Lazy Thinking & Free Market Economics

December 17, 2019

I had no ulterior motive in posting a story about Austinites’ rent increasing the most over the past decade of any U.S. city in The Market Urbanism Report and #atxurbanists Facebook groups. I’m not a huge fan of CultureMap as a media source, but I rightly thought that people would be interested in the ranking.1 That’s why the section I copy-and-pasted as the lead-in on the posts was the nut graph:”

From 2010 through 2019, renters in the Austin area shelled out $36.7 billion for their living quarters, according to an analysis released December 11 by real estate website Zillow. To put that in perspective, the size of the economy of Latvia, a small country in northern Europe, is around $35 billion.

If the $36.7 billion figure weren’t jarring enough, the total sum of rent paid by Austinites skyrocketed 92.6 percent from 2009 to 2019. That’s the highest increase among all the major metro areas included in the Zillow analysis. (Raleigh, North Carolina, was second with a 91 percent increase.)

I didn’t pay any real attention to the second sentence at the time. It’s really a nonsensical comparison, as far as I can tell, only used by the author to show $36.7 billion is a big number. The free marketers/libertarians/“market urbanists”/neoliberal members of both groups, however, clamped down on it — to such a degree that they seemingly couldn’t read beyond it or around it. In fact, free marketers in the market urbanist group were so unwillingness to move beyond it that I had to delete it from the post.

I’m guessing their inability to look beyond the one obviously unimportant comparison statement is based on the same desire for simplicity in understanding demonstrated by their beliefs in junk free-market economics: it’s simple to understand and, thus, attractive to lazy thinkers and those who would prefer to spend their time denigrating others than engaging in study. That would include actually reading the article and maybe clicking the link to the report, though.2

Indeed, the next adjectives they apply to the article is that the information presented is irrelevant,” useless” and alarmist.”

The clearest criticism I’ve read came from someone with whom I share certain perspectives, and the best he could come up with was, Who cares how much was spent in total?”

My favorite response, though, is from a local free marketer:

In his version of a constructive” comment, he claims a poorly made comparison is unfair framing.” Or it could just be a crappy writer and copyeditor at a crappy online media outlet trying to fill space.

Also, note his passing reference to making sure urbanism is fiscally sound.”

My question is why are they so opposed to the story? Or the comparison of ten years’ worth of Austin rent payments to the GDP of a small Eastern European country? Is it to elide the discussion of just for whom we must make sure urbanism is fiscally sound?

That the neoliberals would move on to discussing cheap travel and beer is no surprise. These are the kind of people who wait until the last minute to merge and then claim they’re the ones doing it correctly.

  1. I say rightly” based on the fact that, as of this writing, the story has been shared by twothree members of the Austin group and 13 members of the market urbanist group. I’m assuming sharing the story on personal feeds shows greater interest than merely reacting to it on a group’s timeline.

  2. Doing so might, in fact, explain where the seemingly out-of-place Latvia comparison came from, too.