On the one hand, we have the small-town entrepreneur yearning for sidewalks and streetlights; on the other, we have dodgy “Five Aces” federal contracts and Al Gore’s federally enabled greenmongering. Between those two points there exists a spectrum of possible configurations of government, and the fundamental political debate of our time is whether we’re on the right side of that spectrum or the wrong side. Conservatives want to prune back the vines, and progressives want them to grow thicker.
How’s that working out in the laboratories of the Left?
Progressives argue that we need deeper government involvement in the economy in order to assuage the ill effects of economic inequality. But, as Joel Kotkin points out, inequality is the most pronounced in places where progressives dominate: New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago. The more egalitarian cities are embedded in considerably more conservative metropolitan areas in conservative states. “Part of the difference,” Mr. Kotkin writes, “is the strong growth of higher-paid, blue-collar jobs in places like Houston, Oklahoma City, Salt Lake, and Dallas compared to rapidly de-industrializing locales such as New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Even Richard Florida, the guru of the ‘creative class,’ has admitted that the strongest growth in mid-income jobs has been concentrated in red-state metros such as Salt Lake City, Houston, Dallas, Austin, and Nashville. Some of this reflects a history of later industrialization but other policies — often mandated by the state — encourage mid-income growth, for example, by not imposing high energy prices with subsidies for renewables, or restricting housing growth in the periphery. Cities like Houston may seem blue in many ways but follow local policies largely indistinguishable from mainstream Republicans elsewhere.” In Detroit, Chicago, and Philadelphia, African Americans earn barely half of what whites earn — and in San Francisco, African Americans earn less than half of what whites earn. Hispanics in Boston earn 50 percent of what whites make; but it is 84 percent in Riverside County, Calif., a traditional Republican stronghold (it holds the distinction of being one of only two West Coast counties to have gone for Hoover over FDR and is Duncan Hunter’s turf), and the figures are comparable in places such as Phoenix and Miami.
Progressivism is a luxury good for college-educated white people. It is the Hermes sneaker of political tendencies. California is not an especially wealthy state — its median income is right between Wyoming’s and Nebraska’s — but it is a state in which one needs to be pretty well off to live decently. The value of the median home in San Francisco is more than ten times the median income; in San Jose, it’s nine and a half times the median income; in Houston, it’s only four times the median income. California is a great place to be a technology executive or a screenwriter, but it’s a rotten place to be a truck driver. California-style progressivism is oriented toward serving the needs of rich people in San Jose, not those of middle-class people in Riverside County or poor people in the agrarian villages. If you’re a well-off lawyer in the gilded suburbs of Los Angeles, you have a great selection of poor, brown gardeners and housekeepers to lessen life’s burdens, which is great for you but stinks for them. It is not an accident that our nation’s most segregated cities are mostly strongholds of the Left: New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Boston.
But the fact is that, despite the po-faced rhetoric, progressives do not really care about the poor, the brown, the black, or the marginalized. Progressivism is very little more than the managerial class pursuing its own class interests under cover of altruism.
That, too, is why conservatives favor government on the modest, manageable, local level. And that is why progressives want to centralize political power in Washington, and why they have more success in big cities such as Los Angeles and New York: If you were screwing the poor and the struggling while alleging to act on their behalf, would you be able to look them in the eye? Would you want to?
Kevin has become one of my favorite political writers.