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So the Marlyand Purple/Red Line debacle. In addition to all the more-often-explicated reason why Americans Can’t Have Nice Trains, one reason I don’t see brought up is how our ancient, arbitrary, and byzantine system of administrative subdivision creates baffling labyrinths of political economy. The Purple Line is located solely in Maryland, even though it is part of a larger system that serves DC and VA; but the latter two don’t want to pitch in first-order costs for second-order benefits, and nobody can make them. The regional authority governing the system has no ability to extract greater resources, and the same political economy under discussion so starves it of resources that it can barely keep its own shit together and is massively unpopular as a result (remember – starving government makes government bad makes government unpopular, that’s the cycle of outcomes and opinions the last few decades of increasingly conservative governances has deliberately tried to perpetuate). Meanwhile, within Maryland the Purple Line is located solely within two counties that are among the wealthier within the state so why should folks not served by the system pay? The federal government has an interest in the Purple Line but hahahah try getting something like this through Congress and anyway why should square state folk pay for coastal trains? But the logic of the project is just so strong and the constituencies for it sufficiently influential that it hobbles through only somewhat nerfed…at the expense of the entirety of a project of another transit project in a large but poorer city located solely within the same state.
This, of course, is terrible. And goes to a longtime hobbyhorse of mine, which I said really well above so I’ll just say again: our ancient, arbitrary, and byzantine system of administrative subdivision creates baffling labyrinths of political economy. There has been plenty of discussion of what the US should do to revise its federal system under conditions of godmode, and I fully endorse unicameral MMP (though not monarchy, that’s just silly, just make the Presidency a less-power, non-partisan office elected to decade-long terms and inculcate norms that generally-beloved national figures should run. Seriously, even for the limited purposes advocated therein you still have the problems of monarchy, which is total lack of desert, the randomness of birth and lineage, etc – just have folks elect a vector for national love and unity that’s still in line with American values of democracy and meritocracy. President Clooney, President Swift, President Ramos, etc etc).
But as long as we’re rewriting our entire system why leave the entire edifice of day-to-day government intact when overhauling the top layer? Especially since once you abolish the Senate the whole reason to leave “states” in place seems pretty silly.
So, here’s how we should run America:
Keep “states” (so we can keep the name of the country, after all) but have like, 8-10 of them, and make them correspond to large regions of unified culture/interest, something like Census regions or the turf covered by Circuit Courts, Federal Reserve Banks, etc, except with no regard for existing state lines. Then, get rid of counties and municipalities and replace them with metropolitan governments, that would cover whole metro areas, and ward governments, that would cover smaller, local areas. So instead of using our current example (which is admittedly one of the more egregious cases because of the unique nature of DC) let’s look at NYC instead – looking at just the NYC MSA, you’re looking at three states (none of whom have capitals proximate or part of America’s largest metro area, in which 1/15th of the entire country resides) comprising 25 counties and hundreds of municipalities, boroughs, wards, unincorporated areas, authorities, etc. Instead, you might have a “state” encompassing everything from Maine to Fredericksburg, VA, a metro generally aligning to the existing NYC metro, and then a quilt of small governments primarily responsible for purely local governments; NYC is tricky because it’s uniquely dense in the United States, but think something the size/population of SoHo, or even smaller.
This, of course, wouldn’t eliminate conflict or solve politics, but it would make lines of responsibility and questions of political economy clearer and more directly adjudicable. If you can create administrative units that largely encompass most of the people who would benefit, either directly or near-indirectly, from something like a major transit investment, and largely leave out people who wouldn’t.
Anyway, this is all politics as something approaching fan fiction but hey it’s Friday and in our real politics we just spent for-freaking-ever debating whether to control-Z national healthcare because [sic] so a little fantasy now-and-then isn’t the worst.
On an administrative note, while I’ve enjoyed the combination of Ello, tweeting a lot, and “being super busy at work,” I hereby declare the extended period of neglect of this particular space over and plan to at least semi-regular post thoughts here (though, hopefully, not at the expenses of doing other things of fun and value). I also plan on at least occasionally sending something out via Tinyletter so now might be good time of inviting me into your inbox every now and then.
The Economy In 1000* Emoji
The Key Facts
Each emoji represents one one-thousandth (0.1%) of GDP. All data from 2013 BEA NIPA tables, with the exception of estimates of federal non-defense and state & local consumption expenditure breakdowns, derived from CBPP, Mercatus, and Tax Policy Center estimates.
*Gross emojis actually total 1,334 because of imports and net foreign travel; net emoji equal 1,003 due to rounding.
Without further ado, here’s your economy:
STATE AND LOCAL
LEGEND (similar categories merged):
Sports and Recreation
Watches and Jewelry
Phones and Faxes
Gas and Fuel
Pharmaceuticals and Medical Equipment
Supplies and Inventories
Newspapers, Magazines, etc
Owner Housing and Housing Construction
Net Foreign Travel
Other Federal Services
subtraction from the total
Matt Yglesias writes about experiencing a minor panic when suspecting that his favorite bar may be on a widely-publicized list of DC’s best, then bemoans the inelasticity of overall bar supply. I think he’s confused two things.
If bars as a category are crowded, then more bars will help. And, in general, allowing the market to set the relative quantity of bars in any given neighborhood, city, urban area, etc, is probably a good thing. If people want a new bar more than a new pharmacy, there’s no reason to prohibit the former. Taxes and regulations can and should be used to account for any public health and neighborhood nuisance that a successful bar can engender.
But that’s not going to help at all if your favorite bar gets on that list. That’s because there’s an intangible, unregulateable quality of bars called coolness. It goes in a cycle, something like this:
-New bar opens, preferably in emerging neighborhood or on fringes of emerged neighborhood
-A few savvy people discover said bar and start hanging out there
-Word of mouth spreads and more people start hanging out at the bar [this is when peak cool occurs]
-Someone busts the bar wide open – major newspaper or magazine article for example.
-Bar gets crowded
-The original set of people who made the bar successful stop hanging out there
-Rinse and repeat
Note that this cycle will happen regardless of the overall number of bars in your city and neighborhood. Everyone is chasing the cool. But, by definition, the cool can’t be where everyone already is, otherwise it’s not cool. Cool is inherently positional and zero-sum, and there is a precarious balance to it – if I’m literally the only person in the bar, it’s not cool, and if the bar is packed to the gills with random party people every night, it’s not "cool" – it’s that liminal moment when there is still the thrill of knowing something others don’t, sharing an open secret, being part of something special and unique and distinct with a limited and exception set of others. You can’t force it, recreate it manually, or recover it once it’s lost.
Generally speaking, positionality is a hugely important factor in economic decision-making, one that tends to throw off a lot of models which are based on individuals making decisions in an absolute sense and don’t account for the ways that people act and consume and produce in ways deliberately designed to mimic, anti-mimic, exceed, match, or even sabotage others.
Any bar can serve good booze and have nifty decor. Humans pursue status and rank. That’s what a truly cool bar is about.