Addison Del Mastro, assistant editor: I’m reading The Next American City by Mick Cornett. It isn’t the best-written book, and it comes off as a little bit slick and glib. But that’s just an issue of style. It’s an important book on the potential of mid-sized American cities (basically everything in between a small town and Manhattan), with a focus on the Midwest. (Cornett was a four-term mayor of Oklahoma City, and the city’s incredible growth trajectory since the mid-90s is a major subject of the book).
I haven’t gotten that deep into the book where there are more specific examples and case studies, but Cornett’s main thesis is that mid-sized cities actually have superior potential compared to the economic and cultural capital cities (think NY/DC/SF). They have more dynamism in general than rural and suburban places, but they also have more space, more livability, and more room to change course. Their political and policy establishments are not as ossified and bureaucratic. Cornett believes that these cities can reverse their declines—which began all the way back in the 1930s when thousands of Midwesterners migrated to California—and become places that both participate in the global economy and can be a home to the middle class.
So far, I’ve gleaned a couple of insights from the book. The first is that it’s a big mistake, though a very common one, to imagine that “cities” means “New York City” or any other major city. Cities are as diverse as suburbs (yes, suburbs really are diverse!). If this is something that interests you, find the local papers, the local bloggers, and the archived minutes of the local zoning board. The national press is not the place to learn about urban policy.
The second insight is that while urban issues can feel almost like a distraction from politics, they are really politics in the truest sense. City councilmen pretending they can ban abortion or impeach Trump is not politics as much as it is theater. Deciding where to build a highway or how to zone a lot is politics. The issues are not as sexy, but they affect us far more directly, and they determine how we build and maintain the places we call home.
Daniel Kishi, associate editor: I’ve been reading Oren Cass’s The Once and Future Worker, a brief but bracing policy book that has ignited a spirited debate among conservative economists and pundits. In it, Cass, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, writes that policymakers on both sides of the political aisle have, for the past several decades, prioritized consumption and economic growth above all else and, that by doing so, we have neglected the health of the nation’s labor market. This has not been without consequences: a misguided conception of citizen as consumer, Cass argues, rather than a proper understanding of citizen as both consumer and producer, has resulted in stagnant wages, the deskilling of the American workforce, and a decline in workforce participation—the combination of which has led to negative downstream consequences for families, communities, and the country as a whole.
Cass’s thesis has generated a host of responses, some of which are thoughtful and worthy of reading. They include: a six-part exchange between Cass and one of his critics, Scott Winship, published at National Review’s The Corner; Samuel Hammond’s review at the Niskanen Center; and, for a left-wing perspective, Catherine Tumber’s review at The Baffler.