Saturday, March 02, 2013

Required Reading . . . and More

This Forbes article is about Syracuse, but it all applies to Utica, too: By Forgetting Its Proud Economic History, Syracuse Loses Its Future
It appears that its future is no longer dependent on the genius of its people but the largesse of higher order governments both state and federal.  It has lost its ability to determine its own fate.  Poverty is the city’s overwhelming social characteristic . . .  When a metropolis no longer generates the wealth to sustain itself it has no choice but to become a supplicant city whose future is guided by federal and state politicians and bureaucrats whose visions of what to do with places like Syracuse are likely not sensitive to its history or what its destiny might be. . . . 
. . . the challenge is reshaping their economic cultures to encourage new business formation among its permanent residents; especially its poor. Doing this is a complex task.
The article goes on criticize local-based business recruiting efforts, and suggests that the solution to the economic malaise of Syracuse and other former industrial powerhouses is grow the economy from within, like it had been done in the past, with the government to "back off."

I agree with everything in the article, and local decision-makers need to heed its recommendations.  But something else is needed, too.

           "It has lost its ability to determine its own fate." 

The economic decline is pretty uniform among the formerly industrial cities of Upstate NY.  There once was a strong economic base to build upon, but the base has eroded. Why? Most of the larger cities have well-respected colleges and universities, so there is no lack of intellectual power.  But the best and brightest seem to leave for other places.  Why?  There is no reason to assume that Upstate New Yorkers are less entrepreneurial than their peers elsewhere or from prior generations.

The one thing that all the industrial cities of Upstate New York have in common is that they all must operate under policies coming from Albany, and that since the late 1960s due to a forced-reapportionment of the State Senate under a US Supreme Court Decision, those policies have been engineered by a downstate majority -- policies that may make sense in that part of the state, but have caused decline here.  Examples have been given over the years in this blog such as maintaining Thruway Tolls long after the road's bonds were paid off, using tolls to maintain free Downstate highways (I-84), closing downstate nuke and coal power plants and sending "cheap" upstate hydropower there, raising rates here above our competitors, sending NYC garbage to upstate landfills  -- to name a few. The recent gun-control law is reigniting discussion of the Upstate-Downstate divide.

Our Founding Fathers, both for the Nation and the State, knew the tyranny of pure democracies --  that majorities could force their wills on minorities.  In New York, government was crafted to ensure that the needs of the lesser populated areas would be voiced in law making, to keep the lesser-populated areas thriving, strengthening the economy of the entire state.  It worked tremendously for almost 200 years -- until the reapportionment of the Senate changed the delicate balance in NYS policy-making and Upstate's decline set in.

The alternative is to split the state -- but remember the motto "divided we fall."  Regardless ...

ALL of New York has lost out on the current deal.  Had Upstate continued to grow as it did before the reapportionment, the state probably would have several more congressional districts.

Times may have changed, but fundamentals of good government are timeless.  Leaders need to go back to court to revisit the decision that put us on the wrong track.  


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

It is not all that simple. The two factors that started the decline of New York State, particularly UpState were the invention of the air conditioner and unionism.Air conditioning made it possible, if not attractive, to live and work in warmer climates. Unions drove the cost of doing business high on a relative national scale. These two factors made the South, Southwest and West irresistable. In answer New York kept adding fule to the fire by raising taxes and creating more regulations thus further driving business out.

Upstate New York cannot come back in a certain sense. The brain drain has been too severe replaced by, as you write, an over dependent class of people, particularly the senior citizen. Look at the fracking issue which offers a treasure of cheap energy right under our feet. We sat, no!! Who leads the no? Older, richer and set in their way voters a coalition of seniors, college types and rich retirees. They love it just the way it is.