"Meet the Dynamists and the Stasists"
February 1, 2002 6:02 PM   Subscribe

"Meet the Dynamists and the Stasists" Virginia Postrel and her concepts have been brought up casually in MeFi'ers comments before. But her three year old book on the argument is just getting attention from Flak Magazine. In one of my college courses, we discussed cultural biases as "individualist, egalitarian, or hierarch". There are actually many cultural theories on cultural bias/context. Interesting.
posted by jacobw (12 comments total)
Isn't she the inventor of the weblog?
posted by jjg at 8:41 PM on February 1, 2002

Whatchu talkin' bout, Jesse? Put the snark back in your pants, OK? It doesn't even make sense.

Postrel's ideas dovetail in many ways with Robert Wright's, specifically in his suggestion that the birth, development, and refinement of democracy and capitalism occurred because Europe was so subdivided into different polities trying different subsets of the same philosophies. Over time, the best mix of approaches tended to bring greater financial and political success to the most dynamic polities, who subsequently spread those philosophies around the world. This process continues in the form of globalization. Though Postrel is basically in the pro-glo camp, she also concedes that in the short term the process of any major change can result in downsides for specific people, but as a small-l libertarian she believes as well that this creates the best incentives for creativity and success. (She's also well free of the Ayn cult, if that sort of thing puts you off.)

Her suggestion that America is in the midst of a political realignment is an interesting one -- or more precisely, since there are always such predictions, her idea of the dividing line is very interesting, and seems to explain some of the weirder match-ups we've been seeing in recent years.
posted by dhartung at 10:35 PM on February 1, 2002

Except Postrel ignores, repeatedly, in her book the fact that companies like Wal-Mart receive plenty in government favoritism. I singled that company out because anyone who has watched government closely in small-town America could tell her that. Why didn't she just do a little research? No, too easy. Wal-Mart, in Postrel's eyes, is another example of the future, the future, the future!! The future that "statists" threaten!!!! Yikes. I'm sure Nietzsche would've thought Wal-Mart defined what being a free spirit was all about too. Y'know, "dynamists" who support Wal-Mart are the modern-day incarnations of such free spirits, the individuals who refuse to accept mediocrity or follow the herd.

I can't believe her book is being used in any course at a major university.
posted by raysmj at 11:13 PM on February 1, 2002

doh! could someone please direct me to the monster truck rally?
posted by quonsar at 11:22 PM on February 1, 2002

"Whatchu talkin' bout, Jesse? Put the snark back in your pants, OK? It doesn't even make sense."

wow. now my genitals have a new euphemism. excellent.
posted by jcterminal at 6:46 AM on February 2, 2002

Because, obviously, her entire book hinges on the Wal-Mart example, and "government favoritism" is an objectively quantifiable influence, no doubt. Got it.
posted by dhartung at 8:11 AM on February 2, 2002

Just to make sure this is understood, we didn't use Postrel's book in class. To be honest, I'd never heard of her before my FPP.

We used Aaron Wildavsky, Richard Neustadt, Landy and Milkis, and we also read a couple of articles by the professor (Martin Levin), who wrote, this book.
posted by jacobw at 8:56 AM on February 2, 2002

Thank goodness. Want some interesting takes on the "realignment" dhartung is talking about? (There isn't any realignment going on, by the way. That would mean a mass-scale switch from one party to another, or a mass break to a third party or movement. Hasn't happened. We're in an era in which the whole concept of regular realignments is being questioned.) Try Robert Dahl's Polyarchy or The Coming of Post-Industrial Society by Daniel Bell. Might try Ted Lowi too.
posted by raysmj at 11:52 AM on February 2, 2002

"government favoritism" is an objectively quantifiable influence, no doubt. Got it.

Acutally, government assistance to Wal-Mart and other coroprations is objectively quantifiable. Similarly quantifiable are dollars spent on tax breaks, roads and new intersections, reductions in power costs, demands to city councils and boards of aldermen/supervisors that are met, etc.
posted by raysmj at 12:03 PM on February 2, 2002

In other words, ray, you're against all development -- because those are the standard incentives that communities give to businesses to enter their communities -- and if you're against development, you're a stasist. That seems clear enough. No wonder you dislike Postrel.
posted by dhartung at 8:10 PM on February 2, 2002

No, they're not standard. Wal-Mart's received plenty in incentives and zoning breaks, etc., sometimes upon demand, that others businesses don't get. Their reps go before city councils and boards of aldermen with these long items of things-we-need, often signing up at the last minute so no one from the surrounding community knows. It's all pretty disgusting.

For larger industries, the goodies are understandable, although they still should be granted with restraint. And there are plenty of studies to show that incentives don't have much of an effect over time even with industry, except in rare cases. What has an effect is educational opportunities at all levels, incubation programs, incentives for R&D (money for which is down at the moment), availability of capital, worker training, etc. You can use incentives to build toward those, but not over the long-term and most certainly not with give-aways to select retail establishments, certainly not ones that don't give a dime back to their communities. Then there is the whole quality of life matter.

I'm not for overly restrictive planning, though. It's all too often another form of the worst sort of exclusionary elitism - a NIMBY thing. Zoning hearings can turn into personal vendetta forums. I hate seeing even all mailbox lettering of the same type in a neighborhod, much less a Wendy's with the same old-timey brick and signage as the doctor's office down the street. Misdirected government policy (tax laws, transportation policy) is in fact a huge reason for the crap retail stores that Postrel sees as the Nietzschian future. But I think Daniel Bell was right in the '70s in saying that quality of life would be a big issue in coming decades, and that it very well needed to be. I shop at chains and independent places alike, but try to put my money where my mouth is, as much as possible. Don't support crap. It's why I'm on metafilter, arleady. The enemy is not the enemy of the future, I think, but the enemy of the good life. The two are not the same.
posted by raysmj at 10:34 PM on February 2, 2002

Oh yes. Please note that I'm more than aware that state or city tax breaks, infrastructure upgrades, etc., are sometimes used in the development of commercial districts. But these should benefit large populations of people and a variety of businesses and developers, not particular ones. At the same time, there should be some type of long-term community reinvestment contract attached to any incentives package.
posted by raysmj at 12:21 AM on February 3, 2002

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