Oh my name it is nothing
My age it is less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
–Bob Dylan, “With God on Our Side,” 1964
For nearly a half century since the Minnesota-raised Robert Zimmerman wrote those lines, the American Midwest has widely been seen as a “loser” region–a place from which talented people have fled for better opportunities. Those Midwesterners seeking greater, glitzier futures historically have headed to the great coastal cities of Miami, New York, San Diego or Seattle, leaving behind the flat expanses of the nation’s mid-section for the slower-witted, or at least less imaginative.
In much of the English speaking world, affordability is often conflated with cheapness and lack of economic competitiveness. Real estate developers, and the press that covers them, instead revel in driving prices to the stratosphere, identifying out of reach values with some definition of economic good.
Economists, planners and the media often focus on the extremes of real estate — the high-end properties or the foreclosed deserts, particularly in the suburban fringe. Yet to a large extent, they ignore what is arguably the most critical issue: affordability.
In the next two years, America’s large cities will face the greatest existential crisis in a generation. Municipal bonds are in the tank, having just suffered the worst quarterly performance in more than 16 years, a sign of flagging interest in urban debt.
When Chinese President Hu Jintao comes to Washington this week, there aren't likely to be many surprises: Hu and Barack Obama will probably keep their conversation to a fairly regulated script, focusing on trade and North Korea and offering the expected viewpoints on both. But seen from a different angle, everything in that conversation could be predicted, not from current events but from longstanding tribal patterns.
President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were so “like-minded,” according to one Los Angeles Times writer, that they brought new meaning to the U.S. and England’s “special relationship.” Blair’s later embrace of George W. Bush, however, was less satisfying, leading to widespread ridicule that the PM was the Texan’s favorite “lap dog.”
The change in congressional power this week is more than an ideological shift. It ushers in a revival in the political influence of the nation’s heartland, as well as the South.
This contrasts dramatically with the last Congress. Virtually its entire leadership — from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on down — represented either the urban core or affluent, close-in suburbs of large metropolitan areas. Powerful old lions like Reps. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) of Harlem, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) of Los Angeles and Barney Frank (D-Mass.) of Newton, an affluent, close-in Boston suburb, roamed. The Senate was led by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who loyally services Las Vegas casino interests while his lieutenant, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), is now the top Democratic satrap of Wall Street.
Jerry Brown’s no-frills inauguration today as California governor will make headlines, but the meager celebration also marks the restoration of one of the country’s most illustrious political families. Save the Kennedys of Massachusetts no clan has dominated the political life of a major state in modern times than the Browns of California. A member of this old California Irish clan has been in statewide office for most of the past half century; by the end of Jerry Brown’s new term, his third, the family will have inhabited the California chief executive office for a remarkable two full decades since 1958.
Brown, at 72 the oldest governor in state history, may well determine the final legacy of this remarkable family. His biggest challenge will be to reverse the state’s long-term secular decline — a stark contrast to the heady days of the first Brown era, presided over by paterfamilias Edmund “Pat” Brown.
The last 10 years have been the worst for Western civilization since the 1930s. At the onset of the new millennium North America, Europe and Oceania stood at the cutting edge of the future, with new technologies and a lion’s share of the world’s GDP. At its end, most of these economies limped, while economic power – and all the influence it can buy politically – had shifted to China, India and other developing countries.
The city-state, a relic dating back to Classical or Renaissance times, is making a comeback. Driven by massive growth in global trade, shifts in economic power and the rise of emerging ethnic groups, today’s new independent cities have witnessed rapid, often startling, economic growth over the past decade.
Joel Kotkin is one of America's most important demographers and futurists. In the 4 question interview below he hits Republicans where it hurts a bit (Democrats, too). We would all do well to pay attention. Here are the main points I take away:
In his headier and hunkier days, Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke boldly about how “failure is not an option.” This kind of bravado worked well in the gym–and in a remarkable career that saw an inarticulate Austrian body-builder rise to the apex of Hollywood and California politics.
The end of stimulus — as well as the power shift in Congress — will have a profound effect on which regions and states can position themselves for the longer-term recovery. Nowhere will this be more critical than in the battle for brains.
In the past, and the present, places have competed for smart, high-skilled newcomers by building impressive physical infrastructure and offering incentives and inducements for companies or individuals. But the battle for the brains — and for long-term growth — is increasingly tied to whether a state can maintain or expand its state-supported higher education. This is particularly critical given the growing student debt crisis, which may make public institutions even more attractive to top students.
In the crushing wave that flattened much of the Democratic Party last month, two left-leaning states survived not only intact but in some ways bluer than before. New York and California, long-time rivals for supremacy, may both have seen better days; but for Democrats, at least, the prospects there seem better than ever.
The current conflict between the Koreas illustrates a broader global trend toward chaos along borders separating rich and poor countries. Ultimately, this reflects the resentments of a poor neighbor against a richer one. Feeling it has little to lose, the poorer neighbor engages recklessly in the hope of gaining some sort of tribute or recognition from the better-heeled neighbor, or at least boosting its own self-respect.