Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Living and living well

Not surprisingly, Ken Masugi has some very smart thoughts about this characteristically impoverished libertarian reflection on "living well." (There, that should provoke a few people.)

Here, in a nutshell, is Nick Gillespie:

It’s useful to think of any given area as making a deal with people who might live there: We’ll throw off this much employment opportunity, this many diversions, this much action, at a given price —a figure that includes not only money but all the sorts of petty tyrannies that zoning and planning boards routinely generate.

In other words, for Gillespie, "living well" amounts to some combination of employment opportunities ("mere life"), "diversions," and "action." (To a friend who lived in Lebanon, New Hampshire in the late 80s, Boston meant sushi, delis, bars, bookstores, and Bradley Lectures at BC, not necessarily in that order.)

Here’s Masugi’s riposte:

Living well has required institutions long associated with urban culture. But there are ways to achieve human happiness that emphasize family, rootedness, local culture, and faith. I have friends in Washington, DC that would dearly love to return to Kansas for precisely those reasons. Unlike for Gillespie, the exotic big city doesn’t offer the best of life, even as it offers many enticements.

As a single guy (aren’t almost all single guys practically libertarian?), I probably would have sided with Gillespie. As a married guy, I’m with Masugi all the way.

Discussions - 7 Comments

Mr. Knippenberg, that’s an interesting angle on being single and being libertarian. Hmm...I never thought of that...might be a very good theory as to why so many otherwise intelligent men and women with a conservative frame of mind buy into libertarian foolishness. Good thinking

I don’t believe the original author was editorializing on this. Kippenberg quoted one paragraph (somewhat out of context), but conveniently neglected the immediate preceeding:

The simple fact is that many people—arguably most people, if population patterns are any indication—are ready, willing, and able to pay a steep premium to live in more densely populated places where things inevitably cost more money and take more time, where there are more regulations, higher taxes, bigger annoyances, you name it. emphasis mine

The point is made -- If a majority of folks viewed the "simple life" as good living, why do large urban areas not experience population decreases?

My post says nothing about "what most people want"; neither does Ken’s, though I’ll let him speak for himself. My point is that Gillespie’s description of the "good life" as lots of stuff to do (pro sports, bars, shopping malls, ethnic restaurants, opera, museums; take your pick; after all, libertarians take consumer sovereignty as their point of departure) leaves out the considerations Ken calls to our attention.

Population patterns have to do in substantial measure with the availability of employment: I don’t live in Atlanta because I necessarily like Atlanta, but because I can ply my trade here. Atlanta chose me; I didn’t choose Atlanta. Might it be that the most important "voters with their feet" are those who make the location decisions for businesses, whether we’re talking about start-ups, about branch plant or branch office locations, or about headquarters relocations. I’m not going to assume without an argument that senior managers or entrepreneurs have the same qualities in mind for choosing a location (whether we’re talking about their personal tastes or their business judgments) as do, let’s say, parents of small children, all things being equal.

Mr. Knippenberg is correct -- employment attracts (forces) people into massive population agglomerations. On the other hand, about 57% of the American population now lives in suburban areas, which gives the lie to the notion that people "select" big population centers. Suburbanization is our areas with good schools, safe public areas, and autonomous governments.

One can hardly divorce suburbia from population agglomerations. Until far removed (Read: out of suburbia!) from the epicenter of population density, most municipal borders remain largely artificial. Having lived in Chicago, I have witnessed influence over suburbia wielded by those powerbrokers who should otherwise have their sphere confined within the city limits, pace Mayor Daily.

Dr. Knippenberg (please forgive the earlier mispelling) does raise the point of employment. Business Leaders are the ultimate determinants as to where jobs (and people follow jobs) are located. One might accurately assume that if I take a job in a large urban area, I may as well enjoy the benefits of such a locale (art, food, sport, etc), as there exist no escape from the irritants (taxation, commutes, regulation) also contained therein.

But -- the individual must make the choice to take such a job! I’m sorry Dr. K - but Atlanta did not choose you. Ultimately, you have weighed the costs associated with living in such an area with the benefits of plying your craft at the business of your choosing -- and you have determined that the benefits outway the costs, ceteris paribus.

You could easily start a new career path, or apply for - and ultimately acquire - a similar job in a more family-friendly setting (the "good life" in Kansas, say), away from the bright lights and jetways.

Mr. Anderson,

You’re clearly unfamiliar with both the academic job market, especially in my subfield, and with my incapacity to do anything else to earn a reasonably passable living. On the latter, just ask my wife.

Mr. Anderson -- suburbia is clearly part of the metropolis, but a distinct part. Some cities are better at manipulating their suburbs than others, but Americans generally have more CONTROL over their residential neighborhoods in the suburbs.

Jobs are a function of population concentration. Few people rush to North Dakota to take a job...because their aren’t many. I think Mr. Knippenberg is correct...we tolerate the big city but our hearts lie elsewhere. If you look at the pathetically small gentrication movement, the difficulty cities have in retaining their middle class taxpayers, and the general outmigration over the last 4 decades, I think it’s impossible to argue that most Americans like "downtown." We are a suburban nation because we like semi-rural (i.e., small town) living but enjoy having major retailing nearby. The suburbs offer us a compromise lifestyle.

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