After our discussion yesterday of
Tyler Cowen at
Marginal Revolution helpfully chipped in by citing an interesting paper about measuring the non-pecuniary quality of life (e.g., climate) by looking at things like housing costs v. wages (in other words, where do people sacrifice the most financially to live?):
Are Big Cities Bad Placesto
Quality of Lifeacross
This is basically what I calculated back in 2005 in inverted form. I came up with standard of living by state by dividing median income for a family of four by
ACCRA’s cost of living index. My “Standard of
Living” measures the cost of what you can buy anyplace (e.g., a 3,000 square foot house on a half acre lot) while
Albouy’s “Quality of
Life” measures what money can’t buy if you’re living in, say,
Minnesota in a 3,000 square foot house on a half acre lot (e.g., mild
Hawaiian trade winds blowing year round).
In my old count,
Hawaii had the lowest standard of living, followed by
Minnesota had the highest standard of living. Of course,
California have nicer weather and more scenery than
Minnesota, so it all kind of evens out.
Albouy’s study measure the same dynamic, just flipping things upside down.
From his calculations, the nicest places to live in terms of people accepting depressed standards of living are:
Barbara – Santa
Maria – Lompoc,
CA — weighted more toward
Salinas, I imagine
Francisco – Oakland – San
Luis Obispo – Atascadero – Paso
NM (warning: watch the 7200′ elevation)
CO (nice moderate altitude)
In contrast, the lowest quality of life is found in:
After skimming it, I’d say it’s a very good study.
Albouy finds that “Mild seasons, sunshine, hills, and coastal proximity account for most inter-metropolitan quality-of-life differences.”
I’ve long pointed out that hills lead to
Not In My Back Yard politics that drive up housing costs by restricting development. Because current homeowners can see further from their backyards, they become busybodies meddling more in what other people are doing on their own property. For example, U2′s guitarist
The Edge has spent a fortune trying to get permits to build five houses on a ridge overlooking
Malibu beach, but his micro-development would be visible for miles and miles from the backyards of many of the most influential people in the entertainment industry.
In contrast, in flat
Houston, it’s hard to see very far, so people mind their own business more.
One quibble, and I think
Tyler beat me to it with his cryptic but insightful comments about marginalism: It’s interesting that big
Houston comes out near the
Rust Belt and
Mexican border town rock bottoms while small
California whitopias that intentionally restrict growth score very high.
My impression from the late 1970s was that, at least if you could live on the
OK. But then I went back to L.A. from mid-May to late
August, so I didn’t experience the full brunt of
Houston’s summers. Still I know a few supersmart rich guys who live in
Houston today specifically because the quality of life is good relative to the cost, so I’m skeptical that the quality of life in
Houston is as low as it says in the paper based on housing costs.
My guess is that
Houston’s super low score reflects a bit of a methodological problem in the study: Houston’s commitment to libertarian real estate development codes means its housing prices are lower, all else being equal, than more liberal places, such as
Detroit, which ranks ahead of
Houston in this paper (keep in mind that “Detroit” includes a lot of superb suburbs). In the long run, all that more or less washes out, but we don’t live in the long run, as
Keynes pointed out.
For example, by way of contrast to
Santa Barbara ranks #2 in
Quality of Life in part because of the huge real estate prices that only people with trust funds can afford. Some of that is because
Santa Barbara really is awfully nice.
But a lot of the premium people have to pay to live in
Santa Barbara is due to the restrictions on development of the huge amount of almost uninhabited coastal land west of
Santa Barbara along the 101 freeway. Santa
Barbara has suburbs like
Goleta, but no exurbs even though lots of people would pay good money to have at least a vacation home on the empty coastline west of S.B.
For example, the 101 Freeway runs alongside the
Pacific for 47 miles through
Santa Barbara County, but much of that that narrow but not insignificant sloping coastal plain west of
UCSB is spectacularly underdeveloped: all you see is some cows grazing and a ranch house every quarter mile or so.
Santa Barbara County had
Houston’s political ideology, that virtually uninhabited ranchland west of
Sandpiper golf course would be wall to wall ocean-view condos, which would lower the premium people had to pay to live in
Greater Santa Barbara, which would in turn lower
Santa Barbara’s ranking for
Quality of Life.
Some of that lower ranking would be real. If
Santa Barbara had not long ago refused to connect to the
California Water Project in order to prevent exurban development, there’d be more traffic on the 101 in
Santa Barbara, and the average person in the S.B. area would be fatter and more uncouthly dressed, which would, presumably, lower the
Quality of Life of the current residents of
But, everybody in S.B. would still have the nice weather and some of the scenery so I suspect that places with anti-development ideologies rank overly high in these ratings.
Vermont ranks behind only nice weather
California in this ranking, but, is the quality of life really that high there when you take the weather into account? Or does
Vermont use its supposedly liberal restrictions on development to stay up there with
Maine as the whitest state in the country by being too expensive for anybody other than
New York City and
Boston affluent liberal white flighters?
This brings me back to a major question of ideological framing. In elite discourse, it is seldom questioned that the current citizens of
Santa Barbara or
Marin County or
Malibu have not only the legal right but also the moral right, perhaps even the moral duty, to erect barriers to entry in the name of preserving the environment and the architectural heritage and any other rationalizations they dream up to keep out masses of less desirable
The potential newcomers being kept out of
Vermont would of course be much less white on average than the residents of these liberal bastions. But crimestop sets in at this point and pundits develop an overwhelming feeling of boredom and aversion toward the obnoxious person trying to get them to understand how the world works.
In contrast, the analogous idea that
America is kind of the
Santa Barbara or
Vermont of the world, and that
American citizens ought to have rights similar to those of the residents of these liberal whitopias to band together to enforce barriers to entry to foreigners wanting to move to
America is increasingly seen in
American elite discourse as obviously racist and, perhaps, downright genocidal.