February 20, 2005

From Eurocities to Flyoverland

Czeslaw Milosz, the late Polish poet, years ago wrote on the concept of "internal emigrants," who continued to live under communism, but inwardly rejected the official view of politics and life.

Steven Greenhut, a libertarian columnist in the Orange County Register, now suggests that many Americans are fleeing the "blue" cities for the "red" hinterland and far suburbs, because Flyover America is freer and has sounder values than Bicoastal America:

The epitome of the European-modeled sclerotic older cities is the philosophy of Smart Growth, which seeks to recreate urban, mass-transit-dependent living as the dominant lifestyle. This quasi-totalitarian worldview is conceived and promoted from places like Portland and San Francisco, where a trendy environmental cabal is running roughshod over private property by implementing no-growth zones and restrictions worthy of any police state.

Smart Growthers despise the sort of "sprawl" one finds in Phoenix, but I think their hatred is for the people themselves - those who leave the "we know best" world of university towns and coastal cities to build families, start businesses and create a life of their own making, despite the snarls of the urban sophisticates.

Kotkin points to a loathsome article from a Seattle weekly that lampooned the red-state world of George Bush voters, a place of "xenophobia, sexism, racism and homophobia," where "people are fatter and dumber and slower." After the election, I recall one Los Angeles- based reader seriously promoting secession, so that the smart, hip Euro-America could disassociate itself from the fools inland.

It would be OK by me, but only after I cross the state's eastern border before the wall goes up.

Fortunately, many Americans would still rather live relatively free on inhospitable turf than live pampered, tightly regulated existences in near-Paradise. This is a resounding sentiment within the human soul, and it in part explains the Mormon trail, the modern state of Israel, the early American settlers and modern immigration from Mexico.

I'll always side with those who put their comfort and even their lives on the line to achieve a better life for themselves and their kids than with those spoiled NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yarders) who already have theirs and spend their time stopping others from fulfilling their dreams through restrictive zoning, high taxes and crushing regulations.

There are some other, albeit related, reasons for the exodus, some speakable and others taboo: house prices, personal safety, and decent schooling, which in turn is rationally (if not publicly acknowledged to be) related to the class and ethnic composition of many inner cities -- a fact which is known to the many middle-class minority people who are also exiting the cities.

Notwithstanding these other factors, Greenhut is onto something. There are many people who don't want to live in a nanny state. There are many others who can't afford the high housing prices (especially for families) that go with restrictive zoning and high taxes, the latter partly a function of social programs dedicated to a captive and dependent underclass.

Another issue deserves mention. Many cities today do not encourage childbearing. From the clustering of gays, young singles and businesses that cater to them, to high housing prices, to violent, nonfunctional public schools, cities have become literally sterile. The failure of the West to reproduce its population is a critical issue that we are only beginning to understand. If flyoverland and the far suburbs are becoming the place where breeders migrate, they, and not the Eurified cities of the coasts, are the future of America. For this, perhaps, we can be grateful.

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