Contributor Post Created with Sketch. We’ve Got a Problem Here, Or, It’s the Culture, Stupid

 

shutterstock_137355674From a friend who wishes to remain anonymous but displays a particular knack for describing big problems in very few words:

I’ve been reflecting on this challenge for conservatives:

In the first internet boom, Lancaster, Pennsylvania (Home of Amish quilts and corn and crafts) was the global HQ of Mapquest.com, which was sold to AOL. There are no similar stories this cycle.

Thought experiment:

Imagine a Republican governor slashed Pennsylvania’s regulations and taxes. Imagine a Republican President and Congress slashed federal regulations and taxes.

Would that do anything to ensure a tech boom in central Pennsylvania?

No.

Why? Go try to convince an Ivy League computer engineer to move to the near suburbs of NYC. No prob. Now try to pitch them on moving 3 hours from NYC to Amish country. Impossible. Charles Murray’s Super Zips win every time.

Put another way: Rand Paul might be able to solicit Silicon Valley donor dollars to Kentucky, but he’ll never export Kentucky values to the Valley.

My friend has a point, hasn’t he? The very economic growth we conservatives champion tends to reinforce the dominance of certain cities (New York, San Francisco, Boston) the values and ethos of which trend strongly liberal — and there’s just no way around that.

To avoid losing our purchase on the culture altogether — to avoid becoming ever more square and irrelevant in a culture that celebrates the cool and the hip — what, Ricochetti, are we to do?

 

There are 57 comments.

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  1. DrewInWisconsin, Type Monkey Member

    Now imagine that a state slashed regulations and taxes, but federal taxes and regulations aren’t slashed. That would still tend to drive business to a particular state. (See, for example, the mass exodus from California into Texas.)

    While that would still reinforce the dominance of cities, it wouldn’t necessarily be coastal cities.

    The solution is to allow states to take the lead, isn’t it?

    • #1
    • May 20, 2014, at 6:31 AM PST
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  2. Casey Inactive

    Peter Robinson:

    To avoid losing our purchase on the culture altogether — to avoid becoming ever more square and irrelevant in a culture that celebrates the cool and the hip — what, Ricochetti, are we to do?

     Sounds like a question Richie asked the Fonz.

    • #2
    • May 20, 2014, at 6:56 AM PST
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  3. Jim Chase Member

    No, it may not “ensure” a tech boom in middle America, but why does that matter? If the yoke of unnecessary regulation and overburdened taxation are removed from the citizenry, are they not better off? Are they not more free to explore the possibility of starting new businesses, creating new jobs, and thereby realizing genuine economic growth, and in time, prosperity?

    The ethos of the big cities are what they are. I don’t mind if they benefit from increased prosperity – even if they are bound to squander it. If they want to carry that yoke, so be it.

    Just give the rest of us the liberty to pursue our dreams, as it were. The values of middle America may never take root in the cities, but that doesn’t mean that our values can’t thrive where we are – provided we can get out from under the thumb of unelected bureaucrats.

    • #3
    • May 20, 2014, at 6:56 AM PST
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  4. John Walker Contributor

    There was a piece on the Wall Street Journal op-ed page in the 1980s (at this remove I cannot recall the author) discussing attempts of various regions to implant a “new Silicon Valley” to rejuvenate their economy. The author observed that every high technology centre world-wide was within a 200 km radius of a major world-class research university. In the case of Silicon Valley, you have both Stanford and UC Berkeley, for Route 128, Harvard and MIT.

    This influence may be more important than taxes and regulations in creating entrepreneurial enterprises. Note that heartland technology clusters also tend to follow research universities: Austin (UTA) and Pittsburgh (Carnegie Mellon).

    • #4
    • May 20, 2014, at 7:01 AM PST
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  5. Pelayo Member

    I don’t see this as insurmountable challenge. We already see companies leaving California and heading to Texas. States like Florida and Tennessee have no state income tax and do have cities like Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Nashville and Memphis that would be desirable to Millenials who are looking to join or create a tech start-up. I would echo John Walker’s point about needing nearby universities to draw people to the area and showcase the benefits of staying there after graduation.

    • #5
    • May 20, 2014, at 7:13 AM PST
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  6. Casey Inactive

    John Walker:

     Note that heartland technology clusters also tend to follow research universities: Austin (UTA) and Pittsburgh (Carnegie Mellon).

     Go Tartans!

    Oops, sorry… struck a nerve… please continue.

    • #6
    • May 20, 2014, at 7:23 AM PST
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  7. EJHill Podcaster

    Peter, I do not admonish you often, but… This is a very Liberal (notice the large “L”) thing to say, i.e. that all human aspiration gravitates toward urban living.

    Let’s take your friend’s main thesis: “Go try to convince an Ivy League computer engineer to move to the near suburbs of NYC. No prob.” There are questions attached to that statement that go unanswered.

    Is that a newly-minted grad or an established engineer with years in the industry ready to strike out on his or her own? The former certainly needs to go where the jobs are. The latter, does he need to be within face-to-face meeting distance with clients? Why Ivy League? Are “Big Ten” people stupid?

    All things boom and bust. Today’s Palo Alto could be tomorrow’s Detroit. Never underestimate the power of Liberalism’s destruction.

    • #7
    • May 20, 2014, at 7:28 AM PST
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  8. Sisyphus Member

    John Walker nailed it, in terms of the historical pattern. And location still matters, the unique, idiosyncratic culture that surrounds Silicon Valley in tech is as much an intellectual breeding ground as the Italian Renaissance’s city-states exemplified by the Medici’s Florence or the Classical Greek city-states exemplified by Athens.

    The advent of the Internet, however, is diminishing the need for physical proximity. Today, English speaking students across the world have access to scholarship and theories that a generation ago would have been out of reach to all but a few specialists. When we receive an esoteric diagnosis today, we can sample descriptions of illness, cause, and treatment from the Mayo Clinic to NIH to Johns Hopkins from any location in just a few minutes.

    In my industry, software can be developed by anyone on the planet for anyone on the planet. There are always requirement hurdles (what to build) and management headaches (personnel logistics, contracts), but as a practical matter location means less and less every day. In that world, politicians need to make their communities attractive to highly mobile, highly educated tech-gypsies looking for an affordable, clean, and stimulating place to settle.

    • #8
    • May 20, 2014, at 7:36 AM PST
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  9. The Question Inactive

    I have been thinking about the possibility that there is a kind of negative feedback loop between left-wing and conservative culture. Conservative values create wealth. Wealth makes left-wing policies possible, since they are expensive. Left-wing policies create debt and social collapse, leading to a return to conservative policies. This is a somewhat optimistic scenario, in that this model figures that people really do return to conservative values eventually. I’m not sure if that last part is true or not.

    • #9
    • May 20, 2014, at 8:00 AM PST
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  10. KC Mulville Inactive

    Yes, but we have a game theory problem here. 

    • On the one side, the side of the entrepreneurs, it is always better to have lower taxes and regulations. Great.
    • But now look at it from the other side – i.e., from the perspective of local governments. If you’re a local government, you’re only willing to cut taxes if you get something greater in return. If you discover that no one wants to come to Lancaster for high tech development, then Lancaster has no motive to cut taxes. 
    • And if, at the same time, a city already knows that the high tech developers will favor your city anyway, the city doesn’t have any motive to cut taxes, either.

    I say it’s a game theory problem because, while it’s true for everyone on the whole that lower taxes encourages business growth, for any specific local government, the odds are against it.

    • #10
    • May 20, 2014, at 8:02 AM PST
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  11. Sisyphus Member

    As a data point, I have known many 20-somethings in the industry who started out swearing by city living whose affection waned with burglaries, car thefts, muggings, riots, traffic, shootings, crack houses, thuggery, bloated taxes, identity politics, and so on. Sitting at the southern end of the Northeast Corridor and having traveled extensively there and elsewhere, I find the courtesy and affordability of the Midwest and the South to be far preferable. The kleptocracies of the Northeast Corridor and the West Coast cannot compare for livability so long as they continue their competition to be recognized as the most corrupt and fiscally reckless jurisdiction in the country.

    • #11
    • May 20, 2014, at 8:06 AM PST
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  12. Guruforhire Member

    If you want to attract rich people, or the hopefully soon to be rich people, you need to have rich people lifestyle stuff, most importantly STATUS markers.

    Frankly, nobody who thinks they want to be rich wants their neighbors to the fuzzy bearded white trash redneck. Even the people who were raised with and are generally sympathetic too the same.

    You can probably predict the liklihood that you will attract the upwardly mobile by the number of high end car dealerships are geographically close. If the new young engineer can’t buy a porsche/lotus/etc. He isn’t going to move there.

    Where is this new affluent young man going to buy his girlfriend/wife top shelf women’s stuff. Regardless of commentary to the contrary, yeah it matters a lot.

    What top shelf dining options are there?

    Take a Ralph Lauren Model and put him in the street and tell me if he fits. Does he want to be there?

    I wouldn’t call it cultural so much as it is lifestyle and status. Things that are very very important.

    • #12
    • May 20, 2014, at 8:07 AM PST
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  13. John Walker Contributor

    Michael Sanregret: I have been thinking about the possibility that there is a kind of negative feedback loop between left-wing and conservative culture. Conservative values create wealth. Wealth makes left-wing policies possible, since they are expensive. Left-wing policies create debt and social collapse, leading to a return to conservative policies.

    This is very much the view of Nico Colchester’s classic 1988 essay, “Crunchiness”.

    “Crunchiness brings wealth. Wealth leads to sogginess. Sogginess brings poverty. Poverty creates crunchiness. From this immutable cycle we know that to hang on to wealth, you must keep things crunchy.”

    • #13
    • May 20, 2014, at 8:14 AM PST
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  14. Peter Robinson Founder
    Peter Robinson Post author

    From my friend, who still insists on remaining anonymous (I’ve been trying to talk him out of it, believe me):

    Response to some commenters who are missing something essential:

    I hesitate to say this, but George Gilder was wrong. Cities are not leftover relics from the industrial age.

    For knowledge workers, there is a significant network effect produced by talent density in urban areas (including as one commenter noted, near universities). The difference between an average engineer (or commodities trader, or digital marketer) and a top 5% performer is enormous – orders of magnitude greater. This gap is preserved and widened when the smartest cluster together and learn from each other.

    Web products and tech-enabled businesses are not widgets. They are not commodities in the way that natural gas and oil are. Energy produces wealth. Information products create wealth and culture. Facebook and Google are channels for information but they also shape the direction, form, and substance of that content.

    It is a strange materialism for conservatives to simply focus on wealth as if the nature of that wealth doesn’t matter.

    • #14
    • May 20, 2014, at 8:17 AM PST
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  15. Peter Robinson Founder
    Peter Robinson Post author

    John Walker:

    There was a piece on the Wall Street Journal op-ed page in the 1980s (at this remove I cannot recall the author) discussing attempts of various regions to implant a “new Silicon Valley” to rejuvenate their economy. The author observed that every high technology centre world-wide was within a 200 km radius of a major world-class research university. In the case of Silicon Valley, you have both Stanford and UC Berkeley, for Route 128, Harvard and MIT.

    This influence may be more important than taxes and regulations in creating entrepreneurial enterprises. Note that heartland technology clusters also tend to follow research universities: Austin (UTA) and Pittsburgh (Carnegie Mellon).

    If you can’t simply implant a “new Silicon Valley,” can you implant a major university? That question strikes me as pretty darned interesting, and I know of two places in which something like a controlled experiment is taking place: New York City, where one of Mayor Bloomberg’s central achievements (if it turns out to have been an achievement and not a silly idea) was to sell Roosevelt Island, in effect, to the highest bigger among universities (Cornell won, and will be building a several hundred million dollar new high-tech campus on the island) and Qatar, where the emir, or sheik, or whatever he’s called, decided about a decade ago to invite five or six American universities to build satellite campuses right there on the Gulf.

    Can Cornell transform New York, giving it a startup culture like that of Northern California? Will it produce enough good engineers who want to stay in New York? Can Qatar University do something that has never before been done, giving an oil-rich Arab state a real economy apart from the oil?

    Beats me. But it’ll sure be interesting to watch.

    (Pictured: an architect’s rendering of the new Cornell campus on Roosevelt Island.)campus_lawn_revise.jpg__1400x761_q85

    • #15
    • May 20, 2014, at 8:25 AM PST
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  16. Guruforhire Member

    Don’t forget the research triangle in NC.

    • #16
    • May 20, 2014, at 8:27 AM PST
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  17. Masked Man Member

    Actually, in the mid-80s, Lancaster was home to a major RCA R&D and manufacturing center. Chase Bank, where I worked at the time, partnered with them to develop a consumer terminal for one of the earliest home banking systems. It’s an hour and 15 minutes for Philly and 2 hours from DC. Pretty civilized.

    • #17
    • May 20, 2014, at 8:28 AM PST
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  18. Casey Inactive

    I’m not sure I’m grasping the crux of the post and subsequent conversation.

    Are we trying to find ways to draw people out of their liberal covens?

    • #18
    • May 20, 2014, at 8:30 AM PST
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  19. Guruforhire Member

    Consider the case of Rochester NY.

    Huge companies that were part of the basic american fabric for years, not exactly low tech at their time. Great schools, and lots of them.

    Why did Rochester become a god forsaken hell hole?

    • #19
    • May 20, 2014, at 8:54 AM PST
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  20. EJHill Podcaster

    It’s end of history thinking. All that is will be forever.

    • #20
    • May 20, 2014, at 8:58 AM PST
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  21. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    The first Internet boom occurred during a period of lower taxes and lower regulation.

    I think the example used refutes (at least partially) the hypothesis.

    Thanks to the Internet, high tech software work doesn’t need to be done in a big city. I think there are LOTS of people who would LOVE to be able to make a high salary doing software work in a natural setting.

    If I could get my boss to install a high-speed internet connection up to my cottage, and allow me to do all my work from my hammock overlooking the lake, which is ENTIRELY technically feasible as there is no practical need for me to be in this office every day to get my work done, I would JUMP at the chance.

    • #21
    • May 20, 2014, at 9:14 AM PST
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  22. MikeHs Inactive

    Something like what you speak is happening right now in the Saratoga County area of upstate NY, at least 100 miles north of NYC – courtesy of Global Foundries: http://www.lutherforest.org/
    I’m not sure how this is working out, since I now live in SoCal, but it’s a very nice area to live, if you don’t mind snow in the winter, and you can always hop on the train or head out by car easily to NYC or Boston.

    More here from the Albany Times Union: http://www.timesunion.com/default/article/Growing-region-tells-hotel-story-5468396.php

    • #22
    • May 20, 2014, at 9:28 AM PST
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  23. EJHill Podcaster

    Besides, Peter, after DiBlasio gets done with NYC, Lancaster may look better than your anonymous friend thinks.

    • #23
    • May 20, 2014, at 9:45 AM PST
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  24. Liver Pate Inactive

    The only people silly enough to agree with your friend are those inbreds who read Brave New World, Lord of the World, A Canticle for Leibowitz, and St John’s Apocalypse.

    • #24
    • May 20, 2014, at 9:45 AM PST
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  25. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    MikeHs: … but it’s a very nice area to live, if you don’t mind snow in the winter …

    For many people, that’s a feature, not a bug.

    • #25
    • May 20, 2014, at 9:48 AM PST
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  26. Peter Robinson Founder
    Peter Robinson Post author

    Casey:

    I’m not sure I’m grasping the crux of the post and subsequent conversation.

    Are we trying to find ways to draw people out of their liberal covens?

    Good question–this is one of those threads that has dealt with more or less everything, including sin, redemption, and the End Things (thank you, EJ), but here’s how I myself would reframe the issue:

    Is there any way at all to convert the current centers of high technology and cultural coolness–San Franciso, Boston, New York, and, the one really liberal city in Texas, Austin–to conservative values?

    • #26
    • May 20, 2014, at 9:49 AM PST
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  27. Valiuth Member

    As someone who has lived in Lancaster County and has recently gone back to visit family that lives there I can tell you Lancaster is not a town in decline. It is quite trendy and as far as I can tell keeps growing. It also has one of the better public school systems in the state (Mannheim Township), at least that was the case when lived there in the mid 90’s. I must also say having been a kid there I can’t think of a better place to grow up. It is large enough that there are things to do but small and safe enough that you can run free. Frankly if I found a job in Lancaster county I would jump on it. 

    • #27
    • May 20, 2014, at 10:27 AM PST
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  28. Mendel Member

    Peter Robinson:

    Is there any way at all to convert the current centers of high technology and cultural coolness–San Franciso, Boston, New York, and, the one really liberal city in Texas, Austin–to conservative values?

    I would ask a slightly different question: do we really need to, or can we live with the type of liberalism that highly productive, innovative people tend to espouse?

    In the two years I have lived in Silicon Valley, I have come to realize that Silicon Valley liberals are decidedly not San Francisco liberals (even though many Silicon Valley employees live in the city). In fact, the bleeding-heart preachy liberals of SF are beginning to loathe the one-percenter twenty-somethings who are bringing prosperity and rejuvenation back to their city.

    Regardless of their politics at the ballot box, the type of person who is willing to work around the clock to grow a business in a competitive environment is conveying many healthy values to the rest of their community. Instead of asking how we can make such people more conservative, we should perhaps ask how we can make the other liberals act more like them.

    • #28
    • May 20, 2014, at 10:53 AM PST
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  29. Pilli Inactive

    High tech (Internet tech in particular) is dominated by 20-somethings and early 30-somethings. Think back to when you were that age. You wanted to be in the “happening” places. I frequently drove from Knoxville to Atlanta for that very reason. It was only later that I developed an appreciation for quieter, more open spaces. (Edgewood, NM…nothing “happening” here.)

    You are not going to change the desires of younger people to gravitate to excitement and parties. They will just have to age a bit.

    • #29
    • May 20, 2014, at 11:02 AM PST
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  30. Profile Photo Member

    Sisyphus:

    …..The advent of the Internet, however, is diminishing the need for physical proximity. 

    In my industry, software can be developed by anyone on the planet for anyone on the planet. There are always requirement hurdles (what to build) and management headaches (personnel logistics, contracts), but as a practical matter location means less and less every day…..

    This is correct, even when applied to designing physical products. My office is in SF but am currently located 1 hour east of SF. We have a client in Vancouver that we are working with in conjunction with our design partners in Ohio. We’ve had one phyiscal meeting in Vancouver. For the rest of the project we use Webex. No problem.

    This past fall we had our website redesigned in northern Thailand.

    I think the SF bay area will always attract. For all its liberalism, SF is really quite a beautiful city to live in and visit. You have Napa for wine, the coast for beaches and within 3+ hours driving time the Sierras, Tahoe, Yosemite, etc. You have all the major sports leagues, world class golf courses and all the hiking biking trails you’d ever want. Location, location, location.

    • #30
    • May 20, 2014, at 11:34 AM PST
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