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March 13, 2018

Elite hypocrisy about working class white and rural folks? The case of the West Virginia teachers strike

I've been keeping an eye on elite bashing of working class and rural whites for years now, and I published my first article about it as long ago as 2011.  But the election of 2016 brought the disdainful badmouthing by the chattering classes to a fever pitch, and I've occasionally blogged about the phenomenon, including here and here.  

 

One "series" I see on Twitter begins:  "And in today's episode of:  I Bet I Know Who You Voted For..." That is the common  preface to re-Tweets of headlines that could previously have appeared in the "Darwin Awards" or perhaps the petty crime pages of a local paper.  I'm pasting one below.  It re-Tweets a Fox News Tweet that reads "Substitute allegedly brought boxed wine to school, vomited in class."

 

Another re-Tweets this Fox News Tweet:  "Woman charged with choking teen for blocking view at Disney fireworks show."

 

On a related note, here's an item from Instagram just a few days ago, from the account called guerrillafeminism that reads "happy international women's day except the 53% of white women who voted for trump."

 

Pat Bagley, the cartoonist for the Salt Lake City Tribune (whose work I greatly admire, by the way--both cartoonist and paper), has referred to Trump's "idiot followers."  I could provide many more illustrations of this phenomenon.  

 

With that background, you can imagine my surprise--but also delight--when I saw this Tweet from Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress, which bills itself as an

independent nonpartisan policy institute that is dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans, through bold, progressive ideas, as well as strong leadership and concerted action. Our aim is not just to change the conversation, but to change the country.

Despite the "nonpartisan" billing, I see Center for American Progress as clearly left leaning (a good thing in my book!).  Tanden's Tweet reads:

The teachers of West Virginia are heroes.  They deserve good pay and a real raise.  I stand with them. 

 

Now, I don't recall any past Tweets by Tanden blasting Trump supporters, though I do recall some highly critical of Trump.  That's fine by me.  It's a line I've drawn myself--at least in the last year or so (I was a bit less discriminating--a bit more knee jerk--as I reeled in the wake of election of 2016, and I sent off some angry, pejorative Tweets about Trump supporters as a monolithic group).  I now readily take aim at Trump but try to be more thoughtful and circumspect re: Trump supporters.  I'm looking to understand them, trying to listen empathically. (I've got a whole law review article forthcoming about female Trump supporters, delivered as the key note address at the Toledo Law Review symposium in October, 2017,  The Women Feminism Forgot:  Rural and Working Class White Women in the Era of Trump.  I hope to have the text posted soon on my ssrn.com page).

 

But the bottom line is that some things I saw on Twitter about the West Virginia teachers--many sympathetic comments of the sort Tanden shared--had me wondering if the lefties doing this Tweeting realized that many of the folks they were lauding and advocating for had no doubt voted for Trump.  That is, these newfound labor heroes with their wild-cat strike were one and the same with (many) reviled Trump voters.  Some 68% of West Virginians voted for Trump!  Could I possibly be seeing praise for these women--praise from the left?   These are the same women that many lefties on Twitter have said "get what they deserve" if they lose their healthcare (thanks to Trump's effort to dismantle Obamacare) or face further economic decline (thanks, for example, to the long-term consequences of Trump's tax reform law).

 

(Btw, I was at an Appalachian Justice symposium at West Virginia University College of Law in Morgantown from Thursday Feb. 22 'til Saturday Feb. 24th, and I got to see the teachers picketing--and hear the honking in support--first-hand, which was pretty cool.  One of my favorite signs, this published in the Washington Post, is here) 

 

Michelle Goldberg, a relatively new columnist at the New York Times who is writing a lot about gender issues, offered up this column under the headline, "The Teachers Revolt in West Virginia."  She called the strike "thrilling," noting that strikes by teachers are unlawful in West Virginia, which became a right-to-work state a few years ago, and where unions do not have collective bargaining rights. Yet, Goldberg writes,

teachers and some other school employees in all of the state’s 55 counties are refusing to return to work until lawmakers give them a 5 percent raise, and commit to addressing their rapidly rising health insurance premiums.

Goldberg further explains that the "obvious impetus" for action is West Virginia's awful pay of teachers, which ranks 48th in the nation (read more analysis here).  She also discusses the critical role that health care/health insurance plays in the labor dispute:

 In the past, solid health care benefits helped make up for low wages, but because West Virginia hasn’t been putting enough money into the state agency that insures public employees, premiums and co-payments have been increasing significantly.  

Ah, there's that health care problem again, by which I mean you should read this and this, among other sources cited and discussed in that forthcoming Toledo Law Review article. 

 

Having pored over many, many mainstream media reports of white working class Trump supporters in places like Appalachia (you guessed it, all discussed in that Toledo Law Review article!), I was struck that the women Goldberg identified and interviewed did not appear to be Trump supporters.  Quite to the contrary, these women are held out as having responded to Trump's election by becoming part of what is popularly known as "the resistance." I was delighted to learn about and hear from these women, but was Goldberg unable to find any Trump supporters among the striking teachers?  I would very much have liked to have heard their attitudes about the strike, also in relation to their support for Trump.  Did they reconcile the two?

 

Here are excerpts/quotes about the two women Goldberg did feature, Jenny Craig, a special education teacher from Triadelphia (population 811, northern panhandle) and Amanda Howard Garvin, an elementary art teacher in Morgantown (third largest city in the state, home of WVU):

Craig described the anti-Trump Women’s March, as well as the explosion of local political organizing that followed it, as a “catalyst” for at least some striking teachers.

Goldberg quotes Craig:  

You have women now taking leadership roles in unionizing, in standing up, in leading initiatives for fairness and equality and justice for everyone.

Goldberg also quotes Garvin:

As a profession, we’re largely made up of women. ... There are a bunch of men sitting in an office right now telling us that we don’t deserve anything better. 

Oh how I LOVE that quote, not least because it evinces a feminist consciousness.  In the wake of Trump’s election, Garvin added, women are standing up to say: 

No. We’re equal here.

I sure hope Garvin is right that the sentiment and movement are as widespread as she suggests--and as Goldberg implies.  If this is accurate, liberal elites--including feminists--will have to give Craig, Garvin and so many more like them their due.  (Indeed, teacher strikes may be in the works in the equally "red" states of Oklahoma and Kentucky, too).  That will challenge deeply entrenched stereotypes about folks from this region (read more here and here), which will in turn serve all of us quite well.  

 

By the way, the strike succeeded, with the teachers getting what they held out for.  You can find more exciting coverage of the West Virginia teachers strike herehere and here.  And don't miss this by WVU Law Professor and education law expert, Joshua Weishart.  

 

The question that all of this leaves me with is this:  What can the WV teachers strike teach us about how to build and sustain cross-class coalitions, including among whites?  How can these intra-racial coalitions interface with cross-race coalitions for even stronger pacts among progressives? And what role will gender play in that coalition building?  

 

Other hopeful news of change in relation to women and the national political landscape is herehere and here.  

 

March 4, 2016

Outcome of FBI fight with Apple will affect your privacy

Cross-posted from the Sacramento Bee.

The legal dispute between the FBI and Apple over a locked iPhone is clouded in technical details that are hard for many to understand, an unclear area of law, and a terrible tragedy in San Bernardino that provokes unease and fear.

To make matters worse, the FBI and Apple are engaged in a very public battle using open letters, blog posts and hearings before Congress with terms like patriotism, marketability and backdoors.

The outcome of the case will affect everyone's ability to keep their personal information safe on their smartphones and all their electronic devices. And it will test what limits exist on the government's ability to force unwilling and innocent third parties to help it investigate crime.

A federal judge has issued an order forcing Apple to help the FBI "unlock" the iPhone used by Syed Farook, who with his wife Tashfeen Malik, shot and killed 14 people and seriously wounded 22 in the December attack in San Bernardino.

The issue is not whether Apple should help the government in its criminal investigations; the Cupertino-based company has assisted the government many times in the past, and even in this particular investigation. Instead, Apple objects to the order issued by the judge because of the unusual nature of the request.

The government is asking Apple to create something that does not now exist: a custom-built version of Apple's operating system that would sidestep security features on the iPhone.

Without Apple's assistance, the FBI claims that it is unable to access information that exists only in the phone itself. In addition, because the iPhone would not accept this customized software update without Apple's digital signature - which would otherwise vouch for the software's trustworthiness - the court order compels Apple to do this, too.

How does this affect you? If Apple is forced to create the means to hack into its own products, the issue does not end with this case. As FBI Director James Comey confirmed in his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, there are other phones that the government would like Apple to unlock.

Local police departments are also eager to seek similar orders from Apple if it loses the San Bernardino case. Indeed, the prospect of forcing Apple to create a permanent in-house hacking department for police purposes was one of the reasons a federal magistrate judge in New York on Monday denied the government's request to compel Apple to unlock an iPhone in a different criminal case involving a drug investigation.

Once Apple creates the means to bypass the security features it has created to ensure the security of the information on its phones, that software will be prized not only by law enforcement officials, but also by organized crime rings, identity thieves and foreign intelligence agencies. That's where all of our interests come in.

As the U.S. Supreme Court described them recently, smartphones could easily be described as "cameras, video players, rolodexes, calendars, tape recorders, libraries, diaries, albums, televisions, maps or newspapers" - all at the same time.

That leads to the second issue: the extent to which the government can force an innocent third party to create something for law enforcement purposes.

In the San Bernardino case, the government relied upon the All Writs Act of 1789, a federal law intended to provide courts with the power to issue orders to carry out their duties. The act allows a court to issue orders that are "necessary or appropriate" when "agreeable to the usages and principles of law." No one is quite sure what the outer limits of the act may be, but the Apple case is testing those limits.

Does this include the power to force Apple to create an iPhone hack?

Comey, the FBI director, argues that the San Bernardino tragedy demands it. The problem is that we don't think of law enforcement power simply in terms of its objectives or the gravity of the crime in question. In our legal system, we take the reasonability of the means into account. If Apple is compelled to do this in a terrorism investigation, must it also do so in a drug case? A prostitution case? A delinquent property tax case? What the government seeks, in the words of one friend-of-the-court brief filed by a group of technology companies Thursday, is a demand "unbound by legal limits."

The extraordinary law enforcement means of today, if left unchecked, become the routine methods of tomorrow. And if the government is permitted to compel a technology company to create deliberate vulnerabilities in a phone today, very soon it may apply that power to the growing Internet of Things: the world of Internet-connected "smart" thermostats, televisions, toothbrushes and even Barbie dolls.

Apple's loss may mean that the FBI could one day force a company to deliver malicious security updates to one of the many smart devices you will own. These are products of convenience, not general consent to government surveillance. Do we want this case to pave the way for routine compulsion of private companies to watch us through our connected devices?

We should expect that the FBI and every other law enforcement agency would want to try every means necessary to prevent and investigate crime. But when those means exact a heavy cost upon our information security and privacy, we've struck the wrong bargain.

 

January 16, 2016

Does Ted Cruz's Conditional Citizenship Affect the "Natural Born Citizen" Analysis?

Cross-posted from PrawfsBlawg.

I have previously written that Senator Ted Cruz is a natural born citizen, eligible to the presidency, because he was a citizen at birth.  Though born in Canada and having a father of Cuban heritage, his mother was a U.S. citizen; the Immigration and Nationality Act also made him one under the circumstances.  Neal Katyal and Paul Clement, Michael Ramsey, Randy Barnett, and many others, persuasively argue (and this is a paraphrase) that if Congress makes a person a full member of the U.S. political community at birth, that person is a natural born citizen.  (See also classic Charles Gordon article here).  In Wong Kim Ark in 1898, the Supreme Court, quoting a leading treatise, stated: "Natural-born British subject' means a British subject who has become a British subject at the moment of his birth." 169 U.S. 649, 657 (1898) (italics in original). 

There is a catch, though, that has apparently not been addressed.  Under the law in effect in 1970, when Cruz was born, a child born abroad to two U.S. citizen parents was generally an unconditional U.S. citizen.  However, a person like Senator Cruz with a single USC parent had only contingent citizenship, and would automatically lose U.S. citizenship and nationality unless she that child spent five years in the United States between the ages of 14 and 28.  In Rogers v. Bellei, 401 U.S. 815 (1971), the Court, 5-4, upheld the citizenship termination provision.  Senator Cruz's citizenship was perfected in 1978, when Congress eliminated the retention requirement.  But when he was born, Rogers v. Bellei explained, Congress granted children in his situation "presumptive," "conditional" citizenship, not "absolute," "full" citizenship, because Congress had a "legitimate concern" that non-citizen parentage coupled with foreign birth raised questions of "divided loyalty" and "primary allegiance" which should be resolved by future U.S. residence. 

The case remains strong that Congress has the power to make children of one or two U.S. citizen parents full members of the political community at birth, even if born overseas.  Therefore if Senator Cruz had been born in 1980, he would, fairly clearly, be a natural born citizen.  But there is wide agreement that a person either is, or is not, a natural born citizen at the moment of birth; automatic loss of citizenship based on future circumstances is in tension with this.  Congress granted Senator Cruz a status that did not guarantee that he would even be allowed into the country after age 23, because they did not fully trust people like him.  Focusing on the conditional nature of Senator Cruz's status makes it less clear than it was that Congress either intended to make children with one U.S. citizen parent full and equal members of the political community, or exercised its authority to do so.  I would love to hear what other people think.

Update: My intellectual heroes Jack Balkin and Akhil Amar also discuss the issue. Prof. Balkin and Prof. Amar each recently gave wonderful lectures at UC Davis Law.

November 25, 2014

Immigration in the News

Cross-posted from the Dean's Blog.

President Obama's recent announcement that he would take executive action on immigration reform set off a frenzy of media coverage of immigration issues, and I'm proud to say that many reporters turned to King Hall faculty for information and commentary. 


Faculty and students gathered at King Hall to watch the President's televised address.

In the past few days, I've spoken on immigration issues with KXTV, the Sacramento Bee, Impacto Latin News, National Public Radio, PolitiFact.com, KCRA-3, and Capital Public Radio, and also published an op-ed in "Room for Debate" on  the New York Times website. Professor Jack Chin has also been very active, commenting for KCRA-3 and Yahoo! News, and it was especially nice to see Jack and Professor Leticia Saucedo on another KCRA-3 report that included live shots of the emotional reaction from UC Davis students to President Obama's actions.

Meanwhile, University of California President Janet Napolitano announced on November 21 that UC Davis School of Law will host an exciting new pilot program that will expand legal services available to undocumented students at UC campuses without law schools: UC Merced, UC San Francisco, UC Santa Cruz, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego and UC Riverside. The program, one of the first of its kind in the country, will operate out of the UC Davis School of Law Immigration Law Clinic, offering our students the opportunity to represent clients in immigration court and before immigration agencies under the direction of staff attorneys.

Our faculty has a long tradition of active engagement in the most pressing legal issues of our time.  It's great to see that continuing with regard to immigration reform.

January 3, 2014

Some Political and Constitutional Questions Raised by Tim Draper’s “Six Californias” Plan to Split Up California

Cross-posted from Justia's Verdict.


Silicon Valley billionaire investor Tim Draper recently unveiled a plan to divide up California into six separate states because, in his view, "California's diverse population and economies [have] rendered the state nearly ungovernable." In the space below, I begin to identify some of the political and constitutional hurdles this proposal faces. Because the topic is vast and complicated, in today's column I can do no more than spot and preliminarily analyze some of the major issues; if and when the proposed measure successfully moves through various stages of the political process, I shall likely offer a more detailed analysis of many of these questions.

A Summary of Mr. Draper's "Six Californias" Proposal

Mr. Draper has drafted and submitted to the California Attorney General an initiative measure that would, if it qualifies for the ballot and is then enacted by the State's voters, amend the California constitution and statutes to provide for the creation of six separate states out of what currently makes up the Golden State. The six new states the measure creates are: the State of Jefferson (consisting roughly of the rural counties north of the Sacramento area all the way to the Oregon border); the State of Northern California (consisting roughly of an area from Marin and Sonoma Counties on the Pacific Coast, extending eastward through the Napa and Sacramento regions, and to the northern Sierra mountains all the way to Nevada); the State of Central California (consisting primarily of the agriculture-based Central Valley and the middle part of the Sierra mountain range); the State of Silicon Valley (consisting generally of the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose metropolitan region, extending South to the Monterey/Carmel area); the State of West California (consisting primarily of the Los Angeles region North to the Santa Barbara area); and the state of South California (consisting generally of San Diego, Orange and Riverside Counties).

The proposed lines dividing each of the six new states are provisional; under Draper's proposal, over the next few years, any county that adjoins any of the proposed states can choose to become part of that contiguous state, provided that the counties that are provisionally in that neighboring state also agree to add such a county. On January 1, 2018, the Governor of California is to certify to Congress that California has consented to the creation of six separate states that are defined along the lines described above-subject to any modification that has occurred because some counties have successfully attempted to join contiguous proposed states-and to ask Congress to approve the creation of these six new states.

Draper's initiative also has a provision appointing the "official proponent" of the measure (presumably himself) as an "agent of the State of California" for purposes of defending the initiative measure against legal challenge (presumably in federal, as well as state, court). That provision gives the official proponent the power to "supervise" any legal defense provided by the Attorney General, and the power to hire, at public expense, outside counsel who will then be made "Special Deputy Attorney General," to defend the measure if the proponent, in his "sole determination," feels that the Attorney General is "not providing an adequate defense."

On its face, the plan sounds far-fetched; indeed, it may be tempting to treat this proposal as one of the hundreds of initiative ideas in California that never go anywhere. But to do so would be to ignore the fact that Draper has indicated that he will provide whatever resources are needed to gather the signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot. And with his money, stature, and connections, Draper is likely to be able to succeed in at least getting the measure in front of the state's voters.

What Happens After the Measure Qualifies: Political Hurdles in California

Let us assume that Mr. Draper's measure is put before the voters. It would then, of course, face political as well as legal hurdles. As a political matter, it would have to win support both in California, and in Washington DC, because the creation of new states requires, under Article IV of the federal Constitution, the consent both of the legislatures of the involved states and of Congress. As to the state electorate, while it may be true that California (like the nation and like many other states) has endured problems in self-governance over the last decade-plus, whether Californians are ready to make such a radical change is far from clear. There is, to be sure, tension between different parts of California-the communities that make up the large and densely populated metropolitan areas on or near the coast have very different demographic, economic, cultural, and political characters than do the smaller communities located in the more rural areas to the East and Far North of the State. And there are rivalries between the Bay Area/Silicon Valley region, on the one hand, and the sprawling Southern California, Los Angeles-based, region on the other.

But there are also important centripetal forces at work here, forces that might be highlighted by some of the specific state lines that Draper proposes. Even though Draper's proposal allows for some tinkering with the boundaries pursuant to each county's authority to attempt to opt in to contiguous states, his provisional lines are an important starting point that will greatly influence voters throughout the state who have to approve the measure before any tinkering might begin. (And remember that a county can move only to a contiguous state-not to any of the six it might like best-and only if the counties in the contiguous state agree, which is far from guaranteed.) Although Mr. Draper has posited publicly that all six new states would prosper (presumably more than each of these regions does today) once they are freed from the currently unworkable yoke of California government, could the Central Valley and rural Northern counties really make do without state tax revenue that comes from the coastal and Sacramento areas? Would the new states of Jefferson and Central California have nearly the money they need to educate their children, or to maintain their infrastructures? (There is only one University of California campus - the promising but still very young UC Merced - and a few Cal State campuses located in these two new proposed states). Would relatively wealthy Marin County want to subsidize the Sierra communities of Placer and Nevada counties more or less all by itself, without the help of the rest of the Bay Area or the LA or San Diego regions? Does the Bay Area really want to let go of all the entertainment resources of the LA region? And does SoCal really want to give up all of the natural, cultural and educational resources associated with the North? And so forth.

Political Hurdles in DC

But let us imagine that a majority of Californians want to carve the state up, more or less along the lines that Draper offers. What about Congressional approval? There are plenty of political hurdles there too. Indeed, there at least two axes on which one might imagine opposition in Congress-interstate federalism and partisan posturing. As to interstate federalism, some states (and their representatives in DC) might be reluctant to reduce their current relative voice in the federal government, a consequence that would result from increasing California's share in the Senate from 2% (two out of 100) to 11% (12 out of 110, because six states would mean 12 Senators under the federal Constitution's command that the "Senate shall be composed of two Senators from each State.") Getting low-population states-that currently enjoy the fact that they have equal say with more populous states in the Senate-to effectively dilute their share of congressional ownership might be difficult.

On the other hand, some members of Congress may be moved, when considering a measure like Draper's, more by political-party considerations than by the clout their state wields in DC. Under the provisional lines Draper proposes, of the 12 Senators who would come from the six Californias, we could expect four (from Silicon Valley and West California) to consistently be Democrats, and four (from Jefferson and Central California) to lean Republican, with the other four (from Northern California and South California) harder to predict. But we could have a situation in which California moves from its current position of consistently producing two Democrat and zero Republican Senators (a net plus-two for the Democratic Party) to a situation in which the Californias could produce as few as four or five Democrats and as many as seven or eight Republicans (resulting in a net minus-two or even minus-four for the Democratic Party.) If the Democrats retain control of the U.S. Senate in 2018 (when Draper's proposal would be sent to DC), or if the President in 2018 is a Democrat, then Draper's measure might face partisan opposition in the Senate or in the White House (which has the power to veto any such measure), And all of that is to say nothing about how the creation of six Californias might affect the electoral college and partisan presidential politics, an extremely complicated question in its own right.

It's hard to know how any of these forces in DC might play out. Some analysts have argued that partisan considerations, more than other factors, have driven earlier episodes in American history in which new states have been added. If that was, and remains, true (a big "if"), perhaps some of the small states (that like being overrepresented in the Senate) tend also to be Republican states (that would like to take away the Democratic Party advantage in U.S. Senators from California.) And maybe some small states might think that they will share some rural, agriculture-based attitudes with at least two and maybe three of the newly created six Californias-attitudes that tend not to be currently reflected in the two Senators whom California currently sends to DC (because these two Senators are understandably influenced more by the coastal regions of California, where voters are concentrated.) Or perhaps federal Representatives and Senators from other states will be risk-averse, and simply not want to take a chance of increasing California's clout in federal processes (especially because all of the six new Californias might, for some time, continue to be tied to each other economically and culturally). In this regard, it bears noting that no new states have been added to the United States in over 50 years, and that no new state has been created out of an existing state for more than 150 years (when West Virginia was created out of territory wholly located in Virginia.)

Several Constitutional Issues Implicated by Draper's Proposal

Since space is short, I shall simply list four kinds of constitutional questions implicated by Draper's plan; detailed analysis of these, and other, constitutional questions must await another time.

  1.  Can the people of a State validly authorize the creation of a new state by popular initiative? Article IV, Section 3, of the federal Constitution requires the "consent" of the "legislature" of each state whose territory is affected by a proposal to create new states. Can the people act directly as a "legislature" for these purposes, or do the elected folks in Sacramento have to sign on?
  2. Even if the people can constitute the "legislature" of the state for these purposes, would enactment of Draper's proposal constitute "consent" when the precise boundaries of the six new Californias are not definitively before the voters when they vote? Draper's proposal makes clear that its enactment is intended to constitute Article IV "consent" to the creation of six new states, but can that consent be effective when the voters have no way of knowing what the new states will actually look like until the county opt-in process is completed? In other words, might the power Draper's proposal gives to counties to modify the provisional state lines constitute an impermissible delegation of the state legislature's authority to consent to the actual creation of the new states?
  3. Can new states be validly created out of territories located entirely within existing states? Founding history and past practice (especially the additions of Kentucky and West Virginia) would suggest that the answer to this is clearly yes, but some scholars (most elaborately Michael Paulsen) have pointed out that Article IV's text and punctuation could easily be read to mean that while new states can be formed out of the territory formerly belonging to two or more states, a single state cannot be carved up into multiple ones.
  4. Would the part of Draper's proposal authorizing Draper as an "agent of the State of California" for purposes of defending the measure in Court survive the standing analysis in the Supreme Court's Hollingsworth v. Perry case last year, in which the Court rejected the claim of standing by official proponents of Proposition 8 (California's initiative ban on same-sex marriage) to defend that measure in federal court? And how does the authorization provision in Draper's proposal square with Article II, section 12, of the California constitution, which provides that "[n]o amendment to the Constitution . . . by the Legislature or by initiative, that names any individual to hold any office. . . may have effect."

I recognize, of course, that all of these constitutional questions are complicated, and that some might be avoided by federal courts under the so-called "political question" doctrine. But each is worthy of further exploration, and many of them might influence (or at least be cited by) members of Congress or others who are inclined against the measure. I'll write more on these constitutional questions if Draper's proposal turns out to have legs.

February 14, 2012

The Devastating Disconnect between Rich and Poor

The Occupy Wall Street movement has drawn national attention to economic inequality, and several new studies and a book just published also invite us to consider the acuteness of this inequality, as well as its causes and/or consequences.   These publications all highlight education, to one degree or another, as a key indicator of class and class mobility.

The New York TimesNPR and the Los Angeles Times all ran features this week on Charles Murray's new book, Coming Apart:  The State of White America, 1960-2010.  Murray, labeled "a libertarian social scientist" by NPR (and worse things by other liberal pundits), is a controversial figure due in large part to his co-authorship of The Bell Curve.  In that 1994 book, Murray described  a "cognitive elite" who, he argued, get ahead in large part because of their superior IQs.  The controversy was understandable given his assertion that whites tend to have higher IQs than African Americans and some other minorities.

I want to focus here, however, on some of the less controversial information featured in Coming Apart. By this, I mean to steer clear of the book's commentary on values and related suggestions for remedying the problem.  (I do, however, recommend Paul Krugman's op-ed and Nicholas Confessore's review, both of which offer incisive observations regarding those aspects of the book).  Also, to be clear, I have yet to read the book and so rely here on characterizations from media reports.

Murray asserts that class divides us more than race or ethnicity.  Having expressed my desire to avoid controversy, I acknowledge that this may be seen as a controversial assertion if it is read as claiming that we are in a post-racial era.  Nevertheless,  less controversial sociologists such as UC Berkeley's Claude Fischer and Oberlin's Greggor Mattson made similar assertions in their 2009 article in the Annual Review of Sociology, "Is America Fragmenting?"  Plus, the burgeoning significance of class is a common theme among recent studies.  I do not believe we are in a post-racial era, but I am deeply concerned about the ways in which class divides and the consequences of those divisions.

To continue on the sensitive topic of race for a moment, I note that Murray explains his focus on class divisions among whites in order "to concentrate the minds of my readers" whose "reflexive response" to the discussion of the various social problems discussed in the book might be to assume that these problems exist only within minority communities.  Murray says he wishes to make the point that these are white problems, too.  (I have made a similar argument in asserting that if we want to understand how severe a handicap class can be, we might best look at whites--even white men--those privileged on the basis of race and gender yet struggling for economic security and upward mobility). The final chapter of Murray's book apparently shows how the impact of this class divide  among whites holds true across other racial and ethnic groups.

Murray emphasizes differences between what he calls the "new upper middle class" and the working class.  The way Murray slices and dices class, the former are 20% of white adults, and the latter constitute 30%.  The media coverage I have consumed does not indicate the income levels associated with these groups, nor does it indicate clearly whether Murray is focusing on the top and bottom segments of the white adult population or whether there might be a group below this "working class," such as the 15% or so of Americans living in poverty, or a group above the upper middle class, i.e., the very rich, the 1%.

Murray's depiction of these two groups focuses on educational, cultural and lifestyle differences between them.  (Read more here and here on the link between the cultural  and the material in relation to class).  Here is an illustrative quote from the NPR story:

Over the past 50 years the two groups have branched away from each other culturally and geographically. The "educated class," Murray tells NPR's Robert Siegel, has developed distinctive tastes and preferences in a way that is new in America, evinced in everything from the alcohol they drink and the cars they buy to how they raise their children and take care of themselves physically.

Added to that, spatial segregation has resulted in "ZIP codes that have levels of affluence and education that are so much higher than the rest of the population that they constitute a different kind of world," he says.

The economic and social balkanization is potentially very pernicious.

Murray asserts that even going back to 1923, an era of "great social and religious division," successful people tended to have working-or middle-class roots.   They thus had some shared experiences.  Now, however, many decision makers are "second or third generation affluent," leaving them completely out of touch with the working class experience.

"The people who run the country have enormous influence over the culture, politics, and the economics of the country. And increasingly, they haven't a clue about how most of America lives. They have never experienced it."

Murray contrasts the present situation with Eisenhower's 1952 cabinet, sometimes referred to as "nine millionaires and a plumber."  Murray points out that those millionaires were mostly the sons of farmers and merchants and thus had not grown up in affluence.  Compared to President Obama's cabinet, which is highly diverse in terms of gender, race and ethnicity, Eisenhower's cabinet reflected greater socioeconomic diversity.  (I have written about this here).

I have noted other contexts in which we see this evidence of this disconnect and its harms.  One is in the judiciary, as expressed by Judge Alex Kozinski in his 2010 dissent in Pineda-Moreno:

There’s been much talk about diversity on the bench, but there’s one kind of diversity that doesn’t exist: No truly poor people are appointed as federal judges, or as state judges for that matter. Judges, regardless of race, ethnicity or sex, are selected from the class of people who don’t live in trailers or urban ghettos. The everyday problems of people who live in poverty are not close to our hearts and minds because that’s not how we and our friends live.

617 F.3d 1120, 1123 (9th Cir. 2010).

Another context in which we see evidence of upper middle class obliviousness to the working class (and to their own class privilege) is in elite higher education admissions.  A prominent recent study shows that admissions officers tend to hold against applicants their high school work experiences, labeling working students as "careerist."  Instead, admissions officers look for the sort of enrichment activities, e.g., international travel, music and arts training, associated with affluence. This suggests to me that admissions officers at posh colleges and universities know nothing about and therefore have no appreciation for the working class experience.  Needless to say, those admissions officers are also aggravating the class divide which Murray describes because they exclude those who could bring much needed socio-economic diversity to these career-making institutions.

The greater controversy associated with Murray's book is that he makes culture (a euphemism for laziness, lack of discipline) a culprit in the decline of the working class, while ignoring structural changes that have undermined their economic stability.  On this point, I tend to agree with Frederick Lynch, who reviews the book for the Los Angeles Times.  Lynch points out that Murray's focus on culture obscures something else:  "The destruction of values, economic sectors and entire occupational classes by automation and outsourcing."

But those aspects of globalization aren't all that Murray overlooks, as Lynch observes:

Murray inexplicably ignores a long line of studies showing that 21st century elites are post-American "citizens of the world" and that they're too busily involved with building a new global economy to know — or care about — what happens to less fortunate people in their own or others' nation-states.

The disconnect between rich and poor is not grounded merely in difference, it is grounded in disinterest at best, disdain at worst.

On the heels of this burst of media attention to Murray's book comes a story in Friday's New York Times headlined, "Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say."  In it,  Sabrina Tavernise reports on several recent studies which document and analyze burgeoning education inequality between upper and lower  classes--and also how these inequalities transcend race and ethnicity.  Tavernise describes how the "gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially" in recent decades, while the gap between white and black achievement has narrowed during the same period.  She discusses a number of studies by researchers at Stanford, Michigan, Chicago, UCLA, and the University of Pennsylvania, among others.

One study, forthcoming in Demography, found that "in 1972, Americans at the upper end of the income spectrum were spending five times as much per child as low-income families" but that gap had widened to nine times as much in 2007.  The comment of one author of that study, Frank Furstenburg, suggests that the divide is cultural as well as material: “The pattern of privileged families today is intensive cultivation.”  (I am reminded of the distinction that Joan Williams describes in her 2010 book between parenting styles of the affluent and the working class, the former fostering self-actualization and the latter self-discipline).

The gap between rich and poor is also reflected in college completion rates.  A University of Michigan study considered two cohorts of students.  Students in the first were born between 1961 and 1964, and students in the other were born between 1979 and 1982.  Among upper income students, college completion rates were high for both generations, but they increased significantly over time.  About a third of the upper income students in the first cohort completed college, but more than half of the latter cohort did so.  Among low-income students, however, the rates of college completion were much, much lower--at 5% for the earlier cohort, 9% for the latter.

Most studies that Tavernise discusses suggest that lower-income children and youth are held back educationally by a combination of the fiscal and cultural consequences of being lower income.

One thing increasingly clear from our nation's newfound attention to class divisions is that the divide is grounded more in educational disparities than in any other single factor, e.g., income, parental occupation.   Educational access is thus critical to class migration--to access to the rarefied upper middle class.  Yet other studies remind us that--contrary to assertions like that of Murray that the cognitive elite get ahead because of their high IQs--"wealth, race and schooling are more important to the inheritance of economic status, but IQ is not a major contributor."  (Bowles & Gintis 2002).  Other studies tell us that income is a better predictor of college completion than are test scores.

These studies highlight another cost of the class divide: precious human capital.  And that loss should concern every American in this highly competitive, global economy.

Here's a provocative piece about the class divide in the particular context of fine dining--the affluent diners on one side of the kitchen door, the working class kitchen staff on the other.  It also features the story of restauranteur Barbara Lynch's class migration; she grew up the daughter of a taxi driver.

Cross-posted to ClassCrits and SALTLaw Blog.

June 15, 2011

Under-educated State Legislatures? (Part I): Do They Explain Funding Cuts to Higher Education

The Chronicle of Higher Education this week released data summarizing the tertiary education (or lack thereof) of state legislators across the country.  An interactive map is available here, permitting you to see the percentage of lawmakers in each state who attended college, completed college, and/or completed a graduate or professional degree.  The map also tracks whether lawmakers attended public schools or private ones, and it features some data about whether they went to college within their state or outside it.

The big headline is that about 75% of all state lawmakers have four-year college degrees, compared to 94% of those serving in the U.S. Congress.  The percentage of state legislators with such a degree varies considerably by state, however, from a high of 89.9% in California to a low of 53.4% in New Hampshire (where the Chronicle acknowledges it had greatest difficulty verifying educational attainment of the numerous legislators, who serve part time for just $100/year!).  South Carolina leads states in percentage of lawmakers who attended some college but did not receive degrees (97.7%), while Arkansas makes the poorest showing on this metric, with only 67% of its legislators having completed any college at all.  Stated another way, that means that a full third of Arkansas’s lawmakers have only a high school diploma.

The New York Times reports that the Chronicle’s editor, Jeffrey J. Selingo, explained that the publication decided to gather the data “after hearing complaints from college administrators that they were losing state aid and scholarship money because legislators had never been to college themselves and did not understand higher education.”  What they found, however, is that “even in statehouses with an abundance of college degrees, ‘that doesn’t necessarily translate into higher support for higher institutions.’”

While this Chronicle data may not easily explain recent and often precipitous drops in public funding for higher education, they are interesting for so many reasons—not least because they can provide insights about class, budgeting priorities and law-making.  The significance of state-controlled spending in comparison to federal spending has increased dramatically in this era of devolution, so we should care more about the decisions being made by state legislatures—and about the profiles of those who are making them.  Over the course of several posts, I am going to discuss a few reasons why critical class scholars should be interested in the Chronicle’s  findings.

First, education level is often considered the single best proxy for class.  In particular, having earned at least a bachelor’s degree is generally seen as the broad and fuzzy dividing line between the upper/professional/managerial class on the one hand, and the lower middle class/working class on the other.  To the extent that more than a handful of legislators in a given state do not have college degrees, then, critical masses of lawmakers of different classes are serving together.  We well-educated folks might initially shudder that so few legislators have college degrees, especially in states where the less educated comprise a significant minority.  But if a critical mass of working-class folks are present in statehouses, this is surely a good thing in the sense that it makes these legislatures more truly diverse and representative of the state’s populace.   After all, just about 28% of U.S. residents have a bachelor’s degree or better, which means that people without four-year degrees represent a much larger faction of each and every state’s population than do those with college degrees.  So, if each state’s better educated lawmakers must rub elbows, negotiate and compromise with some less-educated colleagues—colleagues who in many instances are also sure to be less affluent—this cannot be all bad. It seems more likely that a range of views and life experiences are represented.   Indeed, this related Chronicle story features an interview with Maine lawmaker, Emily Ann Cain, a part-time administrator at the University of Maine who holds a Masters from Harvard.  Cain explains the opportunity represented by such cross-class interaction:

 Ms. Cain, 30, says her background gives her insight into a world too often misunderstood by other legislators. … ‘The stereotype is that faculty members are aloof, ivory-tower people who work on problems that don't concern average people in Maine,' she says.

But she doesn't have a bias against representatives without degrees. In fact, she says, state legislatures ought to comprise members with a wide array of backgrounds—small-business owners, millworkers, union leaders—including people from fields or career paths that may not require education beyond high school.

Ms. Cain provided an example of her efforts to bridge the divide between her legislative colleagues and her academic ones:  Last year, when a Maine legislator was pushing for legislation to eliminate gender studies programs from public universities, she changed his mind by sending him information on the importance of these programs.  Ms. Cain calls for legislators with expertise in education to reach out to "education skeptics."

A number of state legislators interviewed for the same piece reiterate the value of diversity of viewpoints and experiences.  But then, it would not be politic for well-educated legislators to suggest that their less educated colleagues add no value, which would highlight the ivory tower phenomenon.  Perhaps more persuasive for intellectuals are the views of four highly educated academic types interviewed for this related Chronicle story.  Most acknowledge that a college degree is hardly indispensable for serving a legislature and that many skills learned outside college contribute to lawmakers’ effectiveness.

In future posts, I plan to discuss elitism in education as related to state law-makers; rural-urban differences and education levels among state legislatures; and some unanswered questions these data raise.

Cross-posted to ClassCrits and SALTLaw.Blog.

June 12, 2011

Downsides to Class Privilege? Hardly a Trend

Two recent news reports from very different parts of the world shared this theme: Affluence can have its drawbacks.

The first story was Michael Wines, “Execution in a Killing that Fanned Class Rancor,” which reports the execution of the son of an affluent Chinese businessman and military official. The son, Yoa Jiaxin, stabbed to death a “peasant” woman last fall. Jiaxin had struck the woman, who was cycling, with his vehicle, but she suffered only minor injuries. When Jiaxin realized that she was memorizing his license plate number, however, he attacked her with a knife.

Wines provides some class context for what happened next:

The crime had fanned deep public resentment against the “fu er dai,” the “rich second generation” of privileged families who are widely believed to commit misdeeds with impunity because of their wealth or connections.

Jiaxin later said that he “feared the woman, a poor peasant, would ‘be hard to deal with’ should she seek compensation for her injuries.”

But the victim’s husband fought back, refusing to accept the $6,900 a court ordered in compensation, “calling it ‘money stained with blood.’ He pledged to delay [his wife’s] burial until her killer was executed. A Shanghai lawyer later donated 540,000 renminbi, about $83,300, to her survivors after pledging to pay one renminbi for each message sent to the husband over Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter.”

Of course, these events, which some are calling “Internet-style mob rule,” raise serious concerns about the rule of law in China. One well-known blogger went as far as to invoke the Cultural Revolution, asserting that it was started in response to “this kind of leftist behavior.”

The second story illustrating the negative consequences of being a silver-spoon kid is more uplifting.  That's because the privileged kid in question, Chris Romer, son of former three-term Colorado governor Roy Romer, lost only a political race and not his life. Kirk Johnson reported this week on Michael B. Hancock’s victory over Romer in the Denver mayoral race. The story’s headline, "Message of Survival Won Denver Race for Mayor," suggests the role of class in the election’s outcome.  Here’s an excerpt detailing Hancock's background:

In running for mayor of Denver, a position he won overwhelmingly on Tuesday, Mr. Hancock told a family story so powerful, almost Dickensian in its poverty and hope — he and his twin sister were the youngest of 10 children raised by a single mother in Denver, part of that time in public housing — that the theme of adversity overcome became the heart of the campaign.

“We’ve come from difficult situations, we’ve faced serious challenges, but yet we’re still here,” said Mr. Hancock, 41, in an interview on Wednesday, talking about his seven surviving siblings, all of whom, he said, got involved as volunteers on his behalf, along with their mother, Scharlyne Hancock, 72, who made calls to voters for weeks.

Mr. Hancock will become Denver’s second African-American mayor (the first was Wellington Webb, elected in 1991), but supporters of both Hancock and Romer suggest that class played a greater role than race in the election’s outcome.  Johnson writes:

[B]ecause Mr. Romer and Mr. Hancock had few policy disagreements, supporters in both camps said the race inevitably turned on style, likeability and the power of a compelling story.

* * *

So, the Chinese story smacks of class warfare, while the  Denver story may simply affirm our attachment to the American Dream, rags-to-riches storyline.  Aspects of both stories are heartening in that working class and poor folks found access to power of different sorts.  I daresay, however, that “affluence as liability” is hardly a trend.  Nor do stories like Hancock’s election or “justice” for the Chinese peasant’s family suggest any real mitigation of the day-to-day hardship of deprivation and insecurity endured by the world’s working class and poor.

Cross-posted to SALTLaw.blog and ClassCrits.

May 23, 2011

False Dichotomies of Class (Part II): Material versus Cultural

I responded last month to Martha McCluskey’s ClassCrits post, “Class as a Category of Vulnerability and Inequality.” In that initial response, I asserted that progressives need not choose between advocating mobility (the upward variety!) and advocating mobilization (collective action, labor rights) when it comes to class. I called the tension between mobilization and advocating class mobility a false dichotomy. This post takes up another issue that arose from the initial conversation: is class material or is it cultural? More precisely, will attending too much to the cultural aspects of class cause us to lose sight of its material aspects and consequences?

Of course, class has both material and cultural components—no doubt one of the reasons we increasingly refer to it as “socioeconomic status” or “SES.” I believe we must take both seriously in our efforts to empower the working class and poor. As with my prior post, I take the white working class as my starting point for several reasons. One is that I don’t hear socially conscious progressives pushing for a bifurcation that separates the material from the cultural with respect to minority groups. The other is that focusing on working class and poor whites permits us to see class more clearly. If we are looking at the group which enjoys the greatest racial privilege, we will not be tempted to collapse the class problem into the racism problem. We thus have a distinct opportunity to see just how powerful class disadvantage is. This tack it is not intended to discount the ways in which racial disadvantage exacerbates class disadvantage.

Thinking about class as culture implicates identity, and some have challenged class as a basis for identity, especially among “lower classes.” John Guillory wrote in 1993:

Acknowledging the existence of admirable and even heroic elements of working-class culture, the affirmation of lower-class identity is hardly compatible with a program for the abolition of want.

First, note that even Guillory implicitly links culture (“lower-class identity”) to the material (“abolition of want”). Second, while Guillory’s assertion may be somewhat true regarding those most materially deprived—the poorest among us—it overlooks the fact that many working-class whites are proud of that status. Jim Webb has observed, for example, that rednecks “don’t particularly care what others think of them. To them, the joke has always been on those who utter the insult.” If they suddenly got rich, they would not necessarily shed their cultural trappings. Nor would they shrug off all of the socialization and habits of their childhood and youth. Consider the “Beverly Hillbillies” as a vivid (if imperfect) illustration of the point. As many scholars have observed, class is inextricably linked to consumption, and consumption implicates not only money, but also spending priorities and taste.

Significantly, scholars have observed that culture varies more along racial and ethnic lines among the “lower” classes, while culture becomes more homogeneous as you work your way up the class hierarchy. In other words, the upper classes—regardless of race or ethnicity—tend to be more culturally like each other than they are like those of their same race or ethnicity who fall below them in the class hierarchy. This, too, is evidence of the symbiotic relationship between the cultural and the material. Given the link between being lower class on the one hand and manifesting cultural differences attributable to race/ethnicity on the other, denying cultural aspects of class for working class and poor whites seems tantamount to denying their personhood. It also overlooks a whole lot of sociological literature that sees cultural and material aspects of class as entangled.

In fact, a feedback loop exists between the material and the cultural in a range of contexts. June Carbone illustrates this in relation to family types in a forthcoming article.  Education is another context in which the two are intertwined: the working class are less likely to seek higher education and may scoff at its value in part because they know (or believe) they cannot afford it; they see it as beyond their reach.  Young people from working class families are thus far less likely than the children of professionals/the managerial class to get college degrees, which contributes to the financial insecurity of the former and keeps them in the working class.

Martha McCluskey’s post about cultural and material aspects of class arose from my discussion of Joan Williams’s new book, Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter.  The book is the subject of a colloquy in the Seattle University Law Review, in which Laura Kessler suggests that Williams pays too little attention to the material aspects and consequences of class by virtue of attending too much to its cultural aspects. To this, Williams responded as part of the colloquy:

Does a focus on how class is manifested as cultural difference entail overlooking the structuralist-materialist dimensions of class? Not at all: I am a material girl. But here’s the fascinating thing. Since 1970, Republicans have adopted policies that have radically increased inequality of incomes and eviscerated the economic stability of Americans who are neither rich nor poor with those very Americans’ political support.

* * *

All this is to say that, although I am a material girl, I recognize that we do not live by bread alone. Dignity and meaning-creation are equally important. So it is possible to connect with people whose economic interests do not in sync with yours if you connect with the symbols and the values that give dignity and meaning to their lives. That’s what the Republicans have done, and I propose that Democrats follow the same path.

To be clear, acknowledging culture does not let the state off the hook. In my earlier post, I discussed the role of the state regarding the increasing immobility of the working class. The state also plays roles in relation to a conception of class that attends to culture. One such role should be to prevent discrimination. Mitu Gulati and Devon Carbado have argued that anti-discrimination law should protect the "fifth black woman," the one with dreadlocks and African garb. They have asserted that whites are not faced with her dilemma—to pass or not—but they are wrong. Whites, too, must behave and dress in certain ways in order to "pass" successfully in settings where power (and wealth!) resides, e.g., elite universities, graduate and professional schools, large law firms, corporate America, middle and upper echelons of government.

Williams’s survey of ethnographic studies of the white working class suggests that turning away from working class habits, manners, and attitudes is necessary for class migrants to, well, migrate—to ascend the class ladder. They must do this in order to succeed and thereby to enhance their material well-being. Williams reports some comments made by class migrants during her book tour, noting that “they expressed anxiety that their migration in to the elite would leave them alienated from the values they grew up with and still hold dear.” At the same time, they worried that the working-class values engrained in them would inhibit “their ability to move up” and “attain professional success.” Williams was reporting there about class migrants of color, but it is high time we acknowledge that white class migrants are similarly hamstrung.

All of this points to the wrongheadedness of trying to bifurcate the cultural and material when we think about class. Clearly, each has a significant influence on the other, and we should reject a dichotomy between the two as false.

Cross posted to SALTLaw Blog and ClassCrits.

April 3, 2011

Widening Spatial Inequality and What to Do About It

Wealth and income inequality have been getting a lot of attention in recent months--at least in the New York Times. Op-Ed columnist Bob Herbert has been especially persistent about keeping the topic on readers' radar screens; read some of his columns here, here, here, and here. Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, and Robert Frank have had a say, too. Wealth inequality was also the subject of a "Room for Debate" feature a few weeks ago.

But geographic analysis of inequality has been little examined in the mainstream media until The Economist Magazine ran a couple of stories about uneven development and spatial inequality in the March 10, 2011 issue. The first "Internal affairs: The gap between rich and poor regions widened because of the recession," analyzes various nations' spatial inequality as measured by income and GDP. This analysis shows that Britain is the nation with the widest geography-based income gap: the per capita GDP is nine times greater in central London than it is in some Welsh regions. The smallest regional spreads, on the other hand, were in Italy and Germany, where "incomes in their most affluent areas are [nevertheless] almost three times those of the poorest." The United States falls at the British end of the spectrum, coming in second for inequality across regions among the nations studied. The District of Columbia, for example, is five times as rich as Mississippi. Further, the situation has worsened in the past few years.

Between 2007 and 2009 real GDP per head in the five richest states actually rose by an average of 2%, but fell by 3% in the five poorest. Both groups outperformed the national average, a fall of more than 4%. (The biggest slumps, both by more than 10%, were in Michigan, the eighth-poorest state, and in Nevada, site of the biggest house-price crash.)

The Economist notes that this is merely a continuation of a long-standing trend, and it attributes the phenomenon, in part, to the "dependence of poorer states on manufacturing, which has suffered big job cuts over the past decade." The feature concludes that "the income gap between richer and poorer areas is likely to widen further as government-spending cuts disproportionately hurt less prosperous parts."

One of the story's big attention getters is its comparison of GDP among regions and cities of different nations.

[O]ver a quarter of regions in Britain and Italy and one-tenth of those in Germany will this year have a lower GDP per head than the municipality of Shanghai. All the American states remain richer, but Shanghai looks set to overtake Mississippi by 2015; within ten years half of all the states, including Florida, Michigan and Ohio, could have a GDP per head lower than Shanghai and Beijing.

If the comparison were at the scale of the county rather than that of the state, these Chinese cities would no doubt be shown well out-pacing our nation's persistent poverty counties.

The second Economist feature on spatial inequality, "Gaponomics," takes up the question of what should be done to respond to this problem, particularly in the context of Britain. Instead of investing in particular regions or giving tax breaks to "enterprise zones" in these downtrodden areas, The Economist offers this proposal:

[M]ake it easier for people to move. Given inherent gaps in regional productivity prospects, there is a case for boosting mobility from declining regions to prospering ones. In Britain the main problem is the fetish for home-ownership and high house prices in the south-east, partly the result of severe shortages of supply. Easing planning restrictions below the Watford Gap would be a better way of helping Britons than propping up the north.

As a ruralist, I am immediately suspicious of policies that would aggravate uneven development. Among other things, they ignore those who will remain immobile and inevitably left behind. They also ignore attachment to place as an aspect of the political economy of rural areas in particular.

This story's second proposal is far more palatable: invest in education because it results in "the single biggest reward" for the nation--even if northerners then move south with their enhanced human capital. (Regarding the latter, I am reminded of this book on the rural brain drain).

Back in the United States, a recent New York Times editorial echoes the second of these ideas in relation to New York's funding scheme for education. In "Rich District, Poor District," the editorial staff consider how two of the state's school districts will fare under the Cuomo budget: "Ilion in the economically depressed Mohawk Valley, and Syosset, a wealthy town in Long Island’s Nassau County." Needless to say, it's not a pretty picture. Here' a summary:

The cuts would scarcely affect wealthy districts that rely primarily on local taxes to support lavishly appointed schools. But they would be catastrophic for impoverished rural districts that have been starved of state aid for decades and are still reeling from cuts levied last year .... Already struggling to furnish even basic course offerings, the poorest districts would need to cannibalize themselves to keep the doors open and the lights on.

As the editors express it, the $1.1 million cut Ilion is being asked to take to its $25 million budget "would not even come to a rounding error in the state's richest districts," like Syosset, which is being asked to absorb only a $1.4 million cut to its $188 million budget. But the New York Times editors aren't just arguing that school funding should be more equitable because "it's the right thing to do," they make an argument grounded in economics: Depressed regions like that around Illion "stand[ ] little chance of attracting high-skill jobs if [their] schools are allowed to deteriorate."

Going back to The Economist articles for a moment, I noted that enhanced investment in education is one reason for the income convergence across Germany, even as spatial inequalities become more acute in other nations. The story describes "huge national and European Union funds for infrastructure, R&D and education, as well as the transfer of some manufacturing jobs from factories in the western states to the east." For some reason, Germany sees reasons to take care of its citizens where they are--not to create incentives for residents of the less affluent East to move West. I'd like to know more about those reasons because I suspect they go beyond a sentimental desire to permit people to stay where they are and the attractive orderliness of a more evenly populated. I am guessing these policies are based in part on economic calculations about the value of existing infrastructure and human capital in the historically deprived East. Better understanding those reasons might inform debates in the United States about why regional development and reducing spatial inequalities--not fueling them--makes good sense from myriad perspectives.

Some of my writings mapping the sociogeographic concept of spatial inequality onto legal conceptions of (in)equality are here, here, and here.

Cross-posted to SALTLaw.blog, ClassCrits, and Legal Ruralism.