Monday, February 25, 2013

Where are the smarts?

David King alerts me to the "Strong Towns" website, in particular, this "orderly but dumb" discussion, where the writer evokes the contrast with the preferred "chaotic but smart."  But who is being smart?

I have been wary of policy makers who arrogate "smart" to their approach because it usually reveals amazing hubris.  "Smart growth" has been city planner's favorite for for some years.  You  must wonder about the unintended irony.  Hillary Clinton would campaign against Republican foreign policy by invoking the prospect of "smart power."  Who can resist that?

Hayek's "The Use of Knowledge in Society" bears a theme that is wise and also studiously avoided by those who could use the message the most. It is their kryptonite.

Alain Renaud was the keynote at the USC Lusk Center's Rena Sivitanidou Annual Research Symposium last week.  He spoke about "Urban Structures, Markets, and Mobility."  Alain presented an amazing amount of data from major cities around the world.  He referred to the "new proletariat." These are people who commute more than one hour each way.  There are many large cities with many such people.  But look at the U.S. data from the ACS.  What proportion of Americans commute longer than 90 minutes (the ACS cut-off). Less than 2.5%. Only 8% report more than 60 minutes.

How did we achieve this benign result in a world of second-best? Policy makers are still wary of proper road pricing. But workers and employers are well aware that it is in their interests to avoid expensive commutes and try to locate accordingly -- when and if we let them.  They are being "smart", as we expect them to be.