Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Return of Wonker

FYI, Wonk is back in town after a rainy, snowy Christmas jaunt to lovely Cleveland, Ohio—a trip just long enough for the Wonk to remember why, long ago, he moved down South to DC many years ago. Of course, the DC metro area was a bit on the nasty and cold side as well. But somehow, nothing can match the gloom of the Rust Belt's low-hanging, steel-gray winter skies. These cloud formations predominate from Halloween on to roughly Easter, sometimes longer, gifting towns like Cleveland, Buffalo, Toledo, and Detroit a prolonged Prozac Moment and spurring suicidal thoughts from those afflicted by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

While, as anywhere in the U.S., you can find much wealth—from the storied mansions of suburban Bratenahl to the newly-minted lakeside mansions of Bay Village and Avon Lake:—Ohio, from Columbus on up, seems to be in a prolonged decline and it's easy to see why. And it's not the gloomy, snowy winters. (Otherwise, who'd vacation in Vail?) It's the death-grip that the Demos have on Northern Ohio voters. Having rapaciously taxed and spent workers and businesses into oblivion (real estate taxes in Cuyahoga county on a $200,000 house are roughly twice those levied on a $500,000 house in Northern Virginia for starters), there's not much work available for a substantial population used to good-paying blue-collar union jobs.

Odd thing is that many of those folks refuse to move out of the area and down to the sunny South where there's plenty of work in the trades particularly. Reason? The South is largely hostile to trade unions. So let's check out the logic here. Better to be a member of a trade union in Cleveland where work, if you can get it, is seasonal anyway; than to have the opportunity to work 24/7, 365 days a year in the booming South where the wage rate in skilled trades is not a whole lot less than union scale. Inertia is a powerful emotion, it seems.

Much of the malaise in Northern Ohio is due to the unions pricing themselves right out of the competitive market. But what the unions couldn't do—create a thoroughly hostile business climate—has been done for them by the Democrats whose corrupt machine has had a lock on local politics since the time of FDR. Real estate and business taxes are so high that neither businesses nor owners of rental housing can afford to do business there anymore. Right, we're exaggerating slightly. But we can't help sensing that if the Rust Belt really wants to come back, they're going to have to abandon their entitlement mentality and tax and spend habits and take a cue from the South which, over many years, has stolen all those businesses that have not already fled abroad by providing a hospitable business environment, increasingly decent schools, and a generally higher respect for the law. Not to mention a much higher quality of life.

It's sad to "go home" and find out that for anyone with any economic sense, there's nothing left. It's hard to remember that Cleveland was, albeit briefly, the second biggest city in the US after New York and the place where the Rockefellers actually made their fortune—something few people are even aware of today. It was a city that was hospitable to business, and indeed, experienced a brief second renaissance in the late 1940s and early 1950s as ex-GIs flocked to town after the War to sign up for the abundant industrial jobs so they could make money while attending college in the evening for free on the GI bill.

Those days are long gone, as is Cleveland's importance. Yes, they still have the Browns, the Indians, and the Cavaliers. And the incomparable Cleveland Orchestra. And maybe even the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. But it seems as if almost everything else has been taxed away.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Don't underestimate the weather as a factor in an area's growth or decline.

When a region doesn't have much going for it, the awful weather doesn't help.