Archive for October, 2016

California election research 2016

Here’s my mega spreadsheet of 2016 election research (mostly California ballot initiatives). Sorry for anything that’s hard to read. ;P

I listed my own voting plan and reasoning, but I also tried to give a lot of other info to help people with other priorities/perspectives also make decisions.

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Is rent control effective?

No — it’s been well studied, and economists on the left and right seem to agree it’s counterproductive for the people it’s supposed to benefit.

According to The Economist (“Do Rent Controls Work?”):

As Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times in 2000, rent control is “among the best-understood issues in all of economics, and—among economists, anyway—one of the least controversial”. Economists reckon a restrictive price ceiling reduces the supply of property to the market. When prices are capped, people have less incentive to fix up and rent out their basement flat, or to build rental property. Slower supply growth exacerbates the price crunch. And those landlords who do rent out their properties might not bother to maintain them, because when supply and turnover in the market are limited by rent caps, landlords have little incentive to compete to attract tenants. Rent controls also mean that landlords may also become choosier, and tenants may stay in properties longer than makes sense. And some evidence shows that those living in rent-controlled flats in New York tend to have higher median incomes than those who rent market-rate apartments. That may be because wealthier households may be in a better position to track down and secure rent-stabilised properties.

And the NY Times (“The Perverse Effects of Rent Regulation,” by Adam Davidson of Planet Money):

[T]hese programs actually make the city much less affordable for those unlucky enough not to live in a rent-regulated apartment, Mayer says. The absurdity of New York City’s housing market has become a standard part of many Econ 101 courses, because it is such a clear example of public policy that achieves the near opposite of its goals. There are, effectively, two rental markets in Manhattan. Roughly half the apartments are under rent regulation, public housing or some other government program. That leaves everyone else to compete for the half with rents determined by the market. Mayer points out that most housing programs tie government support to an apartment unit, not a person. “That is completely nuts,” he says. It creates enormous incentive for people to stay in apartments that no longer fit their needs, because they have had kids or their kids have left or their job has moved farther away. This inertia is a key factor in New York’s housing shortage. One East Village real estate agent told me that only 20 to 30 units are available in the entire area any given month.

This might be acceptable if all the rent-controlled and rent-stabilized units were inhabited by the poor people the programs were designed to help and if most poor people lived in rent-regulated units. But according to data from N.Y.U.’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, a majority of people in rent-regulated Manhattan apartments make far above the poverty level.


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Would a non-binding proposition to overturn Citizens United have any impact?

(And is that even something we should do?)

This year, California has a non-binding ballot initiative asking CA state lawmakers to do everything they can to overturn Citizens United via a constitutional amendment.  Many other states have had or currently have similar propositions on their ballot.  In trying to figure out how to vote on this strange advisory initiative, I considered these factors:

  1. What has the impact been of Citizens United?  (Is it all negative?)
  2. Is this proposition an effective way to try to overturn it?
  3. Are there other campaign finance reforms we should be focusing on instead?
  4. Should non-binding propositions be discouraged?

TL;DR: an amendment is not likely to be an effective approach for addressing the downsides of Citizens United, because amendments are way too hard to pass. It’s also difficult to craft well, and some organizations like the ACLU oppose such an amendment (others, like the L.A. Times, object to committing to an amendment without knowing the specifics). There are many other campaign finance reforms suggested that seem more plausible, and important. Additionally, this non-binding resolution seems unlikely to be all that effective at persuading CA lawmakers to shift much due to the current political situation.

» Continue reading “Would a non-binding proposition to overturn Citizens United have any impact?”

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What do plastic bag bans do?

What do plastic bag bans actually achieve?  There are a couple California ballot initiatives about a potential statewide ban (I’ll be sharing more research on CA ballot initiatives soon), so I have a pressing reason for curiosity.

I don’t want to contribute to the giant plastic island in the ocean or to the amount of plastic in animals’ stomachs.  And I’d love to decrease local litter while reducing energy & pollution usage (which supporters of bans claim come from making plastic bags).  Do plastic bag bans have these effects (as claimed by supporters) without causing worse side effects?

Short answer: plastic bag bans are very good at one of the things they set out to do (dramatically reducing plastic bag litter), and they mostly get replaced not by paper but by either reusable bags or no bag.  There are predicted substantial energy savings from this shift, but from what I can tell there’s not enough data to be sure of that.  And some of the side effects/potential downsides are not as well quantified.

» Continue reading “What do plastic bag bans do?”

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