Decentralize all the Thingz (part 2)

Coronavirus cases by county, as of March 13.

Here’s how Trump gets reelected: Declare emergency funding for immediate dispersion. By which I mean, pay people to disperse from dense, disease-ridden cities. A decentralized country is an antifragile country.

Yes, cities are more efficient… Efficient at spreading disease.

After World War II, there was a huge housing shortage as materials and resources had been diverted to the war effort, and people crowded into cities for defense jobs. The government didn’t care about lack of housing or crowded slums, but they did care about the post-war threat of nuclear attack.

In 1950, the National Security Resources Board received $23 billion (the equivalent of $250 billion today) to incentivize industrial dispersion. Defense contracts were awarded contingent on relocating manufacturing facilities to the midwest.

The Pittsburgh Press, Jan 21 1949

Trump could be more strategic about it – provide relocation grants to Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio – places where no one wants to live, but which might swing an election.

At this point, there’s no reason to continue living in a dense coastal city. Employers have enacted mandatory work-from-home policies, and if you live in San Francisco your home probably sucks.

Here’s a story of how Tulsa, Oklahoma attracted a bunch of remote workers with a $10,000 bribe. It’s like the Zappos Downtown Project, where Tony Hsieh sunk $350 million in an attempt to build an innovation hub in Las Vegas. Attempts to create an urban hub in the desert, or out in the Great Plains, overlooks the one redeeming feature of these places: Cheap land.

Dense cities are out; sprawling homesteads are in! We spend $20 billion per year on agricultural subsidies so that farmers can grow cheap corn for exports to China. Now that we’re closing off trade with China, let’s reclaim the land and disperse the people, Little House On The Prairie-style.

The original Homestead Act granted 160 acres per household – that’s how much land it used to take to feed a family – but today we have GMOs, chemical fertilizers, and Monsanto. You can feed a family of four on only two acres, and still have room for an in-law unit!

I know, I know. We’ve all grown accustomed to the niceties of urban living. Walkability, cultural capital, fortuitous social encounters. Densely-packed nursing homes where we can dump off our elders. Division of labor taken to a ridiculous extreme.

Cities are unnatural. Back in our hunter-gatherer days, humans were about as densely populated as bears. Maybe Darwin will run its course, ravage the cities, and weed out those with an affinity for vibrant arts scenes. When it’s over, only the antisocial losers will remain.

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