Republicans seem to dislike cities. I believe that this is an irrational dislike based upon the fact that liberals like cities. Republicans figure that they should hate what liberals like. This is knee-jerk conservatism that is every bit as bad as knee-jerk liberalism. For example, this anti-city post at the right-wing blog Café Hayek demonstrates the right-wing irrational dislike of cities.
The reason why liberals like cities is not based on rational analysis. Liberals are pro-environment. They think that cities are better for the environment. Liberals always side with the underdog, and they think that trees are underdogs compared to humans. They think that “sprawl” causes more trees to be chopped down. They think that people have to drive more in the suburbs and the country, and all the miles being driven are causing global warming. Liberals think it’s unfair that the United States uses up more than its “fair share” of oil. They like cities because people in cities have to walk or use public transportation.
It’s not a good reason for Republicans to dislike cities just because liberals like them for dumb reasons. Real Republicans would agree that the free market is the best way to determine where people should live. If a large number of people prefer to live in cities, which is evident by the fact that people choose to live in them despite the higher cost of living in our major cities, Republicans should cheer this efficient free market allocation of capital.
Republicans are correct to note that driving from place to place in a personal automobile is a very efficient means of transportation. I previously blogged about the fact that dense cities create transportational and space inefficiencies. But I believe that cities make up for this by providing hidden economic benefits that have something to do with people living in close quarters. How else does one explain that Manhattan is an even more desirable place to live now than it was twenty years ago?
Republicans point to the fact that many people prefer to live in suburbs and take this as evidence that suburbs are superior. This, of course, ignores the fact that a large number of people also prefer to live in cities. If a free market means anything it should mean that people are free to maximize their own preferences, and one shouldn’t be criticized for preferring one type of living over the other. I personally like living in Manhattan because of the cultural attractions, the great restaurants, the vibrant atmosphere, and the close proximity to work. You don’t have to be a Hillary Clinton supporter to appreciate this stuff.
If we were to allow the free market to decide where people live, even more people would live in cities. Unfortunately, there are many government interferences in the market which cause more people to live in suburbs. The three most important ones that I can think of are explained below.
(1) Zoning. This is the biggest interference with the free market. Only as many people can live in Manhattan (or Washington DC, or San Francisco) as there are units of housing available. Zoning restrictions prohibit the construction of housing units that the market demands. This is why rents are so high in these places. There are many areas in the country where people would naturally move into denser housing if only the government would allow such housing to be built.
(2) Public education. Forced busing destroyed the quality of schools in our major cities. Smaller school districts in the suburbs resulted in districts where there were no bad neighborhoods and therefore no ghetto youth ruining the quality of education.
This has nothing to do with the amount of money spent on education. You can spend a ridiculous amount of money per student, but if all the students are from the lowest strata of society the school is going to be a lousy school. The better quality of suburban public schools has nothing to do with a natural element of suburban living, rather it’s a result of school district boundaries which are controlled by government and not the free market.
Given how expensive it is to send a child to a private school, the higher quality schools of the suburbs represents a very large financial inducement for the middle class and even the upper middle class to live in the suburbs. Assuming they have children.
The best way to fix this problem is with school vouchers, as explained by Roger Chermak in his article School vouchers can bring middle class families back to the city.
(3) Mortgage interest deduction. Because ownership of condominiums is a more abstract concept than ownership of a free standing house, people are reluctant to buy them, so people living in high rise buildings are far more likely to be renters rather than owners. The tax deduction for home mortgage interest, therefore, represents yet another government subsidy for the suburban lifestyle.
The home mortgage interest deduction should be abolished because it distorts the free market and causes an inefficient allocation of housing capital.
Republicans should be the pro-city party. Republicans should be campaigning for an end to restrictive zoning, an end to the mortgage interest deduction, and for using school vouchers to bring middle class families back to the city.