Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Two Americas

It looks like John Edwards was right about something. It seems that there are two Americas.

They may not have been the two that Edwards saw, but still, the nation is clearly divided against itself.

Edwards saw America divided between the overprivileged and the underprivileged. Of late, a more pertinent distinction has emerged. The America of the coasts is increasingly separated from the America of the interior.

One America prefers clean jobs and clean energy. The other is willing to do the dirty jobs, the better to feed and power the nation.

In one America you shut down farming in California’s Central Valley to save a smelt. In the other America you work the land to feed the world and to create prosperity.

The two Americas just clashed over the Obama administration’s decision to stop the Keystone XL pipeline.

Joel Kotkin explains the decision in terms of the two Americas: “America has two basic economies, and the division increasingly defines its politics. One, concentrated on the coasts and in college towns, focuses on the business of images, digits and transactions.

"The other, located largely in the southeast, Texas and the Heartland, makes its living in more traditional industries, from agriculture and manufacturing to fossil fuel development.”

In the past, Kotkin explains, the two Americas coexisted in peace and harmony. With its Keystone decision the Obama administration has introduced yet another division into our nation.

Kotkin writes: “Traditionally these two economies coexisted without interfering with the progress of the other. Wealthier gentry-dominated regions generally eschewed getting their hands dirty so that they could maintain the amenities that draw the so-called creative class and affluent trustifarians. The more traditionally based regions focused, largely uninhibited, on their core businesses, and often used the income to diversify their economies into higher-value added fields.

“The Obama administration has altered this tolerant regime, generating intensifying conflict between the NIMBY America and its more blue-collar counterpart. The administration’s move to block the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico represents a classic expression of this conflict. To appease largely urban environmentalists, the Obama team has squandered the potential for thousands of blue-collar jobs in the Heartland and the Gulf of Mexico.”

Those who favor a clean America insist that they create jobs too. Kotkin debunks their claims: “Of course, the apologists for the NIMBY regions can claim that they, too, create economic value. And to be sure, Silicon Valley — now in a midst of one of its periodic boom periods — Wall Street and Hollywood constitute some of the country’s prime economic assets. Similarly, highly regulated cities such as New York, San FranciscoSeattle, Boston and Chicago offer a quality of life, at least for the well-heeled, that draws talent and capital from the rest of the world.

“But the NIMBY model suffers severe limitations. For one thing, these high cost areas generally lag in creating middle-skilled jobs; New York and San Francisco, for example, have suffered the largest percentage declines in manufacturing employment of the nation’s 51 largest metropolitan areas. Indeed with the exception of Seattle, the NIMBY regions have all underperformed the national average in job creation for well over a decade.

“These areas are becoming increasingly toxic to the middle class, especially families who are now fleeing to places like Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina and even Oklahoma. NIMBY land use regulations — designed to limit single-family houses — usually end up creating housing costs that range up to six times annual income; in more basic regions, the ratio is around three or lower.”

This demonstrates, yet again, why clean America, the America of the coasts, creates more income inequality than does dirty America, the America of the heartland.

Kotkin writes: “Ironically, America’s most ardently ‘progressive’ areas turn out to be the most socially regressive, with the largest gaps between rich and poor. Even the current tech bubble has not been of much help to heavily Latino working-class areas like San Jose, where unemployment ranges around 10%, nor across the Bay in devastated Oakland, where the jobless rate surpasses 15%.”


3 comments:

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
n.n said...

They have the advantage to influence perception in order to realize a reality advantageous to them. Who in their right mind would reject instant gratification without qualification?

There is a theme which runs concurrent in these various observations. The recent "revelation" that unmerited self-esteem is a principal cause of impeded character development is neither a coincidence nor an exception.

The "heartland" may be materially poorer, but their politics, economics, and morality is far superior. It starts with acknowledging and accepting reality, for better and worse.

As for the pipeline, I recall they completed their environmental assessment. Once that was done with a positive result, there should be no further delays.

David said...

The modern-day liberal sensibility, which is not limited to the coasts though most common there, is basically to view the entire physical world as a theme park whose purpose is to provide an appealing backdrop to their lives.

Interesting example in Minneapolis. This city is now the head of navigation on the Mississippi...traffic is about 600,000 tons per year, which is not huge by water transport standards but not trivial either. There is now some consideration to closing the locks permanently in order to protect the upper reaches of the river from a ferocious species of carp which has recently appeared. Maybe this is necessary, maybe it isn't---but it is dismaying if not surprising to see the gleeful reaction of the mayor and the real-estate developers to the prospect of getting rid of the barge terminal and industrial district and turning the riverfront into condos, restaurants, etc.

The mayor is a Democrat and surely a fierce environmentalist; he doesn't seem bothered by the additional 200 trucks/day that would be required to haul traffic now brought by barge.