Heartland Intelligence Free Edition: Coronavirus Societies (Issue 20.4F)

Welcome back to Heartland Intelligence. As promised, there are now two version of this newsletter going forward: a free edition that will be sent to everyone and a premium edition that is for paying subscribers only.

This is the first free edition. The premium edition will be out within a week. It will include coronavirus stats by heartland city and state, new population estimates data, final 2019 job growth data, and more. If you are not already a premium subscriber, please sign up so that you don’t miss anything.

A lot has changed in the last month. America is in effect closed for business, duration TBD. I am working from home. The Indy Chamber has taken rapid action to try to help small businesses survive the shutdown, including launching a $10 million loan fund. I’m very impressed with what has been done, and it’s gotten national attention from Brookings and others.

The coronavirus crisis reveals a key strength of most heartland cities: they are much thicker societies than global cities on the coasts.

A material portion of the creative class of New York has fled the city. New York magazine wrote about how the 1% left New York, heading to their summer homes in the Hamptons or elsewhere. It’s not just them. The “influencer” crowd also came under fire for leaving NYC. This includes Naomi Davis (aka “Taza”) who lived right up the street from us there. One the Upper West Side Moms Facebook group many people talked about leaving or having left. Young singles have headed home to stay with their parents, and I even know married couples who are staying with their in-laws. (At least one person in my circles moved back in with his ex-wife in another city). Friends who are still there describe their buildings as empty.

There’s nothing wrong with putting the safety of your family first. I might well have done the same. But it shows how shallowly rooted so many people are in these places. Home is where we seek refuge. This crisis has revealed that for many New Yorkers their real home is elsewhere. (Ironically, it’s the immigrants of New York who might in fact be more rooted there, but that’s not universal. In London the Poles are exiting).

Alon Levy made a related observation in a post called “The Mines", in which he noted that many techies see San Francisco like blue collar workers see the fracking fields of North Dakota, as a place to get in, get rich, and get out. He notes that “mine” dominated communities are fragile:

The mines are not a stable community. They are not intended to be a community; they’re intended to extract resources from the ground, regardless of whether these resources are tangible like oil or intangible like tech. There may be some solidarity among people who’ve had that experience when it comes to specifics about the industry (which they tend to support, viewing it as the source of their income) or maybe the occasional issue of work conditions. But it’s not the same as loyalty to the city or the region.

Coronavirus reveals that NYC is also something of a mining town.

By contrast, I only know one person who has left Indianapolis for a vacation home. In cities like this, people are simply more rooted and more committed to the place as revealed by their actions in a crisis.

This is the heartland advantage. They are real communities in the way that the creative class precincts of global cities are not. Dynamism has its advantage, but taken to excess - the “Hotel Singapore” effect, as it were - it undermines social solidarity and the ability to make decisions and investments on a long time horizon. Why endure subway construction when you aren’t going to be around long enough to enjoy the improved product, for example. It also skews public policy making in favor the least committed residents.

It’s perhaps always been the case that the wealthy retired to their country estates in time of plague. But it still says something profound about a city when chunks of its elite classes bolt at the first sign of real trouble.

Heartland residents simply have more skin in the game for their cities. They challenge for them is to find a way turn this into a source of economic strength.

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