America, From Republic to Ant Farm

In July I took my four children back to the South Carolina village in which they had spent their earliest years. The most frequent topics of conversation were still, in order, Hurricane Hugo and its aftermath, a public school controversy that appeared to pit blacks against whites but really concerned the ambitions of a New York "intellectual" who wanted to change the character of a community that had accepted him into its midst, and, finally, the inevitable growth of the village as Charleston, swollen with refugees from Ohio, spreads up along the coast.

I spoke with an artist who had been given the task of drawing up a plan for controlled development, and he expressed the hope that the village could retain its character as a community that mixed black and white, rich and poor, shrimpers and lawyers. What the artist really wanted to talk about was a series of paintings depicting the activities of shrimpers, crabbers, and oystermen whose way of life was rapidly disappearing. "The problem is," he explained, waving his hand across a vista of palmettos and oaks, flowers and marsh grass as if it were a painting, "the problem is, we are in the midst of all this beauty. Everybody wants to live here, but there is a finite supply of prime coastal property."

It was the Rev. Thomas Malthus who first recognized that population growth exacerbated the competition for scarce resources. His theory was expressed...

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