Anthony Downs (; born November 21, 1930) is an American economist specializing in public policy and public administration. He has been a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., since 1977.
Before 1977, Downs served for 18 years a member and then Chairman of Real Estate Research Corporation, a nationwide consultancy advising private and public decision-makers on real estate investment, housing policies, and urban affairs. He also served as a Senior Analyst at the RAND Corporation and a professor at the University of Chicago.
Downs received a B.A. in international relations and political theory from Carleton College in 1952, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in economics from Stanford University in 1956.
In An Economic Theory of Democracy (1957), an early work in rational choice theory, Downs posited the paradox of voting, which claimed that significant elements of political life could be explained in terms of voter self-interest. Downs showed that in democracies the aggregate distribution of political opinion forms a bell-shaped curve, with most voters possessing moderate opinions; he argued that this fact forces political parties in democracies to adopt centrist positions.
Downs has served as a consultant to many of the nation's largest corporations and public institutions, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the White House. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to the National Commission on Urban Problems in 1967, and HUD Secretary Jack Kemp appointed him to the Advisory Commission on Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing in 1989. He is officer or trustee of General Growth Properties and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
He is the author or co-author of 24 books and over 500 articles. His most influential books are An Economic Theory of Democracy (1957) and Inside Bureaucracy (1967); widely translated, both are credited as major influences on the public choice school of political economy.
Later, Downs concerned himself with housing policy, writing about rent control and affordable housing. The Revolution in Real Estate Finance (1985) predicted a long-term housing slowdown and decrease in housing prices. Downs has involved himself with transportation economics. In 1962, Downs published his Down's Law of Peak-Hour Traffic Congestion. This Law states that on urban commuter expressways, peak-hour traffic congestion rises to meet maximum capacity. Therefore, expanding the expressway network does not help against traffic jams. A complex set of forces lie behind this Law, which were analyzed by presentation of a model of commuter decision-making and its underlying set of assumptions. By the same token, e.g. the 1965 Highway Capacity Manual stated that the capacity of a highway or motorway increases with decreasing traffic speed, till its maximum capacity is reached at about 50 km/h (30 mph). (Cf. Braess's paradox.) His book Stuck in Traffic (1992), which detailed the economic disadvantages of traffic congestion and proposed road pricing as the only effective means of alleviating it, was denounced by traffic engineers for its insistence on the futility of congestion relief measures. However, enough of his gloomy predictions about congestion were proven right that he successfully published a second edition, Still Stuck in Traffic (2004).
Downs' recommendations are starting to see implementation, largely in the form of high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes in the medians of crowded American freeways, and through congestion pricing, already implemented in several cities around the world: Singapore (see Area Licensing Scheme and Electronic Road Pricing); London (see London congestion charge); Stockholm (see Stockholm congestion tax); Valletta, Malta; and Milan, Italy.
He was a Visiting Fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California in San Francisco, from June 2004 until March 2005.
In his seminal work An Economic Theory of Democracy (1957), Downs introduced a left–right axis (later known as Downs' axis) to economic theory. On the "left" he placed communist parties that want entirely state-planned economies, and on the "right" he placed conservative parties that demand an entirely deregulated economy. He claimed that most voters have incomplete information when voting for political candidates in a democracy, and therefore will resort to economic issues of "how much government intervention in the economy there should be" and how parties will control this. Downs borrowed the curve from Harold Hotelling, who developed it to explain how grocery stores targeted customers. Downs' book has since become one of the most cited books in political science. His left–right axis model has been integrated into the median voter theory first articulated by Duncan Black.