Dynamist Blog

Zoning Abolition, AI Advances, and a Cultural Confidence Contest

This post went out to subscribers to my Substack newsletter on August 6. Check out all the posts, including ones from the archives not reposted here, and subscribe here.

For Bloomberg Opinion, I interviewed Nolan Gray, author of the new book Arbitrary Lines, which advocates abolishing zoning (but not land-use planning) in the U.S. Here are a couple of excerpts:

VP: Is zoning a specifically US phenomenon?

NG: Most developed countries have something resembling zoning. They will say industrial building is not allowed in certain quarters of the city, or certain portions of the metropolitan area are going to be reserved for agriculture. But US zoning is unique in at least two ways. The first is single-family zoning. No other zoning system in the developed world, to my knowledge, demarcates specific areas only for single-family housing.

The second way that US zoning is unique is the complete orientation around the car. It’s often illegal to build an apartment building without a parking garage, or it’s illegal to build a commercial strip without a large parking lot….

VP: You write about the origins of zoning in both New York and Berkeley, California. Can you explain what drove it?

NG: Both reflect the “Baptists and bootleggers” coalition that gets us zoning. The “Baptists and bootleggers” idea is that political coalitions will normally have someone who’s cynically invested in the policy — the bootlegger who supports prohibition because he can make money off of it — and then the Baptist who provides the political movement with moral cover.

Start with the “Baptists.” During the Progressive Era there was this notion that cities and markets are too scary and chaotic. Wouldn’t it be great if we got all the smartest people in the room to come up with a big master plan for what’s going to be allowed on every single lot in our city for the next 50 years? Most modern people look back and think that’s a little crazy. But that was the ethos.

The bootleggers were the landlords who — in the Manhattan context — think, “Way too much office supply is being built in lower Manhattan and it’s lowering the value of my assets.” In the Berkeley case, if you read the zoning promotional materials, one paragraph will say, “We need to adopt zoning so we can keep industry out of residential neighborhoods.” With modern eyes, you read that and think, Yeah, that makes sense. You don’t want an oil refinery next to your house. But then the next paragraph explains what industries they’re concerned about. It’s Chinese laundries. Or dance halls that are bringing African Americans into the neighborhood.

In New York City, shopkeepers on Fifth Avenue were worried about loft manufacturing moving closer to the shopping district. Again, you read that with modern eyes and think, OK, factories. There must have been smoke or noise or vibrations. But the shopkeepers’ specific concern was that poor Jewish factory girls are coming to window-shop along the corridor, and they’re scaring off our elite clientele. Zoning is much more of a social project than it is a good-government process.

VP: You repeatedly make the point that zoning “cannot build a building. It can only ever stop something from being built.” Why is that an important distinction?

NG: When Minneapolis abolished single-family zoning recently, some of the media coverage said that it was banning new single-family homes. But that’s not what they did. They got rid of single-family zoning, which was just a prohibition on apartments. They were getting rid of a prohibition.

In L.A., there are a lot of conversations about getting rid of minimum parking requirements. And people say, “Come on, you’ve got to have somewhere to park.” But getting rid of minimum parking requirements isn’t saying to developers that you’re not allowed to build any more parking. It’s saying that we’re not going to force you to build any parking. We’re not going to mandate things that you wouldn’t otherwise have done. It’s a really important difference.

You can read an ungated version here, courtesy of my WaPo subscription. Our conversation was much longer than what I was able to publish, and, of course, the book goes into further depth. The discussion of Houston, the great American unzoned city, is particularly interesting.

America’s Secret Sauce & the Faux Sophistication of Critique

Speaking of interviews, I highly recommend this conversation between Persuasion founder Yascha Mounk and Eboo Patal, the founder of Interfaith America and the author of We Need to Build: Field Notes For Diverse Democracy. It’s excellent throughout. Patel has a particular appreciation of the success of America’s dynamist approach to religion and how it plays out in the constant evolution of civic associations. I also appreciated the early discussion of the appeal and limitations of the “critique” approach Patal embraced as a college student. “I thought sophistication meant only telling the most negative story possible,” could be the slogan not only of the academic left but of many libertarians and conservatives.

The 21st Century Seems Like Science Fiction…even if it doesn’t look like old science fiction illustrations.

I’ve spent the week interviewing people at synthetic biology startups. I’ve eaten salmon sushi grown from a few cells, with no fish killed and no impurities (parasites, heavy metals, microplastics, whatever). I’ve eaten cream cheese made from whey protein excreted by fungi. You can read more later this year, in a longer article elaborating on the themes in this column from last year. As Greg Benford argued in this 1995 Reason article, ours is the Biological Century: “Beyond 2000, the principal social, moral, and economic issues will probably spring from biology's metaphors and approach, and from its cornucopia of technology. Bio-thinking will inform our world and shape our vision of ourselves.”

The biological advances proceed not just from greater biological understanding, however, but also from advances in computing power and now increasingly in machine learning. Last week brought the news that protein folding is no longer a mystery. The AI company DeepMind, owned by Alphabet (Google’s parent company), announced:

In partnership with EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), we’re now releasing predicted structures for nearly all catalogued proteins known to science, which will expand the AlphaFold DB by over 200x - from nearly 1 million structures to over 200 million structures - with the potential to dramatically increase our understanding of biology.

What will come of this information remains to be seen, but it promises to be big, with implications for medicine, agriculture, and more. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Lisa Jarvis, a former skeptic, wrote (ungated version here):

Since the early 1990s, scientists have been trying to train computers to predict a protein’s structure based on its genetic sequence. AlphaFold had the first taste of success in 2020, when it correctly predicted the structures of a handful of proteins. The next year, DeepMind put on its server about 365,000 proteins.

Now, it’s put the entire universe of proteins up for grabs — in animals, plants, bacteria, fungi and other living things. All 200 million of them.

Much as the gene-editing tool Crispr revolutionized the study of human disease and the design of drugs to target genetic errors, AlphaFold’s feat is fundamentally changing the way new medicines can be invented.

“Anybody who could have thought that machine learning was not yet relevant for drug hunting surely must feel different,” said Jay Bradner, president of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, the pharma company’s research arm. “I'm on it more than Spotify.”
Count me as one of the former skeptics. I hadn’t discounted the possibility that AI might have an impact on the drug industry, but I was weary of the many biotech firms hyping often ill-defined machine-learning capabilities. Companies often claimed that they could use AI to invent a new drug without acknowledging that the starting point — a protein structure — still needed to be worked out by a human. And so far, people have had to first invent drugs for the computer to improve upon them.

Producing the full compendium of proteins is something entirely different — and outside the usual hype cycle. It’s little wonder that executives at biotech and pharma companies are widely adopting AlphaFold’s revelations.

For more background on AlphaFold’s approach and the potential, see this Technology Review article from February.

On a more disturbing note, this AI-written letter to Glenn Loury fooled me completely. And I dread having to be on the lookout for AI-written student papers. (If you don’t want to learn, please don’t take my course!)

Envisioning the Future and the Recent Past

I am a huge fan of Jim Pethokoukis and his Substack newsletter, “Faster, Please!” But I’ve spent too much time thinking about glamour to share his enthusiasm for 20th-century visual depictions of the glorious future. They leave out too much—glamour always does!—and those omissions have had some perverse consequences, particularly in urban planning.1 I don’t want to live in the world of The Jetsons for the same reasons I don’t want to live in 1965. Plus there’s more to progress than faster transportation and robot maids. Surely our images can do better, including more human-scale views rather than grand visions that abstract away individual experience.

Meanwhile over at another Substack newsletter I enjoy, Anton Howes writes about Victorian confidence, quoting an 1859 document arguing for a successor to the Great Exhibition of 1851 (known for the Crystal Palace). It describes the previous eight years:

Looking back for that period in England, we find that several new arts and industries have arisen, and old ones have been extended. Scarcely more than ten years have passed since the submarine telegraphs were unknown; the screw propeller applied to our steam-vessels; the glass-duty removed; the great improvements and advancement in the trade and products of the Staffordshire potteries effected; the manufacture of bricks left free to take such form as may be required; the excise duty on soap got rid of; photography and chromatic printing introduced and perfected as arts; gutta percha and many vegetable oils from our Colonies, such as the Bassia Latifolia and the Cahoun Palm, introduced as new raw materials in commerce; whilst the declared value of our exported manufactures has risen from £65,756,000 in 1851 to £122,155,000 in 1857. Add to the above the fact, that within ten years the resources of our Colonies have been largely developed, and the commercial world has acquired three additional emporia: two on the shores of the Pacific, and one on the great American Lakes, viz., San Francisco, Melbourne, and Chicago, none of which are even named in the edition of Mr M’Culloch’s Dictionary of Geography, published in 1849; also that China and Japan have now been opened to trade with England; and we cannot but come to the conclusion that ten years is a period fully sufficient to justify the Society of Arts in proposing to hold an Exhibition in 1861.

Anton comments: “The contrast to today is marked. It is striking that so many intellectuals — particularly in the UK, but also in the US and elsewhere — believe economic and technological stagnation to now be an unavoidable fact of life. Although I don’t subscribe to the view that we’ve been seeing stagnation, I do think we’re falling far short of our potential. It’s worth imagining what kind of Victorian-style paragraph we can write about our last eight years, and what we would hope to write about the next.”

So here’s are the challenges. You can pick one or try any combination.

  1. Write an updated version of the Victorian paragraph, looking back at 2014.
  2. Write a speculative version of the Victorian paragraph, looking back at today from 2030.
  3. Come up with an inspiring illustration of a possible 2040.

I’ll publish a selection of the best here (you’ll retain rights, of course) as I receive them and will accept entries through September 30. I’ll then award the top two in each category a collection of what Jim would call “Up Wing” books.2 The judging process will depend on how many entries are received, and I reserve the right to award fewer than six prizes. Email them to me at [email protected].

Periodic reminders

  1. The references for The Fabric of Civilization are online here. They’re particularly useful if you have the audio version, which leaves them out. And if you don’t have the book, please buy it now.
  2. I welcome comments, but unless they’re personal, please leave them below rather than emailing me, so that other readers can read them as well.

Shrinkflation, Disqualiflation, and Depression and more

This post went out to subscribers to my Substack newsletter on July 29. Check out all the posts, including ones from the archives not reposted here, and subscribe here.

My latest Bloomberg Opinion column is explained well in an excellent subhead (contrary to popular assumptions, writers don’t craft the headlines or subheads that appear on their work): “Packaging less stuff for the same price doesn’t fool consumers or economists. But diminishing quality imposes equally maddening extra costs that are almost impossible to measure.” Excerpt:

If a 16-ounce box contracts to 14 ounces and the price stays the same, I asked Bureau of Labor Statistics economist Jonathan Church, how is that recorded? “Price increase,” he said quickly. You just divide the price by 14 instead of 16 and get the price per ounce. Correcting for shrinkflation is straightforward.

New service charges for things that used to be included in the price, from rice at a Thai restaurant to delivery of topsoil, also rarely sneak past the inflation tallies any more than they fool consumers.
But a stealthier shrinkflation is plaguing today’s economy: declines in quality rather than quantity. Often intangible, the lost value is difficult to capture in price indexes.

Faced with labor shortages, for example, many hotels have eliminated daily housekeeping. For the same room price, guests get less service. It’s not conceptually different from shrinking a bag of potato chips. But would the consumer price index pick up the change?
Probably not, Church said.

This phenomenon, which Doug Johnson aptly dubbed “disqualiflation” in a Facebook comment, is widespread. One example is the four-hour airport security line I chronicled in an earlier Substack post. Another is the barely trained newbie who screws up your sandwich order—a far more common experience today than four years ago. It’s the flip side of a phenomenon I wrote about in The Substance of Style and in economics columns in the early 2000s (see here and here).

During the 2000s and 2010s, inflation was probably overstated because of unmeasured quality increases. Now there’s the opposite phenomenon. Quality reductions have become so pervasive that even today’s scary inflation numbers are almost certainly understated.

If you can read the column at Bloomberg, please do. But if you run into the paywall, which allows a few articles a month, you can use this link to the WaPo version, which doesn’t have links.

Depression feels as foreign and irresistible as the flu.

You may have heard that the “chemical imbalance” theory of depression has been disproved. A typical summary is this one, from a post by a Facebook friend who shall remain nameless:

The pseudoscientific idea that “depression” is a “chemical imbalance in the brain” has been among the most pernicious for the happiness of humans, but among the most convenient for big pharma. “You don't need to rethink your life. Just take this pill.” The same logic behind drug addiction.

Here’s a popularization by the authors of the scientific paper. The study is not about whether the general idea of a chemical imbalance is correct. Nor is it about whether antidepressants work. It is specifically about the theory that “depression is a result of abnormally low or inactive serotonin.” Saying depression isn’t caused by abnormally low serotonin is a long way from saying it’s just the world telling you to rethink your life.

I do not need to rethink my life. I have a wonderful husband, meaningful work, financial security, generally good health. I had a loving family and a happy childhood. But from adolescence onward, I have suffered from bouts of depression. “But I can’t be depressed!” I long thought. I had a happy childhood!

But when this Zoloft commercial originally ran in 2001, I completely identified with the little blob—only I was much more miserable and worthless feeling. And I had already rethought my life. I had quit my job as editor of Reason, driven at least in part by a desire to stop feeling like a failure, and embarked on a career as an independent writer. My career was going well, but my mood was as black as ever.

I did eventually talk with my internist, who diagnosed depression. When she asked whether I ever felt suicidal, I said no, never, but I understand why other people do. She prescribed fluoxetine, aka Prozac, because it was available as a cheap generic. It made me less passionate and gave me weird dreams but allowed me get a rational grip on my depressive cycles. After a number of years, I went off the drug. When my depression returned a few years ago, thankfully not in as intense a form, my doctor prescribed sertraline (aka Zoloft), which is much, much better. It simply makes me feel normal, without the numbing effects of fluoxetine.

Depression feels as foreign and irresistible as the flu. If you think it is mere sadness, you don’t know what you’re talking about. We may not understand why antidepressive medication works, which makes it like many other medications, but I have to wonder at the urge to tell people who suffer from this crippling disease that they should just get their acts together.

Of course, I’m just a single data point. If you want to read some expert reactions, here’s a collection of short responses to the new findings. A couple of examples, from the same institution, University College London, as the review’s co-authors:

Dr Michael Bloomfield, Consultant Psychiatrist and UKRI Principal Clinical Research Fellow, Translational Psychiatry Research Group Head, UCL, said:

“The hypothesis that depression was caused by a chemical imbalance in serotonin was a really important step forward in the middle of the 20th century. Since then, there is a huge of amount of research which tells us that the brain’s serotonin systems plays very important roles in how our brains process different emotions.

“The findings from this umbrella review are really unsurprising. Depression has lots of different symptoms and I don’t think I’ve met any serious scientists or psychiatrists who think that all causes of depression are caused by a simple chemical imbalance in serotonin. What remains possible is that for some people with certain types of depression, that changes in the serotonin system may be contributing to their symptoms. The problem with this review is that it isn’t able to answer that question because it has lumped together depression as if it is a single disorder, which from a biological perspective does not make any sense.

“Many of us know that taking paracetamol [acetaminophen] can be helpful for headaches and I don’t think anyone believes that headaches are caused by not enough paracetamol in the brain. The same logic applies to depression and medicines used to treat depression. There is consistent evidence that antidepressant medicines can be helpful in the treatment of depression and can be life-saving. Antidepressant medicines are one type of treatment alongside other types of treatment like psychotherapy (talking therapy). Patients must have access to evidence-based treatments for depression and anyone taking any treatment for depression who is contemplating stopping treatment should discuss this with their doctor first.”
Prof David Curtis, Honorary Professor, UCL Genetics Institute, said:
“This paper does not present any new findings but just reports results which have been published elsewhere and it is certainly not news that depression is not caused by “low serotonin levels”. The notion of depression being due to a “chemical imbalance” is outmoded, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists wrote that this was an over-simplification in a position statement published in 2019. Nor is it the case that SSRI antidepressants increase serotonin levels. Their immediate action is to alter the balance between serotonin concentrations inside and outside neurons but their antidepressant effect is likely due to more complex changes in neuronal functioning which occur later as a consequence of this. It is very clear that people suffering from depressive illness do have some abnormality of brain function, even if we do not yet know what this is, and that antidepressants are effective treatments for severe depression whereas interventions such as exercise and mindfulness are not. It is important that people with severe depression are not discouraged from receiving appropriate treatments, which can make a huge difference to them and those around them.”

And here’s Freddie deBoer, who knows serious mental illness all too well.

Misc. short takes

Show, don’t tell: One of the small, pervasive changes that makes news stories seem both patronizing and politicized is the increasingly common practice of inserting judgmental adjectives into otherwise descriptive sentences. Telling readers that a statement is “false” while repeating it may be justified, if intrusive, but in other cases it’s an unnecessary tic.

Gone is the assumption that readers are intelligent people who can draw their own conclusions from a compelling presentation of the facts. Journalists now seem to live in fear that their readers won’t think correctly. Take this sentence from interesting article on the evolution of American Sign Language: “For a portion of the 20th century, many schools for the deaf were more inclined to try to teach their students spoken English, rather than ASL, based on harmful beliefs that signing was inferior to spoken language.” (Emphasis added.)

If you read the article, you are highly unlikely to come to the conclusion that signing is anything less than a full-blown language, not inferior to spoken English. But the article never gives evidence that this incorrect 20th-century belief was harmful. It doesn’t discuss the pluses and minuses of signing, or why one belief was succeeded by another. That’s a different story. In the context of this story, the adjective is unnecessary, distracting, and insulting to the reader’s intelligence.

In a word, chintz: This article from House and Garden (UK) examines “the debt British interior design owes India” and quotes The Fabric of Civilization, which the magazine reviewed earlier this year:

Postrel’s The Fabric of Civilization is a relatively academic analysis made accessible to casual readers. It’s full of amazing anecdotes, too: you will learn, for example, that a 100sqm sail for a Viking ship would take 60 miles of yarn to weave, and took longer to make than the ship itself. Postrel also visits modern textile-production facilities and weaving schools, to understand the technology behind the huge uptick in global availability of fabric.

And a favor to ask of my British readers: Please review The Fabric of Civilization on Amazon UK, so that the folks mad that the illustrations aren’t in color don’t predominate!

Just for fun:

Do Upwardly Mobile Latino Plumbers Have Anyone to Vote For?

This post went out to subscribers to my Substack newsletter on July 23. Check out all the posts, including ones from the archives not reposted here, and subscribe here.

I spent the morning with a young plumber who owns a growing company known for excellent work. He came with his cool camera-snake—a technology plumbers under 40 take for granted—to see why our condo complex’s pipes are backing up. We talked tree roots and hydrojetting, not politics. But my experience with this competent and upwardly mobile entrepreneur, whose fluent English still has a Latin American lilt, gave some recent political discussions additional resonance.

Last week Ruy Teixeira, co-author of the famous 2004 book The Emerging Democratic Majority,1 posted an essay on his Substack with the self-explanatory title “Working Class and Hispanic Voters Are Losing Interest in the Party of Abortion, Gun Control and the January 6th Hearings.” It hit some themes he’s long been trumpeting, including the growing defection of Latino voters from the Democratic party.

In current polls, he wrote, “Democrats lose among all working class voters by 11 points, but carry the college-educated by 23 points. This is less a class gap than a yawning chasm.” Citing specific issue differences, he concluded, “Strong progressives clearly live in a different world than Hispanic and working class voters.”

Both activist Democrats and Trumpist Republicans tend to equate “working class voters” with older white Rust Belt men, not upwardly mobile, often self-employed Latinos. But in my neck of the woods at least, the latter predominate. And I don’t see them represented in our political options. Trumpists portray them as criminals, welfare leeches, and job stealers, while progressives depict them as victims of racist capitalism. Both reflect zero-sum thinking. Neither rings true.

But, given a choice, increasing numbers of upwardly mobile working-class Latinos, especially men, are opting for the party that respects work, if not workers. That’s bad news for Democrats. It’s also bad for those of us who worry about Trumpism’s threat to American institutions but would rather not see the “racist capitalism” view of the world triumph. Although Teixeira and I have different policy preferences, like him, I’d like to see Democrats wise up.

They don’t even need to leave their progressive bubbles to get insights into the exotically ordinary world of working-class Latinos. They could just read the Los Angeles Times. It’s a liberal paper with a rare commitment to telling their stories as not as symbols but as normal people who speak for themselves. It’s old-fashioned local reporting. Here are samples from today’s edition:

There’s the heart-wrenching story of how Gustavo Flores Álvarez, a Mexican immigrant who owns a cabinet-making business, lost his family’s house to a fire from a homeless encampment on a long-vacant piece of city land nearby.

Álvarez said he thinks the man who built the encampment behind his house sparked the fire while trying to steal power. He had notified the police about the man, who would often get high and play loud music. But nothing happened.

The man has now set up a new camp a short distance down the same pathway, and more fires have occurred, terrifying others on the block.
“Do you know how scary it is to get a call that says there is another fire behind your home?” asked Álvarez’s next-door neighbor, Yvonnette Brown. “I constantly live in fear of something happening at the back of my house.” [Emphasis added.]

It’s a sidebar to a long feature on the city’s failed promises to use the land to bring jobs to Watts. Prospective developers couldn’t navigate the barriers. One example:

Seeing 10 acres of vacant land, Craig Furniss’ first thought was, “This is unbelievable. There must be something wrong.”

Finding nothing demonstrably wrong, Furniss and his partner, fresh from success in building the Alameda Trade Center produce market in downtown, took a chance. Partnering with the Watts Labor Community Action Committee, a jobs and social services nonprofit born out of the 1965 Watts riots, they made a winning bid in 2004 to build food-processing facilities.

Five years later, worn down by a plethora of bureaucratic setbacks, they gave up, Furniss said.

The neighborhood never got behind the plan, he said, and the city kept adding demands.

“They just kept layering these things,” he added.

Among those, he recalled, were building setbacks, job-creation targets with penalties for falling short and pre-approval of property transfers.

Then a change in mayoral administrations brought a new planning director and a new requirement: The city wanted a percentage of any profits.

The most productive approach would be to sell the land at market rates and let somebody build whatever seems to make sense for the area—likely some combination of housing and light industry or retail. But why cede control when you can “layer on demands?” So the land stays unused and, thanks to conflicting jurisdictions, unmaintained. If it gets used at all, the property will likely go to provide “interim housing, tiny homes, safe camping or trailers” to replace the encampment. You can see why hard-pressed strivers like Álvarez might find that disillusioning.

Meanwhile, in Boyle Heights, a rich businessman and philanthropist wants to turn a massive now-unoccupied Art Deco Sears distribution center into the “Los Angeles Life Rebuilding Center.” The center would offer housing, medical and mental health services, job training, immigration help, and drug treatment to as many as 10,000 currently homeless people.

Boyle Heights is a traditionally working-class neighborhood, the first stop for immigrants going back to Jews in the early 20th century. In recent years, it has gentrified as even households with six-figure incomes have trouble finding places they can afford to buy. That has caused tensions with long-term residents, who are also none-too-fond of the plans for the Sears building. They showed up at a recent meeting to protest the idea. From Andrew J. Campa’s LAT report:

Now, an outsider was telling them that the landmark Sears building, once the pride of the community, would house not hundreds, but thousands, of homeless people.

“It was like a whole bunch of things were said, but nothing made sense,” lifelong Boyle Heights resident Jasmine Flores, 21, said after the meeting. “It seemed very much an unrealistic dream that we were being sold, while real solutions, things that could help people from Boyle Heights, weren’t considered.”

Some felt aggrieved that their community, already reeling from COVID-19 deaths and environmental pollution, was now supposed to “fix” Los Angeles’ massive homelessness crisis.

Others lamented that basic services they’ve demanded from city and county officials — street cleaning, affordable housing and better security — continued to be neglected, while homelessness has taken center stage.

Flores was one of more than 30 people who spoke against the project. She said her family nearly wound up homeless on a few occasions during her childhood, and many in Boyle Heights are still barely making ends meet.

Like several other speakers, she considered it unfair that so many resources would be devoted to a transient community, rather than to residents who have been struggling for years. [Emphasis added.]

The scheme raises all sorts of practical questions, but neighborhood residents are less concerned with financing or architectural plans than with why someone wants to help vagrants rather than financially pressed people who are managing to keep their lives together.2 Why couldn’t someone turn the building into inexpensive housing for working families? Or expensive housing that gives affluent people a place to live without squeezing out existing neighbors? Because it’s too damned hard to develop housing in Los Angeles. Too many people get a veto and there are too many rules and too many delays. As Nolan Gray says in his new book on zoning Arbitrary Lines, “Housing delayed is housing denied.” (Coming soon: my interview with Nolan.)

Finally, columnist Gustavo Arellano, who represents an uneasy combination of fierce progressivism and what he calls “rancho libertarianism,” excoriates supposedly liberal local pols for cracking down on Latino street food vendors.

In my hometown of Anaheim, councilmember Jose Moreno — who fought a lonely fight for years against corruption at City Hall and is the chair of the longtime civil rights group Los Amigos of Orange County — shocked supporters when he asked city staff last week to look into cracking down even further on street vendors, even though Anaheim already has some of the most stringent regulations in Orange County.
After mumbling about supporting those micro-entrepreneurs as “a matter of philosophy and the need for people to make a living,” Moreno — who’s a professor of Chicano and Latino studies at Cal State Long Beach — nevertheless said “when they start setting up right in front of restaurants … that’s an affront to our small-business folks, the neighborhood, the community.” [Emphasis added.]
Profe, you’re sounding like a Trumpster.

Street vendors are, of course, themselves small-business folks. And if you think eating from a street vendor is an equivalent experience to sitting down in a restaurant, you don’t understand market segmentation (or chairs).

The theme running through all these stories is simple: Government doesn’t work and it particularly doesn’t work for ordinary people trying to make better lives for themselves. You have to either have money and connections—to have made it already—or you have to be seen as a victim, despite ignoring your responsibilities for yourself and those around you.

Along similar lines (but not from the LAT), Josh Barro puts his finger on an issue much more likely to cost Democrats votes than transgender athletes:

The ambivalence of liberals about whether they even want lower gasoline prices — and the steps the Biden administration has taken to discourage domestic oil production, for example by placing holds on oil and gas lease auctions — reflects the values of the highly educated, disproportionately affluent and educated demographic that dominates the Democratic Party’s staffers and donor base. Many of these people care a lot about carbon emissions and don’t care very much about whether gasoline is cheap, and that’s a real disconnect from lower- and middle-income voters across the ideological spectrum for whom cost of living is of paramount concern.

Unfortunately, this is a harder problem to solve than not saying “Latinx.” The policy concessions progressives would need to make on energy to stop weighing down the party are substantive and important.

A lot of progressives arrive at environmentalism not through cost-benefit analysis but through an essentially moral view that abundance — population growth, more energy, new homes — is itself harmful to the earth. There is an unbridgeable disconnect between that view — the philosophy that underlies the urge for “de-growth” — and the desire of most normal people to have a continually rising standard of living, with large cars and better appliances and air conditioning. And as shortages persist as a major theme in the world economy, this disconnect will become a larger and larger problem.

Upwardly mobile people have a stake in dynamism and abundance. If Democrats offer only stagnation, rationing, and neglect, those voters will turn to the alternative.

DIY plumbing snake/camera for less than $60

If you ignore the political train wrecks, the 21st-century is amazing.

ArchivedDeep Glamour Blog ›

Blog Feed

Articles Feed