Stability and Stagnation, Differently Experienced

One of the attributes of many small rural towns is that they risk stagnation, and thereafter decline, either relative or absolute.

For many in America, the idea of any decline seems absurd. Residents of a Maryland suburb may worry about too much growth, and crowding.

Believe it or not, we have some who share the same worries about growth. Your Maryland suburb might be ten times larger, yet we have residents in our rural town who would be as vexed about growth here as your neighbors in Maryland might be.

Yet even though we’re a small town, among us there will be different views, and a different impact, to and about growth. Not everyone will feel stagnation and decline in the same way.

A merchant may quickly notice a drop in traffic, in town, and thus in her store. The same cannot be said for city bureaucrats, or workers with private-sector jobs not dependent on the city’s economy. For them, less is not so immediately painful. A five percent decline in retail traffic may mean nothing; for the merchant, the same will not be true.

There’s a gap of this kind, even in a small place – between those who feel stagnation and decline acutely, and those who feel it scarcely at all.

It’s only after several storefronts and businesses are shuttered that residents may notice; it may be far longer still until those residents feel a damaging influence from the closings.

A bureaucrat, with a publicly-supported income, has even less reason to worry. After a while, a place that was built on individual initiative becomes a place where a few regulate without a feel for those who have to make their way in the world on private achievement.

It’s easy for a bureaucrat to talk about customer service, when his customers are a mostly captive audience. It’s hard to see how it happens in a place that’s not very large, and where city politicians and career-appointees should be close to their constituents.

Yet, even when those constituents are described as customers, the result is the same: a surprising gap between bureaucrats and ordinary residents.

In my next post, I will discuss how thin and fragile is the constituency for local leaders.