Liberals vs Affordable Housing

Noting that the slumlord Donald Sterling “has profited enormously from the tendency of liberal cities in California to limit housing permits,” Reihan asks why the left sees a higher minimum wage as more important than expanding the housing supply:

Even if you believe that a higher wage floor will have absolutely no impact on employment levels or on net job growth, it seems sensible to first focus on limits on housing supply. If you believe that a higher wage floor might lead to the exclusion of some non-trivial number of less-skilled workers from the formal labor market, the case for focusing on limits on housing supply is even stronger, as it’s not at all clear that relaxing these limits will hurt anyone at all … Some homeowners might have to sacrifice spectacular views as they are surrounded by new housing developments. Yet this hardly seems like a compelling reason to force low-income households to pay much higher rents to be within easy commuting distance of employment opportunities. It turns out that for affluent liberal voters living in picturesque cities, it is cheap to back minimum wage hikes that might reduce employment levels for the less-skilled or raise prices for the kind of people who frequent quick-service restaurants and other establishments that employ low-wage workers while it is very dear to back policies that will increase housing supply.

Douthat sees this issue as a rare opportunity for some left-right convergence:

Reasonable people can disagree, but on the merits, if you care about working class opportunity and mobility, there is at least some public policy justification for policies (like a minimum wage set at $7.25 rather than $10.10) that try to maximize low-wage hiring even if it means some of those workers will rely on safety-net programs. Where the policies that protect and enrich the petits rentiers class are concerned, however – and seriously enrich literal rent-collectors like Donald Sterling – no such opportunity-enhancing justification exists. So when the urban left organizes around an agenda that targets low-wage employers and leaves the petits rentiers alone, it’s both embracing policies whose costs might exceed their benefits and leaving more deserving targets untouched.

This is why the anti-cronyist, anti-rentier, libertarian-populist idea that many conservatives have raised of late, both in response to all the Piketty excitement and as a reformist case in its own right, deserves more than just a dismissive sneer from egalitarian liberals.