Hodges building and landscaping

Hodges building and landscaping

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Hodges building and landscaping business on the corner of High and Third, which he’d purchased in 2011, at a bargain-basement price. The store’s opening had triggered a wave of economic activity on the corner, which was the first of its kind in the city’s recent history. As business surged and rents went up, the building became known to some as “the gold mine,” “the best spot in town,” and “the new downtown.”

Hodges’s son, Mike, who works in the store, said that “all the businesses that we bought have done extremely well.” The family’s business is flourishing. But as he said so, he pointed out that there was a downside. The rise in rents meant that he, too, had to increase his rents. Now he had a choice: Either he could reduce his rents further to lower the cost of his goods, which might help his business, or he could raise the prices of his goods. “If I reduce my rents, it’s going to go out and I can’t control what happens on the market. So I raised the price,” he said.

Hodges knows what he’s talking about, as do many of the people who run the businesses on the corner. They’ve seen the results, in rents and in business, when rents go up. What has been happening on High Street is a perfect example of what economists call a “rent strike”: business owners have raised their prices so high, the government is now stepping in to lower the rents, and businesses that were thriving before are going out of business. In short, rent increases for businesses have resulted in higher prices. What is going on in Charlottesville?

It’s a story that is playing out around the country: from New York to San Francisco, and from Providence to Cincinnati. Some of the business owners say it’s not fair that the government is taking away their right to increase the price of their goods. They don’t see it as a matter of government versus the free market. It’s that the government is, in effect, taking away a property right that’s been there since the very beginning of the country.

It’s a similar story to the one the property owners in Charlottesville were telling Hodges about “fair market value,” and the right of people to buy and sell their property in a free market. “We’re not opposed to regulations,” Hodges told me. “But not because we want to keep the community safe or anything like that.” He said the people in Charlottesville are not opposing regulations for the sake of the regulations, but for the sake of fairness and due process. “If you’re a business owner and you’re doing something wrong,” he said, “and the government comes and starts shutting you down, it’s not right.”

But as David Crockett wrote in The Atlantic earlier this year, the issue goes beyond due process: If property values are artificially low, then prices for business loans are artificially low. This causes the cost of starting up a business to be higher. In Crockett’s words, “a low stock market means a limited supply of savings—and a limited supply of savings means a more expensive house for many first-time homebuyers.”

Hodges said if government were to act as an effective regulator, it could help level the playing field. In the past, businesses have had the ability to sue under anti-trust laws when the government does something unfair to them. If a particular government agency tried to keep out a particular kind of business, then a lawsuit could be filed.

But those avenues are now largely closed. “These days, when you start a company,” said Hodges, “you could sue over an intellectual property theft, but you can’t sue over a regulation.” (In the same vein, Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp”—by appointing people who will not themselves be subjected to undue government influence—does not apply to regulatory agencies.)

The issue cuts across party lines. Republican Rep. John Curtis, a former mayor of San Antonio, has introduced a bill, the Regulatory Equality Act, that would bring back anti-trust laws. The Republican congressman said, “For too long, big government regulators have been able to do things that hurt the average American.” Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a former Texas representative, said of the bill: “The only way to make sure that they can’t block competition in an unfair way is to say, ‘Look, you’re not going to be able to break up a company by threatening to cut off their access to credit.’ ”

The bill is not likely to be passed, and it may be politically untenable. But it points to a larger question: If the federal government makes regulatory decisions that go against your interest, what are you left with? “For a lot of people,” Hodges said, “it’s more politically palatable to complain about an anti-trust law or a federal law than about how your kid doesn’t get a free test because of Obamacare.”

Even if the federal government does not act against you, local or state governments may. While the Trump administration has issued rules that seem beneficial to the oil and gas industry, for example, the administration’s plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, and the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, for example, mean that local and state governments could continue to enact regulations.

And a state could still impose limits on the price you can be charged.

In some states, like New York and California, the state government has enacted rules to create more reliable energy for consumers. In New York, the rules include forcing the energy industry to disclose its finances, and to make sure that prices are not manipulated by energy companies. In California, the rules require greater energy efficiency.

“We have many things that go on in the states that are working against the interests of big oil and gas and fossil fuels,” John Podesta, who is a counselor to President Barack Obama, told me. Podesta is a co-founder of the Center for American Progress. “In the states, there is a lot of action, and I would expect that it would continue.”

If you do not live in California or New York, you may be forced to travel elsewhere to purchase electricity. If you live in one of those states, and energy prices are too high, you might find a state-by-state list of prices that can be searched on the Utility Energy Project.

If the feds decide to impose a cap on carbon, that may mean more competition, which could make your electricity more expensive. A state could still set its own limits, for example, by enforcing carbon pricing.

And a state could still impose limits on the price you can be charged.

State-level climate policy might also mean lower taxes for you.

The EPA is still weighing whether to impose a federal cap on the overall level of carbon emissions. It is also weighing whether to require power plants to obtain permits to pollute.

But the EPA could impose the two rules on power plants, and this would reduce competition, because it would mean that only utilities with permits to emit carbon dioxide would have a large pool of people who might switch

Watch the video: LDN Creates: Liam Hodges x Daisie


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