Economic nostalgia is a notable attribute of America’s populists on the left and right. If not for the mistakes of elite policymakers, the economic golden age of postwar America might never have ended. But it’s not just economic nostalgia that unites populists across the political spectrum. It is also the idea that reality puts no constraints on policymakers’ actions, or at least the effectiveness of those actions. Take the issue of what to do about America’s “left behind” regions. It’s the subject two outstanding pieces, one in The New York Times by Eduardo Porter, the other in The Wall Street Journal by Christopher Mims. Both are definitely worth a read.
In “The Hard Truths of Trying to ‘Save’ the Rural Economy,” Porter notes the “inescapable reality of agglomeration.” Innovative companies, the sort that generate high-paying jobs, want to locate near other innovative companies so they can tap deep pools of high-skilled worker talent. And thus you have Amazon building new campuses in New York City and Washington DC, rather than Columbus, OH. Sure, policy wonks have lots of ideas to help distressed communities take part in the evolving American economy — tech education initiatives, broadband investment — but there are no guarantees. As Brookings scholar William Galston is quoted, “I don’t know if these ideas are going to work. But it is worth making the effort.”More