Opinion

Why do liberal cities have so much income inequality?

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Michael Barone,Brookings Institution,The New York Times,Income Inequality

How do liberals who decry income inequality deal with the fact that income inequality is greatest in jurisdictions with liberal public policies? A story in Thursday's New York Times suggests an answer.

The story is based on a Brookings Institution report that finds, in the words of the Times' Annie Lowrey, that “inequality is sharply higher in economically vibrant cities like New York and San Francisco than in less dynamic ones like Columbus, Ohio, and Wichita, Kan.” And what does “vibrant” mean? Lowrey quotes the Brookings study's author, Alan Berube, as saying less “vibrant” cities “are not homes to the sectors driving economic growth, like technology and finance. These are places that are home to sectors like transportation, logistics, warehousing.”

But every metro area is, to some considerable extent, home to the transportation, logistics and warehousing sectors. Columbus and Wichita are also significant homes to other sectors, including higher education and general aviation manufacturing. I get the impression that for Berube and Lowrey “vibrant” means “places I’d like to live.” But not everyone shares that view. Metro Columbus and Wichita have not suffered the extensive net outward domestic migration as have metro New York and metro San Francisco.

Lowrey and Berube don’t show much interest in whether the liberal public policies of New York and San Francisco that subsidize non-work and penalize small employers have contributed to income inequality there. The coastal very rich don’t usually mind such policies; they make it easier to solve the servant problem. But a lot of less than very rich Americans choose to leave the “vibrancy” of liberal metropolises and look for opportunity and upward mobility elsewhere.

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