A word on housing.
Amidst all the other happenings in Rhode Islanders’ lives, it’s worth a moment to consider that we’ve reached the point that the General Assembly is delving into such levels of micromanagement as housing setbacks and in-law apartments in local zoning. That’s a sign that we’re doing things wrong.
In the mania of the day (or simply because Borg-like progressives increasingly dominate conversations), I’m seeing people mention it less frequently, but one of Rhode Island’s most-endearing qualities is the heterogeneity of neighborhoods across the state. The genuine diversity of living possibilities in the Ocean State is incredibly attractive, intrinsically characteristic, and worthy of preservation. These are propositions that should enjoy agreement across the political spectrum… unless it is unthinkingly swamped by moral sloganeering and simplistic economic thinking.
Here’s a straightforward point that only seems counterintuitive because our society has gone utterly insane: You don’t get diversity from the top down. You get diversity when people are free to pursue their unique preferences. Genuine diversity is unavoidably organic. It’s a balance of completely atomized individualism with natural group formation. Complete diffusion is salvaged by the human need for community so that unique communities form.
Think of it in terms of neighborhoods. If every resident pursues the extreme of individualism, the block looks like an incoherent mess. If people with compatibly unique personalities congregate, the neighborhood gets character. Every time the top of the Rhode Island power structure decides We the People cannot be trusted to make community decisions, it is implicitly demanding greater conformity.
The practical politics and incentives are easy to understand. Because it’s difficult to win over majorities across dozens of communities, special interests move up the ladder (backed by a relatively small group of noisy do-gooders) and make it in the interest of state-level politicians to tell Rhode Islanders how they ought to live. You can buy a Speaker of the House or a few dozen legislators more cheaply than you can buy majorities of local councils and boards across the state.
In this reality, we see the importance of maintaining a baseline shared truism among the broader population that such matters are not the business of those fungible officials. No law of the universe says housing has to increase in a particular area. I don’t like protectionism or tight local zoning, either, but the value of freedom and self-determination is so immense that we should insist that advocates do the work of persuading the people, rather than buying off a handful of powerful politicians to impose tyranny with the hope that it might do some good for some people in the short term.
Featured image by Justin Katz using Dall-E 3.