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The Blue State Model

[This piece has been adapted from Thomas Frank’s new book, Listen, Liberal, or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? [1] (Metropolitan Books).]

When you press Democrats on their uninspiring deeds—their lousy free trade deals, for example, or their flaccid response to Wall Street misbehavior—when you press them on any of these things, they automatically reply that this is the best anyone could have done. After all, they had to deal with those awful Republicans, and those awful Republicans wouldn’t let the really good stuff get through. They filibustered in the Senate. They gerrymandered the congressional districts. And besides, change takes a long time. Surely you don’t think the tepid-to-lukewarm things Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have done in Washington really represent the fiery Democratic soul.

So let’s go to a place that does. Let’s choose a locale where Democratic rule is virtually unopposed, a place where Republican obstruction and sabotage can’t taint the experiment.

Let’s go to Boston, Massachusetts, the spiritual homeland of the professional class and a place where the ideology of modern liberalism has been permitted to grow and flourish without challenge or restraint. As the seat of American higher learning, it seems unsurprising that Boston should anchor one of the most Democratic of states, a place where elected Republicans (like the new governor) are highly unusual. This is the city that virtually invented the blue-state economic model, in which prosperity arises from higher education and the knowledge-based industries that surround it.


The coming of post-industrial society has treated this most ancient of American cities extremely well. Massachusetts routinely occupies the number one spot on the State New Economy Index, a measure of how “knowledge-based, globalized, entrepreneurial, IT-driven, and innovation-based” a place happens to be. Boston ranks high on many of Richard Florida’s statistical indices of approbation—in 2003, it was number one on the “creative class index,” number three in innovation and in high tech—and his many books marvel at the city’s concentration of venture capital, its allure to young people, or the time it enticed some firm away from some unenlightened locale in the hinterlands.

Boston’s knowledge economy is the best, and it is the oldest. Boston’s metro area encompasses some 85 private colleges and universities, the greatest concentration of higher-ed institutions in the country—probably in the world. The region has all the ancillary advantages to show for this: a highly educated population, an unusually large number of patents, and more Nobel laureates than any other city in the country.

The city’s Route 128 corridor was the original model for a suburban tech district, lined ever since it was built with defense contractors and computer manufacturers. The suburbs situated along this golden thoroughfare are among the wealthiest municipalities in the nation, populated by engineers, lawyers, and aerospace workers. Their public schools are excellent, their downtowns are cute, and back in the seventies their socially enlightened residents were the prototype for the figure of the “suburban liberal.”

Another prototype: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, situated in Cambridge, is where our modern conception of the university as an incubator for business enterprises began. According to a report on MIT’s achievements in this category, the school’s alumni have started nearly 26,000 companies over the years, including Intel, Hewlett Packard, and Qualcomm. If you were to take those 26,000 companies as a separate nation, the report tells us, its economy would be one of the most productive in the world.

Then there are Boston’s many biotech and pharmaceutical concerns, grouped together in what is known as the “life sciences super cluster,” which, properly understood, is part of an “ecosystem” in which PhDs can “partner” with venture capitalists and in which big pharmaceutical firms can acquire small ones. While other industries shrivel, the Boston super cluster grows, with the life-sciences professionals of the world lighting out for the Athens of America and the massive new “innovation centers” shoehorning themselves one after the other into the crowded academic suburb of Cambridge.

To think about it slightly more critically, Boston is the headquarters for two industries that are steadily bankrupting middle America: big learning and big medicine, both of them imposing costs that everyone else is basically required to pay and which increase at a far more rapid pace than wages or inflation. A thousand dollars a pill, 30 grand a semester: the debts that are gradually choking the life out of people where you live are what has made this city so very rich.

Perhaps it makes sense, then, that another category in which Massachusetts ranks highly is inequality. Once the visitor leaves the brainy bustle of Boston, he discovers that this state is filled with wreckage—with former manufacturing towns in which workers watch their way of life draining away, and with cities that are little more than warehouses for people on Medicare. According to one survey, Massachusetts has the eighth-worst rate of income inequality among the states; by another metric it ranks fourth. However you choose to measure the diverging fortunes of the country’s top 10 percent and the rest, Massachusetts always seems to finish among the nation’s most unequal places.

Seething City on a Cliff

You can see what I mean when you visit Fall River, an old mill town 50 miles south of Boston. Median household income in that city is $33,000, among the lowest in the state; unemployment is among the highest, 15 percent in March 2014, nearly five years after the recession ended. Twenty-three percent of Fall River’s inhabitants live in poverty. The city lost its many fabric-making concerns decades ago and with them it lost its reason for being. People have been deserting the place for decades.

Many of the empty factories in which their ancestors worked are still standing, however. Solid 19th-century structures of granite or brick, these huge boxes dominate the city visually—there always seems to be one or two of them in the vista, contrasting painfully with whatever colorful plastic fast-food joint has been slapped up next door.

Most of the old factories are boarded up, unmistakable emblems of hopelessness right up to the roof. But the ones that have been successfully repurposed are in some ways even worse, filled as they often are with enterprises offering cheap suits or help with drug addiction. A clinic in the hulk of one abandoned mill has a sign on the window reading simply “Cancer & Blood.”

The effect of all this is to remind you with every prospect that this is a place and a way of life from which the politicians have withdrawn their blessing. Like so many other American scenes, this one is the product of decades of deindustrialization, engineered by Republicans and rationalized by Democrats. This is a place where affluence never returns—not because affluence for Fall River is impossible or unimaginable, but because our country’s leaders have blandly accepted a social order that constantly bids down the wages of people like these while bidding up the rewards for innovators, creatives, and professionals.

Even the city’s one real hope for new employment opportunities—an Amazon warehouse that is now in the planning stages—will serve to lock in this relationship. If all goes according to plan, and if Amazon sticks to the practices it has pioneered elsewhere, people from Fall River will one day get to do exhausting work with few benefits while being electronically monitored for efficiency, in order to save the affluent customers of nearby Boston a few pennies when they buy books or electronics.

But that is all in the future. These days, the local newspaper publishes an endless stream of stories about drug arrests, shootings, drunk-driving crashes, the stupidity of local politicians, and the lamentable surplus of “affordable housing.” The town is up to its eyeballs in wrathful bitterness against public workers. As in: Why do they deserve a decent life when the rest of us have no chance at all? It’s every man for himself here in a “competition for crumbs,” as a Fall River friend puts it.

The Great Entrepreneurial Awakening

If Fall River is pocked with empty mills, the streets of Boston are dotted with facilities intended to make innovation and entrepreneurship easy and convenient. I was surprised to discover, during the time I spent exploring the city’s political landscape, that Boston boasts a full-blown Innovation District, a disused industrial neighborhood that has actually been zoned creative—a projection of the post-industrial blue-state ideal onto the urban grid itself. The heart of the neighborhood is a building called “District Hall”—“Boston’s New Home for Innovation”—which appeared to me to be a glorified multipurpose room, enclosed in a sharply angular façade, and sharing a roof with a restaurant that offers “inventive cuisine for innovative people.” The Wi-Fi was free, the screens on the walls displayed famous quotations about creativity, and the walls themselves were covered with a high-gloss finish meant to be written on with dry-erase markers; but otherwise it was not much different from an ordinary public library. Aside from not having anything to read, that is.

This was my introduction to the innovation infrastructure of the city, much of it built up by entrepreneurs shrewdly angling to grab a piece of the entrepreneur craze. There are “co-working” spaces, shared offices for startups that can’t afford the real thing. There are startup “incubators” and startup “accelerators,” which aim to ease the innovator’s eternal struggle with an uncaring public: the Startup Institute, for example, and the famous MassChallenge, the “World’s Largest Startup Accelerator,” which runs an annual competition for new companies and hands out prizes at the end.

And then there are the innovation Democrats, led by former Governor Deval Patrick, who presided over the Massachusetts government from 2007 to 2015. He is typical of liberal-class leaders; you might even say he is their most successful exemplar. Everyone seems to like him, even his opponents. He is a witty and affable public speaker as well as a man of competence, a highly educated technocrat who is comfortable in corporate surroundings. Thanks to his upbringing in a Chicago housing project, he also understands the plight of the poor, and (perhaps best of all) he is an honest politician in a state accustomed to wide-open corruption. Patrick was also the first black governor of Massachusetts and, in some ways, an ideal Democrat for the era of Barack Obama—who, as it happens, is one of his closest political allies.

As governor, Patrick became a kind of missionary for the innovation cult. “The Massachusetts economy is an innovation economy,” he liked to declare, and he made similar comments countless times, slightly varying the order of the optimistic keywords: “Innovation is a centerpiece of the Massachusetts economy,” et cetera. The governor opened “innovation schools,” a species of ramped-up charter school. He signed the “Social Innovation Compact,” which had something to do with meeting “the private sector’s need for skilled entry-level professional talent.” In a 2009 speech called “The Innovation Economy,” Patrick elaborated the political theory of innovation in greater detail, telling an audience of corporate types in Silicon Valley about Massachusetts’s “high concentration of brainpower” and “world-class” universities, and how “we in government are actively partnering with the private sector and the universities, to strengthen our innovation industries.”

What did all of this inno-talk mean? Much of the time, it was pure applesauce—standard-issue platitudes to be rolled out every time some pharmaceutical company opened an office building somewhere in the state.

On some occasions, Patrick’s favorite buzzword came with a gigantic price tag, like the billion dollars in subsidies and tax breaks that the governor authorized in 2008 to encourage pharmaceutical and biotech companies to do business in Massachusetts. On still other occasions, favoring inno has meant bulldozing the people in its path—for instance, the taxi drivers whose livelihoods are being usurped by ridesharing apps like Uber. When these workers staged a variety of protests in the Boston area, Patrick intervened decisively on the side of the distant software company. Apparently convenience for the people who ride in taxis was more important than good pay for people who drive those taxis. It probably didn’t hurt that Uber had hired a former Patrick aide as a lobbyist, but the real point was, of course, innovation: Uber was the future, the taxi drivers were the past, and the path for Massachusetts was obvious.

A short while later, Patrick became something of an innovator himself. After his time as governor came to an end last year, he won a job as a managing director of Bain Capital, the private equity firm that was founded by his predecessor Mitt Romney—and that had been so powerfully denounced by Democrats during the 2012 election. Patrick spoke about the job like it was just another startup: “It was a happy and timely coincidence I was interested in building a business that Bain was also interested in building,” he told the Wall Street Journal. Romney reportedly phoned him with congratulations.

Entrepreneurs First

At a 2014 celebration of Governor Patrick’s innovation leadership, Google’s Eric Schmidt announced that “if you want to solve the economic problems of the U.S., create more entrepreneurs.” That sort of sums up the ideology in this corporate commonwealth: Entrepreneurs first. But how has such a doctrine become holy writ in a party dedicated to the welfare of the common man? And how has all this come to pass in the liberal state of Massachusetts?

The answer is that I’ve got the wrong liberalism. The kind of liberalism that has dominated Massachusetts for the last few decades isn’t the stuff of Franklin Roosevelt or the United Auto Workers; it’s the Route 128/suburban-professionals variety. (Senator Elizabeth Warren is the great exception to this rule.) Professional-class liberals aren’t really alarmed by oversized rewards for society’s winners. On the contrary, this seems natural to them—because they are society’s winners. The liberalism of professionals just does not extend to matters of inequality; this is the area where soft hearts abruptly turn hard.

Innovation liberalism is “a liberalism of the rich,” to use the straightforward phrase of local labor leader Harris Gruman. This doctrine has no patience with the idea that everyone should share in society’s wealth. What Massachusetts liberals pine for, by and large, is a more perfect meritocracy—a system where the essential thing is to ensure that the truly talented get into the right schools and then get to rise through the ranks of society. Unfortunately, however, as the blue-state model makes painfully clear, there is no solidarity in a meritocracy. The ideology of educational achievement conveniently negates any esteem we might feel for the poorly graduated.

This is a curious phenomenon, is it not? A blue state where the Democrats maintain transparent connections to high finance and big pharma; where they have deliberately chosen distant software barons over working-class members of their own society; and where their chief economic proposals have to do with promoting “innovation,” a grand and promising idea that remains suspiciously vague. Nor can these innovation Democrats claim that their hands were forced by Republicans. They came up with this program all on their own.

Thomas Frank is the author of the just-published Listen, Liberal, or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? [1] (Metropolitan Books) from which this essay is adapted. He has also written Pity the BillionaireThe Wrecking Crew, and What’s the Matter With Kansas? among other works. He is the founding editor of The Baffler.

Copyright 2016 Thomas Frank

44 Comments (Open | Close)

44 Comments To "The Blue State Model"

#1 Comment By Gerry On March 29, 2016 @ 2:27 pm

This feels like a bit of a stretch. Go to any state in the US and you will find cities where the underlying industries went away and there are serious and severe pockets of poverty. Fall River is an unfortunate example of this and as a result, the population is falling. However, it is easy to cherry-pick statistics that fit your narrative and by any measure the MA has been good to its residents in general over the last 15 years.

– Median household income is 5th in the US (up from 10th in 2000
– Ranked at the top for public schools and standardized tests
– Lowest rate of uninsured in the country
– In the top 5 for prenatal care, childhood health care, infant mortality and child mortality
– One of the lowest divorce rates

These are all issues that directly impact the lives of all MA inhabitants and directly improve quality of life.

I am failing to see your argument – Massachusetts is rich but because there are still areas that are failing, we can ignore all of the human development indices that prove it to be one of the most successful states in the union?

There is a solid history of reinvesting the gains of the high performing economy into improving the general welfare of the population and it has been largely successful.

#2 Comment By Interguru On March 29, 2016 @ 2:35 pm

Right on. I won’t say I saw Trump coming, but I drove around with a Jim Webb bumper sticker last year, because I thought he would connect with the white working class. Turned out he didn’t connect with them or anyone else.

#3 Comment By bt On March 29, 2016 @ 2:58 pm

Not to put to fine a point on it, but most of those mills closed and those jobs were sent to the south, where things were cheaper and labor unions were less of a concern. Now those job have been sent on along to Mexico and then I guess to China, then I guess now Viet Nam.

I don’t mean to excuse the Democrats – everyone needs some criticism to stay honest. But there are some very large forces at play here.

The fact is both parties have treated working class people miserably. As Trump and Sanders sort of demonstrate there’s plenty of discontent on both ends of the spectrum.

Perhaps there is a case to be made that the Democrats have been a little less honest about this, paying lip service and then selling short. And the Republicans are maybe a little more honest, as they pretty much say business is business and if you can’t get a decent job you’re a loser and you deserve to be miserable.

#4 Comment By Scott On March 29, 2016 @ 3:10 pm

All this is true and has been but the question remains: What to do about it? Fundamentally, this country is awash in goods as well as savings. The old model of good paying industrial jobs is not coming back. The problem cries out for a new economic model of redistribution. More important, a new paradigm of what constitutes an equitable society and how to get to it. I suspect we will eventually create a new economic model along with the language to describe it but it will be painful.

#5 Comment By JR On March 29, 2016 @ 3:16 pm

“This feels like a bit of a stretch. Go to any state in the US and you will find cities where the underlying industries went away and there are serious and severe pockets of poverty.”

Gerry, I’m sure Thomas Frank would not disagree with you. The point is that the “Republicans made us do it” argument cannot be used in this case.

A middle class is vital to the health of society and the policies of the last 35 years have been instrumental in destroying that class…these trends need to be reversed. Failing that, you will have the rich and poor at each other’s throats and everybody loses.

#6 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 29, 2016 @ 3:55 pm

If the 90% ever get past Homeland Security to the throats of the 10% in cahoots with the 1% the outcome will not be in doubt. All efforts are being made except genuine corrections to try to make sure that never happens. In the end, only real reforms will prevent it.

#7 Comment By bt On March 29, 2016 @ 3:59 pm

“What to do about it? Fundamentally, this country is awash in goods as well as savings”

Australia has a minimum wage of $16 an hour. And SOMEHOW McDonalds still manages to sell hamburgers down there.

Just throwing it out there…

#8 Comment By grumpy realist On March 29, 2016 @ 4:03 pm

We are blindly going towards a way of life where if you don’t provide something “useful” to society, where “useful” means something that can be paid for in dollars and cents, then you are considered a nogudnik and someone to be righteously spat upon.

The Democratic party tries to throw retraining stuff at you, while the Republican party throws a Bible at you and says that if that isn’t good enough it’s your own fault.

We’re going to have to stop worrying about efficiency and start have to really think about the way we’re going to live if we do get all the “inefficiency” out of the system. I’d rather bring the “inefficiency” back, if for nothing more than it provides usually for a more robust system. Also, our measuring of “inefficiency” is really lousy. Is Switzerland really truly more inefficient because it keeps taking its cows out to the pastures which makes everything more expensive? When you add up the attraction for the tourist trade AND the advantage of carrying on a centuries old tradition that helps bind the neighborhood together, it’s probably far more “efficient” than the use of bulk feedlots (or whatever the alternative is.)

We need to break all the monopolies apart and create a much more robust economy where neighborhoods are supported.

(And contrary to what too many social conservatives seem to believe, I don’t see how sticking a church in the middle of a decaying economy will help matters.)

#9 Comment By SteveM On March 29, 2016 @ 4:44 pm

To throw another log onto the blazing fire of Crony-Liberal hypocrisy, the “Best and Brightest” in Boston and Silicon Valley and the other bastions of sanctimonious social Darwinist supremacy depend on immigrant labor paid garbage wages to do their dirty work and look after their perfect kids.

Further ensuring that the anointed maintain a safe distance from the human refuse who happened to be born here and now relegated to blighted wrecks like Fall River.

#10 Comment By DobermanBoston On March 29, 2016 @ 4:50 pm

Boston has the worst taxi service of any major city in the United States, and Uber’s arrival here was beneficial not only to the yuppies but to all working people, including lots of service employees whose shifts end after transit shuts down here. The broken medallion system also made for constant taxi shortages which cost the city more than a few conventions over the years.

Governor Patrick really had no choice but to side with Uber in this matter.

#11 Comment By hooly On March 29, 2016 @ 4:53 pm

Oh please, cry me a river! This is America, it was built on sweat, risk taking and hard work. If the good people of Fall River want to improve their lot, instead of whining, how about they practice the virtues that made America great. After all, their ancestors did, why can’t they? Or more obviously, if the children of East Asian and Indian and Russian immigrants can get into MIT and start major corporations when they graduate, why can’t the children of Fall River?

Why the constant whining and complaining? You just don’t know how good you have it I think. Putin’s Russia or the Red Chinese would give their right arm for what the great state of Massachusetts is, the innovation, the wealth creation, all the things that make America a First World Nation and prosperous nation.

#12 Comment By bt On March 29, 2016 @ 5:21 pm

“There is a solid history of reinvesting the gains of the high performing economy into improving the general welfare of the population and it has been largely successful.”

And now, for comparison perhaps we should consider a prototypical Red State like Louisiana…

#13 Comment By the unworthy craftsman On March 29, 2016 @ 5:54 pm

I’ve been waiting for Tom Frank to show up in this AmCon world, where he obviously belongs, for quite a while. Welcome!

#14 Comment By Alex On March 29, 2016 @ 6:20 pm

Professional creatives an innovators, right. What have they created during the last two decades? More pixels on “smart”phone screens? An achievement, what. Comparing their imitation of activity to the real progress of XIX and XX centuries is already enough to see that their “progress” is a joke. It gonna be a real and proper delight to see the day when their “innovative” stuff goes out of fashion and what happens to them after that.

#15 Comment By Johann On March 29, 2016 @ 7:12 pm

I watched Thomas Frank recently on a Thom Hartmann show discussing his book. The Tom Hartmann show is aired on RT. It was a fascinating discussion. One of the statements he made that stood out for me was something like “The Democrat Party leadership see no need to change a thing. They, the professional liberals are doing great, and they see demographics in their favor, and so they see that they will gain more power in the future.” I can’t remember his exact words, so its not actually a quote. I am paraphrasing what he said.

In other words, the Democrat Party is taking the non-white vote for granted. “Demographics in their favor” are code words for an increase in non-white voters.

The Frank/Hartmann discussion was a very good program. I was fascinated by the conversation. Mr. Frank went through the history of the changes that took place in the Democrat party. Full disclosure, I’m a libertarian, and so of course I would like his slam dunk of the Democrat Party, but I think died-in-the-wool Democrats would be fascinated by the program too, and hence by his book as well. One could go to youtube and google the program to find it.

#16 Comment By oldlib On March 29, 2016 @ 7:39 pm

“This country is awash in goods” and that’s all that counts, right?
I listen to Slate’s “Money” podcast on a weekly basis. “Free trade” is treated like holy writ. Today, the host exclaimed “You wouldn’t have that iPhone without free trade!”
But in order to get that iPhone, Fall River (and tens of thousands of cities just like it, including the one I grew up in) had to die. Organized labor had to be destroyed, pensions done away with.
We trade job security for cheap DVD players and smart phones, and they even conned us into voting for it.

#17 Comment By cecelia On March 29, 2016 @ 7:49 pm

raise the minimum wage –

#18 Comment By Ron A. Hoffman On March 29, 2016 @ 7:54 pm

It seems then that government interference in the processes of the Nation’s wealth production has not gone well for Mr. Frank. Now, after all these years, progressives are awakening to a new and recurring theme: “What’s the Matter with Us?”

One marvels at their naivety in recognizing so late that authoritarian bureaucracies adhere to no particular political ideologies when it comes to advancing their self-centered interests for picking winners and leaving losers.

#19 Comment By R. K. Kirchoff On March 29, 2016 @ 7:56 pm

Populist nonsense. If you want solidarity, move to Venezuela.

#20 Comment By Tyro On March 29, 2016 @ 8:07 pm

The point is that the “Republicans made us do it” argument cannot be used in this case.

True. That’s why the state is prosperous, despite the pockets of poverty. It’s not ideal, but it is far better off than the “meth labs of democracy” found in Kansas and Louisiana under republican rule.

#21 Comment By Orthomama On March 29, 2016 @ 10:21 pm

Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize that I’m the wrong kind of conservative in the same way TF has come to realize he is the wrong kind of liberal. Given the Trump/ Sanders disruption of the electoral process, it is clear that we are not the only ones figuring this out.

#22 Comment By BadReligion On March 29, 2016 @ 11:18 pm

You know, some of us were protesting about neoliberalism almost as soon as it emerged here at home. Ralph Nader ran for President on an explicitly anti-neoliberal platform, and shortly before and after the turn of the millennium we managed to rock cities all around the world with our demonstrations.

For whatever reason, it didn’t stick, especially after the War Of/On Terror started, even though the issues didn’t go away, and the wars are actually closely related. Also, the

So, after the crisis of 2008, and the election of Obama, in the summer of 2009 Tariq Ali nailed it. I guess I’m not supposed to link to a YouTube video, but it’s in one called “Obama, Pakistan, and the US Empire”: ‘The danger is the following: that unless an alternative is constructed- a broad-based socialist anticapitalist alternative- is constructed, the people who will benefit will be the Right and Extreme Right.’

#23 Comment By Winston On March 30, 2016 @ 2:17 am

The engine Boston’s prosperity is MIT’s Martin Trust Center. What MA needs is something that does far more, like Germany’s Fraunhofer Gesellshaft. By the way Obama Admin has tried to to establish something like that;but appears to be too little to late. Fraunhofer is a formidable mechanism;and in Germany it works best with regional governance mechanisms-hard to find in US!

#24 Comment By Observer On March 30, 2016 @ 3:40 am

However, it is easy to cherry-pick statistics that fit your narrative and by any measure the MA has been good to its residents in general over the last 15 years.

You got it backwards. Massachusetts hasn’t been good to its residents. Its residents have been good to Massachusetts.

Good schools make good students? No. Good students make good schools. Import a bunch of Asian engineers, and I guarantee you that math scores will increase in the schools.

Top 5 for low child mortality? Because you’ve just imported a bunch of upper income people!

Even Romneycare was made possible by the subsidies from the high-income population.

Massachusetts is just a concentrated example of what’s been happening to the U.S. as a whole. We have imported the brainpower to make Silicon Valley work. That’s great for Silicon Valley and for Wall Street, but it hasn’t created jobs in the Rust Belt.

#25 Comment By mle detroit On March 30, 2016 @ 9:04 am

Same essay posted at nakedcapitalism.com (!), also with thoughtful comments like these: go look.

#26 Comment By Liam On March 30, 2016 @ 9:50 am

The post-Civil War South until the past generation was the China and Central America of its day. That’s what generations of industrial workers of New England mill towns from a century ago would notice were they alive today.

#27 Comment By david helveticka On March 30, 2016 @ 11:32 am

I remember when the purpose of this public investment in high tech, high education, stuff was meant to generate jobs for everyone not just the profits of the few.

What changed is that the manufacturing, the support functions, and all the businesses that grew up to support these offshoots of high tech were outsourced to slave labor factories in Asian and Latin America.

A lot of those that benefit are not really Americans but internationalists with no social connections to Americans, or no loyalty to the United States of America—other then to enjoy the benefits of public funding.

#28 Comment By Gerry On March 30, 2016 @ 12:01 pm


The population of Massachusetts is about 6 million of which 14% are immigrants. This compares with 13% for the US as a whole. About half of these immigrants are naturalized citizens and about 1/3 come from Latin America (a proportion that is increasing in recent years). The city with the highest proportion of immigrants in MA is Chelsea – not exactly a bastion of rich, well-educated scientists and engineers. These high income, high education folks that you talk about make up a very small proportion of the MA population and cannot account for the differences between MA and the rest of the US.

#29 Comment By cjm On March 30, 2016 @ 2:53 pm

23% of a population living in poverty is not a pocket. Its the whole shirt.

Please name the major corporation started by East Asian, Indian and Russian MIT students (it had better be more that one or two).

#30 Comment By Dan On March 30, 2016 @ 3:30 pm

I grew up in Massachusetts and go back to visit my parents frequently. I do not recognize the state Frank describes here.

I disagree with his point regarding meritocracy. Massachusetts is an unusual case in that it has very good public schooling, meaning that access to the meritocracy actually is open to most people. I lived in an upper-middle income town in central Massachusetts and got a very good education at my public school. So did the rest of my classmates. The state also made attendance at UMass tuition free for anyone who passed their MCAS exams. If some of them chose not to take advantage of that quality, free education, that’s on them. I don’t buy the idea that people living outside of 128 have somehow been shut out of the system. That’s where I’m from and anybody who wanted to go on to better things had the option if they chose. The thing is, a whole lot of them didn’t make that choice.

Also, plenty of people from there have chosen to live there. The author refers to 128 but not 495. That outer ring-road around Boston is also home to a vibrant tech and commercial sector as well, although not on the same level as the MIT-Harvard axis. So you can do quite well in Massachusetts by taking advantage of the education and living in a variety of different areas in the eastern half of the state, including Boston, the 128 beltway, Metrowest, and the 495 beltway. Sorry to throw all this local knowledge out there, but the more I think about this article the less I like it.

#31 Comment By RadicalCenter2 On March 30, 2016 @ 4:36 pm

Scott: most Americans have saved very little for retirement, so it is absurd to say that our country is “awash in savings.” Get in touch with reality. A majority of people living in the US — I won’t call them all “Americans” — save little to nothing for their retirement.

#32 Comment By EngineerScotty On March 30, 2016 @ 4:36 pm

I’m no expert on Massachusetts politics, but allegations of machine politics in the state seem legendary. Any time you get long-standing one-party rule, you run the risk of this. There’s a good reason the state periodically does elect Republicans to statewide office (liberals ones, generally)–a good chunk of it’s Democratic Party isn’t terribly progressive, but is instead the establishment organ of the so-called Boston Brahmans.

OTOH, this is also the state that has given us Elizabeth Warren.

I’m curious, though–what would Frank have state government do about places like Fall River? What should the state of Oregon do about dying mill towns in Douglas County?

Should we go a bit more in the socialist direction, and have the state operate factories at a loss (possibly competing with private industry) to keep folks employed, viewing this as a better and more productive way of making transfer payments? Might not be a bad idea. Should places like Oregon and MA open a state bank, like ND has, to ensure that the poor have access to basic banking services (and aren’t being gouged), thereby competing with the big banks? Might not be a bad idea either.

Would like more ideas besides “blow up the system”…

#33 Comment By Observer On March 30, 2016 @ 5:43 pm

The population of Massachusetts is about 6 million of which 14% are immigrants. This compares with 13% for the US as a whole. About half of these immigrants are naturalized citizens and about 1/3 come from Latin America (a proportion that is increasing in recent years).

I don’t care if a million Brazilians move to Massachusetts. You know very well that my point was about socioeconomic status, because I pointed that out four times in my comment.

It doesn’t matter if a pharmaceutical research job in Boston goes to a graduate of Peking University, or the University of Heidelberg, or the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Either way, it’s an immigrant to Massachusetts.

And it’s not just an ordinary immigrant, but a highly-educated immigrant, someone whose education wasn’t paid for by the taxpayers at the University of Massachusetts. He’s coming to Massachusetts to jump on the bandwagon of success. In doing so, he participates in a feedback loop, where success builds upon success. But what caused that success in the first place?

Massachusetts’ standardized test scores are great? Fine. Take the principal and teachers from a Massachusetts school, move them to the Fourth Ward of New Orleans, and see if they can produce the same test scores. No? Then it’s not the school that did well. It’s the students.

This goes for all the other non-financial outcomes. Richer people get divorced less frequently. Richer people take better care of their children. Higher median income means higher taxes, which pays for Romneycare subsidies, which improves healthcare outcomes.

Economists worry about “reverse causation” all the time. Anyone can look at a soaring stock and explain why it is so successful. But it’s not so easy to analyze a group of companies and predict which one’s stock will soar.

#34 Comment By Observer On March 30, 2016 @ 6:08 pm

Also, plenty of people from there have chosen to live there. The author refers to 128 but not 495. That outer ring-road around Boston is also home to a vibrant tech and commercial sector as well, although not on the same level as the MIT-Harvard axis.

Why can’t luck and the bandwagon effect explain all of Massachusetts’ current success?

In the 1970s, there was this little company headquartered in a former textile mill in Maynard, Massachusetts. At its peak, Digital Equipment was selling 40% of the minicomputers produced in the entire world.

Then the IBM PC took over the computer industry. Digital Equipment’s sales fell and never recovered. So did the sales of every other computer company in Massachusetts: Wang, Apollo, Prime.

Even the software companies in Massachusetts collapsed. Lotus Development Company, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, used to have 80% of the spreadsheet market. In fact, the computerized spreadsheet was invented at Harvard Business School! Then Microsoft Excel came along.

In a matter of ten years, the Massachusetts computer industry collapsed. The center of gravity moved to California (Silicon Valley), Texas (Dell), and Washington (Microsoft).

Was Michael Dukakis responsible for the Massachusetts Miracle? Was he to blame for the collapse of the Massachusetts computer industry?

Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. You can always look at a success after the fact and come up with an explanation.

#35 Comment By timmuggs On March 30, 2016 @ 6:09 pm

I lived in Sweden for a year, years ago.

I noted to a Swedish friend that the curbing on the streets of Stockholm & suburbs was all of stone, hand cut granite. I said, it’s way more efficient to run a concrete curb via a machine down a whole block, why doesn’t Sweden do it that way?

The answer: They looked at doing it that way, and measured the costs vs benefits. One of the costs would be that it puts the quarries and stonecutters out of business and onto welfare. It’s cheaper to keep them employed, and it looks nicer too, for far longer.

Is that a conservative, or progressive, or socialist way of looking at things? Whichever, it makes sense to me.

One other comment: Uber is simply better and more efficient than taxi services, and every taxi driver can go to work for Uber and make a similar living, from what I hear. There is a company that invests in taxi medallions – it buys them and then loans money so taxi drivers can buy them. The stock symbol is TAXI, and it has paid strong dividends for years.

Investors in TAXI are the ones hurt most by Uber, as the value of a medallion erodes.

Unlike a stonecutter in Sweden, taxi drivers displaced by Uber can just drive for Uber, they don’t have to move to a different state or learn a different trade.

#36 Comment By Connecticut Farmer On March 31, 2016 @ 9:05 am

Gee, ya think?

Welcome to America, Mr. Frank.

#37 Comment By RadicalCenter2 On March 31, 2016 @ 12:50 pm

grumpyrealist: I think you greatly overstate the influence of fundamentalist/evangelical Christians in the republican party. They are not a majority of the party in most states, and in many states they are not even the largest single ideological or demographic “group.”

These snarky comments about republicans handing people a bible and telling them they’re no good, is insulting and based on leftist stereotypes that are not well grounded in reality.

#38 Comment By RadicalCenter2 On March 31, 2016 @ 12:56 pm

Grumpyrealist: To the extent that the church and its members can instill hope and self-restraint in people who visit from the surrounding neighborhood, it can help enormously.

For example, don’t you think that poor communities of all colors would be better off if they didn’t have such high rates of alcohol and drug abuse? The money saved, the time saved, and the damage to body and mind and spirit, can be substantial.

So I think that your apparent anti-religious or anti-Christian viewpoint leads you to dismiss out of hand the tangible, practical benefits that an active church can bring. Not to say that all churches are like that, but many are.

Having said that, even if people stop using drugs and abusing alcohol — thereby being more ready and able to work productively — and have a more hopeful outlook, they still need jobs. And decent jobs seem to be in inadequate supply, and not getting more numerous for most of us.

#39 Comment By Richard M On March 31, 2016 @ 1:21 pm

Hello JR,

The point is that the “Republicans made us do it” argument cannot be used in this case.

Exactly so. That’s really the point of this essay.

#40 Comment By EngineerScotty On March 31, 2016 @ 4:53 pm

This article seems to be making the fundamental argument that “if the Democrats are not flawless, they have no business criticizing the GOP, even if the GOP is far worse”.

Which is not a good argument.

#41 Comment By Neal On March 31, 2016 @ 10:03 pm

I’m sure there are creepy things going on every day between adults… Perhaps even, as RD suggests, some creepy thing I won’t repeat. I suppose if one or the other went to the police claiming injury there would be a basis for some criminal investigation. Otherwise we would never know what took place. I don’t imagine this happens too often, but I suppose it has probably happened with some unknown frequency over the course of human history. Somehow or another… Life has gone on. I’m guessing that the people closest to these situations are equipped to respond to them. I wouldn’t want to substitute my judgement for theirs when there is no complaint and no injury. How would I even know about it in the absence of such a complaint? Shall we require people to certify they aren’t doing creepy things with other people or saying creepy things to other people? How does that even work? Why would we want it to work? What sort of surveillance would you require to enforce this law or would you only enforce it selectively?

If you can’t enforce it, it’s bad law.

#42 Comment By James W On April 1, 2016 @ 11:16 am

Oh dear, another ‘liberals are the real racists’ dead end except this time they are the real ‘capitalists’ keeping everyone down.

I don’t doubt the legitimacy of the argument, it has obvious merit. But in terms of the Culture War it’s a worthless point.

#43 Comment By Chris403 On April 1, 2016 @ 1:34 pm

I am surprised but pleased to see Thomas Frank show up on the American Conservative. Maybe the US really is for an ideological realignment.

#44 Comment By James Hayes-Bohanan On April 5, 2016 @ 12:07 am

A sad irony is that the most effective enemy of the public sector — Grover Norquist — grew up in Weston, benefiting greatly from the Blue State model. He has spent his adult life trying to deprive others of the public largess that has made his life so easy.