The Politics of Housing

Owning a house is the most important economic choice most families will ever make. Yet, our understanding of the political causes and consequences of home- ownership is rather thin. This review piece argues that political scientists need to take housing much more seriously, not least because of the unprecedented surges and collapses of house prices over the past two decades. The housing market is both a proxy for, and cause of, growing social cleavages that shape how citizens view political issues from the size of the welfare state to the attractiveness of populist campaigns. The piece begins by re-examining classic work on property from the nineteenth century as a still-relevant guide to the winners and losers from property market shocks and regulations. It then turns to the postwar era and work that suggests that the welfare state and property ownership are in some sense substitutes. It concludes by examining the role housing plays in shaping contemporary political preferences, both as a direct measure of individuals’ wealth and welfare, and as a proxy for the relative fortunes of different places.

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