My total book reading for 2019 was 39 books. Highlights include three “classics”:
- The Winds of War
- The Power and the Glory
- The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
- The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios
- On Reading Well
I just completed book 39, and it was another highlight: Charles L. Marohn, Jr., Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity. It might even merit re-reading, though its “timeless” wisdom is of a different timelessness than Lewis or Pieper.
Some excerpts from Marohn:
Let me summarize: in exchange for 26 years of tax relief, the community was able to get an out-of-town franchise restaurant to abandon their old building and move three blocks up the street where they tore down a block of buildings and replaced them with a development that is 44% less valuable than the development pattern of what was removed. By any financial measure, this is a bad investment, yet cities everywhere routinely do this exact kind of transaction.
Middle-class housing subsidies and transportation spending are the bread and circuses of modern America. Americans express a preference for single-family homes on large lots along cul-de-sacs because that’s the lifestyle we subsidize. We’ve been willing to bankrupt our cities and draw down the wealth prior generations built, in order to provide that subsidy. It can’t go on forever.
Planners like to describe neighborhoods with both homes and neighborhood-friendly businesses as “mixed use.” Our ancestors would simply have called them “neighborhoods.”
[After noting that local governments not infrequently mistake insolvency for a mere cash flow problem.] A local government must be obsessively intentional, organized and disciplined to discern it true financial status.
I gave a presentation to a group of bond analyst from one of the large ratings agencies. I showed them how public balance sheet didn’t reflect the extent of municipal liability, that cities had under-reported amounts of maintenance obligations totaling many times the reported pension shortfalls. The analysts were stunned, professed this was new to them, and asked a lot of good questions. Then they informed for me that it wouldn’t change anything about how they rated bonds because cities don’t default on their debt – they have not defaulted en masse since the Great Depression – and that track record superseded all other considerations.
At the national level, I tend to be libertarian. Let’s do a few things and do them very competently.
At the state level, I tend to be a Minnesota version of conservative Republican. Let’s devolve power, use market and feedback where it drives good outcomes, and let’s do limited state interventions when we have a broad consensus that things would be better by doing it. Let’s measure outcomes and hold ourselves to a high standard.
At the regional level, I tend to favor a more progressive approach. Let’s cooperate in ways that improve everyone’s lives. Let’s work together to make the world more just.
At the city level, I’m fairly progressive. What do we need to do to make this place work for everyone? Let’s raise our taxes, and put sensible regulations in place, to make that a reality.
At the neighborhood level, I’m pretty much a socialist. If there’s something I have that you need, it’s yours. All that I ask is that you do the same in return for me and my family.
At the family level, I’m completely communal. Without hesitation, I’ll give everything I have so my family has lives that are secure, happy, and prosperous. I expect nothing in return.
We’re all Detroit, just a couple of decades behind. Then we’re back to living humanly — that is, making small bets, winning or losing small, learning from both wins and losses, and in general building antifragility, like we (other than Detroit) had until the postwar suburban sprawl was thrust upon us.
Next year I hope actually to hit 52 books, my unattained goal for this year. I think the news in 2020 will be so distressing, dominated as it will be by Presidential politics, that ignoring it more, in favor of books that might make me wise, will be relatively easy.
To that end I’ve recently discovered a podcast and an alternate view of the digital New York Times that expedite getting the necessary news, the latter by letting me focus on the real news of the day without digging through NYT’s “most viewed” and otherwise boosted stories day after day after day.
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Sailing on the sea of this present life, I think of the ocean of my many offenses; and not having a pilot for my thoughts, I call to Thee with the cry of Peter, save me, O Christ! Save me, O God! For Thou art the lover of mankind.
(From A Psalter for Prayer)