Governance in Rich Liberal American Cities

Matt Yglesias has a blog post called Make Blue America Great Again, about governance in rich liberal states like New York and California. He talks about various good government issues, and he pays a lot of attention specifically to TransitMatters and our Regional Rail project for the Boston region, so I feel obliged to comment more on this.

The basic point Matt makes is that the quality of governance in rich liberal American states is poor, and as a result, people do not associate them with wealth very consistently. He brings up examples about the quality of schools and health care, but his main focus is land use and transportation: the transportation infrastructure built in New York, California, etc. is expensive and not of high quality, and tight zoning regulations choke housing production.

That said, I think there’s a really important screwup in those states and cities that Matt misses: the problem isn’t (just) high costs, but mostly total unwillingness to do anything. Do-nothing leaders like Charlie Baker, Andrew Cuomo, Gavin Newsom, and Bill de Blasio aren’t particularly interested in optimizing for costs, even the first two, who project an image of moderation and reason.

The Regional Rail proposal’s political obstacles are not exactly a matter of cost. It’s not that this should cost $4 billion (without the North-South Rail Link) but it was estimated at $15 billion and therefore there’s no will to do it. No: the Baker administration seems completely uninterested in governing, and has published two fraudulent studies making up high costs for both the North-South Rail Link and rail electrification, as well as a more recent piece of fraud making up high costs for Boston-Springfield intercity rail. The no comes first, and the high costs come second.

This history – no first, then high costs – is also the case for New York’s subway accessibility program. The MTA does not want it; the political system does not care either. Therefore, when disability rights advocates do force some investment, the MTA makes up high costs, often through bundling unnecessary investments that it does want, like rebuilding station interiors, and charging these projects to the accessibility account. A judge can force an agency to build something, but not to build it competently and without siphoning money.

I want to emphasize that this does not cover all cases of high American costs. Second Avenue Subway, for example, is not the result of such a sandbag: everyone wants it built, but the people in charge in New York are not competent enough to build it affordably. This does accord with Matt’s explanation of poor Northeastern and West Coast governance. But not everything does, and it’s important to recognize what’s going on.

The other important point is that these do-nothing leaders are popular. Baker is near-tied for the most popular governor in the United States with another do-nothing Northeastern moderate Republican, Maryland’s Larry Hogan. Andrew Cuomo’s approval rate has soared since he got 43,000 people in the state killed in the corona crisis.

People who live in New York may joke that the city has trash on the street and cockroaches in apartments, but they’re pretty desensitized to it. They politically identify as Democrats, and once corona happened they blamed Trump, as did many people elsewhere in the United States, and forgave Democrats who mismanaged the crisis like Cuomo. Baker and Hogan are of course Republicans, but they perform a not-like-the-other-Republicans persona, complete with open opposition to Trump, and therefore Massachusetts Democrats who have a strong partisan identity in federal elections are still okay with do-nothing Republicans. People who really can’t stand the low quality of public services leave.

Construction cost reform is pretty drastic policy, requiring the destruction of pretty powerful political forces – the system of political appointments, state legislators and mayors with a local rather than national-partisan identity, NIMBYs, politically-connected managers, the building trades, various equity consultants (such as many Los Angeles-area urbanists). They are not legally strong, and a governor with a modicum of courage could disempower them, but to be a moderate in the United States means to be extremely timid and technologically conservative. Matt himself understands that last point, and has pointed this out in connection with moderates who hold the balance of power in the Senate, like Joe Manchin and Susan Collins, but use it only to slightly shrink proposed changes and never to push a positive agenda of their own.

So yes, this is a construction cost crisis, but it’s not purely that. A lot of it is a broader crisis of political cowardice, in which non-leftist forces think government doesn’t work and then get elected and prove it (and leftists think real change comes from bottom-up action and the state is purely for sinecures, courtesy of the New Left). I warned in the spring that corona is not WW2 – the crisis is big enough to get people to close ranks behind leaders, but not to get them to change anything important. These states are rich; comfortable people are not going to agitate for the destruction of just about every local political power structure just to get better infrastructure.


  1. michaelrjames

    Just like the terms Left and Right have become meaningless, so too the term Moderate has turned into something I hate to hear. As you say, the moderates we know, typified by Collins and Manchin and other RINOs and DINOs, are do-nothing fence-sitters. They are worse than the hard-rightists who at least are in-yer-face about what they are –except, in another malapropism, they like to label themselves Conservatives. The notion that in this critical moment in history, Biden is going to fill his cabinet and advisors with moderates makes one shiver in horror and anticipation of yet another wasted 4 years (followed most likely by return to Republicans).

    Anyway, all this talk of leaders, governors etc., the real people to blame are the American voters.

    • Henry

      There’s also the American voting system to blame, in which not everyone is compelled to vote; some people specifically try to turn away the wrong kind of voter; and the combination of party primaries, FPTP, and very expensive elections usually winds you up with two meh-to-bad choices, and possibly a third spoiler choice.

      • Bobson Dugnutt

        @Henry, there’s a fundamental issue with the American voting system. The US is stuck with 18th century ideas of government for 18th century concerns. It was never re-examined or reformed. We have a Jeffersonian theory of governance but a society that developed along the Hamiltonian vision of an urbanized, industrialized economy.

        Since political participation at the time of the American revolution was limited to property owners (and yes, disenfranchised women, Blacks and the indigenous peoples who had their land taken and subsequently blocked from participation and justice), the mindset of the framers was that political conflict would center around land disputes and it wasn’t in landowners’ interest to factionalize (form political parties). So all federal and state legislatures are district-based.

        What if the US had parliamentary governance instead? The trade-off is that Americans would have to give political parties more power than they do now. On the other hand, political participation would be a lot higher and it would be more along the lines of how people want to vote — along ideological lines.

        Another reform: We redraw legislative districts every decades. Why not redraw state boundaries to achieve parity between populations among states? If we need to keep the Senate, why not balance the population among the 100 senators? The U.S. has a population of about 330 million. With 50 states of roughly equal population, states would have populations of about 6.6 million apiece. There are 17 states with more than this and would have to be partitioned — as well as New York City (8 million) and Los Angeles County (10 million). The median state population would be roughly Indiana or Missouri.

        Alternatively, we could organize states around more realistic modern economic geographies. The New York City metro area has more than 20 million people spread across 4 states. A New Jersey or Connecticut resident is closer to the city’s politics than someone from Rochester or Buffalo. If we made New York City whole and made states the size of NYC, we’d return to something more along the lines of the founding of the US — 13 to 15 states.

        • Herbert

          Stupid power structures tend to entrench themselves until there is danger of violence to end them.

          Cf. The parliamentary seat of Old Sarum or the “Liberum Veto” in the polish Sejm…

          • Bobson Dugnutt

            @Herbert, true but in modern polities there is a way to achieve it peacefully.

            For instance, Canada’s conservatives are the opposite of US conservatives. They make government bigger in order to gain electoral advantage. There were several government consolidations, such as forcing small suburbs into Toronto, and Mississauga absorbing a suburb north of it to form the Peel Region, a suburb containing about 1 million people and the principal airport. Premier Ford even is motioning a plan to drastically reduce the number of Toronto council seats, effectively enlarging the seats to make districts competitive between Liberals and Conservatives while freezing out the leftist NDP that could win small blocs of seats with the smaller districts they have now.

            In the US, consolidated city-counties are usually more conservative than principal cities. Overall, cities everywhere have a tendency to lean left once a certain level of density is reached, but this effect is diluted if lower-density edges are mixed in with the older suburbs. Indianapolis, Nashville and Louisville tend to have more conservative residents because of the consolidation effect, and it helps keep their respective states redder than they actually are.

          • Sarapen

            @Bobson Dugnutt This is a strange take on Toronto and Ontario politics which mixes up information and confuses two different levels of government.

            First, Doug Ford is not currently motioning that he will drastically reduce the number of Toronto city council seats, but that’s because he’s already done it.

            Second, this reduction in council seats does not affect the makeup of the Ontario provincial legislature or the borders of the provincial electoral districts (a.k.a. “ridings”). The reduction in council seats was done at the municipal level, which as premier of Ontario, Doug Ford is able to do so with his constitutional powers since cities are considered “creatures of the province”. However, the premier cannot gerrymander provincial ridings as redrawing borders is specifically done by an independent electoral commission known as Elections Ontario. So all parties had exactly the same number of members in the provincial parliament after the reduction in Toronto council seats as before.

            Lastly, there are no political parties at the municipal level in Toronto. Individual councillors can be members of provincial parties but parties do not at all figure in how the city council governs.

        • Lee Ratner

          The United Kingdom, Canada, and a few other parliamentary countries have district based voting too. Parliamentary government and district based FPTP voting are entirely compatible. Other parliamentary systems have either pure list or a combination of party list and district based voting.

        • Lee Ratner

          Another thing is that cities and counties are entirely subject to the states they reside in. Even if there weren’t any consolidated city-counties, liberal cities in conservative states can have everything they do cancelled by their state legislatures and it would be entirely constitutional.

    • RossB

      It doesn’t matter that much who Biden has in his cabinet or as advisors if the Republicans control the Senate. This will probably be lost on the American people though. Too many think we elect a king, but the president doesn’t have that much power (although a lot of them stretch the limits). You can’t have a New Deal (green or otherwise) unless Congress signs off on it (and the Supreme Court approves it).

      • michaelrjames

        It doesn’t matter that much who Biden has in his cabinet or as advisors if the Republicans control the Senate. This will probably be lost on the American people though.

        Then, even more reason to choose one that at least has the potential to change things long term for the better! Or who will fight for change. But when the Dems have accepted their enemies description as victims–even when they had all 3 branches–and continue to bring a knife to a gunfight, plus ca change … That attitude is exactly what will create a civil war within the party, as it should. The appeasers will say that they must secure power (next election … always the next election) but WTF is the point of power when this attitude murders any opportunity for change at birth.

        But then Obama comprehensively blew one of those very rare crises great enough to have been an inflection point, a point of fundamental change. As usual the forces for status quo argue that it is no time for ‘disruptive’ change. Now, a mere 12 years later they have yet another once-a-century crisis, but with the same limp attitudes prevailing and a bunch of failed geriatrics in charge, it too will most likely be pissed into the wind. Pelosi, age 80, insists on another two years, you know “for party stability/continuity etc–just like last time–despite her failure in the HoR. The most recent low point (of high farce) was Dianne Feinstein (age 87) and her effusive praise for the toxic Lindsey Graham at the toxic confirmation hearings for the toxic Coney Barrett.

        Of course this is from the naive p.o.v. of expectation that these Dems want to change anything, whereas in reality as Robert Reich wrote a few days ago the great divide is not between left and right. It’s between democracy and oligarchy. And we can see it doesn’t matter which party is “in control”, or as in Trump there is no control. The glass-half-full of continued Dem leadership failure is that those who really want real change will realise it is not going to happen by “democratic” or amicable means. Both the US and UK are close to failed states, and one can only wonder where it goes from here.

        It is the exact same factors responsible for transit failure whether in NYC, NY state or DC. Or, as JM would put it, it’s not dysfunction but precisely how the oligarchy designed it to function.

        • Bobson Dugnutt

          @michaelrjames, on the liberal blog Lawyers, Guns and Money, there’s a meme known as Murc’s Law. It states that only Democrats have any agency or causal influence over American politics.

          It’s pretty apt in this example. Notice that Democrats, and only Democrats, have to answer for the consequences of policy changes or governance regardless of them being in power or not. Republicans can skate by on just-so metaphors and grand claims to history, morality, human nature or divine favor.

          There’s a lot Republicans must answer for, since they’ve been in power at all levels of government for longer periods since 1968. Democrats have answered long enough.

          • michaelrjames

            There’s a lot Republicans must answer for, since they’ve been in power at all levels of government for longer periods since 1968. Democrats have answered long enough.

            Even more reason why the Dems should actually try to really change things. They get blamed (often self-blame) regardless so what’s to lose? Who isn’t weary of the lame geriatric (or not) leadership of the Dems preaching more ineffective, usually counter-productive bipartisanship. Are they really going to try to appease Mitch McConnell … again? Just how much evidence do they need to see that a “moderate” approach doesn’t work.

            In today’s media, another example:

            Dear Joe Biden: are you kidding me?
            The president-elect has tapped a former DuPont consultant to join his Environmental Protection Agency transition board
            Erin Brockovich, 19 Nov 2020.
            This is not about being rightwing or leftwing. It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you are on. We cannot keep making picks from this inside, leaving we the people, once again on the outside.
            What will it take to get our leadership to work with the people?

        • RossB

          Obama was a centrist. He governed as a centrist. It isn’t clear what Biden is. But my point is, without the senate, it doesn’t matter. He will be just as effective as Bernie Sanders, probably more so. Because his only hope will be to persuade someone like Collins to vote for his proposal. The only way that is happening is by moving to the middle.

          Your pep speech is 12 years too late. This is not the world we expected — but it is the world Biden will get. Folks expected the Democrats to win the Senate, now it looks like they won’t (and even if the do win it, that majority rests on a razor thin number, with guys like Manchin ready to jump ship). This isn’t 1932. Biden’s power is very limited.

          • michaelrjames

            Your pep speech is 12 years too late.

            You’re saying we can’t learn from history? No wonder you Americans/Democrats keep repeating the same tired old errors.

            As to “centrist”, it is yet another near-meaningless term. As the old joke goes, the only sure outcome from standing in the centre of the road is to be run over by the oncoming Mack truck. Obama was a self-confessed incrementalist and as his own two terms of being the most powerful person in the world demonstrates: it doesn’t work. Even for so-called centrism. It led directly to Trumpism.
            True leaders are the ones who shift the common perception of where the centre lies. Not the ones who vacillate around the existing conception of centre without changing a thing (=Obama).

            As for Collins, absolutely not. Never in a million years. Instead of bringing that puny knife to a gunfight, they need to go nuclear: give senators to Puerto Rico and DC. Appoint Elizabeth Warren to Treasury Sec, and have the Mass. house bring down a law if Charlie Bakers dares to replace her with a Republican. Forget the bedwetters and consider those so-called “extreme” measures for the SCOTUS (if only as a strategy to get enough Republicans to agree on reforming it in a serious fashion; bring the nuclear option to the table not a butter knife).

          • adirondacker12800

            It isn’t clear what Biden is.
            36 years in the Senate and 8 years as Vice President might give you a clue. Centrist.

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            You do understand that’s impossible without the senate, right? Like obviously DC and PR should have become states in 2009 but it isn’t happening without 50 votes+Harris this time around.

          • Bobson Dugnutt

            @RossB, I think Biden will be Josiah Bartlet, but in real life. His staffers will be “West Wing” supporting cast types. Knowing Biden’s speech impediments, Harris will deliver the Sorkin sermons.

        • Coridon Henshaw

          The fact that the US is functioning as intended is not a widely appreciated point. The function of the US political system is to maximize rent extraction for the well-connected while transferring liabilities and externalities onto the public. The tactical impacts vary with jurisdiction, but the underlying motives are the same everywhere.

          In California, the extracted rent is in the form of excessive housing prices, for existing owners, due to artificially restricted housing supply. In New York (at least in a transport infrastructure context), part of the extracted rent takes the form of excessively high costs to build and operate infrastructure; this transfers rents to the construction industry and other transportation contractors. Federally, some of the extracted rent comes in the form of poorly overseen federal contracts handed to well-connected entities, but much of it also takes more subtle forms, such as the installation of crooked judges who will protect the business interests of Republican party donors.

          The rents that flow from American government are great enough for the rentiers to pay to keep the system intact and immunize the politicians who make the rentier system work from the consequences of their actions. As long as the rents flow, there will be no pressure to actually fix any of the things that are obviously severely wrong in American politics–the advanced age of federal politicians and the general incompetence of the Democratic party being just two.

          When it comes to the lack of serious reform efforts from the Democratic party, to reuse Alon’s phrase, the no comes first, and the excuses come second. The Democratic party is just as much a part of the rentier problem as the GOP is; their contributions are just much less conspicuous.

          • adirondacker12800

            At least Democrats admit reality exists. They may not act on it ways you approve but they admit it exists and let it inform their decisions.

          • Coridon Henshaw


            Certainly don’t take away the impression that I’m arguing both parties are the same. Both parties are irrecoverably enmeshed in rentier capitalism but the GOP is also malevolent towards human life. Corrupt and incompetent is an infinitely better choice at the ballot box than corrupt and sadistic.

  2. Brett

    They are not legally strong, and a governor with a modicum of courage could disempower them, but to be a moderate in the United States means to be extremely timid and technologically conservative.

    I think it would be easier if there was a much more direct line of responsibility between democratically elected leaders like this and what they do in the minds of voters. But our system instead obfuscates that heavily, allowing politicians in the US to engage in a lot of blame-shifting.

  3. Henry

    Probably the worst examples of “doing nothing” syndrome was the whole fiasco with the new Tappan Zee bridge, where instead of building a bridge where it made sense with a decent regional rail line attached to it, Cuomo got it built in the exact same spot (second widest spot in the river on top of sand) with no transit and the 8-year-old plans for the bridge with rail on it mysteriously vanished. And then proceeded to name it after his father.

    • Frederick

      Even if the Tappan Zee bridge were built with rail tracks, the resulting regional rail line wouldn’t be decent, because the US people, generally speaking, are unable to build, run, and manage a decent regional rail line at all. Moreover, the public is not interested in regional rail, so why waste public money on it?

      To do anything well, you need the will to do it, and the expertise to do it. America lacks both.

      • Henry

        SMART in Sonoma, the Denver heavy rail lines, TEXRail and the Cotton Belt Line in DFW all run similarly to regional rail, since they all run half-hourly or better services throughout the day. (CalTrain is also being upgraded in this model, with 15-minute off-peak frequencies planned.) So at the very least, American voters do like trains that run frequently throughout the day, even if they run primarily in the suburbs (like the DFW examples). And all of these examples are less than a decade old at this point.

        Also, even if your assertion were true, you do have to start *somewhere*.

        • adirondacker12800

          Denver’s A line has more passengers than commuters who use the Tappan Zee Bridge. The majority of Rockland county residents work in the county. The next destination is Manhattan and then Bergen County NJ. There aren’t that many commuters on the bridge. Not compared to the rest of the traffic. And moving it anywhere else would have meant tearing down wide swaths of very expensive suburb.

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            To be fair, a Tappan Zee Rail Line would be most useful in that it would allow MNR trains from GCT to White Plains to head over to Rockland, providing a much improved connection into Manhattan. In the grand scheme of NYC transit missed opportunities, however, it’s pretty minor.

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            To be fair, the main purpose of rail across the Tappan Zee bridge is to improve connections between Manhattan and Rockland via GCT and White Plains. In the grand scheme of NYC transit missed opportunities, however, it’s pretty minor.

          • adirondacker12800

            They have a way to get to Manhattan. Via icky New Jersey but they have a way.

        • threestationsquare

          SMART doesn’t run anywhere near half-hourly all day; the pre-Covid timetable shows no northbound trains between 9:50 and 11:41 or between 11:41 and 14:21 (it ran every 32 minutes at most other times). SMART seems like a strikingly clear example of what not to do and demonstration that the US lacks the will & expertise to build/run regional rail that isn’t garbage. TEXRail runs hourly at midday, and the same is planned for the DART Cotton Belt Line. Only the Denver A Line is anything like a decent frequent electrified regional rail service, but the fiasco where it had to use expensive human flaggers to avoid making motorists wait a few extra seconds at crossing gates is another demonstration of the poor competence & priorities of US infrastructure.

      • F-Line to Dudley

        No…the TZ rail line wouldn’t be decent because you’d have to have a slow banking mile long lead off the Hudson Line plowing through the grounds of Lyndhurst Mansion to even get on-alignment with that bridge. What are the odds that would’ve flown with the locals? And then after running 3 miles up high on the center span of the very not-straight bridge you’d have a similarly nightmarish approach/descent sequence on the west side to get down level to junction with the River Line or abandoned Erie Main facing the service direction. The crossing alignment is awful in every way, on every mode. The only reason it was chosen at that ultra-fat part of the Hudson was *spite*: because it was the southernmost point that was outside of Robert Moses’ planning tentacles. Cuomo, being unable to perceive the world past his liveshot microphone, saw no deeper than erecting a new political monument in-situ instead of so much as letting any NYSDOT study breach the question “Is this the definition of insanity?”

        Literally anywhere else except the TZ would be a saner place to build a trans-Hudson rail crossing…both for construction and tauter service levels. There’s manifold complexity with any one such crossing choice up or down the river banks, so won’t be a picnic for sure. But you can’t do worse than the TZ alignment if you tried, so any of the potential Alts. have that much going for them. The floor has already been set by the current bridge alignment.

        • adirondacker12800

          And there are ways, plural, without carving a new ROW, to get from Rockland county to Manhattan without going through Westchester county.

  4. Frederick

    The media often portray the US federal government as more powerful than it actually is. Hence, in public opinion, the federal government has more legitimacy and responsibility than what it is legally capable of. On the contrary, state governments are perceived to be powerless, while in reality they are still quite powerful.

    Ultimately it means that now it is much easier for state governments to dodge responsibility and shift blame to the federal government.

  5. adirondacker12800

    Andrew Cuomo’s approval rate has soared since he got 43,000 people in the state killed in the corona crisis.

    There are 49 other states. He accepts reality exists. And acts on it. The states of the Northeast, Maryland and Delaware are cooperating. It seems everybody else is on their own. The governor of South Dakota still remains unconvinced that masks should be required. Or that people should stay home. Is that you don’t want to admit things have moved on or is it that people west of the Hudson don’t matter?

  6. Eric2

    “Andrew Cuomo’s approval rate has soared since he got 43,000 people in the state killed in the corona crisis.”

    He’s a wartime governor, in the war against COVID, and gets an automatic wartime popularity boost because he represents our side of the war. (This also explains part of why Trump did relatively well despite his disastrous incompetence)

    • Alon Levy

      What do you mean Trump did relatively well? He lost an election in a pretty good economy. I read that fundamentals-based models had him winning the popular vote by a squeaker; he lost it by what looks like 4-5 points.

      It’s kind of fascinating which failed leaders still get a polling boost from corona – Cuomo, Söder, Löfven – and which end up catching wholly deserved blame – Trump, Laschet, Abe.

      • df1982

        You seriously think that the post-Covid American economy is “pretty good”? There are still 10 million jobs less than there were this time last year.

        • Herbert

          Most Trump voters consider the economy to be good. At least that’s what polls say…

          • Bobson Dugnutt

            @Herbert, most Trump voters also believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya and believe the Democrats are coordinating an elaborate pedophilia ring with satanists, the Illuminati and lizard people.

            At least that’s what the polls and social media say.

      • Nathanael

        Cuomo benefits from being compared to other governors. Hoo boy, are a lot of the US governors awful.

        Cuomo is at least trying to keep people alive, even if he is stupid and therefore not very good at it. He is at least listening to his department of health, which is actually run by competent professionals.

        I know, in most countries that wouldn’t be an accomplishment. In the US, it is. Just look at South Dakota. North Dakota. Nebraska. Iowa. Idaho. Wyoming.

        New Yorkers will go back to hating Cuomo once there’s actually someone better out there.

  7. Eric2

    “to be a moderate in the United States means to be extremely timid and technologically conservative”

    To be left wing means the same thing. For example AOC is basically a pro car NIMBY.

    • Alon Levy

      To be left-wing means something a tad different. But yes, the result is similar, and the best example isn’t so much AOC, who’s a backbencher in a gerontocratic legislature, but Bill de Blasio, who seems completely unaware that he is in charge of the government of New York City and can effect positive change from his position. De Blasio’s views of health care are quite far to the left, but he didn’t even make a token effort to create a universal health care system for the city. He considers universal pre-K to be his signature achievement, but middle-class parents still have to pay thousands of dollars a month out of pocket, whereas middle-class parents of Berlin pay a maximum of 100 euros per child. Teacher pay is anemic – New York pays about on a par with Germany, but New York is a lot richer than Germany (its wealth is on a par with Germany’s richest city, Munich).

      Jake Anbinder makes the interesting point that, to the New Left, social change comes from bottom-up groups, and not from the state or from political parties. The state is for jobs. It leads to a very transactional political style among people who came up from that tradition, like Schumer or de Blasio. There’s this learned helplessness – the “we can’t just do this” mentality coming from people who, even in power, think of themselves as fighting the power.

      • Henry

        BdB is abnormally do-nothing though, and has managed to upset nearly everyone across the political spectrum; he basically just did universal pre-K and then proceeded to go AWOL.

        New York City would probably be better with parliamentary-style government from the City Council rather than overly concentrating power into a strong executive.

        • Nathanael

          What Henry said. Everyone has been calling for BdB to resign for more than a year.

      • Nathanael

        BdB is quite spectacularly and *unusually* do-nothing, and quite abnormal in that regard. Everyone in the entire political spectrum wants him to resign.

        Parliamentary government in NYC would probably work ok.

      • adirondacker12800

        Insurance is regulated by the state. The city can’t decide to insure anything.

  8. Gok (@Gok)

    In think a missed aspect here is the myth of the impoverished state. No matter how well funded government services are, it is a shibboleth of the American Left that it is underfunded. Politicians that suggest cutting funding or even examining the funding of something that comes from a municipal budget is seen as reactionary to many voters. Politicians are incentivized to find ways to make the state seem poor (e.g. making sure that trains are dirty, slow, and old) without actually saving money, so that self identified liberals show up to vote. The sight of trash on the streets of NYC doesn’t make voters blame the mayor, but rather some nameless Republican who probably cut funding to the street trash removal program.

    • Alon Levy

      I focus on the building trades and not the public sector writ large, because there are different issues with different aspects of government in the US. Education, in particular, is completely different. Per student spending is high, but it’s not about unionized teachers – in fact the US ranks last in the OECD in teacher pay relative to the pay of college-educated workers (link, PDF-p. 387); even without this relative adjustment, US teachers don’t earn that much, especially in early career. Rather, there’s a lot of investment in facilities and ancillary services – basically everything that’s visible to the sort of Karen who attends school board meetings, and not what would be visible to a civil servant who’s worked 15 years at the ministry of education.

      In transportation, likewise, you have different situation for different kinds of workers. Bus drivers are paid market-rate in New York, and maybe a tad below market-rate in Boston; in San Francisco there’s a two-tier wage agreement that leaves starting workers with $55,000/year before tax, which is well below market-rate, leading to shortages of drivers. The planners and other clerical workers tend to earn far below market rate – a new hire with a master’s degree might be earning something starting with a 4 their first year, and an experienced planner with an advanced degree and coding skills might still be staring at $100,000 where in the private sector they might earn $150,000. But anything that touches mainline rail or the building trades is severely overpaid, and there are guild laws (e.g. IBEW’s 5 years of apprenticeship, waived for people sponsored by members) plus a lot of sexual and racial harassment to restrict labor supply since pay is so high compared with market rate.

      • Gok (@Gok)

        I don’t see much politicians could do about these problems though. The nature of public sector union wage negotiations means there’s no practical way a mayor could force (say) a teacher union to pay young teachers more.

        But my larger point is that there’s a perverse incentive to make services expensive and also ineffective. Cities are increasingly populated by voters who believe that services would be world class if only they paid a few more taxes and find it distasteful to consider that anything but funding may be the problem.

        • Richard Mlynarik

          But my larger point is that there’s a perverse incentive to make services expensive and also ineffective. Cities are increasingly populated by voters who believe that services would be world class if only they paid a few more taxes and find it distasteful to consider that anything but funding may be the problem.

          Exactly right.

        • Henry Miller

          Teachers are hired and paid by the school board, which the mayor has zero control of, at least in any state I know of. That they have to talk to the teachers union like it or not is the state legislators who hac the given the teachers union a monopoly on teachers. (teachers are under paid for their education, but the union is more focused protection for bad teachers from what can tell)

          • jon

            TL:DR: Every U.S.-American school district is subject to pressure, if not outright regulation, by state and local officials and at least partly reliant on subsidies from local, state, and federal goverments, even when the school board is directly elected by local voters (many are mayoral/gubernatorial appointees) and has it’s own direct taxing power (which many do not have). Officials like BdB absolutely dohave the power, directly or indirectly, to change the spending & ops priorities of schools, for better or worse.

            Deeper dive: Thing is, school boards/districts vary by state in their powers and funding. Most Northeastern/Midwestern states (including Delaware) have directly elected school boards (elected by voters within the school district) and a special school tax (usually a property tax) supplemented by state and federal subsidies. So other officials have limited influence. But Southern states tend to be like Maryland (MD & Delaware long ago transitioned from Southern to Northeastern-with-slowly-fading-Southern-flavor), where each county and/or municipality (only counties in MD) has one school district; and while the board may be elected, appointed by the mayor/county executive, or appointed by the governor, the funding comes entirely from local, state and federal grants, and the district is subject to local regulations/mandates. And in Indiana since about 10 or so years ago almost all funding for the directly-elected school districts comes from state grants. I don’t know about Western states. But in many big cities nationwide the school board is usually appointed by either the mayor or state government and funded by city and state grants, regardless of what smaller localities do. And in every state school boards are subject to state regulations.

        • Joseph

          I think it’s been a standard liberal position for decades that the only way services could be better is if we spent (and therefore taxed) more. I certainly believed it in the 90s. In fact US conservatives seem to believe the same thing- it’s one reason they oppose any government services rather than fighting for better services with the same or lower revenue.
          I think your observation about perverse incentives is spot-on. No reason to do a good job because voters are more than willing to forgive politicians who do the barest of minimums.

      • Herbert

        Bus drivers get paid so little in Germany that there is such a dire shortage now, companies have started recruiting abroad, offering free language courses, housing and so on to prospective bus drivers…

      • RossB

        Rather, [in U. S. education ] there’s a lot of investment in facilities and ancillary services … that other countries would pay for using other money. (Finished it for you.) This reflects the extremely right-wing nature of the federal government since Reagan took office. There are a lot of hungry, homeless kids out there, and the schools have to deal with them. They also have to deal with students who have physical and psychological problems. Then there are the parents, who of course lack the same basic safety net found in every other industrialized country (going bankrupt because your mom can’t pay the medical bills kinda makes it difficult to focus on your fractions). So directly (with the kids) and indirectly (with the parents) the schools are asked to do a lot more in this country, than in others.

        This is why, for example, the test results results vary so much, district by district. Some of it is local funding, of course (which amplifies the problem) but the biggest difference is the student body. Talk to any principal and they will tell you that the most important factor for student success is parental involvement. That is a lot harder when the parents (and kid) are living in a car.

  9. Herbert

    Isn’t Matt Iglesias the guy who said “different countries have different safety standards and that’s okay” after a sickening industrial accident in the global south?

    • Alon Levy

      Yes. He said this after a huge industrial accident in Bangladesh, when there were calls by Americans to restrict textile imports from Bangladesh unless Bangladesh adopted the labor standards of countries with then-20 times its GDP per capita. These restrictions did not happens and Bangladesh has kept growing economically and seeing big declines in mortality rates from preventable causes, under a democratic-ish government that is decently responsible to public opinion, this isn’t some Pinochet state.

      • df1982

        Yep, capitalism is a roaring success in Bangladesh, low-paid workers don’t need safety standards because companies will eventually self-regulate anyway, and the Sheikh Hasina regime is a model of democratic governance, particularly after winning the last election with 80% of the vote (there was certainly no vote rigging, intimidation or jailing of political opponents there).

        Man, you’ve really been drinking the Chicago School Kool-Aid.

        • Alon Levy

          There was no vote rigging, IIRC the opposition boycotted the election.

          And seriously, look at Bangladeshi growth in health, education, GDP per capita, etc. in the last 20 years. That country does not need MAGAs who pine for the 1950s governing its labor law.

          • Herbert

            Why do election boycotts happen?

            What’s the best possible outcome of them and when was it achieved?

          • Henry

            They avoid giving regimes deemed illegitimate some form of endorsement as if they were legitimately competitive elections.

            I think this worked out rather well for Aung San Suu Kyi.

          • Alon Levy

            I really would not randomly compare parties with Aung San Suu Kyi, except maybe the CCP and other genocidaires.

          • Henry

            I meant the comment in the context of “she did really well politically and electorally after her election boycott.”
            I never said that she was a good person. And we are comparing this to the Bangladesh elections, where the parties involved aren’t exactly saints either.

        • Reedman Bassoon

          Nov. 12, 2012
          Georgetown University

          “In dealing with poverty here and around the world,
          welfare and foreign aid are a Band-Aid. Free enterprise is a cure.”
          “Capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid.”
          Paul David Hewson, born in Dublin, Ireland in 1960.
          Investor, philanthropist, venture capitalist, businessman,
          Nobel Peace Prize nominee.
          Better known as Bono, lead singer for U2, net worth ~$600 million

          • Matthew Hutton

            There are less absolutely poor than in 1950 even though there are 7 billion of us now and were only 1 billion then. Capitalism has worked well for most of the world – just not the people with lesser jobs in the rich world.

          • Alon Levy

            I don’t think net worth or wealth or profit makes someone immoral. If I did, then I would have to believe Uber and Lyft are the most moral things in the world.

          • Bobson Dugnutt

            “Hold on, people! The man’s talking about waste management. That affects the whole damn planet!”
            Also Paul David Hewson, better known as Bono, as himself in “The Simpsons” episode “Trash of the Titans”

            There’s a Simpsons episode for everything, and this happens to be the one relevant to this discussion. The plot: Homer decides to run for Springfield’s Sanitation Commissioner against Steve Martin, who voices the incumbent, an anodyne technocrat doing a cromulent job. Homer promises to turn the garbage men into a singing and dancing maid service. He wins handily but immediately blows through his budget and has the garbage men coming after him. He then agrees to absorb other cities’ trash and Springfield takes in so much that it becomes inundated.


          • michaelrjames


            Never mind the Simpsons, I prefer meatier entertainment. I simply haven’t had my daily quota of American conspiracy theories and am thus tuning into SBS (free-to-air tv Australia) tonight in one hour to watch Oliver Stone’s jfk. It will also remind me of a time when an inspirational leader once promised something hugely ambitious on a strict timetable … and it actually came to pass. It seems emblematic that since that program closed you’ve not revisited our lunar satellite, but that China has ….
            Of course you do have a president, and 73 million followers, who inhabits the moon, so there’s that.

  10. Bill R.

    Even when something is done in the current environment, the agenda to minimize the responsibility of governing entities drives outcomes. Here in New Jersey, The Glassboro-Camden Line Draft Environmental Impact Statement, conducted by Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA), has just been released. Below, I’m hoping to provide a glimpse into the dynamics that lead to poor decision making and outcomes.

    The previous Alternatives Analysis (2009) selected Diesel LRT (similar to the NJ Transit RiverLine). The selection process was fundamentally flawed because it did not include a Light Rail extension of the PATCO system, using the example of RET Lines A & B in Rotterdam, The Netherlands as a model for implementation. Previously identified as the most cost effective option in two 1990’s era studies, PATCO Light Rail was excluded from the Alternatives Analysis for a number of reasons that are internal institutional concerns having nothing to do with the best interests of future passengers, including:

    1) DRPA concern about the potential for increased subsidy payment (mandated in 1996 by political arm-twisting) to the City of Philadelphia for utilizing city-owned subway tunnels south and west of 8th & Market (editorial | the city should be subsidizing PATCO in recognition of the value in reducing harmful single occupancy vehicle impacts from NJ drivers, not the other way around),

    2) Reluctance by DRPA/PATCO leadership to do anything that would increase the complexity and difficulty of operating the existing system, and

    3) The selection of Diesel LRT which allows for the option of NJ Transit being the primary responsible agency. Having NJ Transit as the primary agency in turn allows for the option of awarding a public-private partnership (P3) contract to politically connected corporations, simplifying issues for NJ Transit by eliminating up-front capital expenditures and responsibility for day-to-day operations. All prior NJ Transit new-build LRT projects have utilized P3 implementation, which played a significant factor in the process of selecting Diesel LRT for the RiverLine (meaning that the implementation process, as opposed to benefits for the potential passengers, drove the modal selection)

    The resulting system design includes millions of dollars of needlessly duplicative infrastructure when compared with a Light Rail extension of PATCO. This includes a secondary diesel LRT vehicle maintenance facility in Woodbury Heights, a new viaduct/embankment adjacent to the west side of I-676 (parallel to the existing elevated PATCO embankment on the east side), and in-street trackage along Mickle Boulevard parallel to both the NJ Transit RiverLine and below-grade PATCO right-of-way (!?!). I won’t suggest that reallocation of the combined costs for these project elements would cover full electrification and required interlocking adjacent to CP Mill required by a PATCO Light Rail system, but it would go a long way toward making a more attractive and passenger friendly system.

    Diesel LRT also requires transfers for interstate travel to & from Philadelphia. And because there is no publicly-known commitment to award a Glassboro-Camden Line P3 contract to the existing private sector RiverLine operator South Jersey Rail Group, there may be three separate organizations and rail vehicle standards in southern New Jersey, potentially creating even more needless duplication at taxpayer expense.

  11. RossB

    Over the last 40 years, there have been only two major improvements in American society that came from the states: Gay marriage and legalized cannabis. There is a reason for this. It is very difficult to fund things at the local level, and then have them be adopted nationally.

    This is by design. Reagan adopted “New Federalism” for this very reason. It wasn’t to give power back to the states (that was just a bonus — a message to southern states still fighting the civil war). It was about reducing government spending.

    Prior to FDR beating Hoover, you had the sort of system Yglesias talked about. Some states had strong welfare systems, most didn’t. That is because you had a “race to the bottom” problem. Well to do people avoided taxes by moving to other states. There wasn’t a major change until FDR — given a left leaning congress — was able to make national changes. But they weren’t copying states, they were simply adopting plans that sounded good because the status quo sounded terrible during the Great Depression.

    Reagan understood this, and pushed funding back to the states. Yglesias mentioned college funding, neglecting to mention that most states had low tuition rates prior to Reagan. As governor of California, one of the first things Reagan did was eliminate free tuition, as well as cut funding to higher education. As president, he did the same sort of thing. Of course he didn’t have power to set tuition levels — that fell to the states. But with less national funding, they adopted an approach that was meant to more just. Gone were low tuition rates, and in their place was financial aid and student loads. Eventually the money from the former shrunk, and most funding shifted to the latter. It didn’t help that much of that money went to banks, one of the biggest transfers of wealth from poor to rich in modern history.

    It is easy to say that states (or cities) should just go their own way, but they are under tremendous financial pressure, because of this system. There is nothing stopping a corporation from leaving. There is nothing stopping an upper middle class worker from just moving to New Jersey (Hoboken is kinda nice, actually, and quite convenient). Same with other, relatively small states in the Northeast. Of course there are exceptions, like California. Unfortunately, California is still dealing with the debt caused by the stupid war on drugs/crime. Same with Illinois. States that have more to work with still fear that companies will just leave them if they increase taxes.

    The only way there will be major change in this country is if it comes from the top.

    • Nathanael

      Or if the states start printing their own money. California has proved that if it prints Californiabucks, they will be accepted. I’m pretty sure NY can do it too.

      States might have to close their borders too. That’s easy.

      • adirondacker12800

        New York doesn’t want to close borders. Far too many people working in the state and paying state income tax that don’t live in the state. Last time I checked, 5 billion dollars a year. Which is why moving to Hoboken doesn’t do anything for you. Your job has to move to Hoboken too.

      • Nathanael

        New York doesn’t want to close the border *with New Jersey*, but Pennsylvania is a more contentious question…

  12. Lee Ratner

    Trying to determine the causes of failure in American governance is a just a bunch of people telling just so stories at this point. Everybody has their pet theory based on their cosmology along with their pet theory on how the United States could end up more like other developed nations based on their cosmology. We don’t know though. Hatred of transit is linked closely with racism against African-Americans but a lot of African-Americans and other non-white Americans have got bit by the car and single family housing bug just as hard as White Americans. Theoretically, a less racist America could be even more car and single family home oriented than our America because African-Americans would have equal access to the same subsidies as White America did. Or it could be that a less racist America would be a more transit oriented, multifamily home mixed use sort of place. We don’t know.

    The American political system doesn’t make any sort of state and local liberalism that easy because the states can’t print money. This provides some strong practical limitations on what state and local governments can do without federal funding in a lot of issues. Likewise, the American political system gives the do nothings many more means to interfere with politicians that want to do something. So pretty much any big infrastructure plan or housing development can face years of opposition by whatever baptist and bootlegger opposition that goes against it faces.

    • Bobson Dugnutt

      @Lee Ratner, do you agree with cultural determinists? The US is what it is because its origins are a settler state that narrowly defined and broadly blocked who can participate in civic life, and this defines its trajectory.

      This can be interpreted through a left- or right-wing lens.

      • Lee Ratner

        I agree with cultural determinists in part but not totally. There isn’t any country that has what you would call a non-troublesome origin in one way or another. Canada and Australia are settler states, with Australia being even more devoted to the idea of White Australia harder and longer than the United States was devoted to White America, and they certainly function more like other developed countries more than the United States. So culture can be part of it but not all of it.

    • Coridon Henshaw

      I think the ‘just so’ stories about American governance crop up because too many people are paying attention to individual trees and not the forest. There is far too much focus on small parts of the American problem, down to individual politicians (e.g. Trump, or McConnell), individual institutions (e.g. the Senate), governing norms (e.g. too many veto points), or individual social characteristics (e.g. racism). People who become focused on just one problem tend to come up with ‘just so’ ideas about how to make the US more like a normal country by ‘just’ fixing the one problem that has their attention.

      Like any interconnected system, however, there is no one problem that makes America the way it is. Everything that prevents America from behaving like a normal country is interconnected. Fixing any one ‘just so’ problem will merely transfer the point of failure somewhere else.

      If there is an underlying reason for American failure, it is with a social and political culture that does not regard the use of public resources to improve quality of life as a primary, or even legitimate, function of government. Fixing this is an entirely necessary condition for meaningful institutional reforms to be undertaken. Unfortunately, fixing this is probably impossible.

      • myb6

        I think entirely too much is made of printing press revenue. Historically important (18/19C France vs UK), but in the modern (income taxes) US (large domestic economy) context it’s just not quantitatively important. Fed remittances are a few % of Treasury revenue. Fairness would also require some reckoning of cost: since global currencies floated, the US bears the brunt of deflationary events.

        I think the more serious issue with state- vs national-financing is weak- vs strong-boundary. Obviously a strong-boundary makes it a lot easier to capture surplus that’s trying to evade the governing body. I agree that left states (dropping the confusing “liberal” label) with weak boundaries (not many examples, maybe Oregon and Illinois?) have a legitimate gripe as they contribute to a system that yields most capturable surplus in other locales. The other Blues need to look in the mirror: they have plenty of capturable surplus (Wall St, Silicon Valley etc weren’t going anywhere until covid, post-covid TBD tho).

        • Coridon Henshaw

          Printing money in this context refers to the ability of governments that borrow in their own currency to run permanent deficits. Governments that do not borrow in their own currency — including subnational governments and countries in the Eurozone — have a much harder time sustaining deficit spending.

          Seigniorage revenues are, as you note, not hugely relevant to a modern economy.

  13. michaelrjames

    [this won’t post to intended response]
    This is the problem with centrists and moderates: they yield to the Republican’s willingness to fight dirty in the utter delusion that themselves being moderate, ie. mimicking what the Republicans want in milksop fashion, they will advance their cause, even a smidgin (you know, incrementally). The reality is that they neither advance policy on almost all fronts but they damage their own political constituency. I mean if you want so-called moderate or centrist (anywhere else in the civilised world = Right) politicians that enact neo-Republican legislation then why not vote for the real thing?
    The theory was that Biden was such a reassuring moderate/centrist he would drag over enough voters down-ballot to give the necessary changes in the Senate, strengthen the HoR, governorships etc. It didn’t work and now even the HoR is tricky (though note that another half dozen progressives did get elected, to join the Squad, not that Pelosi will want to hear that and process its implications). Enough GOPers were revolted enough by Trump to vote for Biden but (1) not down-ballot and (2) strictly conditional, time-limited (ie. not in 2024 whichever Dem runs, or 2022 for that matter).

    You’ve also lost the principle of fighting the good fight. You may lose a few battles but should win the war. You don’t win voters–and especially the nextgen–with lukewarm gruel and timidly lickspittling the Republicans even when they have you by the balls; or especially when they think they have the power. Put together policy, craft solid legislation then prosecute it to get enacted. If relentlessly blocked by the Republicans (or DINOs) then fight the public fight, take it to the 2022 mid-terms. Voters (or enough of them) might repay the integrity in pursuing good policy, consistently, and respond to a plea to give them the extra seats in the Senate etc. (IMO this should be the approach for the Georgia run-offs.) But the kind of half-arsed crap that is merely going thru the motions, or worse, so compromised it is something a Republican might support, then they’ll lose respect and votes. Oh, and appeasing Mitch McConnell or hugging Lindsey Graham is not on (and purhlease, Feinstein & Pelosi begone by next election). Fight them, shame the creeps at every opportunity. Play them under their rules (which is no rules) but with the novelty of being straight-up about what the US needs.
    Can’t possibly work, right? And the alternative BAU is working so well …

    • Bobson Dugnutt

      There you go again with Murc’s law, Michael.

      You’re arguing the point that progressivism cannot fail, it can only be failed. This is in a thread entitled “Governance in Liberal American Cities” and specifically how awful it is. American cities are badly governed and mismanaged, and are almost universally blue.

      Look at the 2020 elections and ask yourself why did the blue mirage happened. This should have been the election where Democratic control of the Senate was a lock and polling showed them even or ahead in many races. In the House, Democrats are hanging on their majority by a thread. As a referendum on the agendas of Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi, Americans clearly preferred Mitch McConnell’s leadership.

      If you were to ask voters why they voted Republican after four years of Trump and McConnell’s Gingrichian maneuvering, you’d find five reasons for favoring the GOP: 1. The Squad (AOC, Ilhan Omar et al) 2. Surshulism 3. Looters 4. Black Lives Matter 5. Antifa. Republicans can win on scare slogans.

      In 2022, what are you going to say when the Republicans take back the House thanks to the Qanon movement?

      • michaelrjames

        @Bobson Dugnutt

        You’re arguing the point that progressivism cannot fail, it can only be failed…… American cities are badly governed and mismanaged, and are almost universally blue.

        This confirms every awful thought I have about you as a “moderate” without a rational thought in his/her head (and a cartoon moniker). I never argued any such thing and that is a perfect strawman and typical of moderates. It would be nice to have a progressive government to see, or to allow it, to fail. As to blue American cities, you prove my point. They are blue Democrats, machine-men less concerned with running a city than maintaining high-office and almost without exception with a glint in their eye of the highest office possible. In fact, for all his faults, Bloomberg was the most progressive mayor for a looong time.

        Look at the 2020 elections and ask yourself why did the blue mirage happened. This should have been the election where Democratic control of the Senate was a lock and polling showed them even or ahead in many races. In the House, Democrats are hanging on their majority by a thread. As a referendum on the agendas of Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi, Americans clearly preferred Mitch McConnell’s leadership.

        Again, you confirm what I have claimed: Pelosi and her and the party’s notions of moderation, and the acquiescence of the Progressives for the duration of the election, made the election a fair test of the assumed appeal of moderation and centrism: it failed despite an incumbent responsible for a quarter million American deaths and economic meltdown (which rationally needn’t be blamed directly on Trump but we all know how politics operates). And it was not a referendum on anything related to McConnell who kept a low-profile and tries to avoid riling Trump forces against himself and other gutless GOPers.
        Seriously, you want to blame the progressives for this debacle? They are the only ones who made gains. Get real.

        If you were to ask voters why they voted Republican after four years of Trump and McConnell’s Gingrichian maneuvering, you’d find five reasons for favoring the GOP: 1. The Squad (AOC, Ilhan Omar et al) 2. Surshulism 3. Looters 4. Black Lives Matter 5. Antifa. Republicans can win on scare slogans.

        Seriously? For 1 I refer you to my previous points. The Squad were near invisible during this election. You are in serious denial to point the finger at The Squad. Please look in the mirror. The polls (yeah) show a considerable majority, across parties, support BLM and agree that changes are needed in policing, justice system, more equal access (education, healthcare etc). I will agree that Republicans and their proxies (or their masters) like Fox & Murdoch can shift the needle via scare campaigns. You help them by implying that Antifa is responsible to violence etc when it is almost always the Far-Right thugs (some of whom have been shown to pretending to be Antifa while wreaking violence).

        In 2022, what are you going to say when the Republicans take back the House thanks to the Qanon movement?

        I’d say: I told you so. If the Biden years attempt the same old ineffectual bipartisanship, with the likes of McConnell and Lindsey Graham, then the result is a foregone conclusion. What can the ‘moderate’ democrats say to the electorate? Vote for more of the same nothing-burger where we will write ineffectual policy/law that satisfies more on the Right (=Centre-Right) and changes absolutely nothing. You’ve learned nothing from 8 years of Obama and 4 years of Trump.

        But even if you are in denial etc, why not actually try the experiment? That is, give progressive policy (and honesty) a shot, and see where it leads? Can it possibly be any worse than the last 40 years of American politics? This is your cue to denounce communist strawmen and to invoke what you believe the American voter really wants, and that they clearly don’t want scary socialism. Then at least you’d be able to honestly point to a real-world failure instead of your denial of reality. Yet you had 4 years of Trump and will get another 4 years of Trumpism, and despite all this evidence you want to give a repeat failure of politics, another 4 years! This is why some Bernie Bros chose not to vote Clinton (and maybe some to vote Trump). At the time I scolded them but now I wonder. Because with people like you, what options remain?

        • adirondacker12800

          Bloomberg was the most progressive mayor for a looong time.
          Good ol’ stop and frisk Mikey? .. I haven’t laughed that hard in weeks.

        • Car(e)-Free LA

          “Can it possibly be any worse than the last 40 years of American politics? ”
          Yes. Things can always get worse. Do you really think Sanders or Warren could have flipped AZ/GA/WI when Biden only did by the skin of his teeth? Of course not. With any other nominee, Trump would have been reelected and the house may have flipped. That would be a disaster.

          Your implication is that the desire of Americans for change is settled and that arguing for more change is more persuasive than arguing for less change. The obvious takeaway is that 47% of Americans want no change at all, and corralling the 53% who want some sort of change is an extraordinarily tough task.

          It’s also worth asking whether progressive policy ideas–in a perfect world where you don’t have to consider politics–should ever actually happen. Is a wealth tax a good idea if you can even pass it? No, it never works. Is M4A a good idea if you can even pass it? No, Medicare is a sh!tty healthcare system–we’d do better copying Germany or France. Is the GND a good idea if you can even pass it? No, we don’t need a make-work jobs program to build infrastructure for Teslas.

          A case can be made for bold change–provided you can convince a majority that anything should change at all. That does not mean that the incredibly narrow–and frankly unpopular–ideas out of the so-called progressive wing are the end-all be-all of change.

          • michaelrjames


            There are a lot of evidence-free assumptions in that post. Where did I suggest Sanders of Warren would have done better than Biden? OTOH, because of the Dem bedwetters we’ll never know. As to the thin win in Georgia, that is where Stacey Abrams surprised by almost becoming governor (in a very dirty election by the incumbent) and she was endorsed by Bernie Sanders. On your (evidence-free) hypothesis Biden should have won Ohio …

            While you are correct about “most Americans being averse to change”, it is true for most people everywhere and stating this is just confounding, and self-defeating about how real change is achieved. My point is that it takes true leadership to bring change and which, history shows, often those changes are rapidly accepted by most people. One can make the analogy with most transit or megaproject infrastructure which often has noisy Nimbyist opposition but which disappears shortly after the project is completed. What I am objecting to is the defeatism and self-victimhood of old-school Dems. Now there is strong talk of not appointing Warren to Treasury despite most realising she is the best qualified and most likely to bring the kind of change needed; and why? because they don’t want a tough fight with McConnell. FFS! It will be another lesson in how to defeat yourself before you even get the keys to the WH.
            But here is one of the better analyses of the election outcome (obviously it is an interview with AOC):

            Grassroots activism that produced large turnout in Detroit, Philadelphia and Georgia was crucial to Biden’s win, and if the Democratic party fails to recognise that and incorporate the grassroots, the party disintegrates at the ballot box, Ocasio-Cortez said.
            “It’s really hard for us to turn out nonvoters when they feel like nothing changes for them. When they feel like people don’t see them, or even acknowledge their turnout,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
            “If the party believes after 94% of Detroit went to Biden, after Black organisers just doubled and tripled turnout down in Georgia, after so many people organised Philadelphia, the signal from the Democratic party is the John Kasich won us this election? I mean, I can’t even describe how dangerous that is.”
            Kasich is a former Republican governor of Ohio who campaigned for Biden, endorsing him as a centrist that moderate Republicans could get behind. Such an appeal might have had traction in some places, such as northern Michigan and western Omaha. But Trump beat Biden in Ohio by eight points and half a million votes.
            The coming period of presidential transition and the Biden administration’s early days will be crucial to determining whether the Democratic party will incorporate in a permanent way its grassroots progressive engine – or veer off down a path toward defeat, Ocasio-Cortez said.
            “So I need my colleagues to understand that we are not the enemy,” she said. “And that their base is not the enemy. That the Movement for Black Lives is not the enemy, that Medicare for all is not the enemy. This isn’t even just about winning an argument. It’s that if they keep going after the wrong thing, I mean, they’re just setting up their own obsolescence.”
            Appearing on CNN later in the day, Ocasio-Cortez said: “Progressives have assets to offer the party that the party has not yet fully leaned into… Every single swing seat member that co-sponsored Medicare for All won their re-election, and so the conversation is a little bit deeper than saying anything progressive is toxic.”

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            You didn’t suggest Sanders or Warren would have done worse. I did, because moving away from the center always means giving up gettable votes. That’s pretty elementary stuff. Also, I never said Biden would win Ohio (frankly, anyone who thought OH or IA were winnable for Democrats is utterly clueless. TX and even AK are more gettable) nor does Sanders/literally everyone else endorsing Abrams have anything to do with GA political geography.

            In an ideal world, I oppose self-defeatism and want some pretty big changes to government. In blue states, I find moderates and leftists alike who refuse to actually do anything (looking at you DeBlasio) absolutely intolerable. Where I object to certain progressive ideas is on the actual merits of the idea itself. A lot of what Sanders and Warren ran on was just bad economics.

            At the same time, I think running a presidential campaign on promising the biggest, most dramatic changes is a failing strategy. If 46% of Americans will vote for the everything-stays-the-same-forever Republican party no matter what, every idea the Democrats support is a chance to alienate another 1% of the American population until they drop below 50%. You don’t mess with that in something as high-stakes as the presidency.

            Also, thinking that Warren would be Biden’s pick for treasury that he is avoiding because he doesn’t want to fight McConnel is very, very weird. First off, because leaving a senate seat vacant–even if only briefly–is not worth it. Second, because there are better people (Yellen, etc.) to do the job. And third, because wasting political capital on an unwinnable fight is completely dumb. Why on earth would any Republican cross the aisle to vote for Warren of all people? It just isn’t worth it.

            I’ve read that interview with AOC–one of the most overrated figures of our era–and she misses a few key points:
            1. The base of the Democratic party is not the progressive, activist left. The most reliable and most common Democratic voter is a non-white woman over the age of 40. Minority seniors are the base of the Democratic party, and our ideas must most strongly reflect their values.

            2. The people who put Democrats over the top are–broadly speaking–upscale suburbanites. This is not the base of the Democratic Party, nor are they Republicans who flipped because of Kasich, but they are the swing voters who pushed Biden past 50% in Michigan in Pennsylvania. Thus, the voter we must keep in our column–no matter the cost–is a Gen X or Boomer couple in Chester County, PA or Oakland County, MI or Maricopa County, AZ. If we alienate them, we lose. Simple as that.

            3. There are like 3 representatives in actual swing seats who back M4A and that talking point needs to die.

            Bottom line: the Democratic party coalition is very fragile and while there are some genuinely bold promises we can make that everyone can agree on (public option, infrastructure, drug pricing, economic stimulus, the DREAM act, etc.) But there are very good reasons we don’t support certain policies. Lose even one part of the coalition and the Republicans win.

          • michaelrjames

            All I can say is that with such defeatism there is no hope for any change. To consider that moving towards universal healthcare (there are options other than Sander’s plan; you’re just creating further strawmen) is remotely “radical leftist” is a very sick joke. It would be joining the rest of the rich world and could do something about both health status (at bottom of the entire developed world) and absurd cost (twice the OECD av. p.c.). And Yellen instead of Warren, FFS, someone from deep within the establishment. Hey, but maybe she’ll argue for endless money printing … to pay for M4A (though really a good system would more than pay for itself, even at Swiss/France/German costs). It’s the equivalent of putting that DuPont guy in the EPA.

            Also, just reading Coridon Henshaw’s last post, I agree with his first point: “American politicians at the federal level grossly overestimate how conservative their constituents actually are.” One self-defeating aspect is to label stuff as Left or Right; no one in the rest of the world label universal healthcare with either meaningless term. And incidentally a leader would be able to sell those Hispanics who went for Trump (well the Tejanos and others, but not the 50% in Florida who are Cubans–forget trying to get their vote ever) because small and medium sized businesses can benefit a lot from universal healthcare.

            And this: “The Democratic party, however, is unable to adequately frame or defend its policies, much less deliver on them, which makes the overall benefits of a leftward tack uncertain.” This is exactly what AOC was complaining about and correctly. The problem is related to the first observation: trying not to offend a single person. In so doing they abandon the field, and the electoral genius gurus lead the party to the cliff edge.

        • Bobson Dugnutt

          @Michaelrjames, in the words of our Vice President-elect, Excuse me, I’m speaking. I get to define what label I am politically, not you. I am a liberal who is proud to have voted for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and am grateful every day for Americans like me who chose good over evil. I am not a moderate, not a conservative, not libertarian, not alt-right, and I am also not a progressive or a socialist nor am I interested in being one.


          It would be nice to have a progressive government to see, or to allow it, to fail.

          You’re offering us … a unicorn? It doesn’t exist but wouldn’t it be wonderful if it did? You can’t even imagine a goalpost that you can’t even imagine moving. You are not even wrong.

          There are elected officials who campaigned and won as progressives, and the voters who elected them. There are a lot in West Coast states. Who wants California’s housing policy, by definition an oxymoron? Who wants Southern California’s homelessness policies? Who wants San Francisco’s pedestrian-friendly sidewalks covered in shit and heroin needles? Who wants California’s COVID-19 case count, which matches the rates of red anti-mask states even though the mask mandate has widespread bipartisan support?

          Seattle prides itself as a progressive city and provided a natural experiment on what happens when city leaders acquiesce to popular movements and did defund the police. A portion of the downtown neighborhood Capitol Hill was made a police-free zone called either CHAZ or CHOP. In just one month, the neighborhood experienced a twentyfold annualized increase in crime over the overall crime rates in all of 2019 for the same area. The CHAZ/CHOP social experiment was put to an end after the second homicide in a month. There were zero murders in 2019. On top of that, Seattle lost a Black woman as its police chief, who had been recruiting a more diverse rank and file.

          Another example: California’s progressive Assembly speaker killed an effort for a statewide single-payer health insurance system. Why? The legislative analyst pegged the public liability for California assuming the health-care of private insurers at $400 BILLION. California’s entire state budget is $200 billion. And this is a state that is supportive of government services to a degree not seen in most other US states. So in order to keep government expenditures at current levels and getting single-payer health care on top, California would need to triple taxes and somehow manage to retain its population and continue to attract national and international in-migration. I don’t think the speaker withdrew support of single-payer healthcare because he was insufficiently progressive. I think it’s because he saw the numbers and realized it is untenable.

          If the Biden years attempt the same old ineffectual bipartisanship, with the likes of McConnell and Lindsey Graham, then the result is a foregone conclusion.

          I’m old enough to remember when a Black man was in the White House and cashed in his political capital to expand health care, an accomplishment 43 other presidents failed to do. We instead lost competent moderates from both parties to Revolutionary War LARPers. Nancy Pelosi, a true-blue Democrat and one of the House’s most brilliant parliamentarians, lost her leadership position to two men who ran the lower chamber like a frat house.

          Yet the GOP is favored to win the House in 2022 and will manage to run a slate that will out-horrify the Tea Party, who out-horrified the Gingrich Republicans. The Democrats for their faults respected governance. The Tea Party had contempt for governance. The post-Trump GOP has contempt for the very idea of objective truth. You have two choices: at least two years of unnerving bipartisanship or at least of two years of performative committee hearings and media events chasing down imaginary children suffering imaginary sexual abuse at the hands of an imaginary conspiracy.

          Until then, sod off.

          • michaelrjames


            On top of your denial, you have a bad, but sadly typical, case of confirmation bias. Anything you don’t like you classify as “progressive” and in so doing you are rapidly making that term as meaningless as all the others. Some of those haemarrhoids you are breeding by all that moderate fence sitting are bursting all around you. Your country is bleeding out. But you won’t change course. It is you, as much as Trumpsters, who are responsible as the merde hits the fan.

            Dante Alighieri:
            The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.

      • michaelrjames

        I note that your talking points almost perfectly mimic those of Bret Stephens’ OpEd of a few days ago. And reproduced by the usual suspects of Fox, Spectator and other rightist junk.
        This is typical of self-victimising Dems, desperately trying to blame the losses or thin wins on anyone but themselves and their policies of moderate appeasement, along with hugging Lindsey Graham (instead of bognutting him; hah, I’ve put your name to good use which is more than you manage). I wonder, if you are a real Democrat why you find yourself repeating a hard-right (posing as the usual … “centre-right or centrist” whatever) attack on a section of the Dems that played almost zero role in the recent elections (up and down ballot).
        If only denial was just a river in Africa …

        • Nathanael

          I’ve followed politics in detail probably longer than most people here (since 1984). So I’m going to pull expertise authority. I just want to say that Michaelrjames is, on this particular set of points, absolutely 100% correct, and everyone disagreeing with him has, in fact, fallen for bogus right-wing propaganda.

          You know who agrees with AOC? Beto O’Rourke. Doug Jones. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Basically everyone with a *clue*. This is a tactical point, not an ideological point.

          Also, Warren has her economics absolutely correct. Some people need to read _The Deficit Myth_ by Professor Stephanie Kelton.

    • Coridon Henshaw

      A few points in relation to this subthread, not aimed at anyone in particular:

      First, American politicians at the federal level grossly overestimate how conservative their constituents actually are. There is much more of a public appetite for more normal-country policies than US political elites are willing to accept.[1] Tilting leftward is not necessarily a vote loser provided proposed lefter-leaning policies are well framed (no ‘defund the police’ stupidity), well defended against the inevitable attacks by right-wing media (note that failure to defend Obamacare means the individual components of the ACA enjoy overwhelming support while the act itself is much less popular), and actually enacted. The Democratic party, however, is unable to adequately frame or defend its policies, much less deliver on them, which makes the overall benefits of a leftward tack uncertain.

      Second, the policies that are enacted by American governments bare little to no relation to the opinions of American voters. Rather, American public policy is set by elites for their own benefit, without regard for the needs or desires of the general public.[2] While a general leftward tack might be beneficial to the Democratic party in the short run, the fundamental dynamics of federal politics (including the construction of the Senate and Supreme Court as anti-democratic bulwarks to protect the interests of conservative extremists) will mean that leftward policies cannot be delivered in practice. Promising what cannot be delivered will only damage the Democratic party in the long run by depressing Democratic voter turnout (see: 2016).

      As absurd as the positions of the Democratic party establishment appear, especially to non-Americans, they are completely rational within the context and limitations of American political culture. These positions are optimized to protect the party, and its establishment, in light of the fact that there is simply no way to enact a slate of normal socioeconomic policies in the United States.

      The long-term consequences of the inability to moderate American politics will be an unstoppable rightward march into white nationalist authoritarianism. Those who are being ground into dust by conservative economic polices are actively lead to blame ‘liberals’ and minorities for their plight and vote accordingly. The next Republican presidential offering who is just as evil as Trump, but even slightly smarter, will be end of the American experiment.

      Americans who might find themselves on the end of the next pogrom are well advised to emigrate sooner rather than later. As far as those of us in the rest of the world should react, learning Standard Chinese might not be a bad idea….



      • Lee Ratner

        American voters at best give some rather strange singles to American politicians. Many routinely approve liberal ballot initiatives but elect Republican politicians at the same time to enact them. Floridians infamously voted for felon enfranchisement and raising the minimum wage to 15 dollars an hour while elected Republicans at the federal and state levels despite these politicians openly opposing both measures. So what you can say is that many Americans want “Republican politicians and Democratic measures” to paraphrase Disraeli. Except the Republicans are much more stridently ideological than the 19th century Conservative Party in the United Kingdom was. A good plurality of Americans also vote on pure culture war grievances.

        Another factor is that a lot of activists delude themselves into how popular their reforms are. “Defund the police” has become a big rallying cry despite the fact that it is not really that big with most non-White Americans. So the idea that politicians should just be more openly liberal and get elected doesn’t pass a lot of scrutiny.

        • Matthew Hutton

          Defund the police is as dumb as shit as a slogan but the American police is massively overpowered.

        • Eric2

          “American voters at best give some rather strange singles to American politicians. Many routinely approve liberal ballot initiatives but elect Republican politicians at the same time to enact them.”

          That’s not strange. Ballot initiatives are generally about economic issues while Democratic politicians generally focus at least as much on woke identity politics. Voters like progressive economic politics, they hate identity politics which they see as at best doing little for them specifically, and at worse subjecting them to an inquisition which could take away their job or liberty. This is why Bernie did so well in primaries – because he focused on economic policies which affect everyone, while ignoring any form of identity politics.

          • Alon Levy

            I don’t think that Marxian analysis of US politics was ever correct (civil rights laws were incredibly popular in the 1960s!); it’s certainly not correct now. The socioeconomic class within which the tiresome arguments over individual words (capital-B Black, Latinx, BIPOC, minoritized, w/e) happen is people with university degrees and those keep swinging left; the sort of publications that use woke as a slur, like Tablet, have a readership that thinks it represents Real Working-Class Minorities but is educated as well.

            Conversely, the idea that left-wing economics is uniquely popular in the US isn’t really true either. Yes, the minimum wage hike is incredibly popular, so it passed in Florida. It’s one specific really popular policy; path to citizenship for illegal immigrants is in the polls consistently about as popular. Other platform planks associated with movement liberalism, like Medicare for All, are really not popular (the phrase M4A sounds nice but as soon as a bill is actually proposed with any details, lel); same thing is true of defunding the police. Trade wars are supposed to be great populist vote winners but as soon as they actually happen people get peeved about the outcomes. It’s really a mix and you should be wary of people selling you stories about a broad electorate that’s fiscally conservative and socially liberal or the reverse.

          • Matthew Hutton

            I think most Americans – even Trump voters – agree that America is overpoliced. Small towns in America with a few thousand residents have hundreds of people wanted for various crimes, even though I doubt there is much real crime in those places.

            And they seem to have 24/7 police presence in those places too – which frankly seems totally overboard.

            The problem with “defund the police” as a slogan is that if you’re being assaulted or whatever then you need to call the police and they need to come ASAP – but in rural areas they could be on-call.

          • Onux

            “I don’t think that Marxian analysis of US politics was ever correct (civil rights laws were incredibly popular in the 1960s!)”

            1. Civil rights laws were very popular in many places in a theoretical sense, and became much less popular when practical effects occurred, i.e. black people started moving into white neighborhoods. One of the ironies of the US civil rights movement is that support for it was often strongest among white people (particularly in the NE and Midwest) who lived in communities that were far more segregated than the south and who never had to interact with black people.
            2. The civil rights laws of the 60’s were not the woke identity politics of today. They were generally race-blind in intent/language (even though de facto it was blacks who benefited most) and aspired to equal protection for all. The major 60’s civil rights legislation did not mention “systemic racism” or “whiteness” or “micro aggressions” or talk about equity over equality or promote reparations. In fact, public opinion on new civil rights measures began to turn very early (late 70’s) when they began to become “woke” and instead of saying “everyone can apply to college” or “schools won’t be segregated” they began to have racial quotas or bussing as part of affirmative action.

          • Alon Levy

            1. You’re conflating two different trends: the loss of support for civil rights in 1968 because of race riots (that’s Omar Wasow’s research), and the general fact that local politics is more racist than national politics. The same white flight suburbs that NIMBYed school integration so hard also voted for members of Congress who passed the Fair Housing Act.

            2. The civil rights laws of the 1960s included affirmative action and required federal supervision of elections in a number of states with known disenfranchisement problems. They did not use 2010s language but 1960s language, but so what? Some of that language – black and Afro-American in lieu of Negro – was pretty weird for that era. The language changes, and vernacular language (inc. Internet language) changes faster than the standard. The only people who have strong opinions one way or another about Latinx, capital-B Black, etc. are bores who care too much about marketing and too little about what actually happens.

          • adirondacker12800

            The same white flight suburbs that NIMBYed school integration so hard also voted for members of Congress who passed the Fair Housing Act.
            Silly silly you. Apparently you think voters actually give it some thought. .. after five years of Donald Trump being Donald Trump almost 74 million people thought it was a good idea to vote for him.

          • Onux

            1. No, I’m saying the white northerners who voted in 1962 and 1966 for the representatives who passed the civil rights acts of 1964 and ‘68 did so living in neighborhoods that were all white thinking that segregation and discrimination was a southern problem. When the results of those acts were black people moving into their neighborhoods, attitudes changed.

            2. The civil rights acts of the 60’s did not include affirmative action as we know it now. The earliest references to AA were in executive orders saying federal agencies had to take affirmative action to ensure hiring was done *without* regard to race, etc. (EO 10925 et al). In the CRA’s AA was something that could be imposed by court order if a company was found in violation of the act, not something that happened all of the time. Humbert Humphrey and others took pains to argue the Acts didn’t require quotas. The first “race-conscious” AA came with Nixon’s Philadelphia Plan of ‘69, which included “goals and measures” that everyone still said were not quotas. Bussing didn’t begin until 1971 via court order (not anywhere in the CRAs) and by the 70’s there were outright quotas until the Supreme Court banned them. It was bussing and quotas that turned off people who had supported civil rights in the 60’s.

            The issue of language I’m talking about isn’t simplistic things like black vs negro, or the Latino/a/x debate of today. Rather, it’s that the CRAs were race-neutral in their language (the key operative phrase in 60’s orders and laws was “without regard to race, creed, color or national origin.”) The issue Eric2 identified is that woke progressive thought is very much race-conscious, not race-neutral, and wants to enforce laws and regulations WITH regard to race. The CRAs said that the University of Alabama could not have a no-blacks rule in admissions. Woke progressives want (depending on their flavor) universities to give blacks more points on their admission score, or have black only themed residence halls (recurringly proposed by students and NYU but not implemented) or even have a no-whites rule for a period of time (the Evergreen College/Bret Weinstein debacle). It is this type of rhetoric which is discriminatory, instead of the non-discrimination goals of the CRAs, that turns off many people who otherwise support progressive policies on the economy, transportation, etc. California voted against Trump more than any state but Hawaii, but voters also decisively rejected a measure to bring back affirmative action.

  14. adirondacker12800

    “Defund the police” has become a big rallying cry
    On One America News perhaps but not on Planet Earth

    • Bobson Dugnutt

      “Defund the police” has become a big rallying cry
      On One America News perhaps but not on Planet Earth

      In most big cities, there are large weekend protests and graffiti that say otherwise. Related: ACAB (all cops are bastards), abolish the police, blue lives murder, etc.

      The populace wants this but Democratic elected officials are really juggling fire trying to mediate this. There’s a muted resistance to defunding from business communities, the police unions (who work both parties) and, what gets less mentioned, from communities of color. Black and brown communities want more policing, and more humane policing (try not to kill suspects, brutalize them, or profile them).

      The defunding movement is largely young and well-educated and tends to make culturally deterministic claims (e.g. police are abjectly racist because they originated as slave patrols, policing methods don’t encourage a “justice is blind” model but rather “justice trains her eyes” on people of color, police attract the most reactionary elements of society and inflict those attitudes on the public, etc.). They tend to speak in very theoretic terms and use vocabulary found mostly in postgrad research.

      • adirondacker12800

        They were small, they were months ago. Stop watching Fox news where Antifa has no-go zones in big cities and they are coming after your hamburgers.

        • Bobson Dugnutt

          I don’t watch Fox or any rightwing TV. My sources: Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Seattle Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Miami Herald … you get the idea.

          Social media teems with on-scene experience from these protests. I never said there was unrest like after the George Floyd or Breonna Taylor killings, but smaller demonstrations are continuing regularly without incident.

          Interestingly, the downtown Portland “Anarchy in the 5tr33ts! oh noes” didn’t get much play in local media because the antifas and MAGAs were a very tiny group scuffling in a small part of downtown and most of the city got out of their way. On the other hand, just today the Oregonian reported businesses in the Hollywood neighborhood were vandalized.

          • adirondacker12800

            I didn’t see anything in there about defunding the police.

          • michaelrjames

            So you say, but Adirondacker is correct, in that to our ears you sound like you watch Fox etc. If not, then it might be indirectly or by osmosis. One of the most insidious things about Murdoch media (all over the Anglosphere) is how his shouty and relentless approach tends to frame the argument and the news, with other news services following (even subconsciously). They set the talking (shouting) points. Even our public broadcaster here is horribly prone to prioritising their news items in close correspondence with what Murdoch’s national newspapers dictate. Laura Norder is one of their fave topics. And you have a distinct tinge of hysteria about “defund the police”. I don’t know how many–but suspect only a tiny minority–actually propose total defunding of police. I have always interpreted it to mean to redeploy some of the funding. One thing that I would have thought even so-called moderates might agree on is that the police have become militarised, often quite literally via the program that allows them to buy “surplus” stuff from the military. The whole point of Robert Peel’s creation of the first professionalised dedicated civilian police force was precisely to separate them from the military and militias that prevailed then. Now it seems in the US it’s come full circle and the police are not only armed like the military but their mentality is similar: in war there will be collateral damage.

          • Bobson Dugnutt

            I didn’t see anything in there about defunding the police.

            Put the goalpost back where you found it, adirondacker12800.

            You did see the report and the photos of the broken glass and the graffiti, evidently the result of a demonstration? Yes, you could hold out the theoretical possibility that it was a false flag op by a MAGA to discredit antifa, BLM or whatever cause(s) the demonstrators support. Movements, especially from groups laying a claim to power they covet, tend to attract and absorb smaller submovements with higher-energy members and more fringey ideas, that latch on to them.

            The point is there is graffiti and broken glass that is there Saturday that wasn’t there Friday. If and when you defund police, graffiti and broken glass are a consequence of police defunding. There will still be crime, but the police will triage resources to crimes that are still universally abhorred (murder, rape, domestic violence, armed robbery, etc.) and give less-serious crimes like vandalism short shrift.

            Society still pays either way in a funded or defunded police scenario. We know what funded policing looks like, and we’re reckoning with the costs of a bloated carceral state and a large community of Americans that it has physically, psychologically and economically broken. We’re also getting a small taste of what a defunded police scenario looks like. The money saved on policing and jailing will instead be absorbed by an equal or greater cost in glass, paint and other material that will constantly need to be replaced, higher insurance premiums … and then you get the opposite of gentrification — disinvestment. This is where business owners and the people with means to remove themselves from this hellscape will do so, leaving the remainder of residents with fewer resources to be able to take care of ever growing problems.

            This scenario pays dividends for the right wing. They draw in a new crop of reactionaries to grow their ranks, Fox News and the rightwing media Wurlitzer get more material to lend their bigotry real-world credibility, and get the impetus to act on their most draconian fantasies.

            And again, I remind you that I don’t watch Fox News or any rightwing media source. I agree with Michaelrjames about how Murdoch media is nefarious for framing the agenda with lurid, out-of-context images and text primed to appeal to retrograde-but-powerful members of society. That is why I refuse to patronize it or rightwing sources with my clicks or my eyeballs. Yet Fox is America’s most watched news channel, and despite its viewership being far whiter and far older than the population as a whole, Fox’s demographic more closely resembles the *electorate* demographic and Fox viewers have the horrible tendency of being the most poorly informed yet most politically active cohort of voters.

            They are your enemies. Don’t take your frustrations out on me because you lack power over them.

          • adirondacker12800

            The police are well funded. And they still broke glass. For someone who doesn’t watch Fox you seem to know a lot about them.
            I didn’t say anything about agents provocateurs. On either side. Projecting much? Or is it that you like scaring yourself into moving to some remote part of Montana? Check to see if it has high speed internet before you rent.

          • michaelrjames

            Obama’s given the left a vital lesson in how to talk – and how not to
            Jonathan Freedland, 04 Dec 2020.

            The former president [Barack Obama] said he too wanted to reform the criminal justice system, ridding it of racial bias, but he feared that using that “snappy slogan” meant “you lost a big audience the minute you say it”. The very change activists wanted moved further out of reach.

            Far better, said Obama, to say that some of the resources now spent on militarised police should be diverted to other services. If a person, homeless and distressed, is causing disruption in the street, a mental health professional should be dispatched rather than “an armed unit that could end up resulting in a tragedy”. Put it that way, said Obama, and people start listening.

            As it happens, plenty of campaigners insist that that’s exactly what they meant by “defund the police”. But what too many voters heard was “abolish the police”, by starving them of funds.

  15. A. Paddock

    You make it seem like competent governance is impossible in the US, and if I’m being honest, I’ve felt that way for a very long time. It’s extremely depressing, but I’ve seen vanishingly little to change my mind. Even in these comments there is bitter disagreement, and it’s all a tempest in a teapot because it has basically has no impact in the real world. Being working class in this country sucks. You’re always looking abroad and wishing things could be more like wherever you like.

    • Alon Levy

      I don’t think it’s impossible; I think the current crop of local and state-level elites can’t do it. It’s not the same thing; there are individual bad decisions made by Cuomo that could have gone the other way if his personality had been less shitty but everything else – his background, his supporter base, New York law, New York politics – had stayed the same.

    • Bobson Dugnutt

      A. Paddock, I share your frustration, as I am sure many others do. If you think about it as systems rather than individual actors, US democracy has a design flaw. I think of it as the Jefferson-Hamilton compromise. Thomas Jefferson designed the government framework we have now: divided executive, legislative and judicial chambers; a plethora of veto points that also created powers unto themselves; and both national and state elections electing representatives using a first-past-the-post winner-take-all system.

      Jefferson envisioned society to be yeoman farmers in the mold of the Roman leader Cincinnatus, a wise elder who was chosen as consul during crisis and then immediately resigned to go back to working his farm. He envisioned these representatives as sages who would help all constituents to come before them. When there were disputes, they would largely be about land or contracts. The system was designed to prevent factionalism, or what we now know as political parties.

      Hamilton — the real-life inspiration for the guy from the musical 😉 — had his eye toward the future and believed America would become industrialized and urbanized, instead of dominated by agriculture. He envisioned many more Bostons and Philadelphias emerging. He believed that the 13 colonies should, and could, unite and the only way to do so was to have a strengthened central government and the authority to carry out public works. He studied the history of the Enlightenment-era cities and saw the tensions arising among the feudal aristocracy and the early industrialists, and how their political conflicts tended to produce factions.

      The framers were more sympathetic to Jefferson’s notions of government but society evolved more along the lines of Hamilton’s vision of cities and industry, even moreso as national transportation projects sprouted more cities along the way due to canals, railroads, the Interstate Highway System and airplanes and airports. European states tended to evolve into parliamentary systems, though they did incorporate Anglo-American ideas of federalism and district voting into their systems.

      The Jeffersonian system makes sense for rural interests, and it’s why the American system tends to give outsize political power to rural areas at all levels of government. Urban areas, and this includes suburban areas (by definition, sub- means secondary or lesser and you cannot have a suburb without an urb) have complex overlapping and conflicting interests but a duopoly of political parties to broker them. Most of us live in urbs and burbs, but we must make do with rural governance.

      Governance, in this case, refers to the law-making and judicial process. Government’s responsibilities and delivery of services is a separate matter. We have lots of public administration and organizational theory knowledge from private firms; the public debate is how power should be distributed among political influence, management and expertise.

      • Lee Ratner

        To be slightly fair to Jefferson, parliamentary government was still in its’ infancy when the American Constitution was written and every elected regime used FPTP voting or some type of indirect elections, which are even more undemocratic than FPTP district voting. You had the rough embryo of parliamentary government in the United Kingdom but the King still appointed the PM, who could come from Lords or Commons, and the idea of parliamentary supremacy over the Cabinet didn’t really exist yet. These things were still decades away.

        • Eric2

          Yes – I think the reason government is so bad in the US now was that it was so good in 1789 that it got canonized. And now it is treated with so much deference that it can’t be significantly changed.

          • michaelrjames

            Yes, and we’re seeing classic Darwinian forces in action: things (individuals, species, systems) that don’t adapt over time become unfit for purpose and are replaced by something else. The US may have rejected Trump but if the so-called moderates continue with BAU they won’t have solve the basic problems.

            You can only blame the times to a certain extent. Alternatives (sic) were known for ages and were formally described in mid-18th century by Condorcet who himself served 1791-1794 in the revolutionary government (though I don’t know the mechanism of his own election; any scholars on the French Revolution here?). Also he was well published and worked with Benjamin Franklin. No, it seems the choice of an undemocratic election system was deliberate:

            His [Condorcet’s] political ideas, many in congruity with Turgot’s, were criticized heavily in the English-speaking world, however, most notably by John Adams who wrote two of his principal works of political philosophy to oppose Turgot’s and Condorcet’s unicameral legislature and radical democracy.[4]

            But then he was clearly far ahead of his time:

            In 1774, Condorcet was appointed inspector general of the Paris mint by Turgot.[5] From this point on, Condorcet shifted his focus from the purely mathematical to philosophy and political matters. In the following years, he took up the defense of human rights in general, and of women’s and Blacks’ rights in particular (an abolitionist, he became active in the Society of the Friends of the Blacks in the 1780s). He supported the ideals embodied by the newly formed United States, and proposed projects of political, administrative and economic reforms intended to transform France.

            It took a different part of the New World to put some of these ideas into practice. In 1856 Australia introduced the Secret Ballot which subsequently was known as the Australian Ballot, though it had been precisely described in “the French revolution a French lawyer and academic named Jacques-Vincent Delacroix suggested this method for voting on referendums: Each voter will be given a printed ballot paper, bearing propositions. Each voter to whom this bulletin is given will go into a designated space, divided into several compartments, where, without being seen, he will write “yes” or “no” after each proposal. He will then fold the paper, stamp it with the national seal and put it in a closed box.

            In 1893 NZ, and 1894 Australia, gave women the vote and Australia in 1902 granted full universal suffrage (women’s right to vote and to run as candidates). In 1918 Australia introduced Preferential Voting (aka, Single Transferable Vote, or Instant Runoff, or Ranked Choice, ie. a Condorcet system). Today France uses Runoff, ie. a second election between the top two from the first election. When I lived in France I thought it was a bit excessive (it is expensive, and it suffers from reduced participation in the runoff from those whose preferred candidate didn’t make it past the first election) but now I can see the advantages including the extra week or two for voters to consider the consequences of their vote. Of course Australia has compulsory voting (1925) which would solve the participation issue. (On this issue various Australian jurisdictions have adopted Optional Preferential Voting, OPV, because too many people exclude themselves by inadvertently not numbering enough (1, 2, 3) or all candidates which makes their ballot invalid. Judging the average US voter, you’d need this too! We also turn voting venues into festive occasions with Democracy Sausage Sizzles .. google it. )

            It is not beyond possibility for the US to adopt such superior systems. In fact NYC adopted Ranked Choice in 2019, joining 20 other US cities and Maine which used it in the 2018 federal mid-terms of 2018. At the very least parties could adopt it for their Primary elections. I recall that E. Warren may have been a big beneficiary because she was the second choice of a lot of the other leading candidates’ voters.

          • Lee Ratner

            Elizabeth Warren would have been creamed along with everybody else but Biden in the general. The United States can theoretically call a new Constitutional Convention and create the Constitution 2.0. The problem is that there is no way to keep the Radical Right out of this promise. The people that want a Super-Madisonian system will be able to participate along with the people that want to turn the United States into a parliamentary republic.

          • michaelrjames

            @Lee Ratner: “Elizabeth Warren would have been creamed along with everybody else but Biden in the general.”

            I was talking of the Primaries.
            As for the general, well we have a saying about some elections: a drover’s dog could have won it. Very few people in this election voted for Biden and those that made the difference were voting against Trump. I don’t think anyone can say how Warren would have fared, though I will grant you that a lot of American voters are misogynist, some of the worst being women. Nevertheless Trump was the overwhelming factor and any number of democrats may have won.

          • Bobson Dugnutt

            @Eric2, US government was hardly at its pinnacle when it started. The way US history is taught to schoolchildren is that the Founding Fathers were towering paragons of virtue and that their politics was a unified vision and purpose that set America on a course to greatness.

            The reality was that there was a lot of ill-tempered bickering, very poor decorum, amateurish record-keeping and a lot of aspirational bills that had the problems of an ill-defined way to pay for them or a mechanism to enforce them. Marbury v. Madison didn’t come until 1803, when the judicial review doctrine was established.

          • Lee Ratner

            Going to disagree on this MichaelJames. Biden lost Florida because Republicans were able to depict him as a scary Communist to the Cubans and Venezuelans more than they did with Clinton. Seriously, Clinton won Miami-Dade by 300,000 votes while Biden won by 85,000 votes. I think Sanders would be subject to even more red baiting and Warren would be Clinton 2.0. The nobody voted because of Biden is what white liberals and leftists like to tell themselves because their preferred candidates lost.

          • michaelrjames

            @Lee Ratner

            That’s an interesting theory of electability that appears to rest on both (or any) candidates … losing Florida (and Texas).

            But like I said in an earlier post, forget about trying to win those kind of Hispanics. Trying hard not to offend them means losing the other half of Hispanics. You might be surprised by the effect of a coherent, credible policy. Not that I’d shape electoral strategy on Florida, but if you can appeal to Hispanics in Texas, NM & Arizona then that would also appeal to the other 50% in Florida.

          • michaelrjames

            Small force, great weight
            25 NOVEMBER 2020

            Could preferential voting be an “Archimedean lever of change” for American politics?

            While Australians were glued to Joe Biden’s defeat of Donald Trump and the engrossing political theatre of Washington, DC — “Hollywood for ugly people,” as the saying goes — other developments were bringing American democracy closer to how we vote in Australia.

            Preferential voting — known as “ranked-choice voting” in America — has now been adopted by ballot initiative (a kind of citizens-initiated referendum) in two states: Maine, in 2018, and now Alaska for all post-2020 elections.

            How did the two northernmost states in the Union come to adopt a voting system that has been used for over a century in Australia but remains largely unknown in the United States? Like many aspects of American politics today, the answer is to be found in the increasing dysfunction and polarisation of American electoral democracy.

          • Reedman Bassoon

            Ranked-choice voting exists in America for only one reason: the Democratic party discovered it is easily splintered by the Greens, Peace And Freedom, et al. San Francisco and Oakland implemented ranked-choice to ensure that there would never again be a Republican, or “law and order” Democratic mayor in these places. The Democrats have never forgotten, will never forgive, Bush v. Gore (Ralph Nader received 97,421 votes in Florida, and Pat Buchanan and Harry Browne received 17,484 and 16,415 respectively). If you think recounting ballots in a two-party election is painful, think about how complicated it gets with ranked-choice voting. Plus, ranked-choice has the distinction of providing “ballot exhaustion” and “deep minority winners”
            [In 2010 the Australian Labor Party won the House of Representatives with just 38 percent of first-place votes on the initial ballot. In the 2011 San Francisco mayoral race, 27 percent of valid first-round ballots were exhausted (all candidates on the ballot were eliminated, i.e. in a five person race, you voted for three people, and none of them were in first or second place, so all your votes were essentially wasted) before the last tally.]

          • michaelrjames

            @Reedman Bassoon

            Curious post. Because I would say almost every single reason you give is indeed a valid reason for Ranked Choice voting. It does lead to the result preferred by most voters (who voted).

            If you think recounting ballots in a two-party election is painful, think about how complicated it gets with ranked-choice voting.

            Only for Americans. Australian elections are run efficiently and results almost always announced within a few hours of the polls closing on election night. (If ballots are turned into digital form then processing preferences is even more trivial, but even manual counting does not pose a problem for a well run system.) Your point about Labor winning “only” 38% of primary votes is surely an argument for Ranked Choice? First, that is of all voters (or 97+%) because of compulsory voting, so it’s a lot better than almost any FPTP system such as UK and USA where the “winner” usually gets a lot less than that. As I said in my original post, the Greens get about ≈12% national vote but most of these votes flow back to Labor and get many of their candidates over the bar. That’s good! It is not as good as MMP or Hare-Clark but it does promote more diversity in policy, and choice, and ultimately influence: the uninformed say the Greens can promulgate any old policy because they never have to worry about actual implementation since they will never be the government (though they happen to be a part of what is now Australia’s longest uninterrupted government in history, in Canberra-ACT) but they have been well ahead of the curve on many important policy changes, and their support has advanced those policies (especially among Labor who have to compete for those primary votes against Greens). Your (US) system is so perverted that, as you describe, Nader may have given Florida to Bush–that can’t happen in the Australian system where his voter’s preferences would have given it to Gore. Diversity of opinion/policy is essential and FPTP kills it dead, just like Trump has taken over the GOP.

            Plus, ranked-choice has the distinction of providing “ballot exhaustion” and “deep minority winners”

            What? You are confusing HoR voting (Ranked Choice) with the Senate which is PR. Deep minority winners are extremely rare (perhaps never) in the former while the Senate has suffered from that problem only recently due to some collusion (so-called “preference whisperers”) amongst minority candidates which allows minority preferences to flow towards one minority candidate who can thus win (usually the last of the multiple positions decided in the one state ballot)*. The reason was in fact a perversion of the ballot in the Senate by the two major parties who insist on retaining “above-the-line” voting (ATL) which allows lazy voters (most) to just number their party of choice (which are listed in the first part of the ballot–above an actual line below which all the individual candidates are listed–a voter fills out one part only, above or below, not both); then their preferences flow according to a party scheme (submitted by each party to the electoral office about a month before the election). I never vote ATL (and advocate for its abolition) but below-the-line (BTL) where one has (had) to number every single candidate (in a senate election this can be 50-80 candidates). This was recently changed so that one only has to number up to the number of seats to fill (usually 6 for a regular senate election)–it is in these circumstances that one’s vote can “exhaust” (if you have no electable candidates numbered). I number all candidates, though one can understand wanting one’s fractional vote (after, say your #1 & 2 are for likely-electable candidates) to exhaust so that it doesn’t accidentally end up with proto-fascists like One Nation or Shooters etc. The last senate election was under the new rules and it wiped out all the deep-minority lottery winners (which were only a handful anyway).

            Your example of the SF mayoral election is not a case of your vote being exhausted. It simply didn’t elect who you wanted! All of your vote was counted (if you numbered all candidates). That’s democracy. It sounds like your anger should be directed at the parties who can’t provide a candidate you are willing to vote for (alternatively you are one of those proto-fascists in peace-love-and-understanding SF! …. a joke, I know you are the only true informed independent voter in the Bay Area).

            Also, your objections are typical of reactionary politicians (and their dumbest voters) who believe all the wrong things and persist in supporting FPTP. Why do you think it is the major parties who so strenuously resist changing to a more democratic system?
            *It’s a tad technical but the reason we got lumbered with more than usual deep minority candidates in (2015/16?) was because the PM pulled the ‘nuclear option’ of a Double Dissolution election in which all senators (and all HoR MPs) are forced to an election (a constitutional safety valve to try to resolve legislative gridlock–it’s surprising the US doesn’t have this); but that means that the quota a senator needs to be elected is approx. halved from 16% to about 8%. And it is this, combined with preference whispering, that led to a handful of deep-minority winners–and as expected most of these were wiped out when they faced their next election (which was 3 years because they were the ‘last’ candidates elected in the DD and don’t get the full 6 year term), plus the changes didn’t allow the previous trick.
            BTW, this quirk of the senate is/was not the worst aspect: just like the US the original notion of equal-representation by the states has gone too far and we now have one Tasmanian senator being elected with one tenth of voters of one in NSW. Incidentally one of these unknown winners was a loudmouthed Tasmanian ex-army single-mother called Jacqui Lambie and she lost in the subsequent DD election (with headlines “The Silence of the Lambie”); however she had turned into a respected and hardworking–and genuinely independent–politician and she won a Senate seat in her own right in the next election.

        • Bobson Dugnutt

          @Lee Ratner: True, and the theories of Jeffersonian democracy in the colonies and Europe were also inspired by Athenian and Roman government. Early democracies never envisioned universal suffrage as we know today. There was some buy-in requirement, typically owning real property.

          • Coridon Henshaw

            @Lee Ratner: if the US held a constitutional convention, Madisonians would be the least of the problems. The process would be completely gridlocked by the racist/crackpot right demanding anything they could use to make the US even less governable.

            Opening up the constitution would open up the risk of the US being hobbled by such things as a balanced budget requirement, a return to the gold standard, and/or even greater disenfranchisement of urban areas.

            Attempting megaconstitutional politics when more than 70 million Americans believe in a concept of America that’s incompatible with modernity, and incompatible with reality, wouldn’t end well for anyone.

            The gulf between the Trumpists and objective reality is so great that the US can’t be fixed by consensus. Trying to break up America would be a much better choice than trying to stitch it back together.

          • Bobson Dugnutt

            @Coridon Henshaw, you had me with you for the first three paragraphs. Practically speaking, a constitutional reform would be impossible precisely because the existing constitutional regime amplifies the power of its worst elements.

            A longer, less glamorous yet more effective way toward a more progressive constitution is a combination of bottom-up reform and subsidiarity. Find a large enough group of people to effectively plan for a different kind of government structure, and then find the water’s edge. In other words, a national constitutional reform would be a terrible idea in the US. What about if you could achieve your reforms in a state, preferably a largely populated and wealthy one like California or New York?

            So it’s not possible at the state level. Say you are a blue city in a red state where home rule powers are limited and the legislature pre-empts reforms through culture warlike things (i.e. Texas and Arizona). Try your reform at the county level, where there might be a sporting chance for a conservative opposition party.

            Say even the county level is a no-go because of acrimonious city-suburb relations. Try starting your reform in the largest city, and see if some smaller cities might want to enact parallel reforms.

            If people are happy with political outcomes and participation is higher than today, persuade the next level of government to incorporate your plan.

            As for the last paragraph, the only thing worse than trying to keep a manifestly dysfunctional nation together is breaking up a manifestly dysfunctional nation. If America divorces, it will end in murder-suicide like some dysfunctional American marriages do.

          • Nathanael

            Regarding city-level reforms, approval voting has been adopted in Fargo and St. Louis. Progress is possible. for more info

      • Nathanael

        This… isn’t actually correct. Jefferson was an anti-federalist and wasn’t involved in designing the current US system at all! He did come back to the US from France after the Constitution was proposed *by other people*. He campaigned against it. Then he campaigned for the Bill of Rights (which turned out pretty good, eh?). Then he decided he might as well take power in the system which had been created.

        So Jefferson, in 1800, established a single-party system with no checks and balances, deliberately and personally. He did this by figuring out all the loopholes in the bad structural design of the Constitution and abusing them mercilessly. He handed power to his hand-picked successor, who repeated this twice, leading to Madison, Monroe, and JQA, during this period of One Party Rule.

        When the one-party system fell apart under the assault of Andrew Jackson, things actually got really bad in the US, and politics in the US from 1828 to the start of the Civil War in 1850 really looks like a series of disasters interspersed with power grabs. None of the Presidents were good.

        The Constitution only really started functioning — other than as a mechanism for Jefferson’s one-party state — after the Civil War, bluntly.

  16. James Green

    He should have talked about reforming state institutions: every state has a senate that could be abolished and a whole host of offices that should not be elected, such as governors and attorneys-general. Some even decide judges by election, it’s insane. The only thing people should be voting on is a lower house and they should do that via proportional representation. If the states are supposed to be labs for new ideas why not try reforming democracy there.

    So far the only movement I’ve seen is the change in Maine to ranked choice voting, that helps only a little bit though, I’m doubtful the two party system will actually be broken by this change in Maine. Until the two party system is broken I don’t see any hope for good governance in America. And the way the current system is structured and Americans’ blindness to the rest of the world I don’t see any real change as a realistic possibility. Once the US has fallen far enough behind the rest of the world that the net cultural flow is reversed this may change, I expect that to happen around the turn of the century.

    • Bobson Dugnutt

      James, my galaxy brain ideas for US governance reforms: 1. Try parliamentary governance at the state level. 2. Population parity among the states!

      All states save Nebraska have bicameral legislatures. There’s a historic need for two chambers at the national level, and though I know many detest the idea of a Senate, slow-but-steady lawmaking is generally a good thing and bicameralism has stopped many more bad laws than good ones. With one-person, one-vote firmly established legal doctrine, an upper house is superfluous at the state level. A parliamentary model will allow both houses to be put to good use. One house could be a party list chamber and the other house could retain district voting. (Concurrent at-large and district voting regimes are compatible, and districts are useful particularly when they could be designed to give disempowered groups or poor regions a voice in government.)

      Party lists are in theory simple, but there are actually vote-counting methods that don’t make the results as tidy as one-person, one vote. It depends on things like a minimum floor of vote share a party needs to be given a voice in government, and sometimes there’s even an Electoral College-like ceiling penalty to stop a winning political party to run up the electoral score too high and control all power.

      This is growing longer than I thought, so I’ll continue in another post.

      • Bobson Dugnutt


        The second idea is even more provocative. When I was studying American government as part of my poli sci curriculum, I’ve long wondered why we could redraw legislative districts but not state borders. The legal theory is that the United States is really a compact of 50 separate sovereign nations and the federal government owes its existence to the consent of the sovereign states. This is BS that ought to go the way of Jeffersonian ideals of governance (see my reply to A. Paddock), too.

        One: the US government is not the European Union. States aren’t nations in the same way as literal European nations (ethnostates). Americans share a common language, a common currency, a common military, our governors cannot deploy national guards to declare war against fellow states, states cannot restrain movement or trade against neighbors, we share national infrastructure (railroads, highways, air traffic control and municipally run airports, the South has TVA, etc.), and the notion of E Pluribus Unum works in practicality, too. The US arrangement has worked so well that any one member state would be worse off going it alone. We’re relieved that the UK is going to be the test pilot for the Brexit experiment.

        Two: Economic geographies are important. American states aren’t universally rich or poor, and don’t grow and decline at the same rates. In the northwest US, we have too many states that are for all intents and purposes are so underpopulated they don’t have the citizenry to warrant unique government. Why does the US need two Dakotas? ND and SD have a combined population that is smaller than about a half-dozen or so cities that are more economically productive on far less land.

        Three: This imbalance of population vs. land is straining our governance and only getting worse. Think of the dichotomy of California (~40 million) vs. Wyoming (579,000). Within California, there are about six cities alone that have Wyoming’s population. There are 16 counties that have more population than Wyoming, and another five counties that are within 100,000 people of Wyoming’s population, and by luck of geography are adjacent to larger counties so they could stand on their own economically.

        Imagine the US as Major League Baseball, used because it has no salary cap. The largest payroll is the LA Dodgers. The smallest payroll is the Miami Marlins. The MLB’s only parity is nine players on a field and a maximum of 40 players at its peak near the end of the season. Economically, the Dodgers should have no trouble sustaining 40 players and its farm system. Conversely, the payroll gap is so large that if the Marlins were Wyoming, they’d try to play a season with a personnel of only nine players, coaching duties shared among the players, and midseason walk-ons if a player is hurt. The MLB must give considerable support to Miami to exist, especially since attendancewise it’s often dead last in the National League.

        What if state borders were redrawn, rather than political districts? America has enough empty land that the borders can be drawn where regime changes affect the fewest people. The goal instead would be to keep metropolitan areas intact, although parity might result in some areas like New York City or Los Angeles County to be partitioned. This would mean bifurcated metros like St. Louis, Kansas City (Missouri got snakebit with its borders), Philadelphia, and Washington DC to name a few would have to be harmonized.

        If we keep the current arrangement of 50 states, (and preferably I want our territorial compatriots of Puerto Rico, Guam, US Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the NMI to have full federal representation), we’d net states of about 6.6 million each. The bad news: There would be partitions coming for our 10 largest metro areas.

        If we want to avoid bifurcations, we’d need to keep the large NYC metro area intact and make it into a large state, partitioning New Jersey and Connecticut. (Southern NJ would be partitioned into Philadelphia, and much of Connecticut not served by Metro-North might be absorbed into a large New England state anchored by Boston). New York City metro has 22 million people. This would result in something closer to the original 13 colonies. It would be a boon for Senate comity.

        Bad news: Many Americans have never lived in a state as large as 22 million, let alone a city region. Also, two areas that would get royally screwed are the northwest US and Appalachia. In the northwest US, there is a vast low-density zone of mountains and prairies with vast distances between large cities. There are just five large metros in this area: Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake City, Denver and Minneapolis. This area would also likely have to absorb Alaska, with no large metros. Appalachia has the combination of mountainous terrain and poverty that’s arguably the most extreme relative to its nearby metro areas. By consolidating Appalachia into one state, it would drag down the productivity of booming Southern cities.

  17. James Green

    Cool, someone who thinks similarly to me (albeit not quite the same)!

    My own galaxy brain pipe dream would be to redraw the boundaries of all North America (e.g. including Canada and Mexico too) and divide it up into about 20 nation-states.This would end up with a North America looking pretty similar to Europe, a place whose borders evolved naturally over millennia (it’s not perfect though, looking at you Belgium).

    By the way someone made a map that draws 50 equal population states:

    > States aren’t nations in the same way as literal European nations (ethnostates). Americans share a common language, a common currency, a common military, our governors cannot deploy national guards to declare war against fellow states, states cannot restrain movement or trade against neighbors, we share national infrastructure, and the notion of E Pluribus Unum works in practicality, too.

    This is where I disagree on the fundamentals, the US is becoming more dysfunctional precisely *because* it is evolving into a set of ethnostates. WW2 brought the country together and the Cold War, for a while, held it together, but without that external threat it is bound to come apart. Making the US fully democratic should not be the ultimate goal, indeed I do not really think it is possible, as soon as full democracy is allowed parts would start voting to leave one by one.

    • Eric2

      There are deep divisions within the US, but they have nothing to do with state boundaries. They are between all urban areas and all rural areas, and between different races.

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