Alain Bertaud on Cities, Markets, and People – Conversations with Tyler

The link to the podcast is available here. I liked this podcast. It was a light listen, with many anecdotes from Bertaud, who has had a long career in urban planning in both public policy (at the World Bank), and in academia. Fundamentally Bertaud is of the view that urban planners need to understand markets more and use price signals to their advantage. He still maintains that we need some regulation. However, he is against regulating things that restrict consumers choice because consumers know how to pick the best living conditions for themselves.

I didn’t take extensive notes but some things of interest:

  • On whether YIMBYism can overcome NIMBYism, “I think that maybe, in cities where you have the house itself is not your only way of saving, [you] have a better chance of being YIMBY. If people perceive that the only way of saving money for their retirement is in their house — their house is some kind of an ATM machine — then they don’t want any competition.”
  • Bertaud wants to move the level at which regulations of planning are implemented up to reduce NIMBYism.
  • He explains why Shenzhen grew so dramatically. It was a really small city in China. In 1985, it had approximately 300,000 people. Now, half a century later it has approximately 12-13 million inhabitants. Bertaud attributes the success of Shenzhen to the free labour market they created. It was China’s first large free labour market. Rather than the people relying on a state-guaranteed job for their whole lives, people travelled to Shenzhen to see if they could improve their standard of living, taking a gamble in the free labour market.
  • Bertaud posited that he expects the most likely place for a successful charter city is in the middle east (Jordan or Syria). This is because they have large amounts of desert, for which there are no good alternative uses. Couple that with the massive numbers of refugees (skilled and unskilled), and it provides the breeding ground for a charter city.
  • When asked about policy recommendations, Bertaud suggests: remove floor ratio restrictions and ensure that property developers pay property taxes.

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