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George Will: In Praise of Creative Destruction and Virginia Postrel!

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The nation's most syndicated columnist had a good piece up two days ago singing the glories of Sears and Roebuck, Wal-mart, Amazon, and their retail version of creative destruction. Will also took a moment to bestow high praise on former Reason editor Virginia Postrel:

America now is divided between those who find this social churning unnerving and those who find it exhilarating. What Virginia Postrel postulated in 1998 in "The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise and Progress" — the best book for rescuing the country from a ruinous itch for tidiness — is even more true now. Today's primary political and cultural conflict is, Postrel says, between people, mislabeled "progressives," who crave social stasis, and those, paradoxically called conservatives, who welcome the perpetual churning of society by dynamism.

Stasists see Borders succumb to e-books (and Amazon) and lament the passing of familiar things. Dynamists say: Relax, reading is thriving. In 2001, the iPod appeared, and soon stores such as Tower Records disappeared. Who misses them?

Theodore Roosevelt, America's first progressive president, thought it was government's duty to "look ahead and plan out the right kind of civilization." TR looked ahead and saw a "timber famine" caused by railroads' ravenous appetites for crossties that rotted. He did not foresee creosote, which preserves crossties. Imagine all the things government planners cannot anticipate when, in their defining hubris, they try to impose their static dream of the "right kind" of future.

As long as America is itself, it will welcome the messy chaos that is not really disorder but, rather, what Postrel calls "an order that is unpredictable, spontaneous, and ever shifting, a pattern created by millions of uncoordinated, independent decisions." Professional coordinators, a.k.a. bureaucracies, are dismayed. Good.

Will's right: The Future and Its Enemies, a seminal book and political/philosophical framing exercise, is a must-read that's "even more true now," though I wish we lived in a world where that was less and less the case.

NEXT: F.A. Hayek Died 20 Years Ago Today

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  1. In Praise of Virginia Postrel?

    is that enough for a DRINK!!!

    1. It’s 5:00 here so yes.
      Just to make sure Reason was better when Virginia Postrel was in charge.

      1. Does this count as an excuse to hi-jack Postrel praise to make a beer thread?

        Not sure that’s even what I want. I have ten days left before I can once again commence in beer drinking. But damned if I can wait, already picked up quite a few tasty options to celebrate with.

        1. All praise Virginia! And smiteth down her enemies! (or some crazy religious shit like that.) Kudos to George Will, who keeps getting more libertarian with each passing year.

  2. Agreed. The Future and Its Enemies is an excellent book. Its greatest achievement is delineating the realignment of political factions, between those who want to everything encrusted, managed, and sclerotic versus those who want a more organic and free society. It calls out the disturbing alliances between left and right to achieve statist/stasist goals.

    Pretty amusing that Will thinks it’s still left versus right. In that regard, he’s misunderstanding it pretty seriously.

    1. Pretty amusing that Will thinks it’s still left versus right. In that regard, he’s misunderstanding it pretty seriously.

      A data cloud cloud of the two types over a left right diagram would show, i suspect, a statistically significant trend.

      Should also be pointed out that George paraphrased Postrel:

      Postrel says, between people, mislabeled “progressives,” who crave social stasis, and those, paradoxically called conservatives, who welcome the perpetual churning of society by dynamism.

      Perhaps Postrel did not use the words progressive and conservative. I don’t know.

      If not then I expect Postrel to be pretty pissed at Will right now…but seeing as Welsh printed it without correcting him i suspect she did use those words.

      Anyway you are correct it should not be a left right thing…but it is.

      1. If I recall, it seemed to me that Postrel took pains to say it wasn’t a Left/Right dichotomy. There were people on the right you could say were Dynamists and people on the left as well. The whole reason she created a new term was that she thought the liberal/conservative labels were outworn and didn’t accurately describe worldviews today.

        1. Um, did Will say it was a left-right dichotomy?

          “Today’s primary political and cultural conflict is, Postrel says, between people, mislabeled “progressives,” who crave social stasis, and those, paradoxically called conservatives, who welcome the perpetual churning of society by dynamism.”

          Seems to me all he’s saying is that it’s mistaken for one kind of left/right dichotomy, which isn’t really saying that it is another kind.

          1. “Today’s primary political and cultural conflict is, Postrel says, between people, mislabeled “progressives,” who crave social stasis, and those, paradoxically called conservatives, who welcome the perpetual churning of society by dynamism.”

            Progressives and conservatives are interchangeably used for the terms “Left/Right”

    2. To an extent? Sure — folks like Santo would easily fit in with the “static model” folks. However, I can’t think of a major political figure on the left who would fit as a dynamist — I can think of quite a few who self-classify as rightists who would.

      Of course, libertarians are overwhelmingly among the dynamists.

    3. The vast majority of politicians in Washington, from both parties, are stasists. Most of the dynamists are, appropriately, in the private sector. That’s the whole point, really.

      I’ll get out my copy of the book this weekend and look up some examples, but off the top of my head, a couple areas of agreement are the War on Drugs and behavior-management through tax credits and tax code manipulation.

  3. The future was better when Postrel was editor.

  4. Imagine all the things government planners cannot anticipate when, in their defining hubris, they try to impose their static dream of the “right kind” of future.

    Central planning doesn’t need to anticipate possible solutions to problems. It only requires obedience.

  5. GOD DAMN IS THAT A GOOD, PROVOCATIVE TITLE.

  6. In 2001, the iPod appeared, and soon stores such as Tower Records disappeared. Who misses them?

    I think we saw who during the GM bankruptcy.

    Progressives spend their time finding ways to bind dependents to the self-sufficient.

    That entire exercise falls apart if businesses and institutions turn out to be ephemeral and contingent.

    When you’ve spent 50 years with your thumb on the scale getting a corporation to assume responsibility for a larger and larger number of dependents (in GM’s case, retirees) it fucks up your plan if that corporation fails. “But when we were making our plans we thought GM would live forever!”

    Anything that disrupts entrenched market participants has the potential to undermine some progressive’s plan for present or future parasitism.

    1. That is just a beautiful point.

    2. Actually, I kind of miss record stores. Though not most of the employees at Tower, God knows.

      1. Tower didn’t have employees. They had scruffy kids behind the counter who ignored you.

  7. Today’s primary political and cultural conflict is, Postrel says, between people, mislabeled “progressives,” who crave social stasis, and those, paradoxically called conservatives, who welcome the perpetual churning of society by dynamism.

    A progressive can’t have class warfare without class envy.

  8. I can understand why Postrel stopped being an editor…but why did she stop writing for Reason?

    1. Hmm, how would shrike answer?

      She doesn’t want to be associated by a bunch of right wing, christfags that cloud up Reason mags blog?

    2. …but why did she stop writing for Reason?

      The comments drove her away… I’m sure of it.

      1. She was gone long before we started wrecking everything.

        1. Nuh-uh! I was here.

        2. This is why we can’t have nice things.

  9. Go by Jesus, my child. Avoid him altogether!

  10. As long as America is itself, it will welcome the messy chaos that is not really disorder but, rather, what Postrel calls “an order that is unpredictable, spontaneous, and ever shifting, a pattern created by millions of uncoordinated, independent decisions.”

    Duplication of effort! DUPLICATION OF EFFORT!

  11. All Power to the Imagination!

  12. OK, those guys really seem to know exactly what is going on over there. Wow.

    http://www.True-Privacy.tk

  13. George remains a slow scientific learner.

    TR was born in 1858, but the esoteric ‘wikipedia’ insists:

    “The use of coal-tar creosote on a commercial scale began in 1838, when a patent covering the use of creosote oil to treat timber was taken out by John Bethell in 1838…

    One of the chief uses of creosoted wood was in preserving railway ties (sleepers) so they didn’t need to be replaced due to wood rot.”

    1. Can you repeat that? I didn’t quite hear you the first time.

  14. George remains a slow scientific learner.

    TR was born in 1858, but the esoteric ‘wikipedia’ insists:

    “The use of coal-tar creosote on a commercial scale began in 1838, when a patent covering the use of creosote oil to treat timber was taken out by John Bethell in 1838…

    One of the chief uses of creosoted wood was in preserving railway ties (sleepers) so they didn’t need to be replaced due to wood rot.”

  15. Awesome. Thanks. 🙂

  16. STASIST!

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