Thursday, March 10, 2016

"The burbs"

Aggregations and simplifications are often useful. The downside is that they can obscure more than they reveal. Here is a discussion re capital aggregation. "Harbors and hammers" was the way Sandy Ikeda once described it. Arnold Kling worries over simplifications that see the economy as one big GDP factory. We throw away the field's signature intellectual achievement, the understanding of how an uncountable number of complex resource allocation choices are coordinated in a decentralized manner.

When it comes to land and location, the mantra "location, location, location" makes the point. But the people who study and discuss cities, still insist on categories that are ever less useful. "Suburbs" vs. "central cities" dichotomies are still popular. The many places that describe where most Americans live and work are no longer simply "bedroom communities". That was a post-WW II label. It hangs on as a cliche.

We get reports such as a "More and More People are Renting. Thank the Suburbs" from the WSJ. It cites recent NYU Furman Center research.

"Suburbia" is much more varied and much more interesting than back in the day when the name had meaning.  Most important, there is choice out there. A la Tiebout, people care about local government, and most especially local school districts.  There are about 13,500 school districts in the U.S., most of them in "the burbs" -- compared to just over 3,000 counties.

In a better world, there would be universal school choice, most importantly for the poorest among us who are forced into the worst schools -- and locked into them for the sole benefit of the teaching establishment and its political allies. You know who you are.

Until a better day arrives, most families with children will be evaluating the choices available to them. They will not look out there and see one homogeneous glob.


Re the problem of aggregation, political candidates are again arguing that free trade "hurts America" or "hurts Americans."  It benefits most Americans by way of lower prices when they shop.  It also benefits most Americans by incentivizing innovation and punishing inefficient operators. Surely, there are some short-term losers. Defining and estimating "most", "some" and "short term" is the challenge. It is ignored when the rhetoric sticks to simplifications and aggregations.