Some conservatives dislike suburbs too

Critiques of American suburbs are not just limited to Democrats; some conservatives also don’t like suburbs.

Less well-noticed is that opposition to suburbs – usually characterized as “sprawl” – has been spreading to the conservative movement. Old-style Tories like author-philosopher Roger Scruton do not conceal their detestation of suburbia and favor, instead, European-style planning laws that force people to live “side by side.” Densely packed Paris and London, he points out, are clearly better places to visit for well-heeled tourists than Atlanta, Houston or Dallas.

There may be more than a bit of class prejudice at work here. British Tories long have disliked suburbs and their denizens. In a 1905 book, “The Suburbans,” the poet T.W.H. Crossland launched a vitriolic attack on the “low and inferior species,” the “soulless” class of “clerks” who were spreading into the new, comfortable houses in the suburbs, mucking up the aesthetics of the British countryside.

Not surprisingly, many British conservatives, like Scruton, and his American counterparts frequently live in bucolic settings, and understandably want these crass suburbanites and their homes as far away as possible. Yet, there is precious little concern that – in their zeal to protect their property – they have also embraced policies that have engendered huge housing inflation, in places like greater London or the San Francisco Bay Area, that is among the most extreme in the high-income world.

Of course, the conservative critique of suburbia does not rest only on aesthetic disdain for suburbs, but is usually linked to stated social and environmental concerns. “There’s no telling how many marriages were broken up over the stress of suburb-to-city commutes,” opines conservative author Matt Lewis in a recent article in The Week. In his mind, suburbs are not only aesthetically displeasing but also anti-family…

Yet, there remains a great opportunity for either party that will appeal to, and appreciate, the suburban base. Conservative figures such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher understood the connection between democracy and property ownership and upward mobility. Much the same could be said for traditional Democrats, from Roosevelt and Harry Truman, all the way to Bill Clinton.

Considering that a majority of Americans live in suburbs plus the long presence of suburban critiques, it is not too surprising that this crosses political parties. As Kotkin points out, a good number of conservatives and liberals live in suburbs and either party could (and has in the past) appeal to suburbanites, even if recent elections have tended to fall along urban/Democrat and exurbs/Republican fault lines.

Revival of urban conservatives in Southwestern cities?

Politico suggests that urban conservatives may be making a comeback in a few Southwest cities:

Squint, and you can see that Mesa is just one of several places where Republicans are creating a new model of conservatism for the post-Tea Party era, through an appealing blend of fiscal pragmatism and no-nonsense competence. Across the country, Republican cities are building new infrastructure and even embracing trendy liberal ideas like “new urbanism”—all while managing to keep costs in line and municipal workforces small and cost-effective. As the great, Democratic-run cities across the country—Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles—face fiscal calamity, America’s conservative cities are showing that there’s another way…

While Mesa has long pursued the lightly regulated development patterns that one would expect from the wellspring of Goldwater Republicanism, change is afoot. Over the past several years, the city has begun embracing development that’s downright trendy, and implementing policies that will make it more like Portland, Oregon, than Orange County, California…

The flair for new, pedestrian- and transit-friendly development extends beyond downtown. All through the city, Mesa is pursuing development policies that are downright crunchy. The city is undergoing a “road diet,” cutting one six-lane road to two, expanding sidewalks and adding bike lanes. “[We’re] trying to set the table for a more pedestrian-friendly environment,” says Richins, who has served on the City Council since 2008. A sprawling new park, adjacent to where the Chicago Cubs are building a new spring training stadium (another development that Smith spearheaded), has recently opened…

While it’s willing to make investments, Mesa is also lean in ways that more bloated liberal cities can’t boast. Take the City Council. Despite Mesa’s hefty population, council members are part-timers who have day jobs in fields from education to copper mining. City leaders also pay themselves considerably less than those in other cities do. Mesa City Council members make only $33,000 a year, and the mayor is paid only $73,000. (And those salaries represent the fruits of a big raise: Before last year, city councilmembers made less than $20,000 a year and the mayor earned only $36,000.) By contrast, as of 2012, in similarly sized Fresno, the mayor made $126,000; city council members brought home nearly $65,000. In neighboring Phoenix, meanwhile, the mayor makes $88,000 and city councilmen earn more than $61,000.

In fact, Mesa is lean all around. The entire municipal workforce stands at only about 3,200 people, down from approximately 3,600 before the recession, and only the firefighters and police officers are unionized. (The school district is separate from the city.) The city doesn’t hand out the fat union contracts that make infrastructure projects in blue states so outlandishly expensive (and thereby reduce support for infrastructure spending, period). During the Great Recession, when area construction companies were reeling and desperate for business after housing starts had fallen off a cliff, the city inked a number of extremely cost-efficient deals—literally building three firehouses for the price of four.

And the article goes on with brief descriptions of conservative moves in Oklahoma City, Indianapolis, and Colorado Springs. But, while the story of Mesa sounds interesting, this is the problem with such an article: how do we know that these cities are representative of other American cities or of a broader social movement? They may be representative but the article doesn’t give us enough information to know. In fact, the opening of the story makes it sound as if it is strange enough to find even one conservative city, let alone four. So, which is it: are these cities really rare or are there lots of cities like this?

If I had to guess, here is what I would put forward: if you grouped big cities in some different population categories (say 1+ million, 500,000-999,999, 250,000-499,999, 100,000-249,999), you would find more conservative versus liberal cities as you move down the categories. While I don’t have the time to look into this right now, this would be a fairly easy hypothesis to test.

People leaving blue states tilting national elections?

An analysis of the “blue-state diaspora” suggests this has helped Democrats in presidential elections:

Over the last few decades, residents of many traditionally liberal states have moved to states that were once more conservative. And this pattern has played an important role in helping the Democratic Party win the last two presidential elections and four of the last six. The growth of the Latino population and the social liberalism of the millennial generation may receive more attention, but the growing diaspora of blue-state America matters as well.

The blue diaspora has helped offset the fact that many of the nation’s fastest-growing states are traditionally Republican. You can think of it as a kind of race: Population growth in these Republican states is reducing the share of the Electoral College held by traditionally Democratic states. But Democratic migration has been fast enough, so far, to allow the party to overcome the fact that the Northeast and industrial Midwest contain a smaller portion of the country’s population than they once did…

The spread of people born in New York State offers a particularly telling example: Of the 20 million Americans alive today who were born in New York, nearly one in six now live in the South. That would have been almost unthinkable 50 years ago, when the share was one in 25…

The first thing we noticed was a major blue-to-red shift: Since 2000, the blue-born population in red states has grown by almost a quarter, to 11.5 million, or 12 percent of the states’ total population.

The paradox here is that this trend could be positive or negative depending on the level of analysis. Typically, population loss is seen as a negative thing. If there are large numbers of people leaving New York City, we might ask whether something is wrong in NYC. Actually, New York City may not be a good example because it always tends to draw people but think instead of liberal Midwestern cities, places like Chicago or Detroit or Cleveland, that have lost population and this has been tied to problems within those cities. Yet, the spreading out of liberals could work well on a national scale if those places losing liberals aren’t filled up with conservatives and the liberals who move weaken the conservative advantages elsewhere.

It is hard to imagine that any of this could be planned but I could imagine some interesting future scenarios where political parties encourage enough people to move, perhaps temporarily, so they can vote in a different place to help swing an election.

Canadian PM says 1,100 cases of missing or murdered aboriginal women “crime,” not “sociological phenomenon”

Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper makes a distinction between “crime” and “sociological phenomenon”:

Rejecting a formal inquiry into the more than 1,100 cases of missing or murdered aboriginal women in Canada, Harper said the issues are “first and foremost” crimes and should be dealt with by police.

“I think we should not view this as sociological phenomenon. We should view it as crime,” Harper told a crowd at Yukon College in Whitehorse on Thursday.

“It is crime, against innocent people, and it needs to be addressed as such. We brought in laws across this country that I think are having more effect, in terms of crimes of violence against not just aboriginal women, but women and persons more generally. And we remain committed to that course of action.”

Harper was responding to a question about renewed calls for a formal federal inquiry in the wake of the tragic death of 15-year old Tina Fontaine in Winnipeg. Fontaine had been missing since Aug. 9, after running away from her foster home.

Harper made similar comments involving sociology regarding terrorism last year. He seems to have two general purposes by invoking sociology negatively. He want to look tough on crime. This is a matter that should remain with the police and larger discussions about the implications of these missing and murdered women aren’t welcome. Cracking down on crime is a positive point for conservatives and even more liberal politicians usually can’t afford to be seen as soft on crime. But, this also seems like odd shorthand for trying to cut off concerns of political liberals who see larger forces at work here, perhaps broader patterns including violence against women as well as a against native populations. Sociology here represents liberal concerns. Is there any sort of deviant behavior that Harper thinks would benefit from a sociological perspective? It doesn’t sound like it and this inability to see the larger picture surrounding sets of events may just prove to be shortsighted in the long run.

Study finds college education not related to less religiosity

Adding to several other studies from recent years, a new study suggests education is not a hindrance to religiosity:

His study of 38,251 people found that college-educated folk born after 1960 are no more likely to disaffiliate from their religion than those who have not pursued a higher education.

And those born in the 1970s and ‘80s who have attended college are more likely to claim religious affiliation than their lesser-educated counterparts — thereby completely reversing the trends of education and secularization.

“This study suggests that, at least at an individual level of analysis, it is not the highly educated who are driving this change,” said Schwadel, an associate professor of sociology. “If anything, the growth of the unaffiliated over the last couple of decades is disproportionally among the less educated. … For younger generations, it’s the least-educated Americans who are most likely to disaffiliate from religion or say they have no religious affiliation.”…

“Religion is just a fact of life for a lot of college students. It is not compartmentalized as just Sunday morning (worship),” he said.

Some pockets of both liberals and conservatives may not like this news: conservatives who rail against agnostic and atheist college environments may have to back off while liberals may not like that college and higher levels of learning don’t discourage religion.

Additionally, religious groups and congregations may want to think about what it means if religion is increasingly the domain of the more educated. Marx suggested religion was a tool for dominating the lower classes but recent findings in the United States suggest those with more education favor religion more. Are lower income Americans less interested in religion (and if so, why) or do they find organized religion less appealing (perhaps they have less social capital with which to navigate religious organizations)?

Drudge Report gets in on the politicization of tiny houses

The Drudge Report yesterday featured this headline and photo regarding tiny houses:

DrudgeReportTinyHousesAug0514

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the headline links to a fairly bland story about the increased popularity of tiny houses in the Daily Mail, the tagline and the picture is intended to make another point: Americans are choosing tiny houses because the economy has pushed them into it. If the economy was doing better, assumed to be the case if there was a different president, they wouldn’t choose a tiny house. Perhaps this is what a future conservative president should run on: McMansions for all!

This isn’t the first time people have made political points with tiny houses. In the number of articles I’ve seen about such homes (and in the Daily Mail summary article), tiny house residents often make clear statements that they want to avoid consumerism and live greener lives. Generally, they seem to be favored by educated liberals. However, there is little reason that they couldn’t be supported by rural conservatives who want cheap and mobile housing on land or who want to build their own homes.

Given the relatively small number of tiny houses, perhaps the public discussion over tiny houses can’t help but be political as both sides try to use it to their advantage. If such homes were to become numerous and widespread across the population, the opposite might be true: neither party could risk alienating voters over their choice of a home.

Do conservatives only praise sociology when it fits their arguments?

Conservatives may generally dislike sociology but you can find cases where they are more than willing to accept the imprimatur of sociology if it fits their perspectives. Two recent examples:

1. Discussing a MSNBC exchange about Paul Ryan’s comments about the inner-city where one commentator suggested Ryan was echoing the arguments of Charles Murray, a Daily Caller writer defends Murray:

Murray is a prominent and widely-respected sociologist who penned the 1994 book “The Bell Curve,” which in one chapter posits certain racial differences in intelligence and suggests some of this may be due to genetics.

The book’s measured and well-researched take on a highly controversial issue failed to halt an immediate left-wing backlash. Murray was branded a racist pseudo-scientist, with the Southern Poverty Law Center filing his name under “White Nationalist” and falsely suggesting he maintains ties with neo-Nazi groups.

David Weigel, a left-leaning libertarian journalist writing for Slate, wrote that even after reams of well-received research since 1994, “[‘The Bell Curve’] wrecked Murray’s reputation with some people, and it won’t get un-wrecked.”

“But the conservatives of 2014 don’t cite Murray for his race work,” Weigel continued, noting that the fascinating work Murray presented in his later works “Losing Ground” and “Coming Apart” are much more likely to be referenced by opponents of the welfare state.

As I asked in February 2012, is Murray really a sociologist and how many sociologists would claim he is doing good sociological research?

2. Here is an interesting example from the Family Research Council of combining a temporarily favorable view of Hollywood actresses and sociology:

I know virtually nothing about contemporary stars and starlets, other than having consistently to turn away from the images of the substantially disrobed young “entertainers” displayed on the jumbotron across from my office in advertisements for their latest performances. Pornography, by any other name, ain’t art…

Now, however, Ms. Dunst is much in the news for having the audacity to say what she thinks of gender roles, to wit:

“I feel like the feminine has been a little undervalued … We all have to get our own jobs and make our own money, but staying at home, nurturing, being the mother, cooking – it’s a valuable thing my mum created. And sometimes, you need your knight in shining armour. I’m sorry. You need a man to be a man and a woman to be a woman. That’s why relationships work”.

Wow – how revolutionary! The idea that gender is not a social construct but actually has to do with biology, neurology, morphology, physiology, etc. is an affront to the received orthodoxy of the feminist left, many of whom have piled-on with a predictable combination of derision, illogic, non-sequitur reasoning, and obscenity…

So, men and women are different, and being a stay-at-home mother who cares for her children is something to be honored, not scorned: For affirming these self-evident truths, Ms. Dunst is being labeled “dumb” and ‘insufferable,” among the more printable adjectives.

Kirsten Dunst is now the good sociologist for agreeing with the organization’s perspectives on gender roles. No research required.

Conservatives aren’t alone in this behavior in cherry-picking studies and data they think supports their ideologies. Many groups are on the lookout for prominent studies and research to support their cause, sometimes leading to odd battles of “my three studies say this” and “your two studies say this.” But, given the complaints conservatives typically make about liberal ideas and research in sociology, how helpful is it to sometimes suggest conservatives should take sociology seriously?