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Land that shouldn't be built on

A lot of land that shouldn't be built on is being used because the more choice land is being held off the market, unused or underused.  Owners are speculating on it, or underusing it, forcing others onto slippery hillsides, riverbanks, etc. 

Generally it is poor people who live on the land that shouldn't be built on, but sometimes it is the wealthiest members of our society, as in the case of barrier islands and hurricane-prone beaches.

Our wetlands need to be kept as wetlands, and not privatized as the object of land speculation or development which benefits the few and endangers many more.

If we fix the perverse incentives which cause good land to be underused and force some of us onto land that shouldn't be used, we will remove the distortions that cause many of our serious problems, including sprawl and poverty and the huge range of problems they cause.

Mason Gaffney: Economics in Support of Environmentalism
Looking for Mr. Goodbar
Here is how we get urban sprawl with leapfrogging. Remember the last time you moved and went househunting? You saw some mouthwatering homes, but they were not for sale. You had to find motivated sellers, and pick from what they offered. It's the same with builders. They scour the exurbs seeking motivated sellers. Ideally the most motivated sellers would line up by distance from the existing city, but the market is not ideal. Each seller is moved by his personal circumstances, not the geographical location.

Potential builders are little concerned with the social costs they might impose, so long as others are to bear them. Thus, they sometimes settle for and build

  • on steep lands (like Malibu Hills) with flammable brush and erosion problems,
  • on flood plains (like Victoria Woods subdivision in Riverside),
  • on soils subject to liquefaction in quakes (like Northridge),
  • in canyons and arroyos,
  • on lands with limited access for emergency equipment.
  • They even build on lands without water supply, even in arid southern California, then demand water and get it, secure in the knowledge that Sacramento rejected a recent move to ban development in areas with no assured water supply.... read the whole article


Mason Gaffney: Canada's System of Revenue Sharing

Hammer's Law

At the same time, in both countries you find something I will call Hammer's Law. This is not a carpenter's tool but again the name of a man, an economist in Missouri, who observed in 1935 that if you compared population to land values in the different counties of his State (in the very poor counties of the Ozarks the land was hard scrabble land of very little value, with the very rich lands in the north-western part of the State, which resembles Iowa) you found that the population density was much greater on the very poor land of the Ozarks than it was on the very rich land of the northwest. He took this to be a sign of market failure. Three years later the Establishment got to him and he said, well maybe I can rationalise this after all. But actually it's the American counterpart of the familiar pattern in the less developed countries where the flat land, the good flat land, is used for grazing cattle at a very low level of productivity, and the mass of the people in their minafundia are found on the hard scrabble land on the steep hill sides. I call it Hammer's Law of Market Failure where, because of the operation of the land market, whose evils we are so familiar with, you do not get the population distributed over the land in an economically rational manner, because of the tendency of the better land to be agglomerated into large holdings which are not optimumly developed. Comparing States, this results in the fact that a poor State like West Virginia has large numbers of people living on very poor land, and a wealthy State like Iowa (speaking now just of farming) has a small number of people on very good land. And this results in inter-jurisdictional equalisation problems. In Canada this takes the form of the Maritime provinces in the east being densely populated like the Ozarks and the wealthier, in a sense, western provinces being underpopulated. ... read the whole article


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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper