A college professor mine once made the case that an early mistake that our country made was giving statehood away so freely. It would have been better, he reasoned, if statehood had been something earned and not given. He said that he went back and forth as to whether we should have stuck with the thirteen colonies, or maybe given statehood to the original thirteen and various states along other waterways. His model was that there would be states and territories within the continental US. He went on to argue that in addition to all of this, access to the states would be restricted to only the best and brightest of those raised in the territories.
“But why should the territories be places for second-class citizens?” we all asked (or maybe he asked knowing that we wanted to). He suggested a couple things. First, tough luck. It would no more be the responsibility of the states to allow someone from Kansas in than it is for Kansas to allow someone from Mexico in. Alternately, he suggested that it would leave the territories greater latitude to develop themselves. With enough of a push in the rugged and deregulated environment, people would start moving out of the states and into the territories. Which, once that happens, you make it a state in order to stop the bleeding. That would be how statehood would be earned.
As with a lot of things the professor said, this was met with howls at the whole inequality and just UnAmericanness of it. He then put up a map that he’d been keeping hidden throughout this entire discussion, delineating the comparative economic power disparities between regions. His entire plan, he explained, would only be the formalization of America as it currently exists and is headed towards. The best and brightest are pulled towards the coasts. Those that can’t cut the mustard and won’t be servants move to places like Colorado and eventually places like Colorado become “real” states, which he said was imminent. By “real states” he essentially meant blue states (though the term did not exist yet). States that are no longer laughed at in polite company. Colorado was almost there, Nevada would be there within a decade. Texas and Arizona would take a little longer, but eventually they will get enough of the coastal types (and Mexican servants) to push them over. Then they’d be real states, too. The newcomers would pass all sorts of land regulations that would make the cities more expensive. The undesirables would start being priced out. They’d become places of affluent Americans, high-quality immigrants, their servants, and a few legacy admits.
I was reminded of this lecture when I read Virginia Postrel’s post on a growing disconnect:
As I have argued elsewhere, there are two competing models of successful American cities. One encourages a growing population, fosters a middle-class, family-centered lifestyle, and liberally permits new housing. It used to be the norm nationally, and it still predominates in the South and Southwest. The other favors long-term residents, attracts highly productive, work-driven people, focuses on aesthetic amenities, and makes it difficult to build. It prevails on the West Coast, in the Northeast and in picturesque cities such as Boulder, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The first model spurs income convergence, the second spurs economic segregation. Both create cities that people find desirable to live in, but they attract different sorts of residents.
This segregation has social and political consequences, as it shapes perceptions — and misperceptions — of one’s fellow citizens and “normal” American life. It also has direct and indirect economic effects. “It’s a definite productivity loss,” Shoag says. “If there weren’t restrictions and you could build everywhere, it would be productive for people to move. You do make more as a waiter in LA than you do in Ohio. Preventing people from having that opportunity to move to these high-income places, making it so expensive to live there, is a loss.” That’s true not only for less-educated workers but for lower earners of all sorts, including the artists and writers who traditionally made places like New York, Los Angeles and Santa Fe cultural centers.
A lot of The Professor’s lectures were rather oblique in nature. I have my doubts that he actually supported the model that he was ostensibly supporting (just like I think he was trying to make a different point when he suggested that immigration policy be dictated by a reality TV show involving paintguns). He also framed the policies as being more deliberate than they are (I think). However, one thing I have noticed is a disconnect on the importance of affordable living. The degree to which red states are sponsored by a lower cost of living, and blue states are sponsored by a higher cost of living, is striking. Cause-effect is muddled, but it’s really one of the less discussed aspects of the red/blue divide. We discuss city versus country, but not what makes Boise different from Portland (Maine), or Phoenix and Santa Fe.