Sunday, July 06, 2014

Cities and organs

It's a simple but profound point made by Hayek in The Fatal Conceit: there are two ways to get to non-zerosumness, markets and love; do not expect one to do the work of the other; each one has its place; confusing one for the other can be fatal. A simple example is opposition to markets in organs; opponents want all donations to be based on altruism, ignoring the simple fact that altruism alone is never enough; many would-be recipients are left to suffer and die. What about cities? Many who write (and talk) about cities eschew market mechanisms; they are loathe to price parking and access; they want land uses to be administered -- in response to some "vision" or fad (and the usual cronyism). We get politicized awfulness in many places. Congestion on the roads and expensive housing are two obvious outcomes. The complainers then demand even more of the restrictions and rules and plans that created the mess. In San Francisco, there is the current Plan Bay Area (unable to link at the moment; but look for "Judge rejects challenge to Bay Area land-use, transit plan" (SFGate, July 3) which is a case in point (f.d., I have been associated with the challenge). The proposed plan is more of the same: more restrictions, more whining about "affordability" (too few free lunches); more proposed mandates, etc. The current New Yorker, includes Nathan Heller's "California Screaming: The tech industry made the Bay Area rich. Why do so many residents hate it?" (gated). The report includes coverage of Bay Area activists and their rage at the techies. Protests and chants includes "Rents are too damn high, right?" The writer gets on board via a story about the Costanoan tribe's Coyote legend: he professes to nurture but he hoards! Bingo! Not enough nurturing by the area's tech wealthy. None of the protesters chanted and crowded the Bay Area plan hearings. It's not about markets stymied but too much hoarding and not enough nurturing by successful people -- who create a local industry that many around the world would kill to have nearby. But this is just one example. Cities (like economies) are vast and complex. Presuming that any good can come from avoiding or suppressing market mechanisms can be fatal. Think about our organ donor laws.