Brasília showed how much it costs to get people to live in undesirable places
Extreme examples make things clear. Take amenities and wage-compensation. If an individual move to a city that is rich in amenities, like New York, the benefits from such amenities should show up as a pay-cut (never mind that the pay-cut is offset by agglomeration effects), similarly if an individual moves from a place that is rich in amenities to a much less desirable location, the effect should be a significant pay-increase.
Looking at American cities, this usually amounts to a few percentage points, which lends the theory validity but fails to really hammer the point home. Recently, though, I read about the case of Brasília and the Brazilian federal government’s difficulties with getting their employees to move from the splendid setting of Rio de Janeiro to the man-made fascist concrete utopia on the savannah, something that truly showed how much amenities matter.
In the early 1960s, when Oscar Niemeyer’s creation had been inaugurated and was ready to be settled, federal officials woke up to a grim reality. If they wanted to keep their cushy, well-paid jobs they would have to leave the beaches, restaurants, clubs, theatres, museums, soccer arenas and carnivals in the Marvelous City and move 1000 kilometers inland to a Brasília where they would live in a “scientifically created” capital where zoning was taken to such extremes that they were forced to reside in identical Super Quadras along the x-axis of the airplane-shaped city plan, work along the y-axis, visit their guests in the Southern Hotel Sector before entertaining them in the, yes, Entertainment Sector; shop along thirty identical streets (that all housed a pharmacy, a bakery, a supermarket and a bank) and relax by an artificial lake (in which you could still see the tree-tops below the surface) that was created to increase the humidity in a climate so dry that residents suffer from collective nosebleed in February.
In short, what the f*ck! It was like going from a tropical paradise where rent-seeking federal officials were kings to an expulsion to the moon (Yuri Gagarin himself remarked that it looked more like a different planet when he visited Brasília, as told in Henrik Brandaõ Jönsson’s book “Fantasiön” about the Brazilian capital that will be published in English soon).
A project that symbolized Brazilian modernity, and sounded like samba to futuristically-minded people who did not have to live there (including the top architects who remained in Rio de Janeiro), generated nothing but a tremendous sense of dismay among the bureaucracy’s cadres. A feeling that was captured by federal wages. Thanks to that, it’s possible to gauge about how much more the officials valued living in amenity-rich Rio vs. oklahomian Brasília – the result, more than twice as much.
According to the Brazilian sociologist Brasilmar Nunes, federal officials could be coaxed to give up Copacabana for the desolate interior first when they received doubled wages plus benefits (Fantasiön, p. 29). Without that, Rio’s lower wages but higher quality of life would win out and officials stay put – poorer, but happier.