Story Stream
recent articles

Slumlords are once again bring unfairly picked upon by the economically illiterate.

You’ve heard the song “East side, west side, all around the town?” Well, here, we have East side, west side, all around the country, politicians with pitchforks and torches are lining up to bash slumlords with new and more intrusive penalties. This would include, at the tip of the iceberg, New Orleans City Councilman Joe Giarrusso, Long Beach California City Council in a 9-0 vote, the Fresno California City Council, New York City Council Housing Committee Chairman Jumaane Williams and Seattle’s socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant.

Now it is one thing if a landlord violates a contract to provide a certain level of services. That constitutes contract violation, and we already have laws on the books dealing with those who engage in such nefarious activities. What we have here is something far different: an attack on renting or selling goods that are deemed inferior by third (political) parties.

Who, then, are the slumlords? They are the entrepreneurs who make slum housing available to renters. And what, in turn is slum housing? It is inferior, not top drawer, low-cost residences.

Are there any other areas of the economy in which cheap sub-standard merchandise is purveyed? You’re darn tootin’ there are. Used cars for example. No, wait, sorry, there are no longer any such things bought and sold or rented. A thousand pardons. Rather, they are now called “previously owned vehicles.” But alterations in nomenclature cannot change the reality that these automobiles are still of lesser value, and able to be purchased at a lower price, than, new versions thereof. Why, then, are not these called “slum cars?” Who knows. Presumably powerful forces in charge of verbal characterizations are responsible. But the facts fit: these are, indeed, “slum vehicles.” If the politicians now leading the charge against “slum housing” had an ounce of logical consistency, they would be inveighing, too, against these “exploiters.”

What else in our economy can be considered “slummy” in that its quality is lower than can be imagined? This would include used furniture, clothes, bowling shoes, bowling balls, fences, dishes, cutlery. A perusal of google will reveal hundreds of items commonly rented, that is, used, ugh, before, by other, ugh, disgusting people. Here are several of top items in terms of popularity for rental: Event decor and equipment. Camera and AV equipment. Bikes. Party equipment and inflatables. Camping and hiking equipment. Tools and Construction Equipment. Suits and Wedding Dresses. Water sports equipment. Ask Sheldon of “The Big Bang” comedy show what he thinks about renting a tuxedo. Yuk.

Let’s get serious here. Calling something by the pejorative “slum” changes reality by not one single iota. The government is trying to ban slum housing. To the degree it succeeds, it prevents “capitalist acts between consenting adults” in the phraseology of libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick.

What is the economic point underlying all of this? It is simple. It is that some people prefer inferior quality items at lower cost to better quality but more expensive purchases or rentals. We don’t even have to resort to slum or used products. New ones will also do, quite nicely, to illustrate this economic insight. For example, the BMW, the Cadillac, the Maserati and the Rolls Royce are very expensive high-quality automobiles, whereas the Ford, the Chevy, the Toyota and the Honda, while reliable, are less luxurious and more affordable. If the “logic” of these “slumlord” opponents were employed here, the latter type of vehicle would be banned entirely. If so, the average quality of this product would sharply rise. Would people be better off? Of course not. They would be precluded from present voluntary choices.

In like manner, compared to what is offered by Harvard, a Loyola University New Orleans education is very mediocre. They’ve got lots of world class professors in the former place; far fewer, if any, in the latter case. So, ban it? Mozart, Bach, Handel and Vivaldi are, obviously, by far the very best composers to have ever graced our planet. Shall we prohibit all others? Must all newspapers of lesser quality than the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times be prohibited by law? That is precisely where this attack on “slumlords” is taking us.

Walter Block holds the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Economics at the J. A. Butt School of Business at Loyola University New Orleans, and is a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Show comments Hide Comments