Economists are just jerks sometimes.

Tyler Cowen has had, for a few weeks now, a campaign on his blog to increase the prices of parking.

Yeah, I get it, decreasing traffic, or something. (And I do mean “or something.” Because it’s not clear what the other benefits might be. I mean, rationing spaces? Why is rationing spaces by ability to pay better than rationing spaces by who gets there first?)

But really, there’s a res ipsa thing going on here. He wants to raise your parking prices. Talk about the dismal science.


7 Responses to “Economists are just jerks sometimes.”

  1. Jacob T. Levy Says:

    “Reducing traffic” is an awful big one– especially the sheer crazy wasteful traffic that consists of people driving around looking for a parking space.

    Yglesias has been doing a lot of excellent blogging on this– what underpriced (and especially mandated-by-zoning underpriced) parking does to urban development and planning.

    You’re complaining that the libertarian economist *does* want to take account of externalities and market failures!? The illusion that driving around a crowded city is (close to) costless is a serious source of unpleasant externalities…

  2. Paul Gowder Says:

    I have a strong personal angle on this, having spent so much of my life involuntarily/semi-voluntarily (ahem, Palo Alto) in shitty little suburbs in areas with shitty public transportation (that is, every urban area in the us except NYC and Boston). Expensive parking makes people suffer without real public transport…

  3. Jacob T. Levy Says:

    But the unavailability of other options (even a suburb can have perfectly fine buses) is in part a result of the lack of demand for them that comes from the oversupply of subsidized parking.

    That said, Tyler’s made clear that the price for parking should vary by area, and it’s in cities that it really needs to rise.

    You really think Boston has better public transportation than DC?

  4. Paul Gowder Says:

    But it’s cities where people who like me who are trapped in bad-transit suburbs want to go. (Suburbs, mind, that sometimes have bad transit because of selfish NIMBY-types, witness the present whining about California high speed rail.). (Though your point is taken about the demand side.). The bay area is a perfect case for this, exactly — there are so many people who travel between the suburban sprawl on both sides of the bay and the urban SF/Oakland areas that increasing the price of parking would be a disaster in an already staggeringly high cost of living area — even as the Caltrain is talking about cutting trains. (Though, again, demand-side point is fair — not sure how significant it is, but fair.)

    It sometimes feels like everyone is at war with the low-middle income commuter from the relatively affordable suburbs. Those who can afford to live in the good (expensive) parts of the city with jobs and amenities want to jack up the parking or take it away (like SF tends to deliberately do — a while back I think I posted on facebook a story about its deliberate parking space limitation policy), whole the people who run the suburbs kill the public transit to keep the poor minorities from the bad parts of the city out.

    And yeah, in my experience, the T is cheaper and has better coverage than the Metro, and the Boston buses are more useful too. One of my enduring memories from law school was working a summer in DC and making the mistake of living somewhere affordable, i.e. Silver Spring, and having a not-too-far-shy-of-two-hours commute to Dupont Circle because of a painfully slow and windy suburban bus that took me to the metro.

    Really, the ultimate message is “death to the suburbs.”

  5. Steve M. Says:

    What do you say to the counterpoint that suburbs have sprawled as much as they have only because of the massive, though largely hidden, subsidies given to automobile transit by postwar zoning regulations (literally copied from books developed by central planners!) and road construction? And it’s worth noting that really poor people in urban areas often do not own cars at all. They’re dependent on, say, city transit systems, which are really terrible in the US outside of New York. It’s expensive to own a car to begin with, and then car-based urban planning makes it extremely difficult to live without a car.

    While it’s all well and good to say “death to the suburbs,” you can’t do that without eliminating the varied ways in which governments invisibly subsidize them. (Or outright require them: it’d be illegal to build a rowhouse, like you see in Brooklyn or the north side of Chicago, in a lot of places.) Also think of floor/area ratios, setback requirements, and intrusive occupancy regulations, which are perverse not only because they make it much more difficult to live without a car but also because they artificially inflate the price of housing by restricting supply — which, I imagine is part of the idea, given that since World War II pretty much every level of American government has encouraged people to speculate in real estate hold their savings in home equity.

    To be sure, path dependency is clearly a big problem here. The burdens of any increase in the price of parking now–if done through creating a free market in parking–will largely be borne by working and middle class drivers. (I assume here that most of the US has a regulation-mandated glut of parking. Though, consider that Matt Yglesias might be wrong, and a free market in parking would bring much more parking, at least outside of malls, Wal-Marts, etc. Boy would he be glum.) But why doesn’t anyone ever say that the solution is to pay poor, and working and middle class, drivers subsidies to make up part of their new parking costs? But above a certain income level, no subsidy for you. Or devise some scheme other than simply requiring cities to consist of small boxes separate by vast fields of unused parking spaces and loads of tiny houses on half-acre lots?

    Note that this will increasingly become an issue if the current trend towards urban renewal continues. American cities (again, other than New York) are rebuilding themselves from the inside out. Chicago is a really astonishing example. People are moving out of the suburbs and into the cities, and there are suburbs and exurbs in which the average income of residents is declining more rapidly than I would have expected. The well-off suburbanites who comprise the primary lobby for America’s insane pro-suburb parking and building regulations will increasingly care less and less about free parking because they’ll be moving back into the rowhouses their great-grandparents occupied. How much of a trend this is, and whether it will stop or reverse itself, remain to be seen.

  6. Steve M. Says:

    Scheme idea!:

    The city gives parking coupons to qualifying drivers, when they register their cars. Maybe there’s no physical coupon and it’s all done electronically, whatever. Drivers can use those coupons for any paid spot, and the city reimburses the spot owner at some established rate. Landowners aren’t required to offer parking, and if they do they can charge whatever they want for it. But if they offer public parking they have to accept the coupons. If you make too much money, you don’t get any coupons and you must suffer the tender mercies of the market.

  7. Paul Gowder Says:

    I agree with every word in those two comments except the “counter” part of “counterpoint” (insert paradoxes of self-reference here).

    It’s a pretty good general principle: most problems caused by wealth effects in economists’/libertarians’ garden-variety market solutions to problems can be solved by redistribution…

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