Category Archives: Podcast

How Land Use Restrictions Make Housing Unaffordable with Emily Hamilton

What follows is an edited transcript of my conversation with Emily Hamilton about land use regulations’ effects on affordable housing.


Petersen: My guest today is Emily Hamilton. She is a researcher at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Emily, thanks for being on Economics Detective Radio.

Hamilton: Thanks a lot for having me.

Petersen: So, Emily recently wrote a paper titled “How Land Use Regulation Undermines Affordable Housing” along with her co-author Sanford Ikeda. The paper is a review of many studies looking at land use restrictions and it identifies four of the most common types of land use restrictions. Those are: minimum lots sizes, minimum parking requirements, inclusionary zoning, and urban growth boundaries. So Emily, could you tell us what each of those restrictions entail?

Hamilton: Sure. So, starting off with the first, minimum lots sizes. This is probably what people most commonly associate with zoning. It’s the type of Euclidian zoning that separates residential areas from businesses and then within residential areas limits the number of units that can be on any certain size of land. And this is the most common tool that makes up what is sometimes referred to as Snob Zoning, where residents lobby for larger minimum lots sizes and larger house sizes to ensure that their neighbors are people who can afford only that minimum size of housing. Continue reading How Land Use Restrictions Make Housing Unaffordable with Emily Hamilton

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Writing and Thinking Less Badly with Mike Munger

In this episode, I discuss the process of writing and being successful with Mike Munger. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.


Petersen: My guest today is Mike Munger of Duke University. Mike, welcome to Economics Detective Radio!

Munger: It’s a pleasure to be on your show!

Petersen: So first I stole EconTalk’s format and now I have stolen Mike Munger as well, so if Russ Roberts sends me a cease and desist letter, I’ll completely understand why.

Munger: Russ and I have an open relationship. We both date other people.

Petersen: Oh good, good. I have many jokes I could make about that, but I won’t!

Munger: Thank you for not.

Petersen: So, our topic today is going to be writing and thinking. Let’s say that because, as we’ll go through, the two are intimately related. So Mike wrote a piece titled “Ten Tips on How to Write Less Badly.” Now you may be thinking to yourself, “Hey I thought this was an economics podcast! What does writing have to do with economics?” Continue reading Writing and Thinking Less Badly with Mike Munger

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New York Urbanism with Stephen Smith

Today’s guest is Stephen Smith, he is an analyst for a New York real estate firm.

Stephen did some research showing that at least 40 percent of the buildings in Manhattan could not be built under today’s zoning regulations. In fact, the number is probably significantly higher. Classic landmarks like the Empire State Building, with its floor-area ratio of 30, wouldn’t fly today. Continue reading New York Urbanism with Stephen Smith

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Democracy Versus Epistocracy with Jason Brennan

My guest today is Jason Brennan of the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. He is the author of Against Democracy, which is our topic for this episode. The first chapter is available on the publisher’s website.

John Stuart Mill believed that getting more people involved in politics would make them smarter, more concerned for the common good, better educated, and nobler. In the intervening century and a half, we’ve gathered much more data on Mill’s hypothesis, and the results don’t look good:

The test results are now in. They are, I will hold, largely negative. I think Mill would agree. Most common forms of political engagement not only fail to educate or ennoble us but also tend to stultify and corrupt us. (p. 2)

Continue reading Democracy Versus Epistocracy with Jason Brennan

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Urban Development, the Growth Ponzi Scheme, and Strong Towns with Chuck Marohn

Today’s guest on Economics Detective Radio is Chuck Marohn, founder and president of Strong Towns.

Strong Towns is a non-profit that seeks to reform America from the ground up, starting with its towns and cities. It aims to promote healthy local economies by improving local governance.

The Growth Ponzi Scheme

Chuck began recognizing the problems in America’s towns and cities when he was working as a civil engineer. He recounts a story of working in a little city in central Minnesota in the late 1990s. The city had a 300-foot pipe that had cracked, allowing ground water to leak in and overflow their treatment facility. Chuck proposed a $300,000 solution to fix the pipe. However, this was a tiny town with an annual budget of $85,000. So Chuck went to higher levels of government (the federal government, the USDA, etc.) to find someone to fund the project. They all said, “This feels like maintenance. We don’t have money for maintenance, so you need to pay for this yourself.” Since the feds would only fund expansion projects, Chuck devised a plan: He would propose the largest expansion project he could, then repair the pipe as part of the expansion. This wasn’t so much deviousness on his part as it was standard practice in his profession. He designed a couple miles of new pipe, doubled their treatment facility, and as part of that he included repairs for the old pipe. This new project cost $2.6 million. Continue reading Urban Development, the Growth Ponzi Scheme, and Strong Towns with Chuck Marohn

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Population Growth, the Ethics of Having Children, and Climate Change with Steve Horwitz

Today’s guest is Steve Horwitz, he is the Charles A. Dana Professor and Chair of the economics department at St. Lawrence University.

Steve recently wrote an article titled, “Make Babies, and Don’t Let the Greens Guilt Trip You about It.” This was a response to an argument made by the bioethicist Travis Rieder, who was recently profiled by NPR. Rieder argues that it is immoral to have children because of the burden additional humans place on the Earth, in particular because of the risk of catastrophic climate change. Here’s how that NPR piece put his argument:

“Back at James Madison University, Travis Rieder explains a PowerPoint graph that seems to offer hope. Bringing down global fertility by just half a child per woman ‘could be the thing that saves us,’ he says. He cites a study from 2010 that looked at the impact of demographic change on global carbon emissions. It found that slowing population growth could eliminate one-fifth to one-quarter of all the carbon emissions that need to be cut by midcentury to avoid that potentially catastrophic tipping point.”

The problem with this sort of reasoning is that it views human beings as consumers and not as producers and innovators. Humans are able to contribute to the division of labour and to come up with ideas. That division of labour allows everyone to become more productive. Continue reading Population Growth, the Ethics of Having Children, and Climate Change with Steve Horwitz

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Marx, his Errors, and his Continuing Influence with Phil Magness

This week’s episode of Economics Detective Radio deals with the economic thought and continuing popularity of Marx. No, not Groucho! The other Marx!

My guest on the podcast is Phil Magness, a historian who teaches at George Mason University. Phil recently wrote a piece entitled, “Commie Chic and Quantifying Marx on the Syllabus.” Recently, the Open Syllabus Project released a data set including thousands of college syllabi. To many people’s surprise, Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto enjoys massive popularity! Continue reading Marx, his Errors, and his Continuing Influence with Phil Magness

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Trailer Parks, Zoning, and Market Urbanism with Nolan Gray

Today’s guest on Economics Detective Radio is Nolan Gray. Nolan is a writer for Market Urbanism and the host of the recently launched Market Urbanism Podcast.

Market urbanism is the synthesis of classical liberal economics and an appreciation for urban life. Market urbanists are interested in economic issues specific to cities, such as housing affordability and urban transportation.

Nolan wrote an article titled “Reclaiming ‘Redneck’ Urbanism: What Urban Planners Can Learn From Trailer Parks.” As Nolan points out, trailer parks are remarkable in that they achieve very high densities with just one- and two-story construction. They do so while providing remarkably low rents of between $300 and $500, or $700 to $1,100 per month to live in brand new manufactured homes. They are also interesting in that the park managers provide a form of private governance to their tenants. Continue reading Trailer Parks, Zoning, and Market Urbanism with Nolan Gray

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Venezuela, El Caracazo, and Chavism with Francisco Toro

Today’s guest is Francisco Toro, he is the blog editor at The Caracas Chronicles, a group blog about Venezuela.

Venezuela has all the markings of a paradise. It has a lush, tropical climate and access to vast oil reserves. And yet, the Venezuelan government has run the country into the ground. As of now, all but the wealthiest Venezuelans struggle to eat. What went wrong?

It might surprise you, given Venezuela’s current state, that the country was for many years a model Latin American country. Before 1989, Venezuela had a stable, two-party democracy. Its economy functioned when the price of oil was high, and it was free of much of the violence that plagued other Latin American nations. That changed in 1989 with an event known as El Caracazo. Continue reading Venezuela, El Caracazo, and Chavism with Francisco Toro

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Against Fossil Fuel Divestment with Pierre Desrochers

Pierre Desrochers returns to the podcast to discuss the fossil fuel divestment movement in higher education. He recently co-authored a paper titled “Blowing Hot Air on the Wrong Target? A Critique of the Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement in Higher Education” with Hiroko Shimizu. Continue reading Against Fossil Fuel Divestment with Pierre Desrochers

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