A Tale of Two Americas

Author: Swagnarok ,

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  • Swagnarok
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    To understand what I'm talking about, take the example of YouTube.
    Let's say that you're a content creator. You want lots of people to view your content, and you want to be monetarily compensated for a large number of views in accordance with some kind of algorithm.
    Any video streaming service can in theory provide you with the latter thing. HOWEVER, YouTube is where most people turn for user-generated videos to watch, because the vast majority of stuff is already on YouTube. So what do you do? You post it on YouTube, because that's the most rational decision for you. Maybe you could post it on some other website instead, so as to help them out, but that doesn't do you much good. There's little economic reason for you to post your content other than on YouTube, so you don't.
    What was YouTube's advantage here? The size that it's already accumulated. It hit a critical mass long ago that virtually assured further growth. For that reason I predict that YouTube will continue to be a widely used service even into the 2030s decade, because it's basically a digital city.

    But anyways, critical mass ensuring further growth. That's the principle I'd like to talk about here. Entrepreneurs and investors are "gravitationally attracted" to commercial hubs that've already achieved a certain size.
    These hubs are called cities. The expansion of a city is a nearly unstoppable force, absent a massive disaster that strikes a city and disperses a significantly large sum of its accumulated capital elsewhere (and even then it might recover). Most of the economic growth happening in the United States today is happening in cities, whereas but a smaller portion trickles down to the countryside. As a natural consequence, inequality between urban and rural areas is naturally slated to increase over time. For whatever reason some of us assume that the latter ought to be able to mostly keep up, but that's just not the case too often.

    The cities receive the talented people and the bold risk takers who have a business model in mind. These they receive from lesser developed areas, and of course from among the burghers themselves, since there are demographically more burghers than otherwise. But more importantly to this discussion is the process of brain drain.
    The best and the brightest from rural areas rarely stay there, and instead move to the cities to seek opportunity, because opportunity is of course centered in urban areas, because those services which would help make their dreams a reality had already moved to the cities long ago.

    The advantage of the city is twofold: first, geography. It is the natural midpoint between opposite areas. However, for services which can be facilitated over the internet or by telephone this is far less important in the emerging economy.
    So what is the principle advantage of cities? It is their critical mass which they've already achieved. It serves as a magnet to the surrounding areas. While the burghers themselves (descendants of people who moved from the countryside) do produce, there is also something distinctly parasitic about cities.
    It's also important to keep in mind that when we talk about "Trump Country" (and especially in the pejorative sense), we're talking about areas that have been victimized by the market forces of urbanization. Revolutionary start-up companies that might've been centered in their towns, and provided jobs to their towns, but which instead went to the cities. The people who stayed behind were indeed left behind.

    In the modern world, there exists a potential to do things differently. A more geographically dispersed economy. And perhaps a more equitable one as well.
    It would allow us to take better advantage of our large landmass, and so make land and home ownership more affordable for the average American. Most people would enjoy better air quality, less noise pollution, and even a natural landscape surrounding their homes.
    Total ruralization is unreasonable, but a shift from urban to a somewhat more natural (and I don't mean a centrally planned grid whose only shrubbage was 1 centimeter tall plastic grass) suburban setting wouldn't be. It'd require a gradual relocation of American workplaces (mostly offices designed to provide long-distance services) to make this vision a reality.
    It could happen naturally, but most likely it would require no small amount of government intervention. The city-rural divide could be bridged, and our politics might stand to become less polarized as a result.
  • TheDredPriateRoberts
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    --> @Swagnarok

    businesses need infrastructure, utilities, shipping and receiving etc.  Spreading out as you described imo would require a lot more construction etc to provide adequate needs for a large business(s) when they already exist in large part in the cities and already established business districts.  If there was a cost and business benefit to spread out they would do that w/o any need for intervention.  Though towns, cities etc already try to entice business to them.  
    I'm not sure what the benefit would be for business to go into less developed area, if there are any, they will.