Democracy in Notaware (or, A land use summit fable)

Once there was a little state called Notaware. It had about a million acres of land and 700 thousand folks in it. These folks had a lot, compared to most of the folks in the world, but the wealth was very unequally distributed. Notaware was run by people with a LOT of money: bankers, lawyers, developers, and chemical people. They used a bit of their money to hire politicians, and other experts, to keep the regular folks in line. This was easy. The folks were allowed to vote, and the politicians they elected were allowed to talk to them about stuff like abortions, or guns. But when it came to stuff like taxes, or “development,” or education, or pollution, or the future, the politicians and other experts knew to listen to the big money guys.

Of course, a few “activists” and “whiners” thought folks deserved clean air to breathe, and food and medical care, or thought that big banks should pay taxes, or had other strange ideas. Nobody paid much attention to them, but they were allowed to talk, except at the big guys’ University of Notaware, where the police chased them away. (Can’t have troublemakers with wrong ideas floating around your University.)

One day the folks noticed that Notaware was getting “developed” to death. Pretty soon everything would be paved–not many farms, or woods, or swamps would be left. (The big guys thought this was fine: millions of little people could fit into Notaware, in little condos and apartments and row houses. They could sell hamburgers and credit cards to each other, and play video games at the mall.) The folks forgot the rules and talked to the politicians about it. They wanted Notaware saved for the future. “Things were getting dysfunctional” said John Burris of the Big Guys’ Club, the Chamber of Commerce. The folks needed a tranquilizer. No problem. The big guys called their Governor, their other politicians, and the managers of their newspaper. They explained the plan: The Chamber would take $200,000 of the folks’ money, toss in a bit of its own for appearances, and hire development promoters to put on a “dog and pony” show. (Notawareans like animals.) They gave the $200,000 to the development promoters so they had to charge the folks $50 each to attend the show. Some outsiders thought it funny that the folks were willing to buy their tranquilizers twice from the big guys. But the folks didn’t mind. They were used to it and it felt normal. (Its easier to let big guys tell you what to think.)

So 500 of the smartest folks in Notaware went to the dog and pony show at the big guys’ University. They looked at colorful charts and posters. They heard speeches about fair treatment for developers and big landowners. They practiced cheering for the big guys’ favorite new mega-development, called Whitehall. (Whitehall has everything: dense development in a rural area, heavy industry in the Coastal Zone, duPont family involvement…) The let off a little steam. The Chamber and the University Police kept out questioners and wrong ideas. It was all familiar and made the folks feel better. It was a good show. The big guys were pleased and gave their politicians each a nice bag of dog biscuits for the next election. Notaware was functional again.

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(c) Alan Muller 302.834.3466
April 1, 1997

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