Andrew Bard Schmookler


I live now in the mountains of Virginia, in a landscape whose health and beauty remain still substantially intact. In earlier eras of my life I've lived inside the Washington Beltway and within walking distance of the San Francisco Bay. My experience has given me a perspective on the thrust of economic development that it seems not many of my present neighbors share-- not if I can judge from the letters I read these days in my local newspapers. Our part of Virginia is in the direction toward which the Disney Corporation, if it gets its way, will be building its new Disney's America theme park. Each issue of the weekly Shenandoah Valley newspaper we get seems to have some enthusiastic endorsement of this project. Look at the jobs it'll bring! It's progress! It means a brighter future. These views reflect the perspective of people contemplating the evolving world from the seemingly safe perspective of their rural and small-town communities. But having lived on the southern stretches of the great American Eastern megalopolis, I feel like calling out to my neighbors, "I have seen the future, and it doesn't work so well. Resist the temptation to worship at the altar of untrammeled economic growth." For over a decade, I watched the lovely town of Frederick, Maryland, being absorbed into the Washington Metropolitan area. Recently, the last hold out has been overcome: the lovely green acres where horses grazed by a stream, two blocks behind the strip where Burger King and K-Mart and all the others are found, have at last been transformed from a bucolic scene recalling the town's historical charm and rural character into grist for the developers. Throughout the country, the pattern is repeated. Today's wilderness is tomorrow's farm field. A rural landscape is turned into a suburban development. And what is suburban one day is the next sucked into the city. When do we ask: how much development is enough? how do we preserve what's worth preserving from the homogenizing pavement and spreading commercial strips? It seems these questions get asked, if they get asked at all, too late. In recent years, voters of Fairfax County, Virginia, and of Montgomery County, Maryland, stunned the experts by turning out of office some of the agents of over-development. But by then, the horse was already out of the barn. Indeed, the barn itself had been torn down.

--------------------------------------------------------------- CAPTION: It is not just the same life but with more money in the bank. Such money comes at a price. --------------------------------------------------------------- It is those people who can still find comfort in the view from their front porches who need to see further into what is coming their way. It is not just the same life but with more money in the bank. Such money comes at a price: Mickey Mouse breathes out the toxic fumes of traffic congestion; strips of national chains tear at the fabric that hold local communities together; bulldozers scrape off the history that connects us with our land. An empire is spreading our way to colonize us, and the time to act to control our relations with that empire is before we are fully in its grip. My neighbors see the problems of the more developed areas, but they apparently do not connect those problems with the economic forces that they continue to invite into their own area to shape their future. They look upon the distress of those domains that have come more fully under the domain of the late twentieth century market economy and they think: "Hey, that's not our problem." The complacency of those, like my neighbors, who still live in unruined places reminds me of Machiavelli's description of how the ancient Romans managed to bring the whole of the Mediterranean world under their dominion. While the "potent prince" is making war upon one of the areas adjacent to his domain, Machiavelli said, the "other powers that are more distant and have no immediate intercourse with him will look upon this as a matter too remote for them to be concerned about, and will continue in this error until the conflagration spread to their door, when they will have no means for extinguishing it except their own forces, which will no longer suffice when the fire has once gained the upper hand." The dynamo of economic growth is our advancing Roman Empire. Like those who lived around the Mediterranean two thousand years ago, we in this still-lovely Valley will forfeit control over our destiny if we allow the powerful system nibbling at our periphery to work its will untrammelled now.

Andrew Bard Schmookler is the author of The Illusion of Choice: How the Market Economy Shapes Our Destiny. ??