Monthly Archives: February 2016

When to permit new construction

In places with zoning laws (restrictions on what kind of buildings are allowed at a given address), there is often debate on whether to relax the restrictions. This would allow new construction or enlargement of existing buildings. The renters are generally in favour of more buildings, because the increased supply of housing lowers prices at a given demand. The landlords oppose construction, because it reduces the rents they can charge. These economic arguments are already part of the debate.

Much lobbying effort (that costs time and money and may create corruption) could be avoided if the market price of housing (rents or house transactions) was used directly in the regulations. New construction is allowed if the average rent is above a cutoff and denied below. Zoning laws may be a bad thing overall, but if they are to remain, they could be made more resistant to manipulation by basing restrictions on objective indicators, not lobbying.

The good incentives created by this require interest groups to put their money where their mouth is: if landlords want to prevent new construction, they should lower the rents they charge. Only with average rents low would building be blocked. Similarly, if tenants want more housing, they should pay the landlords more. They may of course decide to pool their money and found a property development firm instead.

Property developers want to get construction permits for themselves, but deny them to other property developers (their competition). The motivation to get a permit by fair means or foul is stronger when property prices are higher. In this case, the above reliance on the market price to regulate permits does not create good incentives. If new housing is allowed when prices are high, developers are motivated to form a cartel and raise the price. Permits reward high prices. A good price-based regulation of property development would require the opposite of the rental market mechanism – a low selling price of new housing should lead to more construction permits.

Raising the efficiency of the housing market

Empty housing is wasteful from society’s point of view. Both landlords and renters would benefit from finding a suitable counterparty to contract with faster. There are already online systems for listing housing for rent and sale, and also notice boards for people seeking housing. This is a good start, but a predictive system would be better. Given enough data, computers could forecast who is a good tenant or landlord and which apartment or house suits a given person’s preferences. Less searching would be needed by all involved.

Rental agencies already have a tenant database where they exchange references for renters. A similar online system should be created for landlords and housing (distinguishing the two). Also, the rental agency or real estate bureau should be rated separately from the people working in it, otherwise bad agents may move from one employer to another and escape their reputation. A bad notoriety may even motivate a person to change their name. For good agents, the loss of a reputation not tied to their person may make it difficult to change jobs.

Instead of chancing on complaints or praise in forums, a renter could see a summary rating of many rental agencies, agents and buildings in one place. The building database should include objective measures like the distance of a building to the city centre and the nearest supermarket, the yearly electricity and heating bills, the outdoors noise level in decibels, some average air pollution measure, school catchment areas, floor plan and area, etc. This saves labour for prospective tenants, so each of them does not have to search for the same data from various sources. Information entered by past renters is hopefully objective and protects novice tenants like students from being misled by advertisements like “five minute drive to the city centre” (only at 3 am when the roads are empty, in a Formula 1 car), “short walk to the supermarket” (short compared to the Shackleton Solo expedition), “safe neighbourhood” (compared to a war zone), “quiet” (relative to a rock concert), “spacious” (roomier than a shoebox), “close to nature” (insects and rodents inside). Distances to various landmarks could be automatically downloaded from Google Maps when the building address is known. Crime, pollution and traffic density statistics could similarly be autocompleted.

Renters should be able to select the measures they consider important in the data and get a ranking of the housing on offer according to these. Once someone has rated several apartments, the system could potentially predict the housing that would please that person.

Koostöö kiusatuse vastu

Lapsevanemad võivad kokku leppida, et ei tutvusta oma lastele arvutimänge või komme. Kui lapsed neist ei tea, siis nad neid ei ihalda ega nuru. Teada saadakse tihti koolikaaslaste või sõprade kaudu, nii et infosuluks on vaja terve kooli ja naabruskonna vanemate koostööd. Samuti võib sõpruskond kokku leppida, et keegi ei osta endale uut tehnikavidinat, mis teised kiusatusse tõukaks.

Reklaamid on välja mõeldud kiusatuste tekitamiseks. Avalike kohtade reklaame on raske vältida, kui just terve riik ei otsusta neid keelata (alkoholi- ja tubakareklaamiga on seda tehtud). Televisiooni- ja internetireklaami vastu on saadaval programmid. Kui terve riik kokku lepib, võib keelata mitmesugused kahjulike kaupade müügitegevused. Osalt on seda tehtud, näiteks valelike väidete esitamisele turunduses on piirangud ja ravimite otsereklaam tarbijale on mõnes riigis keelatud. Kollektiivne kaitse müügitegevuste vastu aitab kõigil kiusatustele vastu seista.

Infosulgu kasutavad kommunistlikud diktatuurid – kui rahvas ei tea, kui hästi välismaal elatakse, siis nad ei ihalda endale sarnast elu ega taha selle nimel süsteemi muuta. Nagu paljusid meetodeid, võib teabepiiranguid luua nii heal kui halval eesmärgil.

Turundajate vastuargument reklaamipiirangutele on sõnavabadus või ettevõtlusvabadus. Eks tuleb kaaluda, kui palju kahju teeb piirang ja kui palju kiusatuskaupade müük. Kui inimesed soovivad oma tulevase mina oste ja tarbimist teatud viisil piirata, võiks neil ka see vabadus olla.

Maksekaardipettuse takistamisest

Maksekaardipettused on suur tuluallikas kuritegevusele ja selle vastu on kaardifirmad juba välja mõelnud mõned vargusi ennetavad meetmed. Näiteks kui kaarti kasutatakse võõras riigis või suurte maksete jaoks, helistab klienditeenindus ametlikule kaardikasutajale ja kontrollib, kas tehingu tegi ikka tema. Selliseid meetmeid võiks edasi arendada ja panna rohkem kasutaja kontrolli alla. Kui inimene teab, et ta mingil kellaajal, teatud kohas või teatud kaupu kunagi ei osta, peaks ta saama need tehingud kaardiga keelata. Karsklane teab, et ta alkoholi ei osta, nii et alkoholi eest kaardiga maksmise saab võimatuks teha. Regulaarse uneajaga inimene ei tee oste magamise ajal, nii et võib blokeerida igal ööl ostud teatud ajavahemikus. Vanemad võiksid saada lapse maksekaardil tubaka- ja alkoholiostu blokeerida.

Lisaks võiks keelatud ostu ajast ja kohast automaatselt politseid teavitada. Maksekaardi vargus või kopeerimine oleks siis palju riskantsem, sest kurjategija üldjuhul ei tea, milleks ja mis ajal kaarti kasutada tohib. Kui proovib vale ostu teha, jääb vahele. Turvameetmena saavad seaduslikud kasutajad näiteks kahte eri välimusega maksekaarti kaasas kanda, millest ühega tohib osta ainult enne keskpäeva, teisega pärast.

Unustajale muidugi sellised turvameetmed ei sobi – kes kasutab kaarti hajameelselt valesti, peab pärast politseile tõestama, et on kaardi omanik. Aga elustiiliga loomulikult välistatud ostud ei tohiks selliseid probleeme tekitada.

Nõrga enesekontrolliga inimesed võivad tahta takistada ennast liiga palju kulutamast, pannes kaardile madala kulupiirangu ja keelates teatud liiki ostud. See ilmselt kaardifirmadele ei meeldiks, kuna nad saavad suurema kasumi kui kaardiga rohkem ostetakse.