I’m now about halfway done with the storyboards for my new non-fiction graphic novel, Build, Baby, Build: The Science and Ethics of Housing. This time around, I’ll be published by the Cato Institute, a think tank I’ve been working with since the summer of 1991. If all goes well, this will be the first volume in an entire Cato library of books modelled after my Open Borders – works that combine high scholarly standards with compelling sequential art to explore underrated policy ideas. While fan favorite Zach Weinersmith was not available to illustrate my new book, I have found another stellar artist for the job, Ady Branzei (aka “Sebastian Soric“). Ady and I are both fans of classic Disney, so expect a lot of Disney homage.
Will I be content merely popularizing other people’s research? My official position is my non-fiction graphic novels are serious scholarship. How so? Because thoughtfully synthesizing interdisciplinary research is original research! The papers aren’t going to synthesize themselves, after all. My project is not to summarize a list of articles, but to collect research worthy of broader attention, then fuse it together to create a novel policy perspective. Along the way, I offer many new arguments and insights. And while arguments and insights are usually too swiftly communicated to publish as research papers, that’s because academia sadly rests on the Labor Theory of Value.
I keep tweaking the Table of Contents for Build, Baby, Build, but here’s the current plan:
Chapter 1: The Home that Wasn’t There. Here I explain why the supply-and-demand story for rising housing prices, though true, is deeply misleading. Why? Because regulation is strangling housing supply, especially in desirable locations. In a free market, housing would be very affordable throughout the country because building up and in is easy. We have the technology; what we lack is permission to use it.
Chapter 2: The Manufacture of Scarcity. Now I go over the empirical work that measures the effect of housing regulation on housing prices. Standard estimates of the effect are massive. It is very plausible that U.S. housing would be 50% cheaper under laissez-faire.
Chapter 3: The Panacea Policy. This part starts by exploring estimates of the effects of housing deregulation on GDP. But then it explains how deregulation would help cure a long list of social ills. Housing deregulation will reduce inequality, increase social mobility, enrich and uplift working-class males, curtail “deaths of despair,” raise birth rates, fight crime, restore the American Dream, and give an ideologically divided nation something constructive to do together. Hence, the “panacea policy.”
Chapter 4: The Tower of Terror. Needless to say, housing deregulation is extremely unpopular. This is where I explore all the standard externalities arguments: congestion, pollution, noise, aesthetics, and so on, with four main rebuttals. First, these negative externalities are greatly overestimated. Second, since gratis is not great, the prudent remedy is not restricting construction, but using tolls, fees, and taxes to address specific drawbacks of development. Third, building has enormous and almost totally neglected positive externalities. That’s why people currently pay a fortune to live in New York: the net value of all the good and all the bad of living in this metropolis is very good indeed. Fourth, even when an isolated housing regulation is helpful, it puts us on a slippery slope to disaster. Which is no hyperbole, because the disaster is here already. A beautiful confirmation of Rizzo and Whitman’s work on slippery slopes, by the way.
Chapter 5: Dr. Yes. This is the housing analogue of the Open Borders chapter, “All Roads Lead to Open Borders.” Utilitarians, egalitarians, libertarians, Kantians, Christians, and virtually everyone else should, on their own terms, support housing deregulation. This shouldn’t be a liberal or conservative issue. It should be an issue where liberals and conservatives hold hands and say “kumbaya” together. I’ll also probably discuss keyhole solutions here.
Chapter 6: Getting to YIMBY. How do we get from the world of draconian regulation, high prices, and cramped quarters to the world of freedom, low prices, and spacious living? Tough, but every policy journey starts with a non-fiction graphic novel, right?
Time to get back to work. I leave you with one of my favorite draft pages.