NIMBYs, Enclaves, and Stuff I'm Reading
Small is not beautiful. Stakeholder capitalism is not nice. And I'm off to the Bay Area.
The horror of townhouses
I’m headed off to the Breakthrough Institute’s Dialogue 2022 conference, where tomorrow morning I’ll be on a panel discussing Ezra Klein’s idea of “supply side progressivism.” Ezra says he’s been reading The Future and Its Enemies and characterizes himself as what I call a technocrat, which is no doubt correct. But his critique of the problem of getting stuff done is basically correct, and I see some possibilities for a positive coalition with strong dynamist elements.
To see what we’re up against, read this NYT article on a Bay Area woman’s fight to block a 20-unit condo development on a vacant lot. (I live in a 14-unit condo development, built in 1975, so this is essentially an argument that people like the Postrels ruin the neighborhood.) She’s straight out of The Future and Its Enemies, complete with devotion to E.F. Schumacher.
Susan Kirsch is a 78-year-old retired teacher who lives in a small cottage home in Mill Valley, Calif., on a quiet suburban street that looks toward a grassy knoll. A Sierra Club member with a pesticide-free garden, she has an Amnesty International sticker on her front window and a photograph on her refrigerator of herself and hundreds of other people spelling “TAX THE 1%” on a beach.
The cause that takes up most of her time, however, is fighting new development and campaigning for the right of suburban cities to have near total control over what gets built in them….
After all, this is a person who once wrote an op-ed that said the removal of five trees in Mill Valley sent “existential messages to our fellow citizens of the world.” Who has fought for two decades to prevent a developer from putting 20 condominiums on a hill at the end of her street.
Ms. Kirsch’s nonprofit, Catalysts for Local Control, opposes just about every law the California legislature puts forward to address the state’s housing and homelessness problem. In Zoom meetings with her members, she describes lawmakers’ intentions in dark terms and drives the message home with graphics that say things like, “Our homes and cities are under attack.”
It might seem kitschy if it weren’t so effective. Susan Kirsch was 60 when she began her fight against the condos down the block. Eighteen years later, the hill remains dirt.
Enclaves and the Problem of “Stakeholder Capitalism”
This widely circulated Intercept report about the dysfunction within progressive nonprofits is best understood through the lens I suggested in “Purity, Sorcery, and Cancel Culture.” It was one inspiration for my new Bloomberg column. A couple of key paragraphs:
Stakeholder capitalism implicitly assumes a cultural consensus identical to whatever its advocates believe. It harks back to the mid-20th century, when big US companies enjoyed little competition, mass media marginalized all but a narrow range of political, religious and social views, and hierarchy and security dominated worker expectations. It pretends social media, Slack channels and “bringing your whole self to work” don’t exist.
For a purer version of what stakeholder-oriented management can engender, forget profits and political disagreements. Look at the turmoil roiling all sorts of left-wing nonprofits. In a report in the Intercept, Ryan Grim details why Washington D.C.-based groups have spent the past few years engaged in “knock-down, drag-out fights between competing factions of their organizations, most often breaking down along staff-versus-management lines.”
Read the whole thing here. Bloomberg allows a limited number of free reads. If you hit the paywall, you can read an ungated version here, thanks to my WaPo subscription, but it doesn’t have the all-important links. (I eventually put my columns on my site, but I have to wait at least 90 days.)
Interview with Stewart Brand focusing on How Buildings Learn, which helped me think about nested rules in chapter five of The Future and Its Enemies. Relatively short Q&A, highly recommended. Stewart Brand is a treasure.
Woke capitalism is many things. Some hypotheticals that will make you think.
Pricing to deter trolls: “They are such cheapskates.”
18th-century dye research gives rise to theory of catalysis (the textile-oriented take on this profile of a pioneering chemist Elizabeth Fulhame)
Politics on Twitter: The Pew Research Center examines the big data.
Speaking of Twitter, I highly encourage anyone on it to switch to the chronological feed. Suddenly people you forgot you were following will show up (at least if you follow a lot of people). From Home, click the sparkly icon in the upper right and choose “Switch to latest Tweets.”
Just for fun: