City Politics, Country Politics

Over on Anchor Rising, Marc Comtois has pulled together a handful of stories in the subcategory of “two Americas”:

Hendrickson puts some stock in the so-called “Curley Effect”, named after the former Boston Mayor. Basically, it has two parts: first, that politicians provide enough incentives to their own voters to ensure continued support; second provide enough disincentives such that their political opponents decide to move out, thereby increasing said politicians vote share, etc. (Seems to be working in RI, too).

Yet, while that may explain continuing support for Democrats amongst those receiving government assistance and public unions, Hendrickson asks, “Why do affluent, white-collar, highly educated citizens in these cities tend to be liberal and vote Democratic?” In a word, insularity.

As often happens, over there, the comment-section discussion is worth reading, as well.  That especially became true with the very agitated commentary of young urban-dweller Mangeek.  As I’ve commented at the above link, I find a number of intellectual and philosophical problems embedded in his self-admitted rage, but this part merits particular consideration:

No problem. We’ll just raze things until we hit the same density of the suburbs. We’ll close the elderly towers, the urban schools, the veterans’ homes, the homeless shelters, soup kitchens, methadone clinics, hospitals, mental institutions, etc. and ship all those people out to the Tivertons of the world.

While you castigate the urban folks for ‘just expecting things to be there at the flip of a switch’, just by the nature of living in higher density, we use a LOT less of that stuff (per capita) than you do out in the ‘burbs. We’re the ones being responsible. We pay taxes where we work. We don’t scurry-off to a nearby bucolic hamlet after 5PM with a paycheck from work in the city and declare that that ‘the city is on its own’ when it comes to paying for all the crap that you escape from.

For one thing, it’s an interesting tack to respond to “two Americas” analyses by insisting that there are indeed two Americas.  For another, I’m increasingly questioning this assertion that spreading people out makes it more expensive to serve them in these days of cheap cars, cell phones, and information technology.  Problems that are spread out are easier to contain; distances are easier to traverse along the ground than vertically.

Lastly, it seems to me evidence of precisely the insularity that Marc mentions that Mangeek believes Tiverton to be free of elderly, veterans, homeless, poor, addicts, and so on.

At the edges of the entire conversation is a consideration that never seems to be, well, considered.  Perhaps something in suburban life lends itself to a community that doesn’t require as much government, even scaled per capita.  And perhaps something in the lifestyle that suburbia enables is critical to the type of society that can innovate and foster exponential productivity.

Perhaps, moreover, there’s something inadvisable and potentially sinister in creating a system that gives government functionaries massive incentive to draw needy populations into cities for the purpose of expanding the need for their services.

As the topics snowball, it appears impossible to stop the City v. Suburbs feud from becoming the entire intractable subject of political philosophy.  Perhaps, in that case, the solution is to let the city be the city and the country be the country, without insisting that the forms and functions of government should be relentlessly consolidated at ever higher levels of incomprehensibility.

  • mangeek

    "creating a system that gives government functionaries massive incentive to draw needy populations into cities for the purpose of expanding the need for their services."

    The way I see it, it's much harder to deliver those services to the suburbs. My partner works in rural health services now, and it's more expensive to get elderly poor people to-and-from their rural homes to the centers of support (hospitals, voting, courts, etc.).

    Look, the experiment to create a suburban America was a great hack to boost growth after the war, but now the costs of energy and upkeep of the infrastructure that gets people to and from the 'burbs is more of a drag. At the same time, people 'with the means' have largely abandoned the cities, leaving majority-poor communities int heir wake. The prospect of sending my kids to a Pawtucket school is frightening, but it's clear that the problem isn't the schools themselves (though we could do plenty to make them better), it's that there's no longer a critical-mass of middle class people here for the poorer children to model behavior after.

    Meanwhile, suburbanites externalize so much of their impact TO the cities. If you work in the city, drive home on a highway, then pay local taxes, the city you work in LOSES money on you, while your community gets your property taxes and the state gets your income taxes. That's not fair (and I'm not being elegant, for lack of time). I hope you can see the absurdity of suburbanites driving on a public highway while advocating for RIPTA to be dismembered because 'it doesn't turn a profit'.