Freedom

Ezra's damn right about this. Go to pretty much any populated part of the United States, buy some land, and try to build something on it and you'll find that there are a lot of land-use restrictions in place. Some of these rules are good, some of them are bad (on balance I'd say we're over-regulated in this regard) but they're really all-pervasive. Then along comes the LA City Council to say you can't open a new fast food restaurant in South LA and libertarians and Will Saletan are freaking out. It's about freedom, damnit.

Well, it is on some level, but this is hardly unique. Is Saletan for abolishing liquor license regulations? Maybe he is. I don't think that's a crazy position but that would be a radical change in the way we do business. Banning fast food outlets, by contrast, is very much in line with the status quo. And though it might shock Saletan to hear about it, there are lots of upscale towns and neighborhoods all across the country that do the same thing.

Meanwhile, according to Wikipedia Saletan lives in Chevy Chase Maryland. According to the zoning regulations I downloaded from the Chevy Chase town website, it is illegal in Saletan's town to build a house on a lot of fewer than 6,000 square feet. It is also illegal to build a house that covers more than 35 percent of a lot. [UPDATE: I originally posted some erroneous math here, which you can read about in comments but I've now deleted]. This makes housing more expensive than it would be if you were allowed to use the land more intensive, or if you were allowed to slice lots up into smaller homes.

I'm pretty skeptical that these proposed South LA regulations will do any good. But it's not unique or unusual for land use regulations to exist. And working class people around the country suffer dramatically larger concrete harms from the sort of commonplace suburbanist regulations that Saletan's been living with, without apparent complaint, in Chevy Chase. Those kind of regulations are bad for the environment, bad for public health, and serve to use the power of the state to redistribute upwards. So if you're going to rail against land use regulations, maybe pick the ones that really hurt people.

Presented by

Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we still save the night sky?

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we still save the night sky?

Video

The Faces of #BlackLivesMatter

Scenes from a recent protest in New York City

Video

Desegregated, Yet Unequal

A short documentary about the legacy of Boston busing

Video

Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life

The Supreme Court justice talks gender equality and marriage.

Video

Social Media: The Video Game

What if the validation of your peers could "level up" your life?

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Politics

Just In