I’ve been meaning to address the public education system’s complex role in land use patterns, and found that Murray Rothbard does a better job in his 1973 manifesto, For a New Liberty than I ever could. In summary, locally-funded public education is an engine of geographical segregation, which encourages flight from urban areas, and was a driving motivation for the popular acceptance of exclusionary zoning in newer suburbs. As a result, wealth is consistently concentrated geographically, and housing affordability is at odds with these restrictions of supply intended to exclude poorer people from draining the property tax base.
The geographical nature of the public school system has also led to a coerced pattern of residential segregation, in income and consequently in race, throughout the country and particularly in the suburbs. As everyone knows, the United States since World War II has seen an expansion of population, not in the inner central cities, but in the surrounding suburban areas. As new and younger families have moved to the suburbs, by far the largest and growing burden of local budgets has been to pay for the public schools, which have to accommodate a young population with a relatively high proportion of children per capita. These schools invariably have been financed from growing property taxation, which largely falls on the suburban residences. This means that the wealthier the suburban family, and the more expensive its home, the greater will be its tax contribution for the local school. Hence, as [p. 133] the burden of school taxes increases steadily, the suburbanites try desperately to encourage an inflow of wealthy residents and expensive homes, and to discourage an inflow of poorer citizens. There is, in short, a breakeven point of the price of a house beyond which a new family in a new house will more than pay for its children’s education in its property taxes. Families in homes below that cost level will not pay enough in property taxes to finance their children’s education and hence will throw a greater tax burden on the existing population of the suburb. Realizing this, suburbs have generally adopted rigorous zoning laws which prohibit the erection of housing below a minimum cost level — and thereby freeze out any inflow of poorer citizens. Since the proportion of Negro poor is far greater than white poor, this effectively also bars Negroes from joining the move to the suburbs. And since in recent years there has been an increasing shift of jobs and industry from the central city to the suburbs as well, the result is an increasing pressure of unemployment on the Negroes — a pressure which is bound to intensify as the job shift accelerates. The abolition of the public schools, and therefore of the school burden-property tax linkage, would go a long way toward removing zoning restrictions and ending the suburb as an upper middle-class-white preserve.
Later chapters address other urbanism-related issues, and I’ll share those insights as I come across them.
For a New Libertyis available for free from the Mises Institute in full as an html page, a pdf, or audio book read by Jeffrey Riggenbach. (the audio version is how I am finding time to absorb it among the rigors of caring for the little guy) Bryan Caplan also summarizes this chapter (and each chapter) as part of the Econlog Book Club.