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Article

In contrast with the existing cross-country literature on institutions and development the overview in this article focuses instead on case studies of institutions at the disaggregated level that help or hinder productivity growth. It also shows how along with rule-based systems institutional systems based on social relations and networks and community organizations can resolve some issues of collective action in development. At the level of the state, our discussion focuses on incentive issues in the internal organization of government and how the nature of accountability structures at different levels of government can help or hinder development. In view of the breadth of the relevant literature we have deliberately confined ourselves to the available empirical case studies in only the two largest developing countries, China and India.

Article

The house price boom that has been present in most Chinese cities since the early 2000s has triggered substantial interest in the role that China’s housing policy plays in its housing market and macroeconomy, with an extensive literature employing both empirical and theoretical perspectives developed over the past decade. This research finds that the privatization of China’s housing market, which encouraged households living in state-owned housing to purchase their homes at prices far below their market value, contributed to a rapid increase in homeownership beginning in the mid-1990s. Housing market privatization also has led to a significant increase in both housing and nonhousing consumption, but these benefits are unevenly distributed across households. With the policy goal of making homeownership affordable for the average household, the Housing Provident Fund contributes positively to homeownership rates. By contrast, the effectiveness of housing policies to make housing affordable for low-income households has been weaker in recent years. Moreover, a large body of empirical research shows that the unintended consequences of housing market privatization have been a persistent increase in housing prices since the early 2000s, which has been accompanied by soaring land prices, high vacancy rates, and high price-to-income and price-to-rent ratios. The literature has differing views regarding the sustainability of China’s housing boom. On a theoretical front, economists find that rising housing demand, due to both consumption and investment purposes, is important to understanding China’s prolonged housing boom, and that land-use policy, which influences the supply side of the housing market, lies at the center of China’s housing boom. However, regulatory policies, such as housing purchase restrictions and property taxes, have had mixed effects on the housing market in different cities. In addition to China’s housing policy and its direct effects on the nation’s housing market, research finds that China’s housing policy impacts its macroeconomy via the transmission of house price dynamics into the household and corporate sectors. High housing prices have a heterogenous impact on the consumption and savings of different types of households but tend to discourage household labor supply. Meanwhile, rising house prices encourage housing investment by non–real-estate firms, which crowds out nonhousing investment, lowers the availability of noncollateralized business loans, and reduces productive efficiency via the misallocation of capital and managerial talent.

Article

Urban sprawl in popular sources is vaguely defined and largely misunderstood, having acquired a pejorative meaning. Economists should ask whether particular patterns of urban land use are an outcome of an efficient allocation of resources. Theoretical economic modeling has been used to show that more not less, sprawl often improves economic efficiency. More sprawl can cause a reduction in traffic congestion. Job suburbanization can generally increase sprawl but improves economic efficiency. Limiting sprawl in some cities by direct control of the land use can increase sprawl in other cities, and aggregate sprawl in all cities combined can increase. That urban population growth causes more urban sprawl is verified by empirically implemented general equilibrium models, but—contrary to common belief—the increase in travel times that accompanies such sprawl are very modest. Urban growth boundaries to limit urban sprawl cause large deadweight losses by raising land prices and should be seen to be socially intolerable but often are not. It is good policy to use corrective taxation for negative externalities such as traffic congestion and to implement property tax reforms to reduce or eliminate distortive taxation. Under various circumstances such fiscal measures improve welfare by increasing urban sprawl. The flight of the rich from American central cities, large lot zoning in the suburbs, and the financing of schools by property tax revenues are seen as causes of sprawl. There is also evidence that more heterogeneity among consumers and more unequal income distributions cause more urban sprawl. The connections between agglomeration economies and urban sprawl are less clear. The emerging technology of autonomous vehicles can have major implications for the future of urban spatial structure and is likely to add to sprawl.

Article

Land is everywhere: the substratum of our existence. In addition, land is intimately linked to the dual concept of location in human activity. Together, land and location are essential ingredients for the lives of individuals as well as for national economies. In the early 21st century, there exist two different approaches to incorporating land and location into a general equilibrium theory. Dating from the classic work of von Thünen (1826), a rich variety of land-location density models have been developed. In a density model, a continuum of agents is distributed over a continuous location space. Given that simple calculus can be used in the analysis, these density models continue to be the “workhorse” of urban economics and location theory. However, the behavioral meaning of each agent occupying an infinitesimal “density of land” has long been in question. Given this situation, a radically new approach, called the σ -field approach, was developed in the mid-1980s for modeling land in a general equilibrium framework. In this approach: (1) the totality of land, L , is specified as a subset of ℝ 2 , (2) all possible land parcels in L are given by the σ -field of Lebesgue measurable subsets of L , and (3) each of a finite number of agents is postulated to choose one such parcel. Starting with Berliant (1985), increasingly more sophisticated σ -field models of land have been developed. Given these two different approaches to modeling land within a general equilibrium framework, several attempts have thus far been proposed for bridging the gap between them. But while a systematic study of the relationship between density models and σ -field models remains to be completed, the clarification of this relationship could open a new horizon toward a general equilibrium theory of land.

Article

Jacques-François Thisse

Despite the drop in transport and commuting costs since the mid-19th century, sizable and lasting differences across locations at very different spatial scales remain the most striking feature of the space-economy. The main challenges of the economics of agglomeration are therefore (a) to explain why people and economic activities are agglomerated in a few places and (b) to understand why some places fare better than others. To meet these challenges, the usual route is to appeal to the fundamental trade-off between (internal and external) increasing returns and various mobility costs. This trade-off has a major implication for the organization of the space-economy: High transport and commuting costs foster the dispersion of economic activities, while strong increasing returns act as a strong agglomeration force. The first issue is to explain the existence of large and persistent regional disparities within nations or continents. At that spatial scale, the mobility of commodities and production factors is critical. By combining new trade theories with the mobility of firms and workers, economic geography shows that a core periphery structure can emerge as a stable market outcome. Second, at the urban scale, cities stem from the interplay between agglomeration and dispersion forces: The former explain why firms and consumers want to be close to each other whereas the latter put an upper limit on city sizes. Housing and commuting costs, which increase with population size, are the most natural candidates for the dispersion force. What generates agglomeration forces is less obvious. The literature on urban economics has highlighted the fact that urban size is the source of various benefits, which increase firm productivity and consumer welfare. Within cities, agglomeration also occurs in the form of shopping districts where firms selling differentiated products congregate. Strategic location considerations and product differentiation play a central role in the emergence of commercial districts because firms compete with a small number of close retailers.

Article

The Indian Union, from the time of independence from British colonial rule, 1947, until now, has undergone shifts in the trajectory of economic change and the political context of economic change. One of these transitions was a ‘green revolution’ in farming that occurred in the 1970s. In the same decade, Indian migration to the Persian Gulf states began to increase. In the 1980s, the government of India seemed to abandon a strategy of economic development that had relied on public investment in heavy industries and encouraged private enterprise in most fields. These shifts did not always follow announced policy, produced deep impact on economic growth and standards of living, and generated new forms of inequality. Therefore, their causes and consequences are matters of discussion and debate. Most discussions and debates form around three larger questions. First, why was there a turnaround in the pace of economic change in the 1980s? The answer lies in a fortuitous rebalancing of the role of openness and private investment in the economy. Second, why did human development lag achievements in income growth after the turnaround? A preoccupation with state-aided industrialization, the essay answers, entailed neglect of infrastructure and human development, and some of that legacy persisted. If the quality of life failed to improve enough, then a third question follows, why did the democratic political system survive at all if it did not equitably distribute the benefits from growth? In answer, the essay discusses studies that question the extent of the failure.

Article

Christian A.L. Hilber and Olivier Schöni

Lack of affordable housing is a growing and often primary policy concern in cities throughout the world. The main underlying cause for the “affordability crisis,” which has been mounting for decades, is a combination of strong and growing demand for housing in desirable areas in conjunction with tight long-term supply constraints—both physical and man-made regulatory ones. The affordability crisis tends to predominately affect low- and moderate-income households. Increasingly, however, middle-income households—which do not usually qualify for government support—are similarly affected. Policies that aim to tackle the housing affordability issue are numerous and differ enormously across countries. Key policies include mortgage subsidies, government equity loans, rent control, social or public housing, housing vouchers, low-income tax credits, and inclusionary zoning, among others. The overarching aim of these policies is to (a) reduce the periodic housing costs of or (b) improve access to a certain tenure mode for qualifying households. Existing evidence reveals that the effectiveness and the distributional and social welfare effects of housing policies depend not only on policy design but also on local market conditions, institutional settings, indirect (dis)incentives, and general equilibrium adjustments. Although many mainstream housing policies are ineffective, cost-inefficient, and/or have undesirable distributional effects from an equity standpoint, they tend to be politically popular. This is partly because targeted households poorly understand adverse indirect effects, which is exploited by vote-seeking politicians. Partly, it is because often the true beneficiaries of the policies are the politically powerful existing property owners (homeowners and landlords), who are not targeted but nevertheless benefit from positive policy-induced house price and rent capitalization effects. The facts that existing homeowners often have a voter majority and landlords additionally may be able to influence the political process via lobbying lead to the conundrum of ineffective yet politically popular housing policies. In addition to targeted policies for individuals most in need (e.g., via housing vouchers or by providing subsidized housing), the most effective policies to improve housing affordability in superstar cities for all income groups might be those that focus on the root causes of the problem. These are (a) the strongly and unequally growing demand for housing in desirable markets and (b) tight land use restrictions imposed by a majority of existing property owners that limit total supply of housing in these markets. Designing policies that tackle the root causes of the affordability crisis and help those in need, yet are palatable to a voter majority, is a major challenge for benevolent policymakers.