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A crisis of regional imbalance

Last week’s general election in the UK was yet another example of the urban-rural divide that we are all seeing emerge around the world. Taking a look at this chart from the Centre for Towns, it’s pretty clear that the type of community someone lives in (i.e. how urban), says a lot about the way in which they probably voted. In big cities, the vote share was 49% Labour. And in villages, communities, and small towns, the vote share was about 48-58% Conservative.

But what does this stem from? According to John Burns Murdoch of the Financial Times, the biggest predictor (for constituencies) of a swing vote over to the Conservatives during this last election was the share of the population in a blue collar job. Here is a graph from John’s article. Circles with a black outline are constituencies that changed hands last week. Note Great Grimsby, which I wrote about here, in the top right corner.

These facts probably aren’t all that surprising to most of you. But it is an important reminder of how concentrated the new economy is becoming in big — or perhaps I should say, certain — cities. The Brookings Institution recently referred to this as “a crisis of regional imbalance.” Because it’s not just a case of urban vs. rural. Brookings found that from 2005 to 2017, more than 90% of innovation sector growth in the US could be traced back to just five metro areas. (You’ll be able to guess most of the five. Only one stood out for me.)

This is the world we live in.

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