This past weekend, a Forbes special list of America’s wealthiest counties dated March 5 made the rounds of Internet news and personal finance websites. The article immediately makes clear that by counties they mean suburban counties.
When you click to find out more, you are given the opportunity to look at other Forbes lists, all delivered in that irritating Internet slide show format, so you have to click through 25 pages to learn the top 25.
The list at the top of the list of lists was America’s 25 most miserable cities.
The wealthiest counties. Not the wealthiest metro areas. The most miserable cities. Not the most miserable counties or suburbs. The juxtaposition of these two surveys just about says it all about Forbes’ view of what constitutes the good life: Gated suburbs in artificial environments near malls and chain restaurants and away from anything nonstandard or representing diversity.
Forbes at least seems to be aware, with not the least embarrassment, that all those rich suburbs they love are exploiting the economic vitality of one or more urban centers. Here is a quote from the first page of the wealthiest suburbs list slide show: “Money may be earned in the hearts of big cities, but it’s brought home to the nearby suburbs. Forbes ranked the 25 richest counties based on median household incomes for 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The counties that do best are driven by growth industries like technology, health care and government. It also seems to help if you’re on the East Coast–19 counties on the list are in the Northeast or Southeast.” In fact six of the counties are suburbs of New York and nine of our nation’s capital. By the way, New York itself rates as 16th most miserable city. Frankly, I would be exhilarated to live in New York, but quite miserable in Morris, Somerset or Hunterdon, New Jersey, all among the 10 wealthiest counties.
Now what makes a city miserable? In reading what Forbes says on the first page of the slide show on miserable cities, note that all the criteria could apply to many suburban counties as well. For example, I’m fairly certain that there are more Superfund sites in suburban and rural areas than in city centers. And as long as a commute might be if one lives within a city, it must by definition be longer in the wealthiest suburbs which are typically the more distant one.
But of course, only cities are being rated on their miseries, and here’s how: “Our Misery Measure takes into account unemployment, taxes (both sales and income), commute times, violent crime and how its pro sports teams have fared over the past two years. We also factored in two indexes put together by Portland, Ore., researcher Bert Sperling that gauge weather and Superfund pollution sites. Lastly we considered corruption based on convictions of public officials in each area as tracked by the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.”
How its pro sports teams have fared over the past two years? New York gets downgraded because the Knicks stink?
But the point of the exercise is not to measure misery with any exactness, but to demean urban life by associating it with some negative attributes such as crime, long commutes and pollution. And the point of the wealthiest counties survey is to make sure that the most positive attribute in the 21st century United States—wealth—is associated with counties (and not cities).
I don’t have time today to go into why Forbes so consistently hates cities, except to say that hating cities and the diversity and modernity they symbolize has been part of right-wing ideology for decades. Forbes buys into this right-wing ideology, although it sees as its core tenets not values, but laissez faire capitalism, you know, the kind that makes it all right to manipulate real estate markets.