Lies, damn lies, and Alex Tabarrok


Tabarrok today (in an article on which comments are closed):

Since Galbraith wrote, for example, the number of privately owned communities

has exploded. Today some 55 million Americans live in a private community,

many of which provide their own roads, garbage pickup, and aesthetic regulations.

No link, of course – but does that number seem as improbably high to

you as it did to me? A bit of googling didn’t take me to the source, but I did

find this:

By 2005, about 55 million people lived within a homeowners association, a

condominium, or a cooperative.

In other words, anybody who lives in an apartment lives, by Alex Tabarrok’s

definition, in a "private community". Which might be technically true,

but it’s certainly not the impression he’d like to give.

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6 Responses to Lies, damn lies, and Alex Tabarrok

  1. Felix, once again, you are incorrect. First, I did provide a link -reead the post again, it’s not hard to find. Robert Nelson is the authority on this phenomena and I linked to his book at Amazon, here it is again:

    Here is a shorter article by Nelson in which he explains:

    “Local government has been increasingly privatized since the 1960s. I don’t mean government services; I mean government itself. In 1965 less than 1 percent of all Americans lived in a private community association. By 2005, 18 percent—about 55 million people—lived within a homeowners association, a condominium, or a cooperative. Since 1980 about a half of all new housing units in the U.S. have been built within such associations; in California, the figure now is at least 60 percent. Such communities can be as small as a single building or as large as an entire city, but they’re often about the size of a neighborhood.”

  2. Felix says:

    A link to a book on Amazon is not going to help me find the source for the 55 million number, or what exactly it means. But your Reason link is the same as my Reason link. The 55 million includes everybody living in an apartment building, since apartment buildings are always either co-ops or condos.

  3. Wrong again. Rental apartments are completely different than condos or coops. A condo owner owns his apartment. Someone who lives in a cooperative owns shares in the “corporation” that owns the building. Most of the growth in private governments has been in home owner associations and condominiums – rental apartments are not at all included. Read Nelson’s book or my book The Voluntary City.

  4. Felix says:

    Fair point. But still. If you own your apartment, then you live in a “private community”. If you rent your apartment from the owner, then you live in a “private community”. If you rent your apartment from someone who rents the apartment from the owner, then you live in a “private community”. But if the landlord, ultimately, owns not just your apartment but the entire building, then you don’t live in a “private community”.

    Note the distinction here. At the moment, no one in my old apartment building, 203 Rivington Street, counts as living in a “private community”, because the whole building is owned by the landlord, Mr Chang. But if just one resident manages to persuade Mr Chang to sell them their apartment, then everybody in the building would, overnight, become part of a “private community”. It’s a silly distinction to make, and it has nothing to do with what Robert Nelson calls the privatization of government. I live in a public community, New York’s East Village. I don’t live in a “privately-owned community”, my walk-up tenement building’s legal status as a condominium notwithstanding.

  5. Co-ops and Condos can be very similar to homeowner’s associations in terms control over public and private space. Scale is immaterial (but that seems to be some of your point). Privatization of services typically correlates to maxmimizing control and minimizing expense, as private communities still like to leverage the available, publicly-funded regional police and fire services. A doorman often serves the same funcion as the rent a cop in a golf community.

    An area where the skewing you are pointing to might be coming from manufactured housing, and that breakout would be interesting. Most new ‘trailer parks’ are organized as private communities, with the attendant potential limitations, and manufactured housing is a big segment of housing growth over the past 20 years.

    Either way, one could assert pretty easily that their has been a paradigmatic shift in how local goverment in constituted any area that wasn’t highly developed prior to 1960 (the SW and SE primarily). It might not me too much a stretch to say this is once again we can blame Disney for (the creation of the Disney reservation in Orlando is still probably the most extreme example of large scale privatization of regional government in the country), but I suspect I’m in disagreement with Alex about the attractiveness of this devleopment.

  6. David Sucher says:

    The 55 million number is useless. You need to disaggregate it to see a breakdown. A co-op or condominium building of 200 apartments — in one structure — along Park Avenue has nothing to do with a subdivision in Arizona of 200 detached houses on 400 acres even though both will have a homeowners’ association. The key issue is “What does the homeowners association manage?” What is its spatial extent and what are its responsibilties? The two HOAs (above) have extremely different functions.

    The proliferation of condominium structures such as you have on Park Avenue by no means proves the point that “privately owned communities” are displacing local government. To buttress that point you have to fine tune the numbers to exclude the vast majority of in-city urban co-ops or condos which are in one building.

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