After reading the comments to my post titled "How to Build a Country," I am left wondering if the intense backlash to "central planning" represents a valid opinion or if it is more of a psychological condition.

If it is a psychological condition, it is one I've often seen. It is the inability to distinguish between an analogy - which could be a component of a valid opinion - and something that simply reminds you of something else.

For example, if you see a bed sheet blowing in the wind on a clothesline, it might remind you of a ghost, and that would be perfectly normal. But if you think the sheet might later haunt you because of its similarity to a ghost, you probably have a psychological problem.

Likewise, when my idea of planning a city from the furniture up reminds you of Stalin and Chairman Mao, you might be suffering from a condition that just feels like an opinion to you. I want to assure you that there is no danger from Stalin, Mao, or the bed sheet. You are simply reminded of them.

Keep in mind that any newer city in this day and age is centrally planned, from the road layout to the sewer systems to the water supply. And there is always some sort of planning commission approving new construction. If you are lucky enough to live in such a planned community, you'll be happy that you can easily get from one place to another and find parking. If you live in an older city, such as Washington DC or Boston, you know it's a nightmare to get from A to B.

I've lived in three planned communities. There was an apartment complex that was planned from the ground up. There was a housing development the size of a small city. Then there was a townhouse development I lived in for several years while building the house I live in now.

Do you know what was terrible about all of those "centrally planned" communities?


The cost of the homes was probably half of what it would have cost an individual to build from scratch, and they had all the safety and convenience features you would need. I could quibble about closet space, and the availability of guest parking, but that's exactly the sort of thing you can fix with better central planning. If there were no centrally planned government building codes, developers would screw the living daylights out of home buyers who don't even know what questions to ask.

When it comes to building a home or even a modern city, central planning is how it is already done, and it is the only sensible model. The alternative to central planning is unambiguously stupid. No intelligent human believes you get a better result by letting people do whatever they want with their homes, streets, and sewage. If you do believe that, you are once again confusing the bed sheet with a ghost. Political freedom - which we all want - is not an analogy to home building. If you give people the freedom to build whatever homes they want, you don't get something awesome like democracy; you get a shantytown nightmare.

Keep in mind that the planned city I described would have numerous different models of homes, just as current developments do. And no one would be required to move to this city. It would compete with every other open society on earth as a desirable place to live.

My post on building a city from the furniture up is about better central planning. Central planning itself is a given. There is no rational alternative. I'm only suggesting that technology would allow an amazing leap in livability if we plan correctly, and I think a company such as Google would do a better job than a government entity when it comes to planning .

And if you see a bed sheet and that reminds you of a ghost, that isn't an opinion.

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Nov 4, 2013
Unlike living in planned communities in the UK where the mantra is 'Hate the car, cram as many houses into the smallest space for the maximum profit and make the walls so thin you can hear your neighbours breathing.

[When the government plus a developer do all the planning you get shitty homes that look good when walk through them and you don't realize they will cost a fortune to heat and cool and there are no closets. You don't want developers taking the lead. -- Scott]
Nov 4, 2013
Centralized planning is not necessarily a bad thing. Using force, as opposed to voluntary means, to implement and enforce central planning is - for both moral and utilitarian reasons.

[It's not central planning if anyone can choose to ignore it. -- Scott]
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Nov 4, 2013
I think there's a couple of interesting things here. One, yes, I think some of the backlash is absolutely a condition. I don't know if I would call is psychological, necessarily - humans are trained to find patterns, so remembering Stalin or Mao when the term "central planning" is mentioned it quite consistent with human nature. Equally, humans tend to remember negative connotations far better than positive ones, which explains why those pop up first in a human's mind. Personally, I would categorize this behavior as "how people are conditioned to think". Whether or not that counts as a "psychological condition" I'll leave to the individual.

That said, there is still a couple of problems with your suggestion. First, as other's have pointed out, you are ignoring the human element in all this. All system will, in theory, work if the people are fully behind them (Rand, Marx, capitalism, communism, etc). However, the people never are fully behind them, largely because of the next issue.

There is also a lot of false dichotomy going on here - either something is good or it is terrible. That is a classic logical fallacy. Scott, you yourself equate no central economy with Somalia, and no central planning for a town to "a shantytown nightmare". The reality is far more complicated, as you attempted to point out to those who equate any central planning with Mao and Stalin. But it works both ways.

Another interesting thing you pointed out is that in DC it is a nightmare to drive from A to B. However, DC *is* a planned community. I also have lived in a planned community - in fact, I live in what is currently considered the "original" modern planned community, Columbia, MD (you can check it out on Wikipedia). Does it have problems? Absolutely. The people in the community are terrible drives (not surprising, given that Maryland has the worst drivers in the country), which affects transportation. Speaking of that, public transportation is rather bad there. There is an unreliable bus system, but that is about it. Biking is risky, due to the bad drivers. The neighborhood centers? Well, the one right by me is basically dead. I have to take a vehicle to do anything of note. Some centers are better, but some aren't. Of course, all of this is anecdotal evidence, but so is your assertion that there isn't anything majorly wrong with the planned communities you've lived in.

Now, obviously Columbia's attempt to make a planned community taught society several things, and perhaps the lessons learned there made it possible for the communities you've lived in to exist. However, those lessons still haven't been applied to Columbia, so central planning doesn't guarantee a better community. Which leads to the next problem.

Who gets to decide what is a "better" community? I'm sure the planned communities were great for you, but a rugged outdoorsman or high-rise dweller would hate it. Not everyone has the same desires or expectations. Equally, not everyone lives in a community because they like the community; as always, it is more complicated than that. Some people live in a community because it is the best option (in some cases, the best of a bunch of bad options - this is why I currently live in Columbia). So while people may be living in your planned community, they may not agree with your ideas and work to change the community in ways it isn't designed. For any place to succeed, you must account for the "insider threat" - those that will work against the community from within.

Obviously, as a thought experiment, technology *can* gives us massively better living (for certain definitions of better), and personally I trust Google far more with designing a community than, say, the federal or state government. But such places depend largely on execution, not planning (which is why, given the federal/state governments' level of execution, I trust Google more), and I would say it is rather naive to assume there will be no large problems. We also have much more to learn about urban planning still, despite having learned a lot so far. I am all for experimenting in this area, but I think it should be recognized that it is a very complicated issue, and requires lots of expertise in *many* different areas to come together in just the right mix to get it right (and success is by no means assured). And that is just at the city level. If you expand central planning to a nationwide-level, the number of variables grows (probably exponentially).
Nov 4, 2013
The reason Disney didn't build an actual city in Florida is that, even before Walt Disney's death, they began to realize the level of control necessary just wasn't feasible. Walt envisioned a permanent population living in futuristic homes and working at showcase, state-of-the-art plants. And it would all be a tourist attraction where the world could see how the future worked.

One, getting people to live in a manner consistent with Disney's concept of "show" was a no-starter. Even the smallest condo development and homeowners' association has its wars over the clunker in the driveway, the non-conforming yard or the unauthorized housepet. Blown up to a city scale, it becomes ridiculous (Even now, municipalities have a lot of trouble enforcing basic zoning).

Two, Disney hoped that corporations would build experimental plants that would allow public tours, or at least welcome attention. They found out that the corporations naturally wanted to keep their newest stuff under wraps for competitive reasons. Imagine an Apple R&D with public tours.

Three, to make the planning work Disney would have to own and control everything -- a powerful model for a vacation resort, but not for a full city meant as a shrine to capitalism.

Walt Disney World did become a future world of sorts, but mostly in the invisible infrastructure.

Now Glenn Beck is talking up a "self-sustaining libertarian community", ignoring everything Disney and company learned when planning their city -- with the added hilarity of assuming a population of avowed Randians will obey rules and work together for the common good. If it happens at all, I expect it to end up as a very pricy residential community catering to wealthy, conformist right-wingers. The security measures will be elaborate and very visible, but otherwise it will be no more libertarian or self-sustaining that the Magic Kingdom.

[Worst. Analogy. Ever. -- Scott]
Nov 4, 2013
"You do know you live in a planned economy now, right? Part of the planning includes when to allow competition and when not. The alternative to a planned economy is Somalia." -- Scott, replying to one of the posts.

That's actually almost entirely untrue. Our economy is mostly governed by Adam Smith's invisible hand, which states that a large group of individuals working in their own self-interest leads to the most efficient system. Yes, the government enacts some regulations to prevent bad actors from taking dishonest advantage of consumers, but that's not the same thing as an entirely centrally planned economy where all employment and wages are controlled by the government. The USA did not grow into a superpower from 13 start-up colonies by planning, it was unfettered freedom and capitalism that did it. Poor countries like Somalia don't need central planning, they need more capitalism.

[The Constitution of the United States was a central plan. The real question is whether you'd prefer living in a capitalistic republic with awesome houses or a capitalistic republic with shitty ones. -- Scott]
Nov 4, 2013
Central planning of architecture and infrastructure and central planning of human behavior and livelihoods are two very different things, yes. The former tends to be excellent for efficiency, the latter seems like it would be but rarely is because there are too many variables.

Your earlier post suggested instituting both types of central planning, though yes, you were focused on the architecture/infrastructure type and strongly alluded to an assumption that the human behavior type would follow naturally because the architecture/infrastructure planning is just that awesome. But one doesn't lead to the other. The architecture/infrastructure planning is one-and-done, and a very small group of smart people could manage it. Human behavior central planning requires vast bureaucracy, control, and enforcement mechanisms, which are ongoing.

Efficient home and city design doesn't have power over how long somebody's commute is unless you tell everybody where they can and can't live. Efficient home and city design doesn't have power over the cost of living, childcare, crime, or people driving under the influence.

Then your "internet access solves everything" idea is another completely separate concept of no relevance to efficient home and city design. You assume the internet makes government easier, but the main problem in government today are people that are ill-informed of the issues yet vote anyway, and the internet doesn't do anything to prevent that. Health care via internet is yet another separate issue, one that you may or may not be overly optimistic about.

You start out on efficient home and city design but ended up on a series of things that mostly can't work and would need a Soviet-style state to even attempt to implement, and then when people called you on it, you counter that efficient home and city design is not socialism.
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 4, 2013
"[Technology standards are certainly a form of central planning. The only way to think otherwise is if you are conflating central planning with communism. -- Scott]"

Centralized planning seems to be a gross misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the purpose behind protocols, connectors, and other infrastructure. The USB standard, for instance, details enough information to allow two devices to communicate with no assumptions about what those two devices are, or what purpose their connectivity will serve. Note how the industry immediately abandoned Serial Ports, Parallel ports, keyboard ports, mouse ports, SCSI, and other communication standards that were tailored to specific implementations. Soon monitors and hard drives will abandon their specific communication standards and merge with everything else. The core purpose of modern standards are to eliminate implementation-specific considerations, and it has enabled tremendous advancement.

In terms of public infrastructure, electricity also ignores what's providing power, where it travels, what forms it must have, and what device needs power. At the outlet, 60hz A/C is provided at 120 volts, and that's what must be consumed. Neither the source or destination is important for planning the other, and is irrelevant to the standard. Any assumptions you made would invariable be wrong or quickly outdated and make people miserable. The completely agnostic nature of that standard is what makes it useful.

In fact, the entire paradigm of software development since the 1980's extolls increasing levels of abstraction. Class hierarchies, interfaces, and libraries allow for more sophisticated and more reliable software because more and more software tools EXPLICITLY ignore and avoid details about specific implementations.

Centralized planning is the antithesis of modern technology.

[Any good plan needs to take into account which things should be more like a guideline, or standard, versus a law. I'm saying planning is good, so let's do it better. You're saying it is possible for idiots to make stupid plans, therefore planning must be bad? -- Scott]
Nov 4, 2013
Well, Scott, back atcha. When people disagree with you, you accuse them of having a psychological problem.

Before you go all LRC on me, let me state that you did not say exactly that. However, in saying what you did, you dismissed your critics unfairly, just as I did to you.

The road to hell, it has been said, is paved with good intentions. I have no doubt your intention to have a centrally planned city is well-meaning, but you are repeating what has become a core theme in many of your posts, to wit: you (or at least some academically-trained experts of whom you would approve) know better how we should live than we do.

That kind of thinking has led us to a $17 trillion debt and Obamacare. At its core, it states that people are just too damn stupid to figure out what's best for them. It is an elitist viewpoint that has led to many of the most brutal and murderous dictatorships the world has ever seen.

The problem with your planned-city concept is an assumption that they (your experts) are virtually infallible, and that they, even when they screw up, should be forgiven because they had good intentions.

This is the central myth of nanny-state government: forget the unintended consequences; forget the waste; forget the fraud; forget the corruption. Forget the cost. Just remember that they really, really wanted everything to go well, so we all must ignore their massive failures and the horrendous cost of their missteps.

Example? The Obamacare website. I mean, come on, Scott. $630 million and three years, and they didn't even beta-test that system?

Analogies cut both ways, Scott. Too much power in the hands of too few people usually leads to problems that overshadow whatever ill they plan to fix. The first question you should ask yourself when you propose a centrally-planned anything is, what's really wrong with what's going on now? Does it really kill us to live in cities that aren't centrally planned? If our central planners blow it, is there a possibility that we will be worse off than we were before?

And then, who is going to pay for it? Are you going to create a centrally-planned Solyndraville? Must you take my money to build your dream, while asking me to forget everything but your good intentions?

What's next? A centrally-planned state? A centrally-planned country? It all starts with a single step. It's where it might end that worries many of us. There's a difference between you planning your house and you planning all of ours.

There's nothing wrong with dreaming, and using creativity to think of new ways to look at old problems. But dreamers should be able to accept criticism without accusing those who criticize them of not really understanding the root cause of their objections.

It doesn't take people with psychological problems to worry when central planning is proposed. It's actually a rational reaction to the possibility of losing more than we gain when the academics ignore reality in pushing their ideas on the rest of us.

And while a bed sheet is not a ghost, Chairman Mao and Stalin were real-life monsters. It is not irrational to be concerned when someone tries to inch us in their direction, even with the best of intentions.
Nov 4, 2013
(By "posts and comments here" I mean the last two posts and their comments.)
Nov 4, 2013
As a collective audience we seem to be taking the details of Scott's original post exceptionally seriously. That's part of the nature of this forum - to hash through ideas, whether crazy or not, and see what conclusions are drawn.

I remember the post with the ridiculous idea of the giant rock on the hoist that got lifted up in each community so that members could draw power from it for their homes - but it had me thinking for days and days afterward and it generated some interesting comments.

The posts and comments here are less fun... perhaps the concept is too plausible and it strikes too close to home. Or maybe Scott wants to make a bigger difference in the world where we commenters all want more of the giant rocks.
Nov 4, 2013
Scott, you're conflating standards with planning. No one would disagree that we need to have standards to protect consumers (or at least I wouldn't). My issue is with who gets to implement those standards. A centrally-planned community is fine, as long as it is done in the context of the free market. People who like it will live there, people who don't, won't. When the government is doing the building, though, and it isn't just a community, it is a whole city or country, there is no alternative.

Typically, we think of a transaction as involving two parties, the buyer and the seller. But there is actually always a third party as well: the arbitrator, who enforces the rules that the two parties have agreed on in the case of a dispute. In our country, the arbitrator is almost always the government, which by default has the power to compel both parties to obey the law.

If the government is both the arbitrator AND the seller, though, there is a conflict of interest, and the buyer is at a disadvantage. Worse, the government can grant itself a monopoly by structuring the law so that the government is the ONLY seller available -- all done, naturally, in the interest of "fairness". Even that might be okay, except that that government is, by and large, terrible at running a business, for all the reasons given in the last post.

The government needs to stick to its role as arbitrator, enforcing the standards and keeping both sides honest. Let those who have a real stake in being efficient and providing value do the actual implementations.

[ no one would be required to move to this city. It would compete with every other open society on earth as a desirable place to live. ]

Not if it is the whole country, which was the ultimate point of your post.

[I'm describing an entirely new country that starts with zero inhabitants. No one has to be there. And the government would not be doing the building, but they might enforce standards for the many individual builders who participate, just as large housing communities are built today with multiple contractors conforming to standards. If you're arguing about the form of the plan and not the concept of central planning, we are in agreement. -- Scott]
Nov 4, 2013
Please expand discussion the bedsheet ghost idea.

I feel like much of our country may, unsurprisingly, be mistaking a feeling for an opinion- myself not excluded.

If there were a way do demonstrate to an individual they they might be affected- without thoroughly insulting them- that would be awesome to know about.

[Good topic idea. I'll think about that. -- Scott]
Nov 4, 2013
[I reminded you of Henry Ford just as the bed sheet reminds you of a ghost. The human/social issue you describe is simply part of the planning process, as it is for every planned community. -- Scott]

I think you reminded me of Henry Ford like a smart guy with a plan reminded me of another smart guy with a plan.

I'm not saying that you can't centrally plan a society. I am saying that planning social structure is as similar to planning infrastructure as driving a car is to riding a horse. If you think you can apply the same principles to both you're going to make the horse very angry when you try to fuel him up.
Nov 4, 2013
I actually do think it does include Thomas Jefferson, if you were a Royalist in the late 1700's.

Royalists don't want to hear about democracy, it's rather foreign to the current paradigm they're working within. Such discussion is interpreted, possible subconsciously, as criticism of what exists already, and is responded to with defensiveness.

Of course, nobody we know is a Royalist now. They're all western democratists, or whatever -- but I'd imagine the principle is the same.
Nov 4, 2013
So why on earth would a rational person (sorry -- I meant a moist robot) design his own house? Sounds kind of stupid to me.

[Existing homes aren't optimized for home offices, dog ownership, recreation, or any number of things I built into my home. But every bit of it could be part of a planned city. If you work at home and own a dog, that's one model home. If you have two adults working at home, that's another. And so on. -- Scott]
Nov 4, 2013
In general, I liked both the last blog entry and this one. There was only one thing that struck me as "interesting" given both entries:

If you think that planned communities are a good idea and had good experiences in the three that you'd lived in, why aren't you living in a planned community now?
Nov 4, 2013
I'd love to see just businesses cooperate to build a whole private city. Get a pre-fab home maker, Ikea, Google for internet, driverless Tesla cars (zipcar pay-to-use... less costly than owning a much cheaper car individually for each person), UPS for mail/packages and other business help they offer, Apple for industrial design tweaks, Amazon warehouse for 2-hr delivery of prime packages.

Make the city a concentric series of circles, with roads like "90th" being the north-aiming road, 180th being the west-aiming road, etc. Inner city has skyscrapers and tourist areas to overlook the whole city, beyond that is apartments and some businesses, then parks and hospitals, then suburbs, then farms. Las Vegas is a city manufactured around gambling, purely voluntarily-funded. Disneyworld is another.

The idea is to have city citizens be like theme park customers, being competed for by city owners, trying to offer better lifestyles, rules and safety for their money. This, in direct contrast to being coercively forced to pay taxes for just a very small say in how another human will decide how to spend your money for you.
Nov 4, 2013
[I think you are saying a good plan is better than a bad plan. Did you assume anyone thought otherwise?]

I am saying we need to move slowly with this concept. Our ability to determine in advance what is a good central plan for a country is limited. The communists thought they had a good central plan for a country, went too far too fast with it and found themselves unable to fix it because that would mean telling everyone they goofed up on a national level. You may say 'Bed sheet or ghost' to my bringing up the communists again, but I say we should learn something from their example.
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 4, 2013
Scott, is this your version of a tantrum?

[On the Internet, a simple clarification -- and in this case an entirely new point about the understanding of analogies -- is always labelled back-pedaling, waffling, walking-back, and . . . tantrum. Labeling is isn't reason. -- Scott]
Nov 4, 2013
I'm not sure that I agree that central planning is a given. Modularity and interoperability standards are not the same as central planning, even though someone might see a ghost in those sheets. I would say that they are nearly the opposite solutions to the same problem.

It reminds me a lot of the "Ecosystem" approach that Apple offers their consumers vs the wild west free-for-all that the rest of the tech industry goes with. In general, Apple users seem very satisfied with their overall computer experience and how things work together, while virtually every specific aspect of their computing experience is inferior to a user on a competitive product. And far more expensive.

[Technology standards are certainly a form of central planning. The only way to think otherwise is if you are conflating central planning with communism. -- Scott]
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