Paul Ryan is right and wrong. He is right to point out that our nation is divided, roughly evenly, between voters who agree with Mitt Romney’s approach and those who agree with Barack Obama’s approach. But he is wrong to think that urban voters will be brought around to his Randian/Hayekian vision for the American economy. And, no, it’s not simply a matter of race.
As Chicago economics Professor Robert Lucas has shown (Lectures on Economic Development), there are a lot of things that happen in cities that make them hubs of innovation and reform. And, in spite of Lucas’ Neo-liberal bona fides, very little that he identifies as unique to cities could flourish were it not for the heavy hand of public intervention: universities, think tanks, highways, police, rescue, fire, safety, not to mention substantial tax incentives that promote development in one neighborhood, but not others, or that promote one kind of industrial development or research and not another.
But there is more. Cities are places where people of all sorts of different ethnicities, language groups, sexual orientations, and professions mix and communicate and assist one another daily. It is among the most practical ways that we learn not to fear, and even to come to love, that which is different. Although I grew up living on a lake in the Midwest, I did not come to enjoy sea food, Vietnamese food, and North African curries until I left home for college.
It was also at college that I learned that the economic thinking that governs family budgets is not — nor has ever been — the economics that govern private investment or national budgets. If Romney-Ryan received a thumbs down even from conservative bastions like the Financial Times, Bloomberg, and the Economist, it was because, outside of a few kooks, no one (really, no one) who is actually responsible for corporate investment or national budgets believes a word of what they read in Friedrich von Hayek or Carl Menger. Better the measured analysis of Alfred Marshall, every bit as much of a Neo-classical economist as Menger, but without the venom and Neo-Kantian understanding of freedom.
If the Romney-Ryan ticket did well (or better) outside of urban areas, this has less to do with race than it does with the isolation, insularity, lower educational achievement, and, yes, the poverty of rural and, increasingly, suburban America. But, as the NYT piece referenced above indicates, the urban is bleeding into the suburban, which is certainly bad news for the current GOP.
Which brings us back to Ryan and the Republican leadership’s resistance to taxing wealth. Yes, roughly half of America said no to the taxation of wealth. But since true plutocrats like Romney make up less than .1 percent of the electorate, and since the overwhelming majority of those earning between $50 and 200K voted for Obama, we need to wonder who these Americans are who voted against taxing wealth. Sadly, they were by and large Americans who do not have wealth to tax, but who have been convinced by the likes of Romney, a real plutocrat, that taxation of wealth is bad on moral grounds.
Here is the real audience for Ryan’s creed. Taxation of wealth is a threat to individual freedom. Now, no one who lives in an urban area will ever believe such nonsense because we understand how dependent and interdependent we are on one another for our freedoms. We understand what it takes to make a city work. Of course, it also takes a lot to make suburban and rural areas work well. But it is often much more difficult to see and appreciate.
So, go ahead Paul. Go preach your gospel in the cities and see where that gets you. Or, you can begin to work for real change in the rural and suburban districts who desperately need the health care, education, transportation, and jobs that comes only with planning, taxes, and a deep appreciation for res publica, the wealth we hold in common.