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“An Undead Policy Idea”: Rand Paul Pulls Out His Dog-Eared Playbook

Sen. Rand Paul decamped in Detroit today to open a new GOP office (good luck with that), and while he was at it, pulled out his thin, dog-eared playbook of conservative urban policy ideas, as reported by Slate‘s Emma Roller:

Paul’s real mission in Detroit is his new plan to stimulate the bankrupt city’s economy. In a call with reporters Thursday, Paul announced a bill that he insists is not a stimulus. The gist: radically lower taxes for areas that have 1.5 times the national unemployment rate, or roughly 11 percent. As of August, unemployment in Wayne County was at 11.1 percent, and 17.7 percent in Detroit proper.

Yes, it’s “enterprise zones,” the crown jewel of 1980s-style Republican expressions of concern for urban areas, associated especially with HUD secretary and conservative warhorse Jack Kemp. As Roller notes, it hasn’t been a particularly successful idea:

Would insanely low corporate taxes convince Jeff Bezos to build Amazon’s next warehouse in some long-abandoned Detroit building? Would they even convince business owners in adjacent Macomb County—which has an only 9.5 percent unemployment rate—to venture into the city? Critics (as they are wont to be) are skeptical:

“Enterprise zones are not especially effective at increasing overall economic activity or raising incomes for the poor,” said Len Burman, director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center and a former Clinton administration official. “They just seem to move the locus of activity across the zone’s boundary — reducing activity outside the zone and increasing it inside.”

Burman might well know, because probably the most extensive application of the enterprise zone concept was actually as a small element of the Clinton administration’s “empowerment zone” initiative, which packaged federal grants with tax concessions in urban areas agreeing to undertake a comprehensive strategy for self-improvement. This was not one of my favorite Clinton policies (as I expressed once in a magazine op-ed that enraged the initiative’s majordomo, a guy named Andrew Cuomo), but it was a lot better than the original GOP model.

But here it is again, a truly undead policy idea.

Once when I was involved in rural development efforts in Georgia I wrote (for the private amusement of my colleagues at the state agency where I worked) a savage parody of enterprise zones by “proposing” that we offer poor counties the opportunity to legalize every kind of income-producing vice: prostitution, gambling, drugs, you name it. They’d be called “erogenous zones.” A quarter century later, enterprise zones haven’t become any less worthy of ridicule.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 5, 2013

December 7, 2013 Posted by | Rand Paul | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Small Towns Have Their Darkside Too”: Maryville, Missouri Is A Lawless Hellhole

Earlier this week, the New Republic’s Michael Schaffer published an immensely satisfying smackdown of the frustrating double standard the media tends to invoke when it comes to reporting about small towns. Culture war rules have firmly established that it’s fine for “real Americans” to slander cities as ungodly, anti-American dens of crime and iniquity.

Yet it’s all but compulsory for reporters writing about small town life to glop on the pious cliches about the honest, pure-hearted folk who allegedly populate these places, with their supposedly unwavering fidelity to family values, tradition, and the simpler things in life. These sepia-toned journalistic portraits of small-town life can be so treacly they run the risk of sending you into a diabetic coma.

But in reality, small towns are no simpler than anywhere else. And as anyone who grew up in such a place can tell you, small towns have their dark side. They can be vicious, bigoted, hateful places, and every bit as corrupt as cities. There’s a reason why Shirley Jackson set her chilling short story “The Lottery” in a small town. The town in the story was based on the place she was living in at the time; she and her family experienced ugly acts of ostracism and anti-Semitism there.

Thus we come to Maryville, Missouri, site of a now-infamous rape case, and various journalists’ not terribly persuasive attempts to whitewash the place, most notably the New York Times. But all the air freshener in the world can’t perfume the overpowering stench which practically wafts off my computer screen every time I read about the godforsaken place. As Schaffer usefully points out:

There are two ways the town could have lived up to the Times’ rose-colored description of its status quo ante:

1. Beforehand, by not sexually assaulting ninth-graders, videotaping the incident, and leaving a victim asleep on her front lawn in freezing weather.

2. After the fact, by not ostracizing the victim’s siblings, firing her mom from her job, dropping the case inexplicably, and burning the family’s house down.

Schaffer goes on to argue, persuasively, that both of the above scenarios are actually more likely, not less so, in a small town than in a more densely populated urban area. Among other things, there’s the problem of the quasi-feudalistic nature of rural life:

Turns out all that “close knit” small-town stuff turns out to kind of suck if you’re trying to get justice: When you’re so close-knit that your boss knows some of the families whose kids you’re trying to put in jail, and you just happen to get fired—that’s not a good thing.

The anonymity of city life comes with its own troubles, of course, including high crime rates. I wouldn’t want, or expect, journalists to gloss over these well-known problems. Why, then, is it okay for them to create absurdly idealized portraits of small-town life? Especially when, as is the case with Maryville, such portraits sugarcoat horrendous and widespread anti-social behavior and what appears to be a systematic attempt at obstruction of justice?


By: Kathleen Geier, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 26, 2013

November 4, 2013 Posted by | Bigotry, Sex Abuse | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One Person, One Vote? Not Exactly

Two economists, Brian Knight and Nathan Schiff, set out a few years ago to determine how much Iowa, New Hampshire and other early-voting states affected presidential nominations.

Mr. Knight and Mr. Schiff analyzed daily polls in other states before and after an early state had held a contest. The polls tended to change immediately after the contest, and the changes tended to last, which suggested that the early states were even more important than many people realized. The economists estimated that an Iowa or New Hampshire voter had the same impact as five Super Tuesday voters put together.

This system, the two men drily noted in a Journal of Political Economy paper, “represents a deviation from the democratic ideal of ‘one person, one vote.’ ”

A presidential campaign is once again upon us, and Iowa and New Hampshire are again at the center of it all. On Thursday, Mitt Romney will announce his candidacy in Stratham, N.H. Last week, Tim Pawlenty opened his campaign in Des Moines. The two states have dominated the nominating process for so long that it’s easy to think of their role as natural.

But it is not natural. It’s undemocratic, in fact. It is unfair to voters in the other 48 states. And it distorts economic policy in several damaging ways.

Most obviously, the federal government has lavished subsidies on ethanol, even though those subsidies drive up food prices and do little to solve the climate problem, partly because candidates pander to the Iowa corn industry. (Mr. Pawlenty, who now says the subsidies must end, is an admirable exception.) Beyond ethanol, a recent peer-reviewed study found that early-voting states received more federal dollars after a competitive election — so long as they supported the winning candidate.

Pork is hardly the only problem with the voting calendar. In the long run-up to the first votes, Iowa and New Hampshire also distort the national conversation because they are so unrepresentative. They are not better or worse than other states, to be clear. But they are different.

Their populations are growing more slowly than the rest of the country’s. Residents of Iowa and New Hampshire are more likely to have health insurance. They are older than average. They are more likely to work in manufacturing.

Above all, Iowa and New Hampshire lack a single big city, at a time when large metropolitan areas are crucial to lifting economic growth. Big metro areas are where big ideas most often take shape and great new companies are most often born. The country’s 25 largest areas are responsible for 52 percent of the country’s economic output, according to the Brookings Institution, and are home to 42 percent of the population.

Yet metro areas are also struggling with major problems. The quality of schools is spotty. Commutes last longer than ever. Roads, bridges, tunnels and transit systems are aging.

You don’t hear much about these issues in the first year of a presidential campaign, though. No wonder. Iowa, New Hampshire and the next two states to vote, Nevada and South Carolina, do not have a single city among the country’s 25 largest. Las Vegas, the 30th-largest metro area, and the Boston suburbs that stretch into New Hampshire are the closest these states come.

So the presidential calendar becomes another cause of what Edward Glaeser, a conservative-leaning Harvard economist, calls our “anti-urban policy bias.” Suburbs and rural areas receive vastly more per-person federal largess than cities. One big reason, of course, is the structure of the Senate: the 12 million residents of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina have eight United States senators among them, while the 81 million residents of California, New York and Texas have only six.

Bruce Katz, a Brookings vice president and veteran of Democratic administrations, points out that the world’s other economic powers take their cities more seriously. China, in particular, has made urban planning a central part of its economic strategy.

“The United States stands apart as an anti-urban nation in an urbanizing world,” Mr. Katz told me. “Our political tilt toward small states and small towns, in presidential campaigns and the governing that follows, is not only a quaint relic of an earlier era but a dangerous distraction at a time when national prosperity depends on urban prosperity.”

The typical defense from Iowa and New Hampshire is that they care more about politics than the rest of us and therefore do a better job vetting candidates. But the intense 2008 race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton showed that if Iowa and New Hampshire care more, it’s only because of their privileged status. In 2008, turnout soared in states that finally had a primary that mattered, be it Indiana or Texas, North Carolina or Rhode Island.

A more democratic system would allow more voters to see the candidates up close for months at a time. The early states could rotate each year, so that all kinds — big states and small, younger and older, rural and urban — had a turn. In 2016, the first wave could include states that have voted near the end recently, like Indiana, North Carolina, Oregon and South Dakota.

A rotation along these lines would enliven the political debate. Investments in science and education, which are the lifeblood of future economic growth, might play a bigger role in the campaign. You could even imagine — optimistically, I know — that the deficit might prove easier to address if Medicare and Social Security recipients did not make up such a disproportionate share of early voters.

The issues particular to small-town America would still receive extra attention because so many of the 50 states are rural and sparsely populated. It’s just that Iowa and New Hampshire would no longer receive the extreme special treatment they now do.

And that special treatment is a nice thing, indeed. It focuses the entire country, and its next leader, on the concerns of only 1 percent of the population, as if democracy were supposed to work that way.

At a recent candidates’ forum in Des Moines, The Wall Street Journal reported, the moderator did something that seemed perfectly normal: She chided Mr. Romney for not having spent enough time in Iowa lately. “Where have you been?” she asked.

How do you think the rest of us feel?


By: David Leonhardt, Economic Scene, The New York Times, May 31, 2011

June 4, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Democracy, Elections, Government, Health Care, Iowa Caucuses, Medicare, Politics, Social Security, States, Voters | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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