Best Of: How Blue Cities Became So Outrageously Unaffordable


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Joe Biden’s economic agenda is centered on a basic premise: The United States needs to build. To build roads and bridges. To build child care facilities and car-charging stations. To build public transit and affordable housing. And in doing so, to build a better future for everyone.

But there’s a twist of irony in that vision. Because right now, even in places where Democrats hold control over government, they are consistently failing to build cheaply, quickly and equitably. In recent decades, blue states and cities from Los Angeles to Boston to New York have become known for their outrageously expensive housing, massive homeless populations and infrastructure projects marred by major delays and cost overruns — all stemming from this fundamental inability to actually build.

Jerusalem Demsas is a policy reporter at Vox who covers a range of issues from housing to transportation. And the central question her work asks is this: Why is the party that ostensibly supports big government doing ambitious things constantly failing to do just that, even in the places where it holds the most power?

So this is a conversation about the policy areas where blue city and state governance is failing the most: housing, homelessness, infrastructure. But it is also about the larger problems that those failures reveal: The tension between big-government liberalism and anti-corporatist progressivism; the cognitive dissonance between what city-dwelling, college-educated liberals say they believe and their inequality-amplifying actions; how reforms intended to make government more accountable to the people have been wielded by special interests to stall or kill popular projects; and much more.

This conversation originally took place in July 2021, but it has become even more relevant with the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the ongoing negotiations over the Build Back Better Act.


“Why does it cost so much to build things in America?” by Jerusalem Demsas

“Los Angeles’s quixotic quest to end homelessness” by Jerusalem Demsas

“Housing Constraints and Spatial Misallocation” by Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti

Public Citizens by Paul Sabin

“Zoom Does Not Reduce Unequal Participation” by Katherine Levine Einstein, David Glick, Luisa Godinez Puig, and Maxwell Palmer

“The Gavin Newsom Recall Is a Farce” by Ezra Klein

“California Is Making Liberals Squirm” by Ezra Klein

Book recommendations:

Golden Gates by Conor Dougherty

The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at

You can find a transcript of this episode here and more episodes of "The Ezra Klein Show" at, and you can find Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein. Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at

“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Annie Galvin, Jeff Geld and Rogé Karma; fact-checking by Michelle Harris; original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Jeff Geld, audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Special thanks to Kristin Lin and Alison Bruzek.

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