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Booth: This reform would improve the ecological, and human, environment

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To be good citizens, faithful people must examine policies’ results, not just their intentions. One overly intrusive environmentalist policy alone has prevented the poor from accessing adequate housing and, ironically, reduced the diversity of the environment. If excluding the vulnerable from the economy is evil, as Pope Francis has written, then new approaches are needed, writes Philip Booth, a distinguished British professor of finance in a new essay for Religion & Liberty Transatlantic

He begins by opening an earnest dialogue with the pontiff’s social concerns:

Pope Francis likes to talk about how we have created an “economy of exclusion.” For example, in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis wrote, “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion.”

The marginalized are often excluded from the markets through cronyism – but Transparency International ranks the UK among the least corrupt governments in the world. Instead, Booth writes, land use policy has contributed to the nation’s growing and seemingly intractable housing crisis by preventing the market from relieving the pressure of the housing market.

It’s elementary supply-and-demand. Booth – a professor of finance, public policy, and ethics at the UK’s largest Catholic university (St. Mary’s University, Twickenham), as well as a senior academic fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs – explains the intentions and impact of restricting much of the supply of land from being used for new homes. The latter have been disastrous, as he writes in this summary:

People are literally excluded from the housing market by prohibitions on building; they are prevented by the cost of housing from moving from areas dominated by high unemployment or low wages to areas of high wages and low unemployment. High land prices lead to higher business costs and less business competition, raising other household costs. And the least-well-off are prevented from having dignified housing and attaining a level of disposable income after housing costs that would allow them to buy other necessities and have some money left over to save for times of greater need.

Because of high housing costs, 157,000 British children were never born, according to the London-based Adam Smith Institute.

At the same time, restrictions assigning vast swaths of land to agricultural use have actually diminished the number, species, and variety of animal and plant life, Booth notes. After his carefully developed and rigorously supported argument, he concludes:

In Britain, no single policy would benefit the poor more than a liberalisation of planning regulation. It would help ensure that all families could own a property (home ownership is at a 30-year low), something which many proponents of Catholic social teaching regard as intrinsically valuable. Whatever the fears that many have from over-development, counter-intuitively, in many respects, more building on land hitherto used for agriculture might well actually also improve the environment.

You can read his full essay here.

(Photo credit: Rennett Stowe. This photo has been cropped. CC BY 2.0.)

Rev. Ben Johnson Rev. Ben Johnson is Senior Editor at the Acton Institute.

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