Some Monday Links

A Shackled Leviathan That Keeps Roaming and Growing (Regulation)

Do robots dream of paying taxes? (Bruegel)

The Janus of Debt (Project Syndicate)

Revisiting the Los Angeles of David Lynch’s ‘Mulholland Drive’ 20 Years Later (LA Magazine)

A note on the three Californias and arbitrary borders

As many of you may know, there is a proposal to split up California into three parts: north, south and ‘ye olde’ California. This proposal is idiotic on several fronts. For starters the best university in LA, the University of Southern California, would find itself in ye olde California. Meanwhile my university, UC Riverside, would overnight become USC Riverside. Now, I wouldn’t be against the Trojan football team relocating to Riverside, especially since Riverside doesn’t have a team of it’s own. However the proposed split would cut off the Inland Empire and Orange County from Los Angeles county.

This despite the fact that the greater LA area is composed of LA-Ventura-Riverside-San Bernardino-Orange counties. These counties are deeply interwoven with one another, and dividing them is bizarre. Imagine the poor “Los Angeles Angels at Anaheim”. What horrendous name will they have to take on next? The “San Diego Angeles at Anaheim”?

Beyond it’s idiocy the proposal makes a larger point: government borders are, for the most part, arbitrary and plain stupid. The proposal to split up California ignores the regions socio-cultural ties to one another, but there are countless other examples of senseless borders.

For example, who was the bright guy that decided to split up Kansas City between Missouri and Kansas? And let’s not even get started on the absurd borders of the old world.

Thoughts? Disagreements? Post in the comments.

On Liberalism & Race

Race has occupied my thoughts for the past few months. I have traditionally been against giving too much thought to race. Progressives, I think, abuse claims of racism to shut down discussions and pass questionable public policies; e.g. “We need state provided health care because the current system is racist against people of color.”. Conservatives likewise use racism (nativism really) to justify restrictive migration policies. My default position has been that liberals should seek to reduce the role of race of society. I am no longer convinced that this is a viable goal.

My earlier position was based on my childhood experience growing up in 1990s Los Angeles. I grew up in the city’s Koreatown district. The corner grocery store was owned by an Indian. We had a mosque in the block that catered to the neighborhood’s Bengali population. This being Los Angeles there was of course a mixture of Hispanics from Mexico, El Salvador, Argentina, and other nations. With so many groups clustered together in a small place you would expect frequent violence – but there wasn’t. Property crimes (petty theft mostly) were common given the general poverty in the area, but inter-group violence wasn’t common. The reason for peace was because the United States’ market oriented institutions discouraged such violence. All the groups were too busy trying to make money to have time to escalate inter-group conflict beyond making fun of one another in private. I grew up hearing plenty of jokes at the expense of Salvadoreans and Asians, but I never saw any actual violence against them. I figured that this was evidence that a liberal society would in the long run be able to make race irrelevant by making it too costly to be racist.

The events of the past few months have made me skeptical of this. Liberal society certainly makes racism costly and reduces inter-group conflict. However liberal society does not eliminate all inter-group conflict or remove the underlying differences across races.

Given that liberalism cannot eliminate racism, what should the liberal position on race be? I have no solid answer. Thoughts?

A History of Regional Governments (Part 1)

Cities have historically been compact hyper-dense communities. This is because cities have been constrained in size by the average resident’s capacity to reasonably travel throughout the city within a day. Cities built before the dawn of the automobile are often noted for being walkable. It is doubtful that the walkability of these cities is due to any planned attempt to make them so as the urban planning profession is a relatively new discipline. Rather older cities are walkable because they had to be. For most of history the average man could only travel as far as his own legs could take him. Horses and other beasts of burden substantially increased one’s travel range, but even up to the 19th century ownership of such beasts was beyond the reach of the every man. Any real estate developer who attempted to build outside a city’s natural growth boundary would as such find it difficult to attract the necessary foot traffic to make his endeavor economically feasible.

This constraint in outward growth also led to older cities being easily dominated by a single local authority. This changed with the creation of the automobile. As noted above, a beast of burden was already capable of extending the effective range of their owner. The automobile similarly would have done little to influence the growth of cities if it were inaccessible to the average man. What made the automobile such a game changer to the future of cities was that it was within the reach of the average man’s finances.  In their early days, as in our own, automobiles presented a serious financial investment but were nonetheless cheap enough to afford.

With the advent of the economic automobile the general public was no longer constrained to the urban core. Attracted by cheap land prices in the periphery an increasing portion of the city settled in the periphery region – the so called suburbs. The development of suburbs had several immediate effects, but of interest to us is its effect on local government. At first cities attempted to annex the suburb regions but it was not before long that some suburbs rejected annexation. One of the first such cases was in when Brookline, a wealthy suburb of Boston, rejected annexation in the late 19th century. Even some suburbs which originally agreed to annexation changed their minds and fought to regain their independence.

Suburb residents had been driven to migrate from the cities in search for cheap housing, but they also valued their new found independence from urban politics.  Many suburbs elected to instead incorporate as cities by their own right. Despite their political independence the suburbs remained economically tied to the mother cities. It did not take long for the limits of this style of organization to be realized. In the greater New York metropolitan area New York and New Jersey local governments found themselves unable to settle basic questions regarding their common port. Meanwhile in Los Angeles the various local governments were unable to efficiently synchronize their electric current systems. Los Angeles proper synchronized its electrical system with the rest of the nation in 1936 but the rest of the metro didn’t make the switch for another twelve years. In greater Boston the suburbs found themselves unable to provide for quality running water and other basic utilities. These problems only increased as population growth increasingly favored suburbs and urban sprawl intensified.

Early reformers suggested the creation of a new layer of government, between state and local government, which would preserve the independence of the suburbs whilst creating a central authority capable of providing for regional needs.  Attempts to create regional governments were retarded by the actions of local governments who jealously guarded their own powers. It is unclear what would have happened if things would have been allowed to play out without federal intervention.

It was at the height of the New Deal era that the modern regional government was born. The Roosevelt administration began to encourage regions to form councils of government and other regional government associations if they wished preferential federal aid. The Truman and Eisenhower administrations codified this policy with the Housing Act of 1949 and 1954 respectively. Section 701 of the 1954 Housing Act in particular would serve as the benchmark for years to come in promoting the creation of regional governments. As a result of these actions almost one hundred regional governments were formed. The regional governments formed tended to be in name only. Local governments agreed to their formation in order to secure federal funding but granted their regional counterparts little actual control in day to day affairs. Regional governments were relegated to providing technical advice to local government and to aiding state government with paperwork, but were unable to pursue their own objectives. Meanwhile the growth of the suburbs continued strong, aided in part due to the return of WW2 veterans and the preferential mortgage packages offered to them.

The federal government attempted to bolster the strength of regional governments with the passage of the Highway Act of 1962. Thus far federal legislation had merely given preferential treatment in aid allocations towards regional governments. The Highway Act of 1962 made federal aid contingent on having areas with a population greater than 50,000 create a regional development plan. In practice the act gave regional governments little power as the language was broad enough to allow state and local governments to circumvent them. Once more regional governments found themselves with little teeth and better termed advisory bodies.

An Afternoon Fog

Sometimes the fog from the beach

Keeps the sunlight out of my windows

During the weekends

I get to sleep in until

My roommate, a gay doctor,

Starts to crash about the apartment Continue reading