Can We Trust the State with Preservation?
By Gene Callahan and Julius Blumfeld
"Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, commenting on the controversy surrounding 980 Madison, sensibly noted that blocking the construction of new Manhattan residential space will result in housing costs being higher than they would be if the apartments were built. Wolfe's response demonstrates his ignorance of the fact that his pet cause entails very real costs: "[The proposed 980 Madison Avenue project] certainly isn't going to help the housing situation. Just more people who have the money will be able to move in" (Gillette, 2007, p. 21).I've argued this very same point in the past, as evidenced, here, here, and here that some people would like to have their cake and eat it too.
Wolfe apparently has never considered the fact that, when very rich people move into those new apartments, that will ease the demand for the residences they would have occupied otherwise, allowing the slightly less wealthy to acquire those spots. That, in turn, will free up the housing those people would otherwise have chosen, making them available to yet others, and so on. An increase in the housing stock at any price level will tend to lower housing costs in general, although, of course, that effect might always be offset or even swamped by some other factor working in the opposite direction.
Wolfe, not content with this first display of economic naïveté, continues, "To take [Glaeser's] theory to its logical conclusion would be to develop Central Park." Here, he confuses the recognition that action X would act towards lowering the cost of good Y to imply that, therefore, X must be done! Without a doubt, filling Central Park with apartment buildings would lower New York City rents. Similarly, butchering all of the dogs and cats in the United States for food would lower meat prices. But that in no way implies that either course of action is indisputably recommended. People quite sensibly prefer not to eat their pets, even though doing so would reduce their meal expenditures, just as New York City residents might prefer a bucolic respite in the midst of their urban environment, even given the higher housing costs that entails.
Glaeser is doing nothing more than noting that the elementary principles of supply and demand apply even to virtuous causes, while Wolfe, by refusing to concede such a basic truth, raises the suspicion that his campaign may have more to do with his public image than with concern for the greater good."
I guess it's just that some fiction writers have no grasp of reality.