Daniel Akst

Daniel Akst is a writer in New York's Hudson Valley, where he's working on a book about the problem of self-control.

A Smug's Life

Earth Day: the ultimate empty gesture

Dan AkstThank God for Earth Day: another occasion for affluent white Americans to feel good about themselves by enacting some pointless environmental ritual. Perhaps we can all drive to the festivities in our hulking SUVs. Can you blame me for being cynical? Every dinner party I attend is marked by pious denunciations of greed and excess, yet all the guests have multiple cars, multiple homes, and a tendency to break out in hives if they don’t take a planet-warming plane flight once a month or so. Recently an acquaintance of mine, at such a gathering, condemned the horrors of Hummers …

Could chain stores actually be good for the environment?

To some environmentalists, the shoppers of the world have nothing to lose but their chains. If only people stopped spending at these awful big-box stores, the thinking goes, the earth might be saved — and local businesses would flourish. Shop to it! From an environmental perspective, there is in fact much to dislike about the chains. Their low prices, sustained by a rapidly globalizing economy, promote resource-churning consumerism. They are typically reached only by auto, and thus inspire millions of greenhouse-gas-spewing car trips. And surrounded by a sea of parking lots, they are anchors of the sprawling new suburbs many …

School choice could be an answer to sprawl

Imagine a country — we’ll call it Hobsonia — that requires all its residents to shop at officially assigned supermarkets based on where they live. Now, Hobsonians care passionately about food, and since the law allows them to move if they wish, citizens decide where to live based largely on where they can buy groceries. Those with money move to the best supermarket districts, which tend to be in affluent areas where store managers know that unhappy customers have the scratch to move elsewhere. Hobsonia thus sorts itself into good supermarket districts and bad. While people talk passionately about improving …