Why conservatives should care about cities
Population density is taking a beating as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Urban centers from Wuhan to New York City are hot spots for the virus, and many people argue, based on plausible intuitions, that urban crowding is to blame for its spread. Not all the evidence is in yet, and reassurances that New York could have prepared like (for instance) Seoul are, especially in the heat of the present, less persuasive to many than the mobile mortuaries humming around the city or the ongoing official use of the transit system as a homeless shelter. But cities have always faced serious challenges, and the economic and other benefits of cities are such that they have persisted for 5,000 years—even in the face of serious biothreats ranging from measles and flu to smallpox and plague.
While it remains too soon to say how big a factor urban density (as opposed to urban crowding) has been, people eager to use the crisis as an excuse to reject density should think twice. Dense cities offer capitalism’s solution to many of today’s challenges, from stagnant productivity growth to environmental degradation, in a package that conservatives should rally around.
This will require some forbearance. In recent years, cities have become associated not only with standard Democratic politics but with a resurgence of socialist activism. America’s new socialists are clustered in cities, where blunt leftist “solutions” to the nation’s policy problems are taking root. These problems include slow middle-class wage growth after one accounts for the rising costs of health care, education, and housing near (increasingly urban) good jobs, along with climate change. The Left says “late” capitalism cannot adapt—and so transformation into the first phase of “democratic socialism” is nigh. Their remedy for stagnant wages and high living costs includes union empowerment, Medicare for All, free college, and bans on construction of private housing plus universal rent control. For climate change, the solution is a vaguely sketched yet massive Green New Deal. Seeing all this, conservatives may be tempted to leave cities to their own fate.
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