The centralization of power is one of the most profound factors in American public life. Conservatives and libertarians find it a dangerous tendency, while liberal statists applaud it. The elevation of power decreases the importance of the individual, reduces the importance of competition from the public sphere (states and municipalities face real competitive pressures with one another, while the federal government has no peer) and diminishes the sphere of personal liberty.
But it also has a practical electoral effect, as everyone watching the election returns come in last night could see. In swing state after swing state, blue mushroom clouds erupted over red counties as big city political machines turned in their votes. A single metropolitan area of great size can outweigh all the remaining votes of the state, given that not even the reddest outlying county will vote 100 percent Republican.
The cities don’t vote 100 percent Democrat either, but the level of organization that churns out their votes is quietly awesome. All those anecdotal reports of Republican enthusiasm in 2012 were real enough, but overall turnout was much better for Democrats. The urban factor is not unbeatable, but it’s very helpful. Those political organizations have very old and deep roots; there is coordination with labor unions, which by definition tend to be very well organized; and people who live in big cities have a certain willingness to accept large-scale government that can be quite different from the rural and suburban mindsets.
There are also the business realities and economies of scale to consider. Centralization of operations can be a great asset to nationwide business endeavors. Big operations produce cost efficiency that leads to competitive advantage. Buying or producing in volume and selling at a discount is great business model, and modern communications technology has made it more attractive than ever – look at the rise of Internet super-retailers like Amazon.com. Big companies must have headquarters, and those headquarters are not often located in sparsely populated rural areas. Those forces have been at work throughout the industrial era. Looking further ahead, increased fuel costs and greater reliance on public transportation – very much parts of the “transformation” planned for America – will only make location in close proximity to big urban areas more important for Big Business concerns.
On the national scale, population concentrations have a certain gravitational effect on elections. You’ve seen all those maps with a sea of big, sparsely populated red states assembled into a losing coalition around denser blue states. That’s the nature of the electoral system, and the Electoral College actually brings a greater, and welcome, level of political significance to the smaller states.
But some of those Big Blue states are also in very bad financial shape – Illinois and California leap to mind. They’re even worse off than the federal government is. And for all the talk of leaving basket-case state governments to fend for themselves without bailouts, we all know that’s not going to happen, especially not now. Redistribution and the socialization of loss are the operational principles of the New Normal, and they most certainly will be applied to huge, fiscally insolvent treasure troves of highly organized voters.
That’s how inescapable, centralized, redistributive government works. A lot of people end up paying for things they had no control over, their fates determined by entities in which they had no representation. It’s likely that a few crisis points will be reached during President Obama’s second term, and we’ll have some rather spectacular demonstrations.