Getting to be a habit
March 21, 2012
This post is a lot like the next-to-last one.
Meanwhile, many Millennials are thrown for a loop by misleading new urbanist buzz. As Joel Kotkin writes in a recent op-ed, too often an odd couple of property developers and élites in the legacy media promote values about housing to young Americans that are totally out of step with the emerging – and optimistic – reality. You’d think from watching shows like The Hills or reading urban planning propaganda that America’s housing future is in dense, urban, apartment living on top of light rail lines — and connected to other yuppie hubs by super duper high speed rail.
It’s an intoxicating vision, especially for real estate developers and construction unions. Everybody wins: real estate developers make a killing convincing Blue state and local government to build rail lines near their buildings … while a cadre of sexy young professionals ferries back and forth from fashionable bachelor(ette) pads to jobs in design, green NGOs, and democracy promotion outfits in even more dense urban cores. Who could argue with that — other than the growing numbers of Millennials who can’t afford to live that way and don’t especially want to?
Look for this perception to spread among the advocates of government power. Clumsy, inefficient and expensive government doesn’t work for anybody; the old style of organizing and managing government with 1950s style bureaucratic structures and post office-style staffing patterns of a large but inefficiently deployed unionized staff is a Democratic dream-killer as well as a Republican nightmare. Progressive-era lifetime bureaucracies using midcentury administrative and management procedures can’t address the issues of our times.
I should state again that I don’t agree with everything in these articles, but it is clear that what he calls the “blue social model” is collapsing and we need to move on to something else.
Meanwhile, the idea that we need to get rid of a bunch of existing laws continues to gain momentum: Complex Societies Need Simple Laws.
The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, sometimes called the first libertarian thinker, said, “The more artificial taboos and restrictions there are in the world, the more the people are impoverished….The more that laws and regulations are given prominence, the more thieves and robbers there will be.” He complained that there were “laws and regulations more numerous than the hairs of an ox.” What would he have thought of our world?
Big-government advocates will say that as society grows more complex, laws must multiply to keep up. The opposite is true. It is precisely because society is unfathomably complex that laws must be kept simple. No legislature can possibly prescribe rules for the complex network of uncountable transactions and acts of cooperation that take place every day. Not only is the knowledge that would be required to make such a regulatory regime work unavailable to the planners, it doesn’t actually exist, because people don’t know what they will want or do until they confront alternatives in the real world. Any attempt to manage a modern society is more like a bull in a darkened china shop than a finely tuned machine. No wonder the schemes of politicians go awry.
Good old Lao Tzu, my favorite political philosopher. More people should read him.