Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Is a Trump Sign in a Neighbor’s Yard a Legitimate Grievance for a Home Seller?

Interesting story at Marginal Revolution:

“A homeowner took to a message board Sunday to complain about her neighbor’s sign supporting the Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump. The anonymous homeowner said his or her family lived in a liberal part of Northern Virginia and were putting their house up for sale. The homeowner feared that the Trump sign would scare away potential buyers, and asked on the message board whether it was appropriate to ask the neighbor to take down the sign.
…The question proved popular, and elicited 10 pages of responses. Some commenters, in more offensive terms, said the anonymous poster was being ridiculous to even think this was in issue; others suggested the homeowner wait until after the election to sell the house. Still others said they would not want to buy a house next to a Trump supporter.”

What do people think? I have some scattered thoughts. Here is the original message board.

1)      If indeed a “Trump” sign affects the owner’s ability to sell a home, it’s a legitimate concern. It’s an “externality,” or cost to third parties.

2)      Yes, free speech is very important and we should have a presumption against limiting speech *even* as a matter of private policy (as compared to public policy). But let’s not paper over the fact that someone’s behavior is causing harm to a third party. We need to at least acknowledge the harm, even if we then dismiss it with “That’s a price worth paying.”

3)      Limiting someone’s speech because it hurts a third party is simply *another* kind of externality. So compelling the homeowner to remove the Trump sign wouldn’t “resolve” the externality, it just creates a different one where B imposes costs on A rather than A onto B. This was one of Ronald Coase’s Nobel-winning insights, if I understand correctly.

4)      In the original message board and in the comments of the Marginal Revolution blog post, some people say that a Trump sign in a neighbor’s yard would deter them from buying the home. Are they serious or just blowing smoke? If they’re serious, is it okay to think this way? If it’s okay to think this way, what other kinds of discrimination are okay? All kinds of discrimination? Just certain approved kinds?

5)      Nobody anywhere suggested that it’s wrong for the homeowner to try to conceal the fact that her neighbor is a Trump supporter. Everyone who took the homeowner’s side of this said something along the lines of “It’s okay to try to get the sign taken down.” None of them said, “How dare you conceal damaging information about the value of your property?!” Which makes me think the “I wouldn’t buy such a home” people were blowing hot air and didn’t really believe what they were saying.

6)      I absolutely love how this situation was resolved – by talking! Maybe we don’t need a bunch of sin-taxes, enforcement mechanisms and courts for resolving property disputes…we just need to talk to each other! “The homeowner reported back later Monday that she or he talked to the neighbor, and the neighbor seemed understanding of the predicament and removed the sign. The neighbor was an elderly woman who apparently didn’t even like Trump much. She was, however, married to a big Trump fan who was not home at the time. It is unclear how her husband felt about her decision to remove the sign.” The homeowner even made brownies for the neighbor for being so nice about the whole thing. 

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