Develop Here, Develop Now!
California’s economy is stagnant, unemployment is high (though not that high), and, worst of all for sun-obsessed Golden Staters, it’s raining. One would imagine that any signs of economic recovery would be celebrated here.
Not so, however. The San Francisco Chronicle reports today on a brouhaha afoot: a group of environmentalists are loudly protesting the construction of a complex of condominiums and offices, this time in the San Francisco suburb of Redwood City. Of course, even amidst recession, disputes such as these are commonplace in the Golden State – I wonder if the Chronicle has the article template already on file, and only has to insert the new town name (Santa Cruz, Sausalito, San Mateo) before proceeding with publication.
As usual, the environmentalists are preaching precisely the wrong prescription. Because the call now should be for more development, not less.
The quotidian case for development is obvious. California’s unemployment rate stands at 12.1%, and the construction industry has been hit particularly hard. According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, 300,000 California hardhats have lost their jobs since the recession began two years ago. Obviously, getting those people back to work is an ethical and economic imperative: only development is going to do that. Meanwhile, more development will spur more growth through all areas of the economy – the subsidiary economic effects of heavy construction were apparent in the boom of the early 2000s.
More deeply, a pro-development society is a happier, more productive, more intellectually vibrant society. A pro-development society is one of material comfort and riches – a society free from want. And we’ve seen time and again that towering intellectual achievements are achievable nearly exclusively in times of plenty. Jürgen Habmermas would argue that this is quite simply a result of leisure time – that time to think and reflect and compose comes as a result of a certain degree of material comfort. A degree of material comfort that human development produces.
Some rather nasty assumptions lurk within the creed of the anti-development groups. Indeed, opponents of development take a misanthropic view of man’s role in the world. Consider the language that they employ when arguing their case: they argue that land needs to be “protected” from human development. This miscasts mankind’s laudable achievements as acts of violence or malevolence, and it remakes man’s civilizing mission as one of conquest. Moreover, this kind of rhetoric presupposes an unnatural and false separation between people and their environment, a false worldview which sets in opposition “man” on one side, and “nature” on the other. But humans are simply part of nature, and do no more harm to “nature” than does the polar bear. Even the late environmentalist Lynn White recognized that “all species affect their environment,” and included mankind in that designation.
All in all, perhaps it’s the anti-development crowd that needs development – development of the intellectual sort.