131: Devon Zuegel - Urbanism and the Future of Cities

131: Devon Zuegel - Urbanism and the Future of Cities

In this episode, we're joined by Devon Zuegel to talk about Prospera, urban sprawl, James Scott's Against the Grain, Georgism and more. 


William Jarvis 0:05

Hey folks, welcome to narratives. narratives is a podcast exploring the ways in which the world is better than in the past, the ways that is worse in the past, or it's a better, more definite vision of the future. I'm your host, William Jarvis. And I want to thank you for taking the time out of your day to listen to this episode. I hope you enjoy it. You can find show notes, transcripts and videos at narratives Additionally, in this episode, my friend Lars du se joins us as a co host. Well, Devin, how are you doing this evening?

Devon Zugel 0:42

I'm doing great. It's nice to be here. I'm really looking forward to this. How are you guys doing?

Unknown Speaker 0:47

We're doing great. Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show today. Do you mind giving us kind of a brief bio and some of the big ideas you're interested in?

Devon Zugel 0:55

For sure. So I'm I'm a bit all over the map. But I studied Computer Science and Economics at Stanford. While I was there, I was the editor in chief of the Stanford review, which is a infamous paper at times on campus. I after that I graduated, and I was a software engineer at a number of tech companies, most notably affirm, which is a buy now pay later startup, that sort of trying to reinvent the way that credit works. And then after that, I transitioned and became a product manager, and was the founder of GitHub sponsors, which introduced money into GitHub, and achieved $10 million of annual recurring revenue within 18 months. And then later ran the the department that was responsible for building all tools for open source developers at GitHub. And then throughout all of these things, a love of mine has always been urban economics, architecture, street design. And so I've had a pretty active blog, where I just talk about the things that I love the most. And I tweet a lot about that stuff as well.

Unknown Speaker 2:00

I love that I love that. You've recently visited Prospero, is it prosper? Oh, how do you pronounce it?

Devon Zugel 2:06

Yeah, I pronounced it. Some people say prospera. Okay, I've heard different things from even the team at prosper. But the accent is on the Oh, so like, if you know, and it's a Spanish speaking country. So I think it's prosper.

Unknown Speaker 2:19

Gotcha, good. So prosper. It's it's for the listeners is a charter city down in Honduras. And you've also visited Panama to explore kind of the state of, you know, special economic zones and how we can use them for different like medical research and different applications, different legal regimes, we can operate under how bullish Are you on the future of charter cities? And what are kind of the biggest challenges, you see that they faced becoming a robust option for people to migrate to kind of at a large scale?

Devon Zugel 2:49

It's a great question. So charter cities is a pretty broad term that I think different people mean different things when they use the term, but they think that they're talking about the same thing. There's a lot of overlap, of course. But there's a few terms to familiarize oneself with. One is sec, which stands for Special Economic Zone, sometimes they have different acronyms, but essentially, the concept is carving out an area within a jurisdiction and creating different types of laws within that that zone. So that, generally, it's to develop, increase economic development, and sometimes achieved other goals. The most famous Special Economic Zone in history is Shenzhen in China, which in 1980, was part of Communist China still is, but it was extremely communist, you couldn't own anything. Workers couldn't leave their jobs, yada yada, things didn't work so well, that the you know, there are a lot of famines wasn't super effective. And then in the 80s, Deng Xiaoping said, hey, maybe we should give his comment this capitalism thing and try, and maybe we'll do a little bit better. And he didn't quite say it that way. He probably that wouldn't have gone over well, but he then introduced a number of reforms into this zone of Shenzhen, which he did not introduce to the rest of the country until later, and within just a few years, the economy within Xinjiang had dramatically grown, things were doing a lot better. They had some of the first skyscrapers in China, people were making more money than they ever had before. And the experiment was just a resounding success because they tweaked a few key things within the labor law, property law and a few other a few other things. So that's I think, the that's, that's a special economic zone. And charter cities, one of the key themes within charter cities that's most popular is taking this idea of special economic zones. But then, instead of having just within in your own country, maybe you would host it somewhere else. I think one of the big things that people mix up with this is a lot of people who think about charter cities are also interested in self sovereignty sort of more as an aesthetic preference and choice, which is not to say that that is contradictory with this more policy oriented, reform oriented approach, but it's just a it's just a different focus. And I think that people who are really interested in one often end up getting pulled into the other as well. And then there's a bunch of other topics that are tangentially related, like intentional communities, and in innovation zones, and things like that. But there's a lot of different ways that that could explode into like an entire podcast of his own or just like saying, What is a charter city? But hopefully, that's a that's a quick overview. Do you mind repeating the actual question because I've spent so much time just defining it?

Unknown Speaker 6:02

What do you think the biggest barrier is for charter cities to become, you know, prosper as an example? Like, what is the biggest barrier, you think, to becoming a robust option where high skilled people can where I agree to them? It seems like there's this Suvarna law, how do you say it? I can't say, sovereignty problem? Excuse me? Sorry, we were talking before we actually talked on the podcast about that, about how, you know, it seems to be a real challenge. How do you carve out like a space that is your own in this like, kind of crowded world?

Devon Zugel 6:35

Yeah, so I think the, it let's just use the economic development version of charter cities as our definition here, just to focus the conversation. So like, sort of trying to recreate what Schengen did to to stimulate growth. And that's one of prosperous really big goals in Honduras. And I'd say that one of the biggest challenges is that to build a place where investors and entrepreneurs and people creating things feel safe, to build something new within a new system, they have to have confidence that that system will continue to be around in the future. And unfortunately, the countries that are most open to trying something like a charter city, are not the most stable. Honduras was the murder capital of the world for a long time. Luckily, it is no longer, but I don't think it's too far off. It has had dramatic regime changes in the past, including disputed cute coup in the late 2000s. Recently, they, the previous president, was a known Narco trafficker, and then he was replaced by a stalwart communist who thinks that Venezuela is doing great. And so Honduras is a tough place to be. And it's a tough place to be as a business person who wants to make safe investments that will not get appropriated by the government, or not have drug gangs, you know, over running them. And I think there's a very strong correlation between countries that are willing to try something new, but then also have a bunch of problems. Versus countries that are more stable, that but are maybe more prosperous already. And so they're not as eager to experiment. I think if you draw a two by two matrix, though, there's some there's some bright light, which is, I think it's less about the stability of the country, and more about how rich or how poor it is, in terms of how attractive having something like a charter city might be. And so if you put something like, you know, Honduras is in one corner, which is it's both poor and unstable. And then like, Switzerland is like rich and very stable. There's countries like Berg y is one that I think is it's not that rich, it's not. It's also not extremely poor. It's like sort of a middle income country, but it's very stable. And I think they can see that they could be more wealthy, they could have an even better quality of life. And so I think a country like that would be a really good place to target building something like this. There's probably other examples that I'm less familiar with, but I happen to spend a lot of time in Iraq why so I think it's a good target.

Lars Doucet 9:21

So to kind of cycle back like we could talk endlessly on how do you protect yourself from having the Hong Kong effect happen, where you have this great, different system and they come down crush on it, but um, real quick, let's talk about what makes these kinds of things interesting, the first place he talked about, like three key reforms that happened in Shenzen that caused this economic miracle to happen. Well, what were those reforms?

Devon Zugel 9:43

Oh, let me see if I can think of all the specific details I'm I'm hesitant to say exactly what they were because their their specific legal changes, but but I think like at the high level, they make it made it possible for people to own property. They made it possible for for workers to leave their jobs previously, the government like the Communist Party in China would just like assign you a job. And that's what you would do for your whole life, which was not great for productivity or motivation. They, I believe opened, I think this was part of this reform, but I would actually have to look it up. I believe they opened up Shenzhen to foreign investment at that time as well. Although they continued to have rules around Chinese ownership, that restricted like complete, complete foreign investment, it was it was a lot of changes, there were there weren't just a handful, it was really sweeping reform. And I think that one of the big things that China had going for it was that people saw that the Chinese, the Chinese Communist Party, was probably going to stay around for a long time. And even though they had been creating a lot of problems for their population, for generations, at that point, they still had a ridiculous amount of power. So they could, they could just push reforms through in a way that I think that more democratic governments may have a much harder time. I'm not saying that we should stop having democracy. And like I live in I live in the US and not China for a reason. But, but that is one benefit that they have, I think it's also useful to look at other cities that have successfully played had this had basically gone through this playbook. One of the most notable ones is Dubai, which is also in a certain form of totalitarian government, where the leader has ultimate power and can just say, something's gonna happen, and then it happens. And they're able to do things that are quite unpopular, because they can just move forward. And with a lot of, I think the essence of a lot of these problems is that, and the reason why it's harder to do in a democratic system is because a lot of these issues are things that by making things better in the long run, it can be made things a little tougher for people in the short run, you have to make some tough calls. You know, if if you want to cut down on corruption, or you want to, like live in a world where so and so's political power gets gets reduced, you end up in a situation where there's a lot of powerful stakeholders today who want don't want to see that change happen in the future. And so having democracy and having a situation where people can vote on their interests today can create some issues.

Unknown Speaker 12:36

That make sense. Let me Devon, I want to ask you a question. Sorry, it's not not all the outline, but but it is related. It seems like a lot of impetus. Interest in charter cities is driven by the fact that a lot of our institutions that we currently have, let's say in the US, but don't work so well. Well, one of those is just kind of the nature of our cities like ours, a lot of our cities are incredibly expensive. You know, some cities like Houston, you know, they're less expensive, but they have this just crazy sprawl. And it's really difficult to get places and they're not super livable. Can you talk about kind of what's gone wrong with our cities, and maybe some things we can do to fix them?

Devon Zugel 13:12

So many things have gone wrong with our cities, where do I start, but I think I'll highlight the ones that I find most sad, because we just did this to ourselves for like, no reason. But there's, there's all these rules that we've put in place over time, that are completely are doing, they're just like not about the laws of physics whatsoever. They just make it illegal to make things nicer. So like, very specific, petty, but important example. Most cities in the United States have rules about minimum street weights. And there's a bunch of reasons for this. But one of the reasons is fire trucks need to be able to get through and you know, save house if it's burning down, which is a good reason. And until you think about the fact that we could just make the fire trucks smaller, instead of making the roads bigger. And for whatever reason, the people who wrote those laws did not consider that option. And if you look at places like Japan, or older towns in England, or any place that has more traditional development with very, very narrow streets, they do not have notably higher rates of fire deaths or fire problems. They just have smaller fire trucks to get through the tiny little corners and and save things. And like me, you might be thinking, Okay, what's the big deal with street widths like it's just, it's just like one random detail. But street widths have a dramatic impact on the amount of space that we use in our cities. And when you have wider street widths, everything is now farther up. apart. And when it's farther apart, it's now harder to get to where you want to go, you now probably have to get into a car. And if as soon as you have to get into a car now you actually sat even more infrastructure, which makes things more far apart. And there's a bunch of other things that we've done in our cities that essentially push things farther apart. That there's this sort of this tragic feedback loop, where things being farther apart, make other things farther apart. And you just end up wasting ridiculous amounts of space. I could rant forever, and we could talk about minimum setbacks, we could talk about minimum parking requirements, we could talk about minimum lot sizes. There's a lot of them. But I think this is one of the big, big problems in the cities. And this results in much worse affordability. It result in uglier cities, like if you've ever walked down one of those roads, which is like the word for road slash Street, which, you know, it's gotten maybe two or three lanes of traffic each way, and a tiny little sidewalk and no shade at all, because the street is so I'd like no one wants to walk there. That's incredibly unpleasant. So yeah, it makes our cities uglier, and more expensive, and less environmentally friendly. It's just like bad overall.

Unknown Speaker 16:20

The big sets, who does cities Well, in the developed world at this point,

Devon Zugel 16:26

I have critiques of all of them. But there's different dimensions that we could look at. But I think like, a lot of people would intuitively say, Oh, the Europeans are so much nicer making cities like I love to go to Rome, or London or Paris for vacation. But if you actually look at where they're developing new neighborhoods, and you walk to the outskirts of these, these towns, they tend to be pretty crappy themselves. And they actually look a lot like American towns, I still think that they're better because they're working with better bones often, but I don't think that they actually have some, like smart secret that we don't have. So that's not the answer. I think I really admire Japan, a lot of a lot of our bonuses kind of like the obvious answer. But Japan has a number of systems that are very different from American ones, that result in denser, more interesting cities, and also much easier to serve with with really good public transit. One of these is that they allow people to build kind of whatever they want on the property, as long as it's safe. And people can get permits quickly there. And this, you see the results of this in housing prices in Japan, which are actually not that high, even even in the densest parts of Tokyo. Another thing I admire a lot about Japan is they have a system of zoning that is I call sort of a blacklist as opposed to a whitelist approach. So in the US, what I mean by that is in the US, the typical type of zoning is called Euclidean zoning, which says in this area, you can have single family homes in this area, you can have commercial retail, in this area, you can have industrial, by contrast, Japanese zoning allows for basically different nuisance levels, saying, if any, basically the rate at like, I think it's like maybe out of 12 or something. And if they write something as a one out of 12, then they say this has to have like almost no nuisance whatsoever. So it's going to only be like single family homes and very quiet. If you go all the way up to the opposite scale, you can have like factories and really loud obnoxious things. But if you want to put your house there you can. So like you don't maybe wouldn't choose to put your house right next to a factory. But if for some reason you have a really good motivation to do so they're not going to stop you. And I think this is great, because like there's a lot of people who would prefer to live right over a loud bar so that they can live, you know, they have a shorter commute, and they're willing to make that trade off. And I think that basically the government shouldn't be telling you what trade offs you should be making one way or another. The types of zoning I do support are sort of more like around hazards. So I don't think we should be allowing people to put their homes next to like toxic waste sites or something like that. Because they probably don't have the information they need. So there's limits to what I'm saying. But But Japan is like well within those limits, and the proof is in the pudding that the housing prices are much lower and Japanese cities are really cool.

Lars Doucet 19:44

Have a kind of follow up question to that. So it kind of strikes me that the sort of Euclidean zoning the SimCity zoning is I think of it as is very much a kind of, it feels like a vestige to me of this early modernist, you know, kind of like, I have God playing SimCity with the real world kind of mindset that came out of the post war period. Right? And it seems like what you're advocating for is more of not exactly laissez faire, necessarily, but like more of just like, let people like let the cities and towns that people actually want to build naturally emerge. Right. Would you say that's a fair, accurate characterization?

Devon Zugel 20:26

I think that is fair. Yeah. And the, the, if you look at the places that are most desirable in the US to live, as measured by housing prices are sort of like the, what's the coolest neighborhood and X city articles that you can read? Like, they're almost always towns that were built before the 1930s? There are neighborhoods that were built before the 1930s. So yeah, I think other people want this too.

Lars Doucet 20:51

And so to that model, so to bring it back to model cities, or, or charter cities, or whatever you want to call it, to what degree in the charter cities that you see, do you see those motivated by that same kind of SimCity mindset of it's like, well, I'm going to build a masterplan city, but I'm going to do it right? Or do or are there ones out there that are going, it's like, no, we're gonna go out here and let the good city emerge and restrict these laws, because I kind of see the tension between it, because it's like, we need to get away from the bad regulations. That's why we need to have a zone that's free from these laws. But then sometimes you see like a kind of a big personality that has like these real specific opinions that wants to like Master playing their thing, do you see a tension there? I

Devon Zugel 21:36

think it depends on the scale that we're talking about. And I do see a tension there, for sure. I think at the scale of like, realistically, most of these charters, the type projects are still at the scale of neighborhoods, they're not at the scale of even towns or cities yet. And if you're building sort of like a little place or like a little campus, I think that you can model that person more as like a little business that is sort of making decisions according to what it is like customers and users need. As opposed to modeling it as like an ecosystem that can't be controlled and has like a mind of its own. As you scale up, it becomes less and less true. I do think like one of my big critiques of prosper. And I've told the team this when I when I went and met with them is that all other marketing materials have these beautiful, Zaha Hadid buildings. If you're familiar with Zaha buildings that are these, you've probably seen some pictures on like architecture magazines, they have these sort of like very organic, cool shapes, a very modern and like cool looking. But these marketing materials for prosper, it's like all of the buildings are Zaha Hadid buildings, and they're all designed by single architects to sort of like fit into this cool, like, mega structure. And I think that that goes against a lot of the principles they themselves are claiming to have. And, you know, they say, oh, no, no, that's just like, you know, that those are just some cool renders, like, that's not what we're gonna necessarily, you know, who knows if it's going to turn out that way. But I think that like the art that you choose to reflect your project says a lot about your underlying aesthetics and goals and motivations. And so I don't, I don't really buy it. I mean, another another related one is, if you guys have heard of praxis, there's this like online community, their strategy is build an online community first in the cloud. And then we can have some sort of like collective collective bargaining power to go start a city somewhere else, we that's a different conversation topic. But they if they have this cool Twitter feed, or they like posts really interesting, like art of super cool looking cities. And in some ways, I really liked them. But in other ways, I'm really creeped out by it, because they never have people in them. Like these, these like pictures of cities, they say that they want a building, like never have humans. And so I'm like, Who are the cities for? And maybe that's just because they like really like the epic city pictures that they have there. But I think it it points to like a deeper issue.

Lars Doucet 24:12

I went to architecture school for my undergrad and I just had this huge pet peeve at the time of just like, I want to be architecture gods, who just like we're in love with buildings, but not necessarily people and it can kind of show it in their renderings and their things. I mean, that's not to slag off the whole field. There's amazing architects who really are people first, but I always it's a vibe I recognize a lot. I'm speaking of aesthetics and urbanism and stuff, you know, we talked about urban sprawl and building roads that are too big and everything. You've talked about urban sprawl being a tragedy, a comment of the commons, you know, can you talk about that, you know, and this notion of how short term or individual preferences can kind of set advertised the whole set, nobody gets what they want, even though everyone's doing what they think they want, for sure.

Devon Zugel 25:06

So people aim to max maximize roughly two things when they're deciding where to live. This is a very simplified model, but they aim to maximize access to cool stuff, to their job to their friends, whatever it is. And they also want to maximize space. And these two things are fundamentally in conflict with each other. Because the place in America that it has most access to the most number of cool things is like, you know, the center of Manhattan. But the center of Manhattan is super expensive, precisely because it has a lot of access to things. So people are trading off on this frontier, and different people will make different trade offs. Okay, so that's like point one. When people are thinking about access versus space, they end up having this choice to make for themselves versus for other people, like if you can, I think most people's ideal living situation, or many, many people, if they could get it for free, would be to have like a huge mansion that takes up an entire block of Manhattan, and then have everybody else in the world like live in Manhattan and continue to do cool stuff for them. So like, they can get a huge yard, they can have, like all the rooms that they need, they can have their like gym, downstairs, in their own house, whatever. But they can also have like Broadway within a five minute walk, and amazing restaurants and so on. A lot of people would love to have that. Now, the problem comes that the thing that you have more control over is how much space you pick, and not how much pace everyone else around you picks. And so people will tend to go towards the maximum space that they can get for their budget, within the access of the things that they need to have access for. And they'll sort of the they'll expand their house as big as they can afford to have. And what this means is like if you're a billionaire, you have a townhouse in a townhouse slash manage mansion in Manhattan, which takes up a lot of space. Or, you know, if you're not doing quite so well as a billionaire, but you're still making a lot of money, you have like a three bedroom or whatever it is. And what ends up happening over time is because the only thing that people can control is how much space that they take up. And as not the people around them, all of these different units around them also expand to be as big as they possibly can, which decreases the access for everybody. So if everybody's house is just like 10%, bigger than it otherwise would have been. Now everything is also 10% farther than it would be. And actually, it can work out to be a little worse than that because of some geometry. So you end up in this situation where when you're, when your neighbor chooses a small house, and you could choose between a small house or a big house, you're gonna choose the big house, and your neighbor is making the same calculus. And so you both end up choosing big houses. But now you're also both worse off on the axis, the axis axis. So that's, that's why it ends up being a tragedy of the commons, because you don't get to control, like what everybody else is doing.

Lars Doucet 28:22

So how do you fix this? You know, do you have to go build another model city? Or can you can you work with a we've gotten reforming the system from within?

Devon Zugel 28:30

Well, I think the, the margin, I would like to shift on most is just like, allow people to build more, because if we have more abundance of housing, and we can build more densely and higher, and we could you know, instead of only allowing single or two storey buildings, you allow five storey buildings in an area, you suddenly just have a lot more space to play with in the first place. And this becomes less of a trade off. So that's that's what I prefer. I think that like the UMB, which stands for yes, in my backyard movement, that these are people who are trying to get cities in the US and other countries to build more. I think they're making actually pretty good progress in California, where I'm originally from, and I spent most of my life. There's a bunch of state level laws that are allowing accessory dwelling units in people's backyards. So sometimes they're called granny flats. They're requiring neighborhoods that are near transit to pass permits more easily. They're getting rid of minimum parking requirements. So I think it's making progress. But, you know, the building cycle takes a long time. And like, even though these reforms are coming through, it's just, you know, should have happened like 30 years ago. So that's the margin that I think I'm most motivated by. think the other thing that another factor that's going to come into play, I think now that the pandemic has brought remote work into very widespread acceptance is that just like where people want to be is going to be very different. We already saw this with the change in in housing prices during COVID, where suddenly like, you know, one and two bedroom condos in San Francisco became worth a lot less, although that has since reversed. And then But then like, giant homes with like offices in like the outskirts of Sacramento, or other sort of smaller cities in the US, jumped in price. In Miami, where I live, a lot of the housing has actually doubled in price. And even though Miami is a city, it's also kind of more of like a vacation town, then, like a real city from an from economic terms. That's because people realize, like, oh, I can like live somewhere else and still work there and like have a very meaningful career. And COVID change that because not technologically we had the technology before. But what it changed is it made it socially acceptable. And ultimately, you can only remote work if like the people around you also know how to use Zoom. They also understand what it means for you to be like working from your home office and so on. So I think that's going to like really changed the game in how things happened. And we've we've seen some reversion now that COVID seems to be petering out a little bit. But I don't think it's going away entirely, I think I think it's going to be a huge shift.

Unknown Speaker 31:26

Thanks. So maybe less than collaboration effects over time.

Devon Zugel 31:30

I don't know about that, like I think I actually think it might in some ways have the opposite effect where for like superstar cities versus sort of the long tail. So before, like, virtually every job you had to have, virtually every job you could be doing had to be like physically located relative to something somewhat somewhat closer. And what that meant was like, if you are a software engineer in San Francisco, or like a finance guy in New York, or whatever, like you got, you had to be there. And those are sort of the superstar cities for those industries. But it also meant that if you were a doctor in Dallas, you had to like be near your hospital, and your hospital needed to be relatively near your patients. Or if you know, you were an agricultural consultant in Idaho or something like that you had to like be close to the farm. Now, suddenly, people who don't have to be in the place all the time can live farther away. And like there's just a lot more area they can be in, even if they need to end up being back in the city a few times a month or something like that. So I can see a world where people end up not living in San Francisco's as much in the world or the Dallas is somewhere in the world may live like three hours away or something like that. But then they still maintain a really small apartment in the city so they can go spend time there. Or if you're perhaps if you're an investor, like a venture capitalist or something like that, you still want to be in the heart of all of it, where all the people go to, because there's still sort of a social network effect of people going to a particular place to know that that's where other people are coming to, I've noticed that there's within my social circle, there's sort of this growing like circuit of cities that people spend time in, they don't always necessarily live in those cities, but they kind of like have this shared common knowledge that if they go to New York, they're going to like, see people that they know and like and they're going to be able to catch up with people even if they live in like the middle of Montana or something like that. So I think there's a long way of saying I think that like the superstar cities will actually almost be relatively more important. And they will get like, almost all the attention. But then maybe like the mid tier cities won't be as important, at least from economic agglomeration effects. They might get a lot of benefits of people moving there because of schools or they want more space, but I don't think they're moving there for jobs.

Unknown Speaker 34:03

Make sense? So it's like a long San Francisco, like short Chicago or something like that.

Devon Zugel 34:09

Yeah, probably. Although Chicago actually is has done a relatively good job not having like a dramatic housing crisis like other cities. So that's another point. I'm just biased towards them. Yes, I think Yeah. Long San Francisco, New York, probably. And then like, shorts. I don't know. Like, yeah, let's just Chicago is a good example.

Unknown Speaker 34:33

Got it. Got it. I want to talk about Georgia ism now a little bit and economic philosophy. I think all of us are at least somewhat fond on this call. Can you talk about Georgia ism, how you found it, what it is and perhaps why it's important.

Devon Zugel 34:47

Georgia ism blew my mind when I first started reading about it. Growing up, I'd always heard of this sort of like dramatic conflict between capitalism and communism and I'm between capital and labor. And Jordan introduced this concept that became, seems so obvious as soon as I thought about it, but I had just not thought about, which was that there's not just two types of things in the world, there's not just labor and capital. There's also natural resources, which are fundamentally different than the other two. And the fundamental differences, we can't make more of them. And I'd been always just like lumping that in with capital were like, Yeah, land is capital, we that's like, the way we talk about lands capital, you know, radio spectrum is capital, whatever, like, this is a thing that someone can pay for in their accounting, they like account for and they call it like capital, whatever. But they're really different. And I think that it actually ends up marrying fie. The issues that capitalism and communism both pointed out. And I think it sort of explains why it's, to me, I feel like there's just like this big. There's this big misunderstanding between communists and capitalists, and like, they're actually pointing to a lot of the same problems. And those problems stem from monopolization of natural resources. So that's one of the big things that it meant to me is like, it felt like there were smart people I knew who are both on like the economic left and the economic right, or whatever we want to call call that spectrum, who I'm like, you're both smart. And you both actually want like the world to be better. Like, why are you disagreeing? Like, what's the problem? And I think I think the reason is, like we've just been using the wrong words to describe describe things.

Unknown Speaker 36:36

It's great crocks is a great character. I, I'm curious. The big George's policy is a single tax lien value tax, you know, Milton Friedman's for this, you know, whatever Buckley's for this, so people on the right as well as a lot of people on the left as well are interested in it. You know, what do you think about single taxes land taxes as a as a substitute for other sorts of taxation?

Devon Zugel 36:58

I would love to see it happen. I think it's I don't see it as like, super likely to happen, though, at like this at like, certainly the federal level or like state and, and city levels, a split line. I'm coming from the California context where we have prop 13, which is like the anti LVT. It's like, how about instead of paying high land taxes, you pay low land taxes, that doesn't that sound fun? And super popular? Like, there's all those stories, you know, there's the story of like the grandma who can't pay her property tax bill. And so she gets like, kicked out of her house. And like, that's really sad. And people people don't like, so they say, Yeah, property taxes are bad. But, so I think that it's like, kind of unlikely, and like, that's not where I personally am trying to push my weight, although I would love to see it happen. I think that there's much more potential to have something that is effectively a land value tax. But it's not called that. And it takes a different form that someone is much more willing to pay. So for example, I think that every time you enter Disneyland, and you pay your gate pass, you're effectively paying a land value tax. And people are pretty thrilled to do it. Because they love Disneyland. There's, you know, you could also this is more of a stretch, but you could argue that when you pay to go to a university, and you like pay, you're paying for tuition, you're kind of actually paying like to be there on that land, and be in that environment, and soak it up. And so that's kind of like land value taxes. Well, and people are also pretty happy to do that, especially when the government forgives the loans, but that's different rant. And so people, I think that like, I think one of the problems that property tax, and or land taxes, which are slightly different, but for the sake of this conversation, I think quite quite similar. One of the problems they have is they just have really bad branding, they like you don't really understand what you're getting when you pay the property tax. When people say that they've like, purchased a property. I think, like right now I'm I'm at the age where a bunch of my friends are starting to like buy houses for the first time. And I think a lot of them going into it think like I own this thing. Now I can do whatever I want with it. This is like my land. And then when they learned they're going to have this like huge property tax bill. They're like, what, like, I thought I owned this. Like, who's right is it and I think that we have this like language around ownership. That makes that a pretty reasonable reaction because it's just not how we talk about owning a home or any other any other property like you don't you don't pay a tax on owning your computer, for example, or anything else. So I think another another related concept that really needs rebranding is the HOA that like home Owners Association, because a homeowner's association, like, if it's doing something really well, it could make the place you live, like really lovely, and could make your life a lot better. But instead, we kind of just think of it as this like drain of energy and resources and just sucks. And it's always unpleasant conversations and so on. So the, this is my long way of saying that I think there's like really cool business opportunities actually to go out and build communities that take sort of these these principles of like, what would it mean to build just like the most amazing environment that people are really excited to pay for? And don't call it a property tax? Call it like a gate pass or something like that. And I think you're going to effectively have the same results. But without all the political pushback.

Lars Doucet 40:52

It's great to have a question. Not specifically on that. But how so are you thinking that the opportunity is for more of these things that take like a more, you know, high minded economic policy of how a city should be done and to allow it to emerge? Do you think the opportunity then is in new cities? Or do you think there's a way to reform existing cities, you know, kind of harkening back to our exists earlier? Question?

Devon Zugel 41:18

Yeah, um, with this particular mechanism, I don't see an easy way to apply it to existing cities. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist, but I haven't, I haven't thought of it. I mean, like, I think for the most naive version is like, have a place like Disneyland, or like a people hate this term, but like a gated community, where you like pay have to pay to enter. And, like that only works if people sort of agree to it in advance. Whereas if you were to put like a big fence around Manhattan, then say, like, you're gonna pay me $50 Every time you enter or something that would not go over well. So at least the naive version, I don't see a way for it to work in existing cities. But that doesn't mean that there's not some clever way that I hadn't thought of.

Unknown Speaker 42:10

Gotcha, gotcha. That makes sense. It makes sense. Devin, are you down for a round of overrated or underrated? Sure. Awesome. So I'll throw out the term. Tell us whether it's overrated, underrated, correctly rated? And perhaps the answer to why. So the first one is Miami, overrated or underrated?

Devon Zugel 42:28

Within my friends, which I would describe as like, ambitious nerds on the internet, I think Miami is really underrated. When they when nerds look at Miami, they just see like Miami Vice, and you know, people doing cocaine and penthouses and stuff and like that definitely exists in Miami. And I'm not going to say it doesn't. You can definitely find as much cocaine as you want, I'm sure. But something I think that they really miss because they just all they do is like walk along, you know, Ocean Drive or something when they come here is it's this very sexually very peaceful place I live in I live in South Beach, away from the clubs. And I feel like I live in this like charming little village. It was developed in just just before the Great Depression. There's a great book about it called bubble in the sun. And but that what that means is it actually is like, built in a fairly traditional style. It's relatively denser in Miami Beach. I have like a really peaceful, wholesome life here that I don't think is reflected in. You know, if you google image search Miami, it's like, none of the images that show up there, like describe anything of my day to day. It's super green. People are happy walking around. It's great. So I love Miami very, very underrated.

Unknown Speaker 43:49

So less Lambos more walkability, perhaps?

Devon Zugel 43:52

Yeah, I mean, I like my Lambo. Everyone smile today. I think it's a city that has a lot of self confidence. And people sometimes hate that and some people sometimes love that and I personally love it.

Unknown Speaker 44:04

Let's go I love it. The Envy movement overrated or underrated at this point?

Devon Zugel 44:09

I think it's probably still underrated. It's really aiming towards deep structural issues that are people still don't understand or have visibility on. And they've heard the term but I think they don't really know what it means.

Unknown Speaker 44:28

Just how important it is. That's good. That's good. Company towns overrated or underrated.

Devon Zugel 44:37

Underrated by most people but overrated by like CEOs. I think. I think it's overrated by CEOs because like, they have an idea of like a company town is something that they like, they can control their little dominion and make their world and you know, and I think that that's not awesome. But I think that most other people are like overly creeped. out by them. And actually, they provided a lot of necessary infrastructure for people spent. I'm thinking mostly the ones in the 19th century, where these people were often coming from farms and very, very difficult lives. And then they ended up in a situation where they had a lot of needs taken care of, they had much better lives, much better opportunities, they could like meet their colleagues, be closer to the city. So underrated and for most people. That's great.

Unknown Speaker 45:27

Ah, Pomodoro, overrated or underrated?

Devon Zugel 45:31

I think underrated. Having, I'm just a big believer in systems in life. And I have really a terrible memory, and actually terrible self control. I think most people, whenever I tell people this, they are always like, that's not true. Self control. But I'm like, No, that's because I've like built systems around myself, so that I like can do the things that I want to do. And if you were to take away my systems, I think I would like get nothing done. So Pomodoro is one of them. That's great. That's great. One more podcast as a medium, overrated or underrated. I think underrated also, which I think I think I responded underrated all of them. But podcasts are a very intimate medium. People will say some very controversial things on podcasts sometimes, or, or explore ideas that aren't fully fleshed out yet, but are potentially really important. And it's it sort of allows the host or hosts and interview each other to kind of go on a journey together in the best versions. And you can't like I've never seen someone take like a sound bite from a podcast, and then like, go into an outrage about it and like, create a whole thing about it on Twitter or whatever. Which is certainly not true with tweet. I also love Twitter. And I think it gets a lot of bad rap, that there could be maybe a different conversation. But but you know, I have to admit that there's something about the tweet form that like does sometimes like cause a shitstorm. So yeah, podcasts, I think, creates a sense of intimacy and safeness that allows people to be more intellectually vulnerable, which I think is very healthy. Because that's how you learn if you're constantly protecting yourself and constantly thinking like, how could this be misinterpreted by somebody who is out to get me? I think you don't you don't think as well and you don't learn and you don't solve problems?

Unknown Speaker 47:27

That's great. It does seem like there's a little bit less virality in the audio medium, and perhaps with text, it's just so much easier to share that, you know, clip and you know, especially on Twitter, right, like to then dunk on people for whatever reason.

Unknown Speaker 47:43

Well, Devin, thank you so much for coming on the show today. Where can people find your work? Where should we send them?

Devon Zugel 47:49

Um, well, I don't shut up on Twitter. So that's probably the best. It's just Devon's Oogle at Devon's Oogle which hopefully, I'm not going to spell it for you it's too hard, but you can look, you can look at your podcast app, my name will be there. And then I also have my website Devon's, where I just I, I blog every once in a while. And then I also have two podcasts. One is called order without design, where I, the couple called Alon and Maria, Agnes Berto, who are two economists in their late 80s, who have traveled the world and seen a lot of cities, I have a podcast with them. Unfortunately, one of them is currently really ill. So we've put it on pause, but we have a few few episodes there. And then the other one is called tools and craft, which is around computing interfaces, and tools for thought and how to how to help ourselves think better.

Unknown Speaker 48:50

That's great. Awesome. Thank you, Devin.

Devon Zugel 48:52

Thank you. This is super fun.

Unknown Speaker 48:57

Special thanks to our sponsor, does market analysis for the support. Bismarck analysis creates the Bismarck brief, a newsletter about intelligence grade analysis of key industries, organizations and live players. You can subscribe to Bismarck free and brief dot Bismarck Thanks for listening. We'll be back next week with a new episode of narratives. Special thanks to Donovan Dorrance, our audio editor. You can check out documents work in music at Donovan

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Narratives is a project exploring the ways in which the world is better than it has been, the ways that it is worse, and the paths toward making a better, more definite future.
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