A Wall Street Journal headline of yesterday looks like a lesson in non-economics: “It’s Not Whether You Can Afford a Home on Lake Como—It’s Whether You Can Find One” (August 2, 2023). An economist, a financier, a merchant, and probably many ordinary businessmen would know that, if this real estate market is free to some extent, there is a price at which virtually any property around this northern Italy lake could be purchased, not only for $1 billion but probably for $50 million if not much less. Except if one has learned “economics” in Stalin’s Soviet Union, one cannot think about the economy without factoring in prices, so central is their role.

Indeed, the story itself mentions again and again prices at which properties change hands, both around the lake and in the vicinity. A copyeditor obviously chose the headline, as customary. The author, freelance journalist Ruth Bloomfield, might save the WSJ‘s reputation—a few examples:

In 2020, [Dina Branham] began negotiating the purchase of a roughly 1,000-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bathroom condominium in a small, gated community with water views in the waterside town of Menaggio [see the featured image of this post]. It cost $254,000. … Unable to travel to Italy, she bought the property on the strength of photographs, videos and research on Google Earth.

Homes on the water cost twice as much as other properties.

Prime property sells at around $1,024 per square foot. For a waterfront home, prices are even higher.

A 3,000-square-foot historic villa in picturesque Cernobbio with direct access to the lake would cost $11 million and up.

Meanwhile … buyers willing to trek to the north end of Lake Como … could pick up a similar lakefront house for around $5.5 million.

Some values or sentiments may have no price, but prices are the essence of markets. Even when sentiments and values are involved, prices are generally not absent: for example, we can meaningfully speak of the marriage market. As for the nuts and bolts with which we are concerned here, it is not because not all houses are on the market that no house can be purchased at any price.

Headlines, of course, are meant to get the potential reader’s attention; the headline of my own post is an example. In my view, though, this should not be a reason for copyeditors to write false or misleading ones.