Monday, April 15, 2024

Tax Day, Free Markets, and Housing Crisis

I have always been an advocate for free markets. Tax Day seems like an appropriate time for some reflections. 

Entrepreneurs should be rewarded for their risk and innovation. Those with property should be allowed to sell it, develop it, or hoard it. The free market seems like the only fair way to allocate resources. And employers and employees can negotiate appropriate wages without the interference of government. If wages are too low, a worker can find another employer who will pay a fair wage. The market is impartial and favors no one. 

Capitalism has served the Western world well, creating wealth like the world has never seen,  bringing new ways of meeting many of life's challenges. This system also allows investors to invest in innovation by purchasing stock. Enterprises can move at greater speed and greater scale thanks to the capital created with shared ownership.

But what happens when the free market goes wrong? Some would say that only interference in the free market causes problems. 

Today we see a growing problem in the housing market. Real estate prices have skyrocketed, while interest rates have moved to the highest levels in decades. That looks like the free market at work. But this free market now has a new kind of player. Investment firms with deep pockets are buying houses at high prices and high volumes. That is, these groups are buying up as much real estate as they can get their hands on. They are holding on to these properties and turning them into rentals. As demand for housing keeps rising, rental rates rise as well. Fewer homes are owned by individuals, giving these investment groups a lot of leverage in the housing market, allowing them to charge more and more rent. Those who don't own property are left with few choices. They have to pay high rent rates just to have a home.

This is the free market at work. The system works great for those with resources, but takes advantage of the poor. 

We are called by Jesus to love our neighbors. We need to find a loving way to help people have a place to live. Seems like the least we could do as a society.