From 1990 to 1993, I lived in Buffalo, a city eerily similar to Cleveland, differing chiefly in scale. (It’s about half the size.) As I packed up to leave Buffalo for Los Angeles, there was a mayoral debate in which a Republican candidate, a Democratic candidate, and an independent candidate outlined their plans for revitalization. The first respondent (I forget which, but it hardly matters) said he would go to the state capital and fight for the city’s fair share of tax money. The second one said he would go to Albany and also Washington, D.C., and fight for the city’s fair share of tax money. The third candidate, the eventual winner, upped the ante by saying he’d go to Albany and Washington and fight for more than the city’s fair share of tax money. Is it any wonder that during the 1990s, a decade in which many cities turned around years of population declines, Buffalo was one of only two entire major metropolitan areas that lost people? (The other was Pittsburgh, a long-slumping town inaccurately but repeatedly praised for a comeback that is suspiciously devoid of economic or population growth.)
I'll admit that the jab at the Pittsburgh hype got my attention. One shouldn't dismiss praise because the population numbers look bad. However, I will concede the point about sluggish economic growth and add that Gillespie should put that observation in its proper context. The bone I have to pick concerns the suggested cause of population decline.
Analysts make too much of population numbers. Does Gillespie really think suckling at the public teat has anything to do with demographic replacement rates? Even if he does observe a link, policy changes will take a long time to show results.
The point of contention is migration. Immigration is a red herring. Plenty of unReasonable places attract a lot of immigrants:
The foreign-born share of Michigan’s population rose from 3.8 percent in 1990 to 5.3 percent in 2000, to 6.1 percent in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2007, Michigan was home to more than 600,000 immigrants. And roughly 47 percent of them are naturalized U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote, notes the Immigration Policy Center in its September 2009 report, “New Immigrants in the Great Lakes State.”Latinos, Asians and Arab Americans account for a large and growing share of the economy and electorate of Michigan. Census data reveal that 6.4 percent of Michiganders are Latino or Asian. The Latino share of Michigan’s population grew 4 percent in 2007. The Asian share grew 2.4 percent the same year.Michigan also has the highest proportion of Arab Americans in the nation and is home to some of the world’s largest populations of Albanian, Macedonian, Lebanese, Iraqi and Yemeni immigrants.
Shrinking government and liberalizing tax regimes won't attract more immigrants. That's not to say that Cleveland shouldn't seek to grow the foreign-born population. Just the folks at Reason don't offer a way forward.
That leaves domestic migration and the "vote with your feet" narrative for Cleveland to consider. The population boom of the 1990s that Gillespie references is deceiving. Among the top-25 largest cities, the biggest losers during that decade in order:
- New York City
- Los Angeles
- San Francisco
- San Diego
- Washington, DC
- St. Louis
More than half of the largest cities shrank in terms of domestic migration. People have "vamoosed" from many cities that Reason thinks are doing much better than Cleveland. Gillespie fails to distinguish net outmigration from population decline. He plays fast and loose with the facts and gains a forum with Cleveland City Council. It's both a sham and a shame. Thanks for nothing, Drew Carey. Cleveland doesn't need another brain drain boondoggle. However, local politicians will welcome the distraction.