Housing and Immigration
Bloomberg has an article on Canadian immigration that raises a number of important issues. Canada is an especially interesting case, as its rate of immigration is now much higher than in the other G-7 nations:
A country about as populous as California has added more than all the residents in San Francisco in a year. Last week, Canada surpassed 40 million people for the first time ever . . .
Nearly one in four people in Canada are now immigrants, the largest proportion among the Group of Seven nations. At the current pace of growth, the smallest G-7 country by population would double its residents in about 26 years, and surpass Italy, France, the UK and Germany by 2050.
The biggest challenge faced by Canada is housing. Like the US, Canada has “NIMBY” policies that make homebuilding very difficult. When combined with high rates of immigration, the result is soaring house prices:
Those type of real estate shocks risk eroding support among Canadians for immigrants, said David Green, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver School of Economics.
“We’re opening the door to the same kind of problems that we see in other countries,” Green said. “The hard-right wing is going to pick this up and run with it, and at least a modicum of what they’re going to say on the housing market strains is going to be true. That’s going to give credence to the rest of their narrative. This is a very dangerous game.”
So far, immigration has remained extremely popular in Canada, partly due to the fact that they have avoided the huge waves of illegal immigration seen in the US:
But if the housing problem isn’t fixed, then Canadian public opinion will eventually turn against immigration.
Some libertarians advocate creating a free market paradise in a place beyond the reach of government regulation, such as a “seasteading” platform. Perhaps a better solution would be to convince an indigenous tribe of the virtues of laissez-faire. In Vancouver, indigenous tribes control several pieces of land in booming Vancouver. Normally, this land would be extremely difficult to develop. Some of the sites, however, are not constrained by Vancouver planning rules, and thus the tribes can build whatever they like. As a result, they plan to erect a series of massive developments with dozens of high-rise residential towers.
After many years and steep legal bills, the Musqueam First Nation reached a landmark settlement with the B.C. government in 2008, for the return of some of its traditional territory. Now the Musqueam are using some of those lands near the University of B.C. to provide badly needed housing for the broader community and generate economic prosperity for their Nation. . . .
The Leləm̓ community is just one of several major real estate developments in the pipeline from Vancouver-area First Nations, who have emerged as powerhouse developers in a region desperate for solutions to a housing shortage.
Postmedia analyzed eight major projects involving the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, both individually and together under their MST Development Corporation joint venture. Their plans cover nearly 1.1 square kilometres of property in Vancouver, Burnaby and the North Shore, promising more than 25,500 homes.
I find it ironic that in 2023, the only way to observe the true potential of a free market economy is within an Indian reservation.
In a recent interview, California Governor Newsom lamented that his state had lost its ability to build things:
California has become notorious not for what it builds but for what it fails to build. And Newsom knows it. “I watched as a mayor and then a lieutenant governor and now governor as years became decades on high-speed rail,” he said. “People are losing trust and confidence in our ability to build big things. People look at me all the time and ask, ‘What the hell happened to the California of the ’50s and ’60s?’”
(High-speed rail is one of the rare cases where the NIMBYs are correct.)
Perhaps it would be better if California lost a few lawsuits to our Native American tribes, and had to turn over some of our urban land in compensation. It would be doubly ironic if a pro-environment policy of California densification were enacted as a result of YIMBY Native Americans beating NIMBY environmentalists in the political arena.
Update: Commenter BC makes a great point:
Native tribes building high-rise residential towers on their land might be the best example yet of the Coase Theorem. Once clear property rights were liberated from zoning restrictions, the land got allocated to its highest value use, regardless of who owned the property. Of course, the return of the land to the Native tribes does affect wealth distribution.