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The Economist Wants Socialist Taxes

In the fourth explainer this week, the Economist continues its steady transformation into a socialist magazine. Today, taxes:

MARKETS are supposed to generate a magical state, where nobody could do better without somebody else doing worse. Awkwardly, they often fail. The reason is that those directly involved in a transaction are not the only ones affected by it. A drive into the centre of town, for example, creates congestion for everyone else; a company dumping waste into a river poisons the downstream drinking water; carbon emissions warm everyone’s planet. Economists have a special name for these extra costs: they are “externalities”. Unfettered market prices do not take them into account.

The much-lauded market dumps hidden costs on the people. Nothing new to socialists. So, the Economist, after Arthur Pigou, proposes taxes:

Pigouvian taxes are now central to well-meaning governments’ toolkits. A tax placed on plastic bags in Ireland in 2002 cut their use by more than 90%. Three years after the British government introduced a charge on driving in central London in 2003, congestion had fallen by a quarter. Carbon taxes are currently applied in Finland, Denmark, Chile and Mexico. By using prices as signals, a tax should encourage people and companies to lower their carbon emissions more efficiently than a regulator could by diktat.

The Economist does hedge here, new as it is to socialism. That they see Pigouvian taxes as a superior alternative to regulation, while most socialists would consider both depending on circumstances. But the only thing keeping the Economist from renaming itself the Tax Collector is that they see externality taxes as a technocratic lever for a rational state bureaucracy to pull. They fail to imagine, as socialists do, that such policies have their most potential as a tool the people can wield to build a more just and fair society – after, and not before, they who would be free themselves have struck the blow.

The idea of externalities is elegant in theory. But responding to them involves the real world, which is harder.

The Economist hurls a chair onto the barricade, sweating in the shadow of their young nation’s tricolor waving above the morning fog. The hereditary tyrant’s regulars advance on them through the narrow streets of the capital. The Economist hands their last letter to an urchin, promising a silver coin if the boy delivers their last words to their pregnant widow. “I pray this letter finds you, my love,” it reads. “In this springtime of peoples born in the blood of our sacrifice, the community of nations will rise.”

The regulars loose thunder and advance with bayonets fixed. Struck by a musket ball, the Economist staggers off the barricade, their blood running in rivers between the filthy cobblestones. In their last moments, the Economist mouths the final words of their testament. “The ancient tyrants will fall,” the Economist gasps, as agony gives way to oblivion, “and the triumphant Republic will levy user fees whose marginal effect on individual behavior will trend towards Pareto optimum in the aggregate.”



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The Economist Defends Socialist Economic Planning

In today’s explainer, The Economist embraces more socialism. This one is pretty straightforward. It’s Jean-Baptiste Say’s theory that supply creates demand:

Say and his intellectual allies pointed out that people would not go to all the trouble of producing a good or service, unless they intended to obtain something of equal value in return. So each addition to supply is accompanied by an intended addition to demand. Moreover, the act of production creates an additional item of value for which other things can be exchanged. In this way, production creates a fresh “outlet” for existing products (and 17 times as much production creates 17 times as many outlets).

In Milwaukee, the (original) sewer socialists built or brought under public control utilities, parks, housing, and the sanitation system. Rather than crowding out private business, Milwaukee thrived. During the New Deal, an active government managed demand in the public interest – and built a staggering array of public projects Americans still use today. They stop just short of the realization that this is true of many social organizations, not simply national governments, but municipalities, cooperatives, labor unions, and land trusts:

…over the long run Say’s law is largely true. And by increasing the supply of money to meet any excess demand for it, modern central banks can try to make it true in the short run too.

The only thing keeping the Economist from renaming itself the Social Economics Administration is their failure to imagine – as socialists do – demand management being carried out by anyone other than technocratic central bankers who serve the interests of private capital.

The Economist looks directly into the reptile eyes of senseless human misery, which stare back, pitiless, as the beast bears its yellow fangs. The Economist does not flinch, secure in the knowledge of the great truth that can slay the ancient foe: that no human being must go hungry in a land of plenty. Slow but resolute, the  Economist draws a sword on whose blade are carved the words  – the central bank ought to hold the interbank interest rate steady even after concluding the latest round of quantitative easing – just before it is devoured whole by the unsated maw.


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The Economist Embraces Socialist Humanism

In the second in a series of explainers in which the Economist (almost) embraces socialism, the newspaper turns to the great humanist question of the soul of man under socialism. They begin by describing Gary Becker’s theory of human capital:

Companies talk of investing in factories, governments in infrastructure, and people in houses. But there is a softer, less tangible focus of investment that, in many cases, is more important: knowledge and skills. Companies try to cultivate these in their workforces, governments in their populations, and people in themselves.

The means of production are not simply the roads and rails, the farms and cities, the offices and shops. The means of production are embedded within the mind and muscle of the workers themselves – without which, not a single wheel can turn.

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The Economist Explains Why Socialism Works

In a surprise twist, the Economist is now a socialist magazine. In the first of a series of explainers this week, the Economist asks, and explains: why do firms exist? They outline a simple typology of two different kinds of economic transactions – spot transactions and contracts:

Most transactions take place in spot markets. They are well suited to simple, low-value transactions, such as buying a newspaper or taking a taxi. And they are governed by market forces, as lots of buyers bargain over the price of similar goods. Things become trickier for goods or services that are not standardised. Parties to a transaction are then required to make commitments to each other that are costly to reverse.

Those commitments, formalized as long-term contracts, cannot be regulated by free markets and require economic planning organizations to oversee.

In a 2010 treatment of the same topic, Schumpeter (perhaps considering a name change to Polyani or Kautsky) began with a simple question:

“Why do firms exist? Why isn’t everything done by the market?”

The Economist …. welcome to the #Resistance.

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The Fight Over Sanctuary

As of press time, “resistance” is a hot topic. It seems like the word is on the tongues of everyone, from revolutionary leftists to the most mediocre of liberals. This, for the record, is good: more people being more engaged, and feeling pushed more to the left, is good and necessary. The real question is, what does that resistance look like?

The first flashpoint in the crisis of urban governance was this week’s confrontation at major international airports. However, another upcoming flashpoint that is interesting to us here at Sewer Socialists is the fight over “sanctuary cities.” One of us hopes to soon be an immigration lawyer. But more broadly, the fight over sanctuary cities is exactly the kind of flashpoint between cities and the federal government that we’ve recently written about.

What Are Sanctuary Cities?

A “sanctuary city” is a city that does not cooperate with immigration officials, or turn over immigrants for deportation. It is not an official designation, and different places may provide sanctuary in different ways. The Washington Post has a decent summary.

Many cities and counties provide sanctuary by refusing to hold people in jail because of their immigration status. One of the most common ways immigrants wind up in deportation proceedings is after getting arrested, often for drug possession or DUI. Many convictions make non-citizens deportable, and undocumented immigrants can be removed simply for being present without documents. For these reasons, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) asks state and local governments to keep immigrants in jail after their arrest or conviction, so ICE can more easily pick them up and put them in deportation proceedings. But thanks to federalism, state and local governments do not HAVE to comply with these requests, and many cities and counties refuse compliance in some way or another. This does not mean that ICE cannot deport these people—an immigrant with certain convictions is deportable no matter what—but it is much harder for them to actually do so.

This means that local noncompliance is a critical part of protecting immigrant workers and families. If more cities turn immigrants and immigrants’ information over to ICE, more people will be deported, and more families will be broken up. If fewer cities snitch on immigrants, fewer people will be deported, and fewer families will be broken up.

What’s The Deal?

Because mass deportation relies so heavily on the compliance of local governments, the federal government is coercing cities to bring them in line. The White House, through executive order, is trying to cut off all federal funds from any city or county that does not comply with immigration enforcement requests. This is probably illegal for a host of reasons. In fact, part of what’s so concerning about this is that the executive branch has said that it will ignore court orders and do whatever it wants. But at the end of the day, politics is about power, and we need to focus on how to fight these orders with power.

This is where the crisis of urban governance comes in. Cities and urban areas have immense political and economic power at their fingertips. Politically, they have the power to make mass deportation unsustainable, by providing sanctuary and refusing to cooperate. Economically, they have the power to shut down the economy. . The capitalist class that currently runs the government relies on cities. Without the ports of Long Beach, New Orleans, or Newark, the trade that makes big business rich grinds to a halt. Without railroad hubs in Chicago, distribution centers in Memphis and Seattle, or a thousand other factors all based in major cities, big business has nothing.

Cities will be pressured to comply with the federal government, especially on mass deportation. Washington has already threatened to cut funds from cities that do not cooperate. But cities can pressure Washington, too. That pressure will have to come straight from the people, demanding that their city governments act, but it will be effective. The American deportation machine, like the American economy, relies on American cities. That gives cities power. We should use it.


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The Future that Liberals Want is Socialism


This is a glimpse of the future liberals want – but it’s going to take socialism to get there.

It’s not every day that the fascists accidentally make a strong case for your values. It’s not every day, either, that they – also quite by accident – pierce one of the most insidious of our American lies.

We tell ourselves a lie in the USA. Not the only lie, not the biggest lie, not even the most interesting lie – but it’s a lie we tell ourselves over and over again. We tell the lie so much that we think we’re the only ones who don’t believe it. We whisper to one another that, yes, you and I don’t believe the lie. But everyone else does, they’ll never believe us, they’ll think we’re crazy, better keep telling the lie.

The lie is this: that freedom can’t be shared. That freedom is selfish, alone, individualist.

Yesterday, the cave-dwelling reactionary hive mind, let’s call him Hentai Pepe (don’t google it). He said the lie in such a blatantly obvious way that the sheer force of our contempt pierced the bubble, and the lie collapsed before us. Hentai Pepe didn’t know what he was doing – he actually does believe the lie – but he took a break from photoshopping cartoon ponies doing the Hitlergrüß and posted an image that destroyed it.

The image was a photograph of two culturally distinctive women sitting next to each other on a subway train. Hentai Pepe’s keys clacked to life, agitating the ant colony that lives in his sticky keyboard. “This is the future,” he sputtered – flecks of mustard and mechanically separated meats spraying through the air to feed the unwitting symbiotes below – “that liberals want.”

Predictably, it became a hilarious meme. The future liberals want will be chaos. Red and green Power Rangers sitting next to each other. Harambe lying down with Cecil the Lion. Dogs and cats sharing a litter box. Pandemonium. Anarchy. Who will defend the West from people with different cultural identities sitting next to each other? “Nobody!” yelled everyone else, all at once. “There is nothing wrong with this at all!”

The meme makers were piercing a great American lie. One of the people depicted in the photo is a drag queen named Gilda Wabbit, who summarized why she thought the image struck such a chord. It’s simple – the photograph depicts freedom:


I’d like to see a future where it isn’t a big deal for a woman in full modesty garb to sit next to a drag queen in NYC. It’s become a bit of a sensation, but her and I were just existing. The freedom to simply be yourself in a sea of people who aren’t like you is a freedom we all deserve.

This doesn’t fit the lie. These two women are sitting next to one another on public transportation in a big city. If they were free (says the lie) they would be far away from one another, living in their own individual houses, driving their own individual cars, spending time with their own individual possessions. They would surround themselves with other individuals who were just like them, and conform. This, says the lie, is freedom. But the collective, subsidized, public transportation system these women share lets them be themselves in a sea of people, separated by eighteen inches.

This has been framed as a “liberal” cause, since Hentai Pepe used the word “liberal” just before emptying week-old bong water into his pet tarantula’s water dish. It’s true that liberals aspire to support this kind of freedom. But liberals still think they’re the only ones who don’t believe the voice in the back of their head that whispers the lie. “Freedom can’t be shared,” it lies, “the people sharing it wouldn’t be free.” They don’t quite believe this, but they think they’re alone. “Freedom can’t join a union,” it lies, “the bosses wouldn’t be free.” This lie makes some sense to them. Aren’t unions for old white guys in factories? Sensing doubt, the voice whispers again: “Freedom can’t educate poor children,” it lies, “the rich children wouldn’t be free.” Yes, they think, public schools aren’t very good. The voice whispers once more: “Freedom can’t have government healthcare,” it lies, “the patients wouldn’t be free.” And again: “freedom can’t pay higher taxes,” it lies, “the taxpayers wouldn’t be free.” This isn’t true, think the liberals. They know it’s a lie. But there are so many lies. How could there be so many lies if people don’t believe them? Isn’t it just easier just to go along and pretend?

Here is the great truth of socialism – democratic socialism, not the tyrannies of the twentieth century that called themselves socialist – socialism is the belief in freedom in a complex society. In a complex society, some people must at some times tell some others what to do. This is unavoidable – the only question is whether or not they reflect and reinforce oppressive social relationships. If they do, the only way to be a “rugged individualist” is to be the boss, the cop, or the crime lord. Conservatives and reactionaries embrace this, and side with bosses over workers and cops over communities, while liberals split the difference.

Real freedom takes socialism. To free our minds from backwardness, we need education. To free our bodies from illness, we need healthcare. To free ourselves from financial insecurity we need income. Conservatives and reactionaries want to send the rich children to the good schools and the poor children to the bad schools, and they call it “freedom.” Liberals listened to the lie and focused on getting a few poor children into the rich schools. Conservatives and reactionaries want to give the best healthcare to rich people and let insurance companies profit off the mediocre coverage they give working people, and they call it “freedom.” Liberals listened to the lie and focused on getting a few more working people into the mediocre coverage. Conservatives and reactionaries want bosses to make big profits and save money by paying their workers less, and they call it “freedom.” Liberals listened to the lie and focused on tax credits. Liberals want real freedom, but they’ve listened to the lies too much.The future liberals want is a future that will take socialists to build.

Socialists are liberals who stopped believing the lies. Socialists want all children to have a good, public education, so that they can all be free. Socialists want all people to have good, public healthcare, so that they can all be free. Socialists want all people to have good, public transportation, so that they can all be free. Sewer socialists are the nerds on the team who are interested in how best to run the trains, but for most people, here’s the story of the future socialists want: everyone, no matter their class, race, gender, or creed is free to sit down between a niqabi and a drag queen, and be themselves in a sea of people.


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The Crisis of Urban Governance

The American constitutional order will be in a continuous state of crisis beginning with the inauguration of Donald Trump and his coalition. The source of the crisis is the fact that this coalition has absolute power at all levels of federal government and in most states, but has no base of support or legitimacy in the country’s major cities. At the same time, those same cities are the beating heart of American capitalism. Shut completely out of power despite making up a supermajority of the country’s productive activity, these cities will resist in ways that make them ungovernable. The American state under Trump is a colossus with clay feet, and it’s about to fall on us.

One of Jane Jacobs’ great insights was the urban development and economic development are in essence the same thing. Cities as economic entities grow out from the center, spilling over their political boundaries into suburbs and satellite towns. Agricultural productivity comes from innovations developed in cities, while rural manufacturing development is typically a redistribution of something from the city, such as a company relocating a factory to cheaper land outside a small town, or government using urban tax revenue to build infrastructure in rural areas. Jacobs was mistaken to argue that cities predated agriculture, but her analysis as applies to the present day is well-supported. Clinton’s overwhelming support relative to Trump in urban districts illustrates the lack of support for the Trump coalition in the most productive areas of the country. An analysis by the Brookings Institution MetroMonitor found that the counties Clinton won constitute 64% of the national GDP. More notable is the shape of that 64%. The largest three Trump counties by GDP are Maricopa County, AZ, Tarrant County, TX, and Suffolk County, NY. Only one of those, Maricopa County, is the central county of a metropolitan area (Phoenix). Tarrant County houses Fort Worth, but not Dallas. Suffolk County is the easternmost of the two Long Island counties, and its high GDP is attributable to spillover effects from New York.

The pattern of the country as a whole is mirrored in Trump’s metropolitan counties, as well. Put a simple overlay of the precinct results on a satellite image of Tarrant County, and you could almost predict election results by ground cover:


It’s clear that Clinton won most of Fort Worth and Arlington but lost thanks to the exurban precincts. To make an unscientific illustration of this pattern, we can see that the dense Trump precincts look like this:


and the less dense Trump precincts look like this:


Meanwhile, a more dense Clinton precinct of Tarrant County looks like this:


While a less dense Clinton precinct of Tarrant County resembles the more dense Trump areas, looking like this:


This is not to say that certain urban spatial patterns are causing one candidate to win a particular precinct over another. But denser areas correlate to preference for the Democratic candidate, and also correlate to greater economic dynamism. It’s like a fractal. Clinton won the denser states, she won the denser counties within those states, and she won the denser precincts within those counties. And yet, our constitutional order is set up to value the votes in less dense areas more than the votes in denser areas. The more that the global economy concentrates its productivity in global cities and their immediate suburbs, the more the US economic system will punish the people who choose to live closest to them.

This is not limited to the Presidential election. If anything, the electoral college is the most forgiving to urban interests of all levels of government. This seems absurd considering that Clinton won more nearly three million more votes than Trump and still lost. This is as many people as live a metropolitan area the size of Baltimore, St. Louis, or Denver. It is as many people who live within the city limits of Chicago. An analysis by Peter Marcuse found that on average, a Clinton vote was worth three quarters of a Trump vote. Disenfranchising felons, requiring registration at a fixed address, and voter suppression efforts also tend to disproportionately reduce urban turnout. Despite all this, at least under the electoral college and other statewide races it is possible to run up the score in urban and inner-suburban areas within competitive states. A vote from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, or Dallas is worthless in a Presidential election. However, a vote from Milwaukee, Cleveland, Miami, Philadelphia, Denver, Las Vegas, or Detroit is just as good as a vote from the exurban or rural areas of the same states. The density of these areas also makes canvassing efforts more efficient. The same number of canvassers can knock more doors in the same amount of time. It also requires less sophisticated targeting methods – in major cities, the vast majority of the population (at least in some neighborhoods) will either vote for the Democrat or not vote at all. Targeting by precinct, rather than by household, is a viable strategy. In suburbs, it is necessary to carry out extensive canvassing and phone banking to identify supporters and swing voters, and avoid the risk of turning out Republican supporters during get-out-the-vote efforts. The Obama campaign recognized the importance of both approaches, and placed large numbers of field organizers on the ground in all competitive states. Under their field plan, they “ran up the score” in urban and inner-suburban areas, while running an extensive persuasion campaign in small towns and outer suburbs. The effectiveness of this strategy convinced many Democratic insiders that they had some kind of mathematical lock on the electoral college and led them to ignore their failure in district races.

Unlike statewide races, district races generally do not allow urban citizens to have a meaningful vote in competitive elections. For the most part, major cities have a small number of congressional districts (often just one) representing most of the city’s population. The Democrats win overwhelmingly within those districts. Though competitive districts exist, they tend not to include major cities, and Democrats must rely more heavily on the persuasion strategy. In the 2016 House race, the GOP won 239 seats and the Dems won 194. And yet, the Dems came much closer under national popular vote totals, with 47.7% to the GOP’s 49.5%. Under a proportional system, the Dems would have had 207 seats, the GOP 215, with 13 seats going to various independent or third party candidates. These same patterns repeat themselves at the state level, with the additional problem of midterm and off-year elections depressing turnout. This further under-represents cities, since urban voters are less likely to turn out consistently. Once again, it is a fractal. The American political system under-represents cities relative to the country in Presidential elections, under-represents cities relative to the state in other statewide races, and under-represents urban districts relative to the overall composition of Congress and state legislatures.

Despite their edge, Democrats are hardly faithful representatives of urban areas. Urban under-representation in Congress sidelines urban issues in national politics, while constitutional limits on the scope of municipal power constrain possibilities at the local level. This, combined with one-party Democratic rule in major cities has made it harder for those same cities to have a rich and rigorous internal politics. There are many competing visions for the future of cities. Should zoning and land use policies encourage more development or encourage historic preservation? How much should transportation policy focus on projects that benefit city-center districts like bike lanes and downtown streetcars, and how much should transit authorities favor urban-suburban connections like commuter buses and regional rail? Should cities take an active role in distributing wealth and administering social programs, or should they leave those functions to the national government and focus on economic development projects? Rather than citywide elections turning on distinct answers to these questions, the only competitive urban elections are sparsely-attended primaries between Democratic power brokers.

If cities were better represented, urban politics could become a key component of national politics. Parties with an urban base could run on platforms that reflect the kind of cities they would build if elected. Instead, municipal elections rarely correspond to national elections, and the officials elected rarely owe their position to a movement base pushing forward a shared vision for the city. In this environment, the best strategy for an urban politician to thrive is to focus on projects that offer them the most visible opportunities to aggrandize themselves and reward other power brokers – often in exchange for supporting someone else’s own self-aggrandizing boondoggle across town. An urban political order with competitive, high-turnout elections would create an alternative path to urban power: to support a popular movement against inequality within cities, and against inequality between cities and rural areas. This movement would administer reforms for more efficient and effective services that would benefit the city and its region. Our term for this is sewer socialism.

Like so many contradictions and hidden crisis points in the United States, the crisis of urban governance has been put off for generations through a series of stopgap measures, coping strategies, and compromises. The most significant of these is that the Democratic Party once had stronger institutional and strategic relationships with the labor movement, which gave them a permanent infrastructure to support Democratic candidates in small towns and rural areas. However, Democrats have steadily neglected their allies in labor, while Republicans have made destroying unions a strategic priority. The spread of “right-to-work” laws at the state level have weakened organized labor. Meanwhile, when Democrats had a solid majority in 2009, they failed to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made it easier for workers to form unions. The final failure was the Clinton campaign’s complete incompetence at a tactical level. But even if they had won, this was only the final blow in a decades-long process of rejecting populist strategies and policies that can win swing districts outside cities while driving up turnout within them.

The result is that we have entered an era in which the urban party has no power apart from a few enclaves (including the municipal governments of the major cities themselves), while the anti-urban party has almost uncontested power within the federal government and in most states. Through a combination of its own failed strategies and the structural under-representation of cities, the Democratic Party’s defeat has revealed just how marginal cities are in politics, even as they make up the lion’s share of the economy itself.

It is difficult to predict how this contradiction will play out, but it is possible to sketch its broad dynamics. To do so, it will help to understand the relationship between the political parties and the capitalist class. Leftists are fond of saying that the Democrats and the Republicans are both parties of capital, which is true. However, they do represent rival factions of capital. Though on the whole capitalists are most likely to support Republicans than Democrats (or else donate to both sides for purely opportunistic reasons), some capitalists rely more on major cities for their accumulation than others. The Waltons and the Kochs have no need for anything a Democratic politician can give them that a Republican politician can’t. However, real estate investors, Silicon Valley venture capitalists, and upscale department store owners all rely on urban space and the agglomeration economies, institutions, and infrastructure that give that space value. Wall Street and Silicon Valley firms recruit from elite metropolitan universities like Stanford and Columbia. Real estate developers must build alliances with municipal governments to enact the zoning reforms and infrastructure upgrades they need to support their developments. Producer service firms like marketing companies and supply chain consultants tend to be located in global cities because global cities, by definition, are cities with large agglomerations of producer services. The capitalists with interests in these businesses may personally prefer Republicans, but they are hosted by places that are overwhelmingly Democratic and now have no federal representation to speak of.

So what will happen? The reactionary coalition that now controls the federal government will, in all likelihood, pass legislation, enact executive orders, or make court decisions that will harm and provoke urban dwellers. Left with no electoral or legislative means to resist – not because they lost fairly but because they are systematically disenfranchised by the system – they will respond in ways that make the cities increasingly difficult to govern, and therefore increasingly difficult to extract value from. Protests, strikes, and riots will accompany any attempts to roll back the programs urban dwellers rely on, or violate the rights they believe in. The federal government, unable to claim any real legitimacy with its urban constituents, will be forced to turn to violent repression if it is to exert control over the cities. Fortunately for them, they have inherited from the outgoing Democratic administration a ruthless machine of oppression: militarized police forces, a gulag archipelago of public and private prisons, a surveillance apparatus with little oversight and, if that fails, the military, the national guard, and the drones. If the acts of urban resistance are disorganized and sporadic, they will not pose a problem. However, if urban direct action occurs at a mass scale, there will be no way to put it down without damaging the very urban economies that the capitalist class relies om. What will it do to investor confidence if riot police are firing tear gas grenades at protestors in front of the stock exchange every other week? What happens to global just-in-time supply chains if mass protests shut down the Port of Oakland for days at a time? What happens to the real estate investors of any local city if a riot destroys their mixed-use condo developments? One function liberal democracy serves is to prevent violence from deciding questions of power, and in so doing create stable conditions for markets to function. The fact that it has come to this is unfortunate, and organizers supporting direct action should adhere to the principles of nonviolence as much as possible. But this election reveals that we do not live in a democracy, and this fact makes violence inevitable.

There are a few ways that this can play out. The worst-case scenario is that American capitalism will reconstitute itself as more peripheral, less productive, and less urban than before. The urban capitalists will lose money, the global economy may fall into another recession, and cities will become even more underrepresented than they are now thanks to racist voter disenfranchisement measures, reversing much of the social progress of the 19th and 20th centuries. Under our undemocratic constitution, this would be legal.

The middle-case scenario is that the cities fail to unseat the anti-urban coalition from long-term power, but do manage to come to an uneasy truce that preserves their independence and self-governance. If the anti-urban coalition maintains control of the federal government but takes a lighter approach to the cities, it may lead to a new division of political power in which cities and urban states take on more power than they have before, adopting some of the functions traditionally carried out by national governments. The beginnings of this kind of solution can already be seen in some urban social justice measures like sanctuary cities, in which cities set an immigration policy independent of the national government. The beginnings of a city-state arrangement are already in place: sister cities can be the beginnings of a diplomatic policy, militarized police forces the beginnings of a military, and so on. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to refuse to aid the federal government in the establishment of a Muslim registry or deportations of undocumented immigrants, and the city has even built-in a protocol to erase all municipal ID card data in the event that the federal government tries to seize it against the city’s will. In a very real sense, there are people who are citizens of the City of New York but not citizens of the United States.

The best-case scenario is that cities will succeed in fighting back, and win nationwide in such a way that restores them to representation at the federal level. The danger to urban productivity will prevent some of the worst from happening, while a social democratic coalition remakes or replaces the Democratic Party in a way that can be competitive in exurban and rural areas while increasing turnout in urban areas. If this scenario comes to pass, the winning coalition should be willing to call a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution, and produce a re-established and re-ordained constitution without the undemocratic and anti-urban ratification system the current constitution calls for. Unless we change our system to equally represent all Americans, the crisis of urban governance will only recur. A democracy that grossly under-represents urban voters is not a democracy, and a Democratic Party that grossly neglects rural voters is not a democratic party.


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