If you want a book demonstrating that smart growth is based on mumbo-jumbo, half-truths, and outright fabrications, there are few better examples than The Well-Tempered City. Jonathan Rose is a real estate developer who happens to be married to the sister of New Urbanist architect Peter Calthorpe. Rose claims to have been at the 1996 meeting where the term “smart growth” was coined, though he doesn’t mention that one of the reasons for choosing the name was so its supporters could tar anyone who disagreed with them for favoring “dumb growth.”
Full disclosure: The publisher gave me a copy of this book on the condition that I write a review in my blog, so anything positive I say about the book should be taken with a grain of salt. I told the publisher my review might not be too positive, but they seemed to think a bad review was better than none at all. As it turned out, the book is far worse than I suspected, as I usually expect a semblance of reason from people I disagree with. I could find none in The Well-Tempered City.
While doing research for my map of the New Feudalism, I found this 2010 book by Irish journalist Kevin Cahill. Despite the shrill cover rhetoric, the book is basically a nation-by-nation (and, in the United States, state-by-state) inventory of land ownership patterns. There are a lot of question marks about some countries, but it helps to fill in some of the blanks in Eastern Europe on my map.
Click image to find booksellers offering this book through abebooks.com.
Cahill’s thesis is that “the main cause of most remaining poverty in the world is an excess of landownership in too few hands.” The book is a follow-up to Cahill’s 2002 book, Who Owns Britain? Cahill makes much of Britain’s claim that the crown is the ultimate owner of all the land in the United Kingdom, and goes further and claims the Queen owns all of the land in Canada, Australia, and two-thirds of Antarctica. In fact, 60 to 70 percent of families in Australia, Britain, and Canada have fee-simple title to their land, which is just as valid as the titles Americans have to the land they own.
A review of this 2014 book on Amazon says, “Hirt explains that in the early 20th century, pro-zoning interests argued that zoning was a means of increasing homeowners’ property values and excluding lower socio-economic classes.” Since that’s not far from one of the conclusions of American Nightmare, I was intrigued to see if she followed the same line of reasoning as the Antiplanner or reached that conclusion from a different direction.
Click image to go to the book publisher’s web page for this book. Click the link above (“2014 book”) to buy this book from Abehbooks.com.
It turns out the reviewer was wrong; Hirt briefly quotes others who argue that zoning “serves as a local immigration law that protects the rich from the poor” (p. 45), but it is hardly the focus of her book. Instead, her main question as an immigrant from eastern Europe herself is: why do Americans zone for such low densities and a separation of residential from other uses when Europeans seem perfectly happy living above stores and across the street from amusement parks? She also correctly observes that, relative to the rest of the developed world, Americans have moderate homeownership rates but high rates of single-family detached housing (p. 20), and wonders why this is the case as well.
Smart-growth land-use controls are creating a generation of renters and result in “social and housing apartheid,” say economists Shamubeel and Selena Eaqub. Writing from and about Auckland, New Zealand, they note that, since 1995, the cost of developable land has risen 73 percent faster than incomes (p. 52).
They admit that demand has played a role in housing prices, but not the principle role. “Over time, house prices can fluctuate considerably, but, in the normal scheme of things, only in a transitory way,” they write. “Prices will rise to signal the market to make more houses and then fall back when supply matches demand. But house prices can rise continuously, relative to incomes and rents, if there are physical or regulatory constraints that stop supply” (p. 51).
Smallter Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper, by the Manhattan Institute’s Robert Bryce, argues that human innovation will save the planet from climate change and other projected catastrophes. As the title suggests, most of that innovation has to do with making things smaller, faster, etc., but Bryce especially focuses on power density, that is, the amount of energy produced by a machine per kilogram weight of that machine. Thus, steam engines are more powerful than horses; internal combustion engines more powerful than steam; and jet engines more powerful than internal combustion.
Bryce’s formula, with modifications, applies to transportation and other issues as well. For transportation, the key factors are faster, cheaper, safer, and more convenient (convenienter?). From the beginning of the nineteenth century, every major technological innovation in transportation revolutionized society by improving most or all of these factors. The next major innovation–self-driving cars–will definitely improve all four.
“We are too fat, we are too much in debt, and we save too little for the future,” says philosopher Sarah Conly on the opening page of this book. Based on this, she strongly supports the idea that government should use coercion to prevent people from harming themselves.
The Antiplanner hasn’t read and is not going to buy the book, and only partly because the list price is an outrageous $95. More important, while it might provide some insights into how nanny-state supporters think, this is one book I don’t need to read to know that it is wrong.
One of the subthemes of the Antiplanner’s latest book is that there is a growing divide between the middle class (meaning people with white-collar jobs and their families) and the working class (meaning people with blue-collar jobs and their families). Charles Murray‘s latest book, Coming Apart, explores this split in more detail. He bravely proposes a cause of that split and suggests a possible solution.
Part of this book is the next book the Antiplanner wanted to write. Murray provides a great statistical review of growing income inequality leading to frightening conclusion that the United States is turning into a two-class society, one an upper-class elite and the other lower-class drudges who lack economic security or well-being. However, Murray’s explanation of this decline, and his remedy, are both far less persuasive.
Subtitled “How Obama Is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities,” this book sounds like it is right up the Antiplanner’s street (since my home fortunately doesn’t have an alley). Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center, argues that Obama intends to forcefully implement the smart-growth agenda in his second term, taking away people’s property rights; redistributing income; and forcing people to live in mixed-income communities.
Despite having less than 200 pages of text, the book is documented with nearly 500 endnotes. I agree with many of the arguments Kurtz makes. Yet I find myself repelled by the odor of paranoia that pervades the book. While the author documents particular reports and proposals from various planners and liberal activists, he fails to show that the ideas of people like Myron Orfield or David Rusk are central to Obama’s thinking. Instead, he relies on ad hominem attacks and guilt-by-association.
Central to the book is a group called Building One America, whose web site declares itself to favor “inclusion, sustainability, and economic growth,” and brags that it was recently “at the White House.” According to Kurtz, this group’s goals are to put urban-growth boundaries around every metropolitan area; force economic integration, that is, force all neighborhoods to accept residents of all income levels; and redistribute income from high-income neighborhoods and cities to low-income ones in the same region (p. 7).
In the Antiplanner’s recent review of Margin Call, I wrote, “No bank secretly realized that mortgage-backed securities were worthless and unscrupulously sold them to unsuspecting buyers.” The authors of All the Devils Are Here would apparently disagree.
Unlike most of the books about the financial crisis that the Antiplanner reviewed last year, which each tended to focus on one slice of the crisis, All the Devils attempts to track the entire crisis, from the beginnings of the mortgage securities market in the 1980s to the crash in September 2008. It relies heavily on many of the same books the Antiplanner reviewed, including Tett’s Fool’s Gold, Cohan’s House of Cards, and more. However, the lack of footnotes makes it difficult to tell which claims are based on which sources. Although one of the co-authors claims that they interviewed lots of people, virtually all of them supposedly asked for anonymity, so little can be verified. The book doesn’t even come with a bibliography.
Margin Call opened four months ago, so this review isn’t exactly timely, but for readers who haven’t seen it, it purports to be about the 2008 financial crisis. Since the Antiplanner has written extensively about this crisis, I found the movie intriguing enough to watch the DVD.
The entire picture takes place during about 27 hours in the life of an investment bank loosely modeled after Lehman Brothers, which went bankrupt in September, 2008. While the bank in the movie is never named, it has many parallels to Lehman. Lehman’s CEO, Richard Fuld, though out of touch with his employees, was at one time worth a billion dollars based on the value of his Lehman Brothers stock. The movie CEO, cleverly named John Tuld, is similarly remote but is also said to be worth a billion. Lehman’s chief financial officer in charge of risk management was a beautiful blonde who some whispered gained her position more because of a never-proven affair with the company’s executive VP than because of her skills. The movie’s chief risk manager, played by Demi Moore, is a beautiful brunette who apparently has a close but not fully disclosed relationship with the bank’s number two person. The blonde and her boss end up losing their jobs a few months before Lehman’s goes bankrupt; here the movie breaks from reality in that only Moore loses her job.