Density Is Not The Panacea Utopians Think It Is

What is it about an office that promotes so much illness? I know that offices where people interact frequently and move between locations lot, and have greater density are natural distribution centers for affection, and I know that the more time children spend in day care and in school, the more they become distributors, and I know that closed-ventilation buildings are better grounds for bacteria and viruses, but knowing that is not the same as having to lose so much time to illness.

I mean, it just seems like between my son, the office and airports my immune system is exhausted.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with a chinese national a few weeks ago. There is this wealthy Chinese urban activist whose name I don’t know, but he wants to design and build very dense housing for people. What I told him was that it has been thought about and tried over the past century. But the problem is that HUMAN BEINGS ARE TOXIC creatures, and second, that if you move shanty-dwelling-people to nicer circumstances, they just maintain their previous behavior and destroy it – inviting lots of relatives, and putting up sheet metal and cardboard. Now the counter argument is that chinese authorities can impose discipline that other nations can’t get away with. But Im skeptical. What bothers me as a political economist is that all civilizations to convert to urbanism die. (Jarred Diamond has it wrong. It’s an information problem not a resource problem. He has it backwards.) We don’t know how to run a largely urban society for very long because law, which is our primary social technology after religion, simply ceases to work in large cities without extraordinary costs of repression. Money and credit may change that but only if we change policy from taxation to credit the way we changed from religion to taxation as a means of maintaining social order.

Human density is not the panacea our planners and utopians think it is. Density is toxicity, it decreases the disease gradient, and it leads to political tyranny and instability, and it becomes increasingly difficult to concentrate capital and therefore productivity.

The problem is to balance birth rates and productivity. Not density. And no matter what we do, ‘He Who Breeds Wins.’

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