Given the quality of leadership in Washington, it’s not surprising that many pundits are shifting focus to locally based solutions to pressing problems. This increasingly includes many progressives, who historically have embraced an ever-more expansive federal government.
In many ways, this constitutes an extraordinarily positive development. Political decentralization is built into the very framework of American democracy, as Alexis de Tocqueville, among others, recognized.
This week the coastal crowd will get another opportunity to laugh at the zany practices of those living in the frozen reaches of the Great Plains. The new television series “Fargo,” based on the 1996 Coen brothers movie, will no doubt be filled with fearsome violence mixed with the proper amount of Scandinavian reserve and wry humor — the very formula that made the original such as hit.
In many uncomfortable ways, American politics now resemble those that arose late in the Roman Republic. As wealth and land ownership concentrated in few hands, a state built on the discipline of soldiers who tended their own farms became ever more dominated by fractious oligarchs. As property consolidated into huge slave-owning estates, more citizens became landless and ever more dependent on the patronage of the rich generals and landowners who increasingly seized control of politics.
Brainpower rankings usually identify the usual suspects: college towns like Boston, Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Bay area. And to be sure, these places generally have the highest per capita education levels. However, it’s worthwhile to look at the metro areas that are gaining college graduates most rapidly; this is an indicator of momentum that is likely to carry over into the future.
If there's anything both political parties agree upon, it's that our education system is a mess. It is particularly poor at serving the vast majority of young people who are unlikely either to go to an elite school or get an advanced degree in some promising field, particularly in the sciences and engineering.
Southern California, once the center of one of the world's most vibrant business communities, has seen its economic leadership become largely rudderless. Business interests have been losing power for decades, as organized labor, ethnic politicians, green activists, intrusive planners, crony developers and local NIMBYs have slowly supplanted the leaders of major corporations and industries, whose postures have become, at best, defensive.
Perhaps no issue looms over American politics more than worsening inequality and the stunting of the road to upward mobility. However, inequality varies widely across America.
Los Angeles is unique among the big, world-class American cities. Unlike New York, Boston, or Chicago, L.A. lacks a clearly defined core. It is instead a sprawling region made up of numerous poly-ethnic neighborhoods, few exhibiting the style and grace of a Paris arrondissement, Greenwich Village, or southwest London. In the 1920s, the region’s huge dispersion was contemptuously described—in a quotation alternately attributed to Dorothy Parker, Aldous Huxley, or H. L. Mencken—as “72 suburbs in search of a city.” Los Angeles’s lack of urbane charm led William Faulkner to dub it “the plastic asshole of the world.” But to those of us who inhabit this expansive and varied place, the lack of conventional urbanity is exactly what makes Los Angeles so interesting.
To some, the $19 billion paid by Facebook for the Silicon Valley start-up What's App represents the ultimate confirmation of the capitalist dream. After all, these riches are going first and foremost to plucky engineers whose goals are simply to make life better for the public. Got a problem with that?
If anything positive can be said for the current tepid economic recovery, it has been very good to those who invest in the stock market or own real estate.
Property owners have been able to reap higher rents and sale prices, and the stock market has soared while the overall economy has registered only modest gains. However, only a precious few have benefited from the bull market on Wall Street.
Third-generation venture capitalist Tim Draper believes he has a solution for California's problems that will make the Silicon Valley safe for its wealthy: secession. In a recent interview, Draper suggested that California be divided into six states, including one dominated by the Valley and its urban annex, San Francisco.
As all the Californians who celebrated the deluge of rain that fell the week before last know, it did not do much to ameliorate the state’s deep drought. We are likely to enter our traditionally dry spring, summer and fall in a crisis likely to exacerbate the ever greater estrangement between the state’s squabbling regions and classes.
The recent decision by Occidental Petroleum to move its headquarters to Houston from Los Angeles, where it was founded over a half-century ago, confirms the futility and delusion embodied in California's ultragreen energy policies. By embracing solar and wind as preferred sources of generating power, the state promotes an ever-widening gap between its declining middle- and working-class populations and a smaller, self-satisfied group of environmental campaigners and their corporate backers.
Ever since the Great Recession ripped through the economies of the Sunbelt, America’s coastal pundit class has been giddily predicting its demise. Strangled by high-energy prices, cooked by global warming, rejected by a new generation of urban-centric millennials, this vast southern region was doomed to become, in the words of the Atlantic, where the “American dream” has gone to die. If the doomsayers are right, Americans must be the ultimate masochists. After a brief hiatus, people seem to, once again, be streaming towards the expanse of warm-weather states extending from the southeastern seaboard to Phoenix.
In an era of high unemployment and limited opportunity, more Americans are taking matters into their own hands and going to work for themselves out of their homes.