Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Libertarian taxonomy

I was part of a neighborhood turnaround in St. Paul from the mid 1970s to 1989.  It was an amazingly interesting experience because we were trying to reverse the decay and plunging property values that had turned the city's most fashionable neighborhood into a frightening place where 50% of the building were boarded up.

The lessons I learned included:
  • It is quite possible for real estate to decrease in value--and once it begins to decrease, only heroic efforts can arrest the decline.
  • Aesthetics is the most overlooked driver of economic behavior.  Our neighborhood began to show new life when a few projects were especially well-done and the tour buses started driving by.
  • It only takes a handful of talented and dedicated people to make a big difference.  For example, I had a neighbor who was supremely gifted when it came to designing paint schemes for Victorian houses encrusted with gingerbread.  How good was he?  When National Geographic did a photoshoot of St. Paul, one of his houses made the cover. A highly successful book called Painted Ladies included two of his houses.  A better example of individual genius could hardly be found.  Yet when he sold his paint jobs, he would always appeal to civic pride.  "A beautiful house is what you do for your neighbors, your street, and your community--after all, they will see it more than you will because you are inside."  And because he was able to convince so many people to spend the extra money it took to make their houses look better, the whole neighborhood came back from collapse.  It's a VERY cool place to be these days.
My neighbor the painter understood the most important economic lesson of all--ALL successful endeavors are a careful balance between individual freedom and initiative and an understanding of what is owed to the community.

Which is why I profoundly disagree with Libertarians on economics even though I agree with much of what they have to say about drug policy or international adventurism.  The me-first thinking of a Libertarian is what destroyed our neighborhood in the first place--it is just a fancy expression of the slum-landlord mentality.  Worse--the slum-landlord thinking that is being taught in our finest economic departments in our most prestigious institutions of higher learning has collapsed the global economy and given us the Gulf Blowout.

So I must thank the geniuses over at DU for breaking down the Libertarian impulse into its finer gradations of insanity. (click for full size)

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