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Vehicular NIMBYism


Paul Krugman speculates on why progressives who are willing to pay all sorts of taxes to make society fairer are nevertheless prone to nimbyism in regard to certain specific issues:

In short, when you drive into New York, you’re imposing large costs on other people. And I mean really large costs. Reasonable estimates suggest that taking a private car into Manhattan during the morning rush and back out during the evening rush creates congestion costs of well over $100 — and if you think about it, especially while stuck in the traffic jam at the Helix, numbers that big seem entirely plausible.

An overhead view of a looping road, packed with vehicles, leading to a tunnel. Parked buses are at the center.

Now, nobody is suggesting a ban on driving into Manhattan. But it seems ridiculous to argue that anyone should have the right to do that much damage to other people’s lives without paying considerably more than the current tolls. That would be like arguing that some people should have the right to dump trash on their neighbor’s land because they don’t feel like paying the fees for garbage pickup. . . .

My take on NIMBYism is that it isn’t simply about selfishness, although of course that plays a role — some people oppose housing construction because they think it will reduce their property values. But I know affluent progressives who more or less cheerfully accepted the extra taxes that helped pay for Obamacare and donate generously to social causes but seem to lose it when someone proposes allowing more housing construction or a much-needed power transmission line anywhere near their residences.

Why, exactly? My armchair psychology is that even people who are socially conscious about big things — you might even call them woke — lose all sense of proportion in the face of suggestions that the way they live their own lives is problematic and might need to change, even slightly. I don’t know that this is the right answer, but something strange is going on.

This sounds plausible to me, especially here in beautiful Boulder, where lots of progressives perform social consciousness in various ways, while engaging in wildly indefensible behavior at the most basic structural level (three people living in a 4,000 square foot house while jetting off every other month to exotic locales etc.)

Now as Immanuel Corleone said, we are all part of the same hypocrisy, but I suspect the NIMBY phenomenon is connected in some basic way to a kind of defensive reaction when faced with particularly stark examples of that hypocrisy.

What the answer to this is I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t intoning “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism,” before ordering some more fatty tuna that was purchased in the Tokyo fish market at 3 AM on Monday and then eaten in Denver 30 hours later.

Mmmm, sushi.

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