The burden of Northern history

There has been a spate of books on America’s presumed decline in recent days. Most now and ever before compare with the rise and fall of Rome. I’ve always thought we should be compared with two empires, Rome and Athens. Or better yet, Rome and Constantinople, equal and opposite cultural counter-forces for at least 1,000 years. But ours are red and blue and their capitals are New York City and Dallas.

This division was identified by Henry James in the late 1800s. “The Bostonians,” which might be seen as visionary today, contrasted the radical feminist and reformer, Olive, with the Southern cousin Basil, who dines with “a six-shooter and a bowie knife.” When asked, “Don’t you care for human progress?” he answers, “I don’t know — I never saw any.”

We are today at the turning of a receding era and a rising era. The rising era hasn’t started yet, but is about to. I think it will be an age of hard work and shirtsleeves and the rise of the American heartland. A time for Thomas Jefferson as the “New York century” was a time of Hamilton. As we hear today the contention is between Keynes and Hayek as it has been these 80 years, we might go back to Hamilton vs. Jefferson at the founding of the republic. It seems more or less the same distinction and the times now are leaning to Hayek and Jefferson. They would thus lean likewise toward Texas.

I predict America has a great century ahead, but a different one than the last two. The new one rising will be suitable for the beginning of a new millennium. It will look across the Pacific rather than the Atlantic.

Primary to this is the subtle recognition that although we may have called it something different, in fact, the states have been in direct economic competition these past 200-some years. As we begin again in a new century, their competitive strength can be measured simply by their economic status. And these are the cold, hard facts: New York is deeply in debt and in a paralysis of politics and culture that it cannot get out of, probably ever; so is Illinois. Texas has a balanced budget. It runs a surplus. Eight out of every 10 new jobs goes to a Texan. Texas will lead the way to health, wealth and welfare. Texas has won.

We have a big problem here in the Northern cities. What you might call “the burden of Northern history.” I can only speak for my own family, but when the Mother of Exile called us wretched refuse to her teeming shores and lifted the lamp to us, the best of us followed it west to Michigan, Nebraska, California, Texas, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, as she expected. The rest of us went to work as cops in Boston. City workers, too. We didn’t go through the golden door.

As I recall it being said on the way to my grandmother’s funeral several decades ago, there were at least 40 cops just in my town with my own family names. It was good to be Irish. They got great pensions too, although some of them were barely literate and too stupid to work in factories and their only skill was in breaking heads with rosewood nightsticks. The government workers got nice pensions too. Lots of them have moved to Florida on their pensions.

They are a burden, but a burden to us, not to Texas.


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