A new era for localism, civil society, and federalism?

by Ryan Streeter on December 6, 2016. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Joel Kotkin has astutely observed in the Daily Beast that localism has now become a left-right issue:

Under Obama, conservative states resisted ever expanding federal executive power; now it’s the progressives’ turn to worry about an overweening central state. Some blue states are already planning to go on their own in such areas as health care and somewhat less plausibly, immigration.

He also astutely observes something about centralization that is too often missed in our “government is good/bad” debates: contrary to the dreams of statists, expansive federal power actually fuels polarization.

[C]entralizing power does not promote national unity, but ever harsher division. Enforced central control, from left or right, polarizes politics in dangerous ways. The rather hysterical reaction to Trump’s election on the left is a case in point, with some in alt-blue California calling for secession from the union.

The sentiment on which localism is based is not a conservative or liberal one. It is a human one. Progressives are now rediscovering it in the wake of Trump’s surprising victory. Joel writes:

Do people want Washington to rule everything? The real issue is not the intrinsic evil of government itself, but how we can best address society’s myriad problems. For decades, many progressives have embraced an expansive central government as the most effective method of changing society for the better. Yet it is far from clear that most Americans prefer that alternative. A rough majority in November cast their votes for either Trump, who attacked President Obama’s executive orders, or libertarian Gary Johnson, a candidate with an even stronger localist tendency. Since 2007, the percentage of people who favored expanding government has dropped from 51 to 45 percent….By 64 percent to 26 percent, according to a 2015 poll—Americans say that they feel “more progress” on critical issues take place on the local rather than the federal level. Majorities of all political affiliations and all demographic groups hold this same opinion.


Perhaps a Trump administration in the wake of the Obama presidency is a perfect time to revive the discussion about federalism and civil society among thought leaders on the left and right  that has faltered quite a bit during the Bush-Obama years.

Why are young and rich people increasingly supportive of authoritarianism over liberal democracy?

by Ryan Streeter on November 29, 2016. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

What is driving the falling support for liberal democracies among people living in them? That question has gotten some attention because of this Mounk-Foa article (PDF) in the Journal of Democracy, which was recently featured in the New York Times.

The times piece showed this chart from the Mounk-Foa article and focused on how support for liberal democracy is falling, and support for authoritarianism rising, among young people:


Those trend lines are startling.

But I wasn’t entirely surprised. Perhaps that’s because teaching on a university campus has shown me that young people today have a very “meh” attitude toward democratic capitalism. The clothes they can afford to buy; the relative peace and security they enjoy; the ability to freely choose their vocational path, even if it’s not a promising one – all of these things seem disconnected from their political philosophies. I’ve realized in my conversations with them how different my worldview is because I actually remember the Soviet Union and what it was like to be a teenager with socialism and communism as very real alternatives to the country in which I lived. I even visited Czechoslovakia as a teen and saw first-hand what life in an alternative was like. And it was depressing, even among one of the “better” communist countries. My students have no such memories and are mostly conversant of the failings of the country in which they live rather than others.

What did surprise me in the original Foa-Mounk article, which was not in the Times piece, is the following chart:


The lines are surprising, but it’s worth pointing out that we’re still looking at a minority of Americans here. Still, though, it’s strange that in increasing measure, people benefiting the most from the democratic United States are most likely to support authoritarianism over democratic rule.

Now, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Is this what cronyism looks like in an advanced administrative state like we have in America? Maybe some of the best-paid have come to terms with the benefits of working out arrangements with the bureaucracy over democratic process. Maybe, but that doesn’t seem quite right. Or at least complete. Maybe it has more to do with the fact that those who are benefitting financially these days are largely inured from the socioeconomic shocks that have roiled our country over the past 15 years or so, and not having a voice in the system doesn’t matter as much to them as it does to those who are losing out on every front right now. Maybe. Whatever the hypothesis, it seems like we really don’t have good answers at this point.

It would be interesting to hear what others think about this.

One final observation: Mounk’s work has gotten some attention in recent months mostly as people reflect on the Trump phenomenon. But it’s important to realize that those trend lines in the charts span the Bush and Obama years and beyond. That over a third of affluent American prefer authoritarianism has little to nothing to do with Trump. That should be where we focus our discussion as we try to figure out what is going on in America.

The suburbs may hold the key to future electoral success

by Ryan Streeter on November 26, 2016. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

“The largest metropolitan constituency in the country, far larger than the celebrated, and deeply class-divided core cities, is the increasingly diverse suburbs,” write Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox.

Given the post-election commentary on both the left and the right, it’s easy to think that the election was all about the political establishment overlooking the white working class. But this isn’t quite right. We now know that Trump did far better among college-educated whites than predicted, and no one thought he would garner as many Latino votes as he did.

Kotkin and Cox point out a key reason why these surprises came to be: the suburbs. They write:

Trump won suburbia by a significant five percentage point margin nationally, improving on Romney’s two-point edge, and by more   outside the coastal regions…The states that voted for Trump enjoyed net domestic migration of 1.45 million from 2010 to 2015, naturally drawn from the states that were won by Hillary Clinton. Democrat-leaning ethnic groups, like Hispanics, are expanding rapidly, but Americans are moving in every greater numbers to the more conservative geographies of the Sun Belt, the suburbs and exurbs.

Kotkin has long been a critic of the idea that left-leaning urban areas with high numbers of creative class types will determine the political future of the country. Whether people are Democrats or Republicans, the data show the vast majority of them prefer to live in lower-tax areas with good schools and good jobs. And suburbs have been the places where those preferences are fulfilled. S0me significant percentage of people living there, regardless of politics, voted for Trump.

So rather than looking at the battle over the working class, party leaders should look at the battle over the suburbs as an important element in future electoral success.

Anyone who thinks the conservatives are a greater threat to scientific progress than progressives should read this

by Ryan Streeter on November 26, 2016. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

John Tierney’s essay in City Journal is excellent. Whatever one thinks of conservatives’ views on science, he writes, one thing that’s clear is the Right hasn’t had much influence on science. How much have creationists really changed the study of evolution, or how much did a ban on stem cell research make a difference in the field? Not much.

The bigger problem, Tierney writes, lies in two failings on the Left, which does in fact control scientific debate: confirmation bias in research and mixing politics and science.

On the first point, for example:

In a classic study of peer review, 75 psychologists were asked to referee a paper about the mental health of left-wing student activists. Some referees saw a version of the paper showing that the student activists’ mental health was above normal; others saw different data, showing it to be below normal. Sure enough, the more liberal referees were more likely to recommend publishing the paper favorable to the left-wing activists. When the conclusion went the other way, they quickly found problems with its methodology.

That’s a prelude to a number of studies and examples Tierney cites in which confirmation bias has inhibited progress.

On the second, the Left saw early in the 2oth century that science could be enlisted to promote social goals that were not themselves necessarily grounded in science. This compromised good science:

The Right cited scientific work when useful, but it didn’t enlist science to remake society—it still preferred guidance from traditional moralists and clerics. The Left saw scientists as the new high priests, offering them prestige, money, and power. The power too often corrupted. Over and over, scientists yielded to the temptation to exaggerate their expertise and moral authority, sometimes for horrendous purposes.

Political rewards do in fact affect how scientists see the world and what they are willing to conclude. Which reinforces the first problem.

Read the whole thing. It’s filled with a number of great examples of the thesis.

From my city reading pile

by Ryan Streeter on November 6, 2016. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Where can you earn the most relative to your cost of living? Wendell Cox and Joel Kotkin of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism have created a useful index that uses mean pay per job adjusted by cost of living in 106 metros with more than 500,000 residents.

Kotkin categorizes the results by 4 categories:

  • Expensive but worth it: Places like Silicon Valley and Hartford
  • Moderately priced but high incomes: Houston
  • Expensive but not producing enough high-paying jobs to make it worth it: San Diego and LA
  • Cheap, but not for the right reasons: most of the cities on the bottom half of their list

You can check out the COU Index here.

And at the Upshot, a good article on how the GOP has completely lost cities. One of my favorites (and former boss), Stephen Goldsmith sums it up well:

It’s unimaginably distressing, even by eight years ago, let alone 16 years ago…We had an opportunity to reach broadly across the country to have an inspiring voice of opportunity, and there’s a set of coherent Republican policies that would amplify that opportunity. We’re doing the opposite. We’re insulting folks who could vote for us.

And, also at the Upshot, a worthwhile read on how political ideology is related to whether you live in cities, suburbs, or countryside. Given where my family and I have chosen to live over the past 20 years, I must be a hard-core lefty.

About those claims regarding extreme inequality and absolute equality

by Ryan Streeter on November 5, 2016. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Real Clear Policy asked David Midland at CAP and me to write two competing perspectives on inequality. Mine is here, his is here.

We also published responses to each other. It’s a nice virtual debate, and anyone who’s follows the inequality and mobility issue would probably enjoy reading it.

I just have one comment on his response to my article. He says I imply that “progressives support absolute equality of conditions and that extreme inequality is necessary to make the economy work.” That’s a bizarre claim. I do no such thing. And on the second point, I actually argue the opposite.

On the first point, I only argue that there are 3 views typically advanced by people who want to reduce inequality, and that only the third (cronyism) has any real policy merit. I never imply or say that progressives want absolute equality of conditions. In fact, at the opening, I say that most economists and most Americans (which presumably includes a lot of progressives) don’t have a problem with at least some level of inequality.

On the second point, I have no idea where he gets the idea that I think extreme inequality is necessary to make the economy work. In fact, by claiming that there isn’t really a very strong link between growing incomes at the top and stagnating incomes in the middle, I’m arguing the opposite. In a way my entire article is premised on the observation that the very rich’s wealth gains and the income levels of everyone else aren’t related in ways that affect mobility very much. The problem is that lower and middle income people’s incomes aren’t growing as we’d like, and the very rich don’t have much to do with this.

No, Mike Pence did not struggle to achieve policy wins as governor in Indiana

by Ryan Streeter on November 5, 2016. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Tim Alberta’s piece on Mike Pence in NR has gotten some deserved attention. It was an interesting, fair look at the Pence-joins-Trump saga. Most discussion of the piece has centered on Pence’s comments about whether he backs Paul Ryan as Speaker.

I want to correct one claim Alberta makes because I’ve heard others say the same thing, and it creates a false impression of Pence as a policy entrepreneur. Alberta writes of Pence’s return to Indiana as Governor, “Adjusting to a new job was hard; securing policy wins that would distinguish him from [predecessor Mitch] Daniels and raise his profile ahead of a possible presidential run was even harder.”

Pence’s policy wins have not gotten the attention they deserve, which has affected his ability to “raise his profile.” But the claim makes it sound as if Pence did not have policy wins.

I served as Pence’s policy advisor for his first two years in office, and advised him during his campaign on a pro bono basis. So I’m obviously biased. But still, it’s not hard to count up some pretty significant achievements in his first two years:

  • Biggest state income tax cut in Indiana’s history
  • Elimination of the inheritance tax
  • Significant reduction in taxes on businesses
  • Moratorium on new regulations
  • Creation of the state’s first-ever voucher-based pre-K program
  • Creation of the only 100% HSA-based Medicaid program in the country
  • Spending restraint on par with Daniels’ spending limits
  • Creation of the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute, which is on track to be a national, and even international, leader on research into metabolic and related disorders

Lots of governors would love to have that kind of record in just a couple years. It is an admirable blend of traditional fiscal conservatism and innovative “compassionate conservative” initiatives such as pre-K and Medicaid reform (and Pence took some serious heat from fellow conservatives for the Medicaid decision).

The 2016 campaign hasn’t been about these things, because he’s a running mate and not the candidate. But it’s unfair to Pence to claim that he struggled to get policy wins, when he obviously did not, and then bring up the RFRA fiasco as if it’s the only thing that marked his first term.

Want to get ahead? Be nice!

by Ryan Streeter on October 21, 2016. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Loved Arthur Brooks’ WSJ column yesterday. If you’re a college graduate trying to get an edge in a daunting job market, you don’t often get advice like this: “Be pleasant and friendly.”

In one 2015 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, a team of scholars from France and the U.S. looked at the impact of civility and warmth to colleagues on perceived leadership and job performance. In addition to being seen as natural leaders by co-workers, nice employees performed significantly better than others in performance reviews by senior supervisors. For those who make it to leadership, niceness is also a key to success. A 2015 NBC poll found that most people would take a nicer boss over a 10% pay increase.

Arthur goes on to show that niceness makes us more attractive to others (and nastiness makes us uglier to others) and makes us personally happier than when we are not nice. So try being nicer today and see how it goes!

Austin and the high-powered Texas metropolises

by Ryan Streeter on October 15, 2016. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

When someone asks you what comes to mind when you think of dynamic American urban areas, you probably think of the usual suspects: New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles. Do you ever think of cities in Texas?

You should. Joel Kotkin’s latest Forbes column looks at the fast-growing urban economies in Texas – 4 of the fastest growing 10 large cities in America are in the Lone Star state – and concludes that urbanists should look at the Texas model rather than the usual suspects when theorizing about what makes a city dynamic.

Of Austin, where I presently live, Joel writes:

Comparisons with the other big metros are almost pathetic. Austin’s job growth has been roughly three times that of New York, more than four times that of San Francisco, five times Los Angeles’ and 10 times that of Chicago. Simply put, Austin is putting the rest of the big metro areas in the shade.

The type of job growth Austin experiences is based in productive sectors of the economy and – this is important – is disperse across the wider metro area, which creates many different hubs of economic and cultural activity. He’s kind enough to cite my work when he says:

Austin [cannot] be dismissed as a place where low-skilled workers flee, as was said about other former fast-growing stars, notably Las Vegas. Just look at employment in STEM (science-, technology-, engineering- and math-related fields). Since 2001, Austin’s STEM workforce has expanded 35%, compared to 10% for the country as a whole, 26% in San Francisco, a mere 2% in New York and zero in Los Angeles. And contrary to perceptions, the vast majority of this growth has taken place outside the entertainment-oriented core.

The biggest sources of in-migration, Joel notes, are from California, the Northeast, and Florida. Why would people leave such great places to come to Austin? When you try to answer that question, you’ll start to figure out what the new model of urban dynamism is, and isn’t.

Regulatory activism and the rest of us

by Ryan Streeter on August 22, 2016. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Holman Jenkins’ column on the regulatory state is one of the best in recent memory.

The problem today isn’t just the size and scope of the 4th branch of government and its regulations. It’s the scope of regulatory activism and its reach into our lives.

He writes:

[Rent-seeking is] the term economists use for exercising government power to create private gains for political purposes. Consider:

Mr. Obama’s bank policy dramatically consolidated the banking industry, which the government routinely sues for billions of dollars, with the proceeds partly distributed to Democratic activist groups.

His consumer-finance agency manufactured fake evidence of racism against wholesale auto lenders in order to facilitate a billion-dollar shakedown.

His airline policy, urged by labor unions, led to a major-carrier oligopoly, with rising fares and profits.

His FDA is seeking to extinguish small e-cigarette makers for the benefit of Big Tobacco and Big Pharma (whose smoking-cessation franchise is threatened by cheap and relatively safe electronic cigarettes).

His National Labor Relations Board, by undermining the power of independent franchisees, is working to cartelize the fast-food industry for the benefit of organized labor.

We could go on. Mr. Obama’s own Council of Economic Advisers complains about the increasing cartelization of the U.S. economy—as if this were not a natural output of regulation. In a much-noted Harvard Business Review piece this spring, James Bessen, an economist, lawyer and software entrepreneur, cites increased “political rent seeking” to explain the puzzle of rising corporate profits in the absence of job creation and economic growth.

I recommend Bessen’s article to you. It’s eye-opening.

The problem with the regulatory state is how it advances special interests in the name of the public interest. As long as it goes on unabated, we all lose.