My Hoover colleague Lee Ohanian, an economics professor at UCLA, wrote a piece on Hoover’s website on Tuesday titled “California’s Failed Soviet-Style Housing Mandates Should End Now.” In his article, Lee argued that we’ve had central planning of housing in California since 1969. He writes:

Top-down command-control programs fail because they violate the basic market forces of supply and demand and because they suppress individual freedoms. California started down the command-control rabbit hole regarding housing with a 1969 state law that created the Housing Element and Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) program. This program mandates that every California community must plan for its housing needs, regardless of income.

The five words “housing needs” and “regardless of income” tell you all you need to know to understand why this program has failed. What are “housing needs,” exactly? Millions would love to live in the areas overlooking the beaches of California, particularly if income weren’t a factor. Does this mean that millions of Californians have an unmet “need” to live in Malibu? Or San Diego? Or Santa Barbara? Or Laguna Beach? And what of the millions more who live outside of California but would flock to the state if they had opportunities to live in some of the most expensive communities in the world, regardless of their income?

Already that tells me something I didn’t know. And it does sound a lot like central planning.

But a guy named Adam Gurri, whom I’m guessing many readers have heard of, went on Twitter and did a nasty. He called Lee “braindead.” Well, I know Lee Ohanian, Lee Ohanian is my friend, and Adam, you’re no . . . Oops. Wrong rebuttal.

Let me try again, more briefly. Lee Ohanian is not braindead. Not even close. I went on Twitter and made that point. Gurri didn’t try to argue that the evidence Ohanian gave above is not central planning. Instead, Gurri went after the weakest part of Ohanian’s argument, the part where Lee tried to justify my favorite NBA player Steph Curry objecting to lower-income housing being built near his house.

So who’s right: Gurri or Ohanian? Both are right. And both are wrong. Ohanian is right that having the state government tell each locality exactly how many housing units they must allow does smack of central planning. Which means Gurri is wrong to say it’s not central planning. Gurri is right to say that individual homeowners, no matter how powerful, should not be able to prevent a house or an apartment block from being built. And in the following quote from his article, Ohanian is both right and wrong:

Much more housing within California would be built if legislators were to rewrite the state’s antiquated environmental laws; reduce regulatory burdens that drive constructions costs on affordable housing projects to levels that exceed those of luxury homes; and provide communities with financial support and incentives where more housing, particularly high-density housing, makes sense, with projects that achieve community buy-in.

He’s right in the clause that ends with the word “homes.” And he’s wrong in the final clause. Why should a state government tax us to give financial support for housing? And what’s this about “community buy-in?” It seems to imply that for housing to be built in various California communities, a majority of people in that community must approve. That doesn’t exactly sound like central planning. But it certainly doesn’t sound like respect for property rights.

Here’s a suggested middle-of-the-road compromise between Gurri and Ohanian. Get the state government out of dictating to communities how much housing they must allow to be built. And take away the power of people in those communities to have any say whatsoever in whether housing is built.

The pic is of part of Atherton, the town in which Steph Curry and his family live.

Postscript: I don’t often go on Twitter but when I do most of the tweets I read, along with the mobs that follow, remind me of the popular high-school kids who thought they could dispose of an argument by calling people an idiot or, in my day, a fag.