In one city it seems the innovation never ceases. Bright and talented dreamers from across the globe flock there to build amazing things. They create solutions to problems both commonplace and incomprehensible. You can find entrepreneurs and investors working round the clock on everything from entertaining apps to asteroid mining to life extension. In the past few decades alone the denizens of this city have revolutionized the planet, put massive computing power in everyone’s pocket and all the libraries of the world at the fingertips of the majority of earth’s population.
This city is always looking forward, upward, onward. It is relentlessly focused on solving problems and improving quality of life. It is driven by curiosity, new frontiers, and prosperity. From this city have come simple yet revolutionary technologies that unlock billions in dormant assets like extra bedrooms, apartments, and cars. Customers love them. Investors love them. And the city can be proud of the world-changing impact made by the companies headquartered there.
There is another city much different. This city puts up barriers and blockades to keep bright and talented people out. It proposes solutions to problems that don’t exist. You can find demagogues and petty tyrants working 9-5 on everything from grocery bag taxes to restrictions on tree branches. In the past few decades alone the figureheads of this city have managed to take record amounts of money from citizens and demand record levels of compliance with confusing rules and regulations. They’ve taken untold creative power out of every citizen’s efforts and resources out of their pockets.
This city is always looking backward and downward. It is relentlessly focused on creating new conflicts and categorizing everyone’s relative quality of life. It is driven by fear, doubt, and preservation of the past. From this city have come complex and confounding ordinances that strangle active assets and reduce quality of life. Customers have no choice. Investors can’t divest. And the city can take credit for world-changing companies that have relocated to other cities to escape the Leviathan.
Both cities are the same place. In this case, San Francisco. But many cities share the same fate. The citizens are the same. Yet they live in two spheres simultaneously and the institutions and incentives in those spheres are so drastically different you can barely recognize the actors in each as the same people.
Make no mistake, they are the same people. It’s not that some people are peaceful, productive producers and consumers and some people are meddling petty tyrants. It’s that the same person behaves in both ways, depending upon the incentives and institutions. The political man (as in mankind) is a barbarous, tribalistic busybody. The market man is an inventive, curious soul.
I’ll be sharing a specific recent example of this split-personality disorder and what leads to the contrasting behaviors in the two spheres in an upcoming piece for The Freeman. Stay tuned.
Update: Here’s Part 2.