Economic and Game Theory
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Rent control can have many different types of the controls applied, but primarily it places restrictions on the owner to fix the rental rate of property, and fix the percentage that rates may increase annually. That basically becomes a reinforcement schedule applied to the property owner.
Reinforcement schedules, and changes in the schedules can have a profound and predictable effect on behavior, as studied at length by B.F. Skinner, in his book "Schedules of Reinforcement," and by many other psychologists. Several different types of basic schedules exist. Those simple schedules can then be arranged to operate concurrently, where the person (or animal) has a choice, or they can be superimposed upon each other in complex reinforcement structures.
Rent control is basically a fixed interval schedule (monthly payments) superimposed on a fixed ratio schedule (fixed monetary payment) that increases annually (a second superimposed fixed interval schedule) by a fixed percentage (a second fixed ratio schedule). A different but similar superimposed schedule of reinforcement could be constructed for the tenant. The fundamental difference lies in the reinforcer itself. Money is the prime reinforcer in the case of the landlord, and shelter, water, and electricity are the reinforcers for the tenant.
In terms of Game Theory, the area of Social Trap research, pioneered by John Platt and others, that evolved from Garrett Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons" paper in Science, and from Prisoner's Dilemma and zero sum games, looked at applying reinforcement stuctures to the problem of environmental crisis situation. When people over-harvest a fishery, drive plant and animal species to near-extinction, or overgraze pasture land, they tend to be responding to short-term positive reinforcers and ignoring or denying long-term negative losses. That, too, is a superimposed schedule of reinforcement. Two papers that looked at and manipulated those schedules in a game theory setting were
Brechner, K. C. (1977). An experimental analysis of social traps. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 13, 552-564. and
Brechner, K.C. and Linder, D.E. (1981), A social trap analysis of energy distribution systems, in Advances in Environmental Psychology, Vol. 3, A. Baum & Singer, JE, eds. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum & Associates.
Another aspect of rent control is the restrictions imposed on the owner regarding evictions. Without rent control, tenants can be evicted merely at the whim of the landlord, giving a fixed 30 days to vacate (fixed interval schedule). Under rent control, renters are given a degree of protection, with specific conditions that must be met before a tenant can be evicted (superimposed fixed ratio schedules.) That aspect of rent control refers to when and how the principal superimposed reinforcement schedules (money traded for living space) can be terminated.
Some aspects of rent control that are not easily quantifiable can nontheless be attributable to the reinforcement structure. An example might be the feelings of increased security the renter feels when rent rates are fixed and evictions are made more difficult. Another example might be the feelings of restriction or loss felt by the landlord who no longer is in a free market to exploit the housing resource to the limits that the market will bear.
Anyway, I hope some of this will be of useful for you.
Kevin C. Brechner
Time River Laboratory
Pasadena, CA USA
28 February 2003 [Manage messages]