In public policy, progressives don’t progress. They stick closely to the revelations of late-night bull sessions in the honors dorm — sophomoric dreams of leveling outcomes, commanding economic development and spreading beauty and light everywhere.
The media culture gives us a window into this world through its selection of headlines and guest columns. Telltale signs are the use of modal verbs (“must,” “shall,” etc.) and the confusing of cause and effect.
For example, a recent column in The Journal Gazette, “A City’s Appeal Must be Built on Diversity,” written by the president of something actually called the Consulting and Progressive Social Hour, epitomizes the type. She sees “a high correlation” between economic growth and communities that support artists, diversity and, in particular, the LGBTQ community.
She refers to a friend’s comment that her neighbors’ self-satisfaction living in small circles of friends and families gets in the way of a more “welcoming” city. “And as someone who craves community, that’s so discomforting to me,” the friend is quoted as saying. The column concludes that a city that celebrates its diversity will help eliminate its biggest economic issue, that is, attracting talent.
This civic impulse is translated by politically connected bonding attorneys, architects, commercial real estate agents, bankers and other rent-seekers into a subsidized revamping of our central business districts to supposedly accommodate the “creative lifestyle.”
Cited as research justifying all this is a book that was the cat’s pajamas 15 years ago, “The Rise of the Creative Class,” by Dr. Richard Florida. But Florida didn’t stop thinking about urban problems. His most recent work, “The New Urban Crisis,” focuses on private property, a topic that would not come up at a meeting of the Fort Wayne Consulting and Progressive Social Hour.
His idea, borrowed from the late Milton Friedman, is for cities to switch from taxing the value of property to taxing the value of land. In theory, such a tax encourages better decisions by owners on what to create because they are not penalized for the investments they make on it. Here is an excerpt of a review in the conservative City Journal:
“Florida always seemed quick to leap from his data to prescriptive nostrums — for example, if prosperous cities have larger than average gay populations, that must mean that other cities should be as gay-friendly as possible. Some politicians were eager to leap aboard the Florida express because many of his ideas could be implemented at low cost and with little downside risk if they didn’t pan out. But with his new book, Florida stands on more traditional ground — arguing over issues that have bedeviled policymakers for years. Welcome to the struggle.”
Challenging outdated citations is unlikely to discourage the crowd over at the Consulting and Progressive Social Hour. Our hometown progressives, now entering middle age, are reactionaries and won’t change. We are stuck with them in our regional cities apparatus, in our corporate executive suites and as our council representatives (Republican and Democrat), not to mention as beloved members of the families and circles of friends whose normalcy seems to irritate them so.
Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarterly Indiana Policy Review.