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.