The First Reversal Of Urbanization

Commentary on the fragmenting nature of modern society is not new. Observers recognize the simultaneous growth in supranational entities, treaties, and economic governance, all while small separatist movements and even new nations simultaneously form. The idea that this fragmentation is leading to an unraveling or collapse of core identities that held up the post-World War II system is newer, or at least newer in the pages of progressive.

What is lost in progressive commentary is the massive tailwinds at the back for a decentralization or deurbanization of society.

The trend for decades, if not centuries, has been one of urbanization, owing simply to the trend of technological development allowing for greater and greater centralization. In America, economic growth has funneled into the mega-cities comprising the Clinton Archipelago. These cities act as economic vampires and personnel vampires; the IQ shredding nature of cities means lower birthrates, requiring cities to suck in talent from all over America. This need is combined with a steady media messaging system that starts from early childhood equating high status with living in a city, and not just any city, but a glamorous city.

Trends towards urbanization and centralization feature prominently in news reports, but those reports contain the very same reasons for a push to decentralization and also forget the human element, neglecting to assign any agency to individuals. Business continues to consolidate by using technology and low-interest money to combine corporations and increase efficiency. There is a problem, though, as firms continue to flatten their hierarchy as they grow, merge, and downsize.

For example, firms may scale down their hierarchy from a structure during the 2000s or even late ’90s that may have had an executive VP in charge of a division, five VPs under him, a layer of management, possibly working supervisors, and then the floor of white collar workers. There was possibly even a feeder staff of temporary employees to find the newest floor workers. The flattening of a hierarchy shaves the entire division down to say 2-3 VPs, half the management staff, and floor workers who they stretch and stratify to act like managers, but of course without the pay.

These companies give false promises of empowering down the chain, as technology really places sign-offs and exception power up the chain, creating bottlenecks.

The bottlenecks are not just in processes. For the work environment, this also destroys the future expectations of many employees who see the management slots collapse. The brass ring that was held out for Boomers to chase as they failed to reach executive status is not even visible today. Employers focusing on cutting costs have destroyed the idea of feeder positions to develop talent and gutted many internal training programs. Instead, they want a new hire to have 3-5 years of experience, start day one running at 100 mph, and also accept the wages of a 25-year-old.

The other problem is that skilled workers are becoming harder to find, but technology has a fix. The rise in remote workers is due to technology, but also the lack of loyalty from employers, allowing more skilled workers to become free agents themselves. These factors are economically where the tailwinds for decentralization come in, as now employees can earn a city wage or a Blue State wage but live in rural areas, small towns, or simply lower cost of living Red States.

This has become a trend in recruiting, which will accelerate as firms continue to seek cost reductions, while bidding on the limited high skill talent pool. A fixed cost to cut is the square footage of $0 for a remote employee working from home versus the massive square footage for office space in any big city.

Deurbanization can also extend to entirely new microfirms that employ one or maybe two employees for the purpose of using technology to provide clients with the service they get at Bugman Corp, but with the care and attention of a boutique firm. In the 1970s, sales and service employees threatened to take their bloc of customers to a competitor if they were upset with Bugman Corp. With today’s technology, these same client interface employees can take their bloc of clients with them and become a small firm.

Perhaps this does not appeal to large clients with many moving parts, but it is awfully seductive to clients that are small to midsized and feel like one of millions of fish the many corporate oligopolies fight over servicing. Why would a customer have to be a small fish in a giant pond for a financial firm, when they can receive custom care and service as the big fish that a boutique firm needs? Years ago, many service firms scoffed at the idea of automated customer service lines or everyone outsourcing to India due to negative customer feedback to Gateway’s use of Indian call centers. The all-powerful cost-cutting impulse made it so, despite angry customers.

It does not need to be boutique firms or remote workers creating a landscape of skilled people heading remote. Regional firms can compete with the oligopolies of today because of the limits on economies of scale. Naked Capitalism has always written how numerous studies on banks show that after a certain size, gains from growing actually turn into losses. The too-big-to-fail (TBTF) bank situation is a perfect one for an industry destroyed to bail out a few elite entities now in a symbiotic relationship with the central political authority. With very little to compete on for costs or products, regional banks can begin to compete on service and client interaction again. With the spread of technology, TBTF banks no longer have an edge.

Deurbanization requires skilled workers and managers to become disaffected with the city and to erase the idea that the city is supreme from their minds, which with propaganda is not hard, as the sick culture of cities twist the lure of good food and the occasional concert into Western metropolises resembling The Capitol in Hunger Games. While the Pentagon’s ‘unavoidable’ dystopian urban future is anchored on the urban hellscapes of the Third World, this also applies to Western cities if the immigration floodgates remain open. As cultural goods decay or become targets for terrorists, as in the Ariana Grande concert bombing in Manchester, what is the upside to city living? If work can be divorced from location and the edge of being city anchored to get an executive spot is sandpapered away, what is holding anyone in the city?

Within the last 100 years, flight from the cities has happened and can happen again.

It is not simply 20th century white flight that serves as an example, but the development of old European towns. Henri Pirenne wrote how the locked feudal system ended up pushing others out or forcing others to create economic and political orders outside of the feudal system. This new order involved the formation of a patriciate with political power in the hands of locals that made their small towns function (a decentralized authoritarian order). These merchants and tradesman built the very picturesque cities Europe is famous for, while holding political power outside of the feudal agricultural system.

The neo-feudalism of today’s economy, where large corporations use large masses of the underclass via government funded conduits to earn money, allows for others to seek fortunes elsewhere and by other means. The current high and low could become a closed-off loop, and with their 90/10 Democrat/GOP voting patterns could in effect do this already to the areas outside the Clinton Archipelago. The elimination of the middle class could be interpreted as a removal of the middle as needed by the ultra-concentrated high to earn their lavish fortunes. This middle could form a new system if only it could coordinate and stepped back from the ‘cities r gud’ brainwashing.

It would take shared goals, ideals, and beliefs–and it would not look like a back-to-the land farming movement, but rather a back-to-the-land pioneering spirit to build up small towns and rural areas, using location independent workers, technology, and the rejection of the progressive status system. For small towns and little cities, it would not take many individuals to co-locate and transform a community of 5,000, or even 10,000. In these towns, there would be a renewed demand for sovereignty services, police services, education, and various goods and services that could be private and outside the current progressive regime.

There are probably ways to trick the Eye of Soros on the surface without revealing the weaponized infrastructure underneath. There would have to be some large entity that could provide security and even legal help for this distributed network.

Each technological development allows for a central force to further centralize services and power. If the products of that force are corruption and dysfunctional, the atmosphere will change for competent individuals to employ that same technology on a smaller scale. That same technology can provide the same goods and services, but in the hands of a person you can see, touch and feel. If the broader identities that the system has used for unifying their nations are unraveling, the opportunity is there for greater differentiation, social isolation, and given enough time, even speciation.

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13 Comments

  1. Random Dude on the Internet June 4, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    Good writeup. What will also accelerate decentralization is that SWPL living can be easily exported to smaller towns. Smaller towns can and some are turning their decrepit main streets into microcosms of larger cities. SWPL coffee shops and craft breweries are easy to replicate and stay open in a town of 10,000 people. SWPLs will temporarily suffer the embarrassment of not being able to live in a city with a metro area of 5+ million people but if they can replicate their lifestyle in a much smaller town for a fraction of the price, they eventually will. Once heroin has ravaged enough small towns, the SWPLs can jump right in and gentrify the towns much like they did in the bigger cities.

    1. Sometime ago, I read about SWPLs relocating to Appalachian towns & opening art galleries & coffee shops. Makes sense really; rustic charm, reasonably decent weather, low cost, low crime, close to federal parks & nature preserves. With fewer urban corporate opportunities, why not LARP as a hillbilly?

  2. Dammit, Landry, I hate that you wrote this article…

    …because I’ve been planning to write basically the exact same thing for over a year now. Oh well. Mine’s slated to be a multi-part series, and I guess I have one less part to write because now I can just link to this. Anyhow, great piece, though as the saying goes: “Get Outta My Head”!

    1. William Middleton June 5, 2017 at 9:10 pm

      Still waiting on those “Country Squire” blog posts AntiDem! I would still write everything you were planning on initially. Looking forward to it!

      Re cities, I will readily admit that I’m not a city person. However, a lot of the American mid-sized cities (i.e. Milwaukee, Charleston, Pittsburgh, etc.) are actually really nice, if you discount for the vibrancy. They offer good alternatives to the unfathomable costs of huge cities like NYC, London and San Francisco. Plus, they at least retain somewhat of an identity compared to the rootless, globalist nature of cities like NYC. Could be a reasonable alternative too…

  3. I recently took a trip to Australia for a month to visit my parents. Over recent years, I have become increasingly frustrated with Melbourne’s diversity (there is currently an African crime epidemic of all things, and Chinese own half the city, seemingly, with Indians just about everywhere else), buckling infrastructure and travel times, and general level of SWPL idiocy.

    My parents moved out of Melbourne permanently in December (they previously spent half their time outside in a small holiday house). They bought a huge house on acreage made from imported stone walls and imported slate roof tiles for less than the median price of a house in Melbourne (which is approximately ten times median income — how can that be sustainable in any way?). They recently sold their three bedroom apartment for more than 1.5 million USD, and so pocketed over 1 million USD between the two. That makes no sense at all, but I’m glad they got out of the ponzi real estate market when they did! They now live in a town with a five digit population that has most things you could need (no microbreweries, but I don’t need those) and it is idyllic by comparison to Sodom on the Yarra.

    I even managed to attend a classical music concert in a neighbouring country town. As far as I can figure out, the only thing that Melbourne still has going for it is the zoo (the one with four-legged animals).

    Other than going to and from the airport, I spent about two hours in Melbourne visiting a friend (the others I had come to me with the allure of hiking). Two hours was too long.

    When I eventually return to Australia, it surely won’t be to Melbourne. Technology is making such a place redundant. The suburbs in particular suffer all of the drawbacks of the city (especially high real estate prices and long commutes) and seemingly none of the benefits. Australia hasn’t had a recession for 25 years and household debt is second in the world. The next financial crisis is going to crush the (sub)urbanite.

  4. My concern is that forced integration will follow these people abandoning the city and never let them have a chance to form a natural organic community. I mean we have organizations now placing Somalis and Iraqis in small rural towns where they generally turn it into a smaller version of their home country.

    Also, if anyone has a nice pretty town with low crime it will eventually attract the rich who will push real estate prices up, change the culture and generally make it not a place normal people can live.

    I want to believe their is a way out but this system doesn’t want anyone to have nice things. Anyone except the extra rich who can just as easily buy a home in a gated community that excludes most diversity by simply pricing them out.

  5. Randall Parker June 5, 2017 at 2:25 am

    In the 1990s I believed this argument. The internet was going to free us knowledge workers from densely populated areas. I really wanted this. But that’s not what happened. The top knowledge workers have become much more concentrated into a smaller number of locations. The big computer companies only spread out to set up remote offices near major research universities.

    Small boutique firms? The rate of new businesses​ starting up has been trending downward for years. Computer tech seems to be favoring bigness. The small and medium sized banks have lost market share to the biggest banks.

    Maybe virtual reality will enable this long fantasized shift of knowledge workers to the hinterlands to finally take place. I’d be happy to get back to rural living. But I’m not expecting it any time soon.

    1. William Middleton June 5, 2017 at 9:17 pm

      Randall,
      You are definitely correct that there has been a “brain clustering” of some sorts over the last generation (see Charles Murray’s Super Zips). Still, metro areas have sprung up over the last few years that have at least started to eat away at the market share of the legacy metros, such as Nashville, Raleigh, Austin, Boise, etc. Can’t this trend continue to rest of the country, at least to some extent?

  6. The Marble Man June 5, 2017 at 8:53 am

    Great article. Something like what you describe is occurring in New York’s Hudson Valley, though I’m unclear as to what degree it’s being driven by tech:
    https://i-d.vice.com/en_us/article/why-new-yorks-young-artists-are-leaving-the-city-and-moving-upstate

    So I guess the question is will these people have children who grow up in more of a small town/rural setting and thus be more likely to lean right? Again I’m not sure. One thing is for certain though: without turning off the spigot of mass immigration none of this really matters in the long term. Every corner of the country will be flooded with large numbers of non-Westerners.

  7. i was going to comment simply, you know, “Hong Kong”.

    but there’s an economic point that was completely ignored: smaller business demand smaller transportation costs (such costs are the main driver for scale), which means… well, urbanization.

  8. William Middleton June 5, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    Great stuff Ryan! Just an FYI, my family will be leaving the East Coast within a few months and moving to the Midwest. We will still be in a metro area but on a smaller scale that actually still feels like America (i.e. natives still do the construction, the gardening, the cooking, etc.). We have another child on the way and we’re incredibly excited.

    Christopher Lensmann had a few really interesting tweets a few days ago in response to Michael Lind’s new article in the American Affairs Journal. Lind is very much a New Deal liberal but I’ve always found him to be really interesting. He has written some of the best critiques of the FIRE economic system and the social arrangements of the Blue Social Model that I’ve read, at least from a mainstream writer.

    Also, I have to admit I’ve always had a soft-spot for Joel Kotkin. He’s consistently been critical of the modern Left’s obsession with high cost cities and its impact on affordability. He’s a Truman Democrat but he genuinely cares about the condition of the middle class.

    I’m still finishing this report that Lind and Kotkin recently published on the American Heartland but I agree with almost all of it so far. Some good ideas for countering the economics of the Blue Social Model: http://opportunityurbanism.org/2017/05/report-new-american-heartland/

  9. “Cities”: what exactly are you referring to? Dense urban cores vs everything else? Large vs small metros? Metro vs rural? Unclear, so it’s hard to evaluate your case. There are structural advantages to living in a 1M metro vs a 10K micro that show little sign of changing.

    “City=high-status” messaging is pretty recent (90s). There’s also powerful “Suburb/Town/Rural=home” messaging, and of deeper pedigree. Doubt either explains much. Other possible causes of urban-core renaissance: extended adolescence (in labor and mating markets), 2-worker households, cores increasingly difficult to access from suburbia (especially from the expansion edge).

    Agree with Randall, everyone expected decentralization with the internet, but the reverse has been the case. Reducing the costs of the edges raised the node premium. No guarantee that trend will last, but there’s little reason to think decentralization is happening. Working remotely is a career-drag like the Mommy track and the remote workers usually live in-metro anyway.

    “IQ Shredders” While extremes of density can make large families uncomfortable, I’m at a loss to find an example of market forces yielding such results across a 1st-world metro (Singapore/HK have intense political control over land). I suggest that IQ shredders are mostly from (a) self-sorting and (b) politics. There are two sub-themes to IQ shredder politics, (i) zoning and (ii) multiculturalism, artificially making urban family formation expensive.

    I think reactionaries even intuit that cities, in of themselves, are not the issue. Look at how often urban themes show up in the aesthetics, whether past, present, or future. But right now, cities are controlled by and home to the opposition, so there’s serious mood affiliation.

    Cities are going to reflect an extreme of their underlying society. Density exaggerates the characteristics of the inhabitants. A reactionary city would be a wonderful thing to behold, and it’d be considerably larger and (in spots) more dense than you might think, let me know if I should expound. But it’d be very difficult to achieve when revolutionaries control the larger society.

  10. I have two options when I graduate for job placement: live in either a major metro area (city/inner ring suburb) or stay in the decently sized town where my university is located. The industry that I’ll be employed in doesn’t pay much; you simply won’t make the benjamins unless you open a private practice, so the latter of the two options seems appealing. I attend a major public university so there’s cultural events that happen year round with the surrounding area being the classic Midwest you see in scenic calendars. The only things I’d be missing are professional sports and the performing arts in the form of the opera, orchestra and ballet. Of course, I can always drive the 2.5 hours to the city for the occasional treat. Retail is okay alongside decent choices of ethnic restaurants. It’s not a bad option, really. Add to the fact that my program has connections within the community it becomes more attractive.

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