Jul 27, 2022Liked by Ryan Avent

Remove zoning and building code constraints. Let people build. In my country (Spain) the average population density of any kind of urban area - from small towns to big cities - is equivalent to Brooklyn NY, and supports very high quality of life with far fewer cars and less infrastructure.

In the 60s and 70s housing was abundant, cheap, and rundown. It was easy to be eccentric and live an offbeat lifestyle. Those same outsiders later founded Silicon Valley.

When the rents are too damn high there is no room for creativity or risk taking.

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Jul 29, 2022·edited Jul 29, 2022Liked by Ryan Avent

"How did we arrive at this place? ..."

all the factors you mention played a role, for sure. But I would add that the absence of a major war actually fought in the rich world, and the following lack of focused investments, disruptions, destructions and following reconstructions, also played a big part. Or to put it differently, world wars were maybe the biggest change-spurring events of last centuries. I also think that another big facilitator was that the median age was much lower back then.

"what reason is there to expect an end to the conservative consensus ..."

an additional destabilizing factor is that the low birth rate in the rich world is leading it to a place in which an ever shrinking working force will have to sustain an ever growing number of old people. I don't think this is a problem technically or even economically, but it seems to me that we might have to rely on the public sector playing a much stronger role (at a time in which a campaign to dismantle it is arguably making strides, at least in the US).

Alas, I tend to agree a lot with the comment by Tim Lee above that all these factors are too slow to cause any dramatic change anytime soon. In other words, things will have to go worse before serious change can happen. It might be something that the next generations (our sons and daughters or even more down the line) might face (while supporting a bunch of 90 year olds and adapting to climate change at the same time).

I know it might sounds a bit like I just want to relax at the barbecue and watch the game :) , but this is where logic leads me for now.

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Ryan, Paul Anka "predicted" what what about to transpire in 1965!


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I love the framing of this piece (about 50 years of conservatism) but I'm not sure I buy the inevitability thesis. It certainly seems possible that historians will look back and see January 6 as a foreshadowing of a Latin American style coup in the 2030s that ends American democracy. The Internet certainly seems like it's making that more likely. But I'm not convinced it's anywhere close to inevitable.

I like Ross Douthat's observation that a lot of Internet-enabled activism is essentially LARPing: you can get a lot of people to show up at a rally or riot or whatever, but flash-mob movements like this usually lack both a coherent agenda and the staying power they'd need to enact it. Black Lives Matter seems like a good example here: they mobilized a ton of people in 2020 but it's not obvious to me that they accomplished very much beyond a new federal holiday and the expansion of many

corporate DEI departments.

Also, it's not obvious to me that the end of American democracy, especially in a right-wing coup, would lead to a dramatic change in American society beyond the political system. Authoritarian strongmen often make a truce with elites in their society where they're allowed to keep most of their wealth and privilege in exchange for not objecting to the leader's rule. I could easily imagine this happening here, extending the conservative age by several decades.

As for climate change, I'm not convinced that's going to happen fast enough to force dramatic changes in American society. We're already seeing chunks of California become effectively uninhabitable due to wildfires, and people are mostly reacting by re-locating elsewhere and moving on with their lives. I'm not sure even bigger wildfires, bigger heat waves, bigger hurricanes, or cities sinking under water is going to be enough to dramatically change the basic features of our American society or economy. We're wealthy enough that we can absorb a lot of natural disasters over a period of decades and still enjoy a decent standard of living,

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You may be underrating the rise of existential risk as a factor in our conservatism. It was easier to say "we will make mistakes, including some big ones. That is how it goes" when humanity didn't have the technological capability to make big enough mistakes to literally kill everyone, or even to consign unlucky survivors to centuries of dystopia. Arguably our particular modern form of stagnation doesn't in practice actually decrease x-risk-- it may even increase it-- but it's harder to make that case when the first-order threats of nuclear war, runaway AI, and engineered superpandemics have never been more visible. And surely there's a connection here to the post-1970 shift in science fiction from space opera toward post-apocalyptic grimdarkness.

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I see a close relationship between what you say here and what Richard Hannania and Marc Andreesen talked about on the CSPI channel yesterday: All of today's heroes only save stuff and never build something big and new. Only villains get to do that.

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The fear: of "climate change: the inevitable result of a determination to avoid disruptive change which will ultimately force us out of our comfort zones, one way or another."

It is climate change alarmism that is radically conservative - and wrong. Droughts & floods can be, and will be, adjusted for, but with only small disruptive changes; tho the arguments remain uncomfortable. Like Greens needing to support nuclear power to maintain voter-beloved low cost electricity.

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I would say: speak for yourself. I am from Europe, born shortly after WW2, I have seen many things change. About 25 years ago I moved to the US and was amazed. Rules, regulations, for everything a form to be completed, people afraid to take responsibility in their job (someone can sue me !), hardly any interest in the rest of the world, education ridiculously expensive - apparently the US does not believe in its future ? Stores the same everywhere, houses boringly repetitive. The US is the country of more - of the same.

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If Marx teaches us nothing else, he teaches that everything is downstream from technology and economics. Technology sets the limits on what is possible; economics set the limits on what choices are feasible.

Want to change society? Change the relationship to the means of production.

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