I am current reading an excellent book on zoning written by M. Nolan Gray, entitled Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How To Fix It. It might sound like a bland topic, but it’s a surprisingly easy and enjoyable read.
Most Americans have never given much thought to residential zoning, and have little idea as to what it is all about. Gray punctures many myths about zoning. For instance, zoning rules were not set up to prevent polluting factories from locating near residential neighborhoods—there were already public nuisance rules against that sort of thing prior to the first zoning laws in 1916. Rather, zoning rules are aimed at making cities less dense than they would be in a free market, and imposing strict economic segregation—basically keeping the poor as far away as possible. Studies suggest that zoning regulations dramatically reduce America’s GDP by sharply increasing housing prices in our most productive areas, making the country significantly poorer than it would be with free housing market.
So where are libertarians on this important issue? Here’s Reason magazine, discussing a proposal by Leo Pustilnikov to build 2300 housing units at the site of a former power plant in Redondo Beach, California:
“Leo is a pure speculator and it’s laughable that he would buy a piece of property and try to enforce his will onto this community,” says Nehrenheim.
A registered Libertarian, Nehrenheim has twice now won elections on a platform of stopping overdevelopment and preventing the “Santa Monica-ization” of the city.
It’s proven a popular message in Redondo Beach among an eclectic mix of supporters. His 2021 reelection campaign received donations from the local Sierra Club and the enthusiastic endorsement of the Libertarian Party Mises Caucus.
The Mises Caucus and the Sierra Club? That’s not quite “Baptists and bootleggers”, more like southern and west coast Baptists.
This seems part of a broader movement within the Mises Caucus:
Along with Rothbard, one of the biggest influences on prominent members of the Mises Caucus is the political theorist Hans-Hermann Hoppe, who disagreed with the pro-immigration views of Ludwig von Mises. He wrote that politicians have a perverse incentive to let in “unproductive parasites, bums, and criminals” and that “the power to admit or exclude should be stripped from the hands of the central government and reassigned to the states, provinces, cities, towns, villages, residential districts, and ultimately to private property owners and their voluntary associations.” Hoppe advocates for “the Swiss model, where local assemblies, not the central government, determine who can and who cannot become a Swiss citizen.” Hoppe has also suggested that “democrats and communists” will have to be “physically separated and expelled” from a libertarian society.
In fact, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native born Americans.
Progressives often have more inclusionary rhetoric than the far right, but in practice their communities are some of the worst offenders. Gray suggests that the most extreme examples of government enforced economic segregation (which leads to de facto racial segregation) occur in progressive areas of the northeastern US and California.
PS. This picture shows the location of the power complex in Redondo Beach where the proposed residential development would occur. In the past, this proposal would almost certainly have been shot down. Today it has at least a fighting chance, due to some recent deregulation that makes it a bit easier to build multifamily buildings in California.