Political Geography

Three recent and unrelated pieces have observed geographic (and migratory) phenomena as key to understanding the current political and cultural war zone landscape. What I mean is that whatever one thinks is going on, the authors claim that it’s reflected (either causally or symptomatically) by where people happen to live.

In this case, the divide is urban v. periphery. That is hardly a new axis, but it feels different this time around. Let me explain.

I’ve always vaguely understood the geographic divide as city-folk v. bumpkins: city-folk have city concerns and experiences, and bumpkins have bumpkin concerns and experiences, but if they switch places (either as Jed Clampett or Billy Crystal), then their concerns and experience (and affiliations) change accordingly. It’s a model that Hollywood considers simple enough to be the premise of movies and TV and it’s just about as interesting.

These more recent observations are different, however. They see the evolving geographic divide as self-reinforcing (and not just a cosmic coincidence of where one happens to be born) — our current political equilibrium means that cities and the periphery have each developed a gravitational pull of their own (or push, depending on one’s perspective). I visualize the one-becomes-two process as resembling something like mitosis.

The three articles I’m referring to (and will address in turn) are Joel Kotkin’s, The Politics of Migration from Blue to Red, Jack Shafer’s, The Media Bubble is Worse Than You Think, and Christopher Caldwell’s, The French, Coming Apart, which reviews French geographer’s Christophe Guilluy’s recent and prior works.

They are all interesting, and worth reading in full, but the third is by far the most interesting. Caldwell (via Guilluy) uses geography to describe an alternative political axis that does a far better job of explaining the current political alliances (and rivalries) than Left-Right, Dem-GOP or even the three-pronged axis of Liberal-Conservative-Progressive. In other words, if Kotkin and Shafer observe geographic polarization, Guilluy provocatively (and incisively) describes why it is so.

Personally, I’m not entirely convinced, but it certainly plays to my preexisting biases, so I’m paying attention.

Purple Drift

First, Kotkin, on the migration from Urban Deep Blue to Sub/Ex-urban Reddish Purple:

Despite all the hype about a massive “back to the city” movement and the supposed superiority of ultra-expensive liberal regions, people are increasingly moving to red states and regions, as well as to suburbs and exurbs. This is the basic takeaway from the most recent IRS data and Census Bureau estimates, which have been widely ignored in the established media.

Blue urbanites are fleeing (sort of) for the Red suburbs and ex-burbs and it’s not even close:

In 2016 alone, states that supported Donald Trump gained 400,000 domestic migrants from states that supported Hillary Clinton. This came on top of an existing advantage in net domestic red state migration of 1.45 million people from 2010 through 2015. Contrary to popular perception, these blue state emigres aren’t all fleeing economically challenged places such as upstate New York or inland California. Mostly, they have left the  biggest cities, which are the electoral base of the Democratic Party. Metropolitan New York has led the way in out-migration, followed by Los Angeles and Chicago. Since 2000, these metropolitan areas have lost a net 5.5 million domestic migrants to other parts of the country.

More accurately, as the upper middle class grows up, it’s moving to the suburbs — but Red suburbs, specifically:

Rapid growth also took place in Las Vegas, Charlotte, Phoenix, Orlando and Salt Lake City as well as the big four Texas cities: Austin, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, and San Antonio.

In contrast the Gen-X population share has remained stagnant in the San Francisco and San Jose areas, while the Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia areas have all seen declines in their Xer shares both since 2000 and since 2010.  This could be a harbinger of millennial behavior. Like the Xers, millennials are beginning to move into the suburbs, contradicting all predictions to the contrary. Since 2010, the biggest gains in millennial share have been in heavily suburban Orlando, Austin and San Antonio.

That’s not an accident, of course. As anyone who has looked for a home in Westchester, NY, or Montgomery County, Virginia, or Newton, MA, will tell you, Blue suburbs don’t really exist (in the sense of relatively affordable single-family housing+good schools+low crime). Kotkin points a speculative finger at Blue “urban policy” that puts the kibosh on “suburban sprawl” for the sole benefit of the hapless suburbanites that accidentally stumbled into affordable and safe neighborhoods just a bit outside the jurisdictional reach of blue city councils. Those suburbanites do not, by and large, gratefully un-sprawl and return to the city — rather, they pick up and leave for Redder pastures.

Kotkin doesn’t put it in these terms, but it’s the Blue Team’s demographic problem (which it has begun to solve in other ways **cough – immigration – cough** as Guilluy suggests). Deep Blue cities cause their votes (and tax base) to flee.

Coastal Cultural Monopoly

Second, Shafer on the geographic “media bubble”:

[J]ournalistic groupthink is a symptom, not a cause. And when it comes to the cause, there’s another, blunter way to think about the question than screaming “bias” and “conspiracy,” or counting D’s and R’s. That’s to ask a simple question about the map. Where do journalists work, and how much has that changed in recent years? To determine this, my colleague Tucker Doherty excavated labor statistics and cross-referenced them against voting patterns and Census data to figure out just what the American media landscape looks like, and how much it has changed.

The results read like a revelation. The national media really does work in a bubble, something that wasn’t true as recently as 2008. And the bubble is growing more extreme. Concentrated heavily along the coasts, the bubble is both geographic and political. If you’re a working journalist, odds aren’t just that you work in a pro-Clinton county—odds are that you reside in one of the nation’s most pro-Clinton counties. And you’ve got company: If you’re a typical reader of Politico, chances are you’re a citizen of bubbleville, too.

The “media bubble” trope might feel overused by critics of journalism who want to sneer at reporters who live in Brooklyn or California and don’t get the “real America” of southern Ohio or rural Kansas. But these numbers suggest it’s no exaggeration: Not only is the bubble real, but it’s more extreme than you might realize.

Shafer argues that the extreme geographic polarization is a symptom of changing media economics that has seen print media (and it’s more dispersed geographic footprint) contract, to be replaced by online media (that concentrates more heavily in the coastal corridors):

Parts of the media have always had their own bubbles. The national magazine industry has been concentrated in New York for generations, and the copy produced reflects an Eastern sensibility. Radio and TV networks based in New York and Los Angeles likewise have shared that dominant sensibility. But they were more than balanced out by the number of newspaper jobs in big cities, midsized cities and smaller towns throughout the country, spreading journalists everywhere.

No longer. . . By January 2017, that workforce [from smaller daily and weekly print publishers] had more than halved to 173,900. Those losses were felt in almost every region of the country.

As newspapers have dwindled, internet publishers have added employees at a bracing clip. According to BLS data, a startling boom in “internet publishing and broadcasting” jobs has taken place. Since January 2008, internet publishing has grown from 77,900 jobs to 206,700 in January 2017. In late 2015, during Barack Obama’s second term, these two trend lines—jobs in newspapers, and jobs in internet publishing—finally crossed. For the first time, the number of workers in internet publishing exceeded the number of their newspaper brethren. Internet publishers are now adding workers at nearly twice the rate newspaper publishers are losing them . . . 

Where newspaper jobs are spread nationwide, internet jobs are not: Today, 73 percent of all internet publishing jobs are concentrated in either the Boston-New York-Washington-Richmond corridor or the West Coast crescent that runs from Seattle to San Diego and on to Phoenix. The Chicagoland area, a traditional media center, captures 5 percent of the jobs, with a paltry 22 percent going to the rest of the country. And almost all the real growth of internet publishing is happening outside the heartland, in just a few urban counties, all places that voted for Clinton.

According to Shafer, media-tech ascendancy has followed the same pattern as all other forms of tech-ascendancy: a regional “clustering” of industry heavyweights drawn to the “clustering” of the most talented sliver of would-be journalists. In other words, if all the young talent “clusters” together (as it tends to do, given the returns to social capital and the relatively low marginal cost of youthful urban life, i.e. no kids or stuff), then so will the media outlets.

“Liberated from the printing press,” Shafer concludes that regionalism is inevitable, and given that regionalism, it’s fair to expect that “reporters tote their bubbles with them.”

That doesn’t mean media has to be hopelessly biased — it just needs to be shamed:

The best medicine for journalistic myopia isn’t reeducation camps or a splurge of diversity hiring, though tiny doses of those two remedies wouldn’t hurt. Journalists respond to their failings best when their vanity is punctured with proof that they blew a story that was right in front of them. If the burning humiliation of missing the biggest political story in a generation won’t change newsrooms, nothing will. More than anything, journalists hate getting beat.

One obvious quibble with Shafer’s argument is that there’s no reason to assume talent “clustering” would favor a lefty bias any more than a righty one, unless, of course, one assumes that talent itself has a lefty bias. **Crickets** Relatedly, as Kotkin points out, tech clustering has begun to migrate away from Deep Blue urban centers towards Redder, or purplish, ones and yet Raleigh doesn’t (yet) have a major media presence.

I think a better way to interpret the clustering Shafer describes is that cultural goods (like media, social science and the humanities) are more susceptible to affiliation bias than say finance, or computer science, where the “wrong” answer is harder to escape. To put it in Shafer’s terms, freed from distribution costs (i.e. no printing presses or paper boys), the media was allowed to cluster like never before. The cultural elite, who skew not just urban, but specifically urban Blue, could finally hire exclusively their own, without having to deal with the hassles of middle-market journalists. [And contra-Shafer, without ever having to deal with the hassles of someone who might shame them if they “blew a story that was right front of them,” — there is no “getting beat” if everyone plays on the same team.]

Shafer interprets clustering as driven by talent, but there are plenty of talented uncredentialed media types that don’t write for Politico et al. (and again, other tech hubs that don’t skew Blue). Shafer (and likely the BLS) simply doesn’t count these as media types — Shafer may not even be aware of them from inside his bubble — but that’s his own bias, which is kind of my point. To my mind, media clustering is a cultural issue: the cultural elite are tethered to few specific Blue urban centers, where they flock, mate, co-mingle and engage in cultural deal-making. Other media exist (and not just Fox News), but they’re not recognized as members of the club.

[***Another, far more speculative observation (driven by Guilluy’s work), is that the “top” of the waterfall is usually last to feel the impact of labor market contraction — whether that contraction is caused by changed economics (e.g. lower distribution costs) or technocratic interventions (e.g. taxes on low wage labor a.k.a. the “minimum wage”). In the latter case, however, the technocrats refuse to acknowledge that contraction can ever occur, so they are at a loss to explain why the bottom (and middle) falls out wherever they go. Or rather, their inevitable explanation is not enough technocratic intervention to help (whatever is left of) the bottom and middle, who, by that point, stick around because the technocrats are their primary source of income. Interventions beget further interventions (and contractions), and in the end, only the technocrats and their cultural allies are left at the top of the pyramid (together with the very wealthy). In other words, when Shafer observes a hollowed out media-middle, it’s possible he is simply observing the handiwork of his co-believers — and that has nothing specifically to do with media at all.***]

I’m picking too many fights with Shafer. The point is really that geographic polarization is happening and its dynamic and self-reinforcing: Blue cities are sucking in Blues and repelling Reds, and Red ex-burbs are sucking in Reds and repelling Blues.

Urban Globalist Conspiracy

But, the truth is, Blue and Red, doesn’t really explain the political divide. There are socially liberal people migrating to the Red/Purpilish ex-burbs, and strident interventionists in deep rural Red. Likewise, the deepest Blue cities are increasingly dominated by socially conservative and highly illiberal electoral blocs. You wouldn’t know it, but racism, antisemitism, chauvinism (and outright sexual violence) and political violence and intimidation are far more serious issues within the Lefty rank and file (and increasingly the elite) than on the Right. If you don’t believe that, then at least you would agree that these issues are far more prevalent in the Lefty coalition than makes sense, given that fighting other people’s bigotry is the very thing that the Left purports to uphold. [To be fair, I owe a rare hat tip to Bernie Sanders for calling out the thought-police on Team Left.]

Here is where Guilluy helps to make sense of it all. By make sense of it all, I mean, offers a coherent political and economic narrative that actually explains the geographic and electoral (but not strictly ideological) polarization. It also happens to flatter my biases, so I’m running with it.

Who is Guilluy? A partisan hack? Not according to the partisans, at least:

Christophe Guilluy calls himself a geographer. But he has spent decades as a housing consultant in various rapidly changing neighborhoods north of Paris, studying gentrification, among other things. And he has crafted a convincing narrative tying together France’s various social problems—immigration tensions, inequality, deindustrialization, economic decline, ethnic conflict, and the rise of populist parties. Such an analysis had previously eluded the Parisian caste of philosophers, political scientists, literary journalists, government-funded researchers, and party ideologues.

Guilluy is none of these. Yet in a French political system that is as polarized as the American, both the outgoing Socialist president François Hollande and his Gaullist predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy sought his counsel. Marine Le Pen, whose National Front dismisses both major parties as part of a corrupt establishment, is equally enthusiastic about his work.

Guilluy tries to explain what the hell has happened to France, using demographics and geography as his clues — and it’s not just “the Muselmans are destroying our culture!” or “the Hitlers are coming!” It’s a process he calls “métropolisation”:

. . . [M]étropolisation has cut French society in two. In 16 dynamic urban areas (Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Toulouse, Lille, Bordeaux, Nice, Nantes, Strasbourg, Grenoble, Rennes, Rouen, Toulon, Douai-Lens, and Montpellier), the world’s resources have proved a profitable complement to those found in France. These urban areas are home to all the country’s educational and financial institutions, as well as almost all its corporations and the many well-paying jobs that go with them. Here, too, are the individuals—the entrepreneurs and engineers and CEOs, the fashion designers and models, the film directors and chefs and other “symbolic analysts,” as Robert Reich once called them—who shape the country’s tastes, form its opinions, and renew its prestige. Cheap labor, tariff-free consumer goods, and new markets of billions of people have made globalization a windfall for such prosperous places. But globalization has had no such galvanizing effect on the rest of France. Cities that were lively for hundreds of years—Tarbes, Agen, Albi, Béziers—are now, to use Guilluy’s word, “desertified,” haunted by the empty storefronts and blighted downtowns that Rust Belt Americans know well.

Guilluy doubts that anyplace exists in France’s new economy for working people as we’ve traditionally understood them. Paris offers the most striking case. As it has prospered, the City of Light has stratified, resembling, in this regard, London or American cities such as New York and San Francisco. It’s a place for millionaires, immigrants, tourists, and the young, with no room for the median Frenchman. Paris now drives out the people once thought of as synonymous with the city.

OK, industries come and go. Economic evolution is a painful but necessary process and crying about shuttered horse-shoe manufacturing plants isn’t going to win a lot of sympathy.

But, nostalgia is not a deep predictive model of political economy. Housing policy, however . . .

The laid-off, the less educated, the mistrained—all must rebuild their lives in what Guilluy calls (in the title of his second book) La France périphérique . . . [which] measures distance from the functioning parts of the global economy. France’s best-performing urban nodes have arguably never been richer or better-stocked with cultural and retail amenities . . . [However,] [i]n a knowledge economy, [median] workers have largely been exiled from the places where the economy still functions. They have been replaced by immigrants.

After the mid-twentieth century, the French state built a vast stock—about 5 million units—of public housing, which now accounts for a sixth of the country’s households. Much of it is hideous-looking, but it’s all more or less affordable. Its purpose has changed, however. It is now used primarily for billeting not native French workers, as once was the case, but immigrants and their descendants, millions of whom arrived from North Africa starting in the 1960s, with yet another wave of newcomers from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East arriving today. In the rough northern suburb of Aubervilliers, for instance, three-quarters of the young people are of immigrant background. Again, Paris’s future seems visible in contemporary London. Between 2001 and 2011, the population of white Londoners fell by 600,000, even as the city grew by 1 million people: from 58 percent white British at the turn of the century, London is currently 45 percent white.

In with new working class, and out with the old:

While rich Parisians may not miss the presence of the middle class, they do need people to bus tables, trim shrubbery, watch babies, and change bedpans. Immigrants—not native French workers—do most of these jobs . . .

Why the native working class got booted to the periphery is not Guilluy’s project. But now that it has happened, and how it happened, explains a lot:

[E]ven if French people were willing to do the work that gets offered in these prosperous urban centers, there’d be no way for them to do it, because there is no longer any place for them to live. As a new bourgeoisie has taken over the private housing stock, poor foreigners have taken over the public—which thus serves the metropolitan rich as a kind of taxpayer-subsidized servants’ quarters. Public-housing inhabitants are almost never ethnically French; the prevailing culture there nowadays is often heavily, intimidatingly Muslim.

Ouch. “Taxpayer-subsidized servants’ quarters,” sounds about right, though.

Still, can’t the un-professional class learn to share, like their cosmopolitan betters?

At a practical level, considerations of economics and ethnicity are getting harder to disentangle. Guilluy has spent years in and out of buildings in northern Paris (his sisters live in public housing), and he is sensitive to the way this works in France. A public-housing development is a community, yes, and one can wish that it be more diverse. But it is also an economic resource that, more and more, is getting fought over tribally. An ethnic Frenchman moving into a heavily North African housing project finds himself threatening a piece of property that members of “the community” think of as theirs. Guilluy speaks of a “battle of the eyes” fought in the lobbies of apartment buildings across France every day, in which one person or the other—the ethnic Frenchman or the immigrant’s son—will drop his gaze to the floor first.

Diversity and multiculturalism are not frictionless, particularly where [artificially] scarce resources — I’m looking at you, zoning and rent control — are involved and to the tribal, go the electoral spoils. You can call it “racism” or “xenophobia” if you want, but (a) the feeling appears to be mutual; and (b) if ethnicity leads to the difference between subsidized housing or not, then people are going to be attuned to ethnicity. Put it this way, if the natives got housing priority, you would surely understand why the immigrants would be frustrated:

France’s most dangerous political battles play out against this backdrop. The central fact is the 70 percent that we just spoke of [who think there are “too many” immigrants]: they oppose immigration and are worried, we can safely assume, about the prospects for a multiethnic society. Their wishes are consistent, their passions high; and a democracy is supposed to translate the wishes and passions of the people into government action. Yet that hasn’t happened in France

Like French cities, the French political and cultural elite have jettisoned their old working class allies, and replaced them with a more appreciative (and desperate) set of underlings. The ideology hasn’t changed much — a strategic alliance between the elite and the common man to divide the [global] economy “fairly” — but the “common man” has a new skin color and place of origin.

The native common man, however, can’t find an elite date:

In France, the Parti Socialiste, like the Democratic Party in the U.S. or Labour in Britain, has remade itself based on a recognition of this new demographic and political reality. François Hollande built his 2012 presidential victory on a strategy outlined in October 2011 by Bruno Jeanbart and the late Olivier Ferrand of the Socialist think tank Terra Nova. Largely because of cultural questions, the authors warned, the working class no longer voted for the Left. The consultants suggested a replacement coalition of ethnic minorities, people with advanced degrees (usually prospering in new-economy jobs), women, youths, and non-Catholics—a French version of the Obama bloc.

And what does Guilluy think of this new cultural-political alliance? Well, he’s a scientist, so he tells it like it is, but the short version is that “it’s working great . . . for the new alliance”:

In most parts of Paris, working-class Frenchmen are just gone, priced out of even the soccer stadiums that were a bastion of French proledom until the country’s World Cup victory in 1998. The national culture has changed.

. . . In Paris and other cities of Guilluy’s fortunate France, one often encounters an appearance of civility, even consensus, where once there was class conflict. But this is an illusion: one side has been driven from the field.

The old bourgeoisie hasn’t been supplanted; it has been supplemented by a second bourgeoisie that occupies the previously non-bourgeois housing stock. For every old-economy banker in an inherited high-ceilinged Second Empire apartment off the Champs-Élysées, there is a new-economy television anchor or high-tech patent attorney living in some exorbitantly remodeled mews house in the Marais. A New Yorker might see these two bourgeoisies as analogous to residents of the Upper East and Upper West Sides. They have arrived through different routes, and they might once have held different political opinions, but they don’t now.

If that doesn’t describe Obama’s America to a T . . . even Shafer’s “new-economy” media-types make an appearance in the Parisian bubble.

But again, this is not Left-Right, or Red-Blue: it’s New Left v. Old Left (or if you really want to be grim and anachronistic, it’s the national socialists v. the international socialists). Lefty cultural elites got divorced, found a new partner and kept the house — they are just soooo happy:

Guilluy notes that the conservative presidential candidate Alain Juppé, mayor of Bordeaux, and Gérard Collomb, the Socialist running Lyon, pursue identical policies. As Paris has become not just the richest city in France but the richest city in the history of France, its residents have come to describe their politics as “on the left”—a judgment that tomorrow’s historians might dispute. Most often, Parisians mean what Guilluy calls la gauche hashtag, or what we might call the “glass-ceiling Left,” preoccupied with redistribution among, not from, elites: we may have done nothing for the poor, but we did appoint the first disabled lesbian parking commissioner.

Well, yes. If you believe that the prols are so utterly hopeless that they need you, and lots of people like you, to control and administer their lives, then you probably have a pretty firm grasp of your own rightful place in the social and political hierarchy. Remember, the poor are “empowered” the more power they transfer to their considerate betters.

Immigrants (at least for now), are more than happy to be “empowered” without asking much in return, and the urban cultural elite know a good bargain when they see one. In fact, at this point, they can’t imagine it any other way:

The good fortune of Creative Class members appears (to them) to have nothing to do with any kind of capitalist struggle. Never have conditions been more favorable for deluding a class of fortunate people into thinking that they owe their privilege to being nicer, or smarter, or more honest, than everyone else. Why would they think otherwise? They never meet anyone who disagrees with them. The immigrants with whom the creatives share the city are dazzlingly different, exotic, even frightening, but on the central question of our time—whether the global economic system is working or failing—they see eye to eye. . .

This estrangement is why electoral results around the world last year—from Brexit to the election of Donald Trump—proved so difficult to anticipate. Those outside the city gates in la France périphérique are invisible, their wishes incomprehensible. It’s as if they don’t exist. But they do.

But one of the many problems with government ownership of the economy, i.e. dividing the pie, is that there is only so much pie to go around. If you’re no longer BFF with the people holding the slicer, you’re screwed. Likewise, ring-fencing economic activity for the benefit of the politically connected (e.g. licensing, unions, mandatory benefits) works great for the people inside the fence, but it’s awful for everyone else.

Well, it works great, at least until “everyone else” starts plotting their revenge. Then comes Left-on-Left violence. In France’s case, “everyone else” is the exiled native working class, frozen out of a global economy by walls they helped build, and they are not in any mood to make nice to their previous overlords.

Their unrest has got nothing to do with economic preferences for tax/spend or social preferences for cultural openness — it’s about retaking the castle:

The welfare state is now distrusted by those whom it is meant to help. France’s expenditure on the heavily immigrant banlieues is already vast, on this view; to provide yet more public housing would be to widen the invitation to unwanted immigrants. To build any large public-works project is to do the same. To invest in education, in turn, is to offer more advantages to the rich, who’re best positioned to benefit from it. In a society divided as Guilluy describes, traditional politics can find no purchase.

The governing class may not agree on everything, but at the very least they agree on who ought to constitute the governing class, so they’re circling the wagons:

The two traditional French parties—the Republicans, who once followed a conservative program elaborated by Charles de Gaulle; and the Socialists, who once followed socialism—still compete for votes, but along an ever-narrowing spectrum of issues. The real divide is no longer between the “Right” and the “Left” but between the metropoles and the peripheries. The traditional parties thrive in the former. The National Front (FN) is the party of the outside.

Indeed, with its opposition to free trade, open immigration, and the European Union, the FN has established itself as the main voice of the anti-globalizers. At regional elections in 2015, it took 55 percent of workers’ votes. The Socialists, Republicans, Greens, and the hard Left took 18 percent among them. In an effort to ward off the FN, the traditional parties now collude as often as they compete. In the second round of those regional elections, the Socialists withdrew in favor of their Republican rivals, seeking to create a barrage républicain against the FN. The banding together of establishment parties to defend the system against anti-system parties is happening all over the world.

The governing class isn’t being nice about it at all. In fact, they have been crapping on their old partners for so long, that crapping on the Periphery has become something of an ideological purity test for inclusion into the governing class.

That sounds . . . familiar? Oh right:

Guilluy has tried to clarify French politics with an original theory of political correctness. The dominance of metropolitan elites has made it hard even to describe the most important conflicts in France, except in terms that conform to their way of viewing the world . . .

French elites have convinced themselves that their social supremacy rests not on their economic might but on their common decency. Doing so allows them to “present the losers of globalization as embittered people who have problems with diversity,” says Guilluy. It’s not our privilege that the French deplorables resent, the elites claim; it’s the color of some of our employees’ skin. French elites have a thesaurus full of colorful vocabulary for those who resist the open society: repli (“reaction”), crispation identitaire (“ethnic tension”), and populisme(an accusation equivalent to fascism, which somehow does not require an equivalent level of proof). One need not say anything racist or hateful to be denounced as a member of “white, xenophobic France,” or even as a “fascist.” To express mere discontent with the political system is dangerous enough. It is to faire le jeu de (“play the game of”) the National Front.

. . . In France, political correctness is more than a ridiculous set of opinions; it’s also—and primarily—a tool of government coercion. Not only does it tilt any political discussion in favor of one set of arguments; it also gives the ruling class a doubt-expelling myth that provides a constant boost to morale and esprit de corps, much as class systems did in the days before democracy. People tend to snicker when the question of political correctness is raised: its practitioners because no one wants to be thought politically correct; and its targets because no one wants to admit to being coerced. But it determines the current polarity in French politics. Where you stand depends largely on whether you believe that antiracism is a sincere response to a genuine upsurge of public hatred or an opportunistic posture for elites seeking to justify their rule.

Right. You can’t just say, “sorry, French working class, you got too expensive and we found a new working class that will let us govern them more cheaply.” You have to say that the old working class turned out to be monsters — ugly, lazy, racist and resentful. I saw it on The Culture, so it must be true.

OK, so let’s recap:

  • The French working class was priced out of Paris and sent to the Periphery. How? Because the scarce supply of private housing stock was snapped up by the governing class and nouveau riche of the global information economy, and the scarce supply of public housing stock was allocated to immigrants cut from an entirely different cultural jib;
  • This caused, or was caused by, a shift in political and cultural allegiances, whereby the cultural elite traded in the exiled native working class, for a newer, cheaper working class. Together they divide the spoils of globalization between them, while they sneer at the feral natives — well, at least the elites sneer, because the immigrants mostly keep to themselves (or used to), which is all the better for elites! All the same status and power, at a fraction of the price! Gosh, I can’t believe we ever glorified native blue collar workers before! Those roughneck sexist xenophobes are grosss and everyone I know agrees with me!
  • Everything is grand in Cosmopolitanistan, but not so much on the Periphery. After years of authorizing the elite to build a moat around the economy on their behalf, the natives now find themselves on the outside looking in. [Well, as Caldwell tells it, the Periphery is just bad, but there’s no real explanation why. However, if you pass lots of laws to protect a small chunk of the labor market, it’s pretty obvious why the rest of the labor market is a bad place to be.] The natives are angry, feel betrayed by their old partners in crime, are resentful of the new girlfriend, and want a whole new governing elite to take back what’s rightfully “theirs.”
  • The establishment is a bit scared. After years in the wilderness, the agitated natives are looking a little rough around the edges. It’s like they’re living in an alternative universe, with alternative facts. Name-calling isn’t helping — it’s making things worse — and neither is circling the wagons with other members of the political establishment, even political rivals. It’s almost like the natives don’t respect their authority anymore.
  • Plus, not everything is good in their walled cities — cracks are beginning to show. It turns out these immigrants are not harmless exotic pets, but in fact have agency of their own. Some of them are looking for trouble and even the urban elite are wondering if they were a bit too hasty swapping one working class for another. But they can’t really talk about it because the words for illiberal nastiness only apply to the Periphery and criticizing the immigrants is taboo. They have feelings of fear and resentment, but they have no words to describe them.
  • It’s frankly unclear whether the urban elite could make peace with the Periphery even if they wanted to because their own rank and file has become too unruly and too hateful to share a city with the natives, let alone a government. Plus, there are only so many appointments to make, committees to form and grants to allocate, and they’re all already spoken-for. To make matters worse, there is emerging dissent in the urban ranks. Immigrants are getting tired of being governed and want to do some governing of their own, thank you very much. They’ll be damned if the old natives try to reclaim past glories and they’re not afraid of calling you — their patron, their champion — a racist for suggesting otherwise. Things are getting nasty inside and out, and the founding myth that depicts the urban globalist alliance as righteous and just is collapsing under its own weight.

Alright, so I cheated a little. It’s a little over-determined, but it sure seems like Guilluy is on to something, at least as rough sketches go.

It’s not Left v. Right, or lattes v. hunting n’ fishing.

Rather, there is a cultural, political and economic elite who have learned to thrive in the cities they control by offering cheap public housing and services to immigrants who would (for the most part) be happy to have clean water. They get along great with the cultural, political and economic elite who do the exact same thing in other cities across the world. Everyone else is not worth their time.

Loosen the reigns? Why would we? There’s enough for us and the immigrants. Fewer immigrants?! Are you Hitler? Terror? La-la-la-Not-Listening!

What about your old buddies, the blue collar natives? Y’mean, those White Men? Who needs ’em, the no-good, bible-thumping, gun-toting, genocidal racists. How positively gauche. The government is not for them. It’s for us and our new immigrant buddies — aren’t they adorable? I hope the blue collars stay in the Ozarks, where they belong, and far away from our cities, our workplaces, our movies, our books, our video games, our sports, our schools, our universities, our public spaces, our private spaces, our government services, our private charities — really anywhere I can see, think, breath, or interact.

I guess they can stay in the military because that’s dangerous and far away and I don’t really want to do that and frankly — just between us — even I don’t really trust a bunch of first generation Somalis to semper fi, if you know what I mean. Let’s wait twenty years, and then kick them out of the military. In the meantime, let’s just take away their guns.

These are the “globalists,” but they are obviously quite parochial and protectionist, and cities are the source of their strength. Indeed, it’s densely populated areas that make that kind of political and cultural gamesmanship possible.

The blue collar natives? Well, when they were busy building walls around their professions and industry, and happily cavorting with the cultural elite, they never imagined they’d be on the outside looking in.

Well, that’s not true. Labor and their Progressive partners tried very hard to keep the Chinese, Jews, Blacks and Women from entering the country/labor market, so they had a sense. Plus, no one plays the part of urban, cultural globalist like the Jews, and that story is as old as culture itself. The natives were convinced to go along with the free market stuff for a while — not like they had a choice, since they were booted from the Lefty coalition (and their urban strongholds) for closing markets to the wrong people — but now they want their protectionism back. I totally believe them when they say they feel like immigrants in their own country . . . because they would know.

It is quite obviously far more complicated than that, but as a clunky model to explain the political, regional and ideological alliances that have manifested globally, Guilluy’s Urban v. Periphery is appealing.

For one thing (among many others), there is a lot more regional and ideological differentiation. Not only are the urban and peripheral alliances more internally heterogeneous than I’m giving them credit for, there are “global” variations, as well.

For example,  I think socialism runs much deeper in France and the National Front is closer to a true lefty party, than say the populist movement in the U.S. The U.S. has a much stronger liberal tradition and many people voluntarily leave the cities — as Kotkin points out — for a less destitute Periphery. Unlike Guilluy’s France, the U.S. still has some purplish places to live and work, and economy is not entirely owned by the political class. My sense is that even the exiled blue collar protectionists have been sharing a coalition with the fishin’ and huntin’ folks for so long that they’ve lost a little of their socialist edge. Much like the civil libertarian liberals who have been sharing a coalition with socialists for so long that they have lost some of their liberal edge. Also, the U.S. is blessed with Mormons. France has rural Catholics. Etc.

So, when do the moon colonies open for business?


4 thoughts on “Political Geography”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s