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In Defense of My Defense of Parking Lots

A surprisingly large number of people – people who I respect – are taking issue with my latest AIER piece titled “In Praise of Parking Lots.” Here’s a note that I sent to a Cafe Hayek reader who is among my critics on this front.

Mr. W__,

Sincere thanks for your e-mail about my recent AIER piece on parking lots.

If I understand correctly your criticism of my piece, you fault me for apparently being unaware that government often mandates, as a condition for developers to construct buildings, the construction of parking lots. Such regulation results in the devotion of excessive amounts of space to parking.

You aren’t alone in taking issue with my piece on these grounds (no pun intended). A surprisingly large number of other people, who I respect (e.g., Jason Sorens), have also done so. This criticism of my piece surprises me, as I believe, with respect, that it misses the point.

In fact, I am aware of this intervention and in my essay I should have given it a parenthetical mention, along with the expression of my opposition to such regulation. My bad for not doing so. But I nevertheless stand by my essay.

Joni Mitchell wasn’t criticizing minimum parking requirements or, more generally, government intervention; she was criticizing, specifically, economic development that paves over grasslands and forests, and economic development more generally. It is that attitude that I challenged.

Nearly every aspect of life these days is distorted, to one degree or another, by government regulation or tax policies. I dare say that it’s practically impossible to find any good or service today that isn’t produced in quantities that government intervention makes either larger or smaller than these would be in an undistorted market.

Suppose that I’d instead written an essay pointing out the wrongheadedness of a bard who cursed industrialization. And suppose that in writing my essay I failed to mention that tariffs on manufactured goods lead to the construction of some factories that would otherwise not have been constructed, and that I also failed to mention that some factories are built or are maintained only because of government subsidies. Would my defense of industrialization be unjustified? Or suppose some other singer/songwriter complained poetically of the horrors of the automobile, and then I or someone else defended automobiles. Would our defenses of the automobile be weak or off-base because government subsidization of the building of roads and highways – combined with land-use restrictions – arguably increases the demand for, and use of, automobiles?

I don’t know what fraction of parking-lot space in the U.S. exists only because of government regulation. In absolute amount it’s undoubtedly large. But I am quite confident that relative to the amount of parking space that is built according to ‘correct’ market forces, the excessive amount is small, and likely minuscule. And unless it’s the case that all, or nearly all, parking lots exist only because of government regulation, then I believe that my criticism of Joni Mitchell’s attack on parking lots is appropriate. Again, she wasn’t bewailing minimum parking requirements; she was bewailing parking lots as a thing.

Nevertheless, again, I should have used some of the space in my essay to expressly object to minimum-parking requirements.

Thanks again for your note.


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