Failed States, Failed Cities, Failed Parties?

We’re familiar with the designation of places like Somalia as “failed states,” but can’t we equally recognize failed cities when we see them? New York City in the 1970s, when it needed a federal bailout, was one example from our past, and New York’s fiscal woes were closely connected with its larger social problems of crime, welfare dependency, and all the other factors that diminished the shine of the Big Apple.

Today our obviously failed cities are Seattle and Portland, with Minneapolis, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York (again) trending that direction. (And the entire state of Illinois is on the equivalent of a watch list—I think it is literally on credit watch lists—with California not far behind.)

As mentioned here previously, it appears lots of people are fleeing or preparing to flee these cities, and their economies (and consequent tax bases) may be in free fall even if the COVID-induced economic coma ends in the next few months.

Which raises a frequent worry: what if these dazzling urbanites move to Rock Ridge and vote for the same kind of progressive candidates they foolishly supported where they came from? I think it won’t actually work that way, although I understand the logic behind it.

In our Three Whisky Happy Hour Podcast with Charles Lipson yesterday, Charles expressed skepticism that the voters of Chicago (or New York, etc.) will wise up and toss out the current Democrats who obviously can’t govern. We didn’t talk about some of the deeper reasons to doubt such a sensible outcome. One of them is simply that there aren’t any credible Republican candidates in Chicago, New York, Seattle, etc. Like turtles, it’s Democrats all the way down. They are going to dominate the big cities because they just have a much deeper bench. Republicans competing in the big cities is like putting up a NCAA Division II team against the Houston Astros who, like Democrats, cheat to ensure their success.

The best we can hope for in most big cities is a more sensible Democrat, and we have seen a few sensible Democratic mayors in recent decades. My favorite was John Norquist, the Democratic mayor of Milwaukee back in the 1990s. Norquist not only favored robust economic development and tough crime-fighting; he even supported school choice.

Conversely, when dazzling urbanites move to Rock Ridge, they will look around and find that there aren’t very many good Democratic candidates. As we know, Republican strength these days is increasingly in exurban and rural areas, where good Democratic politicians are being added to the Endangered Species List. Sure, some clueless dazzling urbanites will want to vote for “progressive” candidates, but unless they move to Austin they won’t find very many. I expect the diffusion of dazzling urbanites out of the cities will result in gradual improvement of Republican fortunes. It may not happen this year or next, but as the cities continues to circle and then go down the drain, some of those dazzling ex-urbanites may even start to change their mind—like many did back in the late 1960s and 1970s.

So relax. Bottom line is that the exodus from the big cities is going to weaken Democrats and strengthen Republicans. Failed cities will lead to failed parties.

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