10.20.2006

Okay, so let's talk about this piece

Why cities succeed:

At least part of the answer stems from their underlying cultures. In his "Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia" (1979), E. Digby Baltzell argued that Boston Brahmins, with their belief in authority and leadership, embraced a sense of responsibility for civic life, while Philadelphia Gentlemen, with their inward but judgmental Quaker ways were deeply unconcerned about their city's welfare. Over the course of the 19th century and well into the 20th, they abdicated their role in government and watched indifferently as Philadelphia became, by the 1960s, the worst run city in the nation. The Brahmins might have been intolerant and unpleasant while the Philadelphians were open and charming, but the Brahmins cared about their city -- and so, subsequently, did the Irish politicians with whom they warred and the Italians who replaced the Irish.

I have no idea if this is true -- it's not supported in the piece. And just the fact that it's on an editorial page of the Wall Street Journal makes me think it's probably wrong. But it does fit my prejudice -- that elites matter. Indeed, modern conservatism to me is nothing more than an ideology that tells elites that they should be selfish and irresponsible, that they are owed rather than they owe something.

I also want to note this:
What flourishing cities often have in common, instead, are two crucial cultural characteristics: combativeness and cunning. New Yorkers, for example, fought back from their 1975 bankruptcy with every tool at their disposal, fair and unfair...

Yet New York armed itself with brilliant leadership, cut its bloated operating and capital budgets, cajoled the federal loan guarantees from Congress, poured money into fixing up thousands of units of abandoned housing, fought crime and graffiti -- and emerged triumphant. It might have done even better: It barely reduced its onerous tax burden, regarded by many analysts as the highest in the country. Indeed, one of New York's most notorious, anti-enterprise taxes is the 4% unincorporated business tax, which was targeted at wealthy physicians but which instead hits every bodega and small business. Surely this tax has done serious harm, if not enough to force its repeal. Somehow New York's entrepreneurial spirit drives forward, scattering even the grossest of obstacles -- almost against reason


See? See? Taxes don't matter as much as the conseratives tell you they do. The wealthy physicians and bodega owners may also like having big public parks and lots of police (the police per-capita figure in NYC is like twice LA's, I think). So the anti-enterprise tax may be seen as a tax that gives them an environment that make enterprise worthwhile.

Not that I love taxes, or anything -- I just paid my property tax, which is low, but as an unemployed dude is sure didn't seem low. But I'm not afraid of them, and those of us who feel that there needs to be a strong public thing to both promote and stand against that sorcerer's apprentice capitalism need to argue for them as well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Albion's Seed by David Fischer is another book similar to the one cited by the WSJ. Not so much about cities though; Fischer throws in the Chesapeake area and Appalachia along with Boston and Philadelphia. If I'm remembering correctly, Fischer found for Philadelphia over Boston, to the extent that the book did that sort of thing, Philadelphia being looser and open vs Boston being inflexible and closed.