Some years ago Outkast rapped, “What’s cooler than being cool? Ice cold!” To that let’s add a corollary: What’s hotter than a record made of ice? Maybe nothing.
That at least is the hope of the Swedish band Shout Out Louds, which is making frozen records to launch its new single “Blue Ice.” The band put together 10
kits that they’ll distribute to fans and the press. The kits contain a silicon mold of a 7-inch record and a bottle of distilled water; the silicon was chosen because it’s easy to pop the record out of it once frozen, the distilled water because it freezes clear, with no bubbles that would distort the music. The result is a fleeting, deftly promotional product that can be played just once before it turns into a puddle on your turntable. (Unless, of course, you’re playing it at an Arctic rave, where the music doesn’t melt till dawn.)
Zoning vs. America
In the debate about American income equality, one thing that puzzles economists is the wide gap between the richest and poorest states. Well-heeled Connecticuters, near the top of the pile, earn close to twice as much on average as folks in the poorest state in the country, Mississippi.
In theory it shouldn’t be this way: A widely accepted theory called “convergence” says that workers move toward better opportunities. The resulting labor scarcity means that states like Mississippi must pay more, and over time economic fortunes tend to equalize. But over the last 30 years that hasn’t happened across the 50 states, and in a new study two Harvard researchers point to an unlikely culprit to explain why: residential zoning laws.
For most of the 20th century, convergence—or the “catch-up effect”—did in fact describe economic relations among American states. In their paper, which is detailed in the latest issue of Harvard Magazine, Daniel Shoag and Peter Ganong show that from 1880 to 1980 the poorest states grew fastest economically. In 1940, for example, per capita income in Connecticut was 4.37 times per capita income in Mississippi, but by 1960 the gap had dropped by half, and by 1980 the ratio was down to 1.76. Convergence theory says the trend should have continued. Instead it stalled.
Shoag and Ganong propose a three-step explanation why. Convergence stopped because labor migration stopped; labor migration stopped because housing prices in the richest states grew so out of whack that low-skilled workers could no longer afford to move in; and housing prices skyrocketed in response to zoning laws written in the 1970s that artificially restricted the amount and type of housing that could be built in richer locales.
In the last couple years, zoning regulations—and the skewed housing market they create—have emerged as a bogeyman, blamed for a lot of our country’s structural inequalities and economic sluggishness. Three different books—“Triumph of the City” by Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, “The Rent is Too Damn High” by Slate columnist Matthew Yglesias, and “The Gated City” by Ryan Avent of The Economist—have all argued along the same lines as Shoag and Ganong, that local zoning laws inflate housing prices, restrict where people can move, and end up crimping our country’s fortunes. If your town has minimum lot sizes, restricts building heights, or prohibits construction of multifamily housing, you may be preserving neighborhood character, but only at the cost of creating a much bigger economic problem.