In my last post, I critiqued the grandiosity inherent in Joel Kotkin and friends' insistence that the Will of the People must be observed. People want big houses and they want to drive to them, Kotkin repeats. Anyone who suggests that "you can't have everything" is an out-of-touch elitist, forcing the People into their mold.
As I wrote, I believe that people really do want big houses and cars, and the roads to drive the cars to those houses. I do too. But I want all kinds of other things, many of which conflict with those desires. I contradict myself. I contain multitudes. We all do.
The survey and market data that Kotkin relies on for his assertions unquestionably show a strong desire for big houses and cars. But there is no effort to figure out whether a given person wants a big house for the extra room, or as a status symbol, or to reduce their stress. If they want a car, do they want it to pick up chicks, or to get to work, or to get to remote trailheads?
These questions are critical. If someone wants a house for the extra room, they won't be happy unless they get the extra room, but they might be satisfied with a really big apartment. If they want it for a status symbol, they might be satisfied with a high-rise apartment. If they want it to reduce their stress, they might be satisfied renting a storage unit, getting a massage, or adopting a voluntary simplicity ethic. Similarly, if they want a car to get chicks, they might be satisfied with a nice suit or some jewelry. If they want it to get to work, adequate transit should be plenty. If they want to go hiking, a Zipcar or even a bus might work.
Kotkin and friends also don't give people credit for contradictory desires. If someone wants both a big house and a position at the center of the urban gallery scene, wouldn't they be just as happy with a big loft in Bushwick as with a big house in Cold Spring Harbor? If they want to drive, but also want to be able to pick up groceries near their home, wouldn't they be happy living above a supermarket? It all depends on the relative strength of those desires.
We get none of this discussion from Kotkin, Cox, Stossel or any of the others. Their world is divided into the Elites, some of whom want to live in apartments and take transit or ride bikes, and the People, who never want anything other than bigger and bigger houses, properties and cars. They want these things because it is natural to want them, and the Elites don't want them because - well, we must be unnatural.
There is no consideration for the possibility that the desires for bigger houses, properties and cars may stem from some other underlying desires and be satisfied in some other way. There is no acknowledgment of the fact that a single person may simultaneously want a country house and an urban apartment, a long driveway and a short walk to the pub, and that everyone makes trade-offs in life.
Here's one of the many things that I probably didn't come up with myself, but I can't remember who I heard it from. Superficial compromise, like King Solomon's proposal to split the baby in half, will often satisfy nobody. The art of true compromise requires looking beyond people's stated wants and needs and discerning their underlying desires. By doing that it is much easier to find a solution that will satisfy everyone.