How Valuing Productivity, Not Profession, Could Reduce U.S. Inequality

This is the second segment of a two-part Q&A with economist Jonathan Rothwell. Read the first part here.

In his new book A Republic of Equals, Gallup senior economist Jonathan Rothwell traces the forces driving the dramatic rise in inequality in the United States. In the first half of our conversation, we talked about how elite professions in the United States perpetuate inequality, both now and historically, and how this contributes to inequality and low productivity in the U.S. economy.

In this part of our interview, Rothwell addresses how unequal educational opportunities in the United States contribute to inequality, and he explains how a more just society would reward people for productive or otherwise socially valuable contributions while also taking care of the poor and those unable to work. Our conversation has been condensed and edited.

In the book, you revisit territory associated with the controversial 1994 book The Bell Curve. You parse the connections or lack thereof between IQ or intelligence, education, skills, opportunity and economic outcomes. Tell us about this.

In The Bell Curve, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray argued that IQ is important to many outcomes in life, that IQ is mostly determined by genes, and that racial differences in social status may be at least partly genetic. I criticize these views in the book in some detail, because I think they are untrue—especially the last two points—and have been detrimental politically and culturally.

We now know that IQ—which basically means how people perform on tests of literacy and numeracy—is relevant to the labor market and the sorts of occupations people enter. But we also know that other skills are roughly as important as IQ to the labor market. These include things like conscientiousness, extroversion, integrity, and emotional stability.

As for the genetic component of IQ, modern scholarship and actual analysis of genes has resulted in greater appreciation for the importance of environmental factors, which are now deemed the dominant source of individual variation in IQ and educational attainment. The most compelling evidence has come out since The Bell Curve was published.

We know that IQ and other measures of cognitive performance are strongly linked to the quality of educational experiences that people have—not just what students learn in a classroom but also what they absorb through their interactions with their parents and their communities and even in their neighborhoods. There’s now very compelling evidence that neighborhoods matter. When children are more or less randomly assigned to different neighborhoods, they have much different economic and educational trajectories.

Likewise, evidence from adoption studies suggest that growing up in more educated households where the parents are regularly reading to the children has a big effect on cognitive performance when they become teenagers and young adults. And evidence from immigration shows that when children from countries with very poor performing school systems come to the United States, if they come at a young age, they move up dramatically in terms of cognitive performance and IQ measures. But if they come, say, after age 10 or in late adolescence, the effect is much more muted. The obvious explanation there is that they’re benefiting from the higher quality educational experiences and exposure to the native population’s culture and resources to a greater extent when they spend more years in that country. All of that is pretty powerful evidence that cognitive ability is a very mutable outcome.

When it comes to groups, there really is no evidence to suggest that genetics has any role in explaining differences. I revisit the history of group averages in IQ scores and show that group scores have changed dramatically over the last 100 years. African Americans raised in the north before Jim Crow had higher scores than European immigrants—and, by the way, were heavily involved in coming up with inventions during the Industrial Revolution. Groups that, in recent years, have showed above-average performance on cognitive tests spent decades with relatively low performance, and there is no genetic explanation for how these patterns and reversals could have occurred.

Likewise, international evidence makes it clear that there are no groups of people who consistently outperform others. This is consistent with scientific evidence that genetic differences between ancestry groups are basically trivial and matches what we know about how social and political factors created opportunities for some, while suppressing opportunities for others.

So how much does education factor in here, and by that I mean unequal access to education?

Studies that allow for comparisons across school districts and communities certainly suggests that African American and Hispanic children and lower-income children generally go to schools that perform worse. We know that there’s a large gap there. And we also know that using more sophisticated measures, such as teacher quality, reveal large gaps. I find large racial differences in exposure to the highest quality classrooms in preschool. We also have very strong evidence that randomly assigning children to higher-quality classrooms or higher-quality teachers has a large effect on learning and on their cognitive performance on standardized exams.

To what degree is our access to education determined by location, where we live?

I’d say the first order problem in educational inequality is unequal access to neighborhoods. Neighborhoods are separated by zoning laws and the types of homes that are available. And that creates many other ancillary problems, the most urgent of which is unequal access to education. The consequences are that African American children in particular, and lower-income children generally, are stuck in the neighborhoods with the lowest-performing schools. And not just low-performing schools, but worse public goods and services on every dimension, including policing services.

If you’re African American, you’re far more likely to be arrested or incarcerated for committing a crime than someone living in a white neighborhood who commits the same crime. Policies like “stop and frisk,” which target African Americans and African American neighborhoods, create dramatically different enforcement than the what you find on college campuses: If you went to a fraternity party on any U.S. college campus you’d find high rates of drug use with nobody getting punished.

In a very intriguing chapter in the book, you talk about the need for merit-based egalitarianism. Can you tell us a little more about what you mean when you say that?

Skills and competencies do differ across people for a variety of reasons, but the variation is much less dramatic than the variation in income that we see in the United States. If people were paid based just on their productivity, we’d have inequality roughly like that of Sweden.

I think we can have a society that rewards people for productive or otherwise socially valuable contributions while also taking care of the poor and those who can’t work. If people were paid based on performance and we removed the political advantages that certain professional elites have carved out for themselves, we’d be much better off in terms of both inequality and economic growth.

Merit-based egalitarianism gives everyone opportunities to acquire valuable skills throughout childhood and eliminates the market privileges that come from uneven political power. Because the vast majority of people are perfectly capable of contributing to society when given a chance, this arrangement will result in an egalitarian society. There would still be rich people—because of extraordinary ideas, contributions, or luck, but their fortunes would be seen as essentially fair. Extreme inequality is unfair because so much of it is not based on merit. Low to moderate inequality could be fair and merit-based.

When most urbanists today talk about zoning they talk about zoning restrictions that limit density and make urban centers more expensive. But you say there’s another, more insidious side of zoning—exclusionary suburban zoning, which denies low-income and minority people access to better schools that white professional people have access to. Seems like this the bigger problem?

I’m much more worried about the exclusionary suburbs. Most cities have more relaxed zoning laws and obviously they are denser, so there are wide swaths of most cities that permit housing of any type. So they tend to have more poor people and low-income people and they’re used to accommodating diversity of economic buying power potential. The biggest problem is the suburbs. Upper middle-class people wanted to preserve their social distinction and so they moved out to the suburbs, carved out new jurisdictions, and made it very difficult for lower-income people to move there, by essentially closing off housing markets. That legacy is still very much with us.

What should we do to limit inequality and get out economy back on track?

A lot of the proposals being offered to reduce income inequality are focused on a 1950s version of the economy, where major U.S. multi-national corporations were dominant and their executives comprised a very large share of the rich. Now we’re in a world where there are fewer corporations than there used to be, and the types of people who have become rich include a wide range of professionals and people involved in finance as well as CEOs and managers of Fortune 500 companies. So we shouldn’t design policies that act upon the mistaken impression that the only rich people are leaders of multinational corporations: We also have to deal with the power of professional interest groups and industry interest groups.

The subtitle of your book is “A Manifesto for Just Society.” How do we do get there? What are the foundations of a truly just society?

Plato essentially said that a just society is one where people do what naturally suits them. To do that, you need equal opportunities for education and for skill development. They can’t be restricted by race or ethnicity or gender. You have to give everyone the chance to reveal their own talent. That requires a commitment to invest in everyone.

John Rawls argued that we need to prioritize the welfare of the least-off. Income inequality should be allowed to the extent that it benefits the least-off. To my mind, this is not is a critique of capitalism or of markets, but an empirical question about whether a market-oriented society can raise the long-term living standards of the least well-off. I believe the evidence suggests that it can, and a politically equal market-based society would create a more productive and less unequal economy, and a more just society.

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The Downtown Highway That Could Drive Hartford’s Comeback

HARTFORD, Ct.—If Connecticut’s capital city was looking to adopt a theme song, Elton John’s hit single “I’m Still Standing” would be a fitting anthem.

Battered by population loss and the departure of manufacturing and corporate anchors, Hartford has been on the brink of bankruptcy for several years. In response, the city has taken a sophisticated multi-pronged approach in plotting its post-industrial future: It’s implemented a series of zoning and land-use reforms, encouraged adaptive reuse of historic buildings, and improved mobility with new transit and better facilities for bike riders and pedestrians.

But in an illustration of how a mid-sized legacy city can work smart and still face existential challenges, Hartford finds another monumental task in its way: a crumbling piece of 20th-century infrastructure, a stretch of the Interstate 84 viaduct adjacent to downtown that is well past its expiration date. Completed in 1965, the elevated thoroughfare was part of the national urban-renewal campaign to ram freeways through downtowns, and it did extraordinary damage to Hartford’s urban fabric. The ideas for what to do with it now range from a plain-vanilla rebuild to a tunnel system more elaborate than Boston’s Big Dig.

Optimists might argue that the viaduct dilemma represents an opportunity for city-building on a grand scale. But most are unhappy—even resentful—about being stuck with this problem; it’s like working hard to rehabilitate a sore shoulder, then being told you need an expensive hip replacement.

Ultimately, the choices ahead will hinge on how much the state, and even more so, the federal government, is willing to invest. It will also be a test of the belief that a megaproject will truly save the day—or whether a more frugal and incremental solution would be the wiser path.

Interstate 84, shown under construction in 1964, cut a broad swath through the center of the city. (Hartford Public Library/Hartford History Center/Connecticut Digital Archive)

Hartford’s story is painfully familiar, of glory days giving way to poverty, crime, and abandonment. Founded in 1635, Hartford lays claim to a number of American firsts—the nation’s oldest continuously operated public art museum (Wadsworth Atheneum), the oldest publicly funded park (Bushnell Park), and the oldest continuously published newspaper (the Hartford Courant). Mark Twain wrote many of his treasured works while a resident there.

Through the turn of the last century, manufacturing and innovation was robust—Hartford gave the world firearms, typewriters, sewing machines, bicycles, and one of the nation’s first electric cars. The city also surged in the finance and insurance industries, earning the sobriquet as “the nation’s filing cabinet.” But the hard times arrived in the postwar period through the 1960s to 1990s, with a real estate collapse, a restructuring in finance and insurance, and a downsizing of defense contracts that accelerated manufacturing decline.

The exodus of tens of thousands making healthy salaries led to an inevitable hollowing out; the original G. Fox & Co. department store closed; the beloved Hartford Whalers NHL team left town. Aetna insurance—an important employer and symbol of local commerce— announced its departure to New York City in 2017 (though more recently promised to stick around a little longer).

Despite 11 years of economic expansion nationally, unemployment remains stubbornly high—11 percent at last check. Property tax revenue—the foundation of municipal fiscal health—has declined as the cost of city services increased. Hartford considered filing for bankruptcy in 2017, saved by effectively a state bailout on some debt. More support is unlikely as Connecticut struggles with fiscal woes, exacerbated by the departure of major companies like General Electric, which is moving from Fairfield to Boston.

Orchestrating a comeback has taken different forms. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s Working Cities Challenge promotes worker retraining and education to develop appropriate skills in the transition to a more technology-based economy. City leaders also tried some standard economic development pump-priming—a César Pelli-designed science center that opened in 2009, a small reclamation of the Connecticut River, a convention center and hotel. In the late 1990s, Hartford almost became home to the New England Patriots, but the team withdrew its proposal and got a new stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

In the past few years, however, the thinking has shifted away from such silver-bullet schemes and more towards laying the foundation for more incremental, entrepreneurial development.

Led by planning chair Sara C. Bronin—wife of Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin—the city’s zoning code was completely overhauled, bringing down confusing and unnecessary regulatory barriers. (In one example of bureaucratic red tape, Hartford had different rules for factories making rice versus vermicelli.) Special areas were created to encourage adaptive re-use of abandoned industrial properties for small-sized “maker spaces.” Incentives were thrown in to reward energy efficiency and composting, and the city encouraged everything from hemp to beekeeping. Absurd minimum parking rules that required two or more spaces for each new residential home were replaced by parking maximums, plus guidelines for encouraging bikes and electric vehicles. Building is mostly now “as of right,” under a form-based code that does away with outdated rules separating uses.

Hartford’s downtown core is showing new signs of life. (Anthony Flint/CityLab)

“We’ve really felt within the city we have to take matters into our own hands,” Bronin told me in an interview for the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy’s Land Matters podcast.

Zoning reform is just one part of a broader planning effort. The city recently kicked off a new comprehensive planning process called Hartford 400—a reference to Hartford turning 400 years old in 2036. Surveys posed big questions to the citizenry about what the city should look like by that time. The Capitol Region Council of Governments, representing 38 communities and a population of nearly 1 million in the metropolitan region, started using the cutting-edge practice of scenario planning—making multiple projections into the future, to manage uncertainty and be more nimble in setting policy prescriptions or plunging ahead with physical interventions.

Amid all that earnest activity, however, the nagging question remains: what to do with the two-mile section of I-84 just outside downtown, which in an ironic reference to past glory is known as the Aetna Viaduct. Its projected lifespan ended in 2005, and engineers are now worried about catastrophic failure.

Replacement options under consideration include just fixing the viaduct so it is in a state of good repair ($2 to $3 billion), or lowering the highway with a series of decks ($4 to $5 billion). A study commissioned by the city calls for a more artful integration of the urban streetscape and the area’s existing rail and bus rapid transit system, known as CTfastrak.

From there, things get more creative. Connecticut Congressman John Larson seeks to bury not only I-84 in a tunnel, Big Dig-style, but also I-91 just to the east of downtown, in the process reclaiming waterfront property along the Connecticut River. The estimated price tag: at least $10 billion.

Yet another proposal would take the need to rebuild I-84 and combine it with the ultimate in big plans: a re-routing of Amtrak’s Acela through New Haven, Hartford, Springfield, and Worcester. Linking those post-industrial cities to New York and Boston via the Northeast Corridor’s popular high-speed rail service would open up economic development opportunities all along the way. Vehicular and rail traffic could be combined in a multi-level tunnel through Hartford, similar to Boston’s never-built North-South Rail Link, which was proposed to be bundled with the Big Dig.

That solution is found in the Rebooting New England initiative, a University of Pennsylvania studio led by Robert Yaro, president emeritus of the Regional Plan Association. The plan was inspired by the U.K.’s Northern Powerhouse scheme for the north of England, which includes $100 billion in infrastructure, downtown regeneration, applied research, skills training, and governance reforms to revitalize a similar set of older industrial cities from Manchester to Newcastle.

High-speed rail has great potential to link proximate hot-market cities, inherent in the proposed Cascadia route providing a speedy trip between Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia (and plainly seen in high-speed rail connections that have long been in place in Europe and Asia). A new rail route through New England would benefit not only New York and Boston, but all the left-behind places in between, Yaro argues. Planners need to look at these larger collections of cities as megaregions, he says—broader geographies that open up all kinds of possibilities as agglomerated housing and labor markets. Those priced out of Boston and New York could find more affordable housing in places like Hartford—as long as they have 21st-century transportation infrastructure to get to work.

“We all know cities are where young talent wants to live, and these cities in Connecticut have great bones,” Yaro says. Re-routing Acela through Hartford could cost up to $100 billion, and combining the rail with the I-84 reconfiguration would require billions more. But the payoff, he believes, would be activating a megaregion to its utmost potential. “The combined economy of New England and the New York metro region is $3 trillion—making it the fifth-largest economy in the world, larger than California’s. If the U.K. can afford to make this investment to rebuild its infrastructure and economic potential, why can’t we?”

Earlier this month, Connecticut officials announced that they will put the brakes on all plans to consider the bigger picture of the region’s transportation challenges.

All the while—and amid doubt that massive investment in infrastructure is forthcoming—momentum is growing for yet another idea: getting rid of the highway altogether and replacing it with surface boulevards—a feat accomplished in cities like Portland, San Francisco, Milwaukee, and Rochester. A similar process is underway for the Sheridan Expressway in New York City and under consideration for New Orleans’ Claiborne Expressway and in Syracuse, New York, to name a few.

The Congress for New Urbanism’s Highways to Boulevards database calls out the Hartford I-84 stretch as the perfect place for such a dramatic conversion. Backers of this approach say the surface boulevards could be designed to accommodate the roughly 175,000 vehicles using the current interstate system every day—and would avoid spending billions on an elaborate reconfiguration. “It’s time to stop doubling down on expensive urban planning mistakes and kick I-84 out of downtown Hartford,” wrote Connor Harris, a policy analyst at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

So go big with a transformative megaproject, or find creative ways to make more incremental progress, similar to the successful efforts in zoning reform? That is the decision confronting one legacy city in its ongoing quest for regeneration. Planners are going to have to bring their best game to study the scenarios and keep the hope alive.

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How AI Could Change the Highly-Skilled Job Market

When most people think of the connection between technology and jobs, they think of robots and automation taking over relatively unskilled jobs like factory work. And thus, the biggest toll from these technological advances would be on already hard-hit manufacturing regions of the Rust Belt. But a new wave of developments in artificial intelligence may have a greater effect on high-skilled jobs and high-tech knowledge regions.

That’s the key takeaway from a new study out today from the Brookings Institution. The study by Mark Muro, Jacob Whiton, and Robert Maxim takes a close look at the potential of artificial intelligence—or AI—to automate tasks that until now have required human intelligence and decision-making. As they put it: “Unlike robotics (associated with the factory floor) and computers (associated with routine office activities), AI has a distinctly white-collar bent.”

The Brookings study bases its analysis on a set of “exposure scores,” developed by Michael Webb, a doctoral student at Stanford University, which essentially gauge the potential effects of AI on different jobs. In fact, Webb uses AI to study AI, using machine learning to search all U.S. patents to identify the capabilities of AI, and to connect that data to jobs and tasks that could be taken over by AI technology—tasks like certain medical diagnoses that doctors perform today. Brookings, in turn, uses those scores to assess how AI will affect occupations and places. In doing that, Brookings’ analysis quantifies degree of potential exposure but not whether it will be positive or negative.

What does the Brookings study find? First, while A.I. will likely affect a wide array of work and jobs, its largest effects will be confined to a much smaller segment of jobs. Overall, AI will, in some way, influence more than 95 percent of jobs. As the study notes: “Fully 740 out of the 769 occupational descriptions Michael Webb analyzed contain a capability pair match with AI patent language, meaning at least one or more of its tasks could potentially be exposed to, complemented by, or completed by AI.”

But, as the chart below shows, less than a fifth (just under 18 percent) of U.S. jobs, 25 million or so, are threatened by high exposure to AI. Roughly a third (34 percent or 48 million jobs) face a medium level of exposure; and a little fewer than half (48 percent or 67 million jobs) face low or no exposure to AI.

Share of jobs by AI exposure, 2017

But, AI is different from automation or robots in that it is more likely to affect higher-skilled work. This can be seen in the chart below, which shows that while AI is likely to affect manufacturing and agricultural work, it is much more likely than robotics or automation to affect higher-wage, higher-skill occupations done by college graduates, and people with advanced or professional degrees.

Average standardized AI exposure by education level, 2017

The next chart drills down further into the more fine-grained categories of jobs that will likely be affected most by AI. A number of lower-skilled occupations rank highly, like farming, manufacturing, mining, and construction. But also exposed are high-skill jobs like professional, scientific and technical services; information; and finance and insurance.

“High-tech digital services such as software publishing and computer system design—that before had low automation susceptibility—exhibit quite high exposure, as AI tools and applications pervade the technology sector,” the study points out. The jobs that are least exposed include educational services and arts and entertainment, alongside lower-skilled jobs in retail and accommodation and food service, that are personal services.

AI is also more likely to affect male, white, and Asian-American workers, because of their over-representation in professional and technical occupations, as well as prime-age workers (25-64), according to the study.

Average standardized AI exposure by sex, age, and race-ethnicity; 2017

AI is likely to hit hardest at a combination of leading tech hubs and older manufacturing regions. San Jose—the heart of Silicon Valley—tops the list of metros that are most exposed to AI. Seattle is fifth; Salt Lake City is eighth; Ogden, 10th; and Durham in the North Carolina Research Triangle, 12th.

Smaller high-tech hubs like Boulder and Huntsville, Alabama, are also highly exposed. Manufacturing metros like Detroit; Grand Rapids; Louisville; and Greensboro-High Point, North Carolina, face a high level of exposure, as well as smaller manufacturing centers like Elkhart-Goshen, Indiana; and Dalton, Georgia. And the Sun Belt metros Nashville, Atlanta, and Charlotte have high levels of AI exposure due to the significant presence of management and finance occupations, as well as some manufacturing.

Service economy and recreational metros—both large ones like Las Vegas; Cape Coral-Fort Meyers and Deltona-Daytona Beach, Florida; and smaller ones like Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Ocean City, New Jersey; and El Paso and McAllen, Texas, have among the lowest levels of AI exposure. AI is significantly less of a threat to smaller and more rural places than other forms of automation and robots, the study notes.

Top 15 and bottom five metro areas and NECTAs by average standardized AI exposure, 2017

History shows us the introduction of new labor-replacing technology does not occur in a vacuum. Not only is it typically associated with increasing worker anxiety, but also with a potent political backlash. In the early 19th century, the introduction of machinery in British factories fueled the Luddite revolution. The last wave of robotics and automation technology hit hardest at manufacturing jobs and regions, helping to fuel the populist backlash that elected Donald Trump.

The coming widespread use of AI could extend the kind of fear and anxiety felt by lower-skilled manufacturing workers and regions to more affluent and educated professional and technical workers living in many leading tech hubs. These workers and places have, to date, largely been spared by the previous wave of automation and robotics. Might an even larger political earthquake be in the offing?

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Instead of the Big Apple, NYC Could Have Been La Grosse Pomme

How would it have been if America’s most populous city had not been called New York, but something completely different? Such is the question explored by a new documentary being screened in the city itself this month.

While many people are aware of NYC’s earlier incarnation as New Amsterdam, few know that New York City’s future site was, in the early 1500s, already given a previous European title by the explorer Giovanni Da Verrazzano—the French name Nouvelle-Angoulême (“New Angoulême”). Screening November 12 in New York’s French Cinema Week, the film If New York Was Called Angoulême featuring historian Florent Gaillard, glances briefly at this tantalizing, largely forgotten connection between France and New York. It invites the viewer to think a bit about how things could have been, if both the French name and the French themselves had just tried to linger a little longer.

This early French encounter with New York was brief, but striking. Verrazzano became the first recorded European to enter the Upper New York Harbor in 1524, on an exploratory voyage up the East Coast from Cape Fear. Anchoring somewhere within the Narrows that separate Staten Island from Brooklyn on his 50-man ship La Dauphine, Verrazzano told of how he was greeted by Lenape people, and described their territory as the “most pleasant that can be told, suitable for all kinds of crops: wheat, wine, oil.” As for the Lenape themselves, Verrazzano found them beautiful people “[who were] very generous and give everything they have. We have made a great friendship with them. … they live a long time and are rarely sick.”

These words—poignant with little hint of what would be Native Americans’ subsequent experience of conquest, warfare, expulsion, and death by epidemic related to European colonists—were addressed to the French King Francois I. For while Verrazzano was from Tuscany, La Dauphine was a French ship, sent across the Atlantic with funds from the city of Lyon. Sailing under French colors, the explorer thus baptized Manhattan “Angoulême” in honor of Francois, whose title before his coronation was Count of Angoulême, the name of a small city in Western France that still retains a good measure of historic beauty.

While such dedications were common at the time—New York also got its later name in honor of an English duke and later king—it still seems like a bit of a slap in the face to the deep-pocketed burghers of Lyon. Francois himself probably never read the letter, anyway, because when Verrazzano dispatched the news to France, Francois was busy languishing in prison in Madrid after being beaten in battle by his arch-rival, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

After this flurry of activity, the newly named land of Angoulême largely falls from history, with later chronicles of New York tending to prioritize Henry Hudson as a proto-founder. The English explorer sailing under Dutch colors tends to get star billing mainly because his 1609 voyage up the Hudson was actually followed by Dutch settlement in New York State five years later—though in days gone by, the fact that he was a WASP may also have helped promote his official recognition over a Catholic Italian. Indeed, it’s arguable that, until the naming of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge in 1964, Verrazzano’s great contribution to global geography was a mistake—namely his mis-recognition of North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound as the mouth of the Pacific Ocean, a misconception that endured in Europe for over a century. His imprint on New York is certainly slight to non-existent: the documentary has to make do with the carved stone fleurs-de-lys and salamanders—symbol of Francois I—that cover the front of Seventh Avenue’s Beaux Arts-style Alwyn Court.

Still, New York’s earliest European name lingers on somehow, as a tantalizing “What if?” What if Verrazzano had not just planted a flag, but actually founded a French outpost? What if the name he affixed to it had stuck? As French power in America’s northeast was extinguished in the mid 18th century, imagining a Francophone Grosse Pomme continuing up to today might be a bit of a stretch. But what if the French had chosen to settle and had held on to territorial control in the city for as long as the Dutch did? When they relinquished power in 1674, the colony of New Netherland had scarcely 4000 Dutch people in it. New York nonetheless ended up with a substantially Dutch-descended elite, a heavy scattering of Dutch place names, and the spoken language lingered on in greater New York City as late as the 1920s. If the French had been in place for as long a time, they might have likewise left the city with a distinct Gallic tinge, at least among its upper crust.

For the sanity of Americans living elsewhere in the U.S., it may be no bad thing that they didn’t—and that America’s Angoulême faded from memory. In the country that coined the term “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” to describe the French and invented the Freedom Fry, imagine how much more New Yorkers would be resented if they were not just considered pushy and brash, but also a little bit French.

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Congress Could Give Cities an Official Role in International Politics

A new bipartisan bill introduced to Congress this year would allow cities and states to have a greater voice in diplomatic missions abroad and, more broadly, the international policy-making process. This is particularly timely given that our national government, and indeed the national governments in many nations, are reneging on their responsibility to adequately represent their citizens’ interests abroad and to find solutions to our shared global challenges, all of which are most intensely experienced in cities.  

If passed, the City and State Diplomacy Act would create an Office of Subnational Diplomacy within the U.S. State Department. The Office would generate exchanges and cooperation agreements between subnational U.S. leaders and their foreign counterparts; promote trade and investment in the U.S.; maintain and work with international networks; coordinate resources; and help generate and execute global subnational agreements with foreign countries. This is especially useful given that, in the current political climate, foreign partners increasingly view engagement with U.S. mayors and governors in the U.S. as essential to maintaining support for issues including free trade, human rights, and climate initiatives.

Supporters of the bill expect that this office will have a positive effect on trade, environmental issues, and tourism, among other areas, and be advantageous not only for the national government itself, but for a broad array of non-state actors, including businesses, entrepreneurs, civil society organizations, and universities. The mere existence of such a bill recognizes the fact that the key problems of the 21st century are trans-border in scope and in need of multi-stakeholder attention and participation.  

Migration, inequality, climate change, terrorism, infectious diseases: all of these are most directly experienced in cities, where local leaders are expected to act and work toward solutions. As mayors around the world realize that their national counterparts are not going to locate solutions for them, they are proactively reaching out to other local, regional, and national officials around the world to compare best practices and discuss obstacles to success. In some cases they are going further: they are negotiating and signing trans-border agreements, forming international coalitions, and lobbying for certain policy changes at the United Nations. In a word, cities are engaging in diplomacy, something traditionally performed by nations alone.  

As currently structured, the U.S. government cannot formally accommodate subnational international activity. In the American context, as in most other national contexts, international affairs are exclusively conducted by the national government, which is expected to act as the representative for all subnational entities beneath it. The national government alone is tasked with negotiating, signing, and enforcing international agreements; with representing the country in international courts and tribunals; and with serving as members of international organizations. Under the current national and international legal frameworks in place, cities are typically viewed as superfluous at the international level, and we are dependent on nations to serve as our primary diplomats, negotiators, problem solvers, and liaisons with foreign counterparts. Yet, many nations no longer seem capable of, or willing to fulfill these traditional roles.

The Trump administration’s recent withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords, an agreement that took over a quarter of a century to negotiate; the UN Security Council’s recent failure to condemn Turkey’s military incursion in northern Syria despite objective evidence of an impending humanitarian crisis; and the increasing amount of time it takes nations to condemn the most unquestionably condemnable acts such as North Korea’s routine missile launches; prove that the traditional levers and institutions of international diplomacy are broken. Partisan deadlock, democractic decay, ideological inflexibility, growing distrust, and power politics all make nation-states often unwilling or unable to cooperate or compromise.

As a result, cities are moving ahead and forward on their own, with or without the support of their national governments. Many cities and states around the world have set up offices of international affairs in order to reach out to foreign actors, including other foreign nations, and to advertise their willingness to work together on international issues and trans-border problems. This is especially common in Europe, where the E.U. actively promotes the concepts of subsidiarity, decentralization, and local autonomy. In other cases, cities and states are, on a more ad hoc basis, creating alliances and engaging in joint projects with foreign nations. For example, former California Governor Jerry Brown recently created the California-China Climate Institute, based out of the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Law, and the College of Natural Resources, which connects leaders in California with top Chinese officials in order to work together on climate solutions.

Though less common, some nations actively support the active involvement of cities in their foreign affairs by setting up permanent offices or creating formal channels within the national government bureaucracy. These platforms provide subnational actors, including cities and states, with opportunities to engage in international diplomacy in collaboration with their national leaders. This occurred during the Obama Administration when a special representative position was created within the U.S. State Department with the specific task of cultivating strategic relations between U.S. cities, states and foreign counterparts. While the office was short lived, lasting from 2010-2013, special representative Reta Jo Lewis negotiated a variety of historic agreements that helped to solidify subnational cooperation between the State Department, U.S. cities and the countries of Brazil, Russia, China, and South Africa, among others.

Cities, in particular, are taking the lead in ushering in an organically evolving new “networked” world order, where NGOs, community activists, private corporations, non-national states, and other stakeholders all collaborate and offer their unique perspective to locate solutions to our common problems. No longer can our global problems be solved by just one actor—nation states. Our world has moved beyond the days when this arrangement made practical and political sense.  

For all of the reasons enumerated above, subnational actors, including cities and states, are increasingly relevant, indeed critical, to solving the global challenges that confront us today. National governments can choose to work with or against them, but recent history proves that cities and states will move forward and upward with or without them.

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What WeWork’s Demise Could Do to NYC Real Estate

At the start of 2019, the coworking company WeWork was leasing between back in November 2018. The worry is that the company will fail just as the economy turns the corner toward a recession (which is not a given yet). As it stands, commercial vacancy rates are high (and rising) in New York, even after a strong surge in new commercial leases this year. The sting will be worse in WeWork markets where new office leases are harder to come by.

Some building owners are already spooked. Two anonymous landlords who operated large WeWork sites in London told the The Financial Times “they would not sign new leases for the foreseeable future and were making contingency plans for their existing WeWork offices in the event of a restructuring.”

Landlords may already be looking at the We Company’s smaller peers as riskier bets in light of WeWork’s frustrations. “This affects WeWork more than it affects the real estate market,” Ginsberg says. “It’s a bit of a rattling. In general the market always overreacts to bad news. People are going to look more carefully at perhaps leasing to other coworking companies.”

But companies aren’t abandoning WeWork yet. Rudin Management Company, which owns nearly 15 million square feet of real estate in New York City, is readying to open Dock 72 in Brooklyn Navy Yard, a six-story glass tech hub with WeWork as its anchor tenant. “Dock 72 was designed and built as a home for innovators like WeWork members, as the flexible office model has proven to serve significant market demands and has quickly become an economic engine in its own right,” says Nicholas Martin, Rudin’s vice president of external and governmental affairs. He’s received feedback from tenants who say they appreciate being in a building with a company like WeWork, because it gives them the flexibility to grow in one place if they expand their team. Instead of leasing more property from the building, they can stick a few employees in low-commitment “hot desks” on another floor.

Dock 72 also represents a departure from the stereotypical image of coworking life: It’s not just Kombrewcha-swilling freelancers at hot desks, but large multinational corporations such as IBM and Verizon that have signed on to lease WeWork’s space there. Such “enterprise tenants” have become key partners in WeWork buildings across the country. Thirty percent of Microsoft’s sales department operates out of WeWork spaces; Amazon rents out the entirety of WeWork’s Manhattan 2 Herald Square office; Airbnb hosts its Berlin office in a WeWork. (The Atlantic has a few employees in a San Francisco WeWork, too.) If WeWork winks out of existence, these enterprise tenants would likely figure out a way to stay put. Short-term pain is unavoidable if and when WeWork tanks, but others will step up—whether that’s landlords, third parties, or partnerships between the two.

Whelan predicts a slowdown in the growth trajectory for flexible office space—a “rightsizing,” as she puts it. The bad headlines for Adam Neumann alone could tell you that much. But coworking space isn’t going anywhere. Over the last five years, owners with all the necessary tools—the building, the ability to design and build out office space, and the capacity to operate an office—have been entering the market, whether by themselves or in partnership with third-party operators. “Landlords that have the resources to do it, the scale to do it, are playing in the space,” she says.

As a subleaser, WeWork only ever checked off the boxes for building out a space and operating an office—more an overly ambitious property-management company than a disruptive tech startup. That’s one reason why landlords and tenants likely won’t have a problem filling the gap in the long run.

“Despite all the jargon, it was not this platform company, which is a sexy idea that implies this almost endless growth,” Ginsberg says. “It turns out that technology was not a major part of that. It was just a real estate company. If it’s just a real estate company, then it comes back to basics.”

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South Bend’s Mayoral Election Could Decide More than Pete Buttigieg’s Replacement

SOUTH BEND, IN—It was only 34 minutes into our conversation that Sean Haas paraphrased Field of Dreams. “If we have it, they will come,” he said.

Haas, a public school teacher and an Army veteran, is running for mayor in South Bend, Indiana. The “it” he’s talking about is threefold: better public safety, sturdier infrastructure, and a stronger trade-skills educational system. That’s what South Bend needs most, he says. Not flashy investments in downtown high rises, not more national media attention, and not a reckoning with “systemic racism,” which, in a recent debate, he said he doesn’t believe exists. And not the continued leadership of Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who’s spent the larger part of his second term in local office running to be president of the United States.

Opinions like Haas’s stand out in South Bend, where many locals are happy to sing Mayor Pete’s praises, thanking him for transforming a once-depressed city into a pocket of Midwest optimism. Since its Studebaker plant . (She declined to comment for this article, saying she was not following the mayor’s race closely.) “[P]eople were given repair orders: OK, you got two months to fix up your house or we’re gonna tear it down.” Homes she owned with her husband were casualties of the teardown spree. Other community residents alleged that Buttigieg’s team bulldozed houses without a clear plan to replace them, and that onerous fines and fees stacked up to hurt black and brown residents.

Mueller didn’t arrive in South Bend until around day 850 of the 1,000 days, he said. But as community investment director, he soon became closely involved. Addressing critics of the program, Mueller said that the administration always tried to save as many houses as they could—rehabbing 40 percent of the properties and razing about 60 percent. Now Mueller says they’re on track to flip that percentage. He stands by the value of the program, a campaign that itself stemmed from community pressure to see life brought back to dead streets.

Williams-Preston told BuzzFeed News and the Indy Star she’s been impressed with the way Buttigieg responded to community criticism. In January, he launched a $1 million home repair program, to help homeowners with renovations; the city also runs a Green Corps program to assist with clean energy retrofits.

“There seems to be a pushback … of what’s been accomplished—or maybe not even a pushback, but a denial that there’s been progress made over the past eight years,” said Mueller. “We were a city that had been in a decline since our peak, before Studebaker closed. And if you go around, you can tell there’s a belief in the city again. There’s an ambition that we’re going to be back into a growth mindset, rather than a managing-decline mindset.”


Haas, who is also a South Bend native, doesn’t deny that the city has been transformed, he told me as we perched on high-top chairs downtown at a café called the Chicory Lounge. He just thinks everyone’s paying attention to the wrong metrics.

“I can give credit where credit is due: The downtown has changed significantly in the last 10 years,” he said. “But is it sustainable? They’re building high rises while the foundation is crumbling beneath it.”

He’d spent the day teaching history at a neighboring town’s K-12 school—he used to work in a South Bend alternative school. When he’s not home with his wife and 6-year-old daughter, he usually spends his evenings like this: talking to reporters and voters about his dark-horse run to derail Mayor Pete’s hand-picked successor.

“Did he tell you we went to grade school together?” he asked. He and Mueller were classmates as kids at St. Anthony de Padua Catholic School (Mueller hadn’t told me). His opponent hasn’t changed a bit, he said. “Still smart. He’s a reserved guy, but still—a lot of respect for James.”

Running as a Republican for mayor in South Bend, as Sean Haas is, hasn’t been a winning proposition in many decades. (Sean Haas for Mayor/Facebook)

As for their political differences, Haas says he considers himself more of a centrist than Republican; it had been years since he voted in a primary. He says he voted for Obama in 2008. When I asked who he supported in the 2016 election, he said he “probably” voted for a third-party candidate, though he couldn’t recall, exactly.

“It’s different when you put an R next to your name in this town. It really boxes you in in a lot of people’s minds,” he said. “For me, it was the pro-life issue—I don’t like abortion. That was it.” (Later, he clarified his position, saying that he believes that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare,” but says that in the years after Roe v. Wade, abortion “hasn’t been rare enough.”)

The clearest gap between the candidates appears when they talk about race and policing, as they did in South Bend’s mayoral debate on October 1 at Indiana University South Bend, where Haas went to college. It was in response to a question submitted, in various iterations, by nearly 20 voters, and it was was the first one of the night.

“Essentially, people asked questions like this,” said the moderator, Elizabeth Bennion, a professor of political science at IU South Bend. “What can you do to promote effectiveness of the police force while not alienating the community, including members of minority communities?”

Buttigieg has already had to address this question nationally, and at home. The issue emerged during his first term in office, when then-chief Daryl Boykins, the first African American to hold the job, told the administration he had copies of tapes that he alleged featured his colleagues making racial slurs.

A federal investigation was opened into whether Boykins and the department’s communications director had secretly recorded the officers, and Boykins was demoted, a decision he claims was made because of his race. Despite pressure to release the tapes, Buttigieg has declined, saying he doesn’t want to violate federal wiretap law or get in the way of a pending investigation. Instead, the city settled with Boykins and the officers involved, and has since pulled away from the legal proceedings. Now, South Bend’s Common Council is subpoenaing the tapes themselves.

“At this point it would be nice to actually have the tapes so we could move on,” Mueller told me, when we met. “But that’s going to be up to the courts.”

Friction between the South Bend Police Department and the community has only intensified since. Recruiting issues plague the force. While the city’s population is 26 percent African American, only 5 percent of South Bend police officers are black. This summer, Ryan O’Neill, a white officer, fatally shot Eric Logan, a black man who was apparently a suspect in a car break-in. Though the department has a body-camera policy, the officer’s camera was not on during the incident. In a June town hall with African American South Bend residents, Buttigieg faced jeers as he tried to address the circumstances surrounding Logan’s death. The shooting also came up at a presidential debate later that month. There, the mayor appeared to take full responsibility for the discord between police and the community: “I didn’t get it done,” he said.

Jordan Giger, an organizer with South Bend Black Lives Matter, told me that in an August meeting with the group, it seemed to him that Buttigieg was just going through the motions, without committing to taking action. “We’re seeing all of these problems within the police force—we’re still seeing intimidation, harassment of black and low-income people in our community, and there’s no accountability,” said Giger. Black Lives Matter has called on Buttigieg to fire the current chief, Scott Ruszkowski; Giger hopes that whoever becomes the new mayor will do so if Buttigieg does not.

Haas has the opposite critique: He thinks that, in response to anger from black South Bend residents in the aftermath of the shooting, Buttigieg threw the police department “under the bus,” and that the mayor’s indecisiveness has managed to inflame both sides. “Not only did the African American community have a backlash against him, the police did too,” Haas told me. “That’s a pretty tough thing to do to upset both of those with one set of comments.”

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office says Buttigieg has stood by his response. The city has launched an outside investigation and an internal review of the police department; it’s also engaging the community to asses use-of-force and vehicle pursuit policies, along with training and recruiting practices.

Before the findings of the shooting investigation are released, Mueller says that, as mayor, he would not take punitive action on the force. Instead, he is promoting a “Reforming Public Safety” plan to strengthen group violence intervention (GVI) programs first championed by Buttigieg, expand opportunities and job programs for at-risk youth, and direct more resources into investigating crimes that cause non-fatal injuries. He notes that though Haas is right—violent crime has increased in South Bend this year—the spike in shootings, especially, comes after a period of overall crime decline.

Most crime in the city is driven by less than 1 percent of the population, said a spokesperson for Buttigieg, echoing research out of the National Network for Safe Communities. GVI programs aim to intervene in the live of those particular individuals’ lives: At the debate, Mueller said he hoped Haas’ emphasis on public safety wouldn’t manifest in more widespread stop-and-frisk policies.

Haas has said he’d lean on community and micro-community policing tactics, holding barbecues and encouraging officers to volunteer in local schools. (Community-police events like this are already held regularly by the Buttigieg administration, a spokesperson said.) He’d also increase the number of police in the department. The Fraternal Order of Police, the city’s police union, has endorsed him.

Both candidates call public safety their number-one priority—“not just being safe, but feeling safe,” Mueller said during the debate.

But policy changes can only go so far, Mueller added. To really rebuild a foundation of trust between the community and the police, it’s time for South Bend to have tough conversations about the role of systemic racism in the criminal justice system.

Haas disagreed. “I don’t believe that systemic racism is part of our policing,” he countered from the other podium. “Are there individuals that are racist? Absolutely. But I think the United States is by far the least racist country in the world.”

“I don’t even know where you would begin,” Mueller said in response. “How would you start a conversation with folks on the west side if you’re not acknowledging all the pain and hurt they’re feeling?”

Local black leaders condemned Haas’ debate comment, and praised Mueller’s. “Certainly, the Republican candidate is ill-informed,” said NAACP’s Patton. “It just says he doesn’t have his hands on the pulse of our community, and doesn’t understand the make-up of our community, and the diversity of it, and the challenges.”

Mueller, on the other hand, “has proven that he has follow-through and that he’s organized, and that he has a heart for our city, and understands the makeup of our city as well,” Patton added.

But lingering distrust of past administrations could follow Mueller to City Hall. Davin Hackett, a police officer who worked for South Bend from 2006 to 2017 and who’s now an officer for the neighboring town of Elkhart, filed complaints against two South Bend police chiefs, alleging he was denied promotions and assignments due to discrimination. Between the two current candidates, he says he prefers Haas—because of his candor, his action-oriented nature, and his emphasis on bringing back trade skills to schools. Mueller is all about “having conversations,” he told me. South Bend has had enough of those. (In November, Hackett will be running for the South Bend city council, and has the support of South Bend Black Lives Matter.)

New leadership isn’t the only solution, Giger says: The department would benefit from more citizen oversight of the police. Giger wants the next mayor to institute a civilian review board, and allow more residents to join the city-led Board of Public Safety, which is now composed of three to five mayoral appointees. Buttigieg’s spokesperson says that after an application process conducted this year, the mayor is about to appoint a civilian representative in the coming weeks, and that he’s also looking to Tucson, Arizona’s “critical incident review board” for best practices.

“What we need is really reform in our local electoral system: We need ranked-choice voting,” said Giger, who says the town’s left-leaning Democrats may have voted for Mueller instead of more progressive primary candidates like Williams-Preston because they were more concerned with cornering out Critchlow, an establishment figure who has long been aligned with the police. “We’ve got to stop electing the lesser of two evils.”


It’s easier to position Haas and Mueller as foils to Buttigieg than as distinct local political thinkers, whose plans for South Bend will reverberate there for years to come. Indeed, they’ve climbed into those boxes themselves. But it’s meaningful that the biggest fundamental disagreement between these two white Midwestern grade-school classmates is about race and its role in their city. Five years after Ferguson, South Bend’s reckoning has been a long time coming.

For the country, this conversation matters, too, especially in a presidential race where the mayor’s experience governing a city, and his appeal to black voters, are both his biggest claim and barrier to credibility. (A July poll showed that, even after releasing a “Douglass Plan” designed to address American racial disparities, Buttigieg was polling at 0 percent among black Democratic voters nationwide.)

Back when we first spoke in January, Buttigieg told me that mayors are ideal candidates for president, because of the “immediacy and backyard accountability” of the job. “The bottom line is we’ve got to deliver safe drinking water, pick up the trash, and also figure out an economic future for our communities,” he said. And they have to face their constituents every day. But this also makes them subject to laser-focused scrutiny: Even if you like your mayor, you can find things to hate.

Buttigieg and I met again last month, to talk about how he would assist cities like his in the fight against climate change. We spoke by the side of the St. Joseph River, where, over the course of just 18 months, two major floods had hit. During our conversation, nearby residents poked their heads out the doors to get a good look at him. One woman sidled down from her front porch—where she said the water had reached, during the worst of the flooding—and asked to get a picture with the mayor in front of her favorite tree. She beamed as he left, telling me she thought he was doing a wonderful job, and that she’d be voting for Mueller, for continuity’s sake.

In recent decades, South Bend’s Democratic primary winner has easily prevailed in the general election. Turnout in the May primary was low: Only 15 percent of registered voters cast ballots, 88 percent of whom were Democratic. Haas, running unopposed for the Republican nomination, only received 900 votes; Mueller, who faced eight opponents, more than 4,000. “People are very interested in national politics, but they just aren’t much interested in the mayor’s race,” said Colwell. “Part of that is that perception that, hey, when Mueller won the Democratic primary, he was elected mayor, in fact.”

But how he gets elected could still matter, Colwell says, both for Buttigieg and for the city. In the primary, Mueller lost two predominately African American districts. “I think a lot of people—including, perhaps, people nationally—are wondering, how is Pete regarded now in his hometown—will he receive a vote of confidence, in a way?” Colwell said. “Will his choice be elected big, in those African American precincts? Or is there still some problem there?”

Despite his long odds, Haas says he’s feeling “very confident” in the final weeks of his campaign. “People are kind of fed up; it’s taken a long time to see what happens when a single political party has been in charge for so long,” he said. “I’m hoping that the voters in South Bend are willing to take a chance on a Republican.”

Equally assured in his own experience and his track record, Mueller says he’s looking forward to continuing South Bend’s journey to be a leader in the state, and the country. “That’s when we’ll know we’re back—we’re fully back,” he said.

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What the DOJ’s Lawsuit Could Mean for ‘Sanctuary’ Laws

Jeff Sessions has launched his most potent attack yet in his salvo against so-called “sanctuary” policies—escalating the attorney general’s ongoing war against the Golden State.

“California, we have a problem,” Sessions said Wednesday in remarks delivered in Sacramento. “Contrary to what you might hear from the lawless open borders radicals, we are not asking California, Oakland, or anyone else to enforce immigration laws…We are simply asking California and other sanctuary jurisdictions to stop actively obstructing federal law enforcement.”

That demand has been formally lodged in a lawsuit his Department of Justice filed Tuesday in federal court that argues three California laws hinder the capacity of federal immigration authorities to capture and deport unauthorized immigrants living in the area. “These provisions are preempted by federal law and impermissibly discriminate against the United States, and therefore violate the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution.” the complaint states. This latest move has the potential to affect hundreds of cities and local governments across the country that have sought to limit how they assist federal immigration enforcement—loosely and sometimes-misleadingly termed “sanctuary” cities.

What could this lawsuit mean for these “sanctuary” policies in cities and states? It’s not entirely clear at this point. But if nothing else, it is likely to be another test to the local-federal balance of power on immigration that may wind its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, legal experts say. Most at risk is likely California’s immigrant workers bill that extends protections beyond those of most other sanctuary policies.

At the heart of Tuesday’s lawsuit are complex and deeply crucial questions about the relationship between the federal government and the state—answers to which have defined the balance between local, state, and city power in America. They ask: What is the scope of government’s control over immigration? What is the extent to which state or local governments can regulate their own affairs? What are the exceptions in both cases? How the two sides approach these questions will be played out as the case works its way through the judicial pipeline.

“Essentially, what’s going to happen is that the federal government is going to argue that…anything related to anything immigration is within the field,” said Rick Su, a professor of local government and immigration law at the University of Buffalo. “And essentially, the state is going to argue, ‘You can’t read it that broadly, because the would preempt all—or too much—of the state’s regulatory sphere.’ And, ‘You should also recognize that what we’re doing here, although tangentially related to immigration is really connected to a legitimate state interest.’”

This tension between state and local has come up before—in the Obama era, the Reagan era, and all the way back before the Civil War. Most recently, it came up in Arizona v. U.S., when Arizona tried to implement an extremely stringent local immigration laws. Several parts were struck down, but the Supreme Court affirmed the state’s ability to ask local police to collect information about immigration status. Ironically, the politics in that state-versus-federal dynamic are flipped in this lawsuit.

The DOJ, in its lawsuit, has attacked three California laws. The first is S.B. 54, which passed late last year, enraging Sessions. It limits local law enforcement from detaining, questioning, and sharing certain information about unauthorized immigrants—unless they’ve committed certain serious crimes. (Several courts have questioned the legality of holding immigrants for ICE without a warrant, prompting a rise in such laws around the country.) Next up: A.B. 103, a law that requires state oversight of conditions at immigration detention facilities in its jurisdiction and a moratorium on renting out jail beds to ICE. And third: A.B. 450, which requires that a warrant be sought for inspecting employee records and asks that employers notify staff before ICE’s workplace raids. This third law may be most susceptible to legal challenge, in part because it puts private individuals in between the state and federal tug-of-war. In addition, “a court grappling with this claim may have to decide whether it is unreasonable to expect ICE to issue a subpoena or obtain a judicial warrant,” said César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, a law professor at the University of Denver who studies the intersection of criminal and immigration law.

The DOJ lawsuit argues that these laws violate federal statutes, and cites the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which says that federal law trumps state law, in cases of conflict. “There is no nullification. There is no secession. Federal law is ‘the supreme law of the land,’”said Sessions, who himself is named after two leaders of the Confederacy. “I would invite any doubters to Gettysburg, and to the graves of John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln.”

That’s a particularly striking position, because it appears to subvert the long-held conservative embrace of state and local rights, said Hernández.

“The irony of the Trump administration’s main legal claim is remarkable,”said Hernández. “Turning back from conservative legal principles stretching back to the states’ rights era of anti-integration battles, the Justice Department is trying to force California to do what it very clearly does not want to do.”California, likewise, is taking the opposite position historically held by conservatives.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, responded at a press conference Wednesday by insisting that the state’s laws worked “in concert” with federal ones and that the 10th Amendment puts limits on federal power over states’ rights. “In adopting the Values Act, the State has exercised that right to define the circumstances where state and local law enforcement may participate in immigration enforcement,” Becerra said. “We’re not enacting immigration laws, we’re enacting public safety laws; We’re not getting into their business, they’re getting into our business.”