Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Worstall on Davies on Coase on housing

In a previous post I commented on the idea of Steve Davies to apply Coaseian thinking to solving the British (and other countries) housing problem. In part Davies wrote
For Coase the solution was to assign a property right to one of the two sides and then allow a process of bargaining to take place. If the first group have the right then those who do not want development would have to pay them not to do it. If the second, then the developers (and ultimately the buyers) have to pay for the right to develop. Crucially it does not matter which of these two we go for: in either case we will end up with the outcome that maximises total welfare so long as the bargaining process itself is not too costly.
Now at the Adam Smith Institutes's blog Tim Worstall comments on this idea. He writes
We have no doubt this would work and that should be good enough as a solution. However, while it would work we’re really not convinced that it is the correct solution. For what it is saying is that those who wish to prevent building upon land that they do not own have some form of right to say or insist so. That’s why they might be due some compensation from those who do build. And we rather reject that basic contention.

Property ownership does mean that one should be able to dispose of the property as one wishes. Consistent with this is that other people do not have the right to impose their views upon you of how you should dispose of that property. Thus we’re uncomfortable with the idea of creating a right which can then be subject to such Coasean bargaining.
Tim has a point, sorting out who has what rights to object to a housing development could raise the transaction costs of Coaseian type bargaining to such a degree that it would become impractical. And if multiple people or groups claim said rights negotiating with each of them could be expensive and time consuming. However if it is clear who the parties involved are and there are only a few of them, ie transactions costs really are low, then the Coaseian solution could be an improvement over the current situation.

1 comment:

Tim Worstall said...

Fair point, pretty much anything, in the UK sense, would be an improvement on the current situation. I guess I'm rather pedantically arguing about which is the best of the better possible solutions.