How Obama redefines the ‘Chicago School of Economics’

July 22, 2009

Joel Kotkin writes a great, great piece for The American on why Red State economies have better long-term prospects than Blue State economies. But this excerpted hunk is especially insightful:

Many in the true blue states greeted Barack Obama’s election like the coming of a Messiah who would redress these serious problems.  … Yet hopes that Obama would emphasize such basic infrastructure now have been dashed. Instead, the stimulus has been largely steered to social service providers, “green” industries, and academic research.

This skewed allocation of resources reflects the administration’s roots in contemporary Chicago. It derives from a pattern of rewarding core constituencies as opposed to lifting up the whole economy.

The financial bailout reflects one part of this. Money lavished on bankers and lawyers, most of them in New York and Chicago, represents relief to what is now a core Obama constituency. Indeed the whole Troubled Asset Relief Program mechanism is being run by what Simon Johnson, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, has described as a “wonderfully closed circle.”

This approach, notes University of Illinois political scientist Dick Simpson, comes naturally for an administration dominated by veterans of the Chicago machine. Politicians in the Windy City do not worry much about opposition—49 out of 50 aldermen are Democrats—and follow policies adopted by the small central cadre.

But machine politics do not necessarily work out so well for the rest of population. “The principle problem is that the machine is not subject to democracy,” notes Simpson, who remains hopeful for the Obama presidency. “There’s massive patronage, a high level of corruption . . . There’s a significant downside to authoritarian rule. The city could do much better.”

To be sure, there has been considerable gentrification in Chicago, as in many cities. Chicago’s “revival” also has been a classic case of blue-state economics, driven largely by a now fading real estate boom, the financial industry, a growing college and university population, and tourism. But overall, from the point of view of most middle and working class residents, Chicago’s political system has proved inefficient and costly. This can be seen in demographic trends that show Chicago as the only one of few large U.S. cities to lose population. At the same time, the middle class, particularly those with children, continue to flee to the suburbs.

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