Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Rural people and politics

An economist recently wrote a book talking about how big cities make people richer and more productive. The key idea is that ideas and efficiency and economic growth come from connecting people, and dense clusters of people make these connections much more likely to happen. Living in big cities also trends to be much more efficient: transportation and search costs are a lot lower, and city dwelling generates less pollution and much less habitat destruction than country dwelling.

The key policy implication is that we should support and encourage life and economic activity in cities in order to make our nation richer. If done right, you get things like the renaissance of New York City. At the very least, we should stop taxing city dwellers in order to subsidize rural areas and lifestyles that tend to trap people in poverty.

Here's a link to a blog post discussing the book.

Yesterday afternoon, I got an e-mail from a "" address. "Secretary Vilsack read your blog post 'Why we still need cities' over the weekend, and he has some thoughts and reflections, particularly about the importance of rural America," it said. A call was set for a little later in the day. I think it's safe to say Vilsack didn't like the post. A lightly edited transcript of our discussion about rural America, subsidies and values follows.

Read the whole thing. It is amusing and horrifying, like a train wreck. The secretary of agriculture tries to defend current policy, but just makes himself look like an idiot. The thing that amazed me was that, in his opening comments, he said:

And sometimes people don't realize that 90 percent of the persistent poverty counties are located in rural America. 

which is exactly the point that economists try to make: rural life often leads to poverty and we need to get people out of that situation. If you are trying to defend the merits or rural life, why would you go out of your way point out one of its biggest problems?

This blog post provides good commentary on this issue, I would have written something similar but linking to this is easier.

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