Two Cheers For Negative Thinking

MLewyn's picture

I recently read an article suggesting that Cleveland's problems were in part due to "negative thinking"- some fuzzy "vibe of negativity" that discourages people from moving to Cleveland.  I am skeptical of this claim for two reasons.

First, it doesn't really fit my own experience.  I lived in Cleveland in 1996-97 and then in Buffalo in 1997-99.  Buffalo was chock full of negativity; educated Buffalonians were happy to discuss the city's economic and social decline and the causes of that decline.  But outside my tiny band of Sierra Club friends, Clevelanders were much less negative.  My exurban friends were happy to explain how wonderful it was that they lived in a place with rich exurbs and a city that was drowning in its own decay.  But by my lights, Cleveland was worse off than Buffalo; for example, only 4 of the 60 lawyers in my Cleveland law firm lived in the city of Cleveland, as opposed to about 1/3 of the lawyers in my Buffalo firm.  

Second, all that positive thinking gets in the way of reform.  Because Clevelanders couldn't quite bring themselves to admit that they had created a disastrous mess, they kept following the same policies that got them into the mess.  For example, when I was there, a bipartisan majority of the county commission voted to widen an expressway leading to suburbia, thus ensuring that middle-class flight to the suburbs grew even further.  By contrast, where citizens admit they have done something not-so-great, better policies are not so unthinkable. 

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