Give America’s Cities the Power They Deserve

View of Columbus Circle in Manhattan, New York at night, December 15, 2007
View of Columbus Circle in Manhattan, New York at night, December 15, 2007 (Thomas Hawk)

Will Wilkinson has another excellent op-ed in The New York Times about the maldistribution of power in the United States between rural and urban areas.

Part of the problem is that America’s federal system gives sparsely populated parts of the country way more power than the cities. That wasn’t such a big problem until the rural-urban divide became partisan. Now the largely white countryside and small towns vote overwhelmingly Republican while multicultural cities elect mostly Democrats. American democracy has been thrown into a crisis of legitimacy and dysfunction as a result.

Our politics is cracking up over the density divide. Big cities and their distinctive interests are suffering a density penalty and need more visibility in our scheme of representation.

Read more

Locating the “Real” Country, Putting Germany First and NATO Solidarity

A farm in the south of France, June 1, 2014
A farm in the south of France, June 1, 2014 (Harmish Khambhaita)

Andrew Sullivan is always worth reading, but, in the case of his latest column, I do think Noah Smith has a point and Sullivan falls into the trap of conflating Brexit and Donald Trump voters with “real England” and “real America”.

This is a mistake conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic make. The small towns and countryside aren’t the “real” country. They’re half the country. Or, in the case of Trumpists, a third of the country. Their views deserve to be taken seriously, but so do those of big-city liberals.

Or as Smith puts it:

What we should NOT do is elevate one segment of the populace to Special Real American status, simply because they fit a certain classic stereotype or because they are more intolerant and angry than the rest.

Related to this discussion is Nabila Ramdani’s argument in UnHerd for retiring the label “Gaullist” in France. (Charles de Gaulle is to French politics what Ronald Reagan is to American conservatism.)

De Gaulle’s base consisted of white, Roman Catholic conservatives who had a quasi-mystical faith in their rural nation. There was no place in Gaullism for the millions of immigrants from France’s former colonies, nor did it adapt to globalization and the spread of Anglo-Saxon culture.

Emmanuel Macron’s project is a belated attempt to reconcile these facets of modern France and it meets strong resistance in La France profonde. Read more

Rutte Survives Tax Debacle, Middle America Not Doing So Badly

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte makes a speech in parliament in The Hague, November 13, 2012
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte makes a speech in parliament in The Hague, November 13, 2012 (Rijksoverheid)

The Netherlands’ Mark Rutte has been reprimanded by opposition parties for failing to disclose memos to parliament about internal government deliberations over the repeal of a business tax.

Rutte claimed he had not been aware of the papers, which were drafted by the Finance Ministry during the formation of his current government. The four parties in his coalition, which have a one-seat majority, accepted this explanation. All opposition parties but one voted to censure him.

Rutte surprised other parties by eliminating the dividend tax when he returned to power in October. Repeal had not been part of his election program. The suspicion in The Hague is that Rutte’s former employer, Unilever, and Royal Dutch Shell — two of the Netherlands’ largest companies — lobbied him to eliminate the tax. Read more

The Rent Is Too High, Partisanship Versus Democracy

Homes in San Francisco, California, April 5, 2010
Homes in San Francisco, California, April 5, 2010 (Jerome Vial)

Will Wilkinson of the libertarian Niskanen Center tells The Washington Post that expanding affordable housing in America’s major cities is the key to reducing inequality.

Wages have barely budged in decades, yet housing costs have soared due to restrictive zoning and land-use policies. Young and working Americans are now unable to save. Homeowners are getting richer.

Kevin D. Williamson, a conservative columnist who was recently hired and then fired by The Atlantic for his right-wing views (more on that here), has similarly argued in National Review that working-class Americans left behind in the Rust Belt need to move to the coasts. He partly blames them for staying put, but recognizes that policy plays a role.

Consider California, where so many of the jobs in the new economy are. Its housing crisis (you can buy a private island or a castle in Europe for the price of a San Francisco apartment) is entirely man-made, “a result of extraordinarily restrictive zoning and environmental codes and epic NIMBYism of a uniquely Californian variety.”

A Republican Party wishing to renew its prospects in California (which it once dominated) or in American cities could — and should — make affordable housing the centerpiece of its agenda for the cities.

More on why Republicans ought to compete in American cities here. Handelsblatt reports that Berlin fears San Francisco-style housing problems. Read more

How Long Will Booming Metropoles Put Up With Being Overruled?

The skyline of Miami, Florida
The skyline of Miami, Florida (Unsplash/Ryan Parker)

A little over a year ago, I described Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as revenge against the city. Left-behind towns and the countryside, which enjoy disproportionate power in both countries’ electoral systems, voted against the interests of urbanites.

Janan Ganesh later warned that, at some point, city dwellers may decide they have had enough of subsidizing provincials who vote against their heathen ways from a distance. He pointed to the independence movements in Catalonia and the wealthy northern provinces of Italy as examples.

Now Ronald Brownstein worries that the same could happen in the United States. President Trump, he points out, is prioritizing the interests of inland areas by reviving manufacturing and deregulating the energy industry while threatening coastal cities by restricting immigration and trade and limiting the deductibility of state and local taxes. Read more

Republicans Must Not Abandon the Coasts

View of Madison Square Park in Manhattan, New York
View of Madison Square Park in Manhattan, New York (Unsplash/Daryan Shamkhali)

Kevin D. Williamson urges America’s Republicans not to abandon the coasts.

It’s all good and fine to point to the troubles of Democratic-controlled cities and states, he writes in National Review, but in their rhetorical frenzy to abominate the blue parts of the country Republicans have put themselves at odds with many of its most successful communities, industries and institutions.

Republicans sneer at Silicon Valley and at the elite universities that educate the people who work there. In favor of what? A resentment-driven cultural milieu that insists that the “real America” is to be found elsewhere and that the “real America” looks like Hee-Haw without the music or self-deprecating humor. They insist that San Francisco is Hell on Earth but never ask why it is that so many people want to live there — or they just write off those who do as degenerates and hopelessly un-American.

That’s bad politics. Read more

In City-Country Imbalance, Don’t Focus Only on the Left Behind

View of the Plaça de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain, June 23, 2014
View of the Plaça de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain, June 23, 2014 (Pixabay/Elena Repina)

Janan Ganesh warns in the Financial Times against looking at the city-countryside imbalance exclusively through the lens of the places that have been left behind.

As a moral proposition, this is right, he argues: “the weakest first.” But as a reading of how politics will unfold over time, it could be the wrong way around:

The anger that poor regions feel for the rampant metropolis — that Pas-de-Calais feels for Paris, that Indiana feels for New York — might turn out to weigh less than the grievances that flow in the opposite direction.

City dwellers may at some point decide they have had enough of subsidizing provincials who vote against their heathen ways from a distance. “Call it representation without taxation.” Read more