The "good old days" that never were
By Scott Sumner
Will Wilkinson has a post discussing how residential zoning laws were originally instituted to exclude certain minority groups:
In 1926, the Supreme Court ruled that zoning was cool in Euclid v. Ambler Realty. However, despite the fact that Euclid’s lawyers insisted that their law had nothing to do with race, the district court judge whose decision the high court reversed didn’t see much difference between the law in Euclid Township, Ohio (a suburb of Cleveland) and the Louisville law declared an unconstitutional encroachment on property rights and freedom of contract in Buchanan. He wrote, “The blighting of property values and the congesting of the population, whenever the colored or certain foreign races invade a residential section, are so well known as to be within the judicial cognizance” — which translates roughly as: “Don’t try to bullshit me; I see you, Euclid.”
Wilkinson relies heavily on a book by Richard Rothstein, who makes a very interesting point about the Supreme Court:
Rothstein notes the suspicious oddity of the Lochner-era laissez faire court’s tolerance of the infringement of property rights and economic liberty in this one case:
Over the course of nearly 40 years, the Court struck down all kinds of regulation (not only zoning as in Buchanan, but most notably, health and safety and minimum wage regulation) on the grounds that it interfered with freedom of contract. Euclid’s permission for economic zoning was the only significant exception to this rigidly ideological approach. . . It was about race.
Some libertarians believe that there was a sort of Golden Age when the Supreme Court had a principled objection to government economic regulations that interfered with property rights. I’m skeptical of that view. It’s always been about who gains and who loses.
PS. The politics of zoning is interesting:
1980s: Conservatives insist that zoning is an example of inefficient government regulation, citing Houston as evidence that people flock to cities without zoning. Progressives worry that urban areas would be a mess if you didn’t have zoning laws.
Late 2010s: Progressives gradually realize that residential zoning laws make it hard for the poor and minorities to move to where the jobs are, and begin opposing zoning. Conservatives suddenly see merit in restrictive residential zoning.
“You like it? Then I hate it!” I’ve never seen this country more polarized.