An Allegory About Rent Control In San Francisco
Bill Quick

This restaurant fable explains everything wrong with San Francisco right now

The city of Junipero has a problem. Some of its citizens are starving, even as others gorge themselves on 28-course tasting menus. Food inequality has become a visible and painful symbol of class conflict. Activists accuse Junipero’s foodies of snatching food from their neighbors’ mouths. Some of the foodies have turned defensive, complaining aloud that people who forgot to pack a lunch are jealous of those who remembered.

How could it have come to this in such a great American city? Ten years ago, Junipero passed an anti-hunger ordinance limiting the total number of meals served in the city each day. The goals were many, but they included reducing food waste, preventing wild swings in the supply of food, promoting home-cooked dishes over bulk processed junk, and fighting obesity by keeping compulsive eaters from downing 12 meals in a day.

The cap was set at 4 million meals a day, enough for each of Junipero’s million citizens to have a decadent four meals each. And for the first few years, everything was fine.

This is fairly standard economic theory (rent control sucks) but dressed up as a fable about food and state-mandated scarcity.

One of the commenters makes an interesting point:

Wow. In Cambridge, MA, there used to be rent control, until a state-wide referendum outlawed it. Prices for housing predictably skyrocketed. The city offers some automatic zoning relief to developers who include 15% affordable housing in new developments, but that hasn’t brought down the cost of housing. Many thousands of new units have been built and are continuing to be built, but housing prices keep climbing. 

Bottom line is this: There is no, and will never be any shortage of people who would like to live in Cambridge, if they could afford to do so. So long as Cambridge is a desirable place to live, no realistic amount of housing construction will bring housing prices down. The only things to make them come down are things that would make Cambridge a less desirable place to live: reduced public transportation, worse schools, maybe getting rid of a world-class academic institution or two. If you built so many skyscrapers full of new residents that the crush of humanity and traffic would make people want to live here only if the prices were much lower, then THAT would make Cambridge an affordable city. 

Yes, and that argument applies to San Francisco in spades.  But here’s the deal:  There is no human right to live in a place like San Francisco.  In a free nation with a free economy, if you can’t afford something that demand has bid up in price, you have two options – buy something cheaper, or increase your income until you are able to afford the object of your desire.

Anyway, Livermore has pretty good weather, too. 

The most interesting thing about this piece is that it appeared in The WaPo, long a bastion of statist solutions like rent control.  It’s become more and more obvious that Jeff Bezos’s purchase of the Post is resulting in some significant changes in its worldview.  (via Ray Eckhart – thanks!)

Bill Quick

About Bill Quick

I am a small-l libertarian. My primary concern is to increase individual liberty as much as possible in the face of statist efforts to restrict it from both the right and the left. If I had to sum up my beliefs as concisely as possible, I would say, "Stay out of my wallet and my bedroom," "your liberty stops at my nose," and "don't tread on me." I will believe that things are taking a turn for the better in America when married gays are able to, and do, maintain large arsenals of automatic weapons, and tax collectors are, and do, not.


An Allegory About Rent Control In San Francisco — 1 Comment

  1. The comments are hysterical. The lefty’s reading WP have lower IQ’s than cockroaches.

    The commenter referenced: “Many thousands of new units have been built and are continuing to be built, but housing prices keep climbing.”

    Well duh. Basically what is being said is “I have mine and the rest of you need to be driven away. I have a right to this and you do not.”