Ed. Note: The Curley effect, a political strategy of increasing the relative size of one’s political base through distortionary, wealth-reducing policies, already has inflicted great economic damage on important American cities and states. It now presents an existential threat to our entire country.
Republished from Forbes.com, by Mark Hendrickson, May 31, 2012.
It’s hard to think of anything more perverse in American politics than the Curley effect. The Curley effect historically has been an urban phenomenon, but President Obama seems bent on taking the entire country down this wretched path.
As defined by Harvard scholars Edward L. Glaeser and Andrei Shleifer in a famous 2002 article, the Curley effect (named after its prototype, James Michael Curley, a four-time mayor of Boston in the first half of the 20th century) is a political strategy of “increasing the relative size of one’s political base through distortionary, wealth-reducing policies.” Translation: A politician or a political party can achieve long-term dominance by tipping the balance of votes in their direction through the implementation of policies that strangle and stifle economic growth. Counterintuitively, making a city poorer leads to political success for the engineers of that impoverishment.
Here’s an example of how the Curley effect works: Let’s say a mayor advocates and adopts policies that redistribute wealth from the prosperous to the not-so-prosperous by bestowing generous tax-financed favors on unions, the public sector in general, and select corporations. These beneficiaries become economically dependent on their political patrons, so they give them their undivided electoral support—e.g., votes, campaign contributions, and get-out-the-vote drives.
Meanwhile, the anti-rich rhetoric of these clever demagogues, combined with higher taxes to fund the political favors, triggers a flight of tax refugees from the cities to the suburbs. This reduces the number of political opponents on the city’s voter registration rolls, thereby consolidating an electoral majority for the anti-wealth party. It also shrinks the tax base of the city, even as the city’s budget swells. The inevitable bankruptcy that results from expanding expenditures while diminishing revenues can be postponed for decades with the help of state and federal subsidies (“stimulus” in the Obama vernacular) and creative financing, but eventually you end up with cities like Detroit—called by Glaeser and Shleifer “the first major Third World city in the United States.”
The Curley effect is extensive. Perhaps you have seen the chain e-mail listing the ten poorest U.S. cities with a population of at least 250,000: Detroit, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Miami, St. Louis, El Paso, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Newark. Besides all having poverty rates between 24 percent and 32 percent, these cities share a common political factor: Only two have had a Republican mayor since 1961, and those two (Cincinnati and Cleveland) haven’t had one since the 1980s. Democratic mayors have had a lock on City Hall despite these once-great and prosperous cities stagnating on their watch. This is the Curley effect in action.
Let me comment on the city on that list that I know the best—Detroit. (I grew up a few miles from its city limits.) In the 1920s, Detroit was arguably the richest city in the world. Today it is broke—a shadow of its former self after 51 years of Democratic hegemony and a Curley-like agenda.
I’m going to say something provocative that leftists will surely quote out of context, but it needs to be said: Detroit was a lot better off in the 1950s, when the city funded one of the best zoos in the country but had not yet built today’s gravy train for favored segments of the human population. Detroit’s decline has paralleled a shift toward funding far fewer zoo animals and far more human beings.
Critics may take this to mean that I value animals more than people. On the contrary, it is because I value humans more than animals that I find the policy shift to be morally offensive in addition to being so obviously destructive economically. It is bad enough to see a trapped lion carrying 80 pounds of flab that a lion in the wild would never have, but why would you reduce human beings to a similarly pathetic dependency? The bars that ensnare humans behind the economic and psychological cages of the government dole may not be physical, but it is pathetic to see people reduced to lives of unproductive idleness and despair, all in the name of “compassion” and, of course, for the sake of cementing Democratic mayors in office.
What is most troublesome about the Curley effect is that it is spreading beyond its historical setting of cities. Entire states—most notably our most populous, California—are manifesting all the symptoms of the Curley effect: Democrats enjoying electoral hegemony; businesses and middle-class individuals, more Republican than Democratic, emigrating to states with less oppressive tax regimes; reduced job opportunities; a budget careening toward bankruptcy.
Republished from Forbes.com. CLICK HERE to read the original.
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