It’s been a long time, as in years, since we’ve had a certain sense that the economy is or might be set to enjoy sustained growth. We are so eager for good news that any upward pointing indicator gets celebrated in the media, in part because it confirms the political biases of many people in the press about the worth of President Obama’s stimulus policies.
Roughly a decade ago it became
fashionable in urban planning circles to see the establishment of downtown “arts” districts as an effective strategy for restarting a city’s economy. The thinking seems to reflect Richard Florida’s thesis that what cities need is an influx of members of the “creative class” who, he argues, like to live in concentrated urban environments, preferring repurposed industrial buildings for homes, an active street life and “tolerance” in the social mores that characterize such places.
Every CEO is a politician. Not every politician is a CEO. The current set of messes that President Obama faces makes the point. They are as much management failures as they are political/legal nightmares. There is a price for having no market-facing executive experience. Indeed, Mr. Obama’s first cabinet had almost no private sector management experience.
For roughly 50 years America has observed the profound decay of a large number of her once most productive and wealthiest cities. These unhappy places have been concentrated in the Northeast and along the Great Lakes. In the 1980s the neologism “rust belt” was invented to describe the place from which the industries based on steel had decamped. In their wake lie rusting boilers, broken assembly lines, and rotting steel-structures that were once polished modern factories. There are more than 50 cities in this area, starting with the knitting mills in New Hampshire and running through to foundries of Milwaukee. The zone includes Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo; Erie and Pittsburgh; Youngstown, Dayton, Toledo, and Cleveland; Hammond and Gary and points further west.
What if the economy never recovers?
There’s a growing portion of Americans who consider this a real possibility. It is common to hear people discuss 2% annual growth and 8% unemployment as the “new normal.” Respected economists like Robert Gordon even contend that our country’s franchise on innovation is being lost. Perhaps most alarming is that Americans between the ages of 18 and 27 have never known what it’s like to participate in a robust, growing, economy.