My Second Piece on the Urban Rural Divide in America (First Piece)
Since the Occupy Movement, which I covered back in 2011 it has become fashionable on the Left to point out the divide between rich and poor is widening. Indeed, you have to go back to the 1920s, the era of Boardwalk Empire, to see such a gap. But it is a gap that has more dimensions than race and privilege, libertarianism and safety nets, and the all the usual stereotypes.
As I wrote about in Death of Common Sense, the divide between rural and urban is a pervasive one masked behind yelling ideologies. And the ideologies are disconnected from facts and other people’s view of the facts. Why is it the income inequality is an issue for the intellectual Left and not the rural Right?
What grand pointy headed French cheese eating Ivy League conspiracy is leading the Left?
I suspect nothing more than the fact that within their communities exists the vast majority of the income inequality problem. Based on the US Census report on Income Inequality between 2006 – 2010 urban centers, the counties with the largest populations, have the greatest income disparities. Of course the policy decisions in these urban areas fixate on income inequality.
But at the same time, rural communities are not indifferent to their own income inequality. There is no hard hearted pioneer culture with a secret urge to starve orphans and freeze the elderly. The same report points out that rural counties have the least income inequality. In these counties the plight of the South Side of Chicago or Camden, New Jersey is a distant problem not of their making.
This urban/rural divide then coincidentally or consequentially translates into voting patterns: urban Democratic and rural Republican. I used Colorado to sort counties and admittedly some counties in Colorado beyond the Front Range cities voted Democratic, but they tended to be ski and resort dominated or Hispanic. But rather than characterizing urban politicians as elitists and rural politicians as heartless, we see politicians pursuing the problems of their communities.
When I am in New York City I am acutely conscious of how difficult it is to become a billionaire in its hyper-competitive world. Competition begins as an infant when parents begin applying to elite daycare. To begin at the bottom in public school with the hope of becoming a billionaire is to face long odds. Odds that justify social policies from affirmative action to rent control that appear unreal in Beatrice, Nebraska.
I am in Beatrice twice a year. You can buy the nicest house in town on the golf course for $350,000. In Boulder, it would sell for $1.5 million and off a golf course in Los Angeles or San Diego many millions. But in Beatrice, the reach from child of a poor farmhand to that house on the golf course is not so far. The path is very different from the New York City path. Perhaps it is a path through the military or community college or serial entrepreneurial ventures. But in the end, a job as a broker, or a successful farmer, or car dealer may leapfrog income inequality in Beatrice.
They are completely different lives.
These divides in urban and rural America are not rooted in good or evil, but in the particular communities. In my experience it frankly does not often occur to a Manhattanite or a Cornhusker that they each feel as much revulsion as the other at the thought of trading communities. But it is the irony of that joint revulsion that dictates so much of US political structure.
It is the greatest argument for letting state legislatures manage the effects of income inequality. The income inequality between Omaha and Red Cloud, or Manhattan and Binghamton is a question of facts on the ground in those related communities. I used to wonder why Republicans could convince rural people to vote for a big corporate party – why do they vote against their own economic interest?
In part, because in rural America local income inequality is not a dominant problem. They are not hard hearted. From their perspective the house on the golf course remains in reach.