Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day, Property, and the American Dream

Img_0724 Happy Fourth of July!  And Happy 235th, America. 

For some land-use related Independence Day commentary, I ran across this column by center-right political analyst Michael Barone, Replacing Property as a Source of Wealth Creation.

One of the interesting things about our country, the independence of which the Founders declared 235 years ago Monday, is that we have been a property holders' democracy.

Barone's interpretation is that while the Founders established a repubic where suffrage was originally based on property qualifications, the very widespread nature of property ownership in America helped move democratic rights first to all white males and then to universal suffrage.  It's a broad claim but an interesting one.

Barone also references a couple of fascinating essays by Walter Russell Mead that I've been meaning to post about.  From his ViaMedia blog at The American Interest, part I and part II of The Death of the American Dream.  After bad news from the housing market:

It means something bigger.  For eighty years we have defined the American dream as an owner occupied family home, preferably with a nice swathe of crabgrass-free lawn around it.  The home mortgage was the centerpiece of a society of consumers based on debt-financed living.  It was life on the installment plan.  The latest downturn in the housing market is one more grim signal that in its current form, the American Dream is going the way of the dodo.

Mead goes into the history of the American Dream as, first, the family farm, and then, the single-family home, ranging from Jefferson to Levittown to the current recession and quoting from Little Shop of Horrors ("In a tract house that we share/Somewhere that’s green').  It's really quite fascinating and a great read.  He sees this crisis as a transformative moment in American social history.

His conclusion isn't quite as depressing as the excerpt above might indicate, but does focus on the terrific challenge ahead of re-tooling the American Dream.  In fact, he has a Fourth-of-July column in the Wall Street Journal called The Future Still Belongs to America.

Here in Houston the weekend belonged to the visiting Boston Red Sox (to my delight and my daughter's ire).  But there will still the post-game fireworks pictured above (despite the drought-mandated ban on personal fireworks--another land use issue!).  Hope you all had a safe and happy Fourth.

Matt Festa

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