Alain Bertaud on the Tyler Cowen podcast

On Airbnb

It reminds me a bit what happened in Switzerland at a certain time, where to own a piece of land in Switzerland was becoming valuable for a lot of people because it gives access, a refuge, let’s say. And Swiss farmers who wanted to expand their fields, to have some more cows, suddenly were competing with a Russian oligarch. And obviously, this is not traditional economics. Although I will be rather laissez-faire, I think this is a case where . . . And indeed, the Swiss government put a red line around certain areas. Foreigners, I think, can still buy properties in Zurich or in Geneva, but they are not allowed to compete with Swiss farmers in buying land. I have not studied Airbnb as much, but I think it’s a case where you have to look at it that way, that you have a competition here, in cities. Tourism might be important and interesting, but it’s not a sense of city. The cities are the people. If the people are gone from a city, it’s not very interesting.

On people moving to cities

And in a way, there was a grassroots movement against high-income people coming to the city. I found that very disturbing because, after all, high-income people create a lot of jobs for all sorts of income at the same time. In the same way as you should not exclude poor migrants from coming to the city, I don’t see any rationale for excluding high-income people either.

On Shenzen

I was in Shenzhen in ’84, ’85 maybe. And the city at the time—it was basically not a fishing village, but it was a small town. It had altogether about 300,000 people. And the mayor of Shenzhen showed a team of the World Bank—I was part of it—a plan, and they said, “We want to build a city of five million. Would you finance infrastructure?” I did a back-of-envelope calculation. I said, “300,000 to 5 million, are you kidding? Try to do a city of a million and a half, maybe two million will conserve infrastructure. This is completely out of the question.” So Shenzhen is now 12 million people.