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October 07, 2006

Leaving Reason Behind

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Big-decision time: I'm letting my subscription to Reason magazine lapse. (The earth trembles ...) Reason can be a provocative publication, god knows, and Cathy Young and Charles Paul Freund are long-time faves of mine. But, whatever Reason's virtues, I've come to dislike it. The magazine annoys me too much, and in bad, not fun, ways.

For one thing, its contrarian-ness has become knee-jerk and predicatable. You have reservations about legalized gambling? Hey, gambling is good! Strip malls strike you as ugly? Hey, strip malls are good! The way so many Americans have blimped-up in the last 25 years seems bizarre? Hey, fat is good!

For another thing, too many of its articles and reviews, however bright, are completely un-nuanced. I didn't find Reason featureless and unnuanced when Virginia Postrel was editing the magazine, btw. She published a libertarian magazine that didn't feel monomaniacal and dogmatic. It had shading; it felt human. But under Nick Gillespie the magazine has become monotonous.

A recent example is a review of Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma." According to Reason's reviewer, Pollan's book fails because it's snobbish. The review fails, according to me, because the reviewer seems completely unwilling to deal with such basic matters as the roles of snobbery, class, and taste in American food-and-eating history.

Libertarians may find these facts displeasing, but there they are: Many of the developments that have led to the more rewarding sides of today's eating-and-food worlds originated with socialists, snobs, and cranks. Organic? Local? Fresh? The re-discovery and appreciation of folk cooking and folk eating? The creation of today's stunning and extensive food press? The informal merging of high and low? Sorry to say, but the card-carrying libertarian crowd didn't play much of a role in any of this. Meanwhile Berkeley people, hippies, regionalists, back-to-the-landers, anthropologists, Francophiles, Asia-o-philes, and artsies did. Snobs, to some extent, all of them.

What's good about today's food-and-eating world has emerged, more generally, from a complex swirl of home cooks, local farmers and breeders, the Food Network, traditional people, high-end chefs, trade schools, handed-down recipes and techniques, chili virtuosos, editors and publishers, innovative retailers, funky lowdown / chow-down people -- and, of course, an enthusiastic crowd of audience / participants. (I'd love to see the other art worlds follow in the steps of the food world.) Scott Chaffin, for instance, might be a true populist as well as one of the world's most approachable people -- but that doesn't mean he doesn't have very strong opinions about the differences between better and worse barbecue.

2Blowhards lesson for Reason reviewer: Try moving beyond such simplistic ideas as "Snobbery is bad." Play with the idea that there might exist such a thing as "productive and worthwhile snobbery that doesn't sneer and destroy, but that instead contributes to the flourishing of the field in question." Taste-experts can serve the rest of us too. They sometimes don't, but they sometimes do, and it's far more interesting and useful to distinguish between helpful and unhelpful than it is to say "Snobbery is bad."

Sigh: It sometimes seems inconceivable to those locked into the hardcore-liberatarian mindset that people might look at the mainstream American food-and-eating world, dislike what they see, smell, and taste, and want something better -- and that this might be OK, and perhaps a good thing, even finally for the mainstream. In other fields: Would Windows machines be as semi-approachable and semi-usuable as they are today if Apple usability / look-and-feel snobs hadn't shown the way? Would today's run-of-the-mill cars offer the pleasures that they do if the luxury-car crowd hadn't first figured out how? So ... perhaps snobbery and taste can serve all of us, eh?

I'm dwelling on the one review for a reason, I suspect: because it has to do with aesthetics. Reason magazine often seems to be the kind of place that will dismiss a concern as "mere aesthetics." (Sadly, a lot of Americans are prone to doing this.) Earth to Reason-dudes: The aesthetics end of life isn't entirely relative or subjective. (It isn't entirely absolute either, IMHO ...) It's also 1) discussable, 2) inescapable and 3) important. Virginia Postrel knows this, of course.

How did you choose the neighborhood where you live? Where do you want to go on your next vacation? Which TV shows do you watch? Why are you munching on the food you're munching on? Aesthetics plays a big role in all these questions. If your answer is something like "because it's cheap and convenient," you may think you're escaping the aesthetics question. You aren't. In fact, you're expressing (to some extent) an aesthetic preference for cheapness and convenience, and (perhaps) for not dwelling too much on the aesthetics end of things. Nothing wrong with that, of course.

Reason also posits a future that I dislike. I'm anything but a fan of command-and-control economies and political systems. But a world brimful with attack ads, GMO foods, implanted computer chips, open borders, strip malls, trash culture, and widespread genetic engineering is one that doesn't appeal to me, to say the least. And a publication that doesn't just deal thoughtfully with such possibilities and developments but instead celebrates them indiscriminately is one that, to be honest, frightens and repels me.

Creatures who cheer the advent of such a world ... Well, I have a hard time imagining them as members of the same species that I belong to. They seem to me like mad-dog robots high on mood drugs -- like rabid cyber-beasts I need to defend myself against. Incidentally: This isn't to say I want to go around passing laws against such developments either.

No surprise then that I dislike the design of the magazine. Here are a few pages from a recent issue.

First: Credit to Reason for using a serif'd typeface for the content of its articles. It's well-known that the human eye, when engaged in traditional-style reading, likes serifs. Serifs add texture to typography; they give the eye something to grasp, and that helps the mind sink into the substance of the written material being presented. (We make a point of using a serif'd typeface in the postings here at 2Blowhards.)

But everything else about Reason's design ... Patooie. Blankness. Flatness. Screaming colors. Bizarre use of white space. Conceptual use of pointlessly striking photography. Innovations purely for innovation's sake. No captions.

None of this says "Inviting place where I'll meet people I look forward to mixing it up with" to me. Instead, it says "Crazed automatons drunk on a self-image as futurists and visionaries." This kind of design doesn't even say "Magazine" to me. Instead, it says "Self-promotional brochure put out by a design firm too cutting-edge for its own good."

Michael Blowhard to Reason editors: I just can't get on board with your tastes. My life will be a more aesthetically pleasing thing without your magazine as a part of it. And "aesthetically pleasing" is very, very important to me.



posted by Michael at October 7, 2006


Contrarian-ness or iconoclasm per se don't do any good in science, whether hard or soft, technical or lay. I think it helps, but unlike a similar stance taken by an artist, scientific iconoclasm has to be checked against facts. I.e., "any idiot can see that you doctors are spreading disease among women who just gave birth; therefore, practice better personal hygiene if you want to save their lives." Semmelweis wasn't right because he was taking on a self-complacent establishment (though he did do that) -- he was just correct. But an evangelist who took on Darwinian evolution would be wrong, despite their iconoclasm.

The bad contarian articles you're talking about mistakenly operate on the assumption that sticking it to the establishment scores points in a debate, or increases the likelihood of being correct where the issues are murky. It doesn't do the opposite, of course; it is just orthogonal to the matter of correctness, logic, etc.

Posted by: Agnostic on October 7, 2006 4:00 PM

I mostly like Reason's vision of the future but I still have to agree with you: the magazine has become predictable and boring. Reason lost a lot of its style and wit and general sense of fun when Postrel left.

And, yeah, the color choices are hideous.

I didn't notice until you pointed it out the way images have become decorative rather than informative for lack of a caption. (I'm guessing that warehouse is part of, but why should I have to guess?) And what's with the crowded margins and the lack of appropriate white space? They went for huge oversized pictures that force the text into cramped little margin-less spaces.

I've still got 6 months on my Reason sub and I, too, have been thinking of letting it lapse. It's gotten to where I'm only really reading it for the comics. (and they don't have those every issue any more - I'm even starting to miss Peter Bagge.)

I'm keeping Liberty, though!

Posted by: Glen Raphael on October 7, 2006 6:10 PM

I know exactly the un-nuanced contrarianness of libertarian writing. I've never read Reason, but I do peruse Lew Rockwell -- mainly for Fred Reed's and Bill Bonner's interesting articles. Most headlines and sub-headers at LR show the same kind of loud monomania.

Another trend I've picked up on with the Libertarians: a reflexive level of Bush-hatred that overlaps with the hard left and in the process almost feels gleefully America-hating.

Posted by: PA on October 7, 2006 6:15 PM

Hey, PA: Bush hatred = America loving.

Libertarians are committed to the idea that the popular taste is always good (as the outcome of the market), yet they themselves are a wildly unpopular movement.

Posted by: MQ on October 7, 2006 7:48 PM

Actually the superior legibility of the serif font is mainly an offline phenom. Online, there's less of a difference, and verdana/trebuchet, sans fonts developed specifically for the web, are actually *more* legible at smaller sizes. (For the record, as a designer who's done a fair amount of mouse type in her day, super-small printed text is also more legible in certain sans fonts.)

I prefer sans fonts online, b/c they are legible at all sizes. But at least at 2B, you guys display your text in hugemongous size. But in case you're interested, Georgia, which is last on the list of fonts 2BH tells browsers to use, is actually a serif font that was designed specifically for web use.

Here's an interesting link on legibility from Poynter online and another that really simply illustrates the various fonts used most online.

Posted by: communicatrix on October 7, 2006 8:01 PM

"Bush hatred = America loving"

Maybe, maybe not. I think Bush is a disaster but I think that the Dems by and large are outright nihilistic and seditious.

What I meant in my earlier post is that the Libertarians have traditionally been aligned with the political Right, albeit in an uneasy marriage of convenience, and their rhetoric has usually been very America-loving (land of opportunity, etc.)

The hard left on the other hand has been dancing with America-hatered, at least in the popular perception and sometimes in rhetiric. Be it their love affair with Communism, pro-immigration, their dewey-eyed attitude about Islam, etc.

My point in this thread is not to debate Left-Right, but to point out how in my view the Lebertarians seem in some ways seem to sound like the hard left, a territory quite alien to them in the past.

Posted by: PA on October 7, 2006 9:14 PM

So PA, is this how it works? Bush = America. Hate Bush, hate America.

I love America. And hate Bush with the fury of 1000 suns. Voted for him in 2000. Unless the man is some sort of religious figure for you (I figure he is for the hardcore 35% or so evangelical Republican base) I don't see what the appeal is at this point.

I think Reason has a decent grasp on the future. You might not like the future. I dunno. Their blog is hilarious, although it's basically the Suck alumni association. It's intelligent and craps on both Republicans and Democrats, which is the only sensible approach. I read the blog daily and rarely read the mag.

Posted by: Brian on October 7, 2006 10:10 PM

Hey, we're doing the Two Brians thing again! Cool! Anyway...

PA: "in my view the Libertarians seem in some ways seem to sound like the hard left, a territory quite alien to them in the past."


"Che is dead, and we all mourn him. Why? How is it that so many libertarians mourn this man?"

Murray Rothbard said that, in one of his less copacetic moments.

In the late sixties the Libertarians were shopping for allies, and the New Left was one of their stops. (So was the Old Right and other fringe groups.) Lots of Libertarian books from the seventies are full of quasi-Maoist yat about taking it to The Man and sabotage and Black Pantherism and suchlike.

So blaming America first has a long history on that side of the spectrum. It's not surprising that a bunch who has rooted for the Confederacy, the Kaiser, the Nazis, and the Viet Cong, and who said things like "The CIA may claim Che's body, but it will never be able to shackle his spirit", now makes excuses for the Islamofascists.

But what's new and ghoulish about Reason lately is their vindictively unaesthetic brand of techno-utopian futurism, where if it makes money it's good and we'll all have chips in our brains to feed us advertising and won't that be fun! It's like they're hoping to turn us all into consumerist Cybermen.

Posted by: Brian on October 7, 2006 11:02 PM

Brian: where did you get the whole "religious figure" from? I did say that he's been a disaster but added that the Democrats are even worse. To grossly oversimplify, there are two areas which have life-or-death implications for the U.S. -- (a) immigration and (b) war with resurgent Islam. As far as (a) goes, Bush is as bad as the Democrats. On (b), he's been a disaster, but at least he's willing to fight.

I think that Libertarianism is one of those ideas that works in theory better than it does un practice. That's because the messier aspects of reality, human nature, etc. complicate things. One of Libertarianism's blind spots is non-economic sources of human motivation.

Posted by: PA on October 8, 2006 8:18 AM

I'd say a more basic complaint about that review is that it isn't in fact libertarian.
The set up? That certain tastes and desires were not being catered to in the economy.
What happens? Voluntarily, without government being involved, individuals are able to create things (in this case foods) which satisfy those desires, hey, even make a buck or two while doing so.
Proof that markets work, that the libertarian credo is indeed correct: that some of those involved were snobs just goes to show that markets work even to satisfy the desires of snobs, they aren't, as some would claim, solely driven by the lowest common denominator.

That would be a libertarian book review.

Posted by: Tim Worstall on October 8, 2006 8:34 AM

It'll probably make me sound hopelessly clueless and out-of-touch, but I've never looked at a copy of Reason and, until reading this piece, had no idea what kind of magazine it was.

Posted by: Peter on October 8, 2006 9:38 AM

I read every issue of Reason when Virginia Postrel was editor. But now the Internet provides many alternative sources of first-class libertarian thought (nb: it isn't always called libertarian), and the people who edit Reason seem to have a more limited and less imaginative and generous worldview than Postrel did. They also sometimes come across as isolationist and as favoring drug legalization not so much on principle as because they want to use drugs, and both of these attitudes annoy me. The magazine is also difficult to read with the weird graphics and big photos, and essays in the margins that aren't connected to the content in the center of the page. But to each his own. I read it only occasionally now.

The big thing I notice in libertarian thought is the same sort of disaggregation and decentralization that is happening in other media, and it's good. Before the Internet there were books and a few libertarian magazines and that was it. Published libertarian authors were big kahunas with the faithful (the rational?). Those authors' ideas tended to be heavily colored by their personal styles and worldviews, which too often were unrealistic and uncompromising (tyranny is imminent! our only alternatives are to accept tyranny or to devote our lives to overthrowing it!) or simply depressed and negative. This situation continued into the early days of websites. But now anybody can have a website, and even though there's a lot of junk out there, there is also much more, and much more diverse, published libertarian thought available from all kinds of people and perspectives, which is great. So Reason isn't what it used to be but that doesn't really matter very much.

Posted by: Jonathan on October 8, 2006 12:53 PM

The paleoright is fond of pointing out that (a) late-century mass immigration is often cited as having made urban culture more "lively" and "global" and (b) that this claim, when examined or defended in any degree of detail, is largely about ethnic restaurants. In other words, Reason-style open-borders libertarianism is routinely accused of nailing America to a Cross of Paneer. It's a little ironic to see it criticized on the grounds that it is an enemy of interesting food.

Posted by: Colby Cosh on October 9, 2006 4:29 AM

Good points, all.

Great post.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on October 9, 2006 11:16 AM

"Creatures who cheer the advent of such a world ... Well, I have a hard time imagining them as members of the same species that I belong to"

And you call the Reason folks intolerant?

It's attitudes like this that REALLY turn me off on the whole "crunchy" thing. To have a hard time imagining someone as a member of your species just because they like Wal-Mart and McDonalds and popular culture and technical progress strikes me as appalling, and yet I hear it from "crunchies" all the time. I don't agree with the Reason worldview myself, but I just can't understand this attitude.

They are human beings who have different aesthetic preferences than you do. This does not make them less human,for Lord's sake.

Posted by: tschafer on October 9, 2006 1:08 PM

Agnostic -- You'd make a very provocative magazine editor!

Glen -- That's interesting, tks. You're a harder-core libertarian than I am, so it's fascinating to hear that you've got misgivings about the current Reason too.

PA -- I've got much to learn about libertarians! I'm a Fred Reed fan too -- thanks for mentioning Bonner, who I'll look into now. There *is* something a little True-Believing about the ultra-dogmatic Libertarians, isn't there? I think that's part of the prob with Reason at this point, come to think of it. They judge everything finally according to whether its p-o-v is Reason-style libertarian or not. I'd have thought that being libertarian would involve being able to appreciate contributions from all over. But that's libertarian with a small "l," I guess.

MQ -- Libertarianism's a complicated phenomenon, no?

Colleen -- Interesting info, tks. Given the way my eyes are going, don't be surprised if the typeface, er, font here at 2B grows even bigger.

Brian -- I'll have to check in with the Reason blog, tks. Is the staff a little less rigid when they're blogging?

Brian 2 -- "Ghoulish" is the perfect word.

Tim -- I agree. The market includes both Apple and Microsoft, both McDonald's and Slow Food. And that's cool and neat. Weird that the Reason crowd doesn't see it that way. They seem to think that if you aren't cheering Microsoft and putting down Apple, then you aren't pro-market. People like Slow Food and Apple (and the New Urbanists) can be seen as market innovators, people who are identifying tastes and desires and who are figuring out ways to service them. Bravo to that -- and completely from a fan-of-the-market p-o-v. How do you explain the Reason-style compulsion to razz these people? Rigidity on their part?

Peter -- The web is weird, no? I never wrestled with libertarianism at all before venturing out onto the web, which is crawling with libertarians who have long histories with libertarianism. Who knew it was such a big deal for so many?

Jonathan -- That brings a lot of perspective to it, tks. It's funny the effect that getting be-webbed has on fields, people, personalities. It's relaxing, it's a relief ... Things go a little to pieces ... But is that bad?

Colby -- I have a small, maybe mistaken, hunch that for the Reason bunch political theory often outweighs actual experiences of taste and pleasure ...

Yahmdallah -- Tks, great to see you as always. Have you ever been drawn into a wrestle with the libertarian scene?

Tschaefer -- I didn't say "I can't" or "I don't want to," I said "I have a hard time." That's not intolerance, that's being frank about my personal responses. And I've got nothing against people who like Wal-Mart, bless 'em. It's that my imagination fails me a bit when I run into people who are so dogmatically locked into cheering for Wal-Mart -- and for doing so at the expense of (say) Slow Food -- that they refuse to acknowledge that questions of taste and quality play important roles in life. It doesn't seem to me that I'm being the rigid one here.

Libertarians are odd ones where some matters are concerned. Here's a conundrum I seldom see them wrestle with. They cheer the whole efficiency, cheapness, and getting-rich thing. But what's common when people finally acquire a little extra dough? They often start to eat better food, they drive better cars, they live in more exclusive , er, "quieter" neighborhoods. They stop elevating economic efficiency above all things, at least where their own personal lives are concerned. They start getting into quality-of-life things. And if Wal-Mart should want to open a big-box store in their nice quiet classy town, these people who once shoped there (and who might have been a little proud/defiant about it) now fight it.

All of which might be interpreted to mean that they actually like the better food, the classier cars, and the quieter neighborhoods better. That they find pleasure, ease, space, etc, rewarding. That they find Wal-Mart ... Well, whatever, but they don't want it becoming an aesthetic blight in their new neighborhood.

Reason would see all this as maddening and hypocritical, I guess. Let's get back on the libertarian partyline straight-and-narrow! I see it as life. Life's complicated and messy.

I'm glad that poor people can save a few bucks at Wal-Mart, I guess, though I certainly wish they had the balls and the confidence to demand that Wal-Mart at least build better-looking, less community-disruptive stores. But, in any case, why not cheer as well for the quieter neighborhoods and classier food? It's all part of a rewarding life.

And why put down Slow Food because it isn't McDonald's, which is what Reason does? Even if Slow Food thinks it's better than McDonald's and New Urbanism thinks it's offering better products than the usual new neighborhoods, as I said to Tim, Slow Food and New Urbanism are as much market innovators as Wal-Mart is. And identifying needs and desires and servicing them is a good thing, no? Besides, I can't see the harm in at least playing with the idea that a Lexus really might be a super car.

And why quarrel with the fact that, y'know, Slow Food fans might be Slow Food fans because they find the Slow Food thing more rewarding than the McDonald's thing? I suspect that some of the people eating at McDonald's are doing so because they like it. But I suspect that many of the people going the Slow Food route are doing it not because they're snobbish assholes but because they genuinely like the Slow Food thing. Why should those who cheerlead for the market have a grudge against Slow Food and New Urbanism?

Besides, some of the people now shopping at Wal-Mart will do well for themselves, and some of them will then get into a Slow-Foodish relationship with food. Nothing could be more natural.

I dunno, I see this all as pretty cool ... I suppose I should be more tolerant of the kind of narrowmindedness and rigidity that Reason's current attitudes suggest, though ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 9, 2006 1:46 PM

MB wrote:
But is that bad?

I don't think so.

Posted by: Jonathan on October 9, 2006 4:25 PM

MB: I think there's a substantial nerdish component to libertarianism, and nerds tend to be less aesthetically inclined on average. At least in the traditional sense: there's often a sense of play running through hacker culture you can pick up if you know where to look.

Posted by: SFG on October 9, 2006 10:37 PM

Odd that libertarians would be so worked up against snobbery. Mencken and Nock would have found this odd, too.

Posted by: Bilwick on October 10, 2006 10:54 AM

Sorry we'll be losing your $19.97, Michael. I'm not sure you're reading the same magazine we put out, though, especially when you write thing like this.

They seem to think that if you aren't cheering Microsoft and putting down Apple, then you aren't pro-market. People like Slow Food and Apple (and the New Urbanists) can be seen as market innovators, people who are identifying tastes and desires and who are figuring out ways to service them. Bravo to that -- and completely from a fan-of-the-market p-o-v. How do you explain the Reason-style compulsion to razz these people?

Maybe it's just the Mac-using cook in me, but I'd say the Reason POV is that aethetic pluralism is good, that one reason the market is good is because it delivers pluralism. Here's an excerpt from the piece you're criticizing:

"Pollan couldn't be clearer about the benefits of culinary pluralism--the idea that many different food cultures can peaceably coexist. In the best chapter of the book, Pollan spends several days at Polyface Farm, a smallish homestead owned by Joel Salatin, who calls himself a 'Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-lunatic farmer.' Salatin is the good guy of the book, if it has one.

"Pollan lovingly describes intensive farming practices like wagons full of laying hens rotated into pastures four days after cows have been through to eat the larvae that appear in cowpies. At Polyface, pigs are used as composting machines. Along with teaching Pollan about farming, Salatin teaches him about the importance of reputation in trade, of being able to opt out of mass culture, and of other ideas that libertarians hold dear.

"And Pollan gets it. He writes: 'Of course! Joel saw himself as more of a Luther than a Lenin; the goal wasn't to blow up the Church but simply to step around it. Protestantism also comes in many denominations, as I suspect will the future of food. Deciding whether that future should more closely resemble Joel's radically local vision or Whole Foods' industrial organic matters less than assuring that thriving alternatives exist.'"

Pollan gets razzed, not for his tastes, but for forgetting his insight about pluralism -- and for writing as though everyone can afford to eat the way he does. (Incidentally, the Pollan review comes right after a long interview celebrating the rise of niches and the decline of mass culture.)

Final note: The New Urbanists don't really fit the same category as slow food or Apple, because many New Urbanists are intent on writing their aesthetic views into the law. That's fine when it means loosening the local zoning codes, but not when it means increasing the regulatory load.

Posted by: Jesse Walker on October 10, 2006 12:16 PM

Jonathan -- Me neither, though I may feel a few more pangs of regret about what's passing than you do ...

SFG -- That's interesting, tks. The aesthetics of nerd/geek culture is a great -- and obviously ripe and timely -- topic in its own right, not that I know anything about it.

Bilwick -- I'd love to the occasional article in Reason praising snobbery. But that may not be their kind of contrariness.

Jesse -- Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I enjoy your work and don't leave Reason behind without misgivings.

We obviously differ on the Pollan review. Your reviewer finally judges the book a failure because it ultimately fails to conform to Reason's vision. That strikes me as, er, not a very open point of view -- it's possible for a book to be a good one, and for an author to make a wothwhile contribution, without being partyline libertarian, no?

Reason-style book review: "He makes some good points, writes like an angel, and passes along some good information but ultimately fails because ... well, he isn't the same kind of pro-market person I am." Here's a slightly more nuanced, less-dogmatic line: "What a good book! Great writing, cool info, etc. I have some reservations about a few things: political p-o-v and impracticality. But he's made a real contribution!"

In the first version, the reviewer is letting her political p-o-v dictate her judgment. (Very strange when it comes to questions of pleasure and aesthetics, btw.) In the second, the political p-o-v informs the response, but doesn't dictate it.

I'm an aesthetic pluralist myself, so I'm a little mystified when Reason *only* seems to praise rock music, comic books, "Star Trek," etc. That's not open or pluralist, that's monotonous and predictable. Where are the articles in praise of snooty food, opera, avant-garde nuttiness, etc? Glad to hear you're a Mac-using cook yourself. Why doesn't more of that kind of thing -- "in the midst of all the hype and clamor, I like to use a classier computer and pause over good food" -- show up in the magazine?

I'd love to see Reason writers be a little more discriminating where New Urbanism is concerned, btw. I'm just pulling this out of a hat, but it has certainly seemed to me that 95% of what Reason has run about NU has been negative. Meanwhile, you've gone very easy on the mess of highway subsidies, cronyism, artificially cheap gas, stupid local laws and zoning, etc, that tie the market up and make it next to impossible to build NU neighborhoods in many locales.

It's simply naive to see our current housing market as an open and free one. It's arranged and rigged for the convenience and benefit of large developers, highway-building unions, politicians, etc. An expose of that mess would certainly be appreciated. Yet instead, Reason carps about NU -- a relatively small part of the overall picture, if an attention-grabbing one. Which in the bigger threat to the Union -- the real-estate-development establishment (well-connected, worth hundreds of billions), or New Urbanism?

You could, after all, celebrate many if not all NU'ers as market innovators. They sensed a desire, they've responded to it with a new (or new/old) product, and the result has been goodness all around. Yet Reason doesn't see matters that way. Why not? Simply because some NUers have tried to re-write codes and laws? (As if reps of other industries don't try to do the same thing?) That's being a little touchy, or political-purity-obsessed, isn't it?

NU has been an amazingly successful new housing product despite the resistance of many entrenched interests. Houses in these developments sell for a premium. Where I come from, that means that there's a lot more as-yet-unsatisfied demand for that kind of product. Reason overlooks all this ... why? It's such a puzzle that all I've been able to conclude is that there's something about NU that simply galls the magazine.

I don't think it'd hurt Reason to take a little note of the number of people in this thread who say that they too have found that the magazine has become a little rabid and monotonous in the last few years.

Anyway, I appreciate you taking the time to read this posting and respond, and I wish you well with your writing.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 10, 2006 2:01 PM


I too have stopped reading Reason a while ago, and some of it is for the reasons you mentioned, some of it is because of who are some of their financial backers.

The knee-jerk, simplistic and uncharitable attitude they have towards other points of view only wins them points with like-minded people, and like-minded in the strictest sense. I found however that if you are unsure about some issues, or have doubts about what they recommend, they can do a pretty good job of alienating you.

Posted by: saint-exupery on October 11, 2006 11:32 AM

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