Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Failure of Practical Arguments

Demographia's latest report on housing affordability again places Houston among the most affordable large cities in the world. (HT: Joe Reed) The report states:
Prescriptive land use regulation policies (principally compact development and urban
consolidation) have virtually destroyed housing affordability in many markets. (page 6)
Not surprisingly, prescriptive land use policies, such as zoning and "smart growth", are present where housing is less affordable. Cities with fewer land use policies, such as Houston, are more affordable. This is true across the globe.

While the connection between housing affordability and land use policies has been clear for decades, it hasn't stopped politicians, urban planners, and assorted activists from pushing for more controls and dictates. The practical benefits of freedom in land use, clearly evident in Houston, fails to convince statists. Despite all of their rhetoric about "quality of life", they are unmoved by evidence that freedom allows individual human beings to enjoy a higher quality of life.

In one sense, the reason is quite simple: They don't care about the individual. If one examines any argument for land use controls, it seldom takes long to find appeals to the welfare of the neighborhood, or the community, or some other collective. Underlying these appeals is the unquestioned assumption that the individual must sacrifice his own well-being to the collective. Thus, evidence that housing is more affordable to individuals is dismissed--the alleged "common good" or "public welfare" supersedes that of the individual.

While there is certainly value in reports such as those put out by Demographia, the practical benefits of freedom have long been clear. Until the morality underlying land use regulations is challenged, government intervention will continue to be seen as the solution. Until the practical is also regarded as the moral, government will continue to grow and control our lives.

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