Reason

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.