Study: NIMBYism Makes States More Liberal

A coalition of left-wing interest groups appears to have killed California Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to cut back on land use regulations so as to allow the state’s housing supply to catch up with surging demand. The Los Angeles Times reports:

An effort led by Gov. Jerry Brown to streamline housing production for developments that include units for low-income residents appears to be finished for the year, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) said.

Brown’s proposal had faced strenuous opposition from influential labor and environmental groups, which had wanted higher wages for construction workers and were upset that the plan allowed projects to bypass some review under the state’s main environmental law governing development. A coalition of 60 labor, environmental and community advocacy groups walked away from negotiations over the plan last week.

Many of the results of this NIMBY victory are predictable: Rents will continue to rise faster than inflation; upper-middle class communities will continue to pull the ladder up for upwardly-mobile young families; and the state’s economy will continue to be artificially suppressed because it is difficult for workers without means to move places where the job market is hot.

But California’s failure to curb its overweening land use regulations might also have another, less obvious, consequence: It could make the state even more homogeneously Democratic than it already is. According to a recent study from Jason Sorens of Dartmouth University (h/t Tyler Cowen), states’ land use regulations don’t just affect their economies; they affect their political complexions as well. In particular, Republicans seem to leave states as they tighten their zoning laws:

High cost of living deters in-migration of lower-income households, especially those that do not highly value amenities. Holding median household income constant, higher-cost locations will tend over time to attract and keep households that highly value amenities. It is hypothesized that these households will be more Democratic. Accordingly, raising residential building requirements in high-amenity areas should cause those areas to move gradually to the left.

In other words, Democrats, on balance, seem to be willing to pay a higher premium to live in heavily zoned communities, while Republicans would rather live somewhere with fewer amenities at lower cost. Sorens doesn’t determine why this is, but it’s possible to speculate: Perhaps Republicans are more likely to homeschool and therefore less concerned with school quality; perhaps they are more likely to drive and less concerned with public transportation; perhaps they place less value on a community being “environmentally friendly.”

Regardless of the precise mechanism, Sorens’ study drives home an important point: Coastal blue state NIMBYs aren’t just exacerbating segregation by income; they are exacerbating segregation by political affiliation as well. These patterns continue in a vicious cycle, and America keeps coming apart.

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