Last time we (or I, anyway) heard from Joel Kotkin, he was mocking San Francisco as being an “ephemeral city,” as distinguished from one that exists in the Real World, and snickering at the ostensible “creative classes” who are supposed to be saving our cities and such.
Mr Kotkin is still unimpressed by the sort of gee-whiz stuff that goes on in the name of civic development. In this interview on Townhall.com, he hits home rather a lot:
We live in this dream world where we say, “Well, if we have a fancy stadium with sky boxes, that will keep businesses here.” Well, what do you mean by businesses? Do you mean the gauleiters who represent multinational corporations, so they can hang out at a fancy football game? Or are we talking about somebody who’s got 15 people working for him in a shop somewhere in the suburbs and would like to get to 30? What are his issues? Are they tax issues? Are they training issues? Are they regulatory issues? You’ve got to go ask! I don’t see anyone interested in that anymore. It’s all “What does some 23-year-old, footloose student want? Does he have enough jazz clubs to go to?” Or some footloose 50-year-old corporate henchman. “Does he have enough arts facilities?”
As a country, we’re kind of delusional about our economies. I’ve found a few places in the country where they focus on this stuff, but I’m kind of becoming a persona non grata for raising these issues. I’m not raising them as a conservative, saying we shouldn’t have taxes or shouldn’t have regulations. I’m just saying, “How do you provide for a broad-based economic opportunity for your people? Isn’t that what’s it about?” Unfortunately, for most mayors in America, that’s not what’s it’s about. What it’s about is, “How do I keep the public employees happy? How do I keep the people at the very top of society happy? And how do I put on a good enough show so that everybody thinks I have a hip, cool city.”
And contrary to popular belief, the manufacturing sector is not dead, though there are those who apparently wouldn’t miss it:
This sort of gentry liberalism we have now, they don’t really want any of these jobs because, you know what, there is going to be pollution from these industries.
I would argue that if something is going to be manufactured in the United States, it’s going to have much less negative effect on the environment than if it’s manufactured in China. It’s almost like people want to shunt aside all the hard things and have the hard things done by somebody else so they can have their pristine environment. A, that has a sociological effect, since there is no upward mobility for a large portion of the population, and B, you have the stuff built in places that have much worse regulation. In California, they’ll put this regulation in and kick the guy out of California; so the guy goes to Texas, where he can pollute twice as much.
I have to tell you, almost every place I go in this country, particularly where the economy is growing, if you ask business people what is it that would really help them, they say “skills.” Machinists. Welders. It’s not like there’s a Ph. D. shortage, generally speaking. But there is a welder shortage, there’s a plumber shortage, there’s a machinist shortage. But nobody wants to talk about this. Cities that have lost their industrial base don’t want to talk about it, and many cities that still have it are almost ashamed of it. In one of the great historical ironies, the places where they are not ashamed of manufacturing are places like Houston and Charleston and Charlotte. But the places with the great industrial traditions, it’s almost as if they are ashamed of their lineage.
God knows Oklahoma is embarrassed by the Oil Patch days; I guess it upsets Prius owners or something. Fortunately for us, we have a really good technical-training infrastructure; unfortunately for us, we won’t spend the money to support more students.
Still, at least we’re showing some growth these days, which means we’re doing something right. I worry, though, that civic development follows John Wanamaker’s rule of advertising: half the money is wasted, and we can’t tell which half.