One subset of policies I would like to understand better is the laws that essentially ban various types of agricultural in urban and suburban area. It'd be nice to understand them better, because from my perspective they're pretty inconvenient and understanding who exactly the constituency behind them is and what their logic is based on would help me decide if they're inconvenient-stupid or inconvenient-living in a civilized society sometimes means compromise.
Today, Matt Yglesias had a link to this article, which is the extreme version of what I'm talking about.
With our (rental) house, I've considered which plants are allowed to be front yard plants, and which plants we need to make sure to squeeze into the back. I doubt I'd wind up in jail if I didn't get it right, but it seems pretty likely that our neighbors and ultimately our landlords might feel entitled to have an opinion about a giant, rangy tomatillo plant in the front yard. (Never mind that tomatillos are really quite pretty, and not exactly dramatically different from Chinese Lanterns, which as an ornamental plant would of course be kosher). So, of the edible varieties, only the sunflowers and a few herbs are out front...and now that the sunflowers are past the pretty blooming stage and in the drying and letting the seeds fully develop stage, it's entirely possible that even those are kind of iffy.
I'm fairly confident that the convention that it's low class to use your front yard as anything but a type of conspicuous consumption (Look how much water & square footage I can waste growing unproductive grass! That I will certainly, never ever in my life, use to have a BBQ on) is outright stupid. But I'm just as confident that there are plenty of right thinking Americans who disagree with me. Maybe even some people I know, and that's kind of fascinating.
(I also just recently found out that letting weeds grow in your lawn has serious consequences for your neighbor's lawn...which I guess does actually impose some logic on my neighbor's right to have an opinion on what's growing on my property...but I'm not at all sure that the right to perfect grass is one of those cultural imperatives that supercedes personal liberty this country.)
It all ramps up to a completely different level when you're talking about livestock. Chickens are loud (but then again, so is my neighbor's leaf blower). Bees sting people who may be allergic. An angry full grown (or even half grown) pig on the loose makes a pit bull seem like, well, a puppy dog. At some point, people got together and decided that these were things that they didn't want in densely populated areas, and surely they had reasons. The question is, are these reasons still relevant? Are they based on the class assumptions of a society for whom rural life was something they were proud to have escaped and the very different sanitation/public health conditions that existed a hundred years ago...or do I just think that having more livestock in cities would be awesome because it's something I've never experienced?