Major cities are hubs of cultural innovation, economic opportunities and often seats of political power. As such, political bias can be swayed in favor of these metropolitan areas over less populous, rural regions. I’m in favor of metropolitan bias — born out of globalization and fostered by 20th-century technological innovation — due to the greater interconnectedness of international culture it has given us. But there are domestic political and social consequences that these benefits need to be weighed against.
The concept of geographical narcissism, from my understanding, is not limited to metropolitan settings but is most often invoked in regards to them. It refers to the psychological effects stemming from the historical, economic and cultural causes of the growing rural-urban divide in the United States. It can take the form of a sort of condescension toward rural people from city dwellers. This is fostered by the metropolitan bias existent in U.S. economic and social policy. Metropolitan bias is a favoring of major cities at the expense of secondary cities and rural areas. As a bias witnessed on an international scale, it has been defined by the uneven development and increasing concentration of wealth and social resources in top metropolitan areas such as New York City and Shanghai in recent decades.
Some economists, urban planners and geographers laud the funneling of resources into big cities because of the benefits these areas can reap from the increasingly global economy. Globalization refers to “the growing interdependence of the world’s economies, cultures, and populations, brought about by cross-border trade in goods and services, technology, and flows of investment, people, and information”; this encompasses phenomena as diverse as the rising popularity of K-pop across the globe to major trade relations between the world’s most prosperous economies. Metropolitan areas act as flagship cities for a nation where international cooperation and exchange can occur. According to this line of thinking, by supporting economic and political policies favoring metropolitan development, the U.S. would be able to sustain its presence in the globalized world.
One of the most visible downsides to metropolitan bias in the U.S. is the exacerbation of the deep rural-urban political divide. Katherine J. Cramer, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has termed this phenomenon “The Politics of Resentment,” which is also the title of her 2016 book on the subject. It describes the political awareness of rural people and their resentment of the “liberal elite” — or the fact that voters in rural areas are wary of politicians because they believe that the politicians may not respect the values of their community and contribute to an unequal distribution of resources. The swing state of Wisconsin is an example of this in action: Rural Wisconsinites, in the 2016 election, felt that no one was listening to their wants or concerns. They felt as if they were not allocated their fair share of political power nor government funding, while most of the power and taxpayer dollars went to major cities. These are the sentiments that former President Donald Trump tapped into which helped him flip the state red. Metropolitan bias is a cause of the political polarization that is toxifying the US.
A metro-biased policy that creates a concentration of economic and social resources in few urban centers lends itself to an economy that is vulnerable to disaster — natural, military or otherwise. Such a strategy means that any sort of ailment that befalls a densely populated, economic superpower metropolis is going to have ripple effects across the economy. Take New York City as an example. Damages that accrued after 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy were a monumental tax on the city and nation’s economy. Notably, one of the hardest-hit sectors of the New York economy after the 9/11 attacks was the export industry — finance, information and entertainment, among others — which is an even greater injury to the economy in the globalized world. Now, it’s fruitless to make an argument that an even dispersal of resources would have ended in fewer damages due to these horrific disasters. But it does point to the fact that a heavy concentration of resources due to metropolitan bias in policy increases the vulnerability of a region. If that metro area is injured by a disaster, it creates a greater negative impact than if resources were not biased toward the metropolitan area.
For those that reside outside of these mega metropolises trying to access city resources, it is near impossible if they do not have access to economic means. Moving to the city for a better job and access to social resources is a luxury. Historically, moving to economically prosperous areas was common in the U.S., but this has slowed dramatically in recent decades. Wages have increased in cities like New York. Housing prices, however, are so drastically high that they trump any income gains people would earn by moving. Most of the new income gained by moving to the metropolitan area would be siphoned into housing, so people stay put outside of the metro areas. Metropolitan bias aids a coalescence of geographic and class boundaries, where the higher classes have the ability to reside in resource-rich cities while lower classes are ever more stuck in regions where opportunities, social and economic, are lacking.
The metropolitan bias in national policy that results in the accumulation of resources, economic and social, in metropolitan areas may be beneficial for the globalized economy in which the U.S. is situated. However, the downsides of this type of policy may outweigh the positives. Political division and fragility of the economy may not be worth the gains from globalization. This is not to discount the merits of globalization, but the domestic consequences of policy based on international relations must be taken into account. If the trend of metropolitan bias is to continue, the effects — positive and negative — must be considered.
Benjamin Davis is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.