Benefits of Anarchy vs. City Planning and Defending Taiwan

Sunday October 31, 2021

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What Happens Next is a podcast where experts are given just six minutes to present their argument. This is followed by a question & answer period for deeper engagement. This week’s topics include the organic and anarchic character of effective city development, as well as how to defend Taiwan against the potential Chinese invasion of the island. This is truly a variety show as these topics are so incredibly different.

Our first speaker will be Jack Katz, who is one of our nation’s leading sociologists. Jack is well known for his book Seductions of Crime. Today, he will be speaking about the increasing loss of central control over city development and the success of organic change in neighborhoods. Jack is interested in how the decline of central authority allows for unexpected and often wonderful neighborhood changes. Jack will discuss his case study of the city of Hollywood, California.

Our second speaker today is James Holmes who holds the J.C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College. You may recall that we met Jim on What Happens Next about a year ago. Jim will discuss strategy that Taiwan can employ to defend itself. He will also discuss the implications of China’s recent successful test of a hypersonic ballistic missile and how it would change the balance of power in the South China Sea.


Jack Katz

Topic: How neighborhoods flourish when they develop anarchically
Bio: Emeritus Professor of Sociology at UCLA
Reading: Anarchy’s Neighborhoods: the Formation of a Quadriplex Urban Ecology is here


Jack Katz:
Thanks Larry. In 1960, residents of the Hollywood section of Los Angeles were modestly differentiated both in their demographics and in the character of their neighborhoods. At the millennium, Hollywood’s residents lived in low income Mexican and Central American enclaves, in strictly observant or Orthodox Jewish communities in officially designated historic zones, in Bohemian areas around homeless population centers close to street markets for buying sex and contraband drugs, and within affluent canyon neighborhoods. The question is, what do we learn about the forces shaping city life by tracing how this complex of neighborhoods emerged? From 1915 to 1965, two world wars and a depression drew populous deference to centers of power. 20 years after the end of World War II, the charisma of the center quickly began to vanish. In Hollywood, as in many urban areas across the U.S., a generalized state of anarchy emerged, setting the framework for neighborhood transformation.

One defeat of centralized power began in 1965 when, roughly contemporaneous with the Watts riots, protests broke out against two freeways leading the state in the 1980s to cancel highway projects for the first time in California’s history. The county public school system retreated in the 1970s after parents forced the end of mandatory busing to achieve integration. At the federal level, centralized power over the entry of the foreign born was unwittingly dismantled in 1965 with the creation of a new immigration system. City police leadership assisted the retreat by ordering officers not to inquire about immigration status. Centralized power collapsed in confusion after the Supreme Court took on the challenge to define obscenity in movies. Epitomized by Justice Stewart’s: I know it when I see it rationale, the courts vague in changing legal standards undermined the practical ability to shut down burgeoning triple X rated theaters. State and local authorities ended the forced commitment of various populations who are at risk of homelessness. The county closed the so-called drunk farm where city police had deposited adults transported from Hollywood.

The county also shut down a regional facility that had confined the so-called encourageable and runaway youth. In Sacramento, a bipartisan consensus released the nonviolent mentally ill from state hospitals. In 1978, a plebiscite, Prop 13, without authorizing substitute revenues, severely limited California’s ability to tax real estate. In the 1980s, the electorate voted to down zone the city, weakening the power of government planners to promote and structure the housing supply. In the resulting power vacuum, neighborhood entrepreneurs developed diverse culturally themed areas. The local leaders were as various and unconnected as were the dynamics creating the new urban anarchy.

A central American neighborhood took shape when retail operations agglomerated around what, for 100 years, had been a high traffic intersection. The owners of new food, dry goods, law, health and financial services businesses started life in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. All used Spanish language signage that indirectly told unauthorized immigrants that they would be insulated in a neighborhood of similarly vulnerable peers. Many were accommodated in garages and closets, neglected by building inspectors.

Pius Jewish communities emerged when the long-stalled highway project made property cheap. Advised by co-religionists real estate developers who had made fortunes in Los Angeles, rabbis from East Coast centers of orthodoxy bought property and took over declining Jewish temples and schools. As the mandatory busing of children to public schools was blocked, vans began transporting a stream of tuitions from middle income families to new religious schools. A chain of publicly visible drug and sex markets emerged as hustlers exploited idle parts of Hollywood’s aging infrastructure. Movie theaters in decline since the advent of TV in 1950s began to exhibit explicit sex films. Motels also in decline since the 1950s were rented by drug dealers and prostitutes who brought clients solicited in public places for the private delivery of goods and services. Officially historic neighborhoods arose after residents first organized to resist invasive crime and then used their newly discovered collective power to secure legal protection for their neighborhood’s aesthetic appeal.

The long highway battle elicited a new Hillside Federation of canyon neighborhoods geared to fight intrusive development. Prop 13 subsidized nimbyism by giving residents economic reasons to stay in place and garden unchanging landscape. Homeless populations were anchored to Hollywood by a string of hospitals, churches, and charitable service centers. They had been created in the early 20th century by a local network of Republicans who were, in the original meaning of the term, progressives. After many years of internal conflicts, these institutions embraced the homeless. An upshot of these diverse transformations was the development of Bohemian areas in between higher and lower income neighborhoods. In this 50-year transformation of the urban social fabric, government played a historically shifting role after retreating on multiple levels, centralized public power, re-emerged to underwrite what the new neighborhood entrepreneurs had begun.

New laws recognized historic neighborhoods, gave Hills residents legal strategies to frustrate development projects and favored arts districts and zoning decisions. At the city, county, state, and federal levels, financial commitments were made to support the education and health of low income foreign born. But in the development of the new neighborhood mosaic, it was urban anarchy, a characterization that would be denied by politicians, a daily experience endured by fearful residents, and a concept damned by all reigning political philosophies that was the Prothean Crucible.

Questions for Katz

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James Holmes

Topic: Defending Taiwan
Bio: J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College
Reading: Is A Chinese Military Attack on Taiwan Inevitable? Is here And China’s Nuclear-Capable Hypersonic Missile: How Should America Respond? Is here


Larry Bernstein:
All right, that’s ends our discussion here with Jack and we’re going to go with something completely different, which is a discussion with Jim Holmes about China and Taiwan. Jim is the J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College. He has written extensively on South China Sea and U.S. Naval strategy, so Jim, why don’t you kick off your discussion about China and Taiwan.

Jim Holmes:
Hi, Larry. Great to talk to you again. We did this about this time last year. First of all, let me start by noting that nothing is inevitable in world affairs and nor is the Chinese attack on Taiwan. In fact, I never say never, never say always is a golden rule for living, but I do think a Chinese attack on Taiwan is more likely than the common wisdom on Asia-Pacific affairs allows. It’s a good deal less farfetched than the assassination of an Archduke in Sarajevo plunging Europe into the cauldron of world war in 1914, or for that matter, 19 hijack setting up20 years of global war on terror on 9/11. Yet those events happened, so could a cross-strait Chinese offensive, so it’s up to Taiwan and its friends, including ourselves to shape the likelihood of an attack and deter Beijing.

Now geopolitical and geo-economic interests are a big part of the reason why China might strike. As they gaze eastward from the mainland, Chinese Communist leaders and ordinary Chinese alike, behold the first island chain, which runs from Japan southward through Taiwan, to the Philippines and Indonesian archipelagos and around to Singapore. They understand that the island chain encloses China’s entire coastline. That its occupants or allies are friends of the United States and that some of them, like Japan, are well armed. In their eyes, this merger of geography, alliances, and armaments raises a barrier to Chinese military and commercial access to the western Pacific and the wider world. They find China’s surroundings stifling, and they’re not wrong to interpret their surroundings this way.

Should hostile armed forces close the straits whereby Chinese Naval and mercantile fleets access the Pacific high seas, General Secretary Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream, his program for national rejuvenation would be in grave peril. This is why Chinese strategists commonly refer to the first island chain as a metal chain, a barricade blocking China’s destiny on the high seas. Breaking this chain is imperative and Taiwan is the best place to cause a fracture. Wresting the island from its inhabitants would bring a wealth of strategic opportunities for China. It would emplace the People’s Liberation Army or PLA at the island chain’s midpoint, granting shipping, and aircraft ready access to the Pacific. It would let the PLA overshadow the Luzon Strait, the best channel for submarines to pass between the South China Sea and the Pacific undetected. It would let China turn to Japan’s southern flank, applying pressure on this perennial rival, and on and on. National interest constitutes a compelling reason for Beijing to rank Taiwan atop its list of priorities, as indeed they do.

China’s leadership may be in a hurry to make good on this project. Last March, Admiral Phil Davidson, the outgoing commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific command in Honolulu, made headlines by forecasting that China may strike within the next six years. Admiral Davidson was oblique about his reasoning. Why six years and why not five or 10, but nonetheless, the Davidson window for the timing of a Chinese assault has become a fixture in debates among China watchers. While Xi Jinping divulges little about timing, he makes no secret of his goals. He has vowed publicly, vehemently, and often to regain every inch ground once ruled by Imperial China until the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911.

He has connected this to China’s Dream and made himself accountable to the Chinese people for making their dream come true. Yet making well defined promises is a dangerous thing for autocrats like Xi. It lets them portray themselves as strong and resolute, and possessed of a grand vision. The danger is, if they fail to deliver on their promises, they will cast themselves as weak and irresolute in the eyes of the people. The Chinese people would not take kindly to having their passion for making China great again ignited and then doused. Chinese Communist rule might even fall if they blame Xi for failing to deliver Taiwan after promising to. In other words, Xi, whether deliberately or not, has deployed a version of what the Harvard Economist, Thomas Schelling, called the commitment tactic in negotiations and not especially wisely.

Sometimes a negotiator, say a union leader, will publicly state a non-negotiable position at the outset of talks. Think about what that does. It connects the negotiator’s personal prestige to obtaining his or her demands. No one can climb down from such a promise for fear of losing face. By sticking his good name on bringing home the goods in full the negotiator deliberately forfeits the freedom to compromise and in so doing amplifies his bargaining power, but his constituents will be incensed if he does give way and he will pay a price.

Similarly, Xi Jinping has given up the option of compromising on Taiwan. He may have built up his bargaining power with Taiwan and its protectors, but he has painted himself into a corner with his constituents, and again, I would say, this is an unforced error. Now he must stand and deliver. But think about it, Xi is 68. Like all of us, he is on the clock. His patience on Taiwan has limits for that basic human reason, if nothing else. But does this interplay among interests, ideas about destiny, and leadership spell war? It’s often noted that Chinese statecraft, dating to the age of Sun Tzu, two millennia ago, puts the accent on winning without fighting. This is true, and in fact, no sane leader or government in China or anywhere else relishes the dangerous hardships and costs of warfare. Even conquerors love peace. It lets them get what without undue hazard.

The trouble for Xi is that the Taiwan part of China’s Dream may not be attainable except through war. Persuasion is less and less an option for Beijing. The social and cultural bonds connecting the island with the mainland loosen by the day. Only about a 10th of Taiwanese now define themselves as Chinese, and there’s little chance of that trend reversing itself. Sentiment favoring a cross-strait union is on the wane, plus Taiwanese watched what happens at places like Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Tibet. They know a similar grim fate awaits them should they submit to mainland rule. It’s hard to imagine the Taiwanese people or its leaders yielding to what amounts to a demand for national self-destruction.

Their goal too. Their goal of de facto independence is non-negotiable, so if China wants the island, it will have to take it by force, and in the end, that means mounting a cross-strait amphibious invasion, otherwise it will not possess the contested ground. The metal chain will remain intact athwart China’s aspirations. So where does this leave us? In an uncomfortable position. China will not be cowed into forever forswearing control of Taiwan. It commands too much value for China, both in tangible military and economic terms, and as a focal point for China’s sense of itself and its destiny, but China can be deterred day by day.

Think about it. For Xi Jinping, as I’ve said, failing to act would be bad. Acting and losing in the Taiwan Strait would be far worse. He might lose his rule or even his life. That knowledge is our advantage. It’s up to Taiwan and its friends to figure out how to implant doubt and dread in Xi’s mind, making clear that we have both the capabilities to deny China what it wants and the resolve to use them. If Xi wakes up every morning and says to himself, “This is not the day,” then we will have deterred him for that day. We will postpone military action. If we can string together enough days like that, who knows? Good things may happen in the Far East. That’s probably about the best we can do under prevailing circumstances. This endeavor will be neither quick, nor easy, nor danger free. Let’s keep Xi and his comrades up nights, worrying that we will make their Chinese Dream a nightmare. If we do, we may stay their hand. Thanks.

Questions for Holmes

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