Sunday, February 03, 2013

The Homeless in Cities

On Superbowl Sunday, I want to talk about the urban homeless.  The NY Post alerts us that this problem is growing worse again in NYC's Grand Central Station.  This is a typical "tragedy of the commons".  Who owns Grand Central Station?   When one group tries to "privatize it", how are other groups affected?    Columbia's Dan O'Flaherty has done the best economics research on homelessness.  It is clear that many of these individuals do not want to live in homeless shelters.  If the quality of these shelters improve, would more be willing to live there? Are the homeless rational utility maximizers?   Have experimentalists played games with them to learn about their degree of patience and whether their preferences are transitive and satisfy WARP axioms?  

I have argued that researchers are not running enough field experiments in cities.  Have any Cambridge field experiment scholars implemented a field experiment in a city with the homeless to see if the homeless do respond to financial incentives? If they do, would the middle class of such cities be willing to scale up such programs (and pay for them) in order to protect themselves and improve the quality of life of the homeless?