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Thread: Liberalism, Socialism and Urbanism

  1. #1

    Liberalism, Socialism and Urbanism

    This thread is a spin-off of a discussion in another thread.
    You presented a defeatist case explaining away the decline of the environment as inevitable, and I've been trying to refute it by explaining the difference in the use and abuse of power in our democratic societies. The problem when you refer to liberal democratic states is that the two words are contradictory. "Liberal" means individual freedom and power, and "democratic" means collective power. One must necessarily come at the expense of the other. The freedoms painstakingly aquired in European countries, democratic or monarchic, during the 19th century were all progressively rolled back in favor of collective power during the 20th century. It is not a coincidence that the environment has suffered retrogression in the process. You cannot make an introspection of this decline without touching the subject.

    Your choice now is clear. Give up and accept the decay of civilization into nihilistic junkspace, or challenge the system all the way to its roots with a viable alternative. The current system can never end sprawl. Fifty years ago Lewis Mumford and Jane Jacobs were leading this fight, using the same arguments and strategy that you are using today. They lost

    If not liberty, what hope is there for the future of our cities? How can you, one man with a vision, turn this around? Public activism has accomplished nothing since Jane Jacobs and Lewis Mumford. Things have gotten worse, and a few symbolic victories (saving New York) are all that the public sector planners have to rally around. The private sector planners are just marching ahead, fighting the bureaucracy and the system at every turn, and they need your support.

    What's it going to be? Your belief in socialism, or your love of the environment? You can no longer rationally choose both.
    Quote Originally posted by iamme
    "Fighting between rival warlords and an inability to deal with famine and disease led to the deaths of up to one million people."

    I like how your article conveniently glosses over this fact and ignores it much like yourself.
    Wars that kill a million people are fairly common in Africa. The one in Congo-Rwanda-Burundi just ended and nobody paid any attention. Another one took place in Algeria about ten years ago. States did not protect these people, in fact in Rwanda and Algeria they were interested in murdering as many as possible, and in the case of Somalia they are the cause of the fighting. So the fact that there was a war in Somalia is not evidence of anything. What is interesting is that they have made economic progress greater than any other African country, which is going to make it possible for them to deal with famine and disease where other African countries cannot.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian dobopoq's avatar
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    To me, a "Liberal" government is one that protects the weak from injustice through a concern for the common good, and a "democratic" government is one that has leaders and representatives who are chosen by the citizenry in free elections. I don't see a contradiction between these two meanings.
    Quote Originally posted by jaws
    The private sector planners are just marching ahead, fighting the bureaucracy and the system at every turn, and they need your support.
    I don't have anything against private sector planners, and I largely agree with the point you've made before about the government being responsible for leading us down the path of sprawl.

    What exactly do you mean by the word "environment", when you say:
    the environment has suffered retrogression in the process.
    Are you referring to the literal meaning that pertains to the health of the ecosystem, or do you mean it in a more abstract sense pertaining to culture - including architecture in particular and the overall look of the built environment?

    Whether you meant the former or the latter meaning, I think a decline in the "environment" is pretty inevitable with over 6 billion people on the Earth. I think sprawl is the ultimate example of how placing too high a value upon individual liberty can backfire and leave you with a system that is in actuality - more constraining to the individual than if a more collective approach were taken in the first place. Everyone is in a sense tripping on everyone else's overly long coattails. Little do we know that we could still be warm if we'd just get rid of our long coattails. Then we'd also be less in each other's way.
    "The current American way of life is founded not just on motor transportation but on the religion of the motorcar, and the sacrifices that people are prepared to make for this religion stand outside the realm of rational criticism." -Lewis Mumford

  3. #3
    Quote Originally posted by dobopoq
    To me, a "Liberal" government is one that protects the weak from injustice through a concern for the common good, and a "democratic" government is one that has leaders and representatives who are chosen by the citizenry in free elections. I don't see a contradiction between these two meanings.
    Your definition of liberal is incomplete. A liberal government is a government that protects individual liberty (hence the words liberal and liberalism). That is usually tantamount to protecting the weak from injustice and concern for the common good, but it isn't the same as top-down control and direct intervention. Democracy implies that the majority can exercise power over the minority, and the exercise of this power results in a liberal government only by coincidence. (It is equally possible to have a liberal monarchy and liberal dictatorship.) In a democracy however it is much more likely that the majority will seek to exercise power to increase its welfare at the expense of the minority, through government control of the economy. This kind of democratic government is common today, and in generally all countries comes into two flavors. There are the paternalistic socialists ("Republicans" or "Conservatives") who want the tax income to be spent on highways, single-family homes and military industries, and think that the state should be "tough on crime" and favour "family values." Famous paternalistic socialists in urbanism include Wendell Cox, Joel Kotkin and David Brooks. Then there are the maternalistic socialists ("Progressives" or "Social-Democrats") who believe that tax income should be spent on welfare programs and railways, and that "smart growth" controls should be imposed to encourage the construction of apartments and limit sprawl.

    Liberalism and liberals make no such demands. The agenda of liberalism is that the state should have no agenda, and what is appropriate for people should be decided individually through the free market.
    I don't have anything against private sector planners, and I largely agree with the point you've made before about the government being responsible for leading us down the path of sprawl.

    What exactly do you mean by the word "environment", when you say:

    Are you referring to the literal meaning that pertains to the health of the ecosystem, or do you mean it in a more abstract sense pertaining to culture - including architecture in particular and the overall look of the built environment?

    Whether you meant the former or the latter meaning, I think a decline in the "environment" is pretty inevitable with over 6 billion people on the Earth.
    There is nothing inevitable about a decline in environment. In fact the history of humanity, up to recent times, has been about an improvement in our environment. For most of history the environment was the enemy of mankind and liable to kill large numbers of us at any time. We tamed the environment and made it hospitable to humanity, until we arrived at a landscape as harmless and picturesque as, for example, rural England.

    The health of the ecosystem is just one aspect of our environment. The health of the human-constructed environment is equally important. We had made great strides in its improvement until the 20th century when we began rolling back all of our accomplishments. Some 20th century states were spectacularly destructive of it (look up the book "Ecocide in the Soviet Union").

    If we wish to resume the work of improving the environment it is necessary to look at the methods we traditionally employed to do so.
    I think sprawl is the ultimate example of how placing too high a value upon individual liberty can backfire and leave you with a system that is in actuality - more constraining to the individual than if a more collective approach were taken in the first place. Everyone is in a sense tripping on everyone else's overly long coattails. Little do we know that we could still be warm if we'd just get rid of our long coattails. Then we'd also be less in each other's way.
    That is invalid as sprawl was a collective enterprise to begin with, and in many ways still is. The "American Dream" of the single-family home with the yard and the nuclear family was a collectivist proposal. All Americans were entitled to it.

    The individualist alternative to sprawl is the traditional city with its wide range of alternatives for lifestyle and enterprise. No living arrangement is favored over another, and no one is taxed to extend privileges (sprawl infrastructure) to a lifestyle they disagree with.

  4. #4
    Last time I did it, I pledged allegiance "to the Republic, for which it stands".

    Check out the definition of a republic and let me know whether "we have kept it".
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
    "Once he timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy."
    Warren Spahn

  5. #5
    Teleported from the other thread:
    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    The real problem to me still seems to be our traditional architecture and urbanism today is so bad. And, I won't go back off track to argue with jaws about the reasons for that (we'll agree to disagree).
    You can't use agree to disagree as an argument. I don't agree to disagree. I agree that I'm right, and you have to offer some kind of refutation to my arguments, or concede the point. The reason urbanism is so bad today is that urbanists have been reduced to bureaucrats enforcing rules determined by politics that thus make no sense and don't respond to real popular demand. Urbanism by lawmaking and regulation is bound to fail. You can read back ablarc's "paint by numbers" thread for an illustration of that point. Because there is no other method of running a government agency except by bureaucracy, it was inevitable and inescapable that government control of urbanism would lead to sprawl and degeneration.

    Bureaucracy is a well-researched institution. It isn't any kind of shock that it results in bad work. I'll give you the full Rothbard quote on this:
    For it is in the nature of any governmental bureaucracy to live by a set of rules, and to impose those rules in a uniform and heavy-handed manner. If it did not do so, and the bureaucrat were to decide individual cases ad hoc, he would then be accused, and properly so, of not treating each taxpayer and citizen in an equal and uniform manner. He would be accused of discrimination and of fostering special privilege. Further­more, it is administratively more convenient for the bureaucrat to estab­lish uniform rules throughout his jurisdiction. In contrast to the private, profit-making business, the government bureaucrat is neither interested in efficiency nor in serving his customers to the best of his ability. Having no need to make profits and sheltered from the possibility of suffering losses, the bureaucrat can and does disregard the desires and demands of his consumer-customers. His major interest is in "not making waves," and this he accomplishes by even-handedly applying a uniform set of rules, regardless of how inapplicable they may be in any given case.

    Murray N. Rothbard, For a New Liberty

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally posted by jaws
    Teleported from the other thread:

    You can't use agree to disagree as an argument. I don't agree to disagree. I agree that I'm right, and you have to offer some kind of refutation to my arguments, or concede the point. i]

    Murray N. Rothbard, For a New Liberty

    Yes, I admit it, whether out of curiosity, boredom, or something worse, I did read through the other thread pretty much in its entirety, and I do think that you are being a bit unfair to BKM, who did offer a sustained argument against your views. Obviously, you have not accepted it, which is perfectly reasonable. Whether your arguments against BKM are convincing is another matter.

    Observation of a largely disinterested bystander: Don't the two of you think that, maybe, just maybe, it wasn't just big government and/or big business (take your pick) that produced the mind-numbing sprawl and inferior architecture of modern America that we all deplore, but something a bit deeper...Massive suburbanization in the U.S. has coincided with massive increases in productivity and the size of the economy. Could a rural-urban country (such as we had in early 20th century) have sustained this level of growth? Or without massive suburbanization and all that it entails (especially including "rationalized" production, distribution, marketing and sales) would we find ourselves in Europe's predicament (low growth, statism, relatively closed markets?) Has this all been such a bad thing?? In other words, if I may be so indelicate, stop complaining, because at least you have leisure time to spend on cyburbia This is spoken from the perspective of someone who, because of my life's choices, has probably on the whole benefited from the American system, even if, whether out of overeducation or sheer sanctimony, I may claim to disagree with it. At least I can afford my latte and biscotti.

    In general, if I may sum up, we do need experts, specialists, even philosopher kings, and certainly no bureaucrats. I live in DC and see enough of them firsthand to agree wholeheartedly at least with that And as for democracy...remember who won the Peloponnesian War -- it wasn't those democratic Athenians..We don't even need to resort to contemporary history (e.g. Palestine) to prove that point

  7. #7
    Quote Originally posted by Kovanovich
    Observation of a largely disinterested bystander: Don't the two of you think that, maybe, just maybe, it wasn't just big government and/or big business (take your pick) that produced the mind-numbing sprawl and inferior architecture of modern America that we all deplore, but something a bit deeper...
    You can't really dig any deeper than the original producer, which is the government. You can argue that the zeitgeist or some other psychological mania made them do it, it doesn't really matter why they did what they did. What matters is that they did it, and they wouldn't have if they didn't have the power.

    The experiments with suburbia and ville radieuse would still have been tried had the free market been the driving force of urbanization. They would have failed and been buried in a chapter of history. Some things would have been learned from them and then applied to the succesful methods of urbanism. The problem is that the government never was able to figure out that it had failed since it did not have a notion of profit or loss. It simply spent money however it deemed fit.
    Massive suburbanization in the U.S. has coincided with massive increases in productivity and the size of the economy. Could a rural-urban country (such as we had in early 20th century) have sustained this level of growth? Or without massive suburbanization and all that it entails (especially including "rationalized" production, distribution, marketing and sales) would we find ourselves in Europe's predicament (low growth, statism, relatively closed markets?)
    Europe's predicament is not that different from America's. The American government lies about growth rates, conducts warfare statism instead of welfare statism, and threatens protectionism any time foreigners gain market share. It's all the same problems everywhere you go, you just need to choose your poison.

    There is absolutely no doubt that following the old rural-urban model of growth would not only have been more beneficial, it would have economized huge quantities of resources that could have been invested in other sectors of the economy. All the wealth invested in highways, parking lots and automobiles could have been better spent on other things. Not only that, had we adopted a more entrepreneurial system of urbanism then there is absolutely no doubt that the construction of cities would have evolved positively, just like the manufacture of cars has evolved positively because of the free market. Government control of the economy strangles progress and innovation. In the case of urbanism not only have we made no progress in the past 100 years, we have actually gone backwards, such that our best hope is to roll back the clock and start again where we left off. That's a hundred years of progress lost as well as uncalculable capital wasted in bad investments.

    Has this all been such a bad thing?? In other words, if I may be so indelicate, stop complaining, because at least you have leisure time to spend on cyburbia This is spoken from the perspective of someone who, because of my life's choices, has probably on the whole benefited from the American system, even if, whether out of overeducation or sheer sanctimony, I may claim to disagree with it. At least I can afford my latte and biscotti.
    That's a difficult question to ask. The only thing we can say about our fates had a different system prevailed is that our lives would be completely different. Sometimes people tell me I am a hypocrite for getting a cheap university education and then condemning the government. But the reality is that society has organized itself in such a way where having a university education is necessary to unlock success. And had I not had to suffer the miserable public education system I would not have wasted so many years of my life in classrooms waiting for other children to catch up, and I may have completed a PhD by age 18. And I may have never taken an interest in economics or urbanism or architecture. Maybe I would have become a banker. There's no way to know.

    You cannot know whether you have netly benefitted from the system. Perhaps you would have benefitted more without the system. Just because you have succeeded in the current system doesn't mean you wouldn't have been more successful otherwise.

    What can be known is what is good for us, for our children and for all of society in the future, and this system is certainly not it.

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