Housing is one of the top issues in the German election on Sunday. Proposals reveal a traditional left-right divide: the Social Democrats and Greens seek to rein in prices with rent controls; the Christian Democrats and liberal Free Democrats call for more construction, including by relaxing planning laws and other regulatory requirements.
Coinciding with the federal election, a referendum in Berlin will decide whether the city-state expropriates about 200,000 homes.
The proposal is for private landlords owning more than 3,000 properties to be “socialized”. Supporters argue this would lower prices, as the houses would no longer need to be profitable, but this betrays a simplistic understanding of the market. If the government makes it impossible for developers and landlords to turn a profit, they will develop and rent out fewer apartments and the housing shortage will grow, not shrink.
That’s exactly what happened when Berlin froze rents last year: the number of apartments on the market dropped 57 percent. Owners kept their flats empty while the Constitutional Court reviewed the new law. It ruled in April that the freeze was unlawful. Renters had to suddenly pay a year’s worth of missed rent increases.
Stefan Löfven may be Europe’s first prime minister brought down by a housing crisis, but he is unlikely to be the last.
Löfven, a social democrat, lost the support of the far left over a proposal to allow landlords to freely set rents for newly-built apartments.
Rents in Sweden are usually negotiated between landlords and tenants’ associations.
Other countries struggle to find the right balance between public and private in housing too. Berlin instituted a citywide rent freeze last year, but it was struck down as unconstitutional by Germany’s highest court. Spain’s central government is challenging a Catalan rent cap. Authorities in Barcelona want to extend a moratorium on evictions that has been in place since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nearly all political parties in the Netherlands call for more government in health care.
The far-left Socialists and Greens would replace private health insurers with public health funds. Labor would keep the insurance companies but take away their power to negotiate prices with health providers. The Christian Democrats and far-right Freedom Party want to end competition between hospitals. Even the center-right VVD believes liberalization has gone too far.
I’m a member of the VVD, but on this point I disagree. (So I’m glad there are few concrete proposals to reverse liberalizations in the VVD’s manifesto.) The Dutch health-care system is one of the best in the world. In a column for Trouw, I challenge the parties that want to uproot it to point to a better example. If there isn’t one, let’s keep the system we have. Read more “Dutch Should Keep Health Care System They Have”
Massive rescue programs have prevented business failures and unemployment on the scale of the Great Depression, even though last year’s economic contraction was nearly as bad. The European Union agreed a €750 billion recovery fund, financed, for the first time, by EU-issued bonds. The money comes on top of national efforts. The United States Congress passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus, worth 10 percent of GDP, in March and added $484 billion in April. An additional $900 billion in relief was included in this year’s budget.
Joe Biden, the incoming American president, wants to spend $2 trillion more over the next four years to transition the United States to a greener economy and create a public health insurance program. Corporate tax would go up from 21 to 28 percent.
In Spain, a socialist government has introduced the biggest budget in Spanish history — partly to cope with the impact of coronavirus, but also to finance digitalization, electric cars, infrastructure, renewable energy and rural development. Taxes on income, sales and wealth are due to increase.
In the United Kingdom, the ruling Conservative Party is building more social housing and it might renationalize rail. Unlike during the last economic crisis, it does not propose to cut spending even though tax revenues are down.
Same in the Netherlands, where all the major parties agree the government needs to do more to reduce pollution and prevent people at the bottom of the social ladder from falling through the cracks.
I’m not opposed to more government per se. I’ve argued the United States should imitate policies in Northern Europe to improve child care, health care and housing.
As if we needed more proof the Republican Party has surrendered all its principles to Donald Trump, the president is trying to ban a private company by executive fiat and the party of free enterprise is silent.
Trump may have a point on the merits. The Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok has a lot of problems, not in the least its vulnerability to state interference.
If you’re trying to control housing costs in your city, don’t look to Berlin for inspiration.
The German capital is due to implement a five-year, across-the-board rent freeze in March. The measure is expected to save around 340,000 tenants money during that period, but it will come at the expense of housing affordability in the long term.
The German Economic Institute in Cologne estimates that Berlin’s policy will reduce the value of some properties by more than 40 percent.
A consequence of that will be underinvestment. The BBU, a trade association of developers in the Berlin and Brandenburg region, says its members expect to reduce investments by €5.5 billion and construction by a quarter.