Cover of Boom Towns by Stephen J.K. Walters
Boom Towns
Restoring the Urban American Dream
Stephen J.K. Walters


224 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9780804781633
Ebook ISBN: 9780804792271

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American cities, once economic and social launch pads for their residents, are all too often plagued by poverty and decay. One need only to look at the ruins of Detroit to see how far some once-great cities have fallen, or at Boston and San Francisco for evidence that such decline is reversible. In Boom Towns, Stephen J.K. Walters diagnoses the root causes of urban decline in order to prescribe remedies that will enable cities to thrive once again.

Arguing that commonplace explanations for urban decay misunderstand the nature of our towns, Walters reconceives of cities as dense accumulations of capital in all of its forms—places that attract people by making their labor more productive and their leisure more pleasurable. Policymakers, therefore, must properly define and enforce property rights in order to prevent the flight of capital and the resulting demise of urban centers. Using vivid evocations of iconic towns and the people who crucially affected their destinies, Walters shows how public policy measures which aim to revitalize often do more harm than good. He then outlines a more promising set of policies to remedy the capital shortage that continues to afflict many cities and needlessly limit their residents' opportunities. With its fresh interpretation of one of the American quandaries of our day, Boom Towns offers a novel contribution to the debate about American cities and a program for their restoration.

About the author

Stephen J.K. Walters is Professor of Economics at Loyola University Maryland and a Fellow at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise. He has advised aspiring and elected mayors and governors, given expert testimony in antitrust and tort cases, and consulted for diverse clients, ranging from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to major league baseball clubs.

"Walters strongly argues his thesis with cases showing the various ways politicians—often in league with private interests—have turned growth into decay . . . Urban theorists in the 'progressive' tradition insist that the problems that plague our cities can only be solved through massive infusions of government money and expert planning. Walters' book persuasively makes the opposite case: protect people's property rights, then leave things to the spontaneous order of the free market."

—George Leef, Regulation

"Walters is after that most important, and often illusive, of economic questions: the nature and causes of the wealth of a community. Whereas Adam Smith focuses his inquiry on the national community, Walters trains his analytical eye on the American city . . . Walters is well equipped to pursue this question . . . [T]he book should be read and digested by voters and city council members everywhere. It is just the sort of intellectual capital that can make the world a better place."

—Matthew Mitchell, Library of Law and Liberty

"Boom Towns is an innovative contribution to the debate about cities. The idea that we should be looking at urban policy from the perspective of capital formation is both a breath of fresh air and a critically important insight that should have broad impact."

—Samuel Staley, Director, DeVoe L. Moore Center, Florida State University

"Stephen Walters is a rarity. He's an economist with a strong sense of history. Boom Towns uses examples from Boston and San Francisco to New Orleans and Portland to show how a healthy respect for property rights has contributed to the prosperity of American cities. And then, he explains how the erosion of those rights helped produce the policies that bankrupted Detroit and that have led to widespread urban decline."

—Fred Siegel, author of The Revolt Against the Masses and The Future Once Happened Here

"Boom Towns addresses a supremely important, yet neglected, question from a novel perspective: why do some cities go boom and others go bust? Walters' ingenious and erudite application of an economics of property rights paradigm yields a treasure trove of provocative and innovative observations. Well researched and brilliantly written, Boom Towns promises to become a classic on cities—one with a wide appeal to economists, historians, and urbanologists alike."

—Steve H. Hanke, The Johns Hopkins University

"Walters' argument is well-reasoned and unusually pragmatic. There's much here for urbanists to like, but also a necessary dose of skepticism about the redistributionist approaches and subsidized real estate schemes that are so often seen as 'critical' to reviving cities. Cities, as he points out, are collections of capital and people. They can only thrive by serving our basic needs and aspirations. Boom Towns is a major contribution to the urban debate because it recognizes this."

—Joel Kotkin, Hobbs Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and author of The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050