The Pittsburgh population question

The Pittsburgh population question

So, what came first, Greater Pittsburgh’s lack of in-migration or a befuddled and misguided public policy climate that discourages people from moving into the region?

It’s an apropos question on the heels of the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates that population in the seven-county metro area continued to decline in the year ended July 2018.

It’s even more appropriate as a couple of scriveners – and, rest assured, others will follow in short order – have begun to engage in group omphaloskepsis (the technical term for navel-gazing).

“Why, oh, why do people not move here?!” you can almost hear the wails. “We are too parochial!” “We are unwelcoming!” “Oh, to once again be (as the old WIIC-TV Christmas commercial went in the 1970s) “a whole world of people”!

But few, if any, of those penning their entreaties for more in-migration – whether it be for minorities, foreigners or just people of every and any stripe – seem willing to peel back the layers of the onion and dare to consider what might be the underlying cause of, at least in the city proper, this in-migration malaise.

Could it be – GASP! – four score and five years of one-party rule in the mayor’s office?

Could it be – PERISH THE THOUGHT! – a none-too-dissimilar stranglehold on Pittsburgh City Council?

Certainly it couldn’t be – NO, IT COULDN’T BE! – organized labor’s throttlehold on government services that only reinforces the truism that unions are a cancer-like cartel that, left to their own devices, gorge their hosts to expiration?

Maybe it’s – BITE YOUR TONGUE! – a public school system that spends more and more money with fewer and fewer results?

Perhaps it is – PAY NO ATTENTION TO THAT DYSFUNCTION BEHIND THE CURTAIN! – decades of “independent” municipal authorities being packed to do, not the people’s business, but that of their appointing pols and then feigning outrage at being held to public account?

Could it be – OH, NO, YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT! – the penchant of city (and Allegheny County) leaders to pursue “equity for all” by steadfastly adopting public policies that lead to equity for none? (A lack of regular property reassessments by the county comes to mind.)

Surely it is not – OH, NO IT’S NOT, YOU RECIDIVIST NAYSAYER, YOU! – government’s penchant for handing out corporate wealthfare to barons of industry, sport and banking, right?

And this “could it be,” “certainly it couldn’t be,” “maybe it’s,” “perhaps it’s” and “surely it is not” exercise could go on and on. But the common denominator in such a listing is how government traduces the very precepts that make respective regions hospitable to all newcomers. Think fair play. Think free markets. Think government as a facilitator, not as an overlord.

The bottom line for Pittsburgh, if not Greater Pittsburgh, is that inimical government never leads to economic or population growth. And the latest Census Bureau estimates are a sobering testament to that.

Policies that lead to flight, of people and of capital, aren’t exactly conducive to renaissance.

But, and for those who fail to recognize that, it does lead to a bumper harvest of omphaloskepsis, if not a constant wetting of the lips to enable more whistling past the graveyard.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).