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
And I wouldnt characterize my posts on the matter as a baclklash so much as 'lets be careful with this'. You say you've seen some centrally planned communities that turned out well. I believe you. I also beleive reports Ive seen that criticize the level of control some of those communities have over peoples lives. No doubt you beleive that is something that can be fixed. I beleive that too. The point Im moving towards is that this is something we should fix before scaling it up to the country level. And when we do start scaling it up we should move slowly. No doubt we will hit problems along the way. We dont want to discredit the whole concept by having too many of them at once.

[I think you are saying a good plan is better than a bad plan. Did you assume anyone thought otherwise?

Every individual complains about the rules of his planned community. He might want to put a barbecue on his balcony and the rules forbid it. But that guy is plenty happy that his neighbor can't open a pig farm in his garage. Don't conflate the desire of every human to be above the rules with the general desire to live in a rules-based society. Very different things. -- Scott]
Nov 4, 2013
[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. ]

...Umm...funny, I didnt notice the comments to that one being any worse than to some of your other fix the world posts...

[I agree. Not worse. Just a pattern of bed sheet and ghosts that needed to be addressed. -- Scott]
Nov 4, 2013
Diseconomy of scale. It's a lot easier to fully plan out an apartment than it is an entire country.

[Yes, and no one should build airplanes because planning them is harder than planning to build a pencil. That's a penetrating analysis. -- Scott]
Nov 4, 2013
Relatively recently, ever since what is referred to as democratic government has replaced religion, the motivations of fictional villains has changed. It used to be they wanted to steal or corrupt your soul and send you directly to hell, or some other such place. We don't really get that kind of villain anymore.

What do evil guys do now? They want to take over the world! It's not even clear a lot of the time that their intentions are bad -- the very fact that they want to do this apparently makes them evil in and of itself.

And so if you want to build a country, you're already evil. This wasn't always true. Kids used to grow up wanting to be Alexander the Great or Napoleon. Now it's just crazy people.

I have found that crazy people and children (superheroes & princesses) tend to leak the truth about some default state of desired human behavior that society eventually does a good job of suppressing.

[You said, "if you want to build a country, you're already evil." Does that include Thomas Jefferson? -- Scott]
Nov 4, 2013
This fallacy in Scott's plan is that this time, we will have even better experts at central planning. One day we will find good enough experts that they can make it work.

Experts can't predicted that in Residential Block 1B35 Mary Jane will open an in home day care, so successful that she converts for residential units into one, and now over whelms their brilliant traffic planning causing cascading delays.

Experts can't predict that in Commercial Sector ZZ9 Plural Zed Alpha a new donut shop will tweak their recipe and shoppers from around the city and countryside will flock there at 9:02 am, because as a marketing tool the shop only has fresh donuts for those in line right then.

No experts will every be omniscient. No amount of brilliance in central planning can factor for all the innovation that will come.

Yes moist robots should be predictable, but with billions of variables that would need to be calculated for every person, understanding that their neurons will randomly fire triggered by an article they read in 7th grade, that girl they hooked up with on Halloween sophomore year in college and a blog post on 15th century fashion in the French Court would some how combine to form a new design for a better mouse trap, is not possible until we are all a simulation.

[So, your argument is that planning in general is bad because the future is unpredictable? That is one deep insight. -- Scott]
Nov 4, 2013
There is a big difference between a centrally planned community / infrastructure and a centrally planned government/economy. As you say, some level central planning is required to build a functioning community. At a minimum, you need some form of zoning, so you don't find a gas station or a WalMart where your neighbor's house used to be. Unfortunately, while zoning (and also public safety) are two areas that inarguably belong within the purview of government, they are typically two things that the government does poorly.

Nevertheless, where you go wrong in you prior post, and what people are most likely reacting to, is the paragraph below. Here, you veer far away from infrastructure design and directly into economic issues. If you start talking about a centrally planned economy, then it is no leap for your readers to point to Stalin, Mao, etc. as examples of past failed attempts to do PRECISELY WHAT YOU ARE RECOMMENDING.

"Pick any frustration from you current life and you can imagine how a planned country would make it better. Commute too long? Fixed. Cost of living too high? Fixed. Childcare too expensive and inconvenient? Fixed. Don't have time to exercise? Fixed. Too much crime in the neighborhood? Fixed. Drunk drivers? None. Healthcare? Universal and inexpensive because your doctor consultations are via Internet."

[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]
Nov 4, 2013
I had no issue with your planning post. I didn't read the comments. Your post today seems way more reactionary/defensive than your typical posts.

[I don't get this degree of ridiculousness in the comments with most of my posts. -- Scott]
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Nov 4, 2013
Thanks, Scott. Now that bedsheet on the line looks just like Chairman Mao.
Nov 4, 2013
I'm with you that many of the comments were somewhat reactionary, but I take exception with my own post. I didn't compare you to Mao or Stalin; I compared you to Henry Ford - who wasn't a bad sort, just mistaken about society building.

Something that most people don't quite understand is that a community, a city, or a nation has two main components - the infrastructure, and the society. These two components combine to form institutions.

The thing is, when creating more perfect institutions, you can't focus on the infrastructure (which is a solvable engineering problem) and hope the society will take care of itself, or vice versa. If you take a city that is a marvel of engineering and planning, and fill it with a bunch of misanthropic hermits - you're going to have a bad place to live. Likewise, I've seen kind intelligent people become angry jerks after their sewer backs up for the 4th time.

[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]

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