A Preface to Urban Economics

By Wilbur R. Thompson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Interactions among Goals: Opportunity Cost at the Policy Level

SUBSTITUTABILITY AND COMPLEMENTARITY IN URBAN ECONOMIC GOALS

The literature of urban economics is remarkably free of any discussion of the mutual compatibility of the goals discussed in the first four chapters, nor is any notable amount of analysis of their interrelationships much in evidence. To the extent that any particular couplet of goals are incompatible, then the pursuit of one has as its "opportunity cost" the sacrifice sustained by not emphasizing the other one instead. While the term, opportunity cost, is customarily employed in a much more prosaic context--the amount of "butter" that must be foregone to have more "guns" as resources are shifted from one industry to another--the concept is equally valid and powerful at the very highest levels of policy. It is true, however, that the lines of decision making and the identity of the decision maker are not nearly so clear with public policy as with marketable goods.

The matrix of goal associations may reveal at least an equal number of positive correlations--conjoined, consistent goals. This latter situation might seem, on first blush, to connote the best of all possible worlds--to be able to have one's cake and eat it too. But the darker side of each picture still remains. Stability has its counterpart in instability, growth faster than the national average implies that somewhere there must be less than average growth or even decline, and a higher than average income in some places leaves the poor agglomerated elsewhere. Thus a rash of positive correlations between urban economic goals may mean the compounding of good fortune one place and ill fortune another. For example, if the rapidly growing areas are

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