New York is Shrinking

The US Census Bureau has just released 2019 population estimates by county. Metro New York, after slowly rising for decades more than making up the 1970s losses, went down by 60,000 people, or 0.3% of the population. The city is down 53,000 people.


The city chooses stagnation and ignorance. In the 1970s, the city was losing an average of 80,000 people per year, but the situation now is profoundly different. Incomes are up: the metro area’s per capita income as a proportion of the US average went from 126% in 1970 to 118% in 1980; but more recently it went from 135% in 2010-5 to 141% in 2018, the last year for which the BEA has data. Crime is down, the murder rate falling below the national average starting in 2013. Rent is up, sending a strong signal: more people want to live here.

But the entire political constellation of the city chooses not to grow. Housing growth is anemic, permits averaging around 21,000 per year in 2010-9, maybe 2.6 per 1,000 New York residents. It accelerated over the decade but not by much, reaching 26,500 in 2019, or 3.2/1,000. In the in-state suburbs, growth is even lower, less than 1 unit per 1,000 in each of Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties. New Jersey has somewhat higher growth rate, around 4/1,000, thanks to the Mount Laurel doctrine requiring high-cost municipalities to approve some affordable housing, which they typically do in the most out-of-the-way place they can find. The metro area overall approves about the same amount of housing as the city proper, around 2.5/1,000.

The most recent data I have for Korea is from the first half of 2019. In six months, Seoul, a shrinking city of 9.5 million, approved 38,000 dwellings, and the metro area writ large approved 129,000 on a population of about 26 million, an annualized rate of 10/1,000 (less in the city, more in the suburbs). This is a suburbanizing region, but suburbanization often means moving to a planned new town built on top of a subway or commuter rail line, like Ilsan, Bundang, and Anyang.

It’s not Tokyo that has high housing growth. It’s Tokyo, and Seoul, and to a lesser extent the metro area of Taipei (more suburbs than city proper), and Paris. In the presence of a strong economy and a state that doesn’t choose stagnation the way rich American regions choose with local empowerment, housing growth in a large city should be high, as more people want to move there to take advantage of its higher incomes and opportunities.

But New York chose differently. It chose stagnation and eventually decline. It chose to be expensive.

Why are they like this?

The US has an unusual system of governance, in which not only is there a separation of federal and state governments, as in Germany or Canada or Australia or Switzerland, but also the states delegate unusual powers to local governments. Education, policing, and housing are largely local responsibilities. Even when states do get involved, there is usually no partisan competition (most states are safe), leading to empowerment of local representatives on what are considered local issues, and even when there is people vote based on national issues.

But even that raises questions. For example, why do locals consider new development bad? Even YIMBY activists let NIMBYs whip them into thinking this way – they talk about sharing the burden, as if new buildings and new people are a burden that everyone must endure for some grand moral reason.

What if the reason people take it for granted that growth is bad is that the people who are most locally empowered are a specific anti-growth lobby? People who work for a living don’t have time to go to a citizen engagement meeting at 3 in the afternoon. They work and socialize with people from other neighborhoods, so they have little interest in neighborhood rags that report individual counts of parking spaces lost to a bus lane. They are far more interested in job growth than in hobby community gardens. A political system that requires very high levels of local social capital for one’s opinions to count will naturally undervalue their opinions and overvalue those of idle people and professional intermediaries.

The high levels of Covid-19 infection in New York are part of this system. The specific cause is not hyperlocalism, but rather the murky authority of the state. The city is plagued by the feud between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo. Both enjoy unlimited executive power, I think Cuomo more so than de Blasio. Both need it for their higher political aspirations. But neither can have it while the other exists as an independent political entity, nor is there a clear delineation of state and local authority. Thus, they are obligated to sabotage each other’s ideas, to the detriment of the city that has the misfortune to be governed by them. The entire West delayed its reaction to the virus, but New York especially so, as Cuomo and de Blasio tried denying each other credit.

Professional ignorance

I’ve been writing a lot about the role of incuriosity in high construction costs in the English-speaking world in general, and New York in particular – see for example this recent coronavirus-tainted piece, or this more random piece about Metro-North’s executives’ ignorance.

But this can apply more generally, as it did to the virus. Americans are quite provincial when it comes to the rest of the world, and New Yorkers especially so – go ahead, try telling a New Yorker that some other city does something better than New York. The out-of-town comparison, a powerful tool that places that view themselves as more peripheral (like Israel) use to correct errors, dos not work in a place like New York. New York literally made the collective decision to die and not to learn from the rest of the world. Mass death is not making New Yorkers demand the immediate removal of their mass manslaughterers who are their governor and mayor; why would a dip in population?

Part of it is related to local empowerment. Acquiring local social capital comes at the expense of worldliness; those years one spends learning foreign languages, living abroad, and socializing with foreigners are dead years for most political ambitions, including all ambitions that start locally.

But an even greater part of it is that New York self-perceives as the center of the world, which is not true elsewhere. Korea self-flagellates all the time: about its legal system (it adopted a limited jury system in 2009), about its engineering (see e.g. here), about its elevated air pollution levels (it’s adopting EU standards). The United States instead views all variations with the rest of the world as evidence of America’s unique greatness, and New York does the same both internationally and domestically. The city brims with immigrants, and yet it tells them, your home country is deficient and you must become a real New Yorker, that is someone whose world does not extend past city limits, to be a whole person. Until that changes, the government of New York will remain managed by dregs and incompetents and housing, transportation, and as we see health care will earn the mockery of other big first-world cities.


  1. SB

    Yes NIMBYs are more politically active but is there any evidence that majority of the voters are pro-development?
    Unless the voters start to believe that pro-growth is good, NIMBYs will win.

    • Alon Levy

      There’s some polling evidence, there’s the Houston zoning referendum, there are periodic failed referendums in California about moratoriums on new building, there’s what the process looked like in San Francisco the one time the city picked random residents and invited them to a discussion group rather than having a daytime open meeting…

      • electricangel

        Voters aren’t represented because only 3 people matter in Albany: the governor and leaders of the Assembly and Senate.

        NY could do with initiative, referendum, and recall.

        • Brendan Dawe

          the last hundred years of this being common in the United States should require anyone making a theoretical argument for initiative, referendum, and recall to actually cite examples of how this worked as they suggest

          • electricangel

            A nice list of recent recalls is here:

            Most famous was Gray Davis in 2003. I don’t know if that improved things, but it does let a professional political class know they cannot go too far.

            As for initiatives, I’ve voted for a few in Massachusetts that did a lot to restrain the state. After I left, statewide referendum ended rent control, which seemed pretty effective.

          • Nilo

            The worse thing about California are the initiatives and recalls. The state would immediately be immensely better if we repealed every initiative.

          • Brendan Dawe

            I don’t just mean they happened, but that they had a generally positive effect on the quality and capacity of government

          • electricangel

            Oh, that wasn’t clear, Brendan. Clearly in the case of the Gray Davis recall, it short-circuited the old “promise anything to get elected, then screw the public because they’ll forget in 4 years” routine. Popular initiative allows issues with widespread but shallow support to get considered. If benefits aren’t concentrated and costs are dispersed, you get government by lobbyist to secure benefits, with the politicians collecting a little of the loot. If benefits aren’t widespread but minor no one will lobby for them but a lot of people might vote for them. I’d include marijuana legalization in this.

            If you think of government only as the structure of a statehouse system, it’s hard to say. If you think of governing, and the purpose of the state being to serve its residents, it’s clearer.

        • SB

          Governor isn’t some appointed official, they are elected.
          Is no one remembering that there was primary opponent who was about all about the subways and lost (and lost even bigger margin in the city than rest of the state)
          Leaders of the Assembly and Senate aren’t randomly selected.
          They have to maintain support from other members legislative members.
          I’m not arguing that there is no corruption or current situation is perfect but believing that voters have no influence in politics is wrong.

          • Herbert

            A two party system leaves any minority viewpoint that isn’t concentrated in a few constituencies totally unrepresented.

            In a representative system people who disliked the environmental policies of the center left party could form a green party. In the U.S. they have virtually no recourse…

          • electricangel

            We used to have more parties, back when we were representative. Now over 700,000 people are “represented” in Congress by each congresscritter. Germany is FAR more representative, I think less than 100k citizens per Bundestag member. So it’s possible for like-minded people living in tight groups to obtain representation, and even their own party.

            Look up Vito Marcantonio for one example. His base was Italian Harlem. Today he’d need about 400,000 Italians to have a majority in a modern district. Won’t happen.

          • Alon Levy

            It has nothing to do with absolute size artifacts. German parties are rooted in national interest groups that mostly also exist in the United States: low-education anti-regime racists (AfD), middle-class normies with old-fashioned values and high trust (CDU/CSU), middle-class populists who are high-education or just pro-regime (FDP), organized labor (SPD), the New Left (formerly SPD, now mostly the Greens), Ostalgists plus some anti-austerity activists (Die Linke). Of note, the US has pretty small districts at the state level, and the result is not better governance – on the contrary, state governments are much more lobbyist-captured, esp. ones that are part-time or don’t pay legislators professional wages (New Hampshire pays $100/year).

  2. Gok (@Gok)

    > New York self-perceives as the center of the world, which is not true elsewhere

    Or even more strongly, as the center of North America. NIMBYs are excellent at exploiting disdain for higher growth cities in the the US. New Yorkers are much more likely to scoff at a taking a page from Austin, Atlanta, or Seattle than Taipei, Paris, or Tokyo.

    • Alon Levy

      Not at the policy level, they’re not. Compare how many e.g. NYCT planners know about bus redesigns in Texas and how many know how to implement fare integration from Berlin.

  3. Herbert

    While Berlin is growing again – and its suburbs even more so – it can also have a bit of parochialism and thanks to 2000s austerity its civil service has been battered and overburdened…

    However, I’d argue Berlin isn’t the city most underling to learn from others in Germany… Munich and Hamburg sound more like that…

  4. michaelrjames

    I can’t disagree with most of this. But a few points.

    First, I don’t have access to Freemark’s full article but I would like to know how much of the new development (apparently much on publicly-owned land) in Paris is greenfield or brownfield etc.

    Second, by “Paris” of course he’s talking about Greater Paris, ie. Ile de France which currently houses 10m of the approx. 12m of the population. With 140+ communes, this explains the long delay while the politics was sorted out between higher (state) and local authorities. (I can’t tell if Freemark was being critical of this–he writes of the tidal flow of politics from Right to Left to Centre in the state and local domains–but to me it looks like it worked itself out in a rational manner and with a successful outcome. Somehow the French do this, against expectation. Not comparable to the Cuomo-deBlasio tribal warfare.) Anyway, this is rather different to NYC which only controls its 5 boroughs. It seems what you’d need to copy the “Paris” strategy is a tri-state authority and indeed the NJNYPA shows this can work for some things. There’s probably far more potential in New Jersey along with TOD opportunity etc.

    Third, even Petite Couronne (inner ring of suburbs, population approx. 6-7m), and parts of Grande Couronne is already at high-density, higher than any US region except Manhattan. This makes it easier, politically and culturally to build most efficiently, ie. high-density (which doesn’t mean high-rise) which in turn means accessibility to mass transit, and, critically, more affordably. Paris’ GPX plan was developed with all this growth in mind (and as Freemark notes was another reason for the delay imposed by Sarkozy). The point here is that building new transit, just like modernising existing transit, in NYC or anywhere in the US, is both extremely expensive, politically fraught and very long (meaning even more likelihood of falling over). So, in turn that means a focus on where there is existing transit, and that tends to produce high-rise which in turn means almost zip affordable housing. Hudson Yards is the ne plus ultra but it seems the Brooklyn’s Sunnyside Yard project is headed in the same direction regardless of their claim of “12,000 affordable apartments” (that’s the way they always begin).

    Incidentally, building over railyards (the few brownfield sites available to cities that remain conveniently located and often with transit built-in) is very expensive, like Sunnyside’s $12bn pricetag. But that is mostly because they want to build high-rise, and I remain unconvinced it can’t be a lot cheaper for low-rise (say 8-10 floors) which in turn is actually cheaper and faster to build, and results in much cheaper, more affordable apartments. But the Anglosphere won’t do it because of the obsession with high-rise as the only solution to high-density, and false calculations about optimising such sites.

    Fourth, is really a repetition of the political arguments. It seems that even the Rightwing Sarkozy embraced the “Vienna model’; Freemark wrote:

    French social housing is accessible to a range of family incomes equivalent to about two-thirds of the population, not just the poorest (Scanlon, Whitehead, & Arrigoitia (2014, p. 335) argue that social-housing allocation in Europe ranges from universalistic, such as in Denmark and Sweden, to generalist, such as in Austria and France, to targeted, such as in the U.K. and Ireland, where public units are reserved for the least well-off; the U.S. would fall in the latter category as well).

    We can blame the politicians, state-v-city etc, but there’s also the public. One surmises Sunnyside Yard is intended to be like this (more Vienna model than Hudson Yards), but who imagines it will turn out that way? The Anglosphere simply can’t overcome its property speculator-driven “free market” bullshit. London and Sydney are every bit as bad as NYC, possibly worse.

    Fifth, really another side to point #3, is that because of the nature of urbanised areas and an obsession with drawing large green swathes on any development plans, too much space is given over to “green space”. I know people always believe, and planners and psychologists keep reinforcing the concept, that they need lots and lots of open space, but it is simply untrue. Paris is the example though most inner cores of Euro-cities are all the same. There may be some big parks/bois on the edge of such zones (or even Central Park) but the vast majority of city residents don’t take much advantage of such big spaces. Smallish green spaces &squares & plazas are actually far more functional. This misconception leads to a lot of wasted space in most new developments (esp. Anglosphere but also in Europe) though a lot of it is simply self-interest by the speculator-planning cabal because it “logically” leads to high-rise. Another advantage of Ile de France is that, by accident of history rather than planning per se, there are huge tracts of green public land (forests, national parks, often part of old royal chateaux etc) adjoining much of its finger urban developed zones, so that this issue is also less of an impediment to achieving urbanist goals.

    • Nilo

      Paris proper is 1/6th of greater Paris, NYC is 2/5ths of the New York Metro (~20 million) NYC has plenty of control over its housing growth. Lots of places it can place 30 to 50 story buildings or 15 to 20 story buildings to increase density. Entire nice area called the village it could bulldoze to up to the density to high rise living.

      • michaelrjames

        Yonah Freemark’s article is about Ile de France, an area about 25% bigger than NYC and about 30% more residents. Central Paris is building new residential but obviously is seriously constrained; ie. most of the new builds Freemark and Alon are talking about are happening extra-muros.

        As to demolishing Greenwich Village etc. obviously that is not something I can condone. There’s lots more low-quality housing of low density elsewhere, even it is only for the very privileged these days. That’s the Yglesias/Glaeser et al. school of “destroy the village (sic) to save the village”. They also advocate doing the same to Paris despite the fact that the city already is the highest density city-core anywhere. Freemark is correct (afaik, not having read the whole paper) in that Ile de France does represent a perfectly good model of how to do it. I was just pointing out various points about it to compare with the constraints on NYC. And there are surprisingly few high-rise districts (and no real whole cities) that surpass Paris’ average density so the high-rise thing is a non-solution, and worse, in the Anglosphere never.creates.affordable.housing in desirable cities.

        • Nilo

          Not that it matters, because nothing changes your mind but Kowloon is roughly the population of Paris at over twice the density. I’m sure the heavily developed part of Hong Kong Island would be similar, alas nothing changes your mind. Insert a comment about the Anglo sphere, another about the unique greatness of the French bureaucracy and planners, and the inherent goodness of middle rise floor area suppressed living below this one.

          • michaelrjames

            No need to get so snitchy. I was making some observations which you are free to criticise and present alternative arguments if you think I am wrong.

            I myself have pointed out density of parts of Kowloon but it’s only a part of a city, and you can do the same cherrypicking for the narrow northern strip on HK island.

            And perhaps you missed it, but it Yonah Freemark who wrote a published article on how Paris-Ile de France manages these things, and that it could be a model for some US cities. I didn’t disagree with him or with Alon’s take on it.

          • Nilo

            Yeah Kowloon is only part of a city, but Paris is only part of a metro area. It’s still an area of roughly equal population to Paris with twice the density. It isn’t some small neighborhood.

          • michaelrjames

            Look, I know you don’t appreciate my kind of scientific OCD on these things and I should have deployed my usual “outside Asia” letout phrase (except it’s really not true, other whole Asian cities are not as dense as people and journalists and media like to portray–which is why I hesitate using it these days; because I don’t want to be one of those writers perpetuating myths leading to silly misconceptions re density) but there are several reasons for not considering Hong Kong (but I agree if there is one city one could consider ….).

            You have to perform acrobatic geo-mapping to come up with the high densities, eg. “The northern part of Hong Kong Island together with Kowloon forms the core urban area of Hong Kong. Their combined area is approximately 88.3 km2 and their combined population is approximately 3,156,500, reflecting a population density of 35,700/km².” (≈30% higher density than inner-Paris). But that is entirely arbitrary, and guess what, you can play that game with Paris: the 11th arrondissement (3.7km2) is 41,600/km2. For all of HK: 7.4 m in 1,104km2 = 6,702/km2; if you take the most urbanised part of greater Paris, the Petite Couronne, which is strangely comparable: 6,695,233 (2011) in 762.4km2 = 8,786/km2. (I’m not saying these are directly comparable but just another way to compare.)
            But here is what one demographer thinks:

            “[HK]…population density has reached 27,400 persons per sq km of developed land”.

            Surprisingly similar to central Paris (and Manhattan and a few other (smaller) core cities … might even imagine there might be some kind of natural law operating …)

            The other point I always make about HK is that even when you’re in one of those high-rise buildings in a crowded cluster, in fact you’re often just minutes walk to verdant bush with walking trails that take you away from city streets etc. It reflects the fact that 75% of HK is undeveloped land due to topographic constraints. Again, the point here is that taking this urban form and claiming one could build it in … any western city … would be an entirely misleading argument.

            It’s Asian! Hundreds of thousands of apartments are illegally divided to produce inhuman densities and conditions, almost all in that central area of Kowloon-Central. I love Hong Kong and once aspired to live there, so I don’t mind its conditions but of course, like you, I wouldn’t be one of those miserable wretches living in a cage within a divided apartment, sometimes just a corridor. And remember I lived in 18m2 in Paris, which many Americans would consider intolerable!

            So this tends to invalidate HK’s use as a model for density (ie. for the developed world) as it is too conditional, however this is obviously subjective. However the reason I may appear to be obsessive about this comparison with Paris is that it is the example of high-density city living (across a quite large area encompassing all the functions of a big city) that is superlative–and not by my opinion but by a majority of people who visit or live there, at least people who like city-living. So many people argue against high-density because the media & journalists etc always portray it as high-rise, often of the crappiest most inhuman type, while Paris is the clear counter-argument. It thus serves as the best model, and familiar to a lot of people, for many things, including as Yonah Freemark writes, of transit and how to achieve new housing in a constrained mega-city. OK, now I’ve jumped out of Paris but the thing is that those TODs around RER stations etc in the banlieu have similar densities to Paris.

            Sorry if my attention to detail and facts irritates you, but really you aren’t obliged to read. My original comment was mere commentaire on Freemark and Alon’s writings, intended to be constructive. Somehow I don’t feel the need to apologise for that, or to be attacked for it.

          • Herbert

            The densest square kilometer in most European cities was built near the end of the 19th century and is today highly sought after real estate. Such as Barcelona Eixample or Berlin Kreuzberg

      • michaelrjames

        Herbert: The densest square kilometer in most European cities was built near the end of the 19th century and is today highly sought after real estate. Such as Barcelona Eixample or Berlin Kreuzberg.

        Exactly, and Barcelona’s Eixample district (only 7.5 km2) clocks in at an extraordinary 36,000/km2 which is the same as HK’s Kowloon-Central agglomeration. And zero hi-rise residential.

        • Yom Sen

          Better comparison would be the densest district in Kowloon: Kwun Tung 59’000/km2 on 11km2. Looks high rise on Google maps.

          • michaelrjames

            Way to miss the point. Again!
            I’m going to exercise supreme self-control, and save the others another explanation even though they secretly crave it.

    • adirondacker12800

      like Sunnyside’s $12bn pricetag.

      Is very much a Manhattanite’s view from Ninth Avenue. Looking east instead of west. I’ve actually been on Northern Blvd. and paid attention to where I am and what is gong on. Not recently but surfing through on Google’s street view the fast food joints have upgraded their signs. Nobody in their right mind is going to redevelop Sunnyside Yards when you can redevelop Northern Blvd. In little bits and pieces slowly over time. Or wide swaths of currently empty land in the Bronx.

      Not that it matters much, because rational people aren’t going to do it, Sunnyside is in Queens, not Brooklyn. It looks like a fabbbulllous idea from Ninth Ave.

      • michaelrjames

        I don’t disagree but I presume it is being considered because it is either publicly-owned or within the power of the city to develop. Also surely it will be well connected transit-wise?

        • adirondacker12800

          It’s owned by Amtrak. It’s lotus eaters on Ninth Avenue having a fantasy map.

  5. adirondacker12800

    The high levels of Covid-19 infection in New York are part of this system.

    There was this really weird statistic I read, before there was an internet and couldn’t be easily checked. Half of all pedestrian-vehicular accidents occur in New York State. And half of those occur in New York City. Which sounds like walking in New York is dangerous. … it has half the accidents because there are actually pedestrians interacting with vehicles in New York.
    Sumptim like 90 percent of 60 year olds are … content…with their sex life. And half of the 70 year old women are dissatisfied with it. But about 90 percent of the men are. Did a quarter of the men change their mind and start having sex with each other. No, many more men died, which has a drastic effect on their widow’s sex life. People in New York touch more things that have been touched by more people than in other places. It happens with other diseases but they don’t make the news.

    The decisions being made in New York were a bit more nuanced than you can see half a world away.

    • michaelrjames

      It will be interesting to (eventually) understand why different countries have such wide variation in death rates from this virus. The rates in Italy and Spain are about 30x that of Singapore and South Korea.
      A hint at one cause was in an article yesterday. It might be the way these different nations treat & house their very old.

      The virus has laid bare, too, deep faults in the Spanish care system. Private old people’s homes must turn a profit while charging people prices they can afford – which may be a basic pension of just over 9,000 euros. As a result, these were understaffed, unprepared and quickly overwhelmed, with death rates of up to 20%. The army was sent in, and found some people lying dead in their beds.
      Spain has a magnificent primary care system, but its hospitals have been hit by a decade of austerity since the financial crisis. It has only a third of the hospital beds per capita that are provided by Austria or Germany. Yet that is still more than the UK, New Zealand or the US.

      It may also be related to why these two countries have such high numbers of infected:

      On 19 February, 2,500 Valencia soccer fans mixed with 40,000 Atalanta supporters for a Champions League game in Bergamo which Giorgio Gori, mayor of the Italian city, has described as “the bomb” which exploded the virus in Lombardy.
      In Spain, Valencia players, fans and sports journalists were amongst the first to fall ill.

      The football industry (and sport in general) has been particularly reluctant to adjust to this threat. In Australia our dumb footie-loving PM, on a Friday (few weeks ago), announced on a special televised conference that bans on all kinds of things (cafes, restaurants, more than 100 people together etc) would begin on Monday. But he was planning to go to the football game on Saturday. A Twitter-storm was triggered in which some joked that they were relieved that the virus had decided to take the weekend off, like all real Aussies. A few hours later he was shamed into cancelling his mingling with 40,000 others (and subsequently all such events have been cancelled). Probably not quite as dumb as Trump’s “back to normal by Easter”.

        • michaelrjames

          Right. But the point made about Spain was that these elderly were concentrated into poorly-run homes which are perfect places for infectious disease to do their worst (especially if visited by their grandchildren who are asymptomatic spreaders). Not the same effect if they are living in poverty in small apartments etc.
          Anyway there must be other factors, which will eventually become more apparent.

          • Herbert

            Germany’s low death rate is currently attributed to the high number of tests being performed, initially including asymptomatic carriers

        • michaelrjames


          The high screening rate could feasibly account for at most a factor of 2. Because the data (China, S.Korea, Vo in Italy) say up to 60% of all those infected are asymptomatic. Not enough to explain the almost 10x lower rate.
          You probably already saw this report which gives additional reasons:

          • 53,340 Germans had tested positive for the coronavirus as of March 28, with 397 deaths. That gives a death rate of 0.74%. Spain’s rate is 7.6% and Italy’s is 10.2%.
          • This is because Germany is testing as many as 120,000 people a week, identifying many milder cases that don’t end in death.
          • Germany is also in an early stage of its outbreak, has excellent intensive care facilities, a young average age of infection, and a severe lockdown in place.

          What this amounts to is that Germany’s (and Singapore, SKorea) statistic is close to their IFR (Infected Fatality Rate) while most others it is their CFR (Case Fatality Rate), and that in time when these others can calculate their IFR it will be a lot lower than their current CFR.

          Earlier I yearned for some age-profile data amongst the cases in Germany (and Singapore) compared to others:

          Old people have by and large avoided infection.
          The average age of a German infected with coronavirus is 46, whereas in Italy it is 63, according to Wired. Older people are far more likely to die from the coronavirus, and most deaths occur in those with preexisting health conditions, which are more common in older people. 80% of all people infected in Germany are younger than 60, the Robert Koch Institute said on Monday, indicating that the outbreak hasn’t yet taken hold in older people, where the risk of death is much higher.
          In Spain the number of affected over-60s is around 50%.

          Germany has the second-most critical care beds per capita in Europe, according to data from European Health for All. The beds are essential when trying to battle severe cases of the coronavirus.
          Germany has 621 beds per 100,000 people. Italy has 275, and Spain 293.

          Yes, that will have some effect. (and is bad news for the UK which has one of the lowest ICU beds per cap in Europe). However it still isn’t quite enough to convince me, and it turns out some German experts:

          Compared to countries like Spain and Italy, Germany is at an earlier stage of the outbreak.
          “Germany’s also a little bit earlier on in the process than Italy,” Martin Hibberd, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told Wired. “It takes two or three weeks of intensive care before people often succumb to the disease.”
          March 26 was Germany’s worst day so far with 6,615 new cases reported. It seems likely that the daily number of cases will continue to rise.
          “The death rate in Germany is likely to increase as more older people become infected”, Keith Neal, emeritus professor of epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, told Sky News. “The true death rate is probably going to be in the order of 1%.”
          It’s easy to speculate on Germany’s success, but some scientists have said that, because the outbreak is unprecedented, the answer may not be clear for some time.
          Even some experts in German are arguing for caution.
          “We don’t know the reason for the lower death rate,” Marieke Degen, deputy spokeswoman of the Robert Koch Institute told Vox.

  6. Reedman Bassoon

    According to census estimates released yesterday, the two counties in Michigan that had the largest 2019 population losses were Wayne (Detroit) and Washtenaw (Ann Arbor). Wayne lost ~5100 residents, Washtenaw lost ~1900 (out of ~368k). These areas/cities didn’t chose stagnation, or ignorance (Ann Arbor — the home of the U of Michigan). In 1950, Detroit had a population of 1.8 million — it was the 4th largest city in the US, tied with LA. It now is ~ 678k. Both places would welcome development with open arms (Detroit has existing infrastructure (streets, water, natural gas, sewers, etc) to take in over 1 million people. Amazon HQ2 times ten wouldn’t be a problem). Unless something bizarre happens in the census, Michigan will lose one of its seats in the US House (other projected losers: New York, California, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Illinois, Alabama). Texas will likely gain three House seats, Florida will likely gain two seats (other projected winners: Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, Montana, North Carolina).

    • Herbert

      The House of Representatives should not be limited to the essentially arbitrary number of 435…

        • Herbert

          Such an amendment would never pass in the traditional way because it would require state and federal representatives vote against the system that put them there…

        • Reedman Bassoon

          Gerrymandering in the US exists because the courts require it. The constitutional requirement for compact districts is easy to implement in computers to minimize the added drawn length of district boundaries in a state. The problem is that compact districts have been ruled to be discriminatory, because it concentrates the votes of perceived minorities into a small number of districts because they tend to live near each other. [I use the term “perceived minorities” because the most populous US state, California, has no racial group in the majority, so “everyone is a minority” and the word “minority” loses its meaning. New Mexico and Hawaii are also states that are all-minority.]

          • adirondacker12800

            There are other considerations beside drawing the most compact contiguous districts. Co-terminal with political borders is usually a good one. In ancient times when we voted on purely mechanical machines, those machines can only count up to 999. There are enough people in my town to have needed three of them. Not that there were 3,000 registered voters but we needed three. Ignore that and split the town precisely in two for some other office we then need six election districts to run a general election. And that is very crude example that has all sorts of holes in it. The consultants who come up with exquisitely gerrymandered districts can use the same software to come up with “fair” districts too.

          • Herbert

            If you have FPTP you’ll distort the voter will even without gerrymandering

          • RossB

            Gerrymandering would go away if you had proportional representation. It would not require a constitutional amendment. Quoting from the article I cited (which quotes from the constitution):

            The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.” This gives Congress the power to preempt all state electoral laws and to mandate a system of multimember districts with proportional representation for electing members of the House of Representatives.

            In other words, all it would require is a majority in the House, the Senate, and being signed into law by the president.

            Furthermore, each state could elect members by proportional representation if they wanted to (without the support of the federal government). If Oregon wanted to elect their representatives that way, they could. There are a couple ways this could work. One is to have the parties list out the representatives, in order, they would like to send to Washington D. C.. This would address Herbert’s concern. The candidates who are the “safest” are at the top of the list. It would, therefore, receive the support of representatives who gain more from an at-large system, which is likely to be Democrats in swing districts, who could be carried along with a large turnout in big cities.

            If it was done at the same time the overall numbers increased (which would require federal action) it is likely that every sitting member of Congress (left or right) would benefit. Every sitting member is at the top of the list, and with lots more members, they still have a job, even if their party loses.

            Another option would be that you vote for a person (who is aligned with a party). If that person doesn’t get enough votes, then the votes go to other members of the party. That would enable proportional representation, but with the most popular members of that party being elected. That would eliminate the problem that exists now, where the best members of the party may all live in the same district, but the state can only send one.

          • RossB

            “Gerrymandering in the US exists because the courts require it.”

            Ludicrous. Gerrymandering has existed for a very long time (you can just look up the term). Gerrymandering has also included racial aspects (i. e. packing all the African Americans in one area). This is how the courts got involved. There is no federal or constitutional limitations to gerrymandering. But there are limits on what you can do to from a racial standpoint. So a state like Georgia can create ridiculous districts to benefit the Republican Party, but if it as seen as hurting African Americans, the courts might reject the district lines.

          • adirondacker12800

            well yeah if everybody votes in the same district there are no district boundaries to gerrymander, are there? At large voting has problems too. Instead packing the icky people into one district they become too diffuse.

  7. RossB

    “Mass death is not making New Yorkers demand the immediate removal of their mass manslaughterers who are their governor and mayor; why would a dip in population?”

    Do you really think the mayor and governor deserve the most responsibility for the crisis, instead of the president? Really?

    If handled correctly, the idiot mayor and idiot governor could continue their idiotic squabbles about things like transit, while they fantasize about higher office. But incompetence at the federal level has forced both into doing things that they shouldn’t be doing. No country has more tools to handle this crisis than the U. S. But incompetence at the federal level have left various local jurisdictions scrambling, dealing with problems they aren’t equipped to deal with. Each state shouldn’t battle over the limited number of tests, ventilators and masks, let alone create their own method for handling things. It is pretty clear to anyone who is paying attention that the U. S. mishandled this crisis. This includes various people working for the federal government. But they can’t do anything about the situation while the idiot in chief is still in power.

    It is quite possible, for example, for Governor Inslee, having spent some time hanging out with Bill Gates (or being well read) was well aware of the threat. When it first hit his state, he probably wanted extensive testing. But the tests were faulty, and there was little support from the federal government. Once the tests were fixed, he might have wanted a lot more — to be able to do widespread testing (and not just limit them to people who have symptoms). But there aren’t enough. There is a nationwide shortage of masks, tests and now ventilators.

    In short, it matters little what the mayors and governors *want* to do. Without federal assistance, they *can’t* do it.

    • RossB

      Put this another way. Imagine a different U. S. president, who did the right thing. They would have raised the alarm bells early, knowing fully well that it would spook the stock market (Trump’s biggest concern). They would have read and acted on the previous reports ( They would have dealt with as well as any country has.

      Would you still write this, using the same theme? Or would you (correctly) pivot, and ask why the U. S., in many fields — like medicine — is a leader, willing to work and learn from other countries, but they are provincial with regards to transit?

    • adirondacker12800

      Of course they do because he’s a benevolent omniscient who is always correct. Didn’t you get the memo?
      He’s pissed off at things he’s hearing half a world away. Makes me wonder if he heard that the smiling idiot Lt. Governor of Texas said that a some additional dead grandmas are okay as long as the economy keeps moving. That he then confirmed it and dug the hole even deeper.
      The Mayor of New York can’t confiscate hoarded goods outside of the city of New York. And the Governor of New York can’t force anybody anywhere outside of the state of New York to do anything. Headlines that read “Mayor and Governor have nuanced disagreement” doesn’t sell newspapers or get many clicks. So they are doing a bad job and and lets not examine the people who could do something or the ones ….who are proving they care more about money than people.

    • Eric

      There are some things that can only be handled on a federal level. But when Cuomo and de Blasio encouraged the public to go out and socialize long after the danger in this was apparent, that was an unforced error on their part.

      • adirondacker12800

        I had the news on, no they didn’t. The Lt. Gov. of Texas was able to shock Tucker Carlson because he said that the economy is more important than dead grandmas. Yer okay with that?

        • Eric

          Wikipedia: “On March 2, Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that people should ignore the virus and “go on with your lives + get out on the town despite Coronavirus”.[50]” This was a week after San Francisco declared a state of emergency.

          Why do you assume (incorrectly) that I would agree with the Lt. Gov. of Texas’ disgusting comments? Are so stuck in partisan thinking that you can’t imagine I would disagree with a Democrat AND with a Republican?

          • adirondacker12800

            Bill DeBlasio has superpowers and can see infections continent wide, not that he was taking the advice or lack of it from the Federal Government? Why hasn’t he told anybody about this?

          • Eric

            You don’t need superpowers to see what is obvious. The mayor of San Francisco doesn’t have superpowers and she saw it. De Blasio didn’t need to do anything extreme like shut the city down at that point, but he didn’t need to throw fuel on the fire by encouraging people to go out even more.

          • adirondacker12800

            Ah, his superpower is to be able to instantly evaluate the quality of decisions of any other mayor anywhere. Not look to the Federal government for advice.

          • SB

            @ adirondacker12800
            Your logic is that federal government mismanaged the situation (no disagreements there) and Bill de Blasio should have followed that same federal government doesn’t make much sense.
            Bill de Blasio should known that as mayor of global city, NYC had high probability of being an epicenter of an outbreak and should have reacted accordingly.

          • adirondacker12800

            So his superpower is clairvoyance and he should have seen that we would beginning to agree the Federal Government is fucking up two weeks in the future. Okay.

      • RossB

        Maybe I wasn’t clear. I think de Blasio is an idiot. Oh wait, I wrote that.

        But my point is that he shouldn’t be put in that position. He has no qualifications, no training, and no staff to tell him when he is being an idiot when it comes to a pandemic. (There is no “New York CDC”). This is different than, say, when he is dealing with the police force (typically the main job of any mayor). In that case you have a host of experienced, qualified people telling you what to do. To even get the job, it is quite likely he has thought about, or made significant police policy decisions. de Blasio has probably done a decent job when it comes to handling the police force. But for this crisis, he is completely out of his element.

        It is the system that allows him to have that responsibility that is the problem, not the fact that he is an idiot. (Did I mention that he is an idiot?).

        • adirondacker12800

          There are varying degrees of idiocy. He made a lot of mistakes but he does appear to be able to become aware of new information and process it. You may not like the decision he makes but he does seem to be able to do that. Lets focus on how he didn’t do things as fast enough, in hindsight. Not focus on Texans who are being encouraged to go out and spend money because that is good for the economy and we really shouldn’t be concerned about making old people dead. Yep, using our 20/20 hindsight we should all agree he’s should have been more clairvoyvant. Okay. Is it that you don’t know any Texans and don’t care?

  8. SB

    Looking this (click the menu to see changes by year) NYC started to lose populated starting in 2016 after growing between 2010 and 2016.
    Westchester and LI also started to lose population from 2016 and NJ suburbs from 2018.
    Exurbs (ie Monroe county PA) still grew.
    Looking at other areas which have grown in this decade, LA county started to lose population start 2016, Fairfax in 2017 (but not DC or Arlington interestingly), parts of the Bay Area in 2017 (SF, Alameda and Contra Costa still grew).

  9. adirondacker12800

    But New York chose differently. It chose stagnation and eventually decline. It chose to be expensive.

    Those pesky things like a clean water supply and sewer systems can be pricey. And buildings that don’t collapse or burn down. Or when they catch fire, don’t become a skyscraper shaped torch. Silly them.

    I don’t know how many people I know who live in a renovated “railroad” flat. Alone. Paying extraordinarily high rents in a building that was almost razed during slum clearance. Some of them even have granite countertops where they can open the take-out. There is more than one way to measure how successful a city is.

    But even that raises questions. For example, why do locals consider new development bad?

    Because evil developers are going to disturb the pristine wildness with their awful construction, building new cabins in the woods. And the valiant conservationists attempting to selflessly preserve our natural heritage already have a cabin in the woods. The people it is going to affect get together and exercise some democracy. It’s too bad they aren’t as visionary as you…. It’s been observed that the radical free marketeers are free to move to Somalia. Just because they aren’t doing what you want doesn’t mean what they want is bad. Convince them.

    The organic free range artisanal types of the 50s were predicting the Levittowns would quickly decline into slums. They haven’t. The other side was insisting they had to remain….harmonious… What was Levittown New Jersey is now majority black and it’s not a dystopian nightmare either side was predicting. It’s too bad things didn’t go the way people were expecting.

      • adirondacker12800

        And you’ve gotten a new certificate of occupancy for a renovated building? That has had two means of egress since it was built?

        • Alon Levy

          I don’t think any building in any city I’ve lived in since I left the country had two means of egress. That just isn’t required here, or in rich Asian cities, or in Canada, and somehow people don’t all die in fires. (In high-rises, yes, two separate emergency staircases are required, though BC permits scissor staircases and California does not – no idea about Asian or European reqs.)

          • adirondacker12800

            I see two means of egress in every building I’ve been in, in Canada, You are so clueless you don’t see them.

          • Alon Levy

            Building or apartment? Because front and back door, where the back door doesn’t always lead to a street, is not the same as the emergency ladders outside New York tenements.

          • adirondacker12800

            Older ones have fire escapes bolted to the outside. Newer ones have two staircases. A very general maxim is that if the building is taller than six stories, the only construction materials that will go into it are concrete, steel and drywall. The power wiring will be in metal raceways of one sort or another and the doors will be self closing. And most building and fire codes will be very difficult to meet without those constraints if it is over three.

          • Alon Levy

            Yes, and that’s fine, they don’t really build out of wood here at any height. To reduce concrete GHG emissions, instead of mass timber they’re starting to use infra-lightweight concrete, which is good up to about 9 stories.

          • adirondacker12800

            I guess a few dozen people in council flats don’t matter much.
            Windows count as a secondary means of egress and if you want to finish your basement there are rules you have to follow to add a window that can be used as secondary means of egress. It’s just that you don’t see them. Or the torch in the shape of skyscraper.

          • Alon Levy

            Against do-nothing Tories, the gods themselves despair. Didn’t the building get that flammable cladding because local rich busybodies complained that the bare building looked ugly or something?

          • adirondacker12800

            No it didn’t which is why I included a link. That I had a hope you would read but obviously didn’t because you heard a conspiracy theory that fits your world view.

          • Matthew Hutton

            You can never overestimate the competence of social housing providers in the UK. They are almost universally awful. And they cannot deal with criticism at any level.

        • michaelrjames

          In fact, Grenfell had two independent (opposite sides of building/corridor) stairwells. Incredibly (and surely illegally?) one of them was removed when they did the renovation, the same time they tarted up the exterior with that inflammable facia! They did it to create more lettable space; I kid you not. Only in f-ed up UK could such idiocy occur, and then pass building inspections. Oh, in their modernisations they didn’t add any fire sprinklers even in the corridors!
          But then, also incredibly IMO, Trump Tower built in the 80s also doesn’t have a fire sprinkler system! Only its structure prevented more damage than that one apartment being burnt out and killing its occupant (2017?).

          • adirondacker12800

            Trump Tower, succinctly, was built before that was a regulation. It’s more complicated than that but sprinklers in residential were not required back then. Even though big city fire departments were pointing out, for a long time, that very very few people die in buildings with sprinklers.

          • fjod

            Grenfell only ever had one stairwell; the original architect is quoted as saying as such. I don’t think even in the UK you’d be able to remove a second staircase from a high-rise – I think this is now a building regulation.

  10. Michael

    The so-called “superstar cities” had a robust run when America’s professional class had a collective epiphany that driving for every functional trip was actually pretty miserable and there were remnants of like 8 cities on the whole continent that weren’t totally bombed out and sclerotic from de-industrialization & white flight.

    The issue, though, is that it’s not particularly hard to build a couple thousand apartments & a grocery store next to a strip of bars & restaurants. And every city in North America has spent the last 10 years doing it. Now you can live in a 30 story apartment building with a 15 story parking garage in Austin or Phoenix or Denver or Seattle, walk/bike to work on weekdays, walk to groceries & bars, and relatively easy access to nature on weekends in the Subaru just like the commercials.

    • Alon Levy

      That’s the theory, but the reality is that New York’s per capita income as a share of the US average is up, not down, and has never been higher within the BEA’s data range going back to 1969. Still below the 1920s and 30s, when the South wasn’t really first-world, but at what looks like a postwar high. It’s not the professionals who are leaving.

      • electricangel

        No, it’s the remainder of the white and black working and lower-middle classes leaving. NYC does have a higher per-capita income, as You mention, Alon. I wonder what the after-tax, after-rent income is? I’d guess disposable income might be the closest measure. For people not in the highest stratum, NYC does not afford the ability to pay for family and children.

        I’ve lost several family members with middle-class-professional skills, like nursing, to places where housing is cheap and can be bought on two nurses’ salaries. That’s usually not in the city.

        • Alon Levy

          Metro NY per capita income from labor alone, as a percentage of the US:

          1970: 123.5
          1980: 115.3
          1990: 137.2
          2000: 134.7
          2010: 137.7
          2015: 137.4
          2018: 143

          This excludes the income of the landlords, which is equivalent to calculating everyone’s incomes and subtracting rents. New York is actually higher here than if you look at all-source income, because it’s a working city, whereas retirees go to places like South Florida, where in 2018 the all-sources income was 105% the US average and the labor-only income was 88%.

          It’s not really about the highest stratum, although yes, the kind of middle-class people who do jobs with a lot of national mythology behind them (e.g. nurses) do feel aggrieved by the fact that some professionals (in tech, finance, etc.) earn more than they do. One big recent change is decline in international immigration, which kept funneling people into the city – immigrants generally go to high-wage, high-cost regions.

          • electricangel

            Per CAPITA is the problem, I think. Income is not normally distributed, so mean, as in per capita, won’t work as well. From this source ( we get:
            Median: Household: $57,782
            Mean: Household: $93,196

            So high rents ought to have a disproportionate effect on the middle class who cannot compete with the really high earners.

            Your example of Miami is interesting. I quote only one sentence from a story: “A salary of $71,644.01 would be necessary to purchase a median-priced $335,000 house in South Florida”. 2018 department of numbers reports Miami median household income as $54,284.

            By contrast, another story reports:

            HSH calculations puts the median home price for the metro area at $419,000. But the firm also incorporates parts of Long Island, upstate, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania into their metric, so that figure is quite a bit off from the $680,000 median home price that Douglas Elliman’s Miller Samuel reported for New York City alone. The city’s median household income is around $60,000, according to the American Community Survey.

            The average person could probably afford NYC. The median one has been priced out.

      • Michael

        The middle class has been moving away from money for decades. That’s because we have a very unequal society and all the income growth has accrues to the top quintile while the COL hits everybody. I plugged in those metros by income quintiles… NYC, Austin, Denver, Seattle. All the benefits of NYC go to the top. For the lower 80%+, you’d be the same or better not in NYC from an income perspective, without even considering the COL differences.,31000US12420,31000US19740,31400US4266042644

        Regarding professional class… the professional class is middle class before about 40 years old. If a metro is unattractive to the middle class, it’s not going to attract under-40 workers. And it shows up in the age tables. NYC isn’t attracting/retaining 20-40 year olds. It’s not as bad as, say, detroit, but it’s not in the same league as the faster growing metros.,31000US12420,31000US19740,31400US4266042644&primary_geo_id=31400US3562035614

        • Alon Levy

          First, yes, New York has high inequality, but Miami and Houston are almost as unequal; the differences between different US metro areas are there, but they’re smaller than the difference between the US and just about every other developed country.

          And second, for the longest time the complaint about New York was that it was attracting 20-to-35-year-olds but then losing families with children…

          • adirondacker12800

            when you are searching for a mate cities provide a better selection. When you have brat or two being able to throw them outside is valuable.

          • Michael

            I think you’re over-complicating this. In a place like NYC, if the bottom 80% of income isn’t keeping up, sure, maybe the city can attract some ambitious folks that want to come gamble on climbing into the 1%. Immigrants, banking bros, etc. But most folks are in careers that don’t have a hockey-stick shaped income curve.

            And many eventually come to the realization that their income ceiling is just too low and start leaving for places that have relatively high middle class wages combined with medium or low COL. Right now, that’s like Denver, Austin, etc. I remember when it was Orange County CA & Atlanta in 90s. 10 years from now, those folks leaving start having kids and the population explodes.

            But I would say NYC has two other issues. 1) Ambitious folks that want to gamble on buku money are increasingly going to the bay area. 2) the Urbane lifestyle that attracted ambitious, creative people from their blah neighborhoods across the country is becoming much more available. First in Boston, DC, SF in the late 90s/early 2000s. Now in a huge proliferation of neighborhoods. The result is that the haute couture / literati – dominance of NYC is absolutely cratering.

          • adirondacker12800

            Medium sized fish in tiny ponds look big. In New York, the Bohemian types have run out of places to make the next up and coming neighborhood. So a few of them move to Philadelphia. Or they never come and think their four block arts district matters. Medium sized fish in tiny ponds look big.

  11. Paul

    Do you have any figures that show the mechanism of population decline? When New York’s population was declining in the 1970s, vacancies and abandoned properties went up. But that doesn’t seem to be the reason this time since housing prices and rents are still high. I would guess that it’s a mix of smaller household sizes and wealthy nonresidents buying second homes.

    • Brendan Dawe

      the secular trend towards falling household sizes means that a city that does not have meaningfully increased floor space can shrink without the number of vacant units increasing

  12. RossB

    A few things worth mentioning:

    Income stratification is a huge problem in the United States. Land owners in successful cities — by this very definition, extremely wealthy people — may prefer a conservative financial approach towards (at least this part) of their investment. Restrictive zoning prevents housing bubbles. The big housing bubble (that played a part in the financial collapse of the United States and the subsequent worldwide recession that followed) didn’t hurt real estate much in the big markets (Manhattan, Brooklyn, San Fransisco, nice parts of Chicago) but it hammered more liberal development areas (Las Vegas, Orlando, Miami). Areas on the outskirts of highly restrictive areas (Merced, Stockton) got hit hard as well. Those are areas that effectively allow plenty of growth, in the way of sprawl. Of course, Detroit got hit about as bad as anyone. My point being that highly restrictive zoning in wealthy, successful areas may not result in the greatest return for the dollar, but it certainly protects the investment.

    New York has also become a major playground for the wealthy. Russian Oligarchs, American Oligarchs — they all love a penthouse suite in Manhattan (now more than ever). This means that a floor of a new building that could house dozens of New Yorkers is bought out, and enjoyed by one rich guy (and the occasional concubine).

    Along with income stratification, you also have regional stratification. As mentioned up above, there are lots of mayors that wish they had New York’s problems. (OK, not now, but in general). Detroit, Saint Louis, New Orleans, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Cleveland are mere shadows of their former selves. They wish that property values in the central city were going up. As Funkadelic once said, America eats its young. These cities that built America — that built the world’s greatest middle class (!) — are left to fend for themselves. This is a clear lesson to every mayor — better shake hands with the rich man, because the government won’t help you.

    If you own your own home, then it is quite possible you don’t want things to change. After all, you bought into the neighborhood, probably assuming that they wouldn’t. It is possible that you bought into a cheap neighborhood that had crime problems, hoping that things would get better. In that case, attending various meetings to “clean up the city” and spur development would be a reasonable act. But if you bought into an already wealthy neighborhood, then it is quite possible you don’t want things to change. You’ve seen that, and you don’t like it (otherwise, you would have moved there).

    People who attend meetings tend to be those that are angrier, as well as those that have more free time. That tends to favor the well to do home owner. After all, the people who benefit the most from a new apartment going in next door don’t even live in the neighborhood.

    Labor unions have very little power in the U. S. now. Meetings that once had some sort of balance between those that want to build (workers) and those that want things to stay the same (owners) no longer exist. At best you have those acting out of generosity, citing studies that show that restricting development makes it tougher on everyone else. Even those advocates have to deal with every other problem mentioned, such as the real possibility that a new development won’t actually lower the cost of rent, since it will simply become another playhouse for someone wealthy. Arguing for a liberalization of housing is very difficult when it is obvious that is not the biggest problem with housing in America, simply the easiest to fix.

    • Alon Levy

      A few points:

      1. Per Glaeser, restrictive zoning increases the volatility of housing prices rather than reducing them. This may seem at odds with where the locus of the 2000s’ housing bubble was, but as I understand it, New York -> Florida, California -> Nevada, and California -> Arizona migration volumes were so high that the restrictive zoning of New York and California exported high housing prices to these three states.

      2. Labor in New York is pretty strong, and in California is decently strong as well.

      3. If meetings aren’t representative of the population, don’t hold them.

      4. There is no sense in which Buffalo and Detroit, let alone the slave plantation owners’ export port of New Orleans, built the United States and New York, Boston, San Francisco, etc. didn’t. Being in decline does not make you more moral, being less educated doesn’t make you more moral, and having lower-value-added industry certainly doesn’t make you more moral.

      • Nilo

        New Orleans was really the midwesterners grain export port, which is a role it still performs today.

        Anyways the clear contrast isn’t between Buffalo and NYC in Ross’ post, but Buffalo and something like Dallas or Charlotte or Phoenix. The decline of midwestern cities IMO hasn’t been for the benefit of Coastal ones, but Sunbelt ones. You can see this within the midwest where its two sunbelt cities Indianapolis and Columbus have prospered as the traditional industrial areas of their states have declined. Similarly the parts of Chicago that were the least industrial have been the parts of Midwest that have held up the best.

        • Herbert

          Why has the German rust belt reversed its device while it seems terminal in the U.S.?

          • RossB

            Probably because Germany cares about its citizens. “Bush doesn’t care about Black people” could also apply to Nixon, Reagan, the other Bush, and the current president. You have a right wing party that wouldn’t dare spend money rebuilding the Rust Belt, and a left wing party running scared. I’m guessing that Germany doesn’t have those problems.

          • adirondacker12800

            It’s not terminal, it’s just not growing as fast as other parts of the country. I have a feeling your idea of the Rustbelt is somewhat different of what people thought the Rustbelt was in 1980. What was it in 1980 and what does that place look like now?

      • RossB

        1. Overall, yes. But for those areas that are wealthy and restrictively zoned, it reduces volatility (or more specifically reduces the chances that values will decrease suddenly — values increasing suddenly is common).

        2. In the home construction business though? Put it this way, the Boeing machinist union is powerful — I’ve seen them do some amazing things from a political standpoint. But if I show up at a zoning meeting, I doubt I’ll see anyone from the local union making the case that new construction means new middle class jobs.

        3. Preaching to the choir.

        4. I didn’t say “built the United States”. I said “built the world’s greatest middle class”. I could have said “defeated Nazi Germany and imperialist Japan”. By the middle of the war, the U. S. was outproducing every other country combined. This industrial might extended into the post war period, and enabled the rise of the great American middle class. It would not have been possible without cities like Detroit. To turn our back on those cities — in part because they are African American — is, in my opinion, immoral. It had more to do with the radical right wing policies that marked the end of that period (i. e. Ronald Reagan getting elected) and the subsequent stratification of wealth than any industry or city being of fundamentally lower value.

        Oh, and the University of Michigan is less than 60 kilometers from Detroit. I would hardly call it uneducated.

        • Alon Levy

          1. No, not even there. Cleveland and its suburbs are restrictively zoned and had a price collapse.

          2. The relevant unions supported SB 50. It just doesn’t matter on the local level, because local politics has no organized labor, only who personally knows the hierarchs and can show up at 3 in the afternoon to a meeting.

          4. Even that isn’t really right. Was there no middle class in Boston? In New York? Is there no middle class now in Tokyo or Osaka? In Frankfurt or Munich or Hamburg? And it’s not even really racial in the US, the Detroit region is one of the whitest major metropolitan areas and the rest of the non-Chicago Midwest is very white too.

          • adirondacker12800

            Other things can make housing prices collapse and combining small effects of two different ones can make a market crater. Any market. The concept of the price of oil going to zero has been around for a while.

    • adirondacker12800

      2008 wasn’t the first housing bubble and it’s unlikely it will be the last. it’s the usual suspects everytime. A few other places gave it whirl during one of booms and decided after the bust that stodgy old mortgage standards are good enough and perhaps there is something hinky going on if you want to borrow more than the appraised value of the property. we won’t allow that anymore. And they didn’t crash as bad.

  13. Christopher Cramer

    I believe our candidate-centered (as opposed to a party-centered) political system is to blame for a large share of the problem. We embrace an ethos where our politicians are supposed to be regular citizens, instead of professionals. This is enforced by requiring legislators to be residents of the places they represent, and the primary election system, where the local voters pick the party’s representative – often picking someone at odds with the party. Politicians (except for the few stars that are able to achieve national recognition) have to base their whole career on cultivating local support where they live.

    And the off-year elections that just about every city has (that nobody but the elderly vote in) make it so much worse.

    • Herbert

      Well kummulieren & panaschieren should in theory lead to a similar effect. They don’t in my experience…

    • adirondacker12800

      I assume silence is assent. If you don’t show up for an election I assume you don’t care about the candidates in it. Or you would have shown up.

  14. Herbert

    In Erlangen – a city of 110 000 people and 100 000 jobs as well as 40 000 university students – there was a referendum concurrent with the last European election. It was on whether a bunch of fields in the west of town adjacent to existing or already planned development should be surveyed more in-depth for eventual construction. That had been a consensus among all then relevant parties in the fifties, but a coalition of the agricultors on those lands, NIMBYs, self proclaimed environment protectors, the CSU (thus reversing their 1970s stance), the Left Party (!) opposed the project and ultimately defeated any idea of new construction for the foreseeable future. That in a city mind you whose housing costs approach those of Munich and which has a positive commute saldo (I.e. More commuters coming in than going out) with Nuremberg which is five times the size.

    At least the is still on track which will allow commuters from northern Nuremberg to directly take the tram to Erlangen instead of having to double back via the central station or drive…

  15. Lee Ratner

    Lots of different thoughts. The United States is obviously a big country in times of geographic size. Based on my informal reading, ever since the 19th century it is really hard to convince denizens of big geographic countries to live in dense places. They want to spread themselves out and act accordingly, especially if the country is affluent. The United States and Canada at least have dense/formerly dense cities. As far as I can tell, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa developed automobile style suburban sprawl long before the car was invented. British derived counties saw the single family home as the one true form of housing since the 19th century or earlier. Australian cities make a sunbelt metropolis look like Manhattan when it comes to density. They show no signs of chaining course.

    Another though is that the NIMBY coalition is a very hard to beat baptist-bootlegger coalition. Besides self-interested wealthy homeowners, you have a lot of minorities of various sorts that see cities as the homes of people living on the margins of American life. The American Left and Right see cities as a place where the “other”, meaning non-middle class straight White, and maybe Asian, people should live. The suburbs are for middle class Straight White, and maybe Asian, people in the American imagination. Therefore, cities have a powerful coalition to resist growth even if the baptist part of the coalition is shooting themselves in the foot.

    • adirondacker12800

      We became majority “urban” officially at the 1920 Census. Less than half of Americans were living someplace “rural”. And where do you think rural people live, in the loft of the barn or in what passes for a house at the time? Actual blacks and asians didn’t ask you and they are moving to the suburbs as fast as lower middle class whites did in the 50s.

    • Eric

      “Australian cities make a sunbelt metropolis look like Manhattan when it comes to density.”

      That’s not true. A quick glance at Google Maps shows that most Australian houses, while single family, are spaced very close to each other (like 5 meters). This is much more dense, not less dense, than sunbelt McMansions.

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