The Case for Small Government

A Libertarian Perspective on Economic and Social Policy

April 21, 2006

Housing Vouchers

New York City has announced a plan to increase the rents paid by the better off tenants in its public housing. Rents in these units have not increased since 1989. The proposal makes good sense as far as it goes: better off tenants should pay higher rents, reserving more of the housing subsidy for low-income households. Some of the current tenants have incomes as high as $100,000 per year. Under the proposal, low-income residents do not face a rent hike.

An alternative approach is for the city to sell its public housing units and offer means-tested housing vouchers. This reduces the city’s expenditure by limiting housing subsidies to low-income residents. And it means recipients can choose safer neighborhoods, better schools, or closer proximity to work.

Existing evidence on housing vouchers does not find dramatic effects on outcomes like employment for adults or standardized test scores for children. But the evidence doe suggest that voucher recipients are happier than they were in public housing. Choice seems to make people better off.


At 7:07 AM, Blogger Mike Huben said...

"Choice seems to make people better off." Here we have the traditional libertarian recognition of choice when convienient and overlooking it when not.

Public housing IS a choice, made by those poor people. None of them are sentenced to live in public housing. It is a government subsidized choice, as vouchers would be: not much for libertarians to choose from, and I've yet to hear a coherent libertarian explanation of how government should increase choices.

Usually, the libertarian (or capitalist) arguments we hear rant on about how sweatshop workers are making their best choices, but we don't hear from these folks how government should improve the choices available to those workers.

So why now in housing? Just another opportunity to bash government, I suppose.

At 10:48 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Mr. Huben:

Do you just hate libertarians and make confused arguments in your indignation, or are you purposefully trying to confuse?

To begin with, you say public housing is a choice? So that would mean that people who live in public housing have other options? They don't really need the government to provide housing for them? Good, we can eliminate the whole thing!

Now, assuming we are going to provide housing anyway (and actually, I disagree, its not generally a choice). The argument isn't that government should increase choices but that it shouldn't artificially limit them. The whole housing project/voucher argument isn't that the government should go around increasing people's choices willy nilly. It is when the government does help people, it shouldn't force them into dangerous neighborhoods or bad schools when there are better options available that create no more government expendatures.

Therefore your comment about sweatshops is inapplicable. You get at this argument by eliminating the context of government provided services. Nowhere in the whole post or other argument for vouchers in any context do you find support for the general principle that government should just go around increasing people's choices. It is only in the context of government providing a product to poor people, and then arbitrarily making it shoddy by limiting people's choice.

If the point is to provide poor people with housing, why not provide them with vouchers? Why not let them have some choice where they live? Why must we control them?

But it appears you are unwilling to make these distinctions, and recognize context. You would rather force other people's arguments into your preconceived generalizations. So why do you insist on distorting your opponents ideas to make them look inconsistent? Just another oppertunity to bash libertarians, I suppose.

At 11:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Housing vouchers, school vouchers, food stamps, sure, putting choice into the mix is way, way preferred by recipients over gov't provided housing, schools, etc.

The gov't should be not helping the poor at all. However if its going to help, then help. Don't pussyfoot around. Give cash. The best way to help is to give cash, the ultimate in choice, not this in-kind voucher type of stuff.

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