Housing Supply Elasticity and Rent Extraction by State and Local Governments

Housing Supply Elasticity and Rent Extraction by State and Local Governments

American Economic Journal: Economic Policy. February
2017, Vol. 9, Issue 1, Pages 74-111

Governments may extract rent from private citizens by inflating taxes and spending on projects benefiting special interests. Using a spatial equilibrium model, I show that less elastic housing supplies increase governments’ abilities to extract rents. Inelastic housing supply, driven by exogenous variation in local topography, raises local governments’ tax revenues and causes citizens to combat rent seeking by enacting laws limiting the power of elected officials. I find that public sector workers, one of the largest government special interests, capture a share of these rents through increased compensation when collective bargaining is legal or through corruption when collective bargaining is outlawed.