Your Hometown (Updated)

My home town is Buffalo N.Y.
Ran across <a href=””>this economic analysis by Edward Glaeser that details the origins and history of the city, it’s past successes and current decline. It’s no secret that, along with other cities around the Great Lakes now not-affectionately called “the Rust Belt”, Buffalo is in hard economic times.

The truth is, the federal government has already spent vast sums of taxpayer money over the past half-century to revitalize Buffalo, only to watch the city continue to decay. Future federal spending that tries to revive the city will likely prove equally futile. The federal government should instead pursue policies that help Buffalo’s citizens, not the city as a geographical place. State and local policymakers could take steps that might—might—help Buffalo stave off its demise, if they avoid the errors of the past. But make no mistake: Buffalo faces long odds.

This is not quite right. Buffalo (and cities like Cleveland and Detroit and even Chicago) received little federal help, if any. All of these cities (with the marginal exception of Chicago) saw decline for two reasons; the decline of the steel industry and manufacturing in general, and the rise of technology that made the transportation of goods by water much less significant to the country. All of those cities survived only in proportion to the distance they could move away from heavy manufacturing industry towards more modern, technology based industries.

Clearly, if this was a race between those cities, Buffalo probably came in last, or very close to it.

There is one big ball and chain around the city’s ankle, though, that’s been a hindrance to them in this race. And that was the politics of New York State. It’s not that the State of New York is inseparable from the City of New York, but it might as well be. Since the days of Nelson Rockefeller Albany has faced east and south. The state has two senators elected with more appeal downstate than up, and a tradition of electing celebrities from other states to high office. The allegiance of these celebrities to the city of New York is not in doubt. Their allegiance to the rest of the state always is.

The article points out the fact of “white flight” from Buffalo. In truth, that’s not the problem. The flight of the young (and I was one of those) to almost any place else has been the problem for most of my lifetime. A small fraction of those people left because of the weather.

The remainder left because there were too few opportunities to make a living, especially if you were a white male.

They left because of neglect. For the most part, Glaeser agrees with me.

Buffalo also suffered from lousy local politics. During the 1960s, the city government failed to deliver either safety or good schools. Race riots shook the area, and crime rose steadily. Fiscal crises became epidemic. Buffalo had difficulty recruiting police because of low wages and the dangers of the street. Leadership was especially dismal during the late sixties and early seventies, the city’s worst years. Mayor Frank Sedita, who faced ceaseless fiscal problems and surging violence from 1966 to 1973, was a traditional urban politician, better at playing to the city’s various ethnicities than at confronting its ongoing crisis.

My father left the city for the south towns in 1963. By the time I graduated from high school nine years later, there was nothing in the city to keep me in the area.

Update: Just one day after this was posted, the on-line organ of The Economist magazine, Free Exchange, published three pieces on the economics of the City of Buffalo here, here and here.

They are not particularly optimistic:

Buffalo, like most cities, initially boomed because of the way its singular geography aided production and transportation in a singular phase of economic and technological history. That time is gone and there is now no great advantage to being in Buffalo. It is cold and the city has developed no compensating new strengths.

Explore posts in the same categories: Economics, Personal

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