walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
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The Forgotten Look of Prosperity

The New York Times editorial page is doing its level best to kill any chance of American recovery and prosperity by crusading against anything anywhere that might help our energy woes, but sometimes its news pages inadvertently remind us that prosperity and energy development are closely connected.

This story on the “woes” of the midwestern oil boom shows how towns are throwing up housing for an influx of workers drawn by the breakneck development of new energy resources.  In places the story exemplifies the whiny perfectionism so characteristic of millennial liberalism: everything has its down side and if we look hard enough we are sure to find it.  (A Times story on Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana would not be complete without a reference to the economic plight of unemployed winemakers.)  So a part of the country that hasn’t seen opportunity in decades is suddenly bursting with growth and new jobs, and the Times frets that conditions in the temporary housing are poor.    Mourns the Times:

But now, even as the housing shortage worsens, towns like this one are denying new applications for the camps. In many places they have come to embody the danger of growing too big too fast, cluttering formerly idyllic vistas, straining utilities, overburdening emergency services and aggravating relatively novel problems like traffic jams, long lines and higher crime.

Via Meadia advice: get over it.  This is what economic growth looks like.  It is sudden, disruptive, often inconvenient.  It messes with the status quo.  New stuff gets built and not all of it looks like the Cloisters.  All kinds of rough and hungry men flock to it; they sometimes misbehave.  They spit on the ground, say unpleasant things about women, and generally fail to meet the behavioral standards of the Upper West Side.

Decline is so much more decorous.  Prairie towns slowly wither on the vine; the young people quietly leave, the stores gradually empty and close.  Reporters from the Times write haunting and moving stories about the gentle, drifting sadness of it all. Novelists in creative writing programs can write delicate tales of rural decline; filmmakers can make understated little films about the lost hope and vanished promise of the American dream.

Sadly for the genteel minded among us, America’s era of brusque and rough growth isn’t over.  The oil and gas underneath our country is coming up one way or another, and rough, uncouth boom towns will be springing up all over Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and the Dakotas.  They will have saloons; they will have insalubrious dives.  But they will also provide the basis for middle class prosperity in regions that are currently on the rocks.  They will provide new hope for a generation that does not know where to turn.  They will create stable blue collar employment at wages high enough to support families.

In time, the roughnecks and toughs will settle down.  The schoolmarms will move into the boom towns.  Churches will be built and kids will be raised.  And all over the country, prosperity will work its magic in a new era of secure and abundant energy supplies.  That richer society will find ways to clean up the environment among other things; growth is often ugly to look at but in the end that is what powers it all.

Boom towns: let’s hope we get more of them.

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  • BillH

    “…growing too big too fast, cluttering formerly idyllic vistas, straining utilities, overburdening emergency services and aggravating relatively novel problems like traffic jams, long lines and higher crime.”

    Sounds like Zucotti Park. I had presumed the NYT liked that sort of thing.

  • http://N/A RJJAMMER

    Good analysis. Also noted: in another victory for meritocracy in journalism, the NY Times article is written by “A. G. Sulzberger,” the young heir to the family newspaper.

    Also, your phrase “whiny pefectionism” perfectly captures the tone of these sorts of articles.

  • http://knownofold.blogspot.com J R Yankovic

    Beautifully put. God (as I see it) continues to open doors. How roughly, genteelly or gratefully we pass through them – or worst of all, FAIL to – is up to us.

  • Cheves

    From a NY Times piece about 2000 years ago:

    “A Nazareth carpenter violated a number of health and environmental safety codes in Cana yesterday by altering water without a permit. Local officials, fearful of reprisal from the Jews, decided not to prosecute the man and simply issued a stern warning. Further complicating the picture was that the water was alteres into what some are saying was an excellent wine. The Canan Brotherhood of Wine Makers, Local 388 spokesman Aratha said the following: ‘We will not only picket any future weddings who invite this non-union Jesus character, but also any business that uses his woodworks’.

    Jesus was said to be too busy healing without a medical license to comment.

  • ms

    Almost everything that is worthwhile in life is messy–community, family, creativity, growth and progress. I love the insight that decline is so much more appealing to the highbrow than the messiness of growth and opportunity.

  • Lexington Green

    Boomtowns where men get jobs? That does not fit the narrative. Nice bit about the Autumnal beauty of terminal decline, so perfect for the NYTimes Sunday Magazine section. The women showing up won’t be schoolmarms, they’ll be HR directors and regulatory compliance officers. They will put their sensibly shot feet on the throat of all these unseemly animal spirits.

  • ms

    Cheves–Yes–the NYT is a stand-in for the Saducees and Pharisees–doing everything they can to thwart what is truly good and right and helpful, what offers incredible possibility and promise to ordinary people. They claim to be “progressive” but are really anti-progress and striving with all their might to protect their own interests. They live in a kind of perfectionist utopia that is rapidly shrinking. Well, OK, they share this world with much of the academy and media, but they have not engaged with reality for a long time, which is becoming ever clearer as Europe implodes.

  • http://westernhero.blogspot.com/ Silverfiddle

    Amen, and Beautifully said!

    The NY Times speaks for the establishment elite:

    “Let them eat Rousseauian romanticism”

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    Modern Civilization has replaced muscles with energy to run our many machines. The switch has become so complete that energy prices have become equal to efficiency, and the inflation engendered by rising energy prices is indistinguishable from inflation caused by increasing money supply.

  • Bebe

    I read A.G. Sulzberger’s article, and enjoyed it greatly. He could have been writing during any one of the myriad mining strikes in our 19th century history. Go back and read those tiny town gazettes and journals in Silver City, Auburn, Virginia City, Ouray, and all the other metal towns of the West. With allowances for the passage of 150 years, I see the same topics and tone: fast growth, loose morals, hardscrabble, shoddy housing, lots of easy money. Guess it’s hard to remember how extraction industries work- it’s been a long time in America since we’ve seen this sort of hard labor (unless it’s for illegals, of course). All those fine desk jobs on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley, and at college campuses make for lots of clean hands and soft heads. As for Mr. Sulzberger “fils” being the author of this article, his family has always groomed their own for the family-controlled newspaper (that’s why it’s a family newspaper). Another strange thing to see in America- a major corporate family enterprise whose owners actually believe in their product, and in trying to grow the talent of their progeny. One can disagree with NYT politics, but A.G.’s writing style is quite evocative. “Whiny perfectionism”? I’m sure David Lavender would have chuckled at that phrase in the context of the American West.

  • Corlyss

    Until something serious is done to destroy the Greens, not just slow their relentless growth, but destroy them, I see no interruption to their steady destruction of prosperty everywhere they appear as a political force. They are intent on making Peak Oil a reality by regulation, if Mother Nature refuses to cooperate. If they could, they’d consign our entire oil and nat gas production to China, just to ensure that American prosperity ceased to exist. China drilling in the Gulf is just fine with them, since they can’t do anything about it even if they would. Americans doing same = crimes against nature.

  • a nissen

    Sorry to see you again presenting the NYT as “liberal,” they must love it when you do—helps the cover.

    As for “this bubble is different,” see if you can see through this justification:

    “Ever since the crash of Dutch tulip mania in 1637 it has been widely recognized that economic bubbles tend to end badly. But over the past year in Seattle there’s been a bubble growing that I believe is an positive exception to that rule: the apartment boom. And from the perspective of urban sustainability, that’s something to be thankful for.

    New apartment projects have been sprouting so fast recently it’s hard to keep up. Nearly 7000 units are projected to come on line in 2013 in Seattle and Bellevue. In Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood alone construction is well under way on four large mid-rise apartments that will provide close to 600 new units, and a dozen or more projects are in various stages of the pipeline

    Factors driving the apartment boom include the lull in construction caused by the real estate bust, a relatively strong local job market, and demand from Gen Y kids and others who can’t afford buy in today’s economy. Multifamily housing is pretty much the only real estate development market that has a pulse currently, which has led to somewhat of a feeding frenzy.

    Why shouldn’t we worry about this particular bubble? True, an overproduction of apartments can be expected to dish out some economic pain to building owners, financiers, and developers who get the timing wrong. But that won’t change the fact that we’ll end up with lots of new high-density urban housing that will be on the ground for decades. And that’s some powerful good mojo for a sustainable city and region.

    Dense urban infill housing reduces development pressure on farms on forests, leverages existing infrastructure investments, spurns economic development, improves public health, reduces stormwater runoff pollution, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions, and helps create the kind of livable, walkable communities that the market increasingly demands. Furthermore, any oversupply will put downward pressure on housing prices, helping to address affordability.”
    http://publicola.com/2011/11/25/glimmers-of-hope-the-apartment-boom/

  • Mike L

    Your description of these boom towns reminds me a lot of the western towns described by Louis L’Amour in his books: exciting, reckless and dangerous. They too started off with jobs, gambling halls, hostels filled with girls of ill-repute and a sense of lawlessness. But in time, they were tamed as money brought in the business men, the churches and the schools. I think these are exciting times for the states you mentioned. They sure could use some good news.

  • Bill Glahn

    Exactly. The New York Times and others had already written off North Dakota as the “Buffalo Commons.” National Geographic has already written the epitaph with the photo essay on the Ghost Towns. Now, all ruined by the comeback.

  • Bonfire of the Idiocies

    Maybe the Times is suffering from a case of jealousy. If anything is declining, it’s the newspaper business – whatever the internet is not killing, their dedication to presenting all the liberal propaganda that fits into print is. Unlike North Dakota, there are no new discoveries waiting to reverse the tide. They’re just biding time until the water rises high enough that the overstuffed shirts float away.

  • http://opines.mythusmage.org Alan Kellogg

    As long as there is a need, and a way to fill that need, the need will be filled. Need more oil? Then more oil will be found, and extracted, as long as the oil is there to be extracted.

    By now we were supposed to be using fuel-cell cars to get around in, but we keep finding new deposits of oil. Some deposits supposedly impossible to access, but technology keeps devising ways to extract it. The time will come when the oil runs out, and then we’ll get serious about a post-oil world. But until then oil will continue to be used in so much of our lives.

  • teapartydoc

    A fact which I have yet to see stated expressly by any politician except perhaps by Palin (I don’t know for sure because I haven’t actually read her): in the history of the world, there has never been a sustained economic expansion without increases in energy consumption, and these increases are usually accompanied by diminished prices and increases in supplies of energy resources. This is so fundamental and obvious that the lack of discussion of how one can encourage the development of such circumstances is astounding. One would at think one would at least see discussions about improving efficiencies on the side of the greens, but I guess even allusion to the fact might be devastating to their other arguments. What really astounds me is the lack of consideration this gets from Republican politicians.

  • Randy

    The NYT provides yet another priceless example of modern liberalism’s cluelessness, or as Screwtape would put it, “that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious”.

  • Chris

    Well written, sir. Perhaps the intellectual elite needs a re-introduction to Frederick Jackson Turner. Then, perhaps, they will understand the term “dynamic society”. What a country!

  • Idylewylde

    That was a bit acerbic …. and it nailed it perfectly :)
    I grew up in rough mining camps filled with gambling saloons, prostitutes, and rough men with bad manners.
    I grew up in rough mining camps where schools got built, hospitals got built, churches got built.
    I didn’t see one lily-livered Liberal building the future, transforming the rough hewn foundation into civilization.
    Imagine my first encounter with a lily-livered Liberal.
    The look on my face then is the same now … I still can’t believe what I’m seeing.
    They had nothing to do with progress .. by their own admission, they still have nothing to do with progress .. and yet they call themselves Progressive Liberals.

  • Kohl Haas

    Time to see “Paint Your Wagon” again – especially the end when for some people it was time to move on.

  • RonRonDoRon

    “idyllic vistas”?

    I don’t know much about the current boom areas of NY, PA, or OH, but I grew up across the river from Fargo and have driven across ND many times. I doubt the NYT writer has ever seen the vistas of Williston, ND. The plains of ND have an unusual beauty all their own, but “idyllic”? Hardly.

    Before the development of an energy economy there, the rural areas of ND had been depopulating for decades. (It turned out to be mostly suitable only for ranching and the large-scale cultivation of durum wheat – not small family farms.) I’m sure that North Dakotans are happy to give up a small part of their “idyllic vistas” in exchange for prosperity.

    Believe me, they have plenty of vistas left.

    A digression, related only as an example of the all-too-common cluelessness of them smug, big-city coastal types – an anecdote told to me years ago by a faculty member at the state college I attended in Moorhead, MN (my home town, across the river from Fargo). Speaking to another faculty member, who was from somewhere on the East Coast, she mentioned she was planning to go back home to Seattle for the holidays. Asked if she would fly or take the train, she said no, she was going to drive. The cosmopolitan easterner’s incredulous response was, “Can you do that?”

  • John Cunningham

    I took a job transfer to Alaska in the 1970s for a job related to the pipeline boom, ended up loving the state, and stayed 25 years. there were lots of rough-edged guys [and girls] but it all worked out.
    one of my favorite pipeline jokes–the young pipeline welder asks Tex, the grizzled oldster, what he does with all the huge paychecks. Tex replies, “Well, Sonny, I put my money in houses and lots.” The kid, impressed, says, “Ah, real estate investments?” Tex says, “Nah, whorehouses and lots of whiskey.”

  • http://no-pasaran.blogspot.com/ Joe

    Manhattanites wanting the world to be poor and kept as a museum for their amusement… how typical.

    The best way to look at that outlook is to think of “the green movement” as the American left’s /orgenthau plan – it’s meant to permanently suppress the chimera that are their imaginary enemies.

  • noahp

    I grew up in one of those declining North Texas towns that were prosperous from the Texas oil boom but have found farming and ranching unsustaining. In essence the town has become “solar powered” which curiously escapes the notice of the Left. Choosing instead to blame the local Walmart.

  • richard40

    I suspect that places like Detroit and Cleveland would love to have all these problems associated with “growing too big too fast”.

    You are right, it is almost as if leftists LIKE for us to be in decline, or at least for the private sector to be in decline, gov must never decline though.

  • a nissen

    Time for a non-NYT look at the changing real market and to set aside playing into the hands of the parties of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. U.S refined oil product exports now exceed imports while demand is down due to efficiencies and the economy.. The reason for booms is the same as it has always been—get rich while you can, aka greed.

    America’s New Deal for Global Energy Mix
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203764804577060443747706490.html?KEYWORDS=New+Deal+in+Oil

    Someone above talks about not getting serious about a post oil world until we have to. One thing to start thinking about is how to manage a market without managing a market. A good way to do that would be to search to see if anyone has come up with even a clue that might work.

  • Kohl Haas

    North Dakota ought to know how to handle it; it has a great example just across the line in South Dakota: Deadwood. Wild Bill got shot there and Custer went to the Last Stand after passing through. Or, if you want to see a contemporary example: Sturgis in late July when the bikers come to town.

    Great fun, then and now. Think I shall head up there.

  • http://www.pacrimjim.com PacRim Jim

    Govett’s Iron Law of Democracy:
    “Democracy can survive neither prolonged poverty nor prolonged prosperity.”

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