Sunday, February 13, 2005

Completely Unrelated Editorials


I was reading the London Guardian today, and came across an article about poverty in Scotland. The article quotes a young professor who emerged from Scotland's poverty:
He said there were two kinds of people who decried the focus on poverty in Scotland in writing and culture: 'The first is the arrogant snob, who has never known poverty and wants to snuff out anything that doesn't conform to their own experience of comfort and security; the second is the first-generation professional who thinks, "If I can do it, anyone can." It would be like me saying, "Right kids, throw away the bottle of Buckfast and get doing the PhD." Life's just not like that. The reality is that there is massive poverty in this city. You'd either need to be a liar or a well-paid media person to deny that.'
Which brings me to the completely unrelated editorial by George Will, in which he advances his substitution of "euro-" and "European" as epithets, for his similar past use of "liberal".
California, where per capita spending in constant dollars has more than tripled in five decades, is burdened by the sort of growth-inhibiting government that has plagued some American cities. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Joel Kotkin, author of the forthcoming book "The City: A Global History," distinguishes between America's "aspirational" cities and "Euro-American" cities. The former -- e.g., Atlanta; Boise, Idaho; Charlotte; Fort Myers and Orlando, Fla.; Las Vegas and Reno, Nev.; Phoenix; and Salt Lake City -- are thriving. The latter -- e.g., Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco -- are experiencing social fragmentation as government's clients fight over dwindling scarce resources, and many of these cities are losing population, often to the aspirational cities.

Euro-American cities, where teachers unions prevent improvements in public education and "municipal welfare states" keep living costs high, increasingly attract affluent and often childless liberals: Seattle, Kotkin says, "has roughly the same population it did in 1960, but barely half as many children." Euro-American cities have, in varying degrees, the malady known in the 1970s as "the British disease," when Britain was called, as Turkey once was, "the sick man of Europe."
Now tell me that there are no substantive differences between cities like Chicago, New York, and Boston, as opposed to Boise, Atlanta, and Fort Myers. Tell me that the demographics are the same. Tell me that the history is analogous. Tell me that they have similar populations of welfare recipients. Tell me that they have similar cultural opportunity. Oh... you can't?

Will's thesis, derived from an upcoming book, appears to be that childless liberals are attracted to cities which are wasteful and dying, whereas everybody else is flocking to cultural meccas like Boise and Salt Lake City - what Will describes as "aspirational" cities. My guess is that, were Will to actually think about his assertion, he would come to realize that there is a lot more at play - and, for example, would recognize the many reasons he lives in a Maryland suburb a stone's throw from Euro-Washington DC, and not in a suburb of Boise. (He might also take the time to count the children in his house, and consider where other rich, childless conservatives choose to live. Is someone like Will more likely to buy an apartment in Salt Lake City, or in, say, Trump Tower? Do you suppose that Will is more likely to vacation in London, Paris, or Charlotte?) It is also interesting to note that Will's lists exclude cities which fit his notions of "European" (e.g., Detroit), because their inclusion destroys his thesis that such cities attract childless liberals.

It is interesting to note that Will presents no solutions to the problems he perceives in this column, but if his notions of what is "European" and his past columns are to be taken as a guide he presumably believes we can make cities like Chicago and New York less "European" by slashing welfare benefits, abolishing public unions, and curbing government expansion (um... is government actually expanding in the cities at issue?) This isn't to say that we can't (or shouldn't) learn the lessons of an overextended welfare state, or of extending so many amenities to workers that our industries are no longer competitive. But those aren't really the lessons Will wants us to draw.

One might also take note that Will is both sneering at "European" welfare and government, while tacitly endorsing "European" social mores. Ah - but he rebrands those as "libertarian", thereby distinguishing them (albeit artificially) from his new favorite epithet:
[Schwarzenegger's] libertarianism extends beyond the theory of political economy he encountered as a young man in the writings of Milton Friedman and beyond the exuberant entrepreneurialism of his life, to social issues. He favors abortion rights, does not care if any state's voters endorse gay marriage and has "no use" for a constitutional amendment barring that.
Well, if that's the way Will feels, no wonder he feels more at home living (and presumably vacationing) in the cities he loves to hate.

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