Virginia Postrel

Via Youtube-Victor Davis Hanson On California-About That Utopia, You’re Going To Have To Get Back To Basics

Dream big, Californians, but plant your dreams in real gardens.

Victor Davis Hanson offers some suggestions which may or may not guide policy on a mid to longer-time horizon (water projects, roads, and an awareness of the economic and cultural bifucation which has occurred).

The short-term’s looking messy, indeed.  The mid- and longer- terms, of course, are still in doubt:

As posted:

Part of what’s happened is cultural:

Louis Menand’s piece at the New Yorker: ‘Out Of Bethlehem:‘ (he’s still dealing with the idea of multiculturalism).

The radicalization of Joan Didion:

‘After the Old Sacramento moment, Didion came to see the whole pioneer mystique as bogus from the start. The cultivation of California was not the act of rugged pioneers, she decided. It was the act of the federal government, which built the dams and the weirs and the railroads that made the state economically exploitable, public money spent on behalf of private business. Didion called it “the subsidized monopolization” of the state.’

Much is downstream of culture:

Virginia Postrel here.

‘When Robert J. Samuelson published a Newsweek column last month arguing that high-speed rail is “a perfect example of wasteful spending masquerading as a respectable social cause,” he cited cost figures and potential ridership to demonstrate that even the rosiest scenarios wouldn’t justify the investment. He made a good, rational case — only to have it completely undermined by the evocative photograph the magazine chose to accompany the article.’

In my experience, it’s not much about economics (those rationalizations tend to come later), but more about many people finding solidarity, common-cause, identity and group-identity through a set of shared interests and ideals. My major complaint is that basic human needs met under such ideals become met through politics and often non-delimited theories of political power.

To say nothing of other people’s money.

Utopias, progressivism and new-age explorations still have to answer to time, truth and reality.

From California’s High Speed Rail Authority Site:

‘California high-speed rail will connect the mega-regions of the state, contribute to economic development and a cleaner environment, create jobs and preserve agricultural and protected lands’

What could go wrong?

———–

Much left and left-liberal idealism finds expression through high-speed rail: If you build it, the ideal society will come.

Unions and union-elected government representatives tend to get contracts, money, power and influence, if they play the game right. Many environmentalists and environmental groups can get contracts, money, power and influence, if they play the game right. Everyone somewhat invested in the ideal of a better, shared, collectivist society (especially those further left into anti-capitalism and diversified into identity groups by ‘race, gender and class’) might get money, power and influence…if they play the game right. The winners aren’t always so ‘sharing.’

As I see it, much political stability and individual liberties are lost as these political and social arrangements become reflective of both actual human nature as it is and the economic scarcity of reality.

Update And Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books: ‘Delving Into The Mind Of The Technocrat’

Dream big: Via Reason: ‘California’s Public Transportation Sinkhole’

A great city deserves great art extravaganzas…: L.A.’s New Public Art Piece ‘The Levitated Mass,’ Or As The American Interest Puts It: ‘A Moving Rock’

Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution’s Defining Ideas: ‘California’s Kafkaesque Rent Control Laws’

California Dreamers From The Atlantic-A Brief Review Of Kevin Starr’s History Of California

The people who promise solutions to poverty and homlessness seem to be engaged in a utopian cost-shifting exercise which favors their interests and overlooks crime, violence and personal responsbility…hardly a way to balance the budget: Repost-Heather MacDonald At The City Journal: ‘The Sidewalks Of San Francisco’

Some concentrated wealth on top, a stalled legislature with members who know how to play the game…and a service sector beneath…that probably can’t go on forever: …From The WSJ: ‘Joel Kotkin: The Great California Exodus’

How Deep Is Your Identity? Virginia Postrel At Bloomberg On Immigration

Virginia Postrel at Bloomberg: ‘Pro Immigration? Then Support All Who Came Here

Postrel:

‘As I wrote long ago, “Americans care, of course, about their economic interests. But they care first about their identities. … If voters feel personally attacked — because they are Latinos, or working women, or housewives, or evangelical Christians, or gays — they will bolt the party that serves their economic interests.” Or, given the opportunity, back a presidential candidate who promises to blow it up.’

I worry about the lifestylization of politics in America, which I see as eroding the distance between private and public, civility and coarseness, respect and its lack.  Such niceties do a lot more work than we realize.

Merely seeing individuals as members of voting blocs and identity groups misses crucial pieces of a larger puzzle, and also much of who and what we are.

As I see it, if the ideal uniting a group of people in common cause demands immediate action and/or allegiance to a group, expecting politics to become another means to an end, then we shouldn’t be surprised when people start drawing lines, making friends and enemies, and fighting over who belongs to which group under which ideal, and fighting over politics.

—————

That said, I agree with Postrel on the worn-out ideas and worn-out views from many traditional pulpits and parapets throughout the country.  Apparently, the higher you go into the lofty heights of opinion and influence, the thinner the air.

As a conservatarian on immigration (the people here first should be able to decide which kinds of rules will govern who come later through debate, politics, and legislation), I think we’ve gotten away from many simple, constitutional and civic basics from grade-school on, and it shows all throughout our lives.

People don’t simply open up borders, workplaces and economies, they open up their eyes, minds, and hearts over a longer period of time when united by common ideals, beliefs, principles and shared sacrifices (civic duties, Constitutional understanding, becoming an American and all the freedoms/responsibilities that come with being an American).

I believe these shared bonds will allow us to better ride the waves of rapid technological change, global economic and labor market pressures (immigration included), and the potential necessary and unnecessary conflicts that will arise going forward between competing interests (nations included).

We’ve got to sail the ship smart.  There’s work to be done.

Let me know if you disagree.

 

Repost-Why Do People Move To Cities? From Falkenblog: ‘The Perennial Urban Allure’

Full post here.

‘So, why did most people want to move to the city? It seems like the same lure as today: freedom from a set life pattern and higher urban wages.’

Now if we focus on immigrants, economic opportunity and political stability tend to be the biggest draws.  Immigrants are usually risking a lot to get here, and they’re usually getting away from something:  dire poverty and political/religious oppression.  Life is hard, and people tend to move in migratory patterns, following the trail left by friends and family, and in some cases, free stuff, if you hand it out to them.

For Americans moving from small towns to big cities, the reasons tend to also include education and ambition, wanderlust and love:

People moving to the city have been illogical risk takers from the beginning. and the key is probably they like the sexual or mating opportunities inherent in large groups. Playing to that angle would bring in hipsters and gays. As to whether that’s the key to the health of cities or our nation, I doubt it, but it won’t hurt, especially because one of the best ways of making a city fun to go out in is that it’s safe for young women.’

Richard Florida suggested this trend, of hipster and gay migration, attached to a ‘knowledge’ class, is the way forward for American cities.  I suspect there is a pretty Left-Of-Center political philosophy under there with a lot of ‘class’ analysis and obsession with income inequality.

I’d been wondering about the cultural angle:  The hipsters were a third round of generally youthful rebellion (post-beat, post-hippie), fueled by a counter-culture ethos heavily invested in the Arts, individualism to the point of semi-nihilism, and harboring some collectivist tendencies.  There is a natural desire to break with the more traditional and religious models of organization typically found in small towns and rural areas, and also to follow the ‘Zeitgeist’ towards racial and ethnic diversity in meritocratic and multicultural harmony (coming with serious downsides).

The New York Times seems hyperbolically invested in this model (overlooking trade and economic opportunity as I believe Wall Street sets the pace, Park Slope and Williamsburg follow).  This is to say nothing of the political corruption for which big cities like New York and Chicago are typically known.  Big-city political machines were the way to a better life for most of those immigrant groups thrown into the pot, but they are also notoriously corrupt, full of clientalism and machine pols.

This leaves cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburg still floating out there, unable to live off the fat of trade and finance, immigration and cheap labor, museums and tourism.  The lost industrial base, along with the lack of a strong knowledge-based economy leaves them with a brain-drain and difficult prospects.

Are energy, agriculture, low taxes and a strong private sector enough?  What about the cultural shifts going on?

Interesting reads:  Predictions are hard, especially about the future.

Virginia Postrel here:

As I have argued elsewhere, there are two competing models of successful American cities. One encourages a growing population, fosters a middle-class, family-centered lifestyle, and liberally permits new housing. It used to be the norm nationally, and it still predominates in the South and Southwest. The other favors long-term residents, attracts highly productive, work-driven people, focuses on aesthetic amenities, and makes it difficult to build. It prevails on the West Coast, in the Northeast and in picturesque cities such as Boulder, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The first model spurs income convergence, the second spurs economic segregation. Both create cities that people find desirable to live in, but they attract different sorts of residents.’

Joel Kotkin. Omaha vs. San Francisco?:

———————-

Walter Russell Mead takes a look at the blue model (the old progressive model) from the ground up in NYC to argue that it’s simply not working.  Check out his series at The American Interest.  Technology is changing things rapidly, and maybe, as Charles Murray points out, it’s skewing the field toward high IQ positions while simultaneously getting rid of industrial, managerial, clerical, labor intensive office jobs.  Even so,  we can’t cling to the past.  This is quite a progressive vision but one that embraces change boldly.  Repost-Via Youtube: Conversations With History – Walter Russell Mead

The Hoover Institution Via Youtube: Charles Murray On ‘Coming Apart’

Once you take apart the old structure, you have to criticize the meritocracy you’ve helped create: David Brooks At The NY Times: ‘Why Our Elites Stink’

Monday Quotation From Charles Kesler And A Few Thoughts on Conservatism

Related On This Site:  Cities should be magnets for creativity and culture? –From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar ManFrom Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

Joel Kotkin Via Youtube: ‘Illinois Is In A Competition’

Virginia Postrel At Bloomberg: ‘Iron Lady Falls To The Anna Quindlen Doctrine’

Full piece here.

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.  It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so

‘These supposedly feminist filmmakers could have portrayed Thatcher as an ambitious woman who had nothing to feel guilty about. Instead they chose to inject guilt where it did not belong. They obscured Thatcher’s public accomplishments in a fog of private angst. The portrait of dementia isn’t the problem. The way the film uses old age to punish a lifetime of accomplishment is.’

Still looking for common cause with civil libertarian feminists, or anyone who highlights the fallacies of equity feminists and the oft misuse of statistics.  Economic scarcity, nature, human nature and world events will catch up with the movement.

What you choose to highlight and value in your life, is up to you.

Virginia Postrel At Bloomberg: ‘No Flying Cars, But the Future Is Bright

Full piece here.

Postrel mentions Peter Thiel:

‘In speeches, interviews and articles, Thiel decries what he sees as the country’s lack of significant innovations. “When tracked against the admittedly lofty hopes of the 1950s and 1960s, technological progress has fallen short in many domains,” he wrote last year in National Review. “Consider the most literal instance of non­acceleration: We are no longer moving faster.”

She counters with the idea that while not predicted, we take our innovations for granted:

‘Technologists who lament the “end of the future” are denigrating the decentralized, incremental advances that actually improve everyday life. And they’re promoting a truncated idea of past innovation: economic history with railroads but no department stores, radio but no ready-to-wear apparel, vaccines but no consumer packaged goods, jets but no plastics.’

Splashy innovations may not be necessary, Postrel argues, and could hinder the real progress being made, and that there are many people, for various reasons, who will put up barriers to that progress (there could be some danger in utopianism there, that has political implications as well).

Comments are worth a read.

Addition: Shouldn’t we still aim high?

Related On This Site:Virginia Postrel At Bloomberg: ‘How The Elites Built America’s Economic Wall’Virginia Postrel At Bloomberg: ‘Want To Be The Next Apple? Lose The Bafflegab’

From The American Interest: Francis Fukuyama Interviews Peter Thiel-’A Conversation With Peter Thiel’A Few Thoughts On Foreign Policy-Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest: ‘Conservative Principles Of World Order’

It might be worth mentioning the importance that science and technology have had on our culture through science fiction, too, and how sci-fi writers have handled its relation to political philosophy, from Robert Heinlein to Jerry Pournelle to Paul Krugman via Isaac Asimov, to manifest destiny to colonizing the West etc: Paul Krugman At The Guardian: ‘Asimov’s Foundation Novels Grounded My Economics’

Check out Pournelle’s Iron Law Of Bureaucracy and his chart of political organization.

Virginia Postrel At Bloomberg: ‘How The Elites Built America’s Economic Wall’

Full piece here.

Postrel discusses the work of two Harvard economists and offers this:

‘As I have argued elsewhere, there are two competing models of successful American cities. One encourages a growing population, fosters a middle-class, family-centered lifestyle, and liberally permits new housing. It used to be the norm nationally, and it still predominates in the South and Southwest. The other favors long-term residents, attracts highly productive, work-driven people, focuses on aesthetic amenities, and makes it difficult to build. It prevails on the West Coast, in the Northeast and in picturesque cities such as Boulder, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The first model spurs income convergence, the second spurs economic segregation. Both create cities that people find desirable to live in, but they attract different sorts of residents.’

On this analysis, income inequality (a lack of income convergence) is due in part to land use regulation in places like New York, California and Boulder.  Real estate has always been costlier in such places, but since 1980 there perhaps has been a set of legal changes that have made these places prohibitively expensive for a certain kind of mobile labor.  Walls are being built in and around these cities, due to the interests of many in them.  This steers a person, less well-educated (Postrel uses the example of a waiter from Ohio) from L.A. to say, Phoenix, where there is more money and more opportunity than Ohio, but who couldn’t afford California or New York.

This can close the door to a certain kind of “equality” that comes with less economic meddling and fewer land use regulations (and that used to be a possibility in California, if I recall from my early days): plumbers living next to lawyers next to insurance salesman next to retired Navy.  Kids’ schools, sports leagues and activities, generally safer neighborhoods and a more suburban focus can be created in such an economic environment.

In fact, I share some of Postrel’s populist sentiment at the irony that some who claim “income-equality” in the abstract, or seek “diversity” through often burdensome laws and regulations are in fact rich and successful enough to do so.  Perhaps many are just keeping up with the slower, deeper currents of public sentiment that are leading to a more liberal political base in these areas.  But, what made these people rich and successful?  Likely,  it wasn’t the willingness to sacrifice their own hard work, time and money to abstract entities without their consent…and if you make these laws and these politics the norm, then successful people will just learn how to game the new system.

Are you convinced?

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Addition: I should add that what makes, say New York and San Francisco, partially successful, are the museum-like quality world class or nearly world-class cities have:  the actual museums, tourist attractions and tourist dollars, the aesthetic appeal and the consistent operation of many different and important activities like immigration, trade, finance etc.   Manhattan isn’t a family draw, and never was (except for TGI Friday’s in Times Square, of course).

Related On This Site:  Cities should be magnets for creativity and culture? –From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar ManFrom Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

You don’t get the progressive base without the restrictive laws…they are baby steps to paradise: Richard Epstein At Defining Ideas: ‘City Planners Run Amok’Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution Journal: ‘Three Cheers for Income Inequality’Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution’s Defining Ideas: ‘California’s Kafkaesque Rent Control Laws’

Look out Omaha…people are coming your way?: …Joel Kotkin Via Youtube: ‘Illinois Is In A Competition’From The WSJ: ‘Joel Kotkin: The Great California Exodus’

What if you’re economy’s already depressed?  Don’t make a maze of laws and build stadiums and museums on the public dime…get new industry: From Reason: ‘Reason Saves Cleveland With Drew Carey’…Reason also suggests that if such creative/entrepenurial spirit gets off the ground, it will have to get around the public sector in Detroit.  From Reason Via Youtube: ‘Is Harrisburg’s Nightmare America’s Future?’

 
Is the same definition of ‘community’ connected with one that can stifle economic growth through political means?: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?
 
Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen have plans for America and India to address some of the corruption there, and it may involve much more state involvement here in America by extension.  Can you see life, liberty and property from here?:  Amartya Sen In The New York Review Of Books: Capitalism Beyond The Crisis
 
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Virginia Postrel At Bloomberg: ‘Want To Be The Next Apple? Lose The Bafflegab’

Full post here.

‘A strategy is not a goal like maximizing shareholder value or keeping America safe from terrorism. It’s not even a plan. It is a design — a coherent approach to defining and solving a particular problem, in which the different elements have to work together.’

And on Postrel’s analysis of Apple, that’s what it’s doing well.

‘So if you really want to be like Apple, drop the fluff- filled vision statements and magical wishes. Pretend your company’s existence is at stake, coldly evaluate the environment, and make choices. Stop thinking of strategy as meaningless verbiage or financial goals and treat it as a serious design challenge.’

Here are two quotations from Henry Kissinger:

“The purpose of bureaucracy is to devise a standard operating procedure which can cope effectively with most problems.  A bureaucracy is efficient if the matters which it handles routinely are, in fact, the most frequent and if its procedures are relevant to their solution.  If those criteria are met, the energies of the top leadership are freed to deal creatively with the unexpected occurrence or with the need for innovation.  Bureaucracy becomes an obstacle when what it defines as routine does not address the most significant range of issues or when its prescribed mode of action proves irrelevant to the problem.”

and:

“Moreover, the reputation, indeed the political survival, of most leaders depends on their ability to realize their goals, however these may have been arrived at.  Whether these goals are desireable is relatively less crucial.”

Book here.

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