Published August 30, 2019 in Warp & Woof
City Cousins and Country Cousins
What Makes Them Different?
The Neolithic Revolutionoccurred approximately 12.500 years ago. It was followed immediately by the urban/rural political divide. As soon as hunter-gatherers coalesced into agricultural settlements, and stopped being nomadic, they established villages, then cities. Yet, the food to feed the population in those cities was grown by the farmers. It was their surplus that sustained the city.
In time, however, the farmers’ natural advantage over the city dwellers became inverted. Farmers became indentured to the lords of the manor (the “city”) under feudalism. Power flowed upward – the cities became creditors and the manor, or vassals, were debtors.
The eternal conflict between debtors and creditors intensified. Mercantilismwas about more than international trade. Any power center (e.g., an estate, corporation, or nation) sought to maximize profit by keeping costs (imports) to a minimum while getting maximum price for its products (exports).
As agricultural workers lost their bargaining power, since they had only one buyer (the city), workers in the city found more favorable economic conditions. If they could produce goods and services only a few skilled individuals could provide, like luxury goods for the nobility, they could demand whatever price they wanted, provided there was a market.
The activities of marketing and money lending became concentrated in cities. Other rent-seeking economic behavior followed. And, the emigration from the countryside to the cities began. That’s where the jobs were. Industrialization only aggravated this. Education also became available mostly in the city – to provide the skills necessary for even more specialized production. Capital, both human and material, became the currency of a new age.
But the farmers stayed the same. Indeed, they found they also needed access to capital in order to maximize their surplus. Family farms became businesses — or sold out to businesses.
And, the emigration of the young to the city continued. The cities began to grow outside of their previous boundaries – they spawned suburbs! So, even the land area devoted to farming shrunk.
This happened throughout the developed world as, first industrialization, then cosmopolitanismwith its diverse poly-cultural richness and higher educational levels, drew ever larger populations, magnetically, to urban areas.
But what about those who either couldn’t or wouldn’t leave? The old, the less educated, the poor. Might they not be resentful of all their talented youth abandoning their traditional way of life for the city? In the United States, and some research indicates in Europe as well, there has now developed a political ideology around the “forgotten ones” status. It often takes on racial animus, “us” (white people) versus “them” (immigrants and non-white others). Religious affiliations can exacerbate the feelings – provincialismand tribalism are frequently promoted by religious denominations. Only some of us are God’s chosen, and fewer of us live in cities.
And those suburbs? That’s where city cousins and country cousins can be neighbors! Suburban development is not unique to the United States. European cities have their own suburbs, with similar characteristics. There are poly-cultural, cosmopolitan suburban communities and multi-cultural communities which experience tension between their constituent cultures. Relatively few suburbs are mono-cultural like small towns or rural areas (very wealthy suburbs may be the exception).
Political sensibilities in the poly-cultural suburbs tend to skew left, or liberal, but multi-cultural communities with their tensions might exaggerate political allegiances across the cultural divide. Sometimes multi-cultural tension is not racial, but class based. It could be between “old-timers” who have been there since the community was a mono-cultural small town and the “newcomers” who have moved there from the city, perhaps victims of gentrification in the city center, or to raise a family in more space.
In the United States today, we are currently engaged in a discussion about the urban/rural divide as it relates to legislative districting. There are severe constitutional constraints on how apportionment is handled from state to state. Recently, the Supreme Court decided federal courts must stay away from partisan redistricting. But the fact remains: if state legislatures decide on the boundaries of the districts, they will always draw the maps so that the dominant party’s position is perpetuated, if they are able. Individual states may come up with alternatives (perhaps even proportional representation), but not all have constitutional provisions for ballot initiatives.
Unless you can make a convincing economic case to farmers and small town mono-cultural voters that their life is made much better by immigrants or free trade, it’s not likely that the present contour of rural right-populism can be replaced any time soon by a more urban poly-culturalism. Some folks simply prefer to live around fewer people, and more empty land. They skew conservative in their values.
Cosmopolitanism is seen by many country cousins as the ideology of the elites – for the winners in society, not them! Likewise, many poorer urban residents see rural provincialism as a strategy for protecting what’s theirs from “theft” by non-whites, especially. Perhaps heightened awareness of their privilege might be prudent for both city cousins and country cousins in this debate.