Rent control: and the beat goes on


In early January, I argued that Oregon’s enactment of a statewide rent control law would be just the beginning (Rent control: another bad idea out of Salem). Pressure would build quickly to reduce the law’s annual rent increase limit of 7 percent plus inflation, currently totaling about 10 percent, I said.

No surprise, the push for tougher rules has already begun.

It began with a Feb. 1, 2019 editorial in Street Roots, a weekly street newspaper published in Portland that’s sold by members of the local homeless community.

“The profit motive has been allowed to triumph over the fact that housing is a fundamental human need to survive,” the editorial said. “For too many decades, the marketplace has been allowed to skew sharply toward money over humanity, and Oregon is just too attractive of a market to pass up. It’s time for the pendulum to swing the other way.”

The editorial highlighted the need for the prohibition on rent control action by local governments to be lifted and noted that rent increase limits elsewhere are much lower.

“Rent stabilization elsewhere in the country comes in at much lower percentage,” the editorial said. “Take Berkeley, where a different calculation regulates rent increases to no more than 3 or so percent. In New York, it’s approximately 1.5 percent.”

Mary King, a professor of economics emerita at Portland State University, followed up with a March 1, 2019 Street Roots commentary also arguing that the rent increase limit is too high.

Oregon’s new rent control law was “…designed to stop only extreme rent gouging and limit no-cause evictions” and prohibits cities from passing their own, stronger rent stabilization policies, King said.

Ten percent is just too high a limit, particularly when compared with some tighter limits set elsewhere, King wrote. “Capping annual increases at 10 percent would have only slightly limited the unaffordable growth in rents in Portland over the past five years,” she added.

Oregon’s rent control law represented only “…progress against the worst excesses,” King said. “However, if the state would allow it, Portland could pass a much stronger, more effective rent stabilization policy without harming the supply of housing. Our best next step would be to pass a second bill to lift pre-emption on cities hoping to set their own course – and get to work in Portland.”

The Legislature’s rent control bill was essential because it would establish a “better baseline,” the Street Roots editorial said, “but we expect them to keep fighting. We will too.”

Hang on landlords and tenants. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.








Economists endorsing Measure 97: not as good as it looks


Yes on 97 aggressively trumpets that Measure 97 enjoys widespread support among economists.

To learn the reason for such support, I queried some of the economists identified as Measure 97 endorsers.

“Higher taxes on corporations are exactly what’s needed to spur equitable growth,” said Dr. Susan Feiner, professor of economics at the University of Southern Maine.

“No one likes paying taxes, but the State of Oregon needs revenue, and Measure 97 is a reasonable way to raise it,” said Anders Fremstad, Asst. Professor of Economics at Colorado State University.

 “…I spent my career at Portland State, where two decades of relentless cuts have resulted in declining quality in what we offer students…,” said Mary King, Professor Emerita, Economics Dept., Portland State University. “I have been thinking for years about how we could turn around our state, and invest in education the way that other states do.
After carefully reading all of the analyses of the measure, meeting with the authors of the studies to talk with them, and then with other economists, I am in complete support of Measure 97.”

“It is high time to address the widening income inequalities right across countries and the world at large,” said Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, Development Economist & Principal Researcher at the Point Pedro Institute of Development in Sri Lanka. “Tax policy is one tool that could help narrow the widening income gap across communities and countries; raising taxes on corporations is one such policy tool.”

All in all, Yes on 97 lists 89 economists as endorsers of Measure 97. The list includes economists affiliated with schools such as Rutgers University, University of California-Berkeley, Northeastern University, Howard University, Bowdoin College, the University of South Australia and Anadolu University in Turkey.

No question it’s a long list, but a couple things stand out.

One is that just 18 of the 89 economists cited as supporters of Measure 97 are from Oregon*.

For a tax measure that its backers say is widely supported, the limited number of economist endorsers from Oregon challenges that assertion.

Another thing that stands out is the clear, and disturbing, anti-capitalism bent of some of the economists.

One endorser, Michael Meeropol, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Western New England University, is the younger son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who were convicted and executed on Jun 19, 1953 for passing secrets of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. Meeropol calls himself a “New Leftist” and is calling for “…a fundamental restructuring of neoliberal, globalized capitalism.”

“Whether you hold your nose and vote for Clinton and Kaine, decide to vote for Green Party Candidate Jill Stein, or sit out the election entirely, don’t accept that you are voting for a “progressive” unless you are voting for someone whose program at least seeks to restructure, if not destroy, today’s rapacious capitalism,” Meeropol says in his blog.

Another endorser, Yan Liang, Associate Professor of Economics at Willamette University, is an active member of The Union for Radical Political Economics, which says its mission “…involves a continuing critique of both the capitalist system, and of all forms of exploitation and oppression” with a goal of constructing a “radical alternative to capitalism.”

Endorser Robert Pollin is Co-Director of the Political Economy Research Institute at University of Massachusetts-Amherst. The economics department of the university is known for its Marxist traditions and radical economics. Pollin is also a member of the Union of Radical Political Economics, which represents the nation’s Marxist economists.

Then there’s endorser Martin Hart-Landsberg, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Lewis & Clark College in Portland. “…it is capitalism (as a dynamic and exploitative system)…that must be challenged and overcome,” Hart-Landsberg wrote in Neoliberalism: Myths and Reality.

Maybe Yes on 97’s list of economists isn’t such a blessing to the campaign.


*Economists from Oregon supporting Measure 97

  1. Cliff Bekar, Professor and Chair of Economics at Lewis & Clark College
  2. Marty Hart-Landsberg, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Lewis and Clark College; Member of Workers’ Rights Board, Portland Jobs with Justice
  3. Justin Elardo, Instructor of Economics at Portland Community College
  4. David Ervin, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Management and Economics at Portland State University
  5. John Gallup, Assoc. Professor of Economics at Portland State University
  6. Mary King, Professor of Economics at Portland State University
  7. James Woods, Assist. Professor of Economics at Portland State University
  8. John Hall, Professor of Economics at Portland State University
  9. Jerry Gray, Professor of Economics at Willamette University
  10. Yan Liang, Assoc. Professor of Economics at Willamette University
  11. Cathleen Whiting, Assoc. Professor of Economics at Willamette  University
  12. Tabitha Knight, Assist. Professor of Economics at Willamette University
  13. Margaret Hallock, Professor Emerita of Economics at University of Oregon
  14. Gordon Lafer, Professor and Political Economist at University of Oregon
  15. Hassan Pirasteh, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Southern Oregon University
  16. Linda Wilcox Young, Professor of Economics at Southern Oregon University
  17. Kevin Furey, Instructor of Economics at Chemeketa Community College
  18. Denise Hare, Professor of Economics at Reed College