Congestion and zoning

Ilya Somin has a wonderful post here discussing the effects of zoning laws on the housing bubble. In the comments, someone objected that without zoning, we would have everywhere look like Houston, which is "dirty, congested, sprawling, and the traffic is horrendous".

It never ceases to amaze me what people will just make up, when two seconds of googling will reveal this argument to be nonsense (my first foray into Distributed Republic was about similar numbers, about state migration). Average travel times in American cities are not state secrets. Houston's average travel time is lower than mass transit centers like Boston or Chicago, and much lower than the worst in the U.S. (New York City, beloved of the planners). Nor is Houston without all planning laws. A neat tome about parking regulations explains that Houston suffers from the same ludicrous requirements for minimum parking regulations. But Houston just isn't the high traffic hell people assume.

What does any of this have to do with libertarianism? If there's one area where libertarianism has a realistic chance to make an impact in everyday lives, it's probably zoning (Bryan Caplan agrees). The welfare implications are immense. (And, I might add, pathetically understudied by economists. I suspect that the gains from deregulating housing would be of the same order as the gains from adopting optimal taxation, a massive area of study).

The first step to a free housing market is showing that less zoning doesn't lead to long commutes and congested hell-holes. (The second might be showing it doesn't lead to hog farms next to children's playgrounds. As if the common law on nuisances that dates back to before the time of Blackstone doesn't cover localized pollution concerns!)

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Why it's not politically feasible

Real-estate is all about "location, location, location". That's code for "people, people, people". People like zoning because it keeps people out.

Excellent first post

I haven't had much time for the blog recently so I'm only now reading this. Remember that the blogosphere is mostly a bunch of people shouting at each other. Data / empirical evidence is a much-valued scarcity.