Explaining the Housing Market via Footwear

What the shoe industry can teach us about the housing crisis.

2 minute read

January 3, 2024, 6:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Wall of colorful sneakers for sale at a shoe store.

JackF / Adobe Stock

In an excerpt from their upcoming book, Escaping the Housing Trap: The Strong Towns Response to the Housing Crisis, Charles Marohn and Daniel Herriges claim that “If We Made Shoes Like We Make Housing, People Would Go Barefoot.”

To illustrate their point, the authors write, “Imagine a shoe market that produces only two kinds of shoes: a high-end loafer and an elite-brand tennis shoe.” Companies and governments incentivize the production of just two types of shoe, and “Local permitting restricts the number of shoes that can be made. Rising prices have bloated supply chains, making everything more expensive. The extensive web of public and private capital vested in producing high-end loafers and elite-brand tennis shoes stifles innovation.”

In this world, “Lots of people who want shoes can’t get them. They go barefoot. Those who can buy shoes feel financially squeezed. Price increases are normalized, even expected. Many people are desperate to get any pair of shoes.”

This scenario seems unrealistic—for shoes. “Yet our present housing crisis, which seems normal to us, would be absurd to anyone living a century ago. In the context of millennia of human development, we are the first culture to find ourselves with a chronic shortage of housing.”

For the authors, the answer is clear: “We wiped out the starter rung on the ladder. We need a housing market that produces penny loafers again.”

Tuesday, January 2, 2024 in Strong Towns

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