Picturing Basic Housing Economics

Originally posted on Housing Matters.

A lot of people have a hard time figuring out how new “luxury condos” actually make housing more affordable for everyone. So I drew some pictures to clarify.

 


Continue reading “Picturing Basic Housing Economics”

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Toronto city councillors want to make housing even less affordable. Ontario’s stopping them

Originally published in the Financial Post. 


Building more homes just became easier in two of the most densely populated areas in Ontario: Toronto’s downtown core and its “midtown,” a small strip of land centred at Yonge St. and Eglinton Ave. For anyone interested in finding a place to live in those areas, this is great news. Continue reading “Toronto city councillors want to make housing even less affordable. Ontario’s stopping them”

Response to Ryerson CBI on Bill 10

Originally posted on Housing Matters.


Earlier in May, the Ontario Government tabled new legislation as part of its long-anticipated Housing Supply Action Plan. Known as Bill 108, it proposes numerous changes to several existing laws and regulations.

The preamble of the Bill makes it very clear: the Government of Ontario “believes that increasing the supply of housing will help every person in Ontario by making housing more affordable.” We at Housing Matters share in that belief. We’ve come to this belief through careful analysis of economic theory and data. And after careful study of the contents of this Bill, we believe that it will do as promised: increase the supply of housing, and, consequently, make housing more affordable.

However, the researchers at the Ryerson City Building Institute (CBI) have reached a different conclusion from their analysis of the same Bill. Indeed, CBI begins their analysis by predicting:

it is unlikely that the Housing Supply Action Plan and Bill 108 will improve housing affordability while also targeting the lack of housing options, including missing middle and family sized multi-unit housing. What is proposed may, in fact, reduce livability and affordability throughout the province — particularly in areas facing intense growth pressure…. (p. 1)

We disagree with these statements. To be clear, we believe that Bill 108 — while not a perfect panacea — will (1) increase the availability of housing options, (2) increase livability, (3) increase affordability, (4) and this will be especially true in areas facing intense growth pressures. The following post will analyze the changes to Bill 108 with respect to these areas, and we will compare our findings to that of the CBI.

Table of Contents

— The Economics of Supply and Demand
— On Development Charges
— On the LPAT and OMB
— On Heritage Protection
— On Community Benefits, Public and Private
— On Inclusionary Zoning
— Changes to the Building Code
— Conclusion

Continue reading “Response to Ryerson CBI on Bill 10”

Statement on the Decision to Partially Eliminate Rent Control

Originally posted on Housing Matters


The Government of Ontario announced in its fall economic outlook this past week that they were removing some restrictions on rent control. While rent control remains unchanged for existing tenants, new rental units will not be subject to any price controls whatsoever.

This policy change is a response to the previous government’s “Fair Housing Plan”, introduced in 2017. Prior to the Fair Housing Plan, only homes built before 1991 were subject to rent control. In 2017, rent control was extended to all rentals regardless of the year of construction.

Following the introduction of the “Fair Housing Plan”, 1,000 units originally slated to be purpose-built apartments were converted to condos. That, in a city with a rental vacancy rate of 0.7% — a sixteen year low for the city, and one of the lowest rates in the world.

As a partial reversal of a one-year-old policy, the short-term impact of the new government’s change will likely be small.

However, as we will explain below, this policy has long term impacts that affect the quantity, quality, and price of rental housing, as well as the kind of individuals likely to be affected. In particular, this new policy averted a future of extreme rental shortages, declining rental housing quality, rapidly increasing rents, and discrimination against low-income renters. Continue reading “Statement on the Decision to Partially Eliminate Rent Control”

For Restaurants, Sweeping the Floor is Equivalent to Cooking Great Food

Originally posted on Mises Canada

One of the most popular proponents of BE is Rory Sutherland (who I’ve been praising for years), an ad executive with Ogilvy Mather. The interesting thing about Sutherland is that he also calls himself a follower of Mises, in addition to promoting popular BE concepts and nudges. He once gave a talk at Google titled “Praxeology: Time to Rediscover a Lost Science.” Praxeology, of course, was Mises’s preferred term for the general science of human action.

One quote he’s quite fond of, which he attributes to Mises, is “There is no sensible distinction to be made between the value a restaurant creates in cooking the food, and the value the restaurateur creates by sweeping the floor.” While I haven’t been able to source that exact quote, I do know that he made this statement in the section titled “Business Propaganda” in Human Action: 

“If the manufacturer of candy employs a better raw material, he aims at an increase in demand in the same way as he does in making the wrappings more attractive and his stores more inviting and in spending more for advertisements.”

Continue reading “For Restaurants, Sweeping the Floor is Equivalent to Cooking Great Food”

Markets for Secrets?

Originally posted on Notes On Liberty

In a world without intellectual property, would it be possible to buy and sell secrets? I suggest the answer is yes. In this post, I provide both a theoretical framework for such markets, as well as pointing to real life examples of such markets already existing.

Introduction

In a previous post, we talked about why information is the only public good. But of course, it’s possible to keep information private. Such private information is called a secret. Currently, entrepreneurs and inventors have two choices when they have what they believe is a profitable secret: they can either keep recipe, industrial process, or so on, a secret, and be protected by “trade secret” laws; or they can “publicize” their secret in exchange for a patent (which they can use to either issue injunctions against competitors or to extract royalties).

But there has been a lot of economics literature in recent years that challenges the status of intellectual property (IP). Most famously, there is Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine’s book Against Intellectual Monopoly, where they detail both an empirical and theoretical case against the economics of intellectual property. Furthermore, patent lawyer Stephan Kinsella’s book Against Intellectual Property gives a principled legal and ethical case against IP.

Although these arguments have been gaining some steam, they are still a minority view. Critics often refer to profit motives for inventors. “Without IP, an inventor can never trust anyone they tell their invention to. Unscrupulous businessmen will take advantage of them, and reap all the profits without paying a dime to the person who originated the idea. This injustice will mean that no one will have any incentive to sharing their innovations, and so society will stagnate.” 

In a working paper titled Designing a Market for SecretsI explore this topic in detail. Here, I give the basic outline of how a market for secrets could work. I then follow up the theory with some real life examples that come close. Continue reading “Markets for Secrets?”

Physical Goods, Immaterial Goods, and Public Goods

Originally posted on Notes On Liberty

Public goods in economics have been a contentious theoretical issue since Paul Samuelson introduced the concept in 1954. The main sources of contention are what real world things are public goods, and who should provide them. In this post I propose a new way of looking at goods that will shed light on why public goods have posed such a problem. In particular, I propose that there is an important distinction between physical goods and immaterial goods; that public goods can only be immaterial goods; and that this unique feature of public goods does not preclude the market to provide the “socially optimal level.

Introduction

Economists define a public good as something that is “non-rival” (meaning that one person’s consumption does not affect another person’s), and “non-excludable” (meaning that one person cannot stop another person from consuming the good.) Public goods are often contrasted with private goods, which are rival and excludable.

The implications are that public goods cannot be provided by a free market, because no one would have to pay for such a good, and so there would be so incentive to produce it. Therefore, the argument goes, the government ought to provide public goods.

Features_of_goods

Continue reading “Physical Goods, Immaterial Goods, and Public Goods”