Stuck! The Law and Economics of Residential Stagnation
This Article advances two central claims. First, declining interstate mobility rates create problems for federal macroeconomic policymaking. Low rates of interstate mobility make it harder for the Federal Reserve to meet both sides of its “dual mandate”: ensuring both stable prices and maximum employment. Low interstate mobility rates also impair the efficacy and affordability of federal safety net programs that rely on state and local participation, and reduce wealth and growth by inhibiting agglomeration economies. While determining an optimal rate of interstate mobility is difficult, policies that unnaturally inhibit interstate moves worsen national economic problems. Second, the Article argues that governments, mostly at the state and local levels, have created a huge number of legal barriers to interstate mobility. Land-use laws and occupational licensing regimes limit entry into local and state labor markets. Different eligibility standards for public benefits, public employee pension policies, homeownership subsidies, state and local tax regimes, and even basic property law rules inhibit exit from low-opportunity states and cities. Furthermore, building codes, mobile home bans, federal location-based subsidies, legal constraints on knocking down houses, and the problematic structure of Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy all limit the capacity of failing cities to “shrink” gracefully, directly reducing exit among some populations and increasing the economic and social costs of entry limits elsewhere. Combining these two insights, the Article shows that big questions of macroeconomic policy and performance turn on the content of state and local policies usually analyzed using microeconomic tools. Many of the legal barriers to interstate mobility emerged or became stricter during the period in which interstate mobility declined. While causation is difficult to determine, public policies developed by state and local governments more interested in guaranteeing local population stability than ensuring successful macroeconomic conditions either generated or failed to stymie falling mobility rates. The Article concludes by suggesting how the federal government could address stagnation in interstate mobility.