The Mountain to Mohammed

A Proposal to Improve Metro Atlanta's Lousy Air Quality, Calm its Maddening Traffic, Transform its Sprawling Growth Pattern, Lift its Moribund Educational Standards, Reduce its Fearsome Crime Rate, Revive its Declining Quality of Life,

and

Generally Reverse its Current Course to Hell in a Handbasket




Michel Phillips
michelp@mindspring.com
Gary Flack & Associates, P.C.
415 Candler Building
127 Peachtree Street
Atlanta, Georgia 30303
404-522-1936
Fax 404-658-1567
www.garyflack.com




I. Introduction


II. The tip of the iceberg

A. The Four Fundamentals of Commuting

B. How to free people from commuting

C. Getting there from here, so to speak


III. The rest of the iceberg

A. Things are getting worse

B. How reducing commuting would make things better

C. What if some jurisdictions in metro Atlanta refuse to participate?

D. Potential problems in getting there from here



IV. Conclusion


Appendix: The Evolution of Despair






I. Introduction.

It has become obvious metro Atlanta's commuting and development pattern poses serious problems for the people and governments of the area. Air pollution and traffic congestion are the most obvious of these problems (though perhaps not even the most important).

It has also become obvious many cities and counties in the metro Atlanta area lack the political will to enact a tax to fund transportation improvements such as trains, roads, and buses.

This is not a tragedy. Transportation improvements were never the best answer. If we ask how to move ever--increasing numbers of commuters across an ever-expanding area through the same general center, while reducing congestion and pollution, we ask the wrong question. It's like asking how to eat ever-increasing amounts of ice cream and spend ever-increasing amounts of time sitting on the sofa while getting in better shape. The answer, obviously, is you can't do it, or at least it's unwise to try. You just need to eat better and get more exercise.

Commuting is to congestion and pollution as ice cream and TV are to fat. Roads, trains, and buses are to congestion and pollution as open-heart surgery is to obesity -- better than nothing, but costlier, more painful, and much less effective than just staying in shape. To reduce congestion and pollution, we need to reduce commuting. We can do this by creating incentives for people and employers to put their homes and workplaces within a mile of each other.

Unlike finding the Holy Grail of Painless Open-Heart Surgery for Commuting, putting homes and workplaces within a mile of each other can actually be done -- and it can be done with reasonable cost and minimal bureaucracy. Instead of a sales tax or gas tax to fund more roads, trains, and buses, we need a payroll tax, paid by employers of those who commute more than a mile. All revenue raised from the tax should be paid out in equal shares to workers who commute less than a mile, and their employers. Even a very low tax rate will generate high enough payouts that employers will find it easy and profitable to lure employees to homes within a mile of the workplace -- not just by offering raises, but also by subsidizing school and police improvements. Some employers may find it easier or more profitable to locate workplaces within a mile of neighborhoods that already have affordable homes, good schools, and low crime. Either way, everybody wins. More time with our families and less pollution is just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to better schools and better police protection, we'd also have richer human relationships with our neighbors, which would better our lives in subtle but profound ways.

A secondary advantage of a commuting tax/payout plan over a transportation plan is that it does not require consensus among regional governments. Any city or county that enacts a commuting tax/payout plan will see real improvements in congestion and quality of life, even if neighboring jurisdictions do nothing.



II. The tip of the iceberg.

A. The Four Fundamentals of Commuting.

Understanding these is critical to formulating any sound commuting policy.

1. Commuters hate commuting -- because of the time and expense. We all have short, full lives, and resent wasting large portions of our time and hard-earned money on just getting to and from work.

2. Commuters have powerful reasons for commuting in spite of our hatred for it -- so we can have decent housing at a reasonable price, with safe neighborhoods and good schools.

3. Until we can have decent, reasonably priced housing, safe neighborhoods, and good schools near our workplaces, we will continue to commute in spite of whatever disincentives are in our way (e.g., lost time, a gasoline tax).

4. If we can have decent, reasonably priced housing, safe neighborhoods, and good schools near our workplaces, we will JUMP at the opportunity to stop commuting. We won't have to be convinced.

Anyone who says commuters have "chosen" to live with long daily commutes is telling half the truth, and not even the important half. We have "chosen" it only because we can't afford a better alternative.


B. How to free people from commuting.

Enact a payroll tax paid by employers on the salary of every employee who lives more than a mile away from his or her workplace. (Most people can walk a mile in 15 to 20 minutes, or ride a mile in five to eight minutes on a bicycle or one of those newfangled Segway thingies.) Phase the tax in over 15 years, starting with one percent of compensation, and topping out at 15 percent. Give half the revenue raised by this tax to workers who live within a mile of their workplaces, and the other half to their employers.

Employers would soon find it profitable to pay their employees more to entice them to live near the workplace, or perhaps to subsidize housing nearby. The government wouldn't have to specify the form or amount the incentive pay plans or subsidies would take, and wouldn't have to mandate them at all. Pay incentives or housing subsidies would be the natural market responses to the commuting tax and close-to-homer payouts.

This proposal requires no government bureaucracy to condemn land or manage gazillion- dollar construction projects, and no centralized planning. Every employer would be completely free to decide with its own employees how best to arrange their living and work affairs to avoid the tax and reap the payouts -- and avoiding the tax and reaping the payouts is the main point. If many employers choose to pay the tax, then it needs to be raised till they nearly all choose to avoid it and reap the payouts by relocating their workplaces, luring their employees to move, or both. This means the commuting tax will generate very little revenue and only small payouts in the long run. As discussed below, however, even a relatively low tax rate will generate substantial payouts in the short-to-medium run, which should suffice.

Why tax and reward employers and commuters, instead of just commuters themselves? Two reasons.

First, with most employees living nearby, employers would soon find themselves competing for employees based not just on salary, health insurance, retirement plan, etc., but on neighborhoods. This means corporate America would have a large interest in improving schools and fighting crime -- and not in some abstract, public-service-ad sense. Instead, each employer would have a stake in an identifiable neighborhood and school, and would risk losing good employees if they don't measure up. Cash and clout can more easily be wielded to improve schools and police protection when concentrated, as in the hands of an employer, than when dispersed among many individual employees. For instance, an employer with $100,000 annually can subsidize two police patrol officers for the neighborhood, or can increase the salaries of 20 teachers at the neighborhood school by $5,000 each, allowing the school to attract the best teachers. 50 employees with $2,000 annual raises would find it nearly impossible to have a signficant impact on neighborhood crime, or to send their children to private schools.

Second, to reinterpret Willie Sutton's insight, corporate America is where the money is. Middle-class real earnings have been essentially flat for decades; but even in the current economic slump, corporate profits remain high in historic terms.[1] And, of course, the economic slump will almost certainly be temporary, but we're looking for a commuting solution to last decades.

C. Getting there from here, so to speak.

Let's consider a likely scenario for the phase-in period. Approximately 5.5 percent of metro Atlanta workers now commute one mile or less each way.[2] This means the mile-plus commuters outnumber the close-to-homers by a bit more than 18 to 1. Let's use $36,000 per year ($3,000 per month) as the average metro Atlantan's earnings, which approximates the actual figure of $37,341,[3] but makes for easier math. Using these figures, in year 1 of the payroll tax, the tax rate of 1 percent means the average mile-plus commuter's pay will be subject to a monthly tax of $30. The 18-to-1 ratio of mile-plus commuters to close-to-homers means each close-to-homer will receive a payout the next month of $270, and his employer will receive another $270.

$540 per month, split between the worker and employer, will entice some people to move close to work in year 1. So, let's say by the beginning of year 2, the ratio of mile-plus commuters to close-to-homers has dropped to 12 to 1. At the beginning of year 2, the tax rate increases to 2 percent, so the average mile-plus commuter tax goes up to $60 per month. The 12 to 1 ratio means the close-to-homer payout goes up to $360 per month for the worker, and another $360 per month for the employer. Now people will get serious about moving close to work.

By year 5, let's say the ratio of commuters to close-to-homers has dropped to 5 to 1. The tax rate of 5 percent means an average tax of $150 per commuter per month, and a close-to- homer payout of $375 per month for each worker plus $375 per month for the employer. This is still serious money. It will all be downhill from here as the tax rate climbs to 15 percent, and people clamor to get in on the payouts and avoid the tax.

What if these commuting reduction figures are wildly optimistic? What if, in five years, we have only succeeded in increasing the percentage of close-to-homers from the current 5.5 percent to, say 10 percent? This would mean a ratio of mile-plus commuters to close-to-homers of 9 to 1, which at a tax rate of 5 percent would yield a payout of $1,350 per month to be split between each close-to-homer and her employer. Surely incentives of this magnitude will bring results.[4] The higher the ratio, the higher the payouts, and the greater the incentive to become (and employ) close-to-homers.

III. The rest of the iceberg.

A. Things are getting worse.

Things are getting worse, and were getting worse even before the recession hit. Not just for the underclass, but for most people. Leisure time is down. Commuting time is up. More children live in single-parent homes, and the increasing mobility of those single parents means the kids see less of grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, not to mention noncustodial parents. Crime is down temporarily, because the economy was good until recently, and because of a demographic dip in the number of men in their peak crime-committing ages. But a bulge in the population is now in elementary and middle school, so crime will go back up in a few years, more so if the economy fails to recover. And even now, people are increasingly worried about their kids getting shot at school by nut classmates, and a higher percentage of the population than ever lives in prison.[5]

Moreover, the gap between rich and poor continues to grow,[6] personal bankruptcies are at a record high,[7] and middle class real earnings have been essentially flat since at least the late 1960s.[8] And thirty-five years ago, many more middle class households had one parent who was not employed outside the home.

But let's not get too caught up in economics. Our economy plainly produces enough goods and services to meet anybody's definition of what humans reasonably ought to need. Even the poor usually have more of some amenities than the rich did 100 or so years ago -- electricity, running hot and cold water, modern heat, some access to modern medicine. And though middle class real earnings are flat, they're plateaued at a relatively high material standard of living. But our economic success has not enabled us to buy more time with friends and family, or more stable families, or (for the long term) less crime. In these important ways, things are getting worse -- why?

A good start on the answer was described by Robert Wright in his Time magazine cover story "The Evolution of Despair."[9] Wright, an evolutionary psychologist, explains our hunter- gatherer forebears bequeathed to us an emotional structure that seeks decades-long, trusting, intimate relationships with a few dozen people. Our urban-suburban industrial society, though, provides us with almost no such relationships. Instead, we have comparatively shallow relationships with perhaps the same number of people, and extremely shallow relationships with hundreds more.

We know our neighbors, but we don't love them. They aren't the people we work with, or the parents of the other kids in our children's classes at school, or the people we worship with. And they're certainly not friends from our youth, or family. For most of us, each of these circles of acquaintances, friends, and loved ones overlaps little or not at all with the others. We come to know the people in our lives only in limited ways. We have many casual friends, but few intimates.

But at least we may learn our casual friends' names, and remember to ask after their families' health and sometimes even babysit their kids and help load the truck when they move. That's more of a relationship than we have with the thousands of McDonald's clerks and Kroger cashiers and Wal-Mart stockers and Land's End operators with whom we deal over the course of our lives. Every time we are fed and clothed by a nameless drone, often surly and inattentive to boot, we frustrate our need to share important but routine activities with loved ones.

All this means we just don't care very much about most people we deal with every day, and they don't care much about us, and we all know it. This is why things are getting worse.

There's something to the nostalgia for the good old days, in spite of the fact that materially we're much better off than our grandparents were. If our grandparents lived in a small town, they had more intimate relationships than we do. The owner and the waitress at the café where Grandpa ate breakfast every day were Grandpa's childhood friends. Grandpa's banker was his neighbor's uncle, and the neighbor taught Grandpa's druggist's child in school, and the druggist was Grandpa's Sunday School teacher, and the Sunday School class members were in the PTA with Grandma, and the PTA president was the grocer who sold Grandpa and Grandma their food. Most of these people maintained their roles in this web of relationships for decades. And even if Grandpa and Grandma lived in a city, they were more likely to be part of a network of longterm neighbors and small merchants than today's transient urban and suburban residents.

Which means the people they dealt with every day were more likely to care about them.

It's the decline in caring relationships that marks the decline from our grandparents' society to our own. It's easy to deal drugs to someone you don't care about, or to shoot someone you don't care about to get money to buy drugs. And it's even easier because you know the cops don't care about the victims in other than a professional capacity, and the taxpayers don't care about the cops, and the politicians don't care about the taxpayers. And it's easy to use drugs, and hard to stop, if hardly anybody cares about you.

When some of this comes to my neighborhood, it's easy to move to a new neighborhood, because I hardly knew my old neighbors anyway, and the teachers in the old school didn't know my kids that well, and there will be other churches out in the 'burbs with people in them who are just as new to the area as I am. Sure, it will mean more time commuting, and working more hours, and maybe my wife getting a job, so we can afford to replace the car sooner and to eat out more, because we won't have as much time to cook at home. But I can't be sure my kids are safe in this old neighborhood.

So more of us move out into the suburbs, but the people in the suburbs don't care about each other any more than the people intown. Maybe less, because they spend more time commuting and eating at McDonald's instead of getting to know each other. The uncaring allows the suburbs to decay, so we move farther out into new uncaring suburbs. When the suburbs get really far out, some of us begin to move the suburbs back into town. Gentrification happens. Some intown areas "improve," which means affluent people decide they'll take their chances with the schools and crime, just please lord get me out of this damn commute. The old intown residents with their old incomes move to other ungentrified areas, because the new intown residents don't care about them any more than about each other.

(Want to know why kids are shooting each other at school? Kids aren't any different than they ever were. Some of them always had severe emotional troubles; some always had access to guns; some always had parents who, well-intentioned or not, were not up to dealing with their children's problems. The reason kids are shooting each other now instead of several decades ago is, now there's no one to pick up the slack when the parents blow it. The aunts and uncles and cousins live in some other part of the country. The neighbors don't know the family well enough to get involved; even in small, rural "communities" -- there's an oft-abused word -- people increasingly live out from town in isolation. As the kid slips from despair into psychopathology, if the parents miss it, no one else sees the family enough to notice and cares enough to intervene.)

As long as we continue to deal with people in such limited capacities -- as long as we see our colleagues only at work, and our immediate families only a few hours a week, and our extended families only a few days a year, and our neighbors only when we wave as we drive by them -- as long as we maintain many shallow relationships and few deeply caring ones -- things will continue to get worse.


B. How reducing commuting would make things better.

If most of us lived in concentrated neighborhoods with our co-workers, we would know more people deeply, and fewer people anonymously. If we know each other better, the caring will follow, just as naturally as apathy has followed our current ignorance of each other. That's how people are. Evolution made us that way. We can't help it.

And when we care more about more people, it will be harder for us to tolerate the crime, the poor schools, and the rest of it. When neighbors who love each other have a problem, they'll help each other solve it instead of moving away.

Of course, we can't do away with greed, lust, and cruelty. Human vices will always exist, and will always have their effects. But humans have a natural system for managing each other's vices, for keeping them in check. It's called knowing each other well. When you know the victim and expect to go on knowing him, you have the motivation and ability to help. When you know the malefactor and expect to go on knowing her, you have the motivation and ability to intervene. When you don't know the victim or the malefactor, you don't care and wouldn't know what to do if you did.

More specifically, if we lived in concentrated neighborhoods with our co-workers, we would enjoy the following benefits -- in addition to less traffic congestion and pollution:

1. The people we work with would also be our neighbors, and the parents of our kids' schoolmates, and the people we worship with. There would be some others thrown into the mix who would run neighborhood hardware, grocery, or clothing stores. We'd be better friends with all of them. With more good friends, our lives would be richer.

2. We'd spend less time commuting to work, and more time communing with our families and all our good friends.

3. Because the janitors and receptionists would be friends and neighbors with the executives and managers, there would be fewer bad neighborhoods. The janitors' kids would enjoy the quality public schools and police protection that the managers would insist on having. With decent educations, caring role-model neighbors, and safer homes and schools, everyone's kids would be more likely to grow up to be productive and happy citizens, and less likely to become drug-dealing welfare-dependent hoodlums.

4. We'd spend less money building roads and mass transit systems -- and prisons -- which means we'd have more to spend on education and health care, or corporate dividend tax cuts, or whatever the party in power favors.

5. As a result of the reductions in commuting, violence, and substance abuse, there would be corresponding reductions in health problems related to air pollution, stress, substance abuse, and attempts at homicide both successful (death being a serious health problem) and unsuccessful.

6. More two-career families would find they could get by on one salary, because they would no longer need two cars, private school for the kids, or frequent meals in restaurants. We'd have time to cook more meals at home. Our time spent with our families, our diets, and our health would all improve.

7. Because the payroll tax would apply to nearly all temporary workers (who would almost always live more than a mile from a temporary workplace), employers would rarely use them, so nearly every job would have stability and benefits.

C. What if some jurisdictions in metro Atlanta refuse to participate?

Not a tragedy. Any jurisdiction acting without the cooperation of its neighbors will see substantial improvements in traffic flow, schools, crime, etc. Improvements in air quality will be more diffuse, but still real. Let's think it through: Suppose the City of Atlanta is the only jurisdiction to adopt a commuting tax/payout plan. Some employers would undoubtedly move out to the suburbs (taking congestion and pollution with them), but more people would move into the city to take advantage of the convenient location, higher quality of life, and close-to-homer payouts. The residential housing boom Atlanta is already experiencing would boom even louder. All these residents would be obvious consumers of goods and services, which would create a retail boom. In addition, the employer payouts would lure other employers to move in, or never to leave in the first place. Economically, the City of Atlanta would be just fine.


D. Potential problems in getting there from here.

Of course, there will be problems instituting a payroll commuting tax/payout plan: Political resistance to a new tax. Administration and enforcement. Opposition from real estate developers. Resistance to undoing the system of land use that requires large single-use retail, residential, and industrial areas, and separates residential areas by income of the residents. Possible legal challenges. Making job creation in metro Atlanta more expensive. Making metro Atlanta less competitive with other locations for potential employers. Industries no one wants to live close to. Two-career households.

Let's take them one at a time.

Political resistance to a new tax. Because every nickel collected from employers will be paid out to workers and employers, there will be a natural base of political support for the commuting tax/payout plan. The lure of monetary rewards will be strong, and the initially low tax rate (starting at one percent and increasing one percent per year) will not seriously tick off large numbers of commuters. We can also point out a commuting tax will be not only more progressive than a sales tax, but also more equitable -- only those contributing to the problem will pay the tax, and all those contributing to a solution will get a reward. Moreover, the reduction in commuting and improvements in schools, crime, etc. will benefit large numbers of people (i.e., ordinary voting citizens whose real incomes have been flat for decades), and inconvenience only employers (i.e., mostly non-voting corporations whose profits remain near historic highs). These school and police improvements will also be long-term, ensuring the long-term political viability of the plan.

Administration and enforcement. The distance between most people's home and work addresses can probably be measured automatically by the same databases that power map-and- driving-directions websites, such as mapquest.com. If not, it will be easy to measure the distance with a Global Positioning System device, now available from many retailers at reasonable prices. We won't even have to buy the GPS gizmos ourselves -- surveying companies could provide certified home and business GPS readouts for a modest fee. Sure, some employers will lie about the GPS locations of their businesses or their employees' homes, but people cheat on their income taxes now and it doesn't mean we do away with the income tax.

Opposition from real estate developers. It should not take long for developers to realize the commuting tax/payout plan will be, for them, the biggest bonanza to come along in decades. The commuting tax/payout plan will not change one whit the rate of population growth in the Atlanta area, which means there will be no change to the number of homes, offices, and businesses that need to be built every year. As metro Atlanta continues to add people at the same rate, it will continue to gobble undeveloped land at the same rate for all these additional homes, offices, and businesses. The bonanza lies in the fact that, not only will we need to develop previously undeveloped areas just as rapidly as before, but we will also need to re-develop vast areas previously thought to be "built out." Many huge single-use commercial and residential areas will need converting to mixed-use. Everywhere, not just the remaining undeveloped areas, will be fair game. It will be a developer's fantasy feeding frenzy.

Resistance to undoing the system of land use that requires large single-use retail, residential, and industrial areas, and separates residential areas by income of the residents. Because retail development often squeezes out housing near large shopping centers, implementing the commuting tax might mean the end of the shopping mall. But before we rush to enact it for that reason alone -- it might not. I suspect a payroll commuting tax would make small retail establishments and catalog operations more competitive, and large retail stores less so. But rather than perish, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, and the malls will push for the undoing of restrictive zoning, so they can subsidize housing for their employees near their shopping centers. And if they perish, so what? America is positively inundated with reasonably priced consumer goods. Certainly a reduction to a mere abundance will not pose a threat to our well-being. So what if we all pay a little more for shoes and stereos? If we're safer, healthier, better-educated, more relaxed, and more loved, we're much better off.

It's also unlikely that homeowners will oppose businesses moving into what are now residential areas, for several reasons. First: many homeowners will receive financial incentives from their employers to move from their current homes to ones closer to work. These homeowners won't care about businesses moving into their old neighborhoods, and will make a conscious choice to move to new ones containing their employers' businesses. Second: many employers will probably buy out entire residential neighborhoods into which they will move their businesses. The former homeowners in these areas should profit nicely and thus not object. Third: many businesses moving into residential neighborhoods will be small mom-and-pop operations run by people who will live in the area and want to work close to home. They will provide friendly, convenient service without generating a great deal of traffic, and so should be welcome.

While employers are pushing to allow residential development near their workplaces, they will also have to push to allow varied residential development within those small areas. Many suburban zoning codes now require residential homogeneity across large areas by setting minimum lot sizes and square footage requirements, and by confining multifamily buildings to relatively undesirable areas. If the managers and executives are to live near the receptionists and the janitors and the computer programmers, there will have to be housing they all can afford nearby. The enthusiasm of real estate developers has been a powerful force shaping land use in the past; their enthusiasm for the payroll commuting tax should help overcome any residual political opposition.

Possible legal challenges. Surely someone will file a suit alleging tax money should not be paid out to private individuals and businesses. The plaintiffs will lose. The commuting tax/payout plan is no different than the federal government paying farmers not to farm.

Making job creation in metro Atlanta more expensive. It may be true that imposing a commuting payroll tax on some employers will cut (or slow the growth of) wages. This is not certain; after all, I'm proposing that all revenue collected from employers of commuters be given to non-commuters and their employers. Even if the commuting payroll tax does slow wage growth somewhat, we should do it. Our material standard of living is high enough. Even low-income Atlantans don't need better cars, bigger houses, and more DVD players as much as they need lower crime, better schools, and more time with their immediate and extended families. The idea that with a little more money, those of us with middle-class incomes could move to a suburb where everything is fine is an illusion. Even those with plenty of money can't escape the fear, loneliness, and time pressures of our current society, and "inner-city" ills like violent crime, drug use, and AIDS -- all aggravated to some degree by alienation -- are increasingly prevalent in suburbs and rural areas.

Making metro Atlanta less competitive with other locations for potential employers. The payroll tax/payout system may make us less attractive to low-wage employers, but it will probably make us more attractive to high-wage employers. With better schools, lower crime, less pollution, and very little commuting, we're going to be a damn nice place to live. Cream-of-the-crop workers from all over America will clamor to live here, and employers will know locating here means getting the inside track on recruiting these workers.

Industries no one wants to live close to. What about employers who run smelly or noisy operations nobody wants to live near? For each such plant, allow the employer to designate one "alternative point" anywhere it wants. The payroll tax will apply to employees who live more than a mile from the alternative point, instead of more than a mile from the plant itself. We might want to require employers choosing this option to subsidize mass transit between the alternative point and the workplace, but that's a secondary issue.

We might even want to allow any employer to choose the alternative point option, at least for the first 10 years or so. This will probably ease the land use reallocation problem and political resistance to the whole scheme, while retaining the long-term benefits.

Two-career households. In most couples below retirement age, both partners work. There should be fewer two-career couples under this proposal (due to reduced household expenses for car replacement and maintenance, private schools, and eating out), but there will probably still be plenty. It will almost certainly be impossible for most two-career families to live within a mile of both employers. And if the payroll tax applies to the job of the commuting partner, the commuter's employer will almost certainly want to fire him or cut his pay by the amount of the tax. There are several ways we can deal with this:

For most of the phase-in period, we can ignore it. The payout the close-to-homer receives will be far greater than the tax on the commuter's pay.

Either from the beginning or starting later on, we can exempt every worker from the payroll tax who lives in a household with at least one close-to-homer. This would probably be the most popular option. There would still be a great deal of commuting, but half a loaf is better than none.

On the other hand, the remaining commuting would still impose a social cost. Imposing the full payroll tax or a portion of it on the commuting members of two-career households would (a) provide incentives for employers to hire family members of employees, and (b) help the government pay for the prisons, health care, etc. that will continue to be needed when alienated people act out their alienation.

Or we can pursue a middle course: Allow an exemption for all but one member of multi- career households in the first decade or so of the plan, then gradually phase out all or part of it. Maybe by the time it's phased out, somebody will figure out how most two-career families can live near both spouses' workplaces.

The now-increasing numbers of young adults who live with their parents because they can't afford housing of their own will not be a problem. When they get jobs, they'll get housing subsidies. As long as they don't have jobs, the commuting tax won't apply to them.


IV. Conclusion.

A payroll commuting tax/payout plan would be more effective in reducing congestion and pollution than would a transportation sales tax.

Any municipality can implement a payroll commuting tax/payout plan without waiting for neighboring jurisdictions to agree.

A payroll commuting tax/payout plan would be more equitable than a transportation sales tax -- only those causing the problem would pay the tax, and those contributing to a solution will be rewarded.

Administering a payroll commuting tax/payout plan would require less government bureaucracy than administering ever-expanding road construction and mass transit programs.

A payroll commuting tax/payout plan would improve our schools, make our neighborhoods safer, give us more time with our families, and result in most of us living in concentrated neighborhoods with our coworkers, which would foster deeper human relationships. A transportation sales tax would accomplish none of these additional benefits.


Endnotes

[1] After-tax corporate profits increased from $39.9 billion in 1967 to $205.3 billion in 2001. United States Bureau of Economic Analysis, http://www.bea.gov/bea/dn/nipaweb/TableViewFixed.asp#Mid (February 23, 2003). This is a total increase of 514 percent, or an average annual increase of more than 15 percent in this 34-year period, far outpacing inflation. By contrast, median household income rose 6.3 percent in real terms from 1969 to 1996, and by 2001 had actually declined to approximately 1998 levels. Jack McNeil, "Changes In Median Household Income: 1969 to 1996," United States Census Bureau pub. P23-196, http://www.census.gov/hhes/income/mednhhld/p23text.html (February 23, 2003); http://www.census.gov/hhes/income/income01/prs02asc.html (February 23, 2003).

[2] Atlanta Regional Commission, "Atlanta Household Travel Survey of the Thirteen-County Non-Attainment Area," preliminary data provided by ARC research staff, March 5, 2003.


[3] Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, http://www.metroatlantachamber.com/macoc/business/recruitment.shtml#labor (February 27, 2003).

[4] Each month's projected payout could be advertised with lottery-style billboards along the Interstates.


[5] Approximately two million of the United States' 280 million residents are incarcerated, making our per-capita incarceration rate second in the world after Russia's. Even more ominously, jail and prison population has more than doubled since 1990, and has approximately quadrupled since 1980. United States Department of Justice, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/glance/tables/corr2tab.htm (August 25, 2002); Cato Institute, http://www.cato.org/dailys/02-23-00.html (February 23, 2000). "The Georgia prison system has grown at a faster clip in the last three to four years than any state prison system in the United States. The state has the 10th-largest population but the sixth- largest prison system." Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/mld/ledgerenquirer/news/local/4870779.htm (January 4, 2003).

[6] Http://www.census.gov/hhes/income/midclass/midclsan.html (February 23, 2003).


[7] Http://www.uscourts.gov/Press_Releases/cy02.pdf (February 23, 2003).


[8] See note 1 above.


[9] See appendix, or click http://www.time.com/time/archive/preview/from_redirect/0,10987,1101950828-134603,00.html.


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Appendix: The Evolution of Despair


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TIME Volume 146, No. 9 (August 28, 1995)

Copyright 1995 Time Inc. All rights reserved.

THE EVOLUTION OF DESPAIR

A new field of science examines the mismatch between our genetic makeup and the modern world, looking for the source of our pervasive sense of discontent.

BY ROBERT WRIGHT

"[I] attribute the social and psychological problems of modern society to
the fact that society requires people to live under conditions radically
different from those under which the human race evolved ..."

- The Unabomber


There's a little bit of the unabomber in most of us. We may not share his
approach to airing a grievance, but the grievance itself feels familiar. In
the recently released excerpts of his still unpublished 35,000-word essay,
the serial bomber complains that the modern world, for all its technological
marvels, can be an uncomfortable, "unfulfilling" place to live. It makes us
behave in ways "remote from the natural pattern of human behavior." Amen.
VCRs and microwave ovens have their virtues, but in the everyday course of
our highly efficient lives, there are times when something seems deeply
amiss. Whether burdened by an overwhelming flurry of daily commitments or
stifled by a sense of social isolation (or, oddly, both); whether mired for
hours in a sense of life's pointlessness or beset for days by unresolved
anxiety; whether deprived by long workweeks from quality time with offspring
or drowning in quantity time with them--whatever the source of stress, we at
times get the feeling that modern life isn't what we were designed for.

And it isn't. The human mind--our emotions, our wants, our needs--evolved in
an environment lacking, for example, cellular phones. And, for that matter,
regular phones, telegraphs and even hieroglyphs--and cars, railroads and
chariots. This much is fairly obvious and, indeed, is a theme going back at
least to Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents. But the analysis rarely
gets past the obvious; when it does, it sometimes veers toward the dubious.
Freud's ideas about the evolutionary history of our species are now
considered--to put it charitably--dated. He hypothesized, for example, that
our ancestors lived in a "primal horde" run by an autocratic male until one
day a bunch of his sons rose up, murdered him and ate his flesh--a rebellion
that not only miraculously inaugurated religion but somehow left a residue
of guilt in all subsequent descendants, including us. Any questions?

A small but growing group of scholars--evolutionary psychologists--are
trying to do better. With a method less fanciful than Freud's, they're
beginning to sketch the contours of the human mind as designed by natural
selection. Some of them even anticipate the coming of a field called
"mismatch theory," which would study maladies resulting from contrasts
between the modern environment and the "ancestral environment," the one we
were designed for. There's no shortage of such maladies to study. Rates of
depression have been doubling in some industrial countries roughly every 10
years. Suicide is the third most common cause of death among young adults in
North America, after car wrecks and homicides. Fifteen percent of Americans
have had a clinical anxiety disorder. And, pathological, even murderous
alienation is a hallmark of our time. In that sense, the Unabomber is
Exhibit A in his own argument.

Evolutionary psychology is a long way from explaining all this with
precision, but it is already shedding enough light to challenge some
conventional wisdom. It suggests, for example, that the conservative
nostalgia for the nuclear family of the 1950s is in some ways
misguided--that the household of Ozzie and Harriet is hardly a "natural" and
healthful living arrangement, especially for wives. Moreover, the bygone
American life-styles that do look fairly natural in light of evolutionary
psychology appear to have been eroded largely by capitalism--another
challenge to conservative orthodoxy. Perhaps the biggest surprise from
evolutionary psychology is its depiction of the "animal" in us. Freud, and
various thinkers since, saw "civilization" as an oppressive force that
thwarts basic animal urges such as lust and aggression, transmuting them
into psychopathology. But evolutionary psychology suggests that a larger
threat to mental health may be the way civilization thwarts civility. There
is a kinder, gentler side of human nature, and it seems increasingly to be a
victim of repression.

The exact series of social contexts that shaped the human mind over the past
couple of million years is, of course, lost in the mists of prehistory. In
trying to reconstruct the "ancestral environment," evolutionary
psychologists analyze the nearest approximations available--the sort of
technologically primitive societies that the Unabomber extols. The most
prized examples are the various hunter-gatherer societies that
anthropologists have studied this century, such as the Ainu of Japan, the
!Kung San of southern Africa and the Ache of South America. Also valuable
are societies with primitive agriculture in the few cases where--as with
some Yanomamo villages in Venezuela--they lack the contaminating contact
with moderners that reduces the anthropological value of some
hunter-gatherer societies.

None of these societies is Nirvana. Indeed, the anthropological record
provides little support for Jean-Jacques Rousseau's notion of the "noble
savage" and rather more for Thomas Hobbes' assertion that life for our
distant ancestors was "nasty, brutish, and short." The anthropologist
Napoleon Chagnon has written of his first encounter with the Yanomamo: "The
excitement of meeting my first Indians was almost unbearable as I
duck-waddled through the low passage into the village clearing." Then "I
looked up and gasped when I saw a dozen burly, naked, filthy, hideous men
staring at us down the shafts of their drawn arrows!" It turned out that
Chagnon "had arrived just after a serious fight. Seven women had been
abducted the day before by a neighboring group, and the local men and their
guests had just that morning recovered five of them in a brutal club fight."
The men were vigilantly awaiting retaliation when Chagnon popped in for a
chat.

In addition to the unsettling threat of mano-a-mano violence, the ancestral
environment featured periodic starvation, incurable disease and the prospect
of being eaten by a beast. Such inconveniences of primitive life have
recently been used to dismiss the Unabomber's agenda. The historian of
science Daniel Kevles, writing in the New Yorker, observes how coarse the
"preindustrial past" looks, once "stripped of the gauzy romanticism of
myth." Regarding the Unabomber's apparent aim of reversing technological
history and somehow transporting our species back toward a more primitive
age, Kevles declares, "Most of us don't want to live in a society like
that."

Quite so. Though evolutionary psychologists would love somehow to visit the
ancestral environment, few would buy a one-way ticket. Still, to say we
wouldn't want to live in our primitive past isn't to say we can't learn from
it. It is, after all, the world in which our currently malfunctioning minds
were designed to work like a Swiss watch. And to say we'll decline the
Unabomber's invitation somehow to turn the tide of technological history
isn't to say technology doesn't have its dark side. We don't have to
slavishly emulate, say, the Old Order Amish, who use no cars, electricity or
alcohol; but we can profitably ask why it is that they suffer depression at
less than one-fifth the rate of people in nearby Baltimore.

The barbaric violence Chagnon documented is in some ways misleading. Though
strife does pervade primitive societies, much of the striving is subtler
than a club fight. Our ancestors, it seems, competed for mates with guile
and hard work. They competed for social status with combative wordplay and
social politicking. And this competition, however subtle, had Darwinian
consequences. Anthropologists have shown, for example, that hunter-gatherer
males successful in status competition have better luck in mating and thus
getting genes into the next generation.

And getting genes into the next generation was, for better or worse, the
criterion by which the human mind was designed. Mental traits conducive to
genetic proliferation are the traits that survived. They are what constitute
our minds today; they are us, we are designed to steer genes through a
technologically primitive social structure. The good news is that doing this
job entailed some quite pleasant feelings. Because social cooperation
improves the chances of survival, natural selection imbued our minds with an
infrastructure for friendship, including affection, gratitude and trust. (In
technical terms, this is the machinery for "reciprocal altruism.") And the
fact that offspring carry our genes into posterity accounts for the immense
joy of parental love.

Still, there is always a flip side. People have enemies--social rivals--as
well as friends, feel resentful as well as grateful, feel nervously
suspicious as well as trusting. Their children, being genetic conduits, can
make them inordinately proud but also inordinately disappointed, angry or
anxious. People feel the thrill of victory but also the agony of defeat, not
to mention pregame jitters. According to evolutionary psychology, such
unpleasant feelings are with us today because they helped our ancestors get
genes into the next generation. Anxiety goaded them into keeping their
children out of harm's way or adding to food stocks even amid plenty.
Sadness or dejection--after a high-profile social failure, say--led to
soul-searching that might discourage repeating the behavior that led to the
failure. ("Maybe flirting with the wives of men larger than me isn't a good
idea.") The past usefulness of unpleasant feelings is the reason periodic
unhappiness is a natural condition, found in every culture, impossible to
escape.

What isn't natural is going crazy--for sadness to linger on into
debilitating depression, for anxiety to grow chronic and paralyzing. These
are largely diseases of modernity. When researchers examined rural villagers
in Samoa, they discovered what were by Western standards extraordinarily low
levels of cortisol, a biochemical by-product of anxiety. And when a Western
anthropologist tried to study depression among the Kaluli of New Guinea, he
couldn't find any.

One thing that helps turn the perfectly natural feeling of sadness or
dejection into the pathology known as depression is social isolation. Today
one-fourth of American households consist of a single person. That's up from
8% in 1940--and, apparently, from roughly zero percent in the ancestral
environment. Hunter-gatherer societies, for all their diversity, typically
feature intimacy and stability: people live in close contact with roughly
the same array of several dozen friends and relatives for decades. They may
move to another village, but usually either to join a new family network (as
upon marriage) or to return to an old one (as upon separation). The
evolutionary psychologists John Tooby and Leda Cosmides see in the mammoth
popularity of the TV show Cheers during the 1980s a visceral yearning for
the world of our ancestors--a place where life brought regular, random
encounters with friends, and not just occasional, carefully scheduled
lunches with them; where there were spats and rivalries, yes, but where
grievances were usually heard in short order and tensions thus resolved.

As anyone who has lived in a small town can attest, social intimacy comes at
the price of privacy: everybody knows your business. And that's true in
spades when next-door neighbors live not in Norman Rockwell clapboard homes
but in thatched huts.

Still, social transparency has its virtues. The anthropologist Phillip
Walker has studied the bones of more than 5,000 children from hundreds of
preindustrial cultures, dating back to 4,000 B.C. He has yet to find the
scattered bone bruises that are the skeletal hallmark of "battered-child
syndrome." In some modern societies, Walker estimates, such bruises would be
found on more than 1 in 20 children who die between the ages of one and
four. Walker accounts for this contrast with several factors, including a
grim reminder of Hobbesian barbarism: unwanted children in primitive
societies were often killed at birth, rather than resented and brutalized
for years. But another factor, he believes, is the public nature of
primitive child rearing, notably the watchful eye of a child's aunts,
uncles, grandparents or friends. In the ancestral environment, there was
little mystery about what went on behind closed doors, because there weren't
any.

In that sense, Tooby and Cosmides have noted, nostalgia for the suburban
nuclear family of the 1950s--which often accompanies current enthusiasm for
"family values"--is ironic. The insular coziness of Ozzie and Harriet's home
is less like our natural habitat than, say, the more diffuse social
integration of Andy Griffith's Mayberry. Andy's son Opie is motherless, but
he has a dutiful great-aunt to watch over him--and, anyway, can barely sit
on the front porch without seeing a family friend.

To be sure, keeping nuclear families intact has virtues that are underscored
by evolutionary psychology, notably in keeping children away from
stepfathers, who, as the evolutionary psychologists Martin Daly and Margo
Wilson predicted and then documented, are much more prone to child abuse
than biological fathers. But to worship the suburban household of the 1950s
is to miss much of the trouble with contemporary life.

Though people talk about "urbanization" as the process that ushered in
modern ills, many urban neighborhoods at mid-century were in fact fairly
communal; it's hard to walk into a Brooklyn brownstone day after day without
bumping into neighbors. It was suburbanization that brought the combination
of transience and residential isolation that leaves many people feeling a
bit alone in their own neighborhoods. (These days, thanks to electric
garage-door openers, you can drive straight into your house, never risking
contact with a neighbor.)

The suburbs have been particularly hard on women with young children. In the
typical hunter-gatherer village, mothers can reconcile a homelife with a
work life fairly gracefully, and in a richly social context. When they
gather food, their children stay either with them or with aunts, uncles,
grandparents, cousins or lifelong friends. When they're back at the village,
child care is a mostly public task--extensively social, even communal. The
anthropologist Marjorie Shostak wrote of life in an African hunter-gatherer
village, "The isolated mother burdened with bored small children is not a
scene that has parallels in !Kung daily life."

Evolutionary psychology thus helps explain why modern feminism got its start
after the suburbanization of the 1950s. The landmark 1963 book The Feminine
Mystique by Betty Friedan grew out of her 1959 conversation with a suburban
mother who spoke with "quiet desperation" about the anger and despair that
Friedan came to call "the problem with no name" and a doctor dubbed "the
housewife's syndrome." It is only natural that modern mothers rearing
children at home are more prone to depression than working mothers, and that
they should rebel.

But even working mothers suffer depression more often than working men. And
that shouldn't shock us either. To judge by hunter-gatherer societies, it is
unnatural for a mother to get up each day, hand her child over to someone
she barely knows and then head off for 10 hours of work--not as unnatural as
staying home alone with a child, maybe, but still a likely source of guilt
and anxiety. Finding a middle ground, enabling women to be workers and
mothers, is one of the great social challenges of our day.

Much of this trouble, as the Unabomber argues, stems from technology.
Suburbs are largely products of the automobile. (In the forthcoming book The
Lost City, Alan Ehrenhalt notes the irony of Henry Ford, in his 60s,
building a replica of his hometown--gravel roads, gas lamps--to recapture
the "saner and sweeter idea of life" he had helped destroy.) And in a
thousand little ways--from the telephone to the refrigerator to ready-made
microwavable meals--technology has eroded the bonds of neighborly
interdependence. Among the Aranda Aborigines of Australia, the
anthropologist George Peter Murdock noted early this century, it was common
for a woman to breast-feed her neighbor's child while the neighbor gathered
food. Today in America it's no longer common for a neighbor to borrow a cup
of sugar.

Of course, intensive interdependence also has its downside. The good news
for our ancestors was that collectively fending off starvation or
saber-toothed tigers forged bonds of a depth moderners can barely imagine.
The bad news was that the tigers and the starvation sometimes won.
Technology is not without its rewards.

Perhaps the ultimate in isolating technologies is television, especially
when linked to a VCR and a coaxial cable. Harvard professor Robert Putnam,
in a recent and much noted essay titled "Bowling Alone," takes the demise of
bowling leagues as a metaphor for the larger trend of asocial entertainment.
"Electronic technology enables individual tastes to be satisfied more
fully," he concedes, but at the cost of the social gratification "associated
with more primitive forms of entertainment." When you're watching TV 28
hours a week--as the average American does--that's a lot of bonding you're
not out doing.

As the evolutionary psychiatrist Randolph Nesse has noted, television can
also distort our self-perception. Being a socially competitive species, we
naturally compare ourselves with people we see, which meant, in the
ancestral environment, measuring ourselves against fellow villagers and
usually finding at least one facet of life where we excel. But now we
compare our lives with "the fantasy lives we see on television," Nesse
writes in the recent book Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian
Medicine, written with the eminent evolutionary biologist George Williams.
"Our own wives and husbands, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters can
seem profoundly inadequate by comparison. So we are dissatisfied with them
and even more dissatisfied with ourselves." (And, apparently, with our
standard of living. During the 1950s, various American cities saw theft
rates jump in the particular years that broadcast television was
introduced.)

Relief from TV's isolating and at times depressing effects may come from
more communal technologies. The inchoate Internet is already famous for
knitting congenial souls together. And as the capacity of phone lines
expands, the Net may allow us to, say, play virtual racquetball with a
sibling or childhood friend in a distant city. But at least in its current
form, the Net brings no visual (much less tactile) contact, and so doesn't
fully gratify the social machinery in our minds. More generally the Net adds
to the information overload, whose psychological effects are still unknown
but certainly aren't wholly benign.

This idea that modern society is dangerously asocial would surprise Freud.
In Civilization and Its Discontents, he lamented the tension between crude
animal impulses and the dictates of society. Society, he said, tells us to
cooperate with one another, indeed, even to "love thy neighbor as thyself";
yet by our nature, we are tempted to exploit our neighbor, "to humiliate
him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. Homo homini lupus [Man
is a wolf to man]." The Unabomber, too, in his mode as armchair
psychologist, celebrates our "WILD nature" and complains that in modern
society "we are not supposed to hate anyone, yet almost everyone hates
somebody at some time or other." This sort of cramping of our natural
selves, he opines, creates "oversocialized" people He seems to agree with
Freud's claim that "primitive man was better off in knowing no restrictions
of instinct."

Yet evolutionary psychology suggests that primitive man knew plenty of
"restrictions of instinct." True, hatred is part of our innate social
repertoire, and in other ways as well we are naturally crude. But the
restraint of crude impulses is also part of our nature. Indeed, the "guilt"
that Freud never satisfactorily explained is one built-in restrainer. By
design, it discourages us from, say, neglecting kin through unbridled
egoism, or imperiling friendships in the heat of anger--or, at the very
least, it goads us to make amends after such imperiling, once we've cooled
down. Certainly modern society may burden us unduly with guilt. After
erupting in anger toward an acquaintance, we may not see him or her for
weeks, whereas in the ancestral environment we might have reconciled in
short order. Still, feeling guilty about spasms of malice is no invention of
modern civilization.

This points to the most ironic of evolutionary psychology's implications:
many of the impulses created by natural selection's ruthless imperative of
genetic self-interest aren't selfish in any straightforward way. Love, pity,
generosity, remorse, friendly affection and enduring trust, for example, are
part of our genetic heritage. And, oddly, some of these affiliative impulses
are frustrated by the structure of modern society at least as much as the
more obviously "animal" impulses. The problem with modern life,
increasingly, is less that we're "oversocialized" than that we're
undersocialized--or, that too little of our "social" contact is social in
the natural, intimate sense of the word.

Various intellectual currents reflect this shortage of civility in modern
civilization. The "communitarian" movement, lately championed by Democratic
and Republican leaders alike, aims to restore a sense of social kinship, and
thus of moral responsibility. And various scholars and politicians
(including Putnam) are now bemoaning the shrinkage of civil society, that
realm of community groups, from the Boy Scouts to the Rotary Club, that once
not only kept America shipshape but met deep social needs.

The latest tribute to civil society comes in Francis Fukuyama's book Trust,
whose title captures a primary missing ingredient in modern life. As of
1993, 37% of Americans felt they could trust most people, down from 58% in
1960. This hurts; according to evolutionary psychology, we are designed to
seek trusting relationships and to feel uncomfortable in their absence. Yet
the trend is hardly surprising in a modern, technology-intensive economy,
where so much leisure time is spent electronically and so much "social" time
is spent nurturing not friendships but professional contacts.

As scholars and public figures try to resurrect community, they might
profitably draw on evolutionary psychology. Prominent communitarian Amitai
Etzioni, in highlighting the shortcomings of most institutionalized child
care, has duly stressed the virtues of parents' "co-oping," working part
time at day-care centers. Still, the stark declaration in his book The
Spirit of Community that "infants are better off at home" gives short shrift
to the innately social nature of infants and mothers. That women naturally
have a vocational calling as well as a maternal one suggests that
workplace-based, co-operative day-care centers may deserve more attention.

Residential planners have begun to account implicitly for human nature.
They're designing neighborhoods that foster affiliation--large common
recreational spaces, extensive pedestrian thoroughfares and even, in some
cases, parking spaces that make it hard to hop from car to living room
without traversing some turf in between. In effect: drive-in,
hunter-gatherer villages.

Still, many nice features of the ancestral environment can't be revived with
bricks and mortar. Building physically intimate towns won't bring back the
extended kin networks that enmeshed our ancestors and, among other benefits,
made child rearing a much simpler task than it is for many parents today.
Besides, most adults, given a cozy community, will still spend much of the
day miles away, at work. And even if telecommuting increasingly allows them
to work at home, they won't be out bonding with neighbors in the course of
their vocations, as our ancestors were.

One reason the sinews of community are so hard to restore is that they are
at odds with free markets. Capitalism not only spews out cars, TVs and other
antisocial technologies; it also sorts people into little vocational boxes
and scatters the boxes far and wide. Economic opportunity is what drew farm
boys into cities, and it has been fragmenting families ever since. There is
thus a tension within conservative ideology between laissez-faire economics
and family values, as various people have noted. (The Unabomber complains
that conservatives "whine about the decay of traditional values," yet
"enthusiastically support technological progress and economic growth.")

That much modern psychopathology grows out of the dynamics of economic
freedom suggests a dearth of miracle cures; Utopian alternatives to
capitalism have a history of not working out. Even the more modest reforms
that are imaginable--reforms that somewhat blunt modernization's antisocial
effects--will hardly be easy or cheap. Workplace-based day care costs money.
Ample and inviting public parks cost money. And it costs money to create
good public schools--which by diverting enrollment from private schools
offer the large communal virtue of making a child's neighborhood peers and
schoolyard friends one and the same. Yikes: taxes! Taxes, as Newt Gingrich
and others have patiently explained, slow economic growth. True enough. But
if economic growth places such a strain on community to begin with--a fact
that Gingrich seems to grasp--what's so bad about a marginally subdued rate
of growth?

Besides, how large is the psychological toll? Evolutionary psychology
suggests that we're designed to compare our material well-being not so much
with some absolute standard but with that of our neighbors. So if our
neighbors don't get richer--and if the people on Lifestyles of the Rich and
Famous don't get richer--then we shouldn't, in theory, get less happy than
we already are. Between 1957 and 1990, per capita income in America more
than doubled in real terms. Yet, as the psychologist David Myers notes in
The Pursuit of Happiness, the number of Americans who reported being "very
happy" remained constant, at one- third. Plainly, more gross domestic
product isn't the answer to our deepest needs. (And that's especially true
when growth only widens the gap between richest and poorest, as has done
lately.)

There is a lesson here not just for policymakers but also for the rest of
us. "It is human nature always to want a little more," writes the
psychologist Timothy Miller in the recent book How to Want What You Have,
perhaps the first self-help book based explicitly on evolutionary
psychology. "People spend their lives honestly believing that they have
almost enough of whatever they want. Just a little more will put them over
the top; then they will be contented forever." This is a built-in illusion,
Miller notes, engrained in our minds by natural selection.

The illusion was designed to keep us constantly striving, adding tiny
increments to the chances that our genes would get into the next generation.
Yet in a modern environment--which, unlike the ancestral environment,
features contraception--our obsession with material gain rarely has that
effect. Besides, why should any of us choose to pursue maximum genetic
proliferation--or relentless material gain, or anything else--just because
that is high on the agenda of the process that designed the human mind?
Natural selection, for better or worse, is our creator, but it isn't God;
the impulses it implanted into our minds aren't necessarily good, and they
aren't wholly beyond resisting.

Part of Miller's point is that the instinctive but ultimately fruitless
pursuit of More--the 60-hour workweeks, the hour a month spent perusing the
Sharper Image catalog--keeps us from indulging what Darwin called "the
social instincts." The pursuit of More can keep us from better knowing our
neighbors, better loving our kin--in general, from cultivating the warm,
affiliative side of human nature whose roots science is just now starting to
fathom.

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