Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: Are "Big Liberal Cities" Too Small?

Special Election 2017 results, thus far
Hello Everyone:

Time for the weekly installment of Blogger Candidate Forum.  Before we get started on today's subject: liberal cities, Blogger needs to comment on a couple of things.  First, in the wake of the horrific Grenfell Tower Fire, a petition was posted on, banning the use of foam insulation.  Please go to this link and add your name to it.  Second, yesterday there was a special election to fill the Sixth Georgia Congressional district.

 Republican Karen Handel bested political newcomer Democrat Jon Ossoff in the race to fill the seat vacated by now Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price by a slender 3.8 percent.  This follows closely similar defeats in Montana and Kansas, where Republicans held on to hotly contest districts.  While the Red Team celebrated, the Blue Team  was left crying in their beer (literally and metaphorically).  What went wrong?  In Blogger's own humble estimation, the Blue Team made these elections a referendum on President Donald Trump, the absolutely wrong approach.  The right approach was "the economy stupid."  Voters wanted to hear why a Democrat-controlled Congress would be better for the economy, healthcare, immigration, national security, et cetera than a Republican-led Congress.  Quit making everything about POTUS and start focusing on the real issues that voters want to hear about.  Give voters a real reason(s) to pick you, not another round of POTUS and Republicans are Satan's emissaries on earth.  Alright, Blogger is done in the Speaker's Corner, now on to why big liberal cities are not big enough.

New York City skyline
Photograph by Lucas Jackson/Reuters
One of the things that truly make America great is its big cities.  They are the mechanisms that drive the economy, spur innovation and creativity.  They are also the places that lean heavily toward more liberal politics.  This is why, according to Richard Florida in his CityLab article "The 'Big Liberal City' Isn't Big Enough," says that New York Times columnist "Ross Douthat's suggestion that we break up America's 'big, booming, liberal cities...' has set off a firestorm among urbanists."  In his March 25, 2017 opinion piece, Mr. Douthat writes,

We should treat liberal cities the way liberals treat corporate monopolies-not as growth-enhancing assets, but as trusts that concentrate wealth and and power and conspires against the public good.  And instead of of trying to make them a little more egalitarian with looser going rule and more affordable housing, we should make like Teddy Roosevelt and try to break them up.  ( March 25, 2017, date accessed June 21, 2017)

Portland, Oregon skyline
Photograph by Randy L. Rasmussen/The Oregonian/2013
  Ross Douthat's argument is centered around Will Wilkinson's must-read Washington Post editorial on how cities really make America great.  Mr. Wilkinson's posits his column as a "thought experiment, calling it the latest 'installment' in his series of 'implausible, perhaps even ridiculous proposals.'" (; March 17, 2017date accessed June 21, 2017)

Those of the urbanist persuasion were all too happy to mock these implausible, perhaps ridiculous proposals. City Observatory's Joe Cortright put it best,

What this misses is that cities actually create value through increasing returns, what economists call agglomeration economies.  People in cities are more productive, more innovative, and have higher skills because they live in cities.  Absent cities, the innovation and productivity upon which these industries depend for their success, they simply wouldn't exist.  (; March 28, 2017; date accessed June 21, 2017)

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Economist Edward Glaeser told the Washington Post:

...Cities enable workers to search over a wider range of firms, and to hop from one firm to another in case of a crisis.  they enable service providers to reach their customers, and customers to access a dizzying range of service providers.  Perhaps most importantly they enable the spread of ideas and new information.  (; March 8, 2017; date accessed June 21, 2017)

Richard Florida notes, "Relatively speaking, however, America's cities and metro areas are not that big a fraction of the U.S. economy, compared to cities in other parts of the world."

"Metro Share of National GDP"
Taylor Blake/Martin Prosperity Institute

The map of the left was generated by Mr. Florida's colleague, Taylor Blake, at the Martin Prosperity Institute.  Mr. Blake used data from the Brookings Institution's Global Metro Monitor, which presents the share of national output (GDP) based on a sample of large metropolitans around the world.

In the United States, New York City "generates 8.3 percent of GDP, Los Angeles accounts for 5.2 percent, Chicago generates 3.2 percent, Houston covers 2.8 percent, Dallas and D.C. each produce 2.5 percent, and San Francisco and Boston kick in 2.1 percent each."

By comparison, Toronto accounts for almost a fifth-"18.5 percent of Canada's GDP, Mexico City generates 22.5 percent of Mexico's economic output.  Tokyo, London, and Paris churn out 30 percent in Japan, England, and France respectively; in Sweden, Stockholm accounts for 36 percent of GDP.  Tel Aviv is responsible for 48 percent of Israel's economic output and Seoul generates more than half of South Korea's GDP."

If anything, it really does not square with President Trump's doom and gloom perception of American cities.  Quite the contrary, Mr. Florida believes that U.s. cities should be bigger in order to optimize productivity benefits that result from clustering and agglomeration, "while balancing the costs of congestion or the other economic externalities from running a city."

Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel
All of these statistics and anecdotes help bolster the case for why cities are great, they mean very little in the suburbs, medium- to small-cities which have not experienced the same type of productivity benefits as the liberal big cities.  These are the very places where the Trump campaign found attentive audiences who wanted to hear someone speak directly to them about the very issues that affected their daily lives: healthcare, crime, the economy, taxes, et cetera.  Thought experiments, like the one Ross Douthat conducts, can be fun but the Trump doctrine is "dangerously anti-city."  In reality, "If we are to overcome economic stagnation, generate new innovations, improve productivity, and create new and better jobs, the United States needs even bigger cities-and they need to be both more affordable and more inclusive."  One more thing, if the Democrats want any hope of re-capturing Congress in next year's mid-term election, they will have to formulate a platform that refutes President Trumps anti-city doctrine and not on President Donald Trump.

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