Paul Krugman’s Moronic Take on Sprawl and Upward Social Mobility

The Gnome of Princeton is at it again:

So what’s the matter with Atlanta? A new study suggests that the city may just be too spread out, so that job opportunities are literally out of reach for people stranded in the wrong neighborhoods. Sprawl may be killing Horatio Alger.

Let’s start with the key observation: true liberals hate suburbia and the low-density development that is its hallmark worse than they hate the pro-life movement.  So any study that might suggest that a “sprawling” metropolis has low upward social mobility is to be jumped on at the first opportunity.  Why liberals, when placed into elected office, would promote home ownership can only be explained by raw political expediency.  Their real aim is to herd Americans into fifty-square metre apartments, which would meet their environmental goals along with other items on their punch list.

Krugman, however, is showing his ability to leap to conclusions.  If he had taken the time to peruse his own newspaper’s article on the subject, along with the interactive maps, he might not have made the statements he did.

Let’s start with his sweeping generalisation that “Atlanta is the Sultan of Sprawl, even more spread out than other major Sun Belt cities. This would make an effective public transportation system nearly impossible to operate even if politicians were willing to pay for it, which they aren’t.” Let’s then compare this with the real “Sultan of Sprawl”, Houston.  Atlanta developed a metro long before Houston even gave it thought.  More to the point, Houston–and for that matter the other Texas metro areas such as Dallas-Ft. Worth and San Antonio–are more spread out than Atlanta.  Yet these–especially Houston–have better upward social mobility than Atlanta or Charlotte.  Even a closer sprawling metropolitan area such as the Tidewater (Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Hampton-Chesapeake) is ahead of Atlanta in that regard.

One thing that differentiates the Texas cities from those further east is the simple fact that the former are more efficiently laid out.  Places like Atlanta and Charlotte are laid out like they do in the old country–following existing paths that meander to suit the terrain.  (Think New York vs. London).

The old country–or old countries, to be more precise–is where we find the best explanation of the problem.  If we look at the places were upward social mobility is the worst, we see the “plantation belt” that stretches from eastern Arkansas to southern Virginia.  It was here that cotton was king before the Civil War and which took the greatest economic hit in its aftermath.  Starting with that, there are several historical characteristics of the region that combine to work against upward social mobility:

  • The usual problems of the Scots-Irish.  It’s interesting to note that some of the more upward moving regions, like West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and northwest Arkansas, are Scots-Irish bastions, but a lot of the upward movement here is linked to the outward movement of people.
  • The legacy of slavery.  Slavery is an economically regressive institution; with its cheap, static labour force, it encourages things to go nowhere, which is one reason ancient economies dependent upon it stalled.  That not only affects the slaves and their descendants, but everyone else involved.
  • The legacy of British colonialism.  The Southern colonies were more reflective of the mother country than the rest, right down to the established Church of England.  That included a deferential, socially stratified system that went right along with slavery.

If go back to Texas, we find another differentiating factor–German settlement.  Had Germany been a unified country in the 1840’s, Texas could have well been its first colony and not those it acquired in Africa.  That has given a different cast to Texas vs. its eastern neighbours.

So to find solutions to problems we are better off looking at historical factors than trying to stick it to sprawl as the culprit.

As for Krugman, he’s like the Episcopalians who pine for social justice: he needs to start by reforming himself.  He needs to cut the commute from Princeton and move to New York, where he can vote for Anthony Weiner and get the shaft himself and not giving it to the rest of us.

4 thoughts on “Paul Krugman’s Moronic Take on Sprawl and Upward Social Mobility”

  1. Don,

    You start out an article supposedly about Atlanta’s layout with “Let’s start with the key observation: true liberals hate …”

    Now that doesn’t look like an observation to me. It’s an opinion, yours I assume, and you don’t supply any reason to suppose that it’s true. Certainly I think it’s false. Regardless of the object of the subordinate verb “hate,” I think that all reasonable people would agree that hating is one of the things that liberals at least try not to do.

    You manage to convey one fact in your article, your claim that Atlanta is more compact than Houston. I don’t know that this is any answer to Krugman, but I’ll take your word for it.

    In ending you manage to work in the pitiful Anthony Weiner, although he is a resident of neither Atlanta nor Houston, but you don’t get around to saying why you think Krugman is wrong about Atlanta’s size making it difficult for people to get to jobs.

    All in all I think that leaves us with a reminder of a Good Rule, that when you put the question of someone’s being a moron on the table it may not be altogether clear who the moron is.

    Best,

    -dlj.

    1. Since you started with my contention re liberals and single family dwellings, consider this item:

      “There’s certainly much that government can stop doing. The drive for “smart growth” is increasingly hostile to the very idea of single-family housing. Instead the emphasis, for example in the newly adopted Bay Area plan, is on high-density housing around transit links and virtual prohibition on single-family housing on the urban fringe, without which much higher housing prices — owned and rental — are inevitable. This may appeal to some — especially those in what historian Robert Bruegmann calls “the incumbent’s club: who are already comfortably housed and benefit financially from policy-induced housing shortages. But for the majority of Americans, including immigrants, who would prefer a single-family home, this is bad news indeed.”

      Liberals are perfectly capable of hatred, anyone who has been around them since the 1960’s knows that.

      I actually did offer a hypothesis on Atlanta’s social mobility problems, you just chose to ignore it.

      I don’t recall calling Paul Krugman a moron. It’s tempting though…

      1. I see no hate in the article you sent to to look at. I did not say that liberal are incapable of hatred.

        The idea that high-density housing precludes single-family residences is simply loony.

        Your idea that the South was more English than, uh, New England, is similarly a little odd. What was different about the South was that it suffered from Tory/landowner domination. This happened to be English in North America, but was Spanish and Portugese elsewhere. Such governments tend to be libertine among the rulers but to inculcate a devout conservatism among their peasants and workers, and I quite agree with you that this has held the US South back.

        Cheers,

        -dlj.

        1. “The idea that high-density housing precludes single-family residences” is in fact loony, and bad public policy on top of that. But that’s what some people here would like to see.

          New England was first settled by people who would be characterised as “out of the mainstream” of English life, esp. in regard to their religion and esp. after Cromwell. (Remember the Act of Uniformity?) I admit that the settlement of the American colonies was complicated by the fact that different parts of same colonies were settled by people from different parts of the British Isles, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Southern colonies were a better reflection of the mother country from at least the “view from the top”.

          One thing that top DID NOT do, however, was to “inculcate a devout conservatism among their peasants and workers”. That’s a Marxist concept that has nothing to do with the reality of this society. Same people at the bottom of society either were religious dissenters coming over or acquired their religion from their peers. The clearest sign of that is the general rejection of the state church by same bottom of society, which set things up for the disestablishment of the Church of England (which, of course, ended up being the Episcopal Church after the Revolution) in the Southern Colonies.

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