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It’s a commonplace among pundits and economic developers that smart people flock to “smart” places like sparrows to Capistrano. Reflecting the conventional wisdom, The New York Times recently opined that “college graduates gravitate to places with many other college graduates and the atmosphere that creates.”
For nearly a generation, pundits, academics and journalists have written off suburbia. They predict that the future lies in the cities, with more Americans living in smaller spaces such as the micro-apartments of 300 square feet or less that New York and San Francisco are considering changing their building laws to allow.
Move over, Iraq. Tribal politics have arrived at home.
It’s not like our tribes will arm themselves, but American politics is developing a disturbing resemblance to Mesopotamia’s ever-feuding Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds as the 2012 election rapidly devolves into a power struggle between irreconcilable factions rather than a healthy debate among citizens.
The blame here falls in large part on President Barack Obama, who after four years of economic lethargy needs to recast the election as anything other than what it naturally is: a referendum on the incumbent and the state of the nation.
Today’s youth, both here and abroad, have been screwed by their parents’ fiscal profligacy and economic mismanagement. Neil Howe, a leading generational theorist, cites the “greed, shortsightedness, and blind partisanship” of the boomers, of whom he is one, for having “brought the global economy to its knees.”
President Obama’s recent “do it myself” immigration reform plan, predictably dissed by conservatives and nativists, reveals just how clueless the nation’s leaders are about demographics. Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on Arizona’s immigration crackdown also broke down along predictable lines, with both parties claiming ideological victories.
Yet the heated debates are missing the reality of immigration and its role in America’s future. In reality America needs more immigrants, but with a somewhat different mix.
In Madrid you see them on the streets, jobless, aimless, often bearing college degrees but working as cabbies, baristas, street performers, or—more often—not at all. In Spain as in Greece, nearly half of the adults under 25 don’t work.
Call them the screwed generation, the victims of expansive welfare states and the massive structural debt charged by their parents. In virtually every developed country, and increasingly in developing ones, they include not only the usual victims, the undereducated and recent immigrants, but also the college-educated.
The map is shifting, and Democrats see the nation’s rapidly changing demography putting ever more states in play—Barack Obama is hoping to compete in Arizona this year, to go along with his map-changing North Carolina and Indiana wins in 2008—and eventually ensure the party’s dominance in a more diverse America, as Republicans quite literally die out.
In this season when most Americans are more concerned than usual with spiritual matters, it may be time to ask whether religion still matters. Certainly religiosity’s worst side has been amply on display in recent years, from the fanaticism of Islamic terrorists to the annoying sanctimoniousness of Rick Santorum.
Nothing more characterizes the current conventional wisdom than the demise of the single-family house. From pundits like Richard Florida to Wall Street investors, the thinking is that the future of America will be characterized increasingly by renters huddling together in small apartments, living the lifestyle of the hip and cool — just like they do in New York, San Francisco and other enlightened places.
By all accounts both President Barack Obama and his likely challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, are ideal family men, devoted to their spouses and their children. But support for the two men could not be more different in terms of the electorate’s marriage and family status.
Perhaps nothing has more defined America and its promise than immigration. In the future, immigration and the consequent development of what Walt Whitman (1855: iv) called “a race of races” will remain one of the country’s greatest assets in the decades to come.
In the last years of his life Dr. Martin Luther King expanded his focus from political and civil rights to include economic justice. Noting that the majority of America’s poor were white King decried the already huge gaps between rich and poor, calling for “radical changes in the structure of our society,” including a massive urban jobs program.
Along with the oft-pronounced, desperately wished for death of the suburbs, no demographic narrative thrills the mainstream news media more than the decline of the Sun Belt, the country’s southern rim extending from the Carolinas to California. Since the housing bubble collapse in 2007, commentators have heralded “the end of the Sun Belt boom.”
This past weekend the New York Times devoted two big op-eds to the decline of the suburb. In one, new urban theorist Chris Leinberger said that Americans were increasingly abandoning “fringe suburbs” for dense, transit-oriented urban areas.
The fall of the Soviet Union nearly a quarter of a century ago forced geographers and policy makes to rip up their maps. No longer divided into “west” and “east”, the world order lost many of its longtime certainties.