The fivefold increase in opioid deaths between 2000 and 2017 rivals even the COVID-19 pandemic as a health crisis for America. Why did it happen? Measures of demand for pain relief – physical pain and despair – are high but largely unchanging. The primary shift is in supply, primarily of new forms of allegedly safer narcotics. These new pain relievers flowed mostly to areas with more pain, but since their apparent safety was an illusion, opioid deaths followed. By the end of the 2000s, restrictions on legal opioids led to further supply-side innovations which created the burgeoning illegal market that accounts for the bulk of opioid deaths today. Because opioid use is easier to start than end, America’s opioid epidemic is likely to persist for some time.
A central challenge in securing property rights is the subversion of justice. We present a model of a polluter whose discharges harm multiple owners, and we compare property rules, liability rules, and regulation on efficiency grounds. We provide conditions under which property rules are preferred to liability rules, thus verifying the Calabresi-Melamed conjecture. Regulation that enforces partial abatement may be preferred to either of the extreme rules. An empirical analysis of water quality in the United States before and after the Clean Water Act shows that the effects of regulation are consistent with several predictions of the model.
How do the different elements in the standard bundle of property rights, including those of possession and transfer, influence the shape of cities? This paper incorporates insecure property rights into a standard model of urban land prices and density, and makes predictions about investment in land and property, informality, and the efficiency of land use. Our empirical analysis links data on institutions for land titling and transfer with multiple urban outcomes, in 190 countries. The evidence is generally consistent with the model’s predictions, and more broadly with the Demsetz’s (1967) approach to property rights institutions. Indeed, we document world-wide improvements in the quality of institutions facilitating property transfer over time.
How does gentrification transform neighborhoods? Gentrification can harm current residents by increasing rental costs and by eliminating old amenities, including distinctive local stores. Rising rents represent redistribution from tenants to landlords and can therefore be offset with targeted transfers, but the destruction of neighborhood character can – in principle – reduce overall social surplus. Using Census and Yelp data from five cities, we document that while gentrification is associated with an increase in the number of retail establishments overall, it is also associated with higher rates of business closure and higher rates of transition to higher price points. In Chicago and Los Angeles especially, non-gentrifying poorer communities have dramatically lower turnover than richer or gentrifying communities. However, the primary transitions appear to the replacement of stores that sell tradable goods with stores that sell non-tradable services. That transition just seems to be slower in poor communities that do not gentrify. Consequently, the business closures that come with gentrification seem to reflect the global impact of electronic commerce more than the replacement of idiosyncratic neighborhood services with generic luxury goods.
This paper summarizes economic research on investment in public infrastructure and introduces the findings of several new studies on this topic. It begins with a review of several potential justifications for the public sector’s involvement in building, financing, and operating infrastructure, including limitations of private capital markets, externalities, and the control of natural monopolies. It then describes the conditions that characterize an optimal infrastructure investment program, emphasizing the need to extend project-based microeconomic cost-benefit analysis to incorporate the value of economy-wide macroeconomic and other externalities. It notes the importance of efficient use of infrastructure capital, and discusses three areas – procurement, project management, and expenditure on externality mitigation – where further research could identify paths to efficiency improvement. It concludes by identifying several trends that have emerged since outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic that may have long-term effects on the role of both physical and digital infrastructure in the U.S. economy.
American cities have experienced a remarkable renaissance over the past 40 years, but in recent years, cities have experienced considerable discontent. Anger about high housing prices and gentrification has led to protests. The urban wage premium appears to have disappeared for less skilled workers. The cities of the developing world are growing particularly rapidly, but in those places, the downsides of density are acute. In this essay, I review the causes of urban discontent and present a unified explanation for this unhappiness. Urban resurgence represents private sector success, and the public sector typically only catches up to urban change with a considerable lag. Moreover, as urban machines have been replaced by governments that are more accountable to empowered residents, urban governments do more to protect insiders and less to enable growth. The power of insiders can be seen in the regulatory limits on new construction and new businesses, the slow pace of school reform and the unwillingness to embrace congestion pricing.
Will the Opportunity Zone program, America’s largest new place-based policy in decades, generate neighborhood change? We compare single-family housing price growth in Opportunity Zones with price growth in areas that were eligible but not included in the program. We also compare Opportunity Zones to their nearest geographic neighbors. All estimates rule out price impacts greater than 1.3 percentage points with 95% confidence, suggesting that, so far, home buyers don’t believe that this subsidy will generate major neighborhood change. Opportunity Zone status reduces prices in areas with little employment, perhaps because buyers think that subsidizing new investment will increase housing supply.
Commerce requires trust, but trust is difficult when one group consistently fears expropriation by another. If men have a comparative advantage at violence and there is little rule-of-law, then unequal bargaining power can lead women to segregate into low-return industries and avoid entrepreneurship altogether. In this paper, we present a model of female entrepreneurship and rule of law that predicts that women will only start businesses when they have both formal legal protection and informal bargaining power. The model's predictions are supported both in cross-national data and with a new census of Zambian manufacturers. In Zambia, female entrepreneurs collaborate less, learn less from fellow entrepreneurs, earn less and segregate into industries with more women, but gender differences are ameliorated when women have access to adjudicating institutions, such as Lusaka's “Market Chiefs” who are empowered to adjudicate small commercial disputes. We experimentally induce variation in local institutional quality in an adapted trust game, and find that this also reduces the gender gap in trust and economic activity.