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How would you rank America's 300 cities?

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Robert Galbraith / Reuters / File

(Read caption) The skyline of San Francisco, California is framed by the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset in this February 27, 2008 file photo. How much would you have to pay somebody who lives in San Francisco to move to Houston, and vice versa?

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Ed Glaeser has recently written about his views on urban rankings. Permit me to offer my views.

The U.S has roughly 300 major cities. Could all 300 million Americans agree on their rankings from A to Z or would different people have different rankings? Put bluntly, how much would I have to pay the people who choose to live in San Francisco to move to Houston and how much would I have to pay the people who choose to live in Houston to move to San Francisco?

As economists, Glaeser and I would agreed that a market test of the desire to live in a particular city such as San Francisco is to calculate your annual income if you live there and to subtract off your annual rent for a standardized home. If this consumption is large, then an economist would conclude that this isn't a desirable city to live in. After all, suppose there is a great city to live in that offers a great quality of life, high wages and low rents. If such a paradise existed, everyone would try to move there and this would lower market wages at the location and raise the rents at the location until people were just indifferent between living there or not.


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