Responding to Krugman in Slate, Matthew Yglesias wielded Occam’s Butter Knife:
Paul Krugman writes about how the much greater degree of job sprawl in the Detroit area compared to the Pittsburgh area contributed to the substantial more severe decline of Detroit’s central city, and therefore hurt the region as a whole. Stepping back, though, I suspect you’ll find that this job diffusion is largely a consequence of the fact that Pittsburgh is home to two major universities”Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh”while Detroit has only Wayne State University….
Sure, just as Portland, Oregon has become a hipster magnet due to the mighty economic engine that is its most famous institution of higher education, Reed College.
Similarly, red-hot Brooklyn features only a miscellaneous collection of obscure colleges.
This is not to say that having a Stanford or MIT around isn’t a nice thing, just that the arrow of causality runs in both directions. Consider Seattle’s University of Washington and St. Louis’s Washington University. The former was a typical state flagship school until Seattle got rich during the Microsoft years. Conversely, while the latter college has done much to raise its prestige over the last generation, its rise in reputation has had little perceptible impact on St. Louis’s overall downward trajectory.
For that matter, is the wealthy municipality of San Francisco rich because (pace Krugman) the city doesn’t sprawl? Must be, because (contra Yglesias) San Francisco is surprisingly lacking in top universities. Or is San Francisco rich because its sprawling hinterland includes that ne plus ultra of wealth-generating universities, Stanford, which is 35 miles away in Silicon Valley? But if San Francisco could be said to sprawl all the way to Palo Alto, couldn’t Detroit be said to sprawl to Ann Arbor, home of the formidable STEM programs of the U. of Michigan?
But Krugman-Yglesias levels of wooziness about the most important difference between Pittsburgh and Detroit show their hearts are in the right place. You don’t get Richwined for being oblivious to the obvious.
What would happen if public discourse instead tolerated Occam’s Razor?
The first lesson we would learn is that it’s not inevitable that a black-run city will fall apart. Atlanta has had black mayors for exactly as long as Detroit. Yet”at least so far”Atlanta’s black Democratic rulers have done a decent job of working with Georgia’s white Republican rulers to not kill the white geese who lay the corporate golden eggs.
The lesson is that a black-dominated city has a much narrower margin for error.
In the 21st century, however, it’s increasingly the cities that have the largest margin for error”such as Washington, DC (your tax dollars at work) and New York City (your investment dollars at play)”that have most aggressively squeezed out poor African Americans.
It’s almost as if the national media obsesses over Sanford, Florida to distract from how their own gentrifying cities are boosting their personal property values by using Section 8 vouchers, police harassment, housing-project demolitions, and firing black teachers in the name of school reform to drive out black Americans. When the New York-Washington media obsess over how flyover America is a hotbed of racism and incipient Hitlerism, they are only projecting their own feelings about blacks onto the rest of the country.
The long-run reality is simply that poor blacks, who are our fellow American citizens and who comprise an integral part of our national history, will continue to be a hot potato that white regional elites will hand off to more naÃ¯ve parts of the country.
For example, following the mechanization of cotton growing, mid-20th-century Southern leaders were not unhappy to see a sizable fraction of their black populations head North. Now, northern civic leaders such as Mayor Bloomberg and Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago are attempting to palm off their slum populations onto smaller cities.
This kind of cycling will go on for a long time. And that’s what politics are for: to allow negotiations over burden-sharing.
However, the clearest moral requirement of this process is that everybody across the country should be allowed to grasp the situation’s facts and logic. In contrast, what’s unfair is that those who control the press (such as, say, billionaire media magnate Michael Bloomberg) continue to slip a fast one past their fellow Americans under the blanket rationalization of fighting racist crimethink.
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