Life 2.0: How People Across America Are Transforming Their Lives by Finding the Where of Their Happiness by Rich Karlgaard

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Places Discussed

Posted 2006-08-23

People PlacesBook Notes by John December

Addressing an audience of professionals and entrepreneurs, Karlgaard sketches out options for relocating to cities and towns across the USA. The strength of this book is its economic analysis showing how the high cost of urban coastal centers may drive people to choose less-costly places that may meet their needs better. Karlgaard's credentials as a east-coast cognosceti (publisher of Forbes) drives the secondary strength of this book: he gives the OK to coastal elites to consider flyover country as a viable option for relocation.

And flyover country is a motif of the book. Karlgaard flies his Cessna Skyhawk over small towns across the country: he describes the view of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin from the air as well as Saulk Centre, Minnesota, and towns all over Iowa, Nebraska, the Dakotas, and other states. Although the airplane-related content of the book doesn't provide a very useful sense of life in those places (nor do the boozy conversations in chain hotel bars), Karlgaard's flights implicitly help the reader realize that there are things happening in flyover country--there is a there there.

Karlgaard's focus is on businesses that have worked out well in the boonies: in Upstate New York, Gateway in South Dakota, KI in Wisconsin, Microsoft in North Dakota, PrintingForLess in Montana, and many others. The lower costs of business operations and living, combined with Internet connectivity and decent air service, contribute to cost advantages aiding these enterprises.

Another motif of Karlgaard's work is the high cost of coastal snob appeal. He repeatedly notes the high costs of keeping up to coastal elite standards for everything from housing to cars, clothing, vacations, and schools. He observes the high commuting times required for high-quality coastal housing. In the flyover areas, these costs lessen or disappear. Businesses form with lower overhead costs and less hype. Employees can find more housing for their money, lower crime rates, excellent public schools, and significantly lower social competition costs.

Karlgaard talks with many people who seem a bit uneasy about admitting they live in the flyover. Many of his subjects bring up small-town bragging points about local art galleries or dining and the number of square feet in their house to mitigate their shame. Ultimately, money may change any bias against living in the flyover. The coastal urban centers, with very high housing costs, high commuting times, high private education costs, and very difficult crime and infrastructure problems make it difficult for coastal elites to afford to impress each other. Global outsourcing for intellectual work makes it impossible to pay this snob premium. Therefore, businesses shift to places with fewer problems and lower costs (observed on the metropolitan scale in City-Building in America.)

Like in Kotkin's The New Geography, Karlgaard makes the case that areas succeed as they can provide amenities attractive to intellectual and human capital for business formation and innovation at a fair cost. As in Ezell's Get Urban!, Karlgaard lists cities and towns across the country that attract different personality types. Also, as in The Clustered World, Karlgaard shows how the broad flyover country of the USA is not as demographically simple as stereotypes would suggest.

For city planning and design, Karlgaard's work shows how intellectually-appealing living spaces, low commute times, and good-quality housing can attract people setting up and operating businesses. He also documents how the Internet enables far-flung business operations to flourish and participate in a global economy.

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2024-05-14 · John December · Terms ©