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Ring of Affluence

April 30, 2014

Thomas Edsall has a thought provoking column today on the emerging progressivism of several major metropolitan areas. The article draws on two urban experts, Harold Myerson of the American Prospect and Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronot who has written several books on urban planning.

Myerson recently wrote and article titled “The Revolt of the Cities” citing the efforts of six mayors to  implement a progressive agenda. The mayors— Pittsburgh’s Bill Peduto, Minneapolis’s Betsy Hodges, Seattle’s Ed Murray, Boston’s Martin Walsh, Santa Fe’s Javier Gonzales, and…New York City’s Bill de Blasio… are striving to enact legislation at the local level that “…rais(es) minimum wages; requir(es) contractors to hire inner-city residents and to increase pay on municipal projects; back(s) local union organizing efforts; initiat(es) or expand(s) pre-K schooling; extend(s) public transit into poor neighborhoods; and requir(es) police to videotape contacts with citizens.” Myerson’s optimistic take on this is that the changes in these urban areas will spread across the country and thereby re-define the agenda for liberals.

In the article, Myerson notes that the cities enacting progressive agendas have an advantage over some of their counterparts: “…major research universities; financial and high tech corporate centers; substantial and strong artistic and intellectual communities.” These resources are not available in cities like “Peoria, Trenton, Camden, Detroit, St. Louis, Baltimore, Birmingham or Modesto.”

Edsall asked Richard Florida to read Myerson’s article and offer his perspective, which was far less sanguine:

Florida makes the argument that the most successful cities, including New York, are major drivers of growing inequality: “Clustering of talent is a powerful force, the most basic force of economic growth.” New York, San Francisco and other urban hubs, attract the most creative and energetic populations, according to Florida, because of the attractive, dynamic nature of the pre-existing local ecology. At the same time, compared to the country as a whole, cities have a disproportionate share of recent immigrants, and of the dispossessed, the impoverished and the marginalized.

The result, in Florida’s view, is that America faces “a new kind of urban crisis brought on by the success of some of our cities,” with diverging cities “divided by talent clusters, by concentrated disadvantage juxtaposed with concentrated advantage.”

Florida is asserting that what works in NYC might not play in Peoria. When Edsall asked Myerson to react to Florida’s analysis, Myerson acknowledged that regional solutions would be far better than city-based ones:

The city of Los Angeles, he noted, has 3.9 million people, while Los Angeles County has 9.8 million, with 87 separate cities. “While most businesses wouldn’t relocate if the city only hiked the wage, a hodgepodge of differing local wage levels would doubtless entice some.”

Edsall concludes his article with this paragraph:

Urban America is now on a reconnaissance mission for progressive politics. What we’re still waiting to find out is whether the policies and programs developed in the nation’s thriving urban core will prove to be broadly applicable. Can the new progressive mayors lay the groundwork for a national agenda, or will bold and innovative policy experiments that privilege New York and Seattle fail their disadvantaged cousins like Stockton, Detroit, Buffalo and Baltimore?

I recently read an article about Wayne County, MI, in the New Yorker that described how their county executive shamelessly exploited the fears of the Detroit middle class and business community siphoning off businesses and educated residents to the detriment of his neighbor to the south. I know that Baltimore County did the same thing in a more subtle fashion and witnessed the same phenomenon on a smaller scale in Duchess County NY. All of this led me to make the following comment:

Virtually every “disadvantaged cousin” is ringed by “affluent brothers and sisters” some of whom gleefully siphon talent and wealth away from their siblings (see Wayne County in MI for a particularly blatant example). Cities with major universities are populated with individuals who recognize the need to help their fellow citizens. Perhaps this happens because in consolidated environments citizens witness the effects of poverty on a daily basis while those in the affluent ring communities surrounding the “disadvantaged cousin” cities have figuratively or literally put up walls to keep poverty out of sight and, therefore, out of mind. The only way to level those figurative walls is to enact a progressive tax policy that re-establishes the missing equilibrium.

To stretch the family metaphor a step further, only Uncle Sam can help….


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