Thursday 2013-08-22

Tyler Cowen's going to give a talk tomorrow at the Civil Service College regarding The Great Stagnation.

From which Cowen omits property rights. Another interpretation of recent history is we had lots of progress until the 60's and 70's, and then people started feeling that too much had changed: books like Future Shock were written, and people like Jane Jacobs became heros after burying titans of Progress like Robert Moses.

Why was this different than in previous times? Cowen notes that one of the US's big advantages was being able to cultivate large amounts of free land. Only that land wasn't actually free, it's just that the Native Americans using it had no property rights.

When we go around nuking parts of the Now to make way for the New, we have to decide which parts of the Now get nuked, in other words, every future is theft, and politics is making sure someone else gets robbed.

In a post-70's NIMBY world where many people have veto power, perhaps we have hamstrung the process of Creative Destruction by preventing the destructive half of its nature because someone objects to it?

Ed Glaeser blames zoning restrictions for making urban housing expensive. Zoning alterations are minor; imagine making the sweep of changes Baron Haussmann wrought upon Paris in today's world. It seems impossible now, and it probably seemed impossible then. Even after the Great Fire, London successfully avoided its great opportunity to redesign.

It does not seem too large a leap to consider that people lobbying local officials to prevent some loss might retard change that we can see, i.e. that which has a material impact on our standard of living.

If that's the case, we either live with this democratic sclerosis, or we have to somehow reduce the number of stakeholders across large sections of what we consider everyday normal life. Since that's large enough to be politically intractable, expect the future to arrive only in places new (like the Internet) or less politically polluted (like Robots since labor unions continue to be weak).