Airbnb, Destructive Innovation, and Liberty

By William Newell

Portland is brainstorming regulations for temporary lodging made possible by websites like Airbnb. Airbnb describes itself as a “community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world.” The proposed rules would make homeowners pay a tax, get a permit, and follow certain limitations. Portland’s slow and conditioned acceptance of home lodging businesses serves as a microcosm of one of America’s most troubling problems: our fatal conceit.

Individual liberty is a founding principle of American government and one of our most sacred rights. We protect our individual liberty in part because the dynamism that liberty affords individuals is necessary for a flourishing society. The only time individual liberty is to be attenuated is when one individual interferes with the rights of another.

Portland’s rules simply encourage a political system that erodes liberty and takes with it America’s diversity, dynamism, and drive. If a widow living on a fixed income wants to rent a room to help make ends meet, why should she be stopped because her home wasn’t “zoned” for lodging? If a young couple rents an extra room to pay off college loans, should they have to pay tourism taxes? Those who advocate for bans or restrictions not aimed at mitigating externalities and protecting individual rights are really questioning the underlying dignity and respect we should each be afforded.

*In his essay on the failures of central planning, The Fatal Conceit, Friedrich Hayek argued that individuals are best suited to know their own circumstances and to act to improve them. Actions based upon the presumption of superior knowledge by governments to impede individual endeavors tend to fail and to create more harm than otherwise would have occurred.

William Newell is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization. He is a graduate of Willamette University.

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Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in Economy, Portland | Tagged , , , | 115 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Jack Lord God

    Somehow the idea of Portland officials combing web sites for those who may be renting a room without a permit is beyond ridiculous.

    Won’t amount to much – After all, if these goons were good with websites….well…you know where that one is going.

    • Gardenhomeboy

      I imagine that this will really become problem when vindictive neighbors or police looking to enforce obscure and arcane laws come snooping around. It is simply ridiculous that this open act of anti-competitive behavior is tolerated by everyday people, this is obviously the state and big hospitality vs entrepreneurial citizens. What ever happened to the tradition of helping a weary traveler by allowing him or her to use a spare room in the homestead? Who cares that it probably saves resources(duh environmentalists) by expanding lodging capacity beyond the steel and brick hotels and into peoples already existing homes!

  • thevillageidiot

    The real purpose of this regulation is protectionism or cronyism with the lodging industry of portland at the heart of pressing the city council for special favors. The “lodging lobby” is working to kill any competition no matter how small. The Airbnb is exactly what liberty and the free market is all about. This is the same as the taxi industry against ride share (big purple mustache) services. I am surprised that car2go hasn’t come under attack from the car rental agencies. In time this may happen also. All of this squashes free markets and suppresses liberty (freedom). I work in and commute to Seattle on a regular basis. I rent from a person who has a room to rent and I bet he does not have a license for having rental property. I have no contract and my rent is as agreed between the two of us. It is below market rent for the Lynnwood area. There are a lot of people renting extra space to make ends meet in the Greater Seattle area. Probably without licenses.

  • Ballistic45

    We allow this addiction of Power and Government Larceny to continue, as long as we do, it will continue and become worse…

  • Bob Clark

    I attended Metro’s Powell-Division Transit and Development Project Steering Committee yesterday, and as an average citizen I just come away thinking why is our local governance premised so much on a few select “smart” people being pulled together to push large public project experiments. Why can’t we let every day people coming together and making voluntary transactions steer the course of events?

    I understand communities do need leadership, but Metro’s big projects seem more driven by a bureaucracy driven by the need to continue scarfing down “free” federal and state government subsidies; rather than something welling up from local citizens. In fact, Metro and crew despise any suggestion of allowing citizens to vote on projects which will radically alter neighborhoods and daily routines.

  • Sally

    I think I should be allowed to rent out a room at my own home if I want. What is going on here? More freedom in Crimea.

    • sol668

      And I think I should be able to buy the house next to yours and turn it into a gay brothel…we’ll schedule parades for whatever time your kids get off the bus each day

      Oh whats that? you hate my freedom?

      • Gardenhomeboy

        Go ahead! It should be a free society!

  • sol668

    Right because I want my neighborhood, filled with noisy drunken tourists…frat boys on spring break…and any number of other annoyances that come along with visitors….zoning exists for a reason, all these conservatives lamenting the loss of freedom over a couple of permits and minor compliance to ensure the health and safety of all parties involved, would be the first to fight a gay strip club moving into their neighborhood

    • Gardenhomeboy

      Right cuz you can point a gun at someone’s head(using state coercion) and tell them they can’t rent out their spare room. That IS monstrous. Also do you think we should ban house parties and any form of celebration along with allowing visitors in one’s home because it MAY cause a nuisance? NO you don’t but that is what you want as per your remarks. Its one’s right to quietness (which doesn’t exist) vs one’s ability to use their justly acquired property without threat of violence. its pretty obvious you don’t view other people as deserving dignity of any sort if it runs counter to your own view. THE CONCEIT! If there is a problem with guests harming other’s property then charge them with a crime, otherwise bugger off. Zoning began as a way to prevent incompatible use. Now it has grown to the point that it seriously impedes your ability to use your land peacefully and is used by industries to limit competition costing society millions of dollars in inefficiency and growth. It is obscene that places like NY ban Airbnb. It is also ridiculous that hotels want these people to pay a tax to the hotel industry in Oregon to promote itself, something a trade association can take care of without coercion. Also so you want to waste resources on building new hotels downtown at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars over letting everyday people use their homes to provide lodging at their convenience you obviously don’t give a crap about the environment. I could go on.

      • LulzPdx

        Just to be clear, your property rights are also maintained through the threat of violence.. Own a second house? The heavy hand of the state helps ensure that squatters don’t live there while you’re gone.

        • Gardenhomeboy

          Violence exists in any system, but free and peaceful individuals have a right to use violence in limited circumstances, namely self-defense of one’s body and justly acquired property. Sure a threat exists in a free society but its a threat to people acting via aggression and no one else. Similar threats exist in all political systems, so whats your point? You choose to be violent and you get a consequence, and most political orders have a consequence for violence against another person and property(state or private). Property rights claims only allow violence in so far as to secure the property.against aggression not in preemption. Especially when property is justly acquired the claim is strong in nearly all societies. Justly acquired means no one else owned it before and you claimed it through mixing your labor with it (no you can’t just fence stuff off, that is a strawman). You didn’t coerce anyone to get it. You could have purchased it from another person who justly acquired it as well. I think there are lots of places in the world with people who unjustly acquired their property even in America. Look at feudal systems with aristocracies and serfs or even simple masters and slaves in Africa, South America, Asia, etc. That stuff is bad and may require land reforms.

        • .

          Better rent it out with Airbnb so the squatters have to go some place else. LOL

        • Gardenhomeboy

          The same mentality which lead to KELO leads to preventing me from renting out my spare bedroom.

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