Ed Driscoll

The Complexities and Contradictions of 21st Century Reprimitivization

Well, nobody said going back to the future would be easy:

Then one day about a year and a half ago, Hantz had a revelation. “We need scarcity,” he thought to himself as he drove past block after unoccupied block. “We can’t create opportunities, but we can create scarcity.” And that, he says one afternoon in his living room between puffs on an expensive cigar, “is how I got onto this idea of the farm.”

Yes, a farm. A large-scale, for-profit agricultural enterprise, wholly contained within the city limits of Detroit. Hantz thinks farming could do his city a lot of good: restore big chunks of tax-delinquent, resource-draining urban blight to pastoral productivity; provide decent jobs with benefits; supply local markets and restaurants with fresh produce; attract tourists from all over the world; and — most important of all — stimulate development around the edges as the local land market tilts from stultifying abundance to something more like scarcity and investors move in. Hantz is willing to commit $30 million to the project. He’ll start with a pilot program this spring involving up to 50 acres on Detroit’s east side. “Out of the gates,” he says, “it’ll be the largest urban farm in the world.”

As Virginia Postrel noted a decade ago, the future has its share of enemies, many of whom have colluded over the years to transform Detroit into its current feeble state. The fad of turning the yard of your suburban home into a tiny organic farm was just getting started back when Postrel wrote in her book, a trend pushed, as she wrote, by far left environmentalists. But turning the clock back on civilization, even on your own property, has its share of hyper-regulatory government enemies as well, including in Michigan:

A Michigan woman has found herself in court defending an evil, evil, vegetable garden.  Julie Bass has ignored Oak Park officials’ warnings and fines and now faces misdemeanor charges for her veggies in the front yard.  The city code only states that front yards need to have “suitable live plant material.”  According to her blog, Bass is facing up to 93 days of jail time.

Taken together, the two sum up the current plight of the economy: regulations are preventing the America as a whole from moving forward, and regulations prevent the would-be Michigan primitivist from moving backwards. Postrel described a clash between “dynamists” who want to move the clock forward and reactionary “stasists,” many but not all of which on the left — but at least until the beginning of 2013, the dead frozen hand of stasim will be the norm.

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