“The deepest causes of inequality…are entirely out of the reach of city governments.”

At the end of a long essay against the actions of liberals in American cities comes this summary:

Liberal mayors seem utterly unaware of how poorly positioned cities are to address income disparities. The deepest causes of inequality, such as globalization and cultural disparities, are entirely out of the reach of city governments. They are seduced by mission creep. Progressive politicians are unwilling to stick to their real work of improving the core functions of municipal government, namely K–12 public education and public safety, and maintaining the basic infrastructure and services—parks, libraries, and the like. The rise of 21st-century urban progressivism points toward a future characterized by shoddy local services, increased regulation of city economies, and the consolidation of inequality.

I suspect this author would argue that liberals also don’t know how to correctly address social issues at the national or global level. Setting that aside, is the argument correct that cities can’t truly address inequality?

On one side, cities sit within a larger social system. Even the biggest cities – New York City, London, Hong Kong, etc. – operate within a global economic, political, and cultural system that they may influence strongly but don’t control completely. Global capitalism is influential everywhere and affects flows of capital and jobs.

On the other side, major cities are large economic engines in their own right – see several rankings here – and have significant budgets to utilize with millions of residents. Even as there is a global system, the decisions cities make as well as the unique resources they can draw upon can lead to disparate outcomes. Can they individually completely eliminate inequality? Probably not but they can use the means at their disposal to shape life in their borders.

Maybe this issue should be put another way: if inequality is not addressed at the municipal level, who is going to address these issues? At whatever level it happens, certain actions by city governments could help.

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