S1E29. Rich Schragger on the Power of Cities
Play • 1 hr 12 min
On today’s episode of Free Range, Michael Livermore speaks with UVA Law colleague Rich Schragger a leading expert on local government, federalism, and urban policy and the author of City Power: Urban Governance in a Global Age.

Schragger begins the episode by discussing the idea of ‘city power,’ which is meant to challenge the usual narratives about local governments and cities. (0:42 - 2:41)

Livermore and Schragger turn to one view, of cities as selling a suite of policies and amenities. In his book, he discusses the mistake of misinterpreting sorting as a theory of economic growth. Schragger is skeptical of claims that a city has failed because of a decrease in population, which can have other causes. He argues that even in an economic downturn, cities need to provide good municipal services. (2:44 – 10:40)

They discuss theories of growth in cities, debating if growth is a policy independent processes. Schragger elaborates on the relationship between institutions and growth, saying that they will have a relationship but at what scale? He explains his attraction to Jane Jacobs’s ideas on why economic development happens in cities. (10:45 – 18:41)

Schragger explains two common views of cities: that they are products in markets or that they are byproducts of large-scale social forces. He prefers to think of a city as a process akin to an organic phenomenon. (18:42 – 28:07)

Schragger argues that we are still radically unsure what causes economic growth in a city. He emphasizes that cities should provide basic municipal services to their people as a matter of social justice, not as a matter of growth seeking. (28:10 – 31:47) He sees the lack of control over growth as in some ways liberating. Cities are free to implement policies such has a minimum living wage, and environmental regulations because ultimately these policies will not hurt the growth of the city. (31:48 – 35:17)

The discussion transitions into the distinctions between intercity and intracity competition. Schragger talks about how city population increases/decreases are attributed to the wrong factors. He uses the example of the urban resurgence in Charlottesville wrongly being attributed to the downtown mall. (35:20 – 43:13)

Livermore poses the question about the possibility of ever truly learning how policy affects cities. Schragger re-emphasizes that cities need to invest in services that improve the living of the people already there rather than attracting new people. Schragger argues that cities should act for justice, not growth. (43:20 – 53:01)

Livermore and Schragger discuss their views on redistribution, focusing on minimum wage. Schragger says the living minimum wage movement represents a proof of concept. He describes how large cities, such as Tokyo, New York City, London, have economic power that is used to leverage location advantage to do redistribution. He compares the power differences between city states and nation states, explaining cities’ locational leverage gives them more power to tax and redistribute than nations which flips the narrative of traditional federalism. (53:10 – 1:03:26)

Livermore closes the discussion by describing states as vestigial things in our constitutional system, asking Schragger his thoughts on the value of states. Schragger agrees that US states are in some ways a product of a flawed compromise and have lost their reason for being. He explains how one can be opposed to states but in favor of cities. He expresses that state-based federalism doesn’t work because the actual divide is not between states, but between cities and rural areas in those states. (1:03:31 – 1:11:40)
More episodes
Clear search
Close search
Google apps
Main menu