Thursday, December 14, 2006

Thinking Beyond Stage 1

A few years back I read a book by Thomas Sowell that had a tremendous impact on my thinking. The book has a very boring title and I still don't know what possessed me to pick it up and read it. It is called "Applied Economics" and subtitled "Thinking Beyond Stage 1." I will apply some of what I learned in that book to address the problem of one pending government mandate requiring sprinkler systems in appartments with three or more units.

Stage 1 is quite attractive. Sprinkler units may save some lives. Who could oppose an initiative that could save an innocent child from dying in a fire?

Sowells book suggests that you think beyond this stage. What will happen when the cost of building apartment units goes up substantially while the cost of building single unit housing does not go up? Answer: Developers will build single unit housing because there will be more demand for it because of the less onerous mandates and costs. This will contribute to more sprall, more roads, more environmental damage, more gas consumption, more traffic deaths, more time lost in vehicles etc...

Where will the poor people live? Answer: Since the cost of multiple dwelling units will go up, they will be even more out of reach for the poor. The poor will be stuck in the multiple units that they are in now. Fewer new multiple housing units will be built, so the older ones (most likely grandfathered in with no sprinkler systems) will become somewhat more valuable as they face less competition from newer units. But the poor have limitted incomes with few options. Owners of the multi-unit apartments will have no incentive to improve their facilities (sound familiar?), because their tenants can't afford to pay extra for the improvements and because the landlords are protected, by the sprinkler law, from competition by new housing units. Thus the poor will be huddled in unsprinkled, deteriorating, overpriced housing.

So I oppose the new sprinkler law because it will segregate and endanger the poor while resulting in urban sprawl, overconsumption of gasoline, more traffic fatalities, more cash in the hands of Middle Eastern despots etc....

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