(University of Kentucky) In an editorial in CNS Spectrums, a neurologists takes the research community to task for its lack of minority representation in Phase III clinical trials for drugs to treat Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and proposes changes to the system.
Every morning before work, Damir Lolic leaves his home in Zagreb, Croatia, with his three-year-old daughter, Dora, walks a few hundred meters down the street, and delivers her to a nearby daycare center. Like many of the children in Croatia, Lolic’s daughter attends a government-subsidized care center, part of a suite of policies designed to ease the burden on working families. The program means that Lolic and his partner don’t have to make the choice between working or staying home to care for Dora, and both have been able to continue to pursue their careers. Such subsidized child-care programs are in effect in many parts of the world, including Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Australia. And many of them owe their inspiration to a similar program that began more than twenty years ago, in Quebec, Canada.
With many years behind it, the Quebec program that spawned a global subsidized child-care model has shown marked progress in some areas in its original home province—while still lagging in others. One of the most remarkable changes has been the employment rate of mothers of young kids, which has spiked dramatically since the start of the program.
Quebec’s program, which introduced low-fee, universal child care in the province in 1996, centered on a few core premises: that if the government helped make child care accessible and affordable, it would allow more women to join the workforce, increase childhood development and social skills, and ultimately raise revenue for the government through increased payroll taxes. In at least two of those objectives, the scheme has been widely successful, says Pierre Fortin, an economist at the University of Quebec at Montreal, and the country’s leading expert in the economics of subsidized child care: It’s increased participation of women in the workforce, and cost efficiency.
Since beginning the program more than two decades ago, Quebec has seen the rate of women age 26 to 44 in the workforce reach 85 percent, the highest in the world, according to Fortin. The rate of women that age in the workforce across all of Canada is 80 percent.
“The impact on women’s labor force participation in this province has been huge,” Fortin said. “Young women’s labor force participation in Quebec is the highest worldwide now. It’s 86 percent in 2017, and it is exceeding that in Switzerland and Sweden (two countries with generous leave packages and high rates of workplace equality).”
A program that ‘pays for itself’
Far from being a nationwide campaign, subsidized child care in Canada is determined at the local level by provincial and territorial governments, and, like most things, is subject to the political will of the parties in power. Several other provinces have introduced similar schemes, but no program has been as sustained as Quebec’s. This is reflected, too, in the cost of care: In Montreal, Quebec’s largest city, a day of child care cost on average $10 in 2016, whereas in cities in other provinces, the costs creep up to $47 in Ottawa, $49 in Vancouver, and $54 in Toronto a day in the same year.
Measuring the impact of Quebec’s program is imprecise, given the likely influence of other factors like paid parental leave policies and evolving work cultures. But a few dramatic statistics suggest the influence of the program on women in particular: In addition to a high overall rate of employment in the province, Quebec has seen particular increases in female employment amongst mothers of young children.
Between 1997—shortly after the start of the program—and 2016, the employment rate for mothers of kids age 5 or younger has spiked 16 percent, from 64 percent to 80 percent, according to Fortin. Across the rest of Canada in that same period, that same demographic of mothers saw a more modest 4 percent increase in the employment rate.
Another recent study from Statistics Canada compared Quebec to fellow Canadian province Ontario, which hasn’t adopted an expansive program like Quebec’s, found an even more dramatic increase in workforce participation of almost 20 percent for moms with a child younger than 3 over a similar time period. It also found that the overall fertility rate increased, even as more women were working.
An increase in women in the workforce is a key driver behind programs in a number of countries, but addressing persistent discrimination against some mothers—particularly when it comes to salary—remains a sticky problem. Even in Denmark, which offers a tiered system of partially funded childcare, a recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that having children is the main reason women still face gender inequality.
“The arrival of children creates a gender gap in earnings of around 20 percent in the long run, driven in roughly equal proportions by labor force participation, hours of work, and wage rates,” wrote the authors, Henrik Kleven, Camille Landais, and Jakob Egholt Søgaard. “Underlying these ‘child penalties’, we find clear dynamic impacts on occupation, promotion to manager, sector, and the family friendliness of the firm for women relative to men.”
But in Quebec, the increase in working mothers has achieved one important outcome: revenue to pay for its government child care program. In a common refrain heard about subsidized child care programs the world over, critics of Quebec’s program often claim the costs of the program don’t justify the expenses, and that the government could allocate the resources needed for these programs elsewhere. In Quebec, those concerns are unfounded, according to Fortin’s research.
Early estimates anticipated the program would generate 40 percent of its costs via increased income taxes from working parents. Instead, it generated income taxes to cover more than 100 percent of the cost. “In other words, it costs zero, or the cost is negative,” Fortin said. “The governments are making money out of the program.”
“The program is paying for itself,” Fortin said. “The increase in the number of young women in Quebec’s labor force has generated such a return in terms of taxation, taxes back into economies in social benefits, and fewer families depending on social benefits, which in turn increases government savings.”
Not all care distributed equally
One of the greatest remaining challenges is providing enough care to meet demand: Quebec, like many places that have introduced subsidized child care programs, does not have enough government-subsidized child care slots for every parent who wants one, and has had to rely on private providers to make up the gaps, albeit with a different type of subsidy. Whereas the public centers receive a subsidy directly, and parents pay a small amount out of pocket similar to a co-pay, parents of children in private facilities must pay the entire amount up front, and receive a tax rebate.
But these centers are not created equally, and the differences in quality in a hybrid public-private system remains one of the greatest sticking points of subsidized child care programs.
For those kids who are in Quebec’s public programs, known as centres de petites enfants (CPEs), “repeated studies have found sharp improvements in child development,” Fortin said. This accounts for about one-third of Quebec’s children in care right now.
Those benefits vary dramatically if a child is in a for-profit center, a problem that has existed since the beginning of the Quebec scheme. Currently, the government doesn’t have standards of care for private partners.
“Unfortunately, the private for-profit non-subsidized sector has not been as good for child development. The parents/users who are in this part of the system, the private, non-subsidized sector of the program, have on average low-quality care, as opposed to the subsidized centres, which have a very high level of quality,” Fortin said. “So the result in terms of impact on child development has been mixed.”
In Quebec, and elsewhere, parents often prefer the government-subsidized centers for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the higher level of quality compared to the private centers, which aren’t subject to the same level of government regulations as the CPEs.
It’s the same problem in Croatia, which has similar public-private partnerships. To enroll their daughter in the scheme, Lolic and his partner completed an application form and an interview. They didn’t have many choices on location once she was accepted; enrollment is determined by proximity to the child’s home. However, she wasn’t immediately accepted into a government program because of one trick of fate: her date of birth.
“The kindergartens are problematic,” Lolic said, referring to subsidized child care programs in Croatia. “They only take kids in September, and they have to be one year old. If they’re born in October, you have to wait until they’re one year old, which puts them nearly a year behind the other kids.”
The centers in Croatia are also problematic in another way: They’re only open standard business hours. “The centers are not made for people who have unconventional working hours,” Lolic said. “If both parents work an afternoon shift, you’re screwed.”
Because it was an extra year before his daughter could attend the center of choice, Lolic received insight into both types of centers. “The government centers are more stable,” Lolic said. “The private ones have more fluctuation of people, and workers. It’s not stable.”
Fortin says that’s a problem with the private centers overall. “The private sector is not going to enforce the same quality standards as the government, because mostly parents care about the price. And one way to reduce the price and remain competitive is to reduce quality.”
That’s the next frontier for Quebec’s program, and the world will be watching. Says Fortin: “Currently the discussion going on in child care in Quebec is focusing on this disparity in quality between the various parts of the system.”
There’s been a strange synchronicity between British and American national obsessions this week. Over the holiday period, both countries’ media and political establishments became fixated on each country’s southern frontier. While America has been hunkering down into a deadlock over the construction of a wall intended to keep people out (or at least to exist as a metaphor for such a process), Britain’s government has been going in the other direction. The U.K. government has been worrying that, post-Brexit, its border controls will be just too effective at keeping things out—specifically the goods and supplies that keep the country running.
This week, the U.K. government admitted that it had earmarked $136 million to pay for extra shipping across the English Channel—shipping that could be needed in the event of the country leaves the E.U. without a deal in place on March 29, 2019. This money has been set aside in case a No Deal Brexit—the term used to describe the possibility of Britain leaving the E.U. without having agreed any terms with the remaining 27 E.U. countries, obliging it (until new deals are negotiated) to trade with European neighbors using bare bones World Trade Organization rules.
This far-from-impossible eventuality would, among other things, have the effect of jamming Britain’s ports as new customs checks slow traffic. Even cursory checks could cause tailbacks of hundreds of miles on roads either side of the narrow, busy Straits of Dover, across which southern England faces France and Belgium. The idea is to lay on extra shipping to alternative ports away from Dover, in order to stop Britain running dry on essential supplies slowed by this gridlock and prevent bare shelves in stores and pharmacies.
It’s not necessarily clear that the government’s No Deal plan to keep Britain flush with wine and shampoo would be effective. Harbor space, for example, is as great an issue as the volume of shipping. But this being contemporary Britain—a grown nation writhing and flailing through its decision-making with all the finesse of a drunk man being attacked by hornets—there’s a yet bigger problem with the plan. One of the six companies chosen by the government to provide extra shipping in the event of No Deal has not shipped any trucks before. It has not, in fact, shipped so much as a peanut.
Seaborne Freight, which won a contract to transfer goods and passengers on the previously defunct route between Belgium’s Ostend and the English port of Ramsgate, is completely new to the game, meaning that a key component of the post-No Deal plan is based on a company that as an entity has never shipped but quite feels like giving it a go.
As the consequence of a process that was supposedly about Britain “taking back control,” this hardly inspires confidence. In a further ironic twist, most of this emergency shipping money will go to companies based not in Britain, but elsewhere in the E.U.
The English Channel is also the site of another Christmas Week story that is complicating the Brexit debate: Since December 25, over 50 migrants have succeeded in entering the U.K. after crossing the narrow straight and washing up on English beaches in small boats and dinghies apparently provided by people smugglers. These migrants (mostly Iranian) have, it has been claimed, crossed partly on the urging of smugglers telling them to cross the Channel before Brexit sealed the border for good. Addressing the issue as a major incident, British Home Secretary Sajid Javid has rushed back from vacation to deal with the situation.
But the urgency of this supposed migrant crisis seems more than a little fishy. It’s not just that the reported numbers of boat-borne arrivals are tiny—Britain discovered just over 1,800 clandestine arrivals in southern ports in 2017-18, out of a total of almost 28,000 new asylum claims. It’s also that the numbers of people coming to southern ports has actually been going down recently (until this Christmas upswing), a sign that the wider European migration crisis is slowly abating. This isn’t an exodus on the scale of the much-demonized U.S. caravan, it’s a “flood” in which no month has delivered more arrivals than could comfortably fit into a single London bus.
So, given the small numbers, what is the “crisis” about? While the idea that people smugglers are exploiting desperate migrants in this way is horrible, as yet no deaths in the Channel have been reported. The U.K.’s Labour Party opposition have accused the government of whipping up the story to pressure MPs to vote for Theresa May’s profoundly unpopular Brexit deal.
Quite how it would do so is a little unclear. While the customs situation for goods and services will change after Brexit, the passport control situation for non E.U. citizens will remain exactly the same. That’s because, as a non-signatory of the Schengen agreement, Britain has never ceded any of its border control whatsoever to the E.U. Passport checks at the frontier will not necessarily get tougher, because they have always been in place.
The migrant debate nonetheless reveals something significant. In showing a lack of understanding as to what will happen with the U.K. border after March 29, it seems that either people smugglers or the migrants they profit from (or both) are as in the dark about Brexit as anyone else.
The Year in Review
2018 was a year of ups and downs. From NIMBY battles to natural disasters, from elections to electric scooters, the stories that dominated the headlines are sure to resonate in 2019 and beyond. To cap off an eventful year, our writers and editors unpacked some of the issues we’ve been following over the past 12 months, explaining what mattered, what changed, and what to look for going forward.
In October, a group of Americans were asked to rank which U.S. institution they trusted the most. Researchers from Georgetown and NYU were curious to see if there was anything left in 2018 that an increasingly polarized public still considered honorable. It wasn’t religion, Congress, or the press. The military scored highly, topping the Republican pool’s list. But across party lines, one brand secured the broadest allegiance, at least for the 5,400 respondents that took the survey: Amazon.com.
Amazon’s high grade—ranked first for Democrats, and third for Republicans—might come as a surprise. On the right, the company has been a frequent target of President Donald Trump’s ire. And on the left, it’s been condemned for a host of corporate offenses, such as providing ICE with facial recognition technology, treating workers like robots, and union-busting. This year, as Amazon’s valuation hit $1 trillion and founder Jeff Bezos officially became the world’s richest man, it helped disappear a business tax in Seattle designed to help homeless people and allegedly lobbied hard against toughening Washington state’s pay equity law. And yes, this was the year Amazon’s North America-wide search for a second headquarters came to an unceremonious close, triggering a national debate about the corporate tax incentives it was allowed to solicit.
What to make of this? Not much, perhaps. “Trust” isn’t the same as “respect,” and many of the categories in this survey (like “nonprofits”) were impossibly vague and broad. Expressing faith in Amazon is more like acknowledging its power and usefulness. And no labor-rights scandal or HQ2 anticlimax could shatter that faith, which is really the same confidence invested in the tech sector itself: It’s the idea that the minds and machines of Silicon Valley collectively represent the most agile problem-solver of our age.
Amazon arguably plays this game better than anyone, betting that by making shopping, eating, and watching TV easier for individuals, it can also prove it’s a force for good in communities. Yes, this is a company that has reportedly patented a wrist-tracker to limit workers’ bathroom time, but damn, that two-day shipping is convenient! (How much do we trust Amazon? Many millions of us are happy to install the company’s always-listening voice-robots in our most intimate private spaces.) In Seattle, even as Amazon takes heat for widening inequality and fueling a homelessness crisis, it’s praised for reinvigorating the economy and rebranding the city in a shimmer of cool. Politicians there are loathe to alienate it.
Though the survey was conducted before November’s big reveal of HQs 2 and 3, that saga can be read in the context of trust, too. Amazon managed to convince 238 cities and states and municipalities to participate in a pretend competition that they should properly have identified as a tragicomic grift from the beginning.
You can’t really blame them. Research out of the Brookings Institution shows that the bulk of post-recession employment gains since the recession have been concentrated in just 2 percent of the United States, and that “the same top 10 metros captured almost have of the new tech jobs created from 2015 to 2017.” In its Request for Proposals, Amazon implied that cities everywhere would truly be considered on their merits. City and state leaders nationwide got caught up in the thrilling notion that a tech superpower could sweep in and transform their economies with 50,000 jobs.
So did the media tasked with covering their bids: Here at CityLab, the Amazon HQ2 desk churned out about 40 posts chronicling the competition.
The bid I think about most is Kansas City’s. In October 2017, its then-mayor, Sly James, bought 1,000 Amazon products, rated each 5 stars, and wrote reviews for every one, with earnestly crafted Kansas City-themed quips. “Here in KC, we’re ranked as one of the 20 Happiest Cities to Work in Right Now,” the mayor commented on the children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. ”[S]o lucky for us, the chance of having a Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Day at work is less.” He couldn’t offer to funnel Amazon employees’ income taxes back to the company, like Chicago did, or to let the company control what projects its tax dollars funded, like Fresno did, or just hand over $8.5 billion, like Maryland did. His was a simple, good faith ploy. When 20 finalist cities were chosen by Amazon in January 2018, Kansas City didn’t make the list.
Neither did Danbury, Connecticut; or Pomona, California; or Frisco, Texas, whose mayors all produced pleading videos dismissed as “embarrassing” by the Washington Post. The finalists were, instead, the usual suspects: American “superstars,” with a few wild cards thrown in, plus Toronto. In the end, the company split the 50,000-job prize in half, and picked two of the most obvious places in the country to share it.
So, after 14 months of discourse around the company’s lack of transparency, the shadiness of the non-disclosure agreements it asked city and state leaders to sign, and the fundamental outrageousness of giving public money to a company owned by the wealthiest soul on the planet, what did we learn?
For one thing, the decision confirmed the conventional wisdom that the sweepstakes was meant to upend. The key factors in these type of decisions aren’t tax incentives or promotional videos—they’re features like usable public transit systems and vibrant urban centers. Hosting several thousand employees of the interested company already also helps. Tech settles with tech; the rich get richer; and everyone else gets left behind. As Emily Badger wrote in the New York Times, the HQ2 hunt revealed the “deepening suspicion of many communities that the costs of urban prosperity outweigh the benefits.”
The choice was also a relief, for some. With only 25,000 workers each, the new HQs will be more glorified office expansions than full-fledged satellite campuses. Their housing markets will be better prepared to handle the influx. Long Island City has developed real estate faster than any other New York borough this year, and Crystal City’s most pressing urban problem is its vast swaths of empty office space. The D.C. region has grown by the equivalent of 12 Amazons since 2000, according to the D.C. Policy Center, adding an average of 34,000 people per year. New York has added an average of about 64,000 a year since 2010. Amazon’s 25,000 workers—many of them sourced from within the region, and others moving in slowly—might not make a cosmic dent.
That’s been little consolation for the immigrant communities in Long Island City who fear that rents will rise and policing will become more oppressive. Nor residents of the Queensbridge House, the nation’s largest public housing development, which will soon be Amazon’s forgotten neighbor. And especially not for the many low-wage workers in both New York and D.C. that have already been priced out of job-rich areas. For them, the damage from the region’s inequitable growth has already been done. As Alex Baca wrote in Vox,
Amazon is merely exposing what’s been true for decades: that accessible, affordable housing; frequent, reliable transit; well-protected jobs that pay living wages; and land use laws that support environmentally sustainable growth are talking points, but not necessarily priorities for elected officials. [The D.C.] region needed these fundamentals long before HQ2 was a twinkle in anyone’s eye, and would need them whether or not Amazon existed.
The first part of change, to be fair, is admitting that it’s needed. Some cities took their HQ2 rejections as constructive criticism, vowing to take the hint that they need to build more, and better, infrastructure. Amazon might now give the winning cities that push, too.
There’s another dimension to the downgrade, though: Didn’t cities want Amazon’s impact to be transformative? Crystal City has lost 17,000 jobs in the past five years to military base realignment, and Long Island City’s building boom hasn’t been paired with growth fast enough to fill it. Adding 25,000 jobs over the course of almost a decade might not be enough to make any sort of tangible economic impact in these—or many—cities. (The jobs’ worth will also be determined by who gets them, and what benefits they’ll include.)
And, as the stock market teeters and tariffs tighten, no company can predict the hiring decisions of the future. Foxconn already proved in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania that pledging jobs doesn’t always mean delivering them. If Amazon hires fewer people, the company will suffer too, getting fewer tax breaks. But what, then, would have been the point of it all?
Out of the ashes of 14 months of Amazon-fueled debate, some faint outline of how to do all this better is emerging. New York City leaders are fighting to stall or shrink the incentive packages offered by state leaders; and to eliminate the use of non-disclosure agreements in economic development deals. Nationally, economic experts and legislators have renewed calls to make bidding wars like Amazon’s entirely illegal, advocating for the federal government to tax relocation incentives at 100 percent to reduce their power as a negotiating tactic.
Rival tech companies, too, now leap at the opportunity to cast themselves as Amazon foils. Apple’s choice to build its second campus in Austin, Texas, might further a suburban-urban divide and cultivate auto use, but at least they can say they only got around $25 million from the deal. Google’s agreement to build a campus in San Jose involves no tax incentives at all, and might even include a mandate to build affordable housing downtown. (It’s been more quiet about its downtown expansion in New York, which could net it at least $150 million in handouts.)
The new focus on promising harm-reduction along with expansion might not do much to repair the already-fraught relationship between tech and the people of the Bay Area. There, the dynamic is already “framed as us-versus-them,” Catherine Bracy, the co-founder and executive director of the Bay Area-based tech organizing group TechEquity Collaborative, told me last month. Tech is seen as “the interloper, and the cause of all of our problems.”
Amazon’s expansion in Virginia and New York gives it a unique opportunity to forge a new image of what a tech company does in a city. A lot of people will be watching. The company has promised measures that, if faithfully executed, could preempt some of its predicted negative effects—implementing programs to encourage public transportation use for Virginia employees; and connecting New York City public housing residents with tech training programs. It will build a public school in Long Island City. Bezos won’t return his New York State tax breaks, but New York’s city council might not give him his helipad.
In the wake of HQ2, cities can also start setting their own terms for economic symbiosis. In November, both San Francisco and Mountain View passed contentious taxes on their tech-heavy business sector to fund homelessness initiatives, succeeding where Seattle failed. Other places are choosing to focus less on tech-dominant growth—not for any higher moral reason, necessarily, just because they’ve found (or have been forced to look for) other paths. Towns in rural Michigan are building smaller-scale tech accelerators, to train up a workforce where the public school system has failed. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, the city will try paying individual freelancers to move to their city, hoping to spur local entrepreneurship.
But it’s not clear that this represents a paradigm shift for tech-driven economies, and for the tech companies that drive them. Our enduring faith in the Amazons of the world can’t be underestimated. Between November and December of 2018, Quinnipiac University asked a group of about 1,000 registered New York City voters to share their thoughts on the impending Amazon move. When the results were tallied, a little less than half approved of the incentives offered, and even fewer expressed support for Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo. But more than half of the people surveyed approved of the move.
New York City pharmacies won’t be allowed to sell cigarettes or other tobacco products starting Tuesday.
In the last few years, populism had to sit and watch as political pundits applied her name to a trend of right-wing movements worldwide, some of which might have been more aptly served by the appellations xenophobic, solipcistic, and racist (see Brazil, Italy…the United States.)
But in 2018, progressive populism roared back. On the last day of 2018, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren announced she is exploring a run for president, with what Waleed Shahid of the group Justice Democrats described as a “message of multiracial populism,” in The New York Times.
This capped off a year that saw political movements and citizen-led ballot measures initiated by many “common” folk who came to the realization that the reason they do not have decent health care, or enough food to eat, or honest, fair-paid work, is not because of migrants at our borders, or people of color lazing on their sofas, but oligarchs determined to grow even richer.
Populism is belief in the wisdom of the common man, and the shocks of 2016 in the U.S. did have pedestrian origin: It is an everyday occurrence in the United States that a rich boy uses his birth privilege to become a rich man, and that the high school bully who falls back on vulgar jokes, and racist and cruel stereotypes draws a certain tawdry fealty. But perhaps in response to that, this year a leftist populism manifested in a spate of ballot initiatives at the city and state level. In both blue and red states, measures that called for progressive outcomes like minimum wage increases and criminal justice reform passed across the U.S.
CityLab’s Sarah Holder wrote about the progressive populist roots of this method of direct democracy in the United States. Born in California during the gilded age of a desire to wrest control of California politics from railroad barons, ballot measures meant that, for the first time, voters “had an opportunity to pass policies rather than having companies take control of their politicians,” Chris Melody Fields Figueredo, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, told Holder in November.
Ballot measures have been growing in popularity: While their numbers had been waning for a decade, 2016 broke records for the number of ballot initiatives in states, and that number was nearly equaled in the 2018 midterm elections according to the politics and elections tracking organization Ballotpedia.
On the grassroots level, the Poor People’s Campaign launched this spring with 40 days of moral action across the country. Led by two reverend doctors: Liz Theoharis, a white Northeastern woman; and Willam Barber, a black Southern man; it aims to build a multi-racial movement of poor people united in the fight for common dignity. The movement is the contemporary version of the Poor People’s Campaign that Martin Luther King Jr. was building at the time of his assassination (the 1968 campaign was remembered in CityLab this year at its 50-year anniversary). King’s words at the end of the Selma-to-Montgomery march in 1965 foreshadowed the path he would take:
Toward the end of the Reconstruction era, something very significant happened. That is what was known as the Populist Movement. The leaders of this movement began awakening the poor white masses and the former Negro slaves to the fact that they were being fleeced by the emerging Bourbon interests. Not only that, but they began uniting the Negro and white masses into a voting bloc that threatened to drive the Bourbon interests from the command posts of political power in the South.
The Poor People’s Campaign is building a movement based on the belief that fighting poverty and oppression transcends all other racial or demographic divisions. Through legal channels and civil action, it is fighting against the voter suppression that has also characterized 2018.
Last week, in an article about the power of black voters, The New York Times characterized the message of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio who is considered a likely candidate for president in 2020, as this brand of populism: “It’s important that Democratic progressives make a distinction between President Trump’s ‘phony populism’ and a true populist message, which does not divide on racial or religious lines.”
Populism does not mean the veneration of ignorance and selfishness, and it is not the exclusive province of the right.
In 2018, progressive populism roared in America.
Former childhood sweethearts whose fairytale ended after 24 years of marriage and two children still fulfilled their promises of “in sickness and in health” after Mary Zeigler provided her ex-husband Bill Henrichs with a kidney.
Helping the immune system clear away old cells in aging mice helped restore youthful characteristics.
A Wisconsin mother is warning about the dangers of a popular toy that landed her 4-year-old son in emergency surgery after he swallowed 13 tiny magnets.
I was a curious kid. I kept a journal in elementary school, full of lists of questions: Why do people yell timber when a tree falls? Why do people say “as cute as a button”? Some (or many) of the questions I mulled sound silly, but they reveal some important things. For one, I’ve always been pulled toward unanswered questions. And secondly, older people around me did not think I needed or wanted complete answers.
I was in my first-grade classroom in Queens on September 11, 2001, when the twin towers fell in Manhattan. We all knew something was wrong, but no one told us what; that just heightened our anxiety and confusion. Things were just happening to us, and there was nothing we were expected to understand about why it was happening.
I thought about that earlier this year when I talked to Charlie Abrams and Jeremy Clark, two high-school freshmen from Portland, Oregon, who are also climate policy lobbyists. The pair coined a term—the “affected generation”—to describe their cohort: young people who can expect to live to see the worst effects of climate change. They’re the ones who will be affected by problems others have created, and they aren’t satisfied with the answers they’ve been given about the status quo. Abrams and Clark testified to support clean energy legislation, successfully lobbied to require climate change education in Portland public schools, and started a blog to educate others about climate change.
This year, we saw a lot of young people like these two voicing their frustrations about the world they’re being handed—and, increasingly, older people are being forced to pay attention. Take Juliana v. United States, the lawsuit first filed in 2015 by a group of youthful plaintiffs. The suit alleges the U.S. government hasn’t done a sufficient amount to protect future generations from climate change. This fall, the U.S. Supreme Court refused the Trump administration’s request to halt the lawsuit. (Both the Obama and Trump administrations made repeated requests in lower courts to dismiss the lawsuit.)
Elsewhere, youthful voices are becoming more prominent in environmental activism. A teen-led group to fight climate change called Zero Hour was profiled the New York Times. Over the summer, I reported on how 14-year old Stella Bowles worked to get the LaHave River in Nova Scotia, Canada, cleaned up—starting at age 11. In this process of youth leadership grabbing more media attention, the dynamic of the affected generation working on problems that that they played no role in causing has become more explicit.
Perhaps nowhere was this more clear than in the issue of gun violence. In February, a gunman killed 17 students and staff and injured another 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida—one of what would become a grim chain of mass shootings at schools in 2018. But the young survivors of this incident didn’t disappear once the news cycle moved on; instead, they organized. An outspoken group of Parkland student activists took to social media, tangled with the NRA and GOP, and organized the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. in March, a gathering that was joined by more than 800 protests in every U.S. state and around the world. With many thousands of young people across the United States, they demanded answers to a question that lawmakers have manage to dodge for decades: Why should gunshots punctuate our school years?
As many pundits pointed out, it’s mostly kids in cities, especially youth of color, who had not been heard on this issue. “Kids in urban schools want to know, where’s everybody been?” as a Washington Post op-ed asked in March. Indeed, students in Chicago started the Wear Orange campaign several years ago in 2013 to raise awareness about gun violence after their friend Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed at age 15. But it took a wave of post-Parkland activism to push a wave of gun-control legislation nationwide: According to the Gifford Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 67 gun-safety bills were signed in 26 states, plus D.C., in 2018.
Both gun violence and climate change are intensely polarizing issues among Americans, a situation that’s helped fuel years of inaction and silence, as well as a certain resignation that these are essentially intractable problems that resist political solutions. But young people unfamiliar with that history can see them for what they are—urgent concerns that demand immediate action.
Let’s face it: There have always been young people who speak up and try to stir the public into awareness of the issues that they deal with. For the most part, older people just haven’t been listening. But this year, some politicians and journalists have made more of an effort to engage with young people as they speak for themselves rather than merely talking about them as if they’re in another room and can’t be allowed into the public sphere.
In part, this shift reflects the growing political might of younger Americans. Millennials are set to become the largest bloc of eligible voters in U.S. history, though their turnout currently lags behind older generations. That might be changing: Young adult turnout in the 2018 midterm election increased by 188 percent in early voting, compared with the 2014 midterms. Increasingly, lawmakers ignore the voices of the young at their own peril.
But their willingness to pay more attention to younger people may also reflect something else: an acknowledgement of culpability. “The adults know that we’re cleaning up their mess,” as Parkland student Cameron Kasky told Time.
Members of the affected generation may not know exactly how the world they’re inheriting got this way, but they also aren’t waiting around for someone else to offer solutions. Like me, I’m sure many are tired of being told they’ll get it when they’re older.
In 1968, Esquire spoke with James Baldwin about possible solutions to racial tensions in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination. It was a wide-ranging discussion, but it often gravitated towards the issues of housing and policing—two longstanding challenges that have historically obstructed African Americans’ paths toward economic mobility and empowerment in the United States. Asked about low-income housing development, the acclaimed novelist said he didn’t want any more housing projects built in Harlem.
“I want someone to attack the real-estate lobby because that’s the only way to destroy the ghetto,” said Baldwin. Asked what he thought about building low-income housing in the suburbs, he said, “Well, that depends on the will of the American people, doesn’t it? That’s why they are in the suburbs—to get away from me.”
As Amanda Hurley wrote in this 2018 Year in Review series, the suburbs have since grown to become a much more complicated place. But the racism undergirding Baldwin’s sentiments on what the suburbs had become and how they got that way in 1968 still remain with us, 50 years later. And the people most heavily burdened by racism are still taking to the streets to express their concerns and rages over it as well.
When high school students organized school walkouts earlier this year to protest weak gun laws, black and Latino students made sure this agenda included the fact that students of color had been attending schools under threats of gun violence and insecurity for decades. These protests closely resembled the 1968 student walkouts in Los Angeles over safer school conditions for Latino students.
The way government and law enforcement officials respond to these protests hasn’t changed much, either—police still are mostly positioned to manage and suppress such uprisings, often by force; government officials, meanwhile, continue to struggle with how to address their root causes. In 2018, as America commemorated King in his final living moments, we seemed simultaneously invested in resuscitating and maintaining many of the problems that he died trying to remedy in 1968.
When it comes to housing, most if not all major cities still contain similar rates of spatial-racial segregation seen in King’s day. The reasons for that lie as much with the real estate lobbies that have continued promoting exclusionary zoning policies as they do with the banks that continue to propagate inequitable lending patterns.
The 1968 Fair Housing Act, which Congress passed a week after King was assassinated, was supposed to curb such lending disparities, and the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing provision within it was supposed to redirect low-income housing construction to wealthier suburbs. But African Americans and Latinos are today rejected for mortgages at much higher rates than whites, as Reveal and the Center for Investigative Reporting reported earlier this year. Writing about the report, CityLab’s Kriston Capps mapped what that looks like today in the cities of Jacksonville and St. Louis, where uneven lending policies have helped keep those cities’ neighborhoods as racially segregated as they were even before 1968.
“Where de jure segregation was once the rule, de facto segregation still persists,” wrote Capps. “For example, in Jacksonville, new home mortgages still fall within the very same lines that banks drew to prevent black families from moving into white neighborhoods or building wealth some 80 years ago.’
As for the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, HUD Secretary Ben Carson has been chipping away at it, and this year he eliminated a key tool that local jurisdictions were to use for figuring out effective ways of deploying low-income housing resources more equitably across cities and suburbs.
It is perhaps no surprise then that real estate market forces have been rekindling the kind of discriminatory redlining housing practices that the Fair Housing Act was supposed to outlaw. Such practices have perpetuated racial segregation patterns today that extend beyond just residential layouts—the distribution of standardized, reputable financial institutions, healthy food markets, green space, and fitness centers are also disproportionately concentrated in white neighborhoods in several major metros today because of enduring redlining procedures.
The police view the people who protest such conditions with suspicion, as they did in King’s day. In April, thousands of people descended upon Memphis, where King was killed, to participate in demonstrations, rallies, and services to honor the slain civil rights leader. Some of those demonstrators were unlawfully tracked and monitored by Memphis police. Back when King had led protests on behalf of Memphis sanitation workers in 1968, the police were secretly watching and taking notes on activists then as well. A consent decree installed in 1978 was supposed to end these surveillance tactics, but they were back at it in the years leading up to 2018, when a court intervention ended it for good.
The kind of intrusive policing that Memphis adopted was also embraced by other cities in 1968 to quell uprisings that were boiling across urban America, and the U.S. military began gearing up for its own intervention. In 1968, retired intelligence officer Colonel Robert B. Rigg wrote in ARMY magazine how “urban jungles” would give violence-causing activists an edge over police in a revolt. He called for “an effective system of intelligence in the ghettos” that would deploy undercover police and intelligence agents “to fight pitched urban battles here in America.”
In 1968, the federal government under President Lyndon B. Johnson was preparing to handle urban America’s discontent in a different way, having received the findings of the Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, aka “The Kerner Report.” That report acknowledged that urban uprisings were triggered by the legacy of racism and economic inequality that had left too many African Americans and Latinos socially marginalized and economically disadvantaged. Riggs was dismissive of the idea that “social, economic, or political reforms” like those called for in the Kerner Report could work as forcefully as a military or law enforcement approach.
What Riggs perhaps couldn’t foresee (or refused to see) was that law enforcement was just as overtaken by racist forces as every other American institution, making it an unsuitable tool for resolving problems rooted in racism. The Kerner Report recognized this in 1968, stating that, “police have come to symbolize white power, white racism and white repression.”
50 years later, The New York Times Magazine reported that police departments across America have failed to stop the rise of violent white supremacists and nationalists—as seen in Charlottesville in 2017—in part because of the white supremacists and nationalists found within their own police forces.
Perhaps this is exactly what Baldwin saw coming when he told Esquire in 1968 that he wanted “the mayor of every city and the President of this nation [to] go on the air and address the white people for a change. Tell them to cool it.”
Baldwin was also prescient in another way: Asked what should be done about the “white flight” from the cities to the suburbs, Baldwin said of white Americans, “If he wants to save his city, perhaps he should consider moving back. They’re his cities, too.”
Well, “moving back” is exactly what happened: It was found in 2015 that nearly half of the 50 largest metros reported increasing white populations for the first time in decades. With that return to the city has come rising living costs that far outpace working-class wages, the resulting displacement of low-income families, cultural clashes in previously minority-dominated neighborhoods that are being reshaped to accommodate new white neighbors, and an increase in nuisance complaints that lead to the over-criminalization of people of color.
A point sometimes lost in that gentrification paradox is that whites have been able to flee from the cities to the suburbs and back with relative ease over the decades, while many African Americans today remain in the same segregated and under-served neighborhoods that their parents were confined to in 1968. That half-century stuck-in-place narrative is reinforced by the government’s failures over the decades to adequately enforce the Fair Housing Act and other laws passed to protect non-white families from racist policies. For many of those families, 2018 was just 1968 all over again.
Sometimes, you just really want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
In 1942, Stalingrad was in the midst of a battle that would lead to the deaths of almost 2 million people. At the time, a group of women in Coventry, in central England, sent a tablecloth to the Soviet city stitched with 830 signatures. The partnership between the two cities became official in 1944 and still endures.
“I grew up in the 1980s, when Russia was seen as the ‘other,’” Derek Nisbet, a Coventry-based composer, told me. “The relationship between Coventry and Stalingrad [since renamed Volgograd] has been a really powerful thing—it shows you how people in faraway places aren’t really so different.” Both cities were heavily bombed during World War II: Coventry was partially flattened in a 1940 German air raid, and during the Battle of Stalingrad, six months of brutal bombing descended to hand-to-hand combat in that city’s streets.
The relationship weathered Cold-War hostilities. In 1972, Volgograd’s mayor visited Coventry and named a patch of land beneath the city’s freeway after its counterpart. Today, U.K.–Russia relations are again fractious, but the cities’ bond is “still strong,” said Nisbet. Volgograd’s children’s orchestra visited Coventry in 2014 to perform a piece that Nisbet composed, aptly titled “Twin Song.” Next year, the theme of Coventry’s biennale is “the twin.”
Today, there are close to 2,000 British municipalities twinned with towns abroad. Most of their twins are in European countries such as France and Germany. A smattering are farther afield; Birmingham (U.K.) is coupled with Johannesburg, while Barnsley in South Yorkshire is twinned with Fuxin, China.
But town twinning has lost some of its luster. It’s become shorthand for wasteful official junkets, and in recent years some towns have cited budget cuts as a reason to ax the relationships. Reports of German politicians bemoaning British indifference to twin towns—and of British councils “un-twinning” from continental cities—play to the idea that the U.K. is losing interest in this pan-European project in the era of Brexit. The truth is more complicated.
The foundations of town twinning were politically progressive. After World War II, the mood across Europe began to shift from enmity to reconciliation, and European towns turned outward in search of new solidarities. “Immediately after the Second World War, there was a widespread suspicion across Europe of nationalism and nation-states, and the sense that these were partly responsible for two world wars,” said Nick Clarke, a professor of geography at the University of Southampton.
Some Britons were distrustful of the nation’s hold on power, and believed foreign policy should be devolved to cities. “This was underpinned by the idea that if we could get rid of Westminster, and decentralize international relations to the local scale, perhaps we wouldn’t have these problems with world wars in the first place,” Clarke explained.
Two organizations were responsible for popularizing town twinning from the early 1950s: the Council of European Municipalities and the United Towns Organization. The former was allied to the Vatican and wanted to promote a cohesive European community protected from the dangers of communism in the East.
United Towns Organization had a different agenda. It was informed by Marxist and socialist ideals, and its membership was largely atheists who saw Cold-War hostilities between East and West as a threat to European peace. More worryingly for government officials, the organization was willing to befriend foes in the U.S.S.R.
Britain’s Foreign Office got nervous, fearing that left-leaning towns in the north of England would open lines for communist infiltration. In 1972, the government founded the Rippon program, which gave small grants to U.K. towns willing to couple with Western European municipalities. It was a way of disciplining town-twinners with a carrot, rather than a stick. But the program would also serve another purpose. Britain was due to enter the European Union’s single market in 1973, and politicians saw how twinning could provide a cultural basis for strengthening economic integration.
Like the 14th-century Hanseatic League, a group of market towns in Northern Germany that united to protect the interests of merchant traders, the town-twinning initiatives of the 1970s, ’80s, and beyond were as much about business interests as cultural bridges. As Margaret Thatcher and successive politicians cut municipal budgets, towns began looking for economically useful sponsors in countries like China and North America. In Cardiff, Wales, for example, the council has extolled the benefits of its relationship with fellow port-city Xiamen, in southern China, and has touted the Welsh city as a potential investment vehicle at an annual Chinese trade fair.
Now, as Britain prepares to exit the E.U., its membership of the single market is in question. Some Brexiteers have pushed for a no-deal Brexit, meaning the country would crash out and tear up all E.U. arrangements on March 29. But despite the drawbridge-up mentality of this camp, many people in “Euroskeptic” towns across the U.K. are keen to maintain relationships with continental cities.
Tendring, a district on Britain’s Essex coast, is home to Britain’s only member of parliament from the heavily Euroskeptic UKIP party, formerly led by Nigel Farage. Like Coventry, Tendring voted to leave the European Union in 2016. But in the months after the referendum, it also renewed twin relationships with Biberach, in Germany, Valence, in France, and Swidnica, in Poland.
Over the phone from her home in Frinton-on-Sea, on Tendring’s coast, Joy Philipps, the director of Tendring’s twinning association, spoke with pride about the popular French and German cultural evenings held regularly in Clacton-on-Sea and the annual stall that Tendring sends to Biberach’s Christmas market, selling jams and other quaint British groceries. Phillips’s family has lived in Tendring for almost half a century, but she herself worked in Paris for 15 years before returning home.
“We have around 80 members, many of whom probably voted Leave,” she said of the twinning association. Whereas the referendum stoked bitter political divisions, she continued, twin towns are “above politics. People see those they know in Biberach and Valence as friends.”
Like Tendring, Darlington, in northeast England, voted to leave the E.U. Shortly after the referendum, it renewed long-standing relationships with Amiens, in France, and Mülheim an der Ruhr, in Germany. “I’m British, but I’m also European,” Councilor Tom Nutt, the chairman of Darlington’s twinning association, said. Nutt is determined that Brexit won’t spell the demise of Darlington’s twin towns, nor the country’s relationship with the continent.
Clarke pointed out that town twinning is an attempt to combine the local with the global—to live as cosmopolitans rooted in geography. Brexit is unlikely to mark the end of alliances that began long before Britain entered the European Union, and citizens who feel they’re losing something from Brexit may make “an active attempt to foster new twin relationships,” he said.
Back in Coventry, I asked Derek Nisbet what the city’s vote to leave the E.U. will mean for Coventry’s twin relationships with 17 towns across Europe. He told me there are “bigger things than Brexit.”
“Coventry has always been better at turning out to the world than turning in on itself,” he said resolutely. As U.K. politicians prepare to close the country’s borders to the continent, solidarity with Europe may be found in the least likely of places.
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