Thursday, September 19, 2013

Burbocracy Drives North American Politics

The most tangible cornerstone that lies at the heart of the American Dream, at the heart of middle-class life, is the chance to own your own home.     (Barack Obama)

Before I get started, here's a quick glance at the history of political geography.

During the classical period, politics referred to a set of human activities circumscribed by a polis, an urban centre and it's outlying regions in proximity to the city walls. According to Aristotle, a man should be able to walk across the polis in about a day.  This meant that chances were that a citizen would be able to recognize a good number of his fellow citizens, bringing about a network of "weak ties" between them, and this formed the basis of democratic rule.

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With the rise of empires, the basis of political rule was a hierarchical order backed by military force.  The vast majority of people were subject to imperial rule, and the art of politics was largely the ability to advance one's interest during a time where life was nasty, brutish, and short.

Over time, empires gave way to nations, and citizens within a circumscribed territory regained some influence over who would govern them and the political agendas to be followed, butter or bullets.

In North America, during the second half of the twentieth century there was a great migration to the expanding housing developments on the fringes of the city limits that required a car to get around.  At first, sometimes referred to as the good old days, a family could afford to buy a house in the burbs with only one breadwinner, but by the time I bought my first house after graduating from university, it would require two salaries to get a piece of the American dream.

In my opinion, we would do well to forget Jane Jacobs and ignore the retro-urbanists who blather on about the creative class.  What drives politics in North America and in its ever expanding sphere of influence around the world is people's overwhelming desire to buy the biggest fucking house in the most expensive development that they can afford to live in, with a set of wheels that matches the house.  According to the latest census statistics, approximately 70% of Americans and Canadians live in the burbs.

What do you think brought about the near collapse of the global financial system and the subsequent Great Recession?  Nothing less than a giant Ponzi scheme in which "subprime" mortgages for houses were pawned off on people who could never afford to live in them, and the debt was then sliced and diced and sold to clueless investors as Triple A grade securities according to Wall Street's rating agencies.  When it came to light that many of these securities were worthless, the scam came to an end, the global economy tanked, and the future of an entire generation was cast into doubt.

Speaking about the lost generation, much has been written about the millennials as being different in their political views as compared to previous generations.  Certainly, their access to suburbia has been hindered by a weak economy that does not produce a sufficient number of good paying jobs and their level of personal debt, but I wonder if the prognostications of the rise the new left is not somewhat premature.  Yes, it will take them longer to gain access to the cornerstone of the American dream, the house in the burbs, but once they're in, slowly but surely their political beliefs will reflect where they live, and the Occupy Wall Street moment will be eventually captured in a film or in a sit com that they can watch nostalgically on their big, flat-screen, HD television, while sipping on a glass of Chardonnay, the kids sleeping soundly upstairs.

Remember, since rural regions are overwhelmingly conservative and the urban areas are predominantly progressive, they effectively cancel each other out.  As a result, it will be the suburbocrats that will decide the outcome of the next round of general elections.

How will they be swayed?  Tax deductions for home renovations?  State-subsidized child care?  Tougher sentences for dog owners who don't scoop the poop?

It's anybody's guess how the votes will be bought, but at the end of the day and when all the votes are counted, suburbia will remain North America's promised land.

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