In Which I Turn Into A Neoliberal Shill

This is not the most original post idea I’ve ever had, but this post by Matt Yglesias got me thinking, and I decided to just write it all down.

The basic argument is about the US Postal Service. This comes up all the time, as they go more and more broke, and I actually used to be on the other side. That is, I thought universal mail delivery was precisely the kind of thing that the private sector can’t or won’t provide, which created an opening – or even a necessary role – for the federal government. Yglesias’ argument is basically, sure, maybe that’s important, but it needs to be argued (rather than simply asserted) that universal delivery is an important goal.

Like I said, I have actually changed my position on this topic. At some point, I realized that I’m a pretty dedicated urbanist. My natural aesthetic preference is for people to live in cities, so my natural reaction to arguments about the USPS should be opposed to universal delivery. What difference does it make to me if people in rural places can’t get mail (easily)? Frankly, universal flat rate service to the hinterlands serves only to encourage people to keep living in the hinterlands. I don’t want that, as a matter of aesthetics, so why should I want government policy that encourages it?

Of course, as Yglesias would point out, this is really just the tip of the iceberg. The US has any number of policies, at both the federal and local levels, that encourage non-urban living. There’s the mortgage interest tax deduction that incentivizes larger houses (which are necessarily located away from cities where you can actually build a larger house), urban building height restrictions like those in my own DC homeland, mandatory parking minimums for new construction, zoning rules, the food truck wars, highway subsidies. Probably even agriculture subsidies, for all I know.

The point is, there is a vast network of subsidies and regulations that make rural life more economically attractive than it otherwise would be. And, as far as I can tell, all of these subsidies are built around nothing more than the exact opposite of my own aesthetic preference – i.e., that there is something beautiful or noble about living “out there”. Call it the American frontier spirit, I guess.

Anyway, I’m not really building to a grand conclusion here. I just think all of this policy is massively inefficient. Granted, there are policy options I favor that would encourage urban living – congestion pricing or highway tolls, gas taxes, increased emphasis on mixed-use development, mass transit subsidies, etc. Some of these I’m willing to argue on their economic or philosophical merits: Pigovian taxes correctly (or better) price externalities, it isn’t the state’s job to micro-manage land use. Others are substantially more aesthetic: mass transit has environmental and certain other health benefits, but mostly I just think driving everywhere is silly.

I know a lot of the Ordinary Gents around here are far, far less reflexively urban than I am, so I’m interested to hear some thoughts from them.

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386 thoughts on “In Which I Turn Into A Neoliberal Shill

  1. Working mail, like working phones, is a matter of national security. HOWEVER, we can deliver mail to rural areas once a WEEK. To their post office, not to everybody’s door.

    There. Solved problem. Legislate a longer billing time if necessary so that people don’t have to worry about bills arriving later than they need to be paid.

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    • Working mail, like working phones, is a matter of national security. HOWEVER, we can deliver mail to rural areas once a WEEK. To their post office, not to everybody’s door.

      I don’t understand how anyone could hold these two opinions simultaneously.

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      • Logistics? One delivers to centralized points, because they are more efficient. One then expects that one’s rural neighbors use the same transportation that they use to go to the market to go to the post office.

        Even the Amish have conveyances that would allow them to get to the local post office in a reasonable amount of time…

        A working telephone/internet service should provide for enough real-time communication. Post office is necessary for larger documents/billing/legal stuff (and maybe elections!)

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      • I’m not sure why you couldn’t.

        There are plausible reasons why you might want to be able to deliver mail to everyone in the country (in case you need to call up draftees in the event of war, for example). That doesn’t mean, though, that those reasons require you to do so every week (since can take multiple days to be delivered in any case, and training draftees into soldiers will take months, waiting a few extra days for draftees to receive their notices might not be a problem.

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  2. The Post Office is going the way of the overland canal. It’s a clearly obsolete technology that’s just waiting around to die. We should put it out of its misery immediately.

    To head off one likely objection, this would not be unconstitutional. Congress is authorized to operate post offices but is not required to do it. Much like issuing letters of marque (or even declaring war), they are allowed to let the power lapse if they so choose.

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    • I don’t think so. You can’t deliver medicine or other physical items through the internet and in rural areas, the Post Office is the only option.

      UPS and FedEx don’t deliver to rural areas and often hand over post offices for delivery.

      I live in San Francisco. Every now and then I order something on-line and have it sent to my office and the company decides to use UPS. UPS for reasons unknown to me decides to hand it over to the Post Office to deliver even though my office is in the height of downtown and not rural America.

      As I understand the main problems for the post-office are that they are required to make huge future payments to their health and pension funds in ways that other organizations are not. If you got rid of these requirements, the Post Office would be healthy.

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  3. You should look at why those laws, regulations and incentives were created in the first place. And the reason for that is massive immigration from rural areas to big cities back in the 50s.

    Big cities becoming ever bigger is a problem. In many places there simply isnt enough space to move around all that people with the current ‘amercian way of life’. You need efficient mass transportation systems, yet every american has a car and most of them will not use a subway or bus. You dont have more space to expand the internal roads of cities that were build 200 years ago. Having a lot of cars in a cramped space brings in plenty of health issues based on pollution and stress.

    Then you also have problems on the deserted areas. If no one is living within 100 miles of some area, that area is not going to be used for agriculture. Food is kind of important.

    The opportunity to earn big $ lies withing the big city, that by itself is incentive enough to emmigrate. If you take off all the modern facilities for the ‘Life on the Frontier’ as you call, then you WILL have people emmigrating to cities. You will have a lot of people coming to your big city, people that doesnt have the skills needed to earn the big $ that they want, and that indebted themselves by simply coming. You will end up with a lot of marginalized people with no income and no way to go back to where they came from. Go read up on Brazilian favelas (slums), especially on the state of São Paulo.

    Seriously. Go read up on Favelas on Brazil. You will quickly come to understand why it is a bad idea to just let people emmigrate to the cities and give them no incentive to stay on the rural areas.

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    • Then you also have problems on the deserted areas. If no one is living within 100 miles of some area, that area is not going to be used for agriculture. Food is kind of important.

      Good point. Small towns still serve as business centers for agricultural areas. Grain elevators and equipment dealers are kind of a must. And since we need roads for them….

      That’s not to say we may not have more roads than we need, but rural roads are a critical part of the infrastructure that keeps urban folks fed.

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    • Remo I must disagree with you on pretty much all of this.

      Big cities becoming even bigger are not necessarily a problem. Environmentally it’s an unabashed win. Urban living has far less of an impact on the environment that rural living does in pretty much every measurable way. We’re learning more and more every day about improving urban design. Sure some large cities, New York and Los Angeles, suffer from geographic pressures but the true plagues that prevent their being able to grow to accommodate more people is relatively banal scourges such as restrictive zoning and the plague of rent control (short of aerial bombing there’re few better ways to devastate a city than rent control).

      Your assertion that all Americans have cars and refuse to give them up is also incorrect. One of the current phenomena happening right now is that entire generations of young Americans are turning away from cars en masse. It certainly has the car manufacturers worried. With increased urbanization the pressures to institute practical mass transit grow and those mass transits can be instituted. Even if you don’t install subways or trains; busses, bike rental kiosks or simply less constrained taxi services can take up much of the slack. Additionally the internet has allowed services like car sharing which allow urban dwellers to use a car when they need one and be rid of it otherwise.

      The problems of deserted areas are, to put it gently, bunk. If formerly low productive farm land is allowed to convert back to wilderness I have only one reaction: Great! Concerns of food supply are, again, bunk. If the cost of food rises then farm land simply won’t be abandoned. There’s no short supply of people who want to make a living in a farm on the countryside. If food prices go up it simply makes it easier on them. Note also that we can import food to our big cities from abroad; it’d be helpful to less developed nations if we paid them to grow food instead of, say cocaine*.

      Brazilian slums are prime examples of what happens when supplies of private housing is constrained usually by moneyed private and elite interests in conjunction with government regulation. Fortunately the US isn’t generally so scholeric in real estate regulation that favelas can develop here**.

      No, I just don’t see any reason to view urbanization with anything but satisfaction. The countryside is not in danger of disappearing; it’s just reshaping and that’s to our societal and ecological benefit.

      *Note I oppose the screaming insanity of the drug war.
      ** Note also that favelas were initially caused by large masses of soldiers being discharged without jobs or housing prospects. This simply is not typical of the US army. We’re no shining beacon but we don’t treat out veterans that poorly en masse (why would anyone sign up if we did?).

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      • “Brazilian slums are prime examples of what happens when supplies of private housing is constrained usually by moneyed private and elite interests in conjunction with government regulation. ”

        What? The monied elite operating in conjunction with the government?

        Certainly no danger of that happening here!

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        • So far there’s been no danger of that. It requires some really impressive levels of corruption coupled with poverty to create a favelas style slum Liberty. I certainly am not sanguine about poverty but this country simply doesn’t operate at the level of poverty and population necessary to create a favelas.

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          • We also don’t make it impossible to gain legal title to property. That’s one of the problems in third-world slums–people will occupy the land because they need a place to live, but there’s reluctance to invest much in building decent housing if you can’t be assured of title to it.

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          • This must win some award for damning by faint praise: “Well, we aren’t as corrupt as Brazil!”

            We know from historical record that land use decisions are routinely made by a collusion of the monied elite- to their credit, libertarians speak the loudest about things like Kelo and whatnot.

            Poverty is rising;
            The influence of the monied elite is skyrocketing;
            Handing the police power of the state over to private interests is the primary strategy of governors from Florida to Michigan.

            Seriously-
            What stands between us and American Favela?

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            • Poverty is rising in relative terms, agreed. We’ve had a historic recession.

              That said I still doubt we’re in danger of American Favela’s. To have them we’d need for:
              -The monied elite to seize control of the government to a very remarkable degree.
              -The majority of privately held land to somehow come to be concentrated in the hands of the monied elite.
              -The current system of title and land ownership to essentially be stolen.
              -The military to be switched to a draft system.
              -A significant war.
              -A large discharge of impoverished soldiers into cities with heavily restricted housing with no ability to earn or buy land for their own homes.

              Considering the reactions of Americans to even decreased rates of quality of life increases I find this scenario… unlikely.

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        • Yes I will but I’m gonna put a little time into it. Last time I responded to you I accidentally ended up making one of my most commented upon guest posts to the League ever. So this time I’m gonna make sure it’s proof read. Stand by.

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        • Okay Rent Control Kazzy. Obviously you know what it’s about but for the edification of anyone else rent control boils to some level of government imposing a price ceiling on rental housing under its jurisdiction. Right now we have two categories of rent control: strong rent control where the price ceiling remains even if the tenant departs (strong rent control generally is the kind that can be inherited and passed down); and soft rent control where the price ceiling is allowed to adjust by a preordained amount, usually when a tenant departs and another moves in but occasionally this is permitted when one lease expires and a new one is signed. For the purposes of my little post we can consider both of these rent controls the same as pretty much all the criticisms that apply to strong rent control also apply to soft control just to a milder degree (soft rent control really just amounts to trying to apply lipstick to a pig of a policy to keep it popular).

          Keep in mind that I come at rent control from a (running dog) neoliberal perspective so I’m not going to talk too much about libertarian moral arguments involving people having a right to freedom of contract and sovereignty over their property etc… Just keep in mind that beyond my pragmatic complains there’s a whole constellation of libertarian moral objections to rent control as well.

          My primary and most fundamental objection to rent control is that it generally has failed to achieve the majority of the goals that it set out to solve and in the rare cases where rent control met its goal that goal was itself a bad (or at least non-positive) objective. I’m just going to structure this by stating intended goals of rent control and assessing its actual impact.

          A major asserted goal of rent control was to provide affordable low cost housing to the city’s more vulnerable lower classes. By restricting the ability of landlords to rents the price of the housing supply would be kept low. This of course has been an utter failure. The relentless law of supply and demand can’t be suspended by regulations this easily; since price has been frozen the remaining two variables (supply and demand) simply have adjusted to accommodate. What this looks like in the real world is that it’s very hard to find affordable rental housing in the rent controlled markets. If the price is clamped down then land lords have no incentive to construct new housing; who would want to when the return on the investment is so poor? As a result the supply of affordable housing has plummeted. In a non rent controlled market you can typically buy yourself a place to live if you have the money. In a rent controlled market on the other hand you pretty much can only get a place to live if you have a connection with someone who knows someone. So instead of providing an abundance of low cost housing rent control has caused a housing drought and people get houses by playing a game of cronyism and connecting hunting that makes the gritty business of negotiating rent from a landlord look downright wholesome in comparison.

          Rent control was also supposed to move renters closer to home owners in terms of their confidence in their home. A renter in a rent controlled apartment could make improvements to their unit and invest so called “sweat equity” without worrying that their landlord would evict them and seize the benefit or try and capture the improvement through raised rents. Here again rent control has been an utter failure. As the demand for housing has increased and as inflation and the natural increasing of the wealth of society occurred the frozen rents of rent controlled units went from strict to downright destructive. The maximum rents the building owners could collect were flat out unprofitable so, like any business owner, landlords simply stopped putting money into the buildings. Instead of communities of rent controlled buildings having tenants happily upgrading their units instead you have grim crumbling decades old buildings where tenants engage in a running war with building owners to force them to make minimum required maintenance. Rent controlled buildings are dated, dilapidated and run down. This also stresses the government’s building inspection department because tenants turn to government mandates to force improvements to their buildings.

          Another goal of rent control was to lend stability to the tenants. In this area it’s succeeded to their detriment. We have long since discovered that in a modern economy the ability to move around is a useful one but tenants in rent controlled apartments remain trapped clinging to their low rent residences even if it’d be helpful for them to be able to move. What this achievement of rent control has done is freeze the renters into the same destructive stasis as the building owners.

          In looking at rent control in, say, New York, what we see is that it has been devastatingly harmful to the very classes of people it was meant to help. Try landing yourself a modestly priced studio in downtown. You won’t find them unless you know someone. Instead of making an abundance of affordable housing for poor people it created no housing for poor people. Meanwhile the rich buy condos or they buy influence to get themselves a beautiful antique apartment in downtown Manhattan for fifty bucks a month.

          Rent control degrades regard for the law. How many of the people living in rent controlled units actually are adhering to the spirit of the laws creators? I submit not many. Most have long since divided up and sublet their units for obscene amounts of money or maintain it as a pleasant second home in the city to commute to from their larger homes on the periphery. In some cases renters simply stopped paying rent; why bother? Is cost so much to try and evict them the landlords didn’t even bother. Rent control also has transformed (especially in New York) into an instrument of profound NIMBYism. The extremely wealthy in New York have long since discovered they can join forces with the naive students and ideological liberal rent control advocates to enforce a form of stasis on the area. Now the wealthy can enjoy unobstructed views from their eight year old brownstones with no fear of new economically efficient high rise residential apartments rising up. As for the students and the poor; they can commute from Newark or sleep in boxes in the alley; perhaps their ideals will keep them warm.

          What rent control undermines is a fundamental classical liberal rule of money: it doesn’t matter who you are, if you have the money you can have the product. We forget at our peril that not very long ago there were places and things that you simply were not allowed to be or simply by virtue of who or what you were. Once upon a time you couldn’t wear certain clothes, ride a horse or carry a sword no matter how much money you had unless you were noble born. Once upon a time you couldn’t live or even walk through some neighborhoods no matter how much money you had unless you came from the proper class. Once upon a time you couldn’t get this service or obtain that good unless you had the right connections or knew someone who had the right connections.

          Rent control is hard to bust because so many people are invested in it where it takes root. The well connected the employee of the rent control board or the idealists in their ivory tower cares strongly about their cheap rent/sweet job/glowing sense of self accomplishment. Those who rent control hurts? Well first it’s hard for them to know how they’re being hurt: they can’t see the modest affordable apartment buildings rent control has caused not to be built. Second who would want to listen to them anyhow? They don’t live in the city, they don’t vote there. They commute in from three hours away. The politicians don’t care because they don’t need to.

          Rent control came about for very understandable reasons (really the same ones that birthed communism) the old classism’s and rich/poor divides (and rampant misbehaviors of the wealthy) produced a backlash and rent control was born from that legacy of abusive cruel generation of landlords. But the world’s changed and rent control has proven to be a mirage that has lingered long after the villains it purported to defeat were long dead. Even the liberals who once championed rent control have become uneasily aware of its failings so they try face saving tinkering. Soft rent control, allowing rents to adjust etc… but this is like trying to strap roller skates onto a person’s stumps after cutting off their legs; better to simply not cut off the legs in the first place. Rent control should be rooted out and repealed wherever it currently smothers cities and above all else it must be resisted anywhere people try and impose it (thankfully as far as I know it’s in mass retreat all across North America).

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          • Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap.

            Fantastically well done, Mr. North. Excellent. For those wanting to delve in further, here’s a classic policy brief on the topic. It gives some more details and some nice data, but in its essence doesn’t say anything more than North has already given us.

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          • Some questions and I am not necessarily saying this in terms of being pro-rent control:

            1. Is there any evidence (not theory, actual evidence) that markets without rent control would produce adequate and affordable housing for the working class/poor?

            Matt Y wrote about San Francisco needing new housing quick a few months ago. This might be true but can anyone provide any evidence that landlords and developers would want to cater to anyone other than the upper-middle professional classes. All of the new housing in the Bay Area seems targeted towards educated types in the tech industry. Maybe there is a lot of demand here but some of the less-educated workers in my office have commutes of three to four hours a day because that is where they can afford to live.

            What kind of housing policies will allow people with modest incomes to have shorter commutes? I know NYC tried to offer lucrative tax abatements to condo developers to create 80/20 buildings (20 percent for modest or law income residents) but the developers found it more profitable to just pay a fine or sum to the NYC Housing Department than actually create subsidized rents for a small portion of the building.

            2. On the mobility issue, I think this is more tricky. A lot of people don’t want to move because they don’t want to move. They are close to their friends, families, and loved ones even if there might be jobs in North Dakota or whereever. Or other reasons. This is where people in life care more than economics. Why should people be forced to uproot themselves from their families?

            Even for those of us who want to move, there are issues. I have strongly considered moving back to NYC. I’ve done some steps towards this like take and pass the NY Bar but I can’t move back without a job but getting a job seems to require being in NYC. This is not a simple trick. Many landlords also want proof of employment like pay stubs. I have a good bit of untouchable savings but the simple fact is that moving back to NYC would require a job first.

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            • On #1, yes, absolutely. See the Cato policy brief I linked to.

              The dynamic is essentially this: If there is rent-control, there are always certain exceptions, and they’re at the high end of the market, because nobody worries about controlling the rent for the rich. So if you’re a developer, you can’t make money at the low end of the market, you can only make money at the high end of the market. So high-end stuff gets built, low-end stuff doesn’t (except, then, by gov’t, as public housing).

              If there is no rent control, you can make returns even on low-end housing as well as high-end housing. Think of it like the car market–the automakers aren’t all making just luxury autos. There’s money to be made at the Ford Escort/Hyundai Accent end of the market. Restaurants likewise–we don’t just have variations of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, we have Joe’s Pizza Warehouse, too. And think of consumer goods–Wal Mart became the largest firm in the world not by targeting the high end, but the low end. There’s gold in them thar not-so-rich folks, and greedy developers will want to mine it.

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            • ND, I’m happy to answer as best I can bud. First off these are excellent questions, good on you.

              First keep in mind that if I recall correctly San Francisco is a soft rent controlled market so keep that in mind when you’re reading these items.
              Now to the meat of your post I would be inclined to agree with you that you’re not going to find a large number of developers sitting down and saying “Hey I’m gonna build us a mess of low income apartments” but what you will have is have a building owner sit down and say “Hey, that developer built a new apartment building. Very nice and swank. So a lot of people in the previous upscale building moved into it… then a lot of people moved into that building and so on. Now we have an older building and our options are to either renovate or market to price conscious renters”. Think of housing like a sliding scale of tiles. New upscale housing goes on “upscale” side and the existing buildings slide downwards. You’re not going to demolish a building generally until the cost of maintaining it to code is less than what you can rent it for or unless someone’s offering to build a new building on the site.

              What I’m saying is that in a non-rent controlled market the creation of new housing at the upscale end displaces buildings down and that’s where a lot of low income housing comes from. It is usually cheaper to rent to low income tenants than it is to tear down the building and start over.

              When talking about NYC it’s very important to keep in mind that everything that happened there occurred with hard rent control looming on the landscape. Keep in mind also that in the 60’s and 70’s people cut deals with the city to upgrade or build housing and then later administrations reneged and folded the buildings into rent control anyhow. The very presence of a rent control system is poisonous. It’s like leaving your kid out in the yard with the neighbors angry dangerous dog while you run an errand. Sure it’s leashed right now but what about in fifteen minutes when you can’t pick your kid back up? Building a building is a huge inflexible investment; you need to be confident of where you stand when you build it.

              2. Mobility is of course somewhat open to debate but having the option available is a big deal. One thing the mortgage crisis has shown us is how debilitating immobility is when people find themselves in depressed economies with an anchor I mean an underwater house on their ankle. But this is probably pretty much moot in the case of NYC. The social understanding of the time was that rent controlled residents would grow, develop and help their neighborhoods. Instead rent controlled residents turned into a multitude of tiny rapacious landlords just like the building owners rent control was supposed to defeat.

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              • I agree that mobility is important and that the financial/mortgage crisis showed us how bad immobility can be but there is more than being attached to a house that is worth less than paid for with a bad mortgage. I would say that home ownership has more to do with immobility than rent control. Most people I know with rent control in NYC are artist types who got their apartments decades ago. These people are often true bohemians and never going to leave New York.

                However this raises a lot more questions about home ownership than rent control. The idea that home ownership is bad is still very much a contrarian argument. Homeownership for better or for worse is still a corner of the American middle class/way of life. There was also questions about communities that are too residential/not economically diverse and too far from urban centers (hence preferences for urbanism by many policy and planning plates.)

                In the end though, most people are not nomads and want to settle down sooner rather than later. I imagine even in these days of easy traveling, many people do not move far from home or eventually come back.

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                • I understand it, I’d agree the mobility question is probably one of the weaker points in my post but this rent control thing in New York just created another class of privileged undeserving people. If we scorn the wealthy for living off the inherited wealth of their forbears then why wouldn’t we scorn the rent controlled apartment dweller for
                  A) smothering the growth of the core one of America’s greatest cities.
                  B) doing immeasurable harm to other people looking for homes (especially people at the lower end of the income spectrum) and
                  C) making typically a handsome profit off of it by dividing and subletting their rent controlled apartments in a way that spits in the very face of the principles that rent control was established. The authors of rent control didn’t do it to create a new subclass of tyrannical slum lords.

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          • Thanks, North. I had a hunch this was the general route you would take and appreicate the comprehensive analysis. RC is not something I’ve thought too much about, as I never lived in an RC building, not even when I was in Manhattan (it was below market value for other reasons).

            My father, living in a suburb of Manhattan, lives in an RC building (apparently my whole hometown in RC… Who knew?). Rent can only go up X% (Y% if certain utilities are included in the rent, with X > Y). Whenever I explain his situation or here my New Yorker friends living in RC buildings (often in violation of the spirit of the law), there is sort of a wink-and-nod tone. Sometimes, they’ll even remark how ridiculous it is that they pay so little, but, hey, they aren’t going to pass up a good deal.

            FWIW, the few convos I’ve had with folks about RC included the notion that RC was intended to help folks stay in their apartments, so they couldn’t get immediately priced out when a neighborhood gentrifies or whathaveyou. I’ve never heard it argued as explicitly protection for low-income housing. There seems to be a perception at least that RC is less a huge public policy thing and more just a nice thing to do… Dn’t chase old ladies out of their apartments s yuppies can move in. I wonder if that perception impacts its acceptance, both in terms of its goal and how effective it actually is to that end.

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            • I don’t know myself Kazzy, I’ve never had much facetime with RC as a phenomena in my own life. That said it’s entirely plausible that the program has many charismatic arguement and faces on its side. Entrenched interests always do. It’s a classic dichotomy. A strongly motivated and emotional minority supports it against an apathetic majority who both don’t recognize how it harms them and are displaced by it so they don’t have a voice in its survival.

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              • Seemingy by definition, folks know exactly and explicitly how RC helps them but rarely know specificaly how it harms them. Those on the plus side see their low rent payments every month. Those looking for housing rarely know which of a myriad of reasons is making it impossible to find a decent spot. Quite a predicament.

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                • Indeed, considering that it’s impressive how badly rent control has fared. It’s failed to spread and been steadily pushed back in many areas. In those areas where it hasn’t spread it’s been converted from hard rent control to soft rent control. I retain optimism that it’ll continue to retreat.

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          • In general, “soft” rent control distorts the market less than “hard” rent control, as North notes.

            However, there is an additional distortion associated with soft rent control specifically. Because landlords are able to raise the rent (albeit, often, to a limited degree) when a tenant moves out, but not, generally, as long as they remain, landlords will have an incentive to encourage tenants to move out. In addition to the obvious problem of bad faith evictions and reduced stability for renters in general, this adds to the problem of poor maintenance and minimal improvement North mentioned; not only are landlords unable to capture the value of their improvements in rent, but they actually have an incentive to make their property as unpleasant as possible for long-term tenants.

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      • Great points, North. Two really good reads on the cause of slums in Latin America cities are Hernando de Soto’s The Other Path, which has a great chapter on how the governments refused to make land available for housing and Jame’s Scott’s Seeing Like a State, which has a great chapter on how total top-down urban design pushed people into un-designed areas. (That’s not to rebut Blaise’s point about urban planning in Chicago/NY–some planning, to ensure open space in particular, is good; efforts to a priori plan every boulevard, plaza, and building, not so much.)

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  4. I’m an urbanist as well. I’m also someone who works 8-5, so actually using the Post Office is pretty much impossible.

    It should probably be phased out (rather than swiftly abolished), in order for a steadier transition to private entities, but definite, eventually, completely shut down.

    One thing that I’ve always wondered about: how much of Amazon’s operation benefits from the ungodly cheap media mail rates?

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    • Presumably a lot, I suspect. When my now-wife and I combined our households, I needed to dispense with something like 500 books (I was a bit of a packrat in my single life). Using Amazon as a shell for setting up my operation, the only way to make the whole thing profitable was to use media mail. Which I did, with gusto. And Amazon took their $2-3 for each and every book I sold.

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      • $2 – $3 per book? Seriously? That’s a pretty good take, especially considering how cheap some of the used books I’ve bought have been. (But imagine your search costs for finding customers without Amazon, right?)

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        • Yeah, it depends. Large-scale sellers can pay a flat rate that will cover all Amazon fees (annually, I think). So sellers who have thousands of books can essentially reduce their per-book fee to zero-ish.

          On individual sales, though, there’s a flat rate of around 99 cents, plus some percentage of the final sale (I’m quoting this from memory, so don’t hold me to these exact words). For me, as sort of a medium seller, it was marginal which method was more cost effective.

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    • Eh?

      It’s true the UPS store has marginally better hours, based on the one near to me (although 8-6 instead of 9-5 isn’t going to win any prizes for convenience either). But the post offices (the three of them that are closer or about as close to me as the single UPS store) do all have Saturday hours (as does the UPS store).

      And mail drop-off boxes don’t close at night.

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    • I’m also someone who works 8-5, so actually using the Post Office is pretty much impossible.

      There are none within walking distance of where you work? When I was working (more or less) 8:30-6, I managed to apply for a passport at the Post Office during my lunch hour, and still have time to grab a sandwich.

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  5. I’m with you on a lot of this, but you have something of a one-sided focus on subsidization of rural life. Is there similar subsidization of urban life? It’s a lot cheaper to pave over some farmland for a road than it is to build a subway line. Or consider the cost of Boston’s Big Did. And all public transportation is subsidized–god save the politician who proposes making customers pay the full freight of their bus service.

    I’m not saying urban residents are more subsidized than rural ones, and I agree that there are plenty of subsidies for rural living that I would support eliminating. But I think you’ve put more than just your thumb on the scale. (And how in the hell do food truck wars make rural life more attractive? We don’t have food trucks here, you know?)

    But what really gives me pause is that you base all this on your aesthetic preferences. I think there are a lot sounder bases for critiquing subsidies, but between your focus only on rural subsidies and your aesthetic preference for people to live in cities, I’m wondering if you don’t actually object to policies that make urban life artificially attractive? That conflicts, though, with your accurate claim that these policies are inefficient. So I’m left uncertain whether you’re seeking out efficiency or seeking to use policy to craft your aesthetic vision about the good life.

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    • My initial thoughts echo James’ final sentence. Your aesthetic preferences are yours, but I am not sure why you want to inflict them on others? This is an example of left leaning intolerance. The right is intolerant of people who don’t eat the right sexually oriented chicken parts, but the left has a subtle type of intolerance too. I can disagree with why others choose to live where they do, but why would I want to interfere?

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      • But James and Roger; the fact of the matter is that whatever liberals may think about rural living (and they generally are leery of it for very justified reasons*) public policy is very heavily geared towards subsidizing rural living and rural communities are much more heavily supported by government that urban living is on a per capita basis. Why on earth would you be frowning over this? It’s not like you’ve got a liberal here talking about using government force to compel urban living, they’re talking about removing distortive state policies. Shouldn’t this be a libertarian ticker tape parade moment?

        *Rural areas are the bastions of social attitudes liberals (and libertarians) generally dislike, ecologically they’re suboptimal, politically they’re overweighed.

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        • Ecologically they’re suboptimal only because of a large number of other factors.

          I know more than a few people who have worked out sustainable (or nearly so) homesteading. Admittedly, you can’t support a population of 300 million that way.

          But that begs the question of what’s the unsustainable part, the lifestyle, or the size of the overall population.

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          • Well yes, Pat, absolutely I’m talking about typical rural living not eco-homesteading.

            Maybe if you develop non-fossil fuel transportation you’d mitigate the ecology concern to a larger degree but right now with sewage disposal, water provision, power delivery and the raw brutal math of dragging the goods out there to live a typical rural lifestyle and then dragging the trash back, modern rural living as it is commonly practiced is ecologically a huge drain per capita compared to urban living. That’s without even talking about impact of the road you’re using to do all of this.

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        • North,

          I’m not yet persuaded that the subsidies for rural living are as great as people think. Yeah, roads and all, but they’re mostly funded by gas taxes, and commuters pay more in gas taxes. Shit removal? Urban folks have a flush and forget public septic system, truly rural folks have a pay-for-your-own septic tank. Water? Are you sure your water delivery isn’t subsidized? My brother’s well surely isn’t.

          I’m just not sure what the actual balance is, and I haven’t yet seen anyone else provide solid evidence of it, either. And is the issue really urban v. rural, or do we need to talk about suburbs, too?

          And, frankly, I’m skeptical about applauding removal of subsidies for rural living so long as we’re continuing whatever subsidies there are for urban living, because at that point there’s an equality issue as well. “You rural people are on your own, we’re only going to subsidize the urban folks,” is not exactly a policy to make my heart go all aflutter. Nor would the reverse.

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          • Electrical transportation costs, for one thing (I pay DOUBLE the electrical rate of people in the hinterlands of PA, because of their stinking subsidies). And we maintain too many roads in the middle of nowhere…

            I’m from Pennsylvania, when I speak of rural, I think of the meth population in small towns.

            Definitely need to throw in suburbs, as they’re a special case (and there’s multiple types of suburbs! some can function nearly-autonomously as small towns, and are designed that way. Others are purely car-based lifeforms).

            I DON”T mind rural communities, I in fact think it’s a good idea that we pay for their electricity!! BUT, I do want people to be aware that the costs are way more.

            Oh, postal costs are way more for outerlying people. I think per capita police may also be, dunno about that one??

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          • Yes roads are mostly paid for by gas taxes but what about utilities? My understanding is the government pays to helps electrify the countryside. Postal service of course and every other government service that is provided (including libertarian ok services like law enforcement etc) are much more costly to provide to rural areas. In this country rural areas are propped up with a lot of government make-work programs like military bases and the like. As for urban equivalents those are paid for generally on a municipal level through property taxes so I’m pretty skeptical about claims that urban utilities are subsidized. I’m actually drawing a bit of a blank on urban subsidies in general though I’m sure that they exist (and likely in proliferation). But even if cities are more heavily subsidized, well, that’s where all the people are. Now maybe I’m misremembering this but my recollection is that the revenue flows for the government in general on pretty much every level is positive out of urban areas and negative to the rural ones.

            When I read the original post what I got was a liberal saying “hmm maybe a reflexive support on my part for subsidies is contrary to my interests both on a practical and an aesthetic level. Maybe these subsidies actually should go.” Your response mildly (and Rogers to a greater degree) sounded like a round scolding for him having the chutzpa to tell people where to live even though he wasn’t suggesting any such affirmative policies.

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            • I’d actually challenge the notion that roads even are mainly paid by gas taxes – I’m pretty sure many/most states spend far, far more on transportation than their gas tax collections cover.
              In general, I’m really not aware of much in the way of true urban subsidies at all – other than maybe various federal block grants, perhaps? So, where’s the beef? What pro-urban subsidies do we need to publicly decry before we can be taken seriously?

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          • I recall readin gthis study
            http://books.google.com/books/about/Beyond_sprawl_new_patterns_of_growth_to.html?id=kW1PAAAAMAAJ
            Back in the 90’s, in which the Greenbelt Alliance and Bank of America teamed to study suburban sprawl.
            The conclusion was that suburban sprawl was inefficient since the long term cost of the infrastructure- initial cost, maintenance, replacement cost- was more than the tax base could sustain.
            I know we are really talking about the rural areas, but the concept is similar, that they can’t generate enough tax revenue to be self-sustaining.
            Obviously a pretty broad blanket, but in my experience its more true than not.

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              • Farming is not a matter of national security. A more secure basis for food supply is to unilaterally abolish all trade restrictions on food. In fact the local drought in Amrica shows how insecure relying on your own farming industry to supply your food needs is.

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        • Lets look at what subsidizations exist, taking both were I used to live in a Houston Suburb and in the rural Hill country as examples. First in both cases the streets were built by the developers. In Houston a municipal utility district build the water and sewer network, in the Hill Country it is a private water system and septic tanks. Electric and telephone are done by self supporting organizations either private or city/coop owned. Trash pickup is charged for separately. In the Hill Country we have the cluster mailbox concept which in addition gives one a locked mail box. In addition we pay a tax in the hill country for lateral roads. In addition of course highways in the country cost far far less than urban freeways.

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        • Yeah, you know neither of us said “you base all this on your aesthetic preferences,” now did we (despite your use of quotation marks, which implies you’re directly quoting us). What we said was we’re uncomfortable with basing policy on aesthetic preferences, which means we were focusing on that part, not the whole.

          If you want to read, and mis-quote, as us saying you’re basing it “all” on your aesthetic preferences, that’s on you.

          For christ’s sake, my first comment began, “I’m with you on a lot of this…” If you’re going to bitch about not recognizing where we agree, then take the frickin’ log out of your eye, eh?

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            • OK, mea culpa. Bad writing on my part.

              But, dude, you really seem to be looking to take offense at the fact that libertarians aren’t praising you as much as you think you deserve. I’m happy to side with you as far as we’re actually side-by-side, but you keep emphasizing the areas where we aren’t side by side then getting huffy when we take note of your warnings.

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              • Well tempertures have been running high on the liberal/libertarian border lately, especially since the Cole volt face on sugar subsidies post. Perhaps the only lessed to draw is that we should all strive to read each others musings with more charity? I know I could stand to.

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                • I will admit that the Cole thing is what has me so on edge. He wrote something agreeing with libertarians, for libertarian reasons, and was castigated for failing to do so quickly enough or for not also doing something else. It was the exact opposite of good faith, and it pissed me off.

                  But yeah, I clearly owe James more good faith than I’m giving here.

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                • No, I didn’t mischaracterize what you wrote; I typed a poor sentence that you in you in your turn read uncharitably, ignoring other parts of my comment. Lots of blame to go around, but I clearly indicated support for the extent to which you focused on the efficiency argument, and all I really said was “I’m uncertain whether you’re seeking out efficiency… or craft[ing] your aesthetic vision” What a s**tty thing for me to express my uncertainty about your purpose and to suspect that your motivations weren’t my motivations.

                  The hell with it. It’s your post; sorry to have gotten involved with it and helped turn things ugly. Sincerely sorry. I’ll bow out now as I’m actually more irritated, and further involvement on my part is just likely to keep it ugly.

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      • I think he’s noting his aesthetic preferences in the spirit of candor, and throwing the question out to people who may not share his aesthetics in order to figure out whether they are unnecessarily clouding his judgment on the wisdom of the policies.

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    • ALL transportation is subsidized. The “full freight” of bus service is MILLIONS less than the “full freight” of the equivalent number of cars needed to transport the same number of people to work.

      Urban living costs a HELL of a lot less to the taxpayer than Rural or Exurb living.

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    • I tried to be honest in the post that I was doing both things. Maybe that didn’t come across.

      Like I said, I think there are things that encourage urban living that I would argue are objectively economically justifiable – congestion pricing, carbon taxes, leaving land-use decisions up to (or more up to) the land owners – and there are others that really are just my preferences – public transit subsidies were explicitly called out.

      My point with the food truck wars, which was left as an exercise for the reader for some reason I can’t explain, is that they’re part of an overall zoning approach that distorts urban life for the worse. That is, like other kinds of zoning or exclusionary regulations, they make urban life less attractive (or maybe just different, depending on your preferences about food trucks) than it would be in the absence of those regulations. Granted, that doesn’t make people go running to the hills for the food truck bounty to be found there, but it does change the characteristics of urban life in a way that, on the margin, makes people enjoy urban life less than they would in the counterfactual case. (This argument relies on the fact that food trucks appear to be profitable and popular, so the revealed preferences of urbanites indicate that food trucks are a net positive for urban life.)

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      • I tried to be honest in the post that I was doing both things. Maybe that didn’t come across.

        OK, thanks for the clarification. Obviously I’m fine with the one part, but not the other. In all honesty I just can’t see how using inefficient policies to move others towards one’s purely aesthetic preferences could ever be justified. Then again, I like public libraries and museums, so….

        I’m not fully persuaded by your food trucks argument (I’d put a lot of weight on “doesn’t make people go running for the hills”), but I am very pro-food truck, and the wars are an issue I’ve followed with some interest. It’s fascinating on multiple levels: it’s about foodies, about rent-seeking and competition, about externalities, and about ethnicity and class, all at the same time. Someone with the right talents could right an awesome social study of the issue, although it might be a project that needs more time to pass before it could be properly completed.

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        • Since you watch them so closely let me ask for your opinion. Are food trucks primarily caused by the regulatory cost of restaurant operation or is the prime motivator one of the capital cost of occupying a restaurant space? Or is it something else?
          My point being are food trucks a sign of a distortion or are they just a natural consequence of increasing land value and population density?

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          • I think that’s a part of it, but I think there are other factors, too. First let me note that there are at least two categories of food trucks: there are the snack/workday lunch ones, and then there are the specialty foods ones, offering higher-quality ethnic foods, which are more likely to show up where people gather in the evening.

            For the first, I think the time-limited nature of demand for snack/lunch service is the major issue. E.g., I used to work in at a place in the San Fernando Valley where the closest restaurant required getting in the car and driving, so the the food trucks would roll into the parking lots during break times and lunch hours. Of course in dense urban cores, where most of the “wars” take place, there are places available, but some folks like what they get from the trucks, or at least like them as an alternative to choosing between McDonalds and Wendy’s yet again. But a successful food truck in that situation maybe could be a successful restaurant, and that’s where land costs probably come into play.

            But with the specialty food trucks, I think part of the issue is the nature of craftsmen. They want to engage in their craft, they don’t want to find themselves managing others who do all the craftwork. So for some of them I think the food truck is a perfect solution; they can focus on cooking their specialty foods, rather than trying to manage a staff and maintain facilities. They get to be entrepreneurs who keep their business to the level they’re comfortable with. There are some nice wars concerning these guys, too. Santa Clarita, CA, an L.A. suburb, wants to keep these guys out, but occasionally all those “in the know” somehow coordinate on a time and place and all the specialty food trucks congregate there, and the foodies who find it tremendously frustrating to live in a suburb with mostly chain restaurants can get their eatin’ gig on. Then the local restaurants and politicos go nuts. Rinse and repeat.

            And of course these two types aren’t mutually exclusive categories, but surely have some overlap.

            And of course this is all casual observation and I could be full of s**t about it.

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        • ” In all honesty I just can’t see how using inefficient policies to move others towards one’s purely aesthetic preferences could ever be justified. Then again, I like public libraries and museums, so….”

          I know there was a discussion TLoOG about HOAs a while back, but I don’t remember any one commenter’s exact position on it, other that there seemed to be a general consensus from the libertarians that HOA’s were a-ok. HOA’s are the very definition of policies based on aesthetic preferences.

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    • Also, seriously, this is what people went crazy about with you yesterday. It’s not enough for you that I support any number of things that would move overall US policy in a more libertarian direction; I have to do so for the right reasons (i.e., James Hanley’s reasons) too, or none of it counts.

      It’s just utterly infuriating.

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      • Sorry to infuriate you, but it’s actually the reasons that matter more than the specific policies. If someone supports an end to a tariff on X only because there’s a current shortage of X, then that’s a person who I can’t actually rely on as a policy ally because as soon as there’s a surplus of X they may be advocating for the reinstatement of the tariff.

        Likewise, if you support more efficient policies only as they apply to rural life, but back off them when it comes to urban life, then you aren’t a reliably policy ally on more efficient policies in general.

        I’m not sure why this is infuriating. Let’s say you’re a pacifist, and you’ve been protesting the Iraq war, and I’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with you in condemning it. Then the U.S. invades, say, Colombia. Again you protest, and I go, “eh, screw the Colombians; I only protested the Iraq war because I’m an Arabophile.” Are you willing to tell me the reasons for my opposition to the Iraq war wouldn’t be relevant?

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        • Isn’t this a somewhat worrying line of reasoning when extended to, say, your position on tax rates or the welfare state? It seems to me that you’re going after Liberals for agreeing with you for the wrong reasons, but when AEI agrees with you on global warming or when downscale white voters in Alabama agree with you on opposing the ACA, or when Bobby Jindal agrees with you on school choice, there’s not the same hostility.

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          • Don,

            I can’t speak to the first two issues, but let me focus on Bobby Jindal on school choice. On the one hand, I can actually count on him as an ally, even though some of his purposes differ. He’s not likely to turn around and oppose school choice. On the other, he appears to want to turn it into public support for religion, and I do have a big problem with that.

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            • Well I would contend that, because school choice appears to be a stalking horse for state-funded Christian madrasas in Louisiana, you can’t count on him as an ally at all; or at least you it looks like he’s a much less reliable ally there than, say, North or Ryan are when it comes to sugar tariffs.

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        • Ehhhhh, there’s a lot of nuance here.

          A) If you stood shoulder to shoulder with me on some particular issue for wrong reasons, I wouldn’t throw your support in your face. “Oh, sure, you’re totally right about this, but you’re still an asshole, so go away” is just bad politics and bad form, all around. Obviously, there is further nuance to this as well, so I don’t want to get into the weeds. We’d be there all day.

          B) As I’ve said, I think you and Roger are trying overly hard to make my reasoning fit a caricature you both have in your heads. I explicitly call out the inefficiencies and market distortions of the policies I’m against, but because I’m also honest enough to admit the ways in which my personal preferences influence me, anything I’ve said about economics is just completely discounted. Not only that, but I even admit that I have personal preferences for policies I can’t necessarily justify on the very grounds I’m criticizing other things! I didn’t try to hide that fact, which I could have done, so I’m beaten up for it. Maybe next time I’ll just pretend everything I want in the world is the most economically efficient thing possible, and then at least you’ll have a reason for toting out the old “you liberals don’t know anything about economics” line.

          I’ve used this twice in two days now, but my grandmother always used to say, “Quit your crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

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          • Well, speaking of caricatures, that “you’re still an asshole so go away” line is nothing but caricature. For fuck’s sake, I’ve spent most of the last two days complaining about liberals agreeing with us on issues but saying, “but that’s not my priority, so I’m not going to join in your effort.” As I said, that’s a legitimate position. But if I’m complaining that you’re not joining me on issues where we agree, how the hell does that get reinterpreted as “go away?”

            And “everything” you say about economics “is discounted?” Seriously, after I wrote:
            “OK, thanks for the clarification. Obviously I’m fine with the one part, but not the other. In all honesty I just can’t see how using inefficient policies to move others towards one’s purely aesthetic preferences could ever be justified. Then again, I like public libraries and museums, so….”

            I emphasize that I’m fine with the economic part, then admit to maybe supporting some inefficient policies myself, and you still think I’m somehow ignoring your economic arguments just to focus on how wicked you are for not being sinless? It begins to look like you’re so determined to be insulted, or so dead certain that you will be, that you’re going to insist on reading it as pure insult, regardless of what’s there.

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            • Sorry, I think there’s a sense in which we’re talking past each other. I wrote that comment still stinging from the initial rebuke, which I thought was about 85% unwarranted, so it came off a little less nice than it should have. That’s on me, and I apologize.

              That said, I do think that my decision to take time out of my day to write an unsolicited blog post arguing, mostly on your own terms, for policy you support is probably not a good example of liberals agreeing with you but not wanting to put skin in the game. It would help everyone if we were all less spiky at these moments.

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              • You took my first comment as a stinging rebuke? Well, perhaps the “thumb on the scale” comment was a bit sharp. But the bulk of your post, even on re-read, does seem to focus on subsidization of rural life and your personal preference for urban life. And urban subsidies are admitted, but not critiqued–they’re either Pigouvian or aesthetically justified. That seems to be your position, but you seem to object to it being pointed out that it seems to be your position.

                Honestly, I’m just confused now. You’re a good guy, but we sure as hell don’t seem to be able to communicate with each other.

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                • I thought it was an unnecessary rebuke. I wrote this post about how much I think rural subsidies are unjustifiable, especially because they’re inefficient, then I had what I took to be the grace to say that my own preferences are a hodgepodge of things that I think are justifiable and things that are much more aesthetically-grounded, and your very first response was essentially, “We sort of agree, but I don’t trust you.” Maybe that’s not “stinging”, but it sure didn’t make me feel like I wanted to find common ground with libertarians any time soon.

                  James Vonder Haar’s comment was a pretty good elucidation of what I was attempting with this post.

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                  • Just be glad Jay Bird (with Roger and James concurring) hasn’t said that you love Beria and you probably helped him murder some Russian chicks after you and Bill Clinton covered up the Vince Foster murder. Oh, and he’s only accusing you of that because its somehow related to your point about neoliberalism that he won’t respond to.

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    • Speaking of aesthetic preferences.

      I also really like urban living, public transportation, and walkable neighborhoods.

      However, I don’t want urban living to resemble something like Seoul in South Korea where everyone lives in really large and anonymous concrete buildings or the hell sprawl that is Los Angeles (though Venice Beach and other parts are very nice).

      My preferred urbanism as always been low-rise urbanism. The kind you see in Brownstone Brooklyn, San Francisco, parts of Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Boston/Cambridge, Philadelphia, etc.

      I often get the sense from Matt Y that he would rid this all down.

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      • I like small town urbanism. Where you basically pile enough little small towns, each with their own character, and single/dual family unit dwellings (along with some condos apartments) into a city.

        Less efficient? surely. but you’ll get tons more americans to move into a single family dwelling (witness the ones in batman)…

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      • I also really like urban living, public transportation, and walkable neighborhoods.

        Based on your pseudonym, I’m sure that your aware that one of the decisions made as part of the New Deal (at the federal level) and a variety of follow-on state regulations, there was a conscious decision that rural Americans would not be condemned to a second-class lifestyle. Not just the programs that almost guaranteed that farming would be a profitable undertaking such as price supports, guaranteed markets, and limits on overall production, but rural electriciation. At the state level, subsidies for telephone service, roads, and increasingly over the last few decades, public education.

        I’m not complaining about the programs per se. I do complain regularly about small farmer/ranchers like my brother-in-law who complain bitterly about the “burden” of the federal government, without acknowledging that much of rural access to contemporary tech and lifestyle depends heavily on federal and state enforcement of subsidies flowing from urban/suburban to rural. I live in the West, so I say “urban/suburban”; in much of the Eastern half of the country, it may be less clear about the urban cores sending wealth to the rural areas.

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  6. Libertarian confession time.

    I’ve never been displeased with the US postal service. I am serious. I can’t believe they do such a good job of delivering pieces of paper all over the country for such a small amount of money. My local branch is staffed with courteous, smiling people, lines are short, service is pretty good, if not state of the art.

    I think competition will make them better and more efficient, but am I the only person in the US that doesn’t share this revulsion of the UPS?

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    • No, I think the USPS does a masterful job given the constraints in which they have to operate. They are a testament to the effectiveness of well-designed public institutions.

      On the other hand, they are increasingly unnecessary and a financial drag on the overall federal budget. They also, as I’ve attempted to outline in my post, distort incentives in ways that I think are basically unhelpful. That doesn’t make them bad at their jobs.

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      • Whenever this topic comes up, I notice that folks like the ones on this site and like me (urban professional types) who wouldn’t be hurt by the ending of the service argue pretty abstractly how unnecessary, old hat, and non cutting edge it all is, while the people who really need it cry bloody murder. I still have relatives out in the boonies, and stuff like wireless access and reliable transportation to some central hub (especially in blazing Southern heat) aren’t exactly universally available. Mail collection under those circumstances becomes at best significantly more inconvenient and at worst exacts a daily toll on the physically vulnerable that over the long haul compromises their lives. I have never heard weighed against that a convincing demonstration that the existence of the USPS is so fiscally devastating to the US government that it must be abandoned.

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          • You do realize that rural broadband is pretty heavily subsidized as well, correct? I live in an area that was one of the first in the country to get fiber-to-the-home broadband. And I live where people who live in flyover country call drive-through country.

            That didn’t happen by the free-market. (But it’s still pretty cool for us.)

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            • I do, in fact, realize that. I’m probably opposed to those subsidies as well, to some extent!

              I’m well aware that rural subsidies have improved the quality of rural life in lots of ways. There are good arguments that they are ultimately worth it for those reasons, but my starting position is that if we didn’t have those subsidies in the first place, people would stop living in those rural places and we wouldn’t have to care all that much about the quality of rural life. On some level, that assumption is almost certainly false.

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              • People would still live in rural areas. People need to eat and that’s where the farmland is. And so there will always be farmers and ranchers to fill that niche. And then you need other businesses to serve the farmers and still more to serve those people. So you naturally have a complete local economy.

                It’s just that without the net subsidies to the rural areas life would be more expensive, like it currently is in Alaska and Hawaii. And you notice that neither of those states has been evacuated either. And if rural life is more expensive that’s going to show up in the prices of food paid by the urban dwellers who generally have no fucking clue or interest in where the stuff they buy in the stores actually comes from or how it gets there.

                Such a situation may be more economically efficient but then you have to step back and ask who decided that economic efficiency was the highest moral value in society. In fact I would contend that the libertarian/free-marketer that decries aesthetics vs. economic efficiency in public policy is in a meta- sense herself making an aesthetic judgement.

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                  • Ryan and Rod,

                    Interesting angle on the conversation.

                    My short answer is that I would substitute the word aesthetic for values. I would then ask what peoples values are and how they can go about realizing them in ways which minimize conflict and battles and which optimize the power of cooperation. That leads in many cases, though not all, to the realm of economics.

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                    • Surprised nobody engaged on this sub thread…

                      Economic efficiency, in other words, is a path to achieve aesthetic preferences, just as logic is a path to arrive at valid inferences.

                      Ryan, would you care to expound on the your ethical commitments are based upon aesthetics?

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                    • It’s not terribly deep. It’s just that a lot of the ethical commitments we make are grounded in some idea of what we want the world to look/be like. They are fundamentally an aesthetic judgment about where we want to end up, and we build an ethical philosophy on top of that to get us to the end-state. Again, not particularly deep.

                      I liked Rod’s mini-argument that libertarian insistence on economic efficiency has a large aesthetic component. It corresponded with my own ideas about these kinds of arguments.

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        • Would you mind a 1 day a week delivery, provided paying of bills (and other legal stuff) wasn’t compromised?
          Hell, I’m the liberal on the damn board! I don’t mind an “access” sort of thing, where the truly old get some sort of public help to get to the post office.
          And I don’t mind making more post offices!!

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    • No, not even the only libertarian. I’m with you on this one.

      That said, I’m not persuaded it’s necessary anymore. My daily mail take consists almost solely of bills that could be handled electronically and junkmail that I would prefer not to get.

      I’m sure the last buggy whip makers were making a good product at a good price with good service, too.

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        • It’s certainly true that reliance upon USPS is heavily integrated into most legal systems. Initial service of process — starting a lawsuit and using compulsory means to require a defendant to participate in it — is typically not done through the mail. But nearly every other kind of service is. Whenever I file something with a court a copy of that thing must be given to all of the other parties in the case, and the U.S. Mail is the usual way that happens.

          But, in Federal courts, things are different and have been for a few years now. Most filings are done electronically and service of the filings is done concurrent with the filings. The Court maintains a master e-mail list of lawyers or parties to the case, and so when I file something with the Court through its online filing system, the Court’s computer sends copies of that to everyone on the case’s e-mail list.

          This does not eliminate the need for mail. Documents must be exchanged between the parties that are not filed with the Court — most notably discovery. Anyone who has been through litigation knows that discovery is the most paper-intensive portion of the case; in Federal litigation both sides to a case can easily exchange thousands of documents and the Court doesn’t want them. Sometimes I can agree with the other side to produce these things electronically and then it’s a CD or a thumb drive that goes back and forth rather than bankers’ boxes worth of paper. But you still have to get that object from one office to the other, and USPS is by far the most cost-efficient way to do that. (You might be able to figure out why lawyers are a little bit dicey about opening up FTP connections into their office’s computer networks.)

          There is no particular reason that it has to be that way, though. It’s as much a matter of expense and convenience, institutionalized into the law at the request of those who practice it, as anything else. Should other means of providing notice and process become available and efficient, those means will find their way into the way lawyers do business with one another. FedEx or UPS are still significantly expensive compared to USPS because USPS holds a statutory monopoly on first-class mail. If I could send my pleadings to my adversary by FedEx for fifty cents or so, I would not hesitate to do so. As it is, I only use FedEx or UPS when one- or two-day delivery is necessary, and I (often meaning my clients) pay a premium for that service.

          So — if the statutory monopoly on first-class mail were to be broken, and a competitor were able to provide functionally delivery serivce at a rate competitive with what the USPS offers, then I’ve little doubt that the law would adapt to that new reality in reasonably short order.

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      • It’s true that the majority of my mail consists of junk. But, heck, the majority of my personal email is spam or semi-spam, too.

        I wouldn’t say there’s no use for it just yet. I recently had to get my dental records shifted to a new dentist (and not just from my old dentist, also from the surgeon who removed my wisdom teeth a decade ago). They wanted confirmation in writing (and not email). I could have used a fax, I suppose, but mail was the most convenient way to do it.

        And while I pay my credit cards electronically, I receive the cards themselves via the mail.

        None of this requires daily mail service, of course.

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      • Post Office can do well if they do the following:

        -Eliminate Saturday mail
        -Convert most home delivery in many communities to delivery to a local PO Box, presumably near local grocery store. (How its done where I’m from.)
        -Allow post offices to expand into more retail than just money orders (they need approval to do this, sadly):
        -Increase price of stamps (seriously, what costs less than 99 cents these days?)
        -Change rules on Post Office control over its pensions

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        • Dude, if the mail carrier doesn’t walk up my sidewalk and up the steps to the mailbox on my porch, the USPS is a failed government bureaucracy!

          Seriously, though, I love the fact that I can get my junk mail without actually stepping all the way outside my house, but it does seem a little inefficient from a delivery perspective, doesn’t it?

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            • And to boot the community mail box gives one a locked box, so that mail theft is more difficult than the middle urban step of a rural mail box at the curb (That came in after they stopped door to door in new developments. This was to save costs so the carrier stayed in his van. Now why the post office can not go to community mailboxes in grandfathered areas is not clear, postmen still walk beats in many areas getting bitten by dogs and the like.

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              • Probably to prevent the residents from crying bloody murder. Community mailboxes may be safer, but they’re less convenient. To each their own, but I’d prefer take my chances than have to walk down the street. Out of curiosity, is there any reason you can’t replace your curb mailbox with one that locks?

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                • The community mailboxes I’ve seen are built so the whole front is like a big door with a bunch of little doors built into it. So the mail carrier just has to unlock the big door, swing it open, put the mail in each slot, and then shut it up again. Then the resident can only open his own little door to his slot.

                  I suppose all the community mailboxes on a route could be keyed the same so the mail carrier only has to have one key for the entire route. But to try to do something like that for individual curb boxes… sounds like a logistical nightmare. Can you imagine the keyring the guy would have to carry around?

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                  • I was thinking of something slightly different. Basically, a hole large enough to drop mail into, but hard to put your hand inside. Like they do for the slots that sometimes exist on doors. So that the mailcarrier wouldn’t have to unlock anything.

                    (Outgoing mail would be an issue, though I’ve always dropped outgoing mail off at public boxes anyway.)

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          • Oh, and it’s illegal for anyone but the USPS to place items in mailboxes, so companies can’t pay teenagers to put ads in your mailbox. And it also means that along rural roads in the U.S., everyone has a mailbox–plenty large enough to hold the newspaper as well as the day’s junk mail–and right underneath or next to it completely superfluous newspaper box.

            But at least we can have fish mailboxes.

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                • If I’m back home at my mom’s house, my dad will sometimes bring me homemade turkey soup (my parents are separated). My parents relationship is fairly amicable and they actually live around the corner of each other, but they don’t go out of their way to see each other and my dad is a bit socially awkward, to say the least. So he often leaves the soup, in sealed containers themselves placed in bags, in the mailbox. And it is delicious.

                  You all, on the other hand, should now be forewarned about soupbombs in your mailboxes. They will, naturally, be placed there legally via an official representative of the USPS.

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              • Unlikely, but he could be fined if you complained.

                Now if he puts a pipe-bomb in your mailbox, jail’s a real possibility. And now that you’re living out in the country, the ol’ pipe bomb in the mailbox potential of your life has increased exponentially (maybe not from your dad, but from some local adolescents).

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                • The Post Office lady actually told us what we REALLY needed to worry about was mailbox baseball. Which I had assumed only happened in 80’s movies.

                  Then again, this was the Post Office lady who spent 20 minutes hemming and hawing over the official place we had to place our mailbox… which turned out to be across the street from the mailbox that we already owned but hadn’t realized was ours. Had we put the mailbox where she said to, we would have received no mail, as all boxes are on one side of the street so the delivery person can do one pass.

                  Of course, all of THAT was news to me since I grew up in an area where your mailbox was attached to the home and the mailmen actually walked up to your door and placed the mail in and, if you had a big picture, he’d even ring your bell to give you a heads up. It’s like everyone else is living prehistorically…

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                  • Oh, yeah, mailbox baseball is real. Legend has it that a guy not far from our town, sick of having his mailboxes destroyed, put his mailbox on a pivot, with a heavy metal object, like a mace, hanging from a chain on the back end of it. The next time someone tried for a home run, the device swung around and the metal object smacked the car. Sounds too good to be true, but I don’t really know. I have seen mailboxes surrounded by brick or iron pipe to deter the sport.

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              • No, that’s not quite it. I can take my mailbox and smash it, or take it out to my friend’s farm in the country and blow it up. I could fill it with concrete and leave it hanging up, just to puzzle the hell out of my mail lady. But I can’t legally deliver anything to Kazzy’s mailbox.

                The purpose is not to control the mailboxes themselves, but to limit first-class mail competition with the U.S. postal service. So I can write a letter to Kazzy and print out two copies, put one in a USPS envelope with stamps, and put the other in an overnight Fed Ex envelope, and one can be put in his mailbox, while the other can’t (if he’s not home, it will probably end up leaning against his door). For some reason this is an important public policy.

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                • For some reason this is an important public policy.

                  Damn, Hanley, now you’ve got me wondering about something I’ve never really pondered much before…

                  Just spit-ballin’ here… maybe it has something to do with the way a lot of post offices in the past were inside-of/connected-to/run-by the local general store or trading post. Imagine a local business wanting to distribute flyers or maybe just a friend of the local postmaster/proprietor looking for a favor. The unscrupulous could circumvent buying postage for those things, thus depriving the USPS of some highly profitable business (compared to delivering a letter from Philly to Buttscratch Falls in the Oregon Territory). So maybe originally it wasn’t about your rural box or the one attached to your house so much as the one assigned to you (or rented by you) in the actual post office that was the actual property of USPS. And then that rule just got extended to the one in front of your house.

                  Or maybe it’s something else entirely.

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                • But who defines what is or is not a mailbox? Can I setup a post with a mailbox and a milk box and a soup box and a pipebomb box (I, personally, would avoid checking the last one) and declare that only the first one is subject to USPS restrictions? I feel like you mentioned this elsewhere and I’ve seen it in certain rural areas where there is a newspaper box below or next to the mailbox.

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                  • I’m pretty sure the main requirement, perhaps only requirement, is that somewhere on the thing it has to prominently declare “U.S. Mail.” There may be other regs as to minimum dimensions or something.

                    My “mail box” is actually built into the house. I have a slot next to the front door with a little lid on it that says “U.S. Mail”. Inside the house next to the front door is a little door that I open and, Presto!, there’s my mail. Which generally falls out of the box and lands on the floor when I do that.

                    It should go without saying that I would be really pissed if someone decided to pour soup into the thing.

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                  • Interesting question. I think the mailboxes you can buy down at the hardware store normally have some kind of “officially approved” stamp on them. But could I buy one, write “newspaper” on it, and set it up beside my “real” mailbox, to use for paper delivery? Could I build my own mailbox and have it used for both mail and newspaper delivery?

                    Apparently not, according to a casual reading of U.S. Code title 18, section 1725:
                    Whoever knowingly and willfully deposits any mailable matter such as statements of accounts, circulars, sale bills, or other like matter, on which no postage has been paid, in any letter box established, approved, or accepted by the Postal Service for the receipt or delivery of mail matter on any mail route with intent to avoid payment of lawful postage thereon, shall for each such offense be fined under this title.

                    But by at least one account, the USPS doesn’t really care to enforce it (it could hardly be worth their time, I wouldn’t think).

                    But back to your dad, since he’s not actually putting “like matter” in your mailbox and isn’t trying to avoid postage, maybe his soup deliveries are wholly legal? But remember, IANAL.

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                    • My stepdad built his own. Maybe that is why it doubles as a soup box.

                      The idea of someone pouring hot soup into a mailbox is increasingly funny to me. Pouring a liquid in seems a mean bit of vandalism. Pouring hot, homemade soup? Ha! Throwing soup from a bicycle? Double-ha!

                      As a middle-school aged miscreant, I once put a giant snowball into a collection box. Right next to it was a UPS box, which had a little door you could open full of envelopes and forms and such (I don’t know how you paid for it… It was unmanned). I would sometimes take a whole stack of empty envelopes and dump those in. Both total dick moves. Though the UPS box did seem to be asking for it…

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              • Not really. It’s still the property of the person who bought the box, but the USPS has the sole right to place mail inside it. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why that is, but I imagine it’s connected to their monopoly on first-class mail delivery.

                And to prevent people from pouring soup all over your mail…

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    • Maybe this is why I’m a liberal. My experiences with the retail-level apparatus of government (the post office and DMV) have generally been positive and pleasant. My interaction with, say tech support or my health insurance company, on the other hand, have been paragons of bureaucratic dysfunction.

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          • Fair to ask, and I’m chagrined to say the relevant stuff is in my office, where I will not be for a few days. I’m working off info in James Q. Wilson’s Bureaucracy and the public administration book I use.

            I attribute the findings to the fact that most people are generally decent, that people who hate dealing with the public tend to avoid positions that require interacting with them (self-selection), and that most people in bureaucracies have relatively high job satisfaction, because salaries and benefits tend to be decent.

            It doesn’t mean all interactions with bureaucrats will be satisfactory, of course, and attention bias will naturally lead us to remember the bad ones more than the good ones.

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        • The best customer service I ever had was from the IRS over a (fortunately erroneous) automated examination notice. Some of the worst has been from the Social Security Administration, mind you. Based on my limited size sample (2), US bureaucracy is some more user-hostile than other countries, but not extraordinarily so. A lot of apparent hostility can be explained by overload, and by federalism that pushes some tasks down to very low levels of government that have trouble handling them efficiently

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          • The most frequent bureaucracy citizens come into contact with is the state-level DMV/DPS.

            Which is, at least in Texas, underpaid and overburdened. So there’s always lines, angry people in those lines, and underpaid people trying to deal with angry people all day long.

            Frankly, it’s surprising there aren’t more shootings.

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      • +100

        Though I have mixed feelings about Verizon. On the one hand, I’ve been having ridiculous amounts of trouble with the software in my new phone (it’s not a Windows phone, but it’s displaying Microsoft-like levels of bugginess.) On the other hand, their tech support has been unfailingly pleasant and helpful.

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    • Nope. I don’t mind it. Haven’t even had much of a problem with PennDOT, honestly, and that’s nearly a miracle!
      Have had isolated problems with governmental agencies deliberately losing paperwork…

      Not nearly as bad as what Verizon pulls regularly, honestly.

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    • I’ve had no complaint about the USPS. My own suspicion is that if they were eased up on in the department of congressional interference* in their business operation they very likely are capable of continuing as a going concern.

      *Congresscritters are always messing with the USPS whether it’s the ideological agenda to simply destroy it from the right or the bipartisan sports of preventing office closures and mandating service levels.

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      • Their current financial situation is a PERFECT example of this interference. A decade ago, to make the books LOOK balanced, Congress REQUIRED the USPS to pre-pay pension and retirement benefits in ways that, frankly, were and still unnecessary and probably illegal If done in the private sector). Now then, Congress didn’t adjust the federal portion of the funding stream to allow the USPS to compensate for that requirement, and as a result USPS is now in real danger of default. Had they been able to handle pensions and healthcare on an asneeded basis, like the rest of government, they’d actually be operating in, or really near, the black.

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        • This places the USPS perfectly for privatization. A group of investors can buy it cheap, lay off any workers near retirement age, spin off mail delivery, and pay themselves out of the pension fund.

          I wish I were joking.

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        • Had they been able to handle pensions and healthcare on an asneeded basis, like the rest of government, they’d actually be operating in, or really near, the black.

          It’s not a settled question whether we’re doing it right with “the rest of the government.” The requirements for the USPS might be too stringent, or might not be, but the fact that they are out of line with other government and private pensions don’t tell me much.

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    • I am happy giving up my postal mail service, if my obligations to the IRS goes along with it. Subsidized and rural infrastructure is a laughable context. The first and last road I see each day is county road.

      Maintenance budget according to the narrowly re-elected county commish (50 votes) is slightly above $30,000 for the district. Pothole patrol is a 3 man and a shovel 100 degree day marathon. The first road away from a farmers field is typically dirt, or a patchwork of asphalt with the edges eroding away. Have ya ever drivin 300 bushel of wheat over a 30 year old wooden bridge? You know your in a wealthy county when the wooden bridges have side railings.

      $10 a KWh will fix a lot of problems with city life. Ya really wanna compare subsidise?

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  7. Whats the over/under that sometime within the next 5 3 years Matt Y will be caught plagiarizing and/or creating quotes. I happen to think he has already done both, but just hasn’t been caught yet.

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      • I have leveled my criticism’s at him in other posts.

        It is my general critique of neo-liberalism. I think, like Libertarians often, they are not good at dealing with realities. Ne0-Liberals are highly complicit in growing income inequality and not being too critical of stuff in the private sector. They focused too much on the privitization and not enough on protecting workers or equal growth for all socio-economic strata. Matt Y is typical of writers in the Brooks/Friedman set where it is more about coming up with a routine and counter-intuitive arguments than truth. He is the kind of policy wonk that seems to find electioneering and convincing people to be distasteful.

        I am not arguing for income caps but you can’t have all the growth in the one percent.

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        • This is what I’m talking about, I am not sure how you could read his stuff and credibly believe that’s what he advocates for. There must be some kind of dog whistling in his writing that only certain kinds of liberals can hear.

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          • Well you can’t say I did not level any criticism.

            It is merely an ideological disagreement with neo-liberalism. I remain unconvinced that it will lead to what Matt Y says it will and I do think he is too technocratic.

            He is certainly a polarizing writer/figure.

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    • I’m actually not familiar with Yglesias’ work. I’ve heard of him. A lot. But I’ve just never really read him.

      I do think that a lot of published authors (and bloggers) create quotes or plagiarizing, and not wholly consciously. That doesn’t mean they ought not be held accountable, but there’s a certain “we gotta get ’em” ethos to all this, except for when (inexplicably) there isn’t or when it’s short-lived *cough* Doris Kearns Goodwin *cough*.

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  8. Around the time of the Civil War, American railroads began to build across the continent, spurred on by huge land grants along the right of way. The railroad firms started printing up brochures and taking out advertisements in newspapers all over the world, extolling the virtues of their land grants.

    On the strength of these (wildly optimistic) promises, immigrants arrived by the millions and were packed onto the trains and shipped like cattle into the hinterlands, at subsidised rates, all to get them onto that land and making payments. But the railroads weren’t the only companies to benefit: Sears Roebuck made fortunes, selling everything from horse collars to houses via mail order. Mail order would put a stick in the spokes of drug laws as well: the various states tried to get the snake oil salesmen to honestly label their products. Nothing doing. The snake oil salesmen got around those laws via the US Mail.

    I did a gig for USDA for a program called RUS, a holdover from the mid-1930s, rural electrification. Now it puts in long stretches of light fibre to bring Internet to the hinterlands. America’s always had a bias toward the rural life: look at the makeup of Congress: there will always be a rural bias to American government.

    Urbanism isn’t an entirely wonderful thing. Mere competence isn’t enough to govern a large metropolis: it requires vision. A well-planned city is a delight. Los Angeles is not a delight. Nor is Houston. Or Atlanta. Or Baltimore (though Baltimore is trying). St Louis has a few nice areas but it’s mostly a horror story. Charlotte’s a mess, Raleigh/Durham even more so. Baton Rouge has some interesting corners but it’s blighted. Phoenix: a wasteland. And these are just cities I’ve lived in over the last decade. Look at the cities where things are much better: New York: planned. Chicago, planned.

    Privatising the US Mail was a horrid idea. Privatising passenger rail, equally stupid. Why? Because they weren’t really privatised. While Congress can act like the Board of Directors, we can only expect more of the same crap. Turn the US Mail into a truly private enterprise, with shares and a board with fiduciary responsibility. Same goes for Amtrak.

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        • over a hundred years after it was founded? nah, doesn’t wash. D.C. was a planned city.
          Granted Manhattanhenge makes it seem like the city was more planned (at least than pittsburgh! home of acute angles)

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          • Please. Baron Haussmann gave Paris the greatest makeover any city ever got in the 1850s. Still a lovely city. Washington DC is a lovely city, I just won’t drive in it. I’ll fly into Baltimore and stay in Bethesda and take the metro into DC rather than contend with Reagan Int’l. DC was designed to be defended.

            As for NYC, it’s more planned than effing Disney World. I remember the 70s in NYC and it was grim. Koch was elected, things got a little better, NYC started to pull its head out of its ass. After Rudy G got through with Times Square, there wasn’t a sinner left in that ZIP code. Rudy went through that town like a dose of salts and so has Bloomberg.

            My point is this: a metropolis needs a visionary mayor, someone who loves his city, I mean loves it with a fierce and abiding love. If the mayor doesn’t love the town, nobody else will, either. I love Old Town Chicago and always will.

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  9. It seems funny to me that the USPS becomes such a fixation for politial football.

    The USPS is a unionized, government-controlled entity;
    UPS is a unionized, private entity;
    Fed Ex is a non union, private entity;

    Yet in areas of head to head competition, all three entities are very closely competitive, offering pretty much a similar product at a similar rate.

    What lessons do we draw from this?

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      • If only there was real competition for mail delivery. In its current predicament, USPS is neither public nor private. Every other civilised country can run a mail service. We can’t. Ever seen a DHL delivery truck? You’re looking at the German postal service.

        We could have done the same. DHL does something we can’t manage in this country: certified email. They have all sorts of innovation at work.

        But the USA? Nothing doing. Congress is hell-bent on wrecking the USPS. Amtrak, too. It’s really the worst of both worlds, what we’ve got now.

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          • Well sure. This is all common sense. Common sense exists independently of ideology. Back in the day when the mail came in on the stagecoach, the country was doing the same. Lots of folks don’t realise the USPS contracts with private haulers all the time. Every morning, early early, a private hauler brings the mail into Augusta WI.

            If you read the Constitution closely, you’ll see the establishment of both “post offices” and “post roads”. The USPS has always been a bone of contention: John Jay thought the Post Office shouldn’t have to deliver newspapers. And it was always a great filthy rats’ nest for patronage. It’s had to be cleaned up several times.

            I’m a Liberal. Not an idiot. The USPS is still a vital institution in the USA and ought to be preserved. DHL is the model we could and should use to get it back on track.

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    • The answer, from what I can gather, is that the USPS must be destroyed because it is too expensive-
      no wait, it offers crappy service-
      no wait, it sucks at the public teat-
      no wait, it, um… I had it just a moment ago.

      But it really, really, must be destroyed!

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        • Naw, I was referring to the near-fixation that conservatives have about the USPS.
          But as far as this thread is concerned;

          We’ve established that the USPS operates pretty well, even in the face of the burdens placed on it by Congress; It offers the same product at the same price as the private sector competitors; and does this all universally to every mailbox in the country.

          Yet we still have discussions about why it even exists.

          Why?

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          • Maybe because people suspect that it can be done more even more efficiently and effectively by others.

            But, again, libertarian confessions, I have to agree that effective mail service is the kind of fundamental institutional foundation I think governments can be involved in. Not saying they should always be, if it could be done as well by others, just that it’s a pretty reasonable request for a modern infrastructure to ensure some mechanism for efficient material communications and transportation.

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            • Well, I know thats the argument.
              Which is nutty, isn’t it?
              I mean, would parcel delivery by UPS, FedEx and others be improved by removing one of their competitors?

              Would private carriers deliver a first class letter cheaper than 45 cents?

              To what end are we having these discussions?

              I do think that this is being driven by abstract ideology, an axe grinding session in the Great and Eternal War Against Collectivism whereby every letter carrier is an agent of Stalin and every public road leads to the gulag.

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