The Atlantic this week had an interesting article about the availability of housing for the middle class in liberal versus conservative cities. The gist of the article is that the more liberal a city is, the more expensive its housing stock is:
In a recent article, Kolko divided the largest cities into 32 “red” metros where Romney got more votes than Obama in 2012 (e.g. Houston), 40 “light-blue” markets where Obama won by fewer than 20 points (e.g. Austin), and 28 “dark-blue” metros where Obama won by more than 20 points (e.g. L.A., SF, NYC). Although all three housing groups faced similar declines in the recession and similar bounce-backs in the recovery, affordability remains a bigger problem in the bluest cities.
“Even after adjusting for differences of income, liberal markets tend to have higher income inequality and worse affordability,” Kolko said.
The article goes on to talk about how historic districts, building codes, and other restrictions on housing prevalent in liberal areas tends to reduce the amount of affordable housing for the middle class. This is certainly true. But while the article focuses on how politics affects the housing prices, it fails to look at the more interesting question – how housing prices affects politics.
Democrats often look at Republicans as being evil because they spurn many social programs and safety nets. They basically see the conservative mindset as “screw poor people.” Meanwhile, Republicans view Democrats as “takers” – basically people who want to take all the truckers, welders, and (insert manly job here)’s money and put it into a money tornado so welfare queens and Starbucks baristas can grab it.
But the difference between the two groups’ philosophies do not exist not because one has an “evil” gene and the other has a “lazy” gene – their different worldviews stem from the fact that they inhabit different worlds. The median home in Houston is $275,000, whereas the median home in San Francisco is $925,000.
While people in the red states watched Full House thinking it was a quirky tale about a home filled to the brim with more people than they could imagine (not to mention room for all those mullets and Dave Coulier’s terrible humor – cut.it.out.), people in modern day San Francisco wonder how the hell a TV anchor with Bob Saget’s personality could afford a $4.0 million house with so few roommates. In a truly full San Francisco house, an immigrant family would be sleeping under Michelle Tanner’s bed, with her exclaiming “You’ve got it dude!” every time their son Jawad asked her to stop jumping on the mattress so he could finish his schoolwork.
The differences in housing prices explains a lot about the current divide between the two parties. If you live in the area where two ambitious Chipotle workers can afford a house, you probably think poor people are lazy. If you live in an area where only Wall Street bankers and Snapchat heirs can afford houses, while even doctors and lawyers need to bunk up with sketchy craigslist roommates to make rent, then you probably think the poor need government assistance (either because you are struggling yourself or too rich to give a gold-plated rat’s ass).
Geography places a part in the disparity of opportunities between liberal and conservative states, but some blame must be placed on the fact that many of the regulations that Democrats put in place, even if they have good intentions, tend to make rich people stay rich and poor people stay poor. All regulations impose some cost and reduce output to a certain extent, and the more output is reduced the more the spoils will go to a tiny set of victors. That is not to say that regulations are bad. It is only to say that the differences in regulations produces differences in opportunities for the lower class, and that in turn shapes people’s opinions of the working poor.
Too much of today’s debate focuses on how different our politics are. Maybe we need to start thinking about how different our communities are.