While it would be prudent for the United States to adopt a zoning system similar to Japan’s, the question of how it would be implemented is rather tricky. Though Congress may in theory have the power to set local zoning codes aside, it has not once bothered to address this issue. Attempting to create a national zoning law now would be uncharted territory in national politics, and though such a measure would conceivably receive wide support from many segments of society, it would also likely provoke a furious reaction from entrenched interests. Thus, this effort requires strong bipartisan cooperation and effective presidential and Congressional leadership, all of whom must be willing to take on this radical challenge at a high political cost.
THIS IS not the first time that America has found itself in throes of great instability born out of an unbalanced socio-economic system. In fact, these crises tend to be a recurring feature in U.S. history. But at the same time, they tend to present opportunities to pursue long-overdue political and economic reforms. The Constitution was born out of a need for the federal government to be granted the necessary powers to regulate commerce, tax trade, and ensure cooperation between the states. The Civil War grappled not only with the evil of slavery, but also the major economic differences between a protectionist, industrialized North and a free-trade, agricultural South, eventually culminating with numerous government and economic reforms—the creation of the Department of Agriculture, the Morrill Land-Grant Acts, the Homestead Act, the Pacific Railway Act, the Legal Tender Act, the National Banking Acts, and more. The Great Depression and its ruin led to the New Deal, significant financial reform and regulation, the creation of Social Security, and an unprecedented era of economic prosperity.
Charting a path for America’s future, especially in light of the various ongoing crises, will require similarly bold and dramatic change. Policymakers will have to reconsider the structure of our current economy and retool their conception of how government can affect and help the daily lives of ordinary Americans. This will neither be a simple nor easy task. But as William Signius Knudsen, who led America’s war production effort during the Second World War, aptly put it: “We can do anything if we do it together.”
Carlos Roa is the senior editor of the National Interest and a 2020 Constitutional Fellow at the American Conservative & Center for the Study of Statesmanship.