Stephen Karlson (shkarlson) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Stephen Karlson

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Some years ago, historian Lizabeth Cohen presented the Bruce Lincoln Lecture at Northern Illinois University. Her presentation analyzed the attempts of city planners to preserve their downtowns by supporting department stores.  I recalled the presentation as demonstrating, once again, the folly of attempting to manage complex adaptive systems, and no effort in building expressways or providing parking decks, or turning high streets into pedestrian malls, or reopening them to motor vehicles, stemmed the migration of people and economic activity into the suburbs, and beyond.  She also referred repeatedly to her A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America.

Book Review No. 17 suggests that Consumers' Republic is more Preaching to the Converted to reinforce the Perpetually Aggrieved in their Faith that Postwar America (known on Cold Spring Shops as The America That Worked(TM)) is irredeemably the Triumph of Babbittry and its attendant Oppression of the Other.  For one exegesis of these thoughts go here.  It's not clear to me, after finishing reading, whether the economic self-segregation and the conversion of formerly public spaces such as high streets into more evidently private spaces such as the shopping mall, or the availability of online ordering, is necessarily a bad thing, the message the closing pages of Consumers' Republic communicates, or whether it provides people with a refuge from the disorderly and dysfunctional public spaces and popular culture of Multicultural America.

Professor Cohen does quote, apparently approvingly, a Swede (p. 254) who asserts, "We cannot allow people to preserve their differences.  People will have to give up their right to choose their neighbors."  But diversity cannot be managed.

It should be noted that as Sweden has become less committed to social democracy in recent years, the American model of segmented suburbanization has been gaining ground, with wealthy Swedes pursuing suburban single-family homes and automobile commutes, and less affluent Swedes abandoning state-owned urban housing to new immigrant projects with even fewer options.

The Soviets coined a word, khrushchoba, to describe The Projects.  No amount of Planning or Social Shaming can confine a Swede, or an American, or anyone else with the ability to escape, to The Projects.

Nor should it come as a surprise that zoning codes, or Sunday blue laws, or any other Policy Undertaken For The Common Good, cannot be captured by the very interests the laws seek to control.  If Public Choice Theory didn't exist, somebody would have to invent it.

Perhaps Consumers' Republic, written in a way sympathetic to the aspirations of the Perpetually Aggrieved, will provide enough evidence to the contrary as to make such reformers less quick to call for Action To Be Taken By The Government.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

Tags: cultural studies, current events, history, politics

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