How to disagree with Lisa or complain to her bosses about rent control or anything else

Ok, so my rent control post was not sufficiently pro rent control for a gentleman in Oregon who went at me on Twitter to “dialogue” and I straight up said: I no longer interact with people who are nasty, and he was nasty. My post was also apparently too favorable towards rent control for other people. Okey dokey.

There are people in the world who do not deserve civility, as Drew Magary points out nicely here in GQ. I don’t feel like I am one of them because when people disagree with me politely, I am polite back–and if you write me a reasoned argument in an email that I see, I’m very likely to ask you to put up your post as guest post to serve as a counterpoint to mine because I care about helping people think about cities, and all I want here is to launch ideas and deliberation.

In particular, the gentleman who wanted to yell at me about his personal experience wanted me to understand that rent control really saved his life. That’s awesome. It’s great the policy helped him. I totally agree: policies that genuinely help people when they are in need have to treated with respect in public policy.

And I also understand that it can be very irritating to have some academic discuss a policy in a bland, abstract terms when that policy has been really important in helping you or really harmful to you or the people you care about. Don’t get me started about student loan programs, for instance.

But talking about the various pros and cons that researchers and others have pointed out about urban policies and politics is my job. The world does not need me to be a single-minded advocate for anything other thinking hard about urban policy and planning. There are plenty of true believers out there. The only thing I really really believe in is having special concern for those who are impoverished and oppressed in public policy.

I would love to advocate for all the right things all the time.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what those are, and I strongly suspect people who do think they know what the right things are all the time are full of shit–and often very, very damaging to precisely the people they tell themselves they are helping.

As I said before, I support carefully crafted rent controls. I’d be pleased to have the outraged gentleman write up his story and put it up here. I’ve had other people fill my ears about how terrible it is they couldn’t live in Berkeley, and they blame rent control. I would also be willing to post that up, too, if you send it and it’s readable.

I’m not afraid of a little hot debate, but I am tired of having to be polite and reasonable to people who are neither. Twitter thrives with little boys who want to “score points” instead of really get into the issues. I don’t have time to teach people public finance or urban economics in 230 characters, and if you don’t know the difference between the property tax and land value taxation, then yeah, ducks, I do know more about the subject than you do, and if you don’t understand how new mixed use by transit can lead to higher rents rather than lower (the amenity effect overshadows the new supply effect), then you best not be too loud about shouting at people worried about it.

But since the angry person calling me has threatened to go to my superiors, and should you wish to join him to complain about me to my bosses, here’s the list, starting with the lowest level of authority to the highest:

  1. Marlon Boarnet (department chair) (Marlon’s on Twitter (
    @Marlon_Boarnet) and is really, really brilliant except when he disagrees with me, which is when he’s wrongity wrong wrong, but he is also unfailingly courteous.)

  2. Mike Nichol (vice dean)
  3. Jack Knott (dean)
  4. Michael Quick (provost)
  5. Max Nikias (president)
  6. My mom (who eschews all social media and is kinda more worried about my weight and whether I’m saving for retirement than my policy views, but you could try, as she is the only one of these people who won’t bore the pants off you with talk about academic freedom when you complain.)

One thought on “How to disagree with Lisa or complain to her bosses about rent control or anything else

  1. lovely post. Thanks. I needed a smile this morning, and you provided it. Best.

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