Civil War on the Left, Part 55: Democrat Dilemmas

One of the central problems of liberalism is that its operating dogmas sooner or later collide with each other. Take the way antitrust operated for decades: if you charged the same price as your competitors, you were guilty of collusion and price-fixing. But if you charged less than your competitors, you were guilty of predatory pricing. (Indeed this is exactly how antitrust investigations began decades ago before we came to our senses.) Or take bank lending: if a bank doesn’t lend to the urban poor and minorities, it is guilty of “red-lining.” But if a bank does lend to poor and minority customers who default at high rates (as happened in 2008), then you’re guilty of predatory lending.

And don’t even get me started on Starbucks. They deserve every bit of pain they have invited by their proud virtue signaling of the last few years. Anyone remember Starbucks’s “talk about race campaign” from a few years ago? If they start serving popcorn, I might wander by.

The great thing about being a liberal is the permanent state of cognitive dissonance it allows. Instead of pondering these kind of contradictions and perhaps, in good Marxist fashion, reaching some kind of new synthesis, liberals just dust themselves off and move on as though nothing has happened.

The latest example of contradictory liberal angst concerns the demographic trends in cities. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, when whites in droves moved from urban neighborhoods to the suburbs, liberals decried it as “white flight,” which was racist. Nowadays, as we see lots of young, prosperous whites moving back into central cities (and driving up real estate prices), it is called “gentrification.” Which is also racist. Naturally.

All of this is preface for pointing readers to Tom Edsall’s column in the New York Times today, “The Democrats’ Gentrification Problem.” Edsall is a liberal, but one of the smarter (and very congenial personally) ones who understood early the appeal of Trump and the shortsightedness of what Joel Kotkin labels as “gentry liberalism.” He warns that Democrats will face increasing internal friction on account of this trend:

Research that focuses on the way city neighborhoods are changing by income, race and ethnicity, while not specifically addressed to political consequences, helps us see the potential for conflict within the Democratic coalition. . .

In firmly Democratic neighborhoods across the country, the economic status of those moving in and out began to shift radically starting at the beginning of this century.

Take, for example, “Accounting for Central Neighborhood Change, 1980-2010,” by Nathaniel Baum-Snow, an economist at the University of Toronto, and Daniel Hartley, an economist at the Federal Reserve in Chicago. They found that the core of the nation’s cities is being taken over by members of the affluent wing of the Democratic Party at the expense of the less affluent, disproportionately minority wing of the party:

Central neighborhoods of most U.S. metropolitan areas experienced population decline 1980-2000 and population growth 2000-2010. 1980-2000 departures of residents without a college degree accounted for most of the decline while the return of college educated whites and the stabilization of neighborhood choices by less educated whites drove most of the post-2000 rebound. . .

Upscale liberal whites “who consider themselves committed to racial justice” tend to be “NIMBYists when it comes to their neighborhoods,” [Bruce] Cain wrote, “not living up to their affordable housing commitments and resisting apartment density around mass transportation stops.”

The article culminates with an account of a bill that failed in California’s state legislature last week that would have increased residential height limits near transit stops, this allowing for more transit-friendly housing that liberals always say they want. Democrats killed the bill; Republicans voted for it. Edsall again:

Right now, a heated conflict has erupted within Democratic ranks in California over pending legislation (SB 827) that would override local zoning laws to allow developers to exceed height and density limits in return for an agreement to include more affordable housing units near transit hubs.

In very liberal Marin County (Clinton 77.3 percent, Trump 15.5 percent, median household income $100,310), elected officials of at least seven local municipalities have voted to oppose the legislation.

Jonathan Chait, writing in New York Magazine on Wednesday, pointed out that the housing issue in California and elsewhere,

is ultimately a question of whether the most prosperous parts of blue America can be opened up to new entrants, or whether they will remain closed off and increasingly unaffordable. It is also a political test for whether progressives will be manipulated by knee-jerk suspicions, or be able to think clearly about using the market to serve human needs.

After overwhelmingly Democratic City Councils along the California coast voted to oppose the legislation, the Democratic State Senate answered Chait’s question and killed the bill.

The maneuvers in California are a reflection of a larger problem for Democrats: their inability to reconcile the conflicts inherent in the party’s economic and racial bifurcation.

Read the whole thing. And as I say, pass the popcorn.


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