Death Spirals and Subsidizing Museum Settlements Out of Liberal Guilt

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For Reason magazine, Ronald Bailey asks: “Why Aren’t More Americans Moving?“:

While land-use and licensing restrictions make it hard to enter booming job markets, public sector employment, welfare benefits, and homeownership make it harder to exit regions with waning economic opportunities. The nearly 13 percent of Americans who work for state and local governments rely on defined-benefit pension plans that are not easily transferable across state lines. Picking up to take a job in another state would significantly reduce a public employee’s retirement benefits. Differences in state eligibility requirements for various poverty relief programs—e.g., food stamps, Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families—also discourage poor people from seeking opportunities elsewhere.

Read the whole article, and you’ll surely be reminded of the economic/demographic death spiral into elected officials and labor unions have spun Rhode Island:

Cities like Detroit, argues [Yale law professor David] Schleicher, get caught a negative fiscal spiral. Negative economic shocks lead to greater demand for government services rise, which leads to an increase in property and income tax rates, which motivates the remaining businesses and workers to leave. Another economically destructive dynamic frequently kicks in. “Difficulties in reducing government services worsen over time in shrinking cities,” observes Schleicher. “As private-sector workers leave, particular populations—net recipients of public services, public sector workers, pensioners—become more powerful in local politics, giving them power to save benefits from declining.”

The whole dynamic also starts to expose how progressive policies seem designed to maintain the aesthetic preferences of elites:

Schleicher cites one of the odder contentions for place-based subsidies, made by the Stanford law professor Michelle Wilde Anderson. If Oregon taxpayers subsidize public services in economically declining rural areas of the state, Anderson argues, the country people will stay put and be an inspiration to city dwellers. “In my view, historic places and modes of living have existence value, even when they have trouble attracting residents and businesses in a competitive system,” she writes. “Just as there is existence value to the forest ecosystems themselves – humankind made spiritually and morally more whole through the existence of households and environments beyond the hustle bustle of urban materialism.” Basically, stay on the farm and in small towns in order to gratify urban fantasies about how hardy country folk live.

When I worked on the docks on Point Judith, tourists waiting for the next ferry to Block Island would stand on the street and watch us unloading boats.  Some of my co-workers became agitated at the sense of being a spectacle, a feeling that worsened as the weather became less comfortable for handling wet products outside.

What Bailey describes is like a localized version of liberals’ romanticizing poor tribes in foreign countries.  Moderns don’t seem to consider that they have the option to live like that, but what they really want is just to know that somebody lives like that, as if it preserves something in the human soul.

Maybe it’s guilt.  Maybe they know that their worldview kills something important in humanity, so they’re willing to subsidize at least a museum settlement.



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