Ryan Avent

Ryan Avent is a writer on economic and urban issues living in Washington, D.C. He blogs at The Bellows.

Recent Articles

GAS AND THE SUBURBS.

by Ryan Avent Will expensive gas kill the suburbs? Journalists can't stop asking the question, and an increasing number of suburb defenders are rising in protest. The easy answer is: it depends. It depends on what happens to gas prices, and it depends on how we respond. But the best way to think about how American urban geography will change in response to expensive gas is to break the question down into smaller parts. I'm going to try to do that today. Smaller part one is this: will expensive gas lead to rejuvenated center cities? One thing that often gets neglected in news stories on this question is the extent to which center cities were resurgent before gas prices really took off. Central areas in both older cities and Sunbelt boomtowns began seeing new waves of investment beginning in the late 1990s. There were three main reasons for this. A big one was the rapid decline in urban crime that had plagued cities in the late 80s and early 90s. Shifting tastes and household sizes also...

TRADING DOWN.

by Ryan Avent One of the fun little economic discussions during the past few months focused on just how much of the increase in oil prices was due to speculation. Dean Baker, for instance, says some . Paul Krugman says not much . Today, Megan McArdle concludes : I think we can officially say there was a sizeable speculative premium in oil, given that major troubles in one of the world's major oil-producing regions did little to halt its fall. On the other hand, if that speculative premium was $40--the mid-to-high range of analyst estimates--then we're close to having wiped it out at this point. Don't start pricing minivans just yet. I disagree with Megan (though not about the minivans) and remain in the Paul Krugman camp. Why? For starters, short-term geopolitical supply disruptions don't actually affect oil prices all that much. Oil prices are trying to balance long-term supply with long-term demand. A relatively short crisis like that in Georgia doesn't much influence the...

YOU CAN TAKE THE KEYS FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS.

by Ryan Avent Our long national nightmare is over, folks; Matt Yglesias is back. And as good as ever. Apropos of a Washington Post column by Terry Box, explaining how he loves cars and by god you'll never take his car away , Matt writes : And, look, fine. If Terry Box wants to drive a gas-guzzling car, he should be free to do so. But what he shouldn’t be free to do is to expect large explicit and implicit subsidies. If we prices carbon emissions correctly, balanced funding between highways and transit, and regulated land use sensibly I bet people would drive a bunch less than they currently do. But I also bet people would still drive a lot. People drive much more on average in 2008 than they did in 1978, but it’s hardly as if the United States was a car-free zone thirty years ago. Nor should it become one! But while I’ve never actually heard anyone on the urbanist or green side of the debate argue that we should become a country without cars (as opposed to a country with somewhat...

NO CARS GO.

by Ryan Avent Yesterday, New Yorkers enjoyed the first day of the city's Summer Streets program, in which a swath of land in Manhattan is entirely closed to automobiles for six hours. The city will do it again the next two Saturdays and might continue with the program after that if residents like the result. It's a neat idea (one that New York borrowed from other cities), but it's most interesting not as a stepping stone en route to a car free future, but as a lesson about the importance of urban design. In much of America, declaration of a car-free day would primarily lead to a lot of stranded households, trapped miles away from any retail with nary a transit option or bike lane or (possibly) a sidewalk in sight. That's one reason that high gas prices have proven so painful for much of America. Cutting back on driving in a low-density landscape means cutting back on everything one does outside of the home. Over time, many suburban residents may substitute to more efficient...

THANK GOODNESS THAT'S OVER.

by Ryan Avent Let me also extend my hearty thanks to Ezra for having me here this week. I'll do my best to match the quality you all are used to. Let's get started, shall we? Markets appeared to celebrate the continued slide of oil prices yesterday, and why shouldn't they? Rising oil prices have squeezed corporate profits across the board, and the inflationary pressure expensive oil generates forced the Fed to bring an early end to interest rate cuts. Oil is now down over $30 from its recent high around $147 per barrel. Sure, that's still well above the price a year ago, but cheaper oil has to be good news, right? Not really. The recent decline in oil is a signal that traders think the global economy is going to get worse. Demand growth pushed prices up. Falling demand has allowed prices to fall. That's important, but strapped American drivers are unlikely to fret. A year ago, gas at $3.50 per gallon would have had jaws dropping. Now, drivers are likely to hug pumps that are once...

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