Posted by: Melcher on April 8, 2003 04:19 AM

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Living in a state not constituted according to his personal preferences, Nozick was constrained to adapt to the system of laws he found. After all, what else could he do?

PS Any conclusions to draw from why apparently so many wealthy Americans, like Segal, choose to come over here to live in England?

Posted by: Bob Briant on April 8, 2003 04:56 AM

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In response to a comment from Brad (in a series on smoking and tangentially on peanuts), I once raised the notion that simple humanity is often a better guide to behavior that any creed, knowing that any creed can be turned to bad use if one has the will to do so. The response from libertarians was something along the lines of "how can a belief system based in respect for freedom be a bad thing?" That response rather missed the point. I enjoy very much reading that the alpha-libertarian can allow himself recourse to the levers of government intervention when it suits him. In this case, there is no apparent recourse to libertarian principles in self-justification, but oh, my isn't it amusing?

Posted by: K Harris on April 8, 2003 05:23 AM

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Very amusing.

Massachusetts no longer has rent control. Towns with rent control had the regulations recinded by a state wide ballot petition. People in the tightly zoned suburbs lacked sympathy for rent-control's goals.

I've never quite been able to tease out how rent control can be distinquished from zoning. The role of zoning is to allow residents to temper the rate of change around thier homes so they can raise their children in peace while keeping the barbarians out. Zoning takes from me the economic fun of building a mixed use light industrial, shopping center and apartment building in place of my house. As such it creates a housing shortage in the region and tempers my ablity to freeloading on the public infrastructure.

One bone I'd pick with that article is the casual description that students and assistant proffesors are the source of rent control. In my experiance rent control was most popular with the long term residents - they feared the disruptive effects of transient residents (usually visiting 'scholars'). They liked the way that rent control shifted the preference set of the landlords toward maximizing other attributes of the tenants vs. cash. Transients don't vote.

Regarding why some Americans like to live in England: I this context we can only conclude that it's because English property law is so much more facinating.

Posted by: Ben Hyde on April 8, 2003 05:25 AM

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Nozick's argument for a libertarian society based on his notion of individual rights may have been a bit tenuous. But his behavior does make a very good case for limited government. Nozick cleverly used the mechanism of the state to violate a contract that he had freely agreed to. Nozick used his own and Segal's valuable rousources and time just to transfer wealth from Segal to himself. I believe we economists would call all of Nozick and Segal's efforts 'deadweight loss.' This makes a good case for limited government on economic efficiency grounds. Beyond a certain point, government goes beyond produces goods benefiting the populace, and becomes way for members of the populace to steal from other members, wasting a lot of valuable resources in the process.

Posted by: Keith on April 8, 2003 05:46 AM

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Melcher - You'll be happy to know that Dr. Krugman has spare the time to sunk his teeth into rent control: http://www.pkarchive.org/column/6700.html - ben

Posted by: Ben Hyde on April 8, 2003 06:18 AM

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Doesn't the same critical analysis of price controls in a competitive market also apply to minimum wage legislation?

Posted by: Bob Briant on April 8, 2003 06:34 AM

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Zoning has a big impact on housing costs. Edward Glaeser and Joseph Gyourko wrote a paper, "The Impact of Zoning on Housing Affordability", on this subject. It's a gigantic impact, and their paper quite likely to turn you into a libertarian on this subject.

http://post.economics.harvard.edu/hier/2002papers/HIER1948.pdf

Posted by: Neel Krishnaswami on April 8, 2003 07:30 AM

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"We thought it was a pretty good settlement," said Edelman, Segal's attorney. "Cambridge's rent control ordinance is one of the strictest in the country. Nozick was in a very strong position."

Another rapacious landlord is caught in the act of trying to exploit tenants' ignorance of their rights. Good!

"...ferocious discussion about ... Nozick's use of state power to break his contracted word..."

What's to discuss? There was *no* contracted word -- the contract was illegal on its face.

Unless one wants to argue that because Nozick had elsewhere argued that such laws are bad they shouldn't apply to him, since free contracting trumps the law. Which is silly.

Then one would have to also argue, e.g., that employers ought to be able hire workers of a libertarian bent who are ignorant of their statutory rights to things like pension coverage, workers comp, health and safety protections, a minimum wage, and so on, and who thus freely contract to work without them -- and that if such workers later learn of their statutory rights, they should be disqualified from enforcing them due to having freely contracted them away.

And who would say such a silly thing?

Nozick didn't have the *right* to waive the rent control law any more than an employee has the *right* to waive the minimum wage or social insurance protections or workplace safety standards. Kudos to him for doing his social duty by standing up to enforce that law, as distasteful to him as it must have been to do so in light of his personal beliefs.

That's regarding the ethics of the case. As to the economics...

"Next to bombing, rent control seems in many cases to be the most efficient technique so far known for destroying cities."
--Assar Lindbeck, former chairman of the Nobel Prize committee for Economics

Posted by: Jim Glass on April 8, 2003 07:43 AM

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I don't believe that Nozick is necessarily a hypocrite. It is quite common in arguing policy to show your opponent's solution to be flawed by teasing out the ways in which it would lead to absurd or counter-productive results. Perhaps Nozick's actions were, in addition to being in his monetary self interest, a way of exposing the flaws in the system, i.e. "if I can do this legally, there's obviously something wrong".

Posted by: A-ro on April 8, 2003 07:50 AM

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No rent control in Boston now, and look how well that housing market has worked! Have you people been renting?

The number of distortions in the housing market -- zoning for sure, but so many others -- makes the incessant complaints from libertarians about rent control look like so much bullying of poor renters. I once was at a city council meeting in Southern California where, after an hour or so levying fines on people blocking other people's ocean views, and subsidizing people's houses against environmental damage, the council spoke out firmly against being forced to build low-income housing. The market had to take care of that, and who could think otherwise?

Anyway, Nozick always looked like someone who took ideas to their logical conclusion, and moved on to the next idea. Libertarianism one year, rent control the next. The game was in the application of the idea.


Posted by: david on April 8, 2003 07:57 AM

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I'm not particularly troubled by this case (amused, but not troubled). But I find Mr. Glass's argument puzzling. I certainly wouldn't argue that Nozick has a moral obligation to ignore the rent control law. But wouldn't it be admirable for him to do so? If, for some reason that I can't currently imagine, a blue collar worker objected to minimum wage laws on moral and philisophical grounds, wouldn't we generally commend him if he placed him values over his interests? Obviously, this is a simplistic example, and the elevations of "values" as the sole definer of morality is a dangerous path to head down, but it generally seems to me that Nozick would be commendable for not acting as he actually did.

I find this particulalry amusing, because, while I never met the man, friends of mine who have were always somewhat awestruck.

Posted by: Jeff L on April 8, 2003 08:02 AM

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Has Mr. Lindbeck been to Cambridge lately? I'd be curious to know how he would defend his statement in light of that city's actual experiences (as opposed to the fantastical cities of homo economicus, where the free market prevents pollution, littering, and sweatshop fires while promoting mass transit, universal education, and affordable housing).

Cambridge, ca. 1995: densely occupied, vibrant city with excellent standard of living and moderately high cost of living, ~20 years into the sustained bombing campaign of rent control.

Cambridge, ca. 2003: densely occupied, somewhat more homogenized city with good standard of living and insanely high cost of living, ~5 years afer the merciful cessation of bombing.

What changed? Well, the free market likes rich people, and rich people like to live in already-nice places. So, the nicer bits of Cambridge have been rather aggressively rebuilt with bigger, newer, much more expensive housing that doesn't, generally, fit in the urban fabric as well as the old. So, more yuppies, fewer creatives, and a slightly less nice place to live. And the lower-end parts still consist of older, indifferently-maintained housing that now rents at 3X the old rate. Hooray!

Look, I understand all the arguments against rent control, and accept the general wisdom of doing away with it. But the issue I think illustrates rather nicely the smug blindness of orthodox economists who don't have a letter corresponding to social capital to plug into their formulae. The primary beneficiaries of rent decontrol in Cambridge have been rentiers, wealthy people who could live wherever they wanted anyway, and the construction industry. The extent to which the massive social change in the last ~5 years hasn't ruined much of what Cambridge's citizens have created over the last 50-400 years (depending how you count) is the extent to which other regulations have moderated the impacts - subsidized housing, zoning, tax policies, etc.

Posted by: JRoth on April 8, 2003 08:36 AM

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Yes to JRoth.

Posted by: david on April 8, 2003 08:51 AM

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~"Ben Hyde to Melcher - You'll be happy to know that Dr. Krugman has spare the time to sunk his teeth into rent control: http://www.pkarchive.org/column/6700.html "~

Thanks. Yes indeed.

Dr K's reference to Blinder's Law (Or Murphy's Law of Economics) goes far to explain much about Dr Krugman's priorities, as well. Is it more fun explaining to laymen basic economic fundamentals, or bamboozling voters with economic esoterica?

Give Brad here a lot of credit -- he has fun with the basics -- even basic math. (More interesting math facts, please.) Since he lives in a very high cost part of the country it'd be interesting to get his personal take on local rents, zoning, and property economics. But he does, quite properly, what he enjoys -- which isn't discussing rents.

"They say that policeman make the best burglars. After a few years on the job, they know all the tricks. The same thing seems to be true of philosophers. "

And newspaper columnists, I suppose.


Posted by: Melcher on April 8, 2003 09:12 AM

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"Dr K's reference to Blinder's Law (Or Murphy's Law of Economics) goes far to explain much about Dr Krugman's priorities, as well. Is it more fun explaining to laymen basic economic fundamentals, or bamboozling voters with economic esoterica?"

Dr. Krugman does both. Skillfully. Read Pop Internationalism, Peddling Prosperity, or Return of Depression Era Economics for the former. Rethinking International Trade is closer to the latter.

By the way, Thomas Sowell has written extensively on rent control. I think there's at least one chapter of his book, "Basic Economics," devoted to that subject. I also recall rent control frequently being referred to, throughout the book (although it's been a couple years since I read it).

http://www.townhall.com/columnists/thomassowell/ts2000818.shtml

Posted by: Mark Bahner on April 8, 2003 09:33 AM

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Melcher: Sowell DOES discuss rent control at length in his book Basic Economics.

Posted by: George Zachar on April 8, 2003 09:45 AM

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>No rent control in Boston now, and look how well that housing market has worked!

Are there govt barriers to housing construction constricting supply?

Posted by: George Zachar on April 8, 2003 09:48 AM

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"I also assigned this--and generated a ferocious discussion about whether Nozick's use of state power to break his contracted word and extort $30,000 from Eric Segal was or was not something that should affect one's interpretation of and confidence in ASU."

Interesting. I can't see why such a debate would occur.

If the consensus was that the rent control laws allowed Nozick to wrongfully extort money from Segal, that should be an argument strongly in favor of ELIMINATING such laws...as Nozick presumably advocated.

In other words, if the consensus was that things would have been fine if there had only been a contract, and NO rent control law, that should should be an argument *against* rent control laws.

But, in a larger sense, this represents the puzzling tendency to judge arguments by the "goodness" of the person making the argument, rather than simply judging the argument on its merits.

Thomas Jefferson, and some of the other signers of the Declaration of Independence, owned slaves. (Making them, in my opinion, less than "good" people.) Does that detract from their arguments such as: 1) men are created equal, 2) men are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights, or 2) the purpose of government is to protect those rights?

I don't see those men's failures of personality as detracting from their arguments. Rather, their arguments clearly point out the failures of their personalities.

It's essentially a universal trait that people desire the force of law to compel others to give them money. That's why essentially half the country votes Democratic...while the other half votes Republican, as long as Republicans will guarantee them Medicare prescription drug benefits.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on April 8, 2003 09:55 AM

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Just for the record. We knew Robert Nozick, and found him a bore and a boor. Never had the slightest idea that he cared for anyone other than himself. Must have been brilliant and awe inspiring, except that we never noticed.

l&l

Posted by: lise on April 8, 2003 10:13 AM

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Yes, George, awful restrictions about means of egress, fire ratings and the like. Horrible, Socialist stuff.

Being facetious, of course. But those things, which only an Objectivist would object to, do drive up the cost of construction for even a modest home. There are also fairly strict land use regulations, and public review policies. Most of these work to preserve what's good about Cambridge, at the cost of unrestricted new construction. It's not clear how the current citizens of Cambridge would benefit from policies that would result in the wholsesale destruction of their physical and social community while pricing them out town. Much of which has already happened, BTW.

Again, tho', I return to the point that the free market doesn't build affordable (for median incomes) housing if it can instead build luxury housing. The primary restrictions are not governmental, but geographical: it's a small place (relatively).

So you get your choice: Evil Rent Control, or Evil Gentrification - read displacement of current residents. Anyone who claims that ending rent control results in better housing for everyone is selling snake oil. An unfettered housing market provides housing starting from the top. For people at the top (like every person on this comment board, who have the means and time to argue with complete strangers about policies they cannot change), that doesn't look like such a bad proposition. Others may have a different view.

Posted by: JRoth on April 8, 2003 10:33 AM

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> An unfettered housing market provides housing starting from the top.

The experience has been the opposite here in New York. Rent control led to the wasting away of working and middle class housing stock -- think of the South Bronx -- while the upper class housing of Park Avenue, for instance, was unaffected.

Sowell deftly explains the mechanics of all this.

Posted by: George Zachar on April 8, 2003 10:40 AM

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"Never had the slightest idea that he cared for anyone other than himself."

A libertarian who never cared for anyone other than himself, eh? Next you're going to tell the amazing tale of the republican who mostly looked out for the interests of the wealthy.

I'm shocked, shocked.

Posted by: biz on April 8, 2003 10:45 AM

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"So you get your choice: Evil Rent Control, or Evil Gentrification - read displacement of current residents"

That strikes me as a bit too glib. How about luxury de-control, of the sort that's been half heartedly done in NYC?

There are distinct populations that benefit from rent control, particularly in NYC. Plenty of whom are 'yuppies,' while many more are elderly. I think the point is that if you're looking to rent control to preserve or increase diversity in economic and social makeup, I think you're on the wrong track. In the course of benefiting a few who perhaps deserve it, your giving money to many more who can afford decent living arrangements either in the same neighborhood, or one nearby. Which is all to say that decontrol would impact the economic makeup of neighborhoods, but not to the degree that you advertise.

Posted by: Jeff L on April 8, 2003 10:45 AM

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>fairly strict land use regulations

Then high housing costs, by definition, have been chosen as a trade-off.

Posted by: George Zachar on April 8, 2003 10:50 AM

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Biz

Why is it always so obvious? What the world needs now are more Republican-Libertarians, tra la.

JD

Posted by: jd on April 8, 2003 11:31 AM

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The problem with rent control is that it is such a blunt instrument. If the goal is to allow lower income renters to live in a certain area, then why not have a transfer program that only applies to lower-income renters within a certain area?

I hesitate to use the word vouchers, but at least(unlike in the education context) there is every reason to think that housing vouchers for low income renters work, without providing windfall benefits to wealthy renters at the sole expense of landlords.

Posted by: Ethan on April 8, 2003 11:47 AM

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Whatever it is, Paul Krugman must have done it. Forget integrity, forget economics, just shill for the Administration, and blame Paul Krugman for anything and everything. Next, we turn to the resident hack of the day from American Enterprise Institute....

Posted by: lise on April 8, 2003 11:48 AM

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So, if rent controls are removed, all of the new construction will be luxury homes, eh? Well, great! That means the rich people will move out of their current homes, leaving more housing for the rest of us! No matter who the "target audience" is, more housing being built will put downward pressure on housing somewhere.

Some good points have been raised about how regulations-as-barriers-to-building can significantly reduce the benefits of de-controlling rents. It seems to me that the solution to the housing cost problem isn't a simple "get rid of rent controls!", but rather it is "get rid of barriers to increasing the amount of housing available!". Of course, in conjunction with a holistic package, including fixing regulatory barriers where possible, removing rent controls may be the centerpiece of such an initiative.

Acquiring good quarterback may do more harm (against the salary cap) than good (on the field) if you don't also make sure the offensive line is adequate...

Posted by: A-ro on April 8, 2003 12:00 PM

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>There are distinct populations that benefit from rent control, particularly in NYC. Plenty of whom are 'yuppies,'

It is very common to find affluent folks in rent controlled flats who own country homes, and never EVER intend to "move out".

Posted by: George Zachar on April 8, 2003 12:15 PM

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Here in Toronto I once offered our local Communist Party candidate, who was also chair of the Tenants' Association of the building I lived in, a $100 bet that if the then incoming Tory government abolished rent control, rents would drop in relative terms, i.e. with respect to the CPI. He didn't take the bet.

Good thinking on his part. We still have residual rent control, but the loosening of the reins has slackened both the housing shortage and rents' former certainty of being the highest allowable by law.

I think with complete abolition I would have had a lead pipe cinch.

Posted by: David Lloyd-Jones on April 8, 2003 12:30 PM

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Nozick comments briefly on the Segal case in an interview by Justin Sanchez (done in 2001):

"RN: Yes. But I never stopped self-applying. What I was really saying in The Examined Life was that I was no longer as hardcore a libertarian as I had been before. But the rumors of my deviation (or apostasy!) from libertarianism were much exaggerated. I think this book makes clear the extent to which I still am within the general framework of libertarianism, especially the ethics chapter and its section on the "Core Principle of Ethics." One thing that I think reinforced the view that I had rejected libertarianism was a story about an apartment of [Love Story author] Erich Segal's that I had been renting. Do you know about that?

JS: I did hear about that. The story that had gone around was that you had taken action against a landlord to secure a certain fixed rent…


RN: That's right. In the rent he was charging me, Erich Segal was violating a Cambridge rent control statute. I knew at the time that when I let my intense irritation with representatives of Erich Segal lead me to invoke against him rent control laws that I opposed and disapproved of, that I would later come to regret it, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do."


http://www.juliansanchez.com/nozick.html

Posted by: David on April 8, 2003 12:47 PM

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Nice find. I love this: " But sometimes you have to do what you have to do." That should be a disclaimer to every work of philosophy ever written.

Posted by: Jeff L on April 8, 2003 01:54 PM

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“Nice find. I love this: " But sometimes you have to do what you have to do." That should be a disclaimer to every work of philosophy ever written.”

It is obvious that someone is unfamiliar with the American Pragmatism movement. Philosophical absolutism deserves to be ridiculed. I am personally something of a Libertarian who knows when to draw the line.

I must also add that there is no such thing as an economically totalist political entity. Even the most communistic system allows a minimum of capitalist activity, and the reverse is true regarding our own economy. The so-called “Third Way” is the intrinsically avoidable reality. It’s merely a matter of where you draw the line.

Posted by: David Thomson on April 8, 2003 02:19 PM

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The defenses here are hilarious; spin is no longer just for the professionals. Maybe you can take up why it's admirable for someone who thinks abortion should be illegal to get an abortion.

I think zoning, in general, has more to do with the distribution of various types of property in a city than the total aggregate amount of each. Thanks for the interesting paper, though.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on April 8, 2003 02:25 PM

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"In the rent he was charging me, Erich Segal was violating a Cambridge rent control statute. I knew at the time that when I let my intense irritation with representatives of Erich Segal lead me to invoke against him rent control laws that I opposed and disapproved of, that I would later come to regret it,..."

Reads well, so far...

"...but sometimes you have to do what you have to do."

??? Why did he "have to do" what he did?

He should have concluded with something like, "I let my anger at Segal's representatives get the best of me."


Posted by: Mark Bahner on April 8, 2003 02:31 PM

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Nozick apparently knew there was a rent control law, since he knew just what to do when he got angry at Segal. So shouldn't he have raised the issue at the time he first rented the apartment?

Of course, had he done so, Segal might well have refused to rent out the apartment at all for the controlled price. So (maybe) Nozick conveniently didn't mention rent control. But then it seems to me that, as an ethical if not legal matter, he was in fact waiving his rights under rent control which, pace Jim Glass, he could certainly do by simply not pursuing the matter.

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov on April 8, 2003 02:48 PM

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"A libertarian who never cared for anyone other than himself, eh? Next you're going to tell the amazing tale of the republican who mostly looked out for the interests of the wealthy. I'm shocked, shocked."

And then you'll tell me the story of a Democrat who: 1) works for the government, and/or 2) favors programs that take money from richer people, to give to him. I'll say, "A Democrat who wants to get other people's money by force? I'm shocked, shocked."

Posted by: Mark Bahner on April 8, 2003 02:56 PM

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If I believed that the income tax should be a Steve Forbes style flat tax, would taking the mortgage interest deduction on my income taxes make me a hypocrite, or "not admirable"? If so, then everyone is right to criticize Nozick for using rent control to his own gain.

Posted by: the dude on April 8, 2003 03:25 PM

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Bernard's speculation:

" So shouldn't he have raised the issue at the time he first rented the apartment? "

Doesn't fit the story Prof. DeLong has provided, which said that it was only when Segal bumped the rent from $1900 to $2400 that:

" Was it possible, Nozick wondered, that Segal might be violating the law?

" Less than a month later, Nozick showed up at the offices of the Cambridge Rent Control Board and asked if the city rent regulation applied to his apartment."

Further, Nozick no doubt realized that it was the existence of the rent control law that created the severe shortage of apartments. So, it was an indirect consequence of the rent control law (that Segal was violating) which raised the "market value" $500 after one year. To allow Segal to get away with violating the law would therefore rob Nozick TWICE.

Besides, it's just retribution for that idiotic, sacharine novel. Rent control means never having to say you're sorry.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on April 8, 2003 03:30 PM

____

"Nozick apparently knew there was a rent control law, since he knew just what to do when he got angry at Segal. So shouldn't he have raised the issue at the time he first rented the apartment?"

I don't think it follows that Nozick *must* have known about the rent control law before he first rented.

In fact, my guess at the more likely scenario would be that he found out about it, after Segal wanted to raise the rent by 26% (i.e. from $1900 to $2400) in the second year. As a former renter, my guess would be that he didn't think much about the rent (other than it was painfully high) until the second year. Then, with that significant percentage increase, he probably complained to his friends.

"So (maybe) Nozick conveniently didn't mention rent control."

Maybe. Or maybe not. My guess would be "not." If he knew that there were rent controls, and the rent-controlled price would be substantially lower than he was signing the original lease for, it seems to me like he would have mentioned it. Maybe not *before* he signed (taking your point of view, that he was one sneaky dude)...but at least soon thereafter. Why would he wait until 12 months had expired?

Posted by: Mark Bahner on April 8, 2003 03:30 PM

____

"If I believed that the income tax should be a Steve Forbes style flat tax, would taking the mortgage interest deduction on my income taxes make me a hypocrite, or 'not admirable'?"

See, this was my point earlier...who the #@$% cares whether you're a hypocrite or "not admirable" or "not a 'good' person"? (No truly "liberal" person should care.)

You support a flat tax. Therefore, if the candidates you vote for get elected, your mortgage deduction will go away. But the fact that you take the mortgage deduction doesn't hurt your argument that flat taxes are the way to go.

In another example, being a Libertarian, I don't support Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid. If there is ever a Libertarian majority in Congress (or perhaps just a majority of Supreme Court justices who can read the Constitution) my Social Security/Medicare/possibly Medicaid may be lost.

Yet, since I contribute to Social Security and Medicare, I personally won't feel bad about collecting either one, when I retire. I don't think that makes me either a hypocrite or a bad person. But even if it does, it doesn't take away from my argument that Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid are wrong.

Robert Nozick argued that rent controls were wrong. (Perhaps he later changed his mind...it isn't too clear from this account.)

But REGARDLESS, his arguments (either that rent controls are wrong, or that they are good) should be judged on their merits, not on whether he is a "good" person.

Jefferson's arguments in the Declaration of Independence clearly pointed to the conclusion that slavery was wrong. The fact that he owned slaves does NOT detract from his arguments.

People are right or wrong, regardless of whether they are "good" or "bad." In my opinion, Nozick was right when he was arguing against rent control...and if he later changed his mind, then he later was wrong.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on April 8, 2003 03:56 PM

____

>I think zoning, in general, has more to do with the distribution of various types of property in a city than the total aggregate amount of each.

Not true. Zoning law changes in NYC can add to the housing stock by allowing conversion of industrial properties into residences. Also, existing housing sites can have the number of units allowed on a plot changed.

Posted by: George Zachar on April 8, 2003 05:11 PM

____

Mark, the point of it isn't that it's hypocritical that he got the rent increase rescinded using rent control laws he believes are wrong. It's that he then proceeded to be an unholy terror with it, extracting every possible means of enriching himself with a law he believes is immoral, using it as a weapon for a vendetta. The beginning is just amusing, but the end is rather disturbing.

George, if there's an oversupply of industrial properties and an undersupply of residential, why wouldn't the zoning board change the zoning? You can almost look at it as a inefficient market, except you can't stick factories in the middle of poor neighborhoods.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on April 8, 2003 05:27 PM

____

Oh, it is a "good thing" when they alter the code to allow industrial to residential conversion. My point was that zoning can alter the total supply of housing in a city, not just its distribution.

Posted by: George Zachar on April 8, 2003 05:35 PM

____

Mark Bahner asks,

"If he knew that there were rent controls, and the rent-controlled price would be substantially lower than he was signing the original lease for, it seems to me like he would have mentioned it. Maybe not *before* he signed (taking your point of view, that he was one sneaky dude)...but at least soon thereafter. Why would he wait until 12 months had expired?"

Because he didn't want to risk having the lease voided, or maybe because his libertarian conscience stopped him, until it was overridden by the rent increase.

I can't prove Nozick knew there was rent control from the beginning. Maybe he did find out after complaining to friends. But,

1. He was teaching at Harvard, in Cambridge.
2. Rent control was not a secret.
3. He was in the market for an apartment in Cambridge.
4. He clearly knew when the rent went up, so the issue is when he found out.


Posted by: Bernard Yomtov on April 8, 2003 07:03 PM

____

Mark Bahner, I completely agree with your response to my post.

Posted by: the dude on April 9, 2003 06:10 AM

____

Look, the issue with Nozick isn't that hypocrisy is the worst sin in the world, but that intellectual consistency is the currency of people whose only productive work in society is intellectualizing. The only reason Nozick could afford any rent was that he had made a name for himself promoting certain ideas. If his books had talked about those ideas as nothing more than a lot of hot air, and you should do whatever the hell you want in real life, I'm not sure he would have been at Harvard.

This is not unrelated to the "outing" debate. People have every right to live as they please, and if they want to be in the closet, bully for them. But to promote homophobia from inside the closet... well, at that point you've changed the rules. It's not like Jefferson pretended he didn't have slaves. He acknowleged the inconsistency, and then wrote the most stirring paean to human dignity in history. Bully for him.

I'm no theologian, but I understand this Jesus fellow was really dedicated to his principles, and wouldn't even fudge them, given the opprotunity by the dominant governmental entity. A lot of people still admire him for that.

Posted by: JRoth on April 9, 2003 09:49 AM

____

The thread that never dies:

George, if Sowell said exactly what you're saying, then he's an ignoramus. If that's not what he said (and I assume he spoke in generalized, theoretiocal terms), then you're misapplying his concepts severely.

Rent control can be blamed for the South Bronx about as much as you or I can. Four words: Robert Moses. White flight. To suggest that vague economic incentives/ disincentives were more critical than
1. the wholesale destruction of neighborhoods to build a freeway (think strategic bombing in terms of impact)
2. the complex set of social circumstances simplified as "white flight"
is naive at best, disingenuous at worst. In fact, the pattern in the Bronx (and thousands of other non-rent controlled urban communities across the US) was of owner-occupants leaving neighborhoods that were changing in character (due to "urban renewal" and racial integration) and moving to newly-accessible, inexpensive (relative to their previous cost, not to rent-controlled urban properties) suburban developments. That those former owners proved to be poor landlords once they lived in a nice Cape Cod in Crestwood has little to do with rent control, and everything to do with the universally understood (among those who deal with communities, planning, and infrastructure, not economic formulae) fact that absentee landlords are bad landlords. Period.

Are those who rent to the ultra-wealthy better landlords? Of course. And Mercedes get better service than Chevies. That proves nothing at all about bigger pictures, except that rich people are better-off under every circumstance (except, perhaps, Judgment Day, if what's-his-face was serious about camels and needles).

I said before that I understand the problems with rent control, and that it's not a very effective path to the goal of maintaining stable, diverse (economically, socially, generationally, etc) communities. But I'm writing here to punch a hole in the fantasy that simple elimination of rent control will lead to housing nirvana.

I will happily listen to anyone who has a real-world example of a community getting better _on my terms_ after decontrol. It does no good to argue that decontrol results in more houses for the rich, which is a good thing, an so decontrol is a good thing. As indicated above and in previous posts, rent control advocates and I (separate categories, I might add) promote social continuity, healthy urban fabric, and diversity. We like policies that lead to those things. Rent control is not an ideal policy under those terms; decontrol (without compensating measures) is a terrible policy under those terms.

Unless I'm wrong. Real world examples, please.

Last point, quickly (if I'm capable): musical chairs is not a housing strategy. First of all, the idea that Bill Gates builds a new house, and everyone else moves up one, allowing us to remove the worst house, is asinine, and not how things work; among other things, it would be bad if it did work that way, since it would radically destabilize the community. But more important, it gets back to the conflict between real world and theory: Bill Gates doesn't demolish the worst house in the neighborhood, because it's in a slum. He demolishes the best house in the neighborhood, and builds a rather nicer one. No one moves up, but everyone's housing costs just went up. This (as I explained before) is what Cambridge is experiencing. Working class neighborhoods are maintaining status quo (at ever-increasing costs), while the nicer neighborhoods are being priced out of range for everyone who used to live there. So it's Hello, Somerville (which is gentrifying rapidly), or (god help you) Belmont. Which is great, except that the people who made Cambridge a great place to live have been kicked out, and must start from scratch.

Not quick? Damn.

Posted by: JRoth on April 9, 2003 11:13 AM

____

Is William Tucker a libertarian, an opponent of rent control, and a writer for the Cato Institute?

An inquiring mind wants to know!

Posted by: David on April 9, 2003 11:37 AM

____

George Zachar, A-ro, the economic dead weight losses argue greatly against rent control but they hardly confirm Libertarian economic models. NIMBY is a rational attempt to prevent some types land uses because they have negative impacts on surrounding land values. They are an attempt to prevent unquantified wealth distribution. Building an industrial park next to somebody's home can easily result in a net transfer of wealth from the homeowner to the park owner. Land use decisions are therefore forms of taxation just like rent control. Getting rid of zoning laws doesn't remove the wealth tranfer tax associated with land use decisions. It only changes the point of control.

Posted by: Stan on April 9, 2003 11:53 AM

____

Stan: Speaking only about my hometown of NYC, no one is bringing industry INTO Manhattan. We've been losing manufacturing jobs since the Eisenhower administration. The conversion of "old economy" manufacturing/warehousing space into posh residences is a win-win for everyone here as unused space is converted into much needed housing. The property owner maintains profitability, the housing market gets much-needed supply (usually in areas well-served by mass transit), and the State benefits from increased taxes paid by both building owners and residents.

Posted by: George Zachar on April 9, 2003 12:45 PM

____

"In another example, being a Libertarian, I don't support Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid. If there is ever a Libertarian majority in Congress (or perhaps just a majority of Supreme Court justices who can read the Constitution) my Social Security/Medicare/possibly Medicaid may be lost."

No wonder I have no use at all for libertarians. Or, or is it really compassionate conservatives.

Posted by: lise on April 9, 2003 01:00 PM

____

George, you are likely right. It is a good reason to change the zoning.

Posted by: Stan on April 9, 2003 02:01 PM

____

"No wonder I have no use at all for libertarians."

Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are all immoral. It is immoral for a government to take money from one group of people, and give it to another group of people, for no service rendered.

It is particularly immoral, in my opinion, when the government takes money from poor people, and gives that money to rich people. That is what frequently happens with both Social Security and Medicare.

But, beyond the immorality of those programs, they are all also illegal. The Constitution does not give the federal government the authority to take money from one group of people, to give to another, for no service rendered.

So, if the immorality and illegality of those programs are not troubling to you, I'm not particularly concerned that you "have no use at all for libertarians." As a Libertarian, I don't have much use for anyone who isn't troubled by a government illegally taking money from the poor, and giving it to the rich.

"Or, or is it really compassionate conservatives."

Libertarians are definitely not compassionate conservatives. To "conserve" is to keep the federal government doing the immoral and illegal activities it is currently doing. (Or, in the case of prescription drugs for Medicare patients, to add a new immoral and illegal government activity.)

Posted by: Mark Bahner on April 9, 2003 02:13 PM

____

FWIW, I can tell you that you're (you being Stan & George) overestimating the role of zoning costs & rent control vs. construction cost. The regulations that most affect loft conversion are the pesky life/safety ones I alluded to long ago. Multiple egress stairs, lead & asbestos abatement, fire protection, etc. all drive conversion costs through the roof. Of course, Manhattan (and let's be clear when we're talking about Manhattan, Brooklyn, or Staten Island) has plenty of people who can afford that, and I recognize that NYC's Zoning Board is famously Byzantine, but no loosening of non life/safety regs will make lofts plentiful and cheap. The artists who colonized SoHo 30 years ago were squatters, and it wasn't because they didn't have good land use lawyers.

Posted by: JRoth on April 9, 2003 02:19 PM

____

M.Bahner,
So libertarians think they still live in the eighteen century, like the Amish.

The first time I read about libertarians, or something akin to it, I thought it was an irrationality, one had to be a fool, or a criminal, to propose it as a rule of life. At least the author was against renting, property only existed as long one made use of it, once a property was no longer actively worked, anyone could take over it, without any payment for what would be, with your own words, for no service rendered. By the way, libertarian medecine would do wonders for SARS. For its extension that is.

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on April 9, 2003 02:52 PM

____

Jason McCullough writes, "Mark, the point of it isn't that it's hypocritical that he got the rent increase rescinded using rent control laws he believes are wrong. It's that he then proceeded to be an unholy terror with it, extracting every possible means of enriching himself with a law he believes is immoral, using it as a weapon for a vendetta. The beginning is just amusing, but the end is rather disturbing."

Sigh. "Liberals." ;-)

Let's review the situation:

1) Dr. DeLong, presumably teaching some sort of economics class, has his students read Nozick's book, "Anarchy, the State, and Utopia." (Never read it myself.)

2) Dr. DeLong also has them read this William Tucker piece, which relates Nozick's experience with rent control laws.

Dr. DeLong and his class are puzzled (engaged in "ferocious discussion") about whether this article, "was or was not something that should affect one's interpretation of and confidence in ASU."

Once again, I say...are all these people brain-dead?!! ;-) (Just kidding, Dr. DeLong. I mean this in a most polite way. :-))

Each of these people (Dr. DeLong, and every student in his class) should start out with one point of view:

1) Rent controls are good, or

2) Rent controls are bad.

Presumably, if they started out persuaded by "Anarchy, the State, and Utopia," they would think rent controls are bad. (Which would be good, since Paul Krugman, Thomas Sowell, and apparently 93% of all economists surveyed, agree that rent controls are bad.)

NOW...after reading this article, they should:

1) STILL think rent controls are bad, or

2) have changed their minds, and decided rent controls are good.

UNFORTUNATELY, they appear to have taken the mindless "liberal" path of never honestly stating, one way or the other, what they think about rent controls (by the way, what what do YOU think about rent controls, Jason?). Instead, they seem to be engaging in the intellectually bankrupt (i.e. completely irrelevant), and decidedly ILliberal, task of deciding whether Robert Nozick is a good man.

Whether Robert Nozick is a good man--or a hypocrite or "unholy terror"--has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not rent controls are a good idea.

I don't see how this story could ever convince someone who *started* with the thought that rent controls are a *bad* idea (as they presumably would, from reading Nozick's book), that rent controls are a *good* idea.

What essentially happened is that something that could have been addressed by a simple agreement between two men, ended up taking a large amount of lawyers' time, and generating incredibly bad feelings on BOTH sides.

Why can't we all simply get from Nozick's book, this story, Paul Krugman, Thomas Sowell, and 93% of all polled economists, that rent controls are a BAD idea? Why do we have to ponder whether or not Robert Nozick is a bad man?

That's a rhetorical question. I know that the answer is that "liberals"--excepting Paul Krugman, in this case--don't want to admit that rent controls are a bad idea. So they would rather decide that Robert Nozick is a bad man. Then they can--completely irrationally--decide that they can ignore Nozick's arguments in "Anarchy, the State, and Utopia." (That's completely irrational, because whether or not Robert Nozick is a good man or a jerk, is completely irrelevant to whether rent control is good or bad.)

P.S. This post contains exaggerated exasperation, for effect (e.g. the "brain dead" bit). As I've written before, I'd love to take an economics class taught by Dr. DeLong. I'd just cover my ears, and hum, "America the Beautiful," whenever the discussion wandered to whether or not various folks were good people or bad people.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on April 9, 2003 03:07 PM

____

I'm a neoclassical economist. I loathe rent control. It is destructive of the housing stock. It raises rents substantially in the long run. It is completely ineffective as a redistributional measure.

But I wanted to talk about philosophy and authenticity, not rent control. In my mind, at least, the big open question is:

Robert Nozick has revealed that his desire to be a libertarian self-actualizing individual expressing the moral purpose of his life by making and keeping contracts and promises is outweighed by his desire to make an extra $30,000 by using the Cambridge Rent Control Board as an instrumentality to extort money from Eric Segal.

Given that Robert Nozick wrote a book--_Anarchy, State, and Utopia_--that argued that governmental actions to block and restrict your ability to be a libertarian self-actualizing et cetera et cetera were morally wrong, does the fact that that Nozick doesn't even try very hard to live by the principles of _ASU_ constitute an argument against Nozick's philosophy?

The "no" argument is that the flaws of a thinker have no bearing on the truth of the thought: whether the philosophical argument is true or not is a matter of logic, not of Nozick's behavior.

The "yes" argument is that the purpose of philosophy is to clarify issues so that you can lead an examined and moral life--and that since the author of _ASU_ must necessarily feel the force of its arguments more strongly than any reader, Nozick's actions demonstrate that _ASU_ fails decisively as philosophy.

Posted by: Brad DeLong on April 9, 2003 03:18 PM

____

Mr DeLong,

would you think that if mr Nozick had limited its demands to the contention of the rent, disregarding the 30000 $ compensation, then he would have behaved in accord with his thesis in ASU?

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on April 9, 2003 03:38 PM

____

"So libertarians think they still live in the eighteen century, like the Amish."

No, among "progressives," "conservatives," and "liberals," libertarians are actually, in general, the most forward-looking and optimistic political group. (See "The Future and Its Enemies," by Virginia Postel.)

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0684862697/103-7940140-3243856?vi=glance

Libertarianism is THE political trend of the future. The long-run trend for all governments in the world will be towards libertarianism (i.e., government limited to only to protecting people from physical harm and fraud). The reason the long-run trend for all governments will be towards libertarianism is because all governments will be forced to compete more and more with their neighbors, and libertarianism is the most efficient form of government. (This little story on rent control demonstrates pretty clearly that "liberalism" and "progressivism" aren't the most efficient forms of government!)

"The first time I read about libertarians, or something akin to it, I thought it was an irrationality, one had to be a fool, or a criminal, to propose it as a rule of life."

You don't know what you're reading, then. Thomas Jefferson and most (but certainly not all) of the Founding Fathers were essentially libertarians. The Declaration of Independence is essentially a libertarian manifesto. It says that purpose of government is to protect rights (it doesn't mention building roads, providing education, or Social Security or Medicare).

The Founding Fathers were definitely not irrational or foolish. (The *were* criminals...as overthrowing rule of King George was definitely illegal.) And the system of government they set up was probably the most successful in history. (Except for the parts that were NOT libertarian...e.g., federal protection of slavery.)

"At least the author was against renting, property only existed as long one made use of it, once a property was no longer actively worked, anyone could take over it, without any payment for what would be, with your own words, for no service rendered."

I don't understand what you're trying to say.

"By the way, libertarian medecine would do wonders for SARS. For its extension that is."

No, "libertarian medicine" could limit SARS far more than "liberal medicine" ever will. For one thing, in a libertarian system, the airline could refuse passage for any passenger, as long as there was a contract (i.e., the "small print" with the ticket) that notified the customer that the airline would not allow anyone to travel who appeared to be ill. The airline could also require all passengers to wear gas masks or surgical masks, as long as that was on the contract for the ticket.

But "libertarian medicine" would also have: 1) no government-mandated testing requirements for vaccines, to slow the arrival of vaccines to the market, and 2) no limits for prices that could be charged for vaccines or medicines capable of treating SARS.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on April 9, 2003 03:46 PM

____

>The regulations that most affect loft conversion are the pesky life/safety ones I alluded to long ago.

NOT TRUE.

While those are certainly technical details that must be addressed, here in NYC it is land, and not just buildings, that is often zoned for non-residential purposes. That zoning must be changed
before structures thereon can be legally lived in.

Sometimes dying industries seek the de facto subsidy of oddly zoned space, or politicians get it into their tiny heads that they can command the economy to magically create jobs if they only get the zoning right.

The technicalities of getting a "certificate of occupancy" fall into the fire/safety category. That's separate than the zoning issue.

Posted by: George Zachar on April 9, 2003 04:04 PM

____

Jefferson was not a libertarian, he was an Eighteen century man, which is quite another thing.

My reading was not of an ideology book, but of a science fiction short tale. The writer explained that, for example, since Segal was no longer living in Cambridge, he had no longer any claim on its appartement, and Nozick could install in it without any payment to Segal.

There would be no airline, because it would have not enough passengers... in fact the problem is that disease are not always evident, and if there is a contract penalty for being ill, then most people will lie.

To me, libertarians look like a blend of anarchists and fascists. Of the worse traits of both. Maybe an overdose of Nietzsche.

DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on April 9, 2003 04:05 PM

____

Oh, why not, to have the last word.

As I remember ASU, Nozick's libertarianism only works if you go back to the very first moment somebody stole something from somebody else and make them give it back. The Robinson Crusoe moment. So maybe he was just trying to get Segal to go back to the point he started gouging (as defined by Cambridge, I know all you loony libertarians and neoclassical economists don't think Segal was gouging) and start over. See, he pockets his 30,000, and he keeps his principles. The only thing he loses is his reputation for keeping his principles, which is sullied by those who haven't fully internalized how important the Robinson Crusoe scenario necessary for real libertarianism, and what does he care what people think about that anyway? Cush job, nice apartment, big old reputation that can take a few hits: it all works out in the end. At least it does if someone who hasn't opened the book in 14 years has any idea of what was in it.

Posted by: david on April 9, 2003 04:26 PM

____

Dr. DeLong writes, "Given that Robert Nozick wrote a book--_Anarchy, State, and Utopia_--that argued that governmental actions to block and restrict your ability to be a libertarian self-actualizing et cetera et cetera were morally wrong, does the fact that that Nozick doesn't even try very hard to live by the principles of _ASU_ constitute an argument against Nozick's philosophy?"

Given that Thomas Jefferson wrote a Declaration that "all men are created equal," and "endowed by their Creator with an inalienable right to liberty," does the fact that Jefferson owned slaves constitute an argument against Jefferson's Declaration?

Dr. DeLong continues, "The 'no' argument is that the flaws of a thinker have no bearing on the truth of the thought: whether the philosophical argument is true or not is a matter of logic, not of Nozick's behavior."

And that's the only RATIONAL answer! :-)

For example, after the bombing of the Al Shifa pharaceutical plant in the Sudan, I got information about why the plant made pharmaceuticals, but NOT chemical weapons or their precursors, from the World Socialist Website! Me...a Libertarian! ;-)

http://www.wsws.org/news/1998/sep1998/sud-s12.shtml

Now, the fact that I think that socialists aren't merely almost always wrong, but actually (sometimes) bad people, has nothing to do with whether they were right or wrong on the Al Shifa plant. They were right. Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn, now and then. ;-)

It is NOT a rational argument that, "He is wrong, because he is a bad man." The two are not rationally connected.

Dr. DeLong continues, "The "yes" argument is that the purpose of philosophy is to clarify issues so that you can lead an examined and moral life..."

Well, was this a philosophy class, or an economics class? :-)

Or, even worse than a philosophy class, some sort bizarre "morality" class, where you were attempting to indoctrinate your pupils on the proper morality? ;-) (The proper morality apparently being, "If one thinks a law is wrong, one should not follow the law, even if the law works to one's advantage.")

"...does the fact that that Nozick doesn't even try very hard to live by the principles of _ASU_ constitute an argument against Nozick's philosophy?"

Again, does the fact that Jefferson owned slaves argue against the "self-evident truth" that "all men are created equal," and "endowed by their Creator with an inalienable right to liberty?"

I don't think so! I think it points out that Thomas Jefferson was a flawed man.

And, again, I think Social Security and Medicare are wrong. I will vote for people (Libertarians) who will abolish them, for the rest of my life, I'm fairly certain. Yet, I will collect Social Security and Medicare when I retire. (Probably. Unless I get wayyyy more wealthy than I think I'll be.) Does that make me a bad person? Perhaps. But that has nothing to do with the question of whether Social Security and Medicare are right or wrong.

It seems to me that the proper conclusion from *both* ASU *and* this little story, is that rent controls are a bloody mess. I don't see why Robert Nozick's character flaws, or lack thereof***, should enter the conversation.

***"Lack thereof" = If one thinks that Person X should follow the law, and demand that others also follow the law, regardless of whether or not Person X thinks the law is moral.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on April 9, 2003 04:37 PM

____

"Jefferson was not a libertarian, he was an Eighteen century man, which is quite another thing."

If you take ALL the political parties that exist in the United States today...Greens, Democrats, Republicans, Natural Law, Constitution, etc....the Libertarian Party is, ***beyond any doubt***, closest to the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson.

"To me, libertarians look like a blend of anarchists and fascists."

You'd need to define anarchists. If by "anarchist," you mean "someone who advocates absolutely zero government, such as the economist David Friedman"...

http://www.daviddfriedman.com/index.shtml

...then libertarians are almost exactly equal to David Friedman. (The only point where libertarians have even a slight potential disagreement with him, is that libertarians would have government-supplied police and military.)

Libertarianism is essentially the exact OPPOSITE of fascism. Fascism is complete control by the State, and complete denial of the rights of the individual. Libertarianism is complete support of the rights of the individual (except that libertarians don't think the individual has a right to physically harmor defraud others).

Posted by: Mark Bahner on April 9, 2003 04:49 PM

____

All these comments, and not a single mention of Henry George and land value taxation? (Some claim that housing shortages in NY city are more due to lenient land-value taxation than rent control.)

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on April 10, 2003 04:38 AM

____

>housing shortages in NY city are more due to lenient land-value taxation than rent control.

The property taxes on my APARTMENT are roughly the same as the taxes on a comparable free-standing house elsewhere in New York State...and considerably more than the taxes on homes in other states.

New York City and State have income taxes, which not all states, and few cities, have.

Unless I misunderstand your point, the notion of "lenient" taxation here in NYC is laughable.

Posted by: George Zachar on April 10, 2003 05:23 AM

____

Earlier in the thread, I asked:

"Is William Tucker a libertarian, an opponent of rent control, and a writer for the Cato Institute?"

A well-positioned source tells me that the William Tucker who wrote the Nozick/Segal piece and the William Tucker who writes occasional pieces for the Cato Institute is the same person.

And Tucker opposes rent control.

Whether or not he's a libertarian is unclear.

Posted by: David on April 10, 2003 06:19 AM

____

Since Mark asked a direct question (what do I think of rent control), I'll give a direct answer:

I have never lived in a city with rent control. I have never studied rent control, and I do not know the details of any rent control system. I understand them to be generally Byzantine and manipulable (word?). I also understand that basically all economists agree that rent control is bad in a number of ways, as outlined by Brad a few posts up.

Given all of this, I wouldn't support the institution of rent control anywhere. In cities where it currently exists, I would support its removal ONLY if it were replaced with other, more effectively targeted regulation to achieve the originally intended goals of rent control (ignoring, for a moment, that Mark believes that the only intended goal is armed robbery). That is, I think, the gist of all of my previous posts on the topic.

It is an article of faith among 93% of economists that rent control harms cities. Someone made an idiotic comment comparing it to strategic bombing. I believe that this view is simplistic, in that it suggests that, absent rent control, everyone wins. As I stated above, the winners in at least one decontrolled city (Cambridge) are chiefly limited to (absentee) landlords, the wealthy, and contractors/developers. Existing home owners have not especially benefited, and existing renters absolutely have not benefited. In sum, the winners in this change of law in the city of Cambridge are not the citizens of the city of Cambridge. Talk about taking money from others for no services rendered.

Some might suggest that this state of affairs would not have come about had Cambridge never instituted rent control; that could be, but since Cambridge under rent control was one of the most desirable places to live in America, I'm not certain how the absence of rent control would have improved it, or prevented current trends (which are making it less desrable, or perhaps desirable to a different set of non-citizens).

Hey, Mark, direct question for you: Strict constructionist (or maybe originalist) that you are, surely you support the right of states and cities to regulate themselves, excepting the tiny area of purview permitted the Federal gov't? So any non-Federal rent control program, or social service program, would be permissible?

Posted by: JRoth on April 10, 2003 07:51 AM

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George-

I think we were talking at cross purposes. You are right that zoning is preventing the ability to convert lofts into housing; I didn't mean to disagree with that. My point was that you seemed to be ascribing housing costs to zoning, not to life/safety. I see now that you were talking about total volume of housing units, and not at all about cost or affordability. I'm sorry, I had that Harvard paper on my mind when I wrote the previous thing.

To summarize: Loft conversion is a good thing, and should be more generally permitted under NYC zoning laws. Loft conversion is a fabulously expensive thing, due to excellent life/safety laws (that Mark would do away with, and each individual would be responsible for putting out his own fires in his absentee landlord's shoddily built apartment, using, presumably, bottled water purchased on the open market, as municipal water supplies are the instrument of the devil). NYC is blessed with an almost infinite supply of wealthy individuals to occupy those lofts. This would somewhat reduce the pressure on the rest of the housing market, and there would be some trickle-down.

If I might make a prediction: if NYC were entirely rent decontrolled, the island of Manhattan (below 116th, at least) would empty of anyone earning less than $100k, with a few of the slummiest properties hanging on as low income housing. Brooklyn's burgeoning cultural boom would explode, and Queens would see some growth. Conceivably the Bronx could be recolonized by the middle class (hints of that have happened). Staten Island would continue to be all cops & accountants. Arguably, that's not a bad picture overall, but the cultural shifts would be staggering. Creative destruction, I suppose.

Posted by: JRoth on April 10, 2003 08:16 AM

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JRoth: Robert Moses didn't put freeways through Bed-Stuy, East New York or Brownsville, yet those areas suffered massive housing abandonment as rent control prevented property owners from covering the costs of maintaining their properties - fuel, taxes, etc.

The Power Broker is responsible for many ills here, but not those.

BTW, Manhattan south of 110th St. is already substantially de-populated of sub-$100,000 households. I don't think lifting the remaining rent controls and upzoning will change that. But an increase in Manhattan supply would drop rents in the outer boroughs, as people prefer to live in "the city".

Posted by: George Zachar on April 10, 2003 08:25 AM

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David writes, "A well-positioned source tells me that the William Tucker who wrote the Nozick/Segal piece and the William Tucker who writes occasional pieces for the Cato Institute is the same person. And Tucker opposes rent control. Whether or not he's a libertarian is unclear."

Ohhhhhhhhh! That explains a lot! I thought you were kidding!

As far as Tucker being a libertarian...if he writes for the Cato Institute, he's a libertarian. The Cato Institute is libertarian policy center. (Or think tank. Take your pick.)

Now I can see that this article was a criticism of Robert Nozick, personally. (A justified criticism, in my opinion.) The article was not a criticism of libertarianism. I've always understood that it couldn't *rationally* be a criticism of libertarianism...but I thought William Tucker was simply being irrational.

Thanks for the input. Sorry I didn't respond to your question, earlier. I had it fixed in my mind that Tucker was a "liberal," or "progressive"...even though the article would be irrational, coming from someone who favored rent control.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on April 10, 2003 09:46 AM

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"In cities where it currently exists, I would support its removal ONLY if it were replaced with other, more effectively targeted regulation..."

To paraphrase Thomas Sowell, you're essentially advocating that, where fires are currently burning, they should only be put out if replaced by your chosen alternatives.

"It is an article of faith among 93% of economists that rent control harms cities."

I hope not! If it is an "article of faith," then economics is a religion, not a science. I haven't personally querried all those economists, but I assume that most of them are like Paul Krugman and Thomas Sowell; they ***think*** rent control harms cities, because that's where the *evidence* leads them.

"As I stated above, the winners in at least one decontrolled city (Cambridge) are chiefly limited to (absentee) landlords, the wealthy, and contractors/developers."

How is it that contractor/developers can be winners, but not renters? Presumably, the contractor/developers win, because they build more units. How is it that more units get built (supply increases), but that still doesn't help renters?

"In sum, the winners in this change of law in the city of Cambridge are not the citizens of the city of Cambridge."

Yes, the citizens of Cambridge, like Robert Nozick, are no longer able to use the force of law to screw landlords like Eric Segal. I hope you'll pardon me if I don't mourn the loss of that "freedom," on the part of citizens of Cambridge like Robert Nozick.

"Talk about taking money from others for no services rendered."

That's complete BS. Who has taken money from whom, for no service rendered? Such an act is a CRIME, unless it's done by the government. So if it's being by private individuals, the district attorney of Cambridge should be prosecuting someone. The fact that this isn't being done, demonstrates that the action is NOT occurring.

"Hey, Mark, direct question for you: Strict constructionist (or maybe originalist) that you are, surely you support the right of states and cities to regulate themselves, excepting the tiny area of purview permitted the Federal gov't?"

Sigh. Citizens of the U.S. know so little about their Constitution! ;-)

States and cities have NO rights, under the Constitution. Only people have rights. States have authorized powers.

The 10th Amendment to the Constitution does NOT say that states and cities have the rights, or even the authorized powers, to do anything that is not authorized to the federal government by the Constitution.

The 10th amendment reads, in full:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, OR TO THE PEOPLE." (Emphasis added.)

In other words, the 10th amendment doesn't authorize any powers to the states, because ALL of the powers not delegated to the federal government may be reserved to "the people" (i.e. NO level of government can make the law).

Having said all that...I don't particularly care what stupid things the government of Cambridge does...as long as it doesn't violate any of the Constitutional rights of the citizens of Cambridge.

Perhaps one could argue that "freedom from rent control" is a 9th Amendment right of all persons (by way of the 14th Amendment). Absent additional knowledge, I wouldn't do that.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on April 10, 2003 10:01 AM

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I hesitated to identify the Cato Institute writer, William Tucker, and the William Tucker who wrote the Nozick/Segal piece because of the following quotes from the Nozick piece, which don't seem particularly friendly to libertarians or the free market:

"Alas, it now appears that like so many other advocates of the free market, Nozick is willing to make one small exception --himself."

"They say that policeman make the best burglars. After a few years on the job, they know all the tricks. The same thing seems to be true of philosophers. If you're looking for someone to manipulate a rent control ordinance, find an advocate of the free market."


Posted by: David on April 10, 2003 10:28 AM

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"you're essentially advocating that, where fires are currently burning, they should only be put out if replaced by your chosen alternatives."

That's certainly not the only plausible metaphor. If rent control is like frostbitten tissue, it needs to be warmed but warmed slowly; if rent control is like a stuck elevator, cutting the cable is a bad idea. Etc.

Posted by: clew on April 10, 2003 05:52 PM

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Time to pick a bone with Mr. DeLong:

"I'm a neoclassical economist. I loathe rent control. It is destructive of the housing stock. It raises rents substantially in the long run. It is completely ineffective as a redistributional measure."

The intellectual imperialism of the neoclassical rears its ugly head. Brad, there is nothing neoclassical about being opposed to rent controls. Smith, Ricardo, Malthus, and Mill, to name a few, would have been opposed to the idea of rent control long before Menger, Jevons, and Walras dreamed up the marriage of calculus and utilitarianism. For that matter, I can't think of any school of economics today, not even the Marxists, who would label themselves supporters of rent control in its current form.

In short, rent control may be favored by well-off intellectuals who are trying to squeeze money from their landlords and by the unimaginative poor who cannot conceive of some other transfer scheme (eg, means-tested government subdidies, which for all their flaws, are more effective than price controls) to reduce their rent burden. However, there is no identifiable group of economists who favor rent control, so this one issue should unite everyone from left-wingers like me to libertarian fundamentalists like Mr. Bahner, with neoclassicism being irrelevant.

Posted by: andres on April 10, 2003 09:55 PM

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FROM TODAY'S NEW YORK POST:

WOMAN WAS SLAIN FOR HER APT.

April 11, 2003 -- The search for a 21-year- old sales clerk who vanished without a trace three years ago ended when an accused contract killer told cops she had been murdered to get her out of her rent- stabilized apartment, police said.

http://www.nypost.com/news/regionalnews/56471.htm

Posted by: George Zachar on April 11, 2003 05:55 AM

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David (April 10, 10:28 am) writes, "I hesitated to identify the Cato Institute writer, William Tucker, and the William Tucker who wrote the Nozick/Segal piece because of the following quotes from the Nozick piece, which don't seem particularly friendly to libertarians or the free market:..."

Yes, you're right. Those lines you quoted are bizarre. I thought they were merely written by an irrational "liberal" or "progressive"...but it appears they were written by a (free market hating? self-loathing?) libertarian.

Tucker's statement that, "The same thing seems to be true of philosophers. If you're looking for someone to manipulate a rent control ordinance, find an advocate of the free market"...is really about as valid as, "If you're looking for someone who can jump, don't look at white men."

There's no reason at all to think, based on that ONE example, that free market advocates love to pour into the intricacies of rent control laws.

In fact, the whole situation is so bizarre and irrational, that it boggles my mind. Here are a bunch of people who should be among the most rational of our population (assuming that education teaches rational thinking...which I guess is questionable)...debating whether Nozick's manipulation of rent control laws is an attack on the validity of libertarianism.

But...LIBERTARIANISM DOES ****NOT**** ADVOCATE RENT CONTROL LAWS!

So an example of an objectionable manipulation of rent control laws cannot possibly (rationally) be an attack on the validity of libertarianism!

It's almost like negative learning...the whole "ferocious debate" was completely irrational. It's scary that it would occur in an economics class in a university. Apparently, though, it was touched off by the irrationality of William Tucker. So maybe irrational thought is catching. ;-)

Posted by: Mark Bahner on April 11, 2003 10:56 AM

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For ``the intellectual hero of libertarians'', Nozick isn't mentioned much in libertarian writing - not nearly as often as Rand, Mises or Bastiat, to name a few off the top of my head. Or am I reading the wrong stuff?

Posted by: Anton Sherwood on April 11, 2003 09:26 PM

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For ``the intellectual hero of libertarians'', Nozick isn't mentioned much in libertarian writing - not nearly as often as Rand, Mises or Bastiat, to name a few off the top of my head. Or am I reading the wrong stuff?

Posted by: Anton Sherwood on April 11, 2003 09:31 PM

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For ``the intellectual hero of libertarians'', Nozick isn't mentioned much in libertarian writing - not nearly as often as Rand, Mises or Bastiat, to name a few off the top of my head. Or am I reading the wrong stuff?

Posted by: Anton Sherwood on April 11, 2003 09:37 PM

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Sorry about the multiple. For some reason it was so slow here that I couldn't tell I'd hit the button.

Posted by: Anton Sherwood on April 11, 2003 09:57 PM

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Sorry about the multiple. For some reason it was so slow here that I couldn't tell I'd hit the button.

Posted by: Anton Sherwood on April 11, 2003 10:02 PM

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(Damn. That time I *know* I didn't hit the button twice.)

Posted by: Anton Sherwood on April 11, 2003 10:38 PM

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Omygod, have I read the whole thing?

Posted by: vieri on April 12, 2003 01:49 PM

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>> No, among "progressives," "conservatives," and "liberals," libertarians are actually, in general, the most forward-looking and optimistic political group. (See "The Future and Its Enemies," by Virginia Postel.)

Ho ho ho. Pick a better example that Post[r]el, won't you? Thomas Frank's demolition of that book in 'One Market Under God' remains one of the better hatchet-jobs of the last decade.

>> Thomas Jefferson and most (but certainly not all) of the Founding Fathers were essentially libertarians.

Ah, yes. In the way that Descartes was essentially a neo-Foucauldian. 'Essentially' being an intensifier which means, in this case, '-- if I close my eyes and wish really hard --'.

>> The Declaration of Independence is essentially a libertarian manifesto.

Except that it isn't. Really, Mark, you'd sound a lot less naive if you read a little John Locke.

Posted by: nick sweeney on April 18, 2003 12:36 AM

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This Eric Segal story proves that truth is really stranger than fiction when it came to rent control in Cambridge! There was even a law on the books that made it illegal for certain owners to live in property they owned, so called ordinanced condominiums. The law was uninforced for a number of years. When the rent control board decided to go after some of the owners who had the audacity to live in their own property, illegally according to Cambridge, a lawyer who was one of those outlaws wrote the ballot question (Question 9) that ended rent control in Massachusetts.

Posted by: Linda on April 24, 2003 09:49 PM

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STOP SOCIAL EXPERIENMENTS. If there is room for abuse, abuse certainly will come. This story just proved that when implement any new laws/systems we must prepared for the worst by calculating in the evil side of human nature.

By definition, lebrals and communists, are great fantasizer. From Max to Mao, tehy all attracts lots of idealists in the begining, but cuased the biggest social damages than any criminals.

Rent control becomes a way for liberal voting blocks just like other welfare syetem were abused for. Our constitutional property rights shall not sacrificed for any group's secret social agenda.

Second, this is not an attack on Libertarian. For any group. if they don't have the will/ability to condemn the bad apples among themselves, it is nothing but gangsters.

Posted by: Jesse on April 25, 2003 07:16 PM

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The first question is how do you define "Rent Controls"? Is is rigid price freezes, less rigid controls, loose controls or how about vacancy decontrol.

There have been so many "Rent Control" laws out there from the freezes of WWII to such lax laws what is the purpose of them, that to generalize about "Rent Control" is absurd at best.

Posted by: Rent Control on December 21, 2003 04:50 PM

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The first question is how do you define "Rent Controls"? Is is rigid price freezes, less rigid controls, loose controls or how about vacancy decontrol.

There have been so many "Rent Control" laws out there from the freezes of WWII to such lax laws what is the purpose of them, that to generalize about "Rent Control" is absurd at best.

Posted by: Rent Control on December 21, 2003 04:52 PM

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