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John Colson: Stuber gets it, why can’t Washington?

John Colson
Hit & Run

I read with interest, and frequent grins of agreement, sociologist Jenny Stuber’s description of her new book, “Aspen and the American Dream,” which was published in this newspaper on June 3.

Stuber’s book, published this year by the University of California Press, posits that the City of Aspen by all rights “should not exist.”

She notes that the median income of people who “live” here (a rubric that, in itself, contains myriad internal contradictions) is roughly $73,000, while the median home price comes in at about $4 million, a fiscal conundrum for non-wealthy residents that is the main component of what she terms “the Impossible Math of Aspen, Colorado.”



Reading through her ideas, I noticed that she glossed over a number of minorly erroneous points as she tried to describe how Aspen became, well, Aspen, such as her blithe assertion that Aspen was “the birthplace of the modern ski industry in the 1950s” — a contention that earlier ski towns around the nation and the globe might find somewhat overblown.

But in general, according to Stuber’s descriptive summary in The Aspen Times, she hewed closely to her chosen theme, interviewing some 75 locals, getting to know the town and its undercurrents of fabulous wealth held by some, and gritty hard work performed by others, all of it blending into an unlikely but nevertheless time-proven alchemy that has given us a remarkable place to live, work and play.



I plan to read the book, but before I do I feel a need to point out certain issues that arose as I read Stuber’s own summary.

For one thing, if Aspen is a place that “should not exist” thanks to the extreme disparity between the salaries paid to local workers and the sky-high prices of buying or renting a home here, it follows that the United States as a whole is trending in the same unsupportable direction. The rising income inequality of this country, where it is becoming harder and harder to find a job that can support a family of middle means, are turning the U.S. economy into the same kind of unbelievable dichotomy that Stuber found in Aspen.

As Stuber points out, Aspen and its governmental partner, Pitkin County, have devoted considerable energy, funding and work into the effort to hang onto the town’s fabled mixture of worker bees and magnates, bohemians and fat cats, and not just by the social-engineering method of building and maintaining some 3,000 “affordable housing” condos, apartments and houses.

Our local governments also have turned their attention, and opened up their pocketbooks, to other critical aspects of living a good life here in the valley, such things as mass transit (we have a pretty good bus system, and if the transit gods smile upon us we may one day see passenger rail come back) and early-childhood programming (think preschools subsidized by local government).

The absolute necessity of providing early-childhood support and education, particularly for working-class parents working at least one job apiece and often more, has been long understood by educational researchers and educators themselves.

Nicholas Kristof, a columnist at The New York Times, just this week penned a piece headlined, “Turning Child Care Into a New Cold War,” wherein he firmly chastises the Republican Party for its tendency to “talk a good game about families” but failing to follow up with actual tax-supported, family-values-related government programming.

Instead of getting behind child care programs, such as those included in President Joe Biden’s American Families Plan, Republicans fall back on tired old harangues accusing Democrats of “socialism” anytime the Dems try to help working families cope with the difficult challenges of raising families in times of massive income disparity.

For instance, Kristoff noted that Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn recently tweeted a massive bit of misdirection, asking, “You know who else liked universal day care?” Answering her own question, she cited a 1974 article in the NYT that highlights the “highly subsidized” maternity and day care programs that allowed women in that era to both raise families and work to support those families.

The implication — that day care obviously is a socialistic, propagandistic effort to make the U.S. look bad — was all too clear, and all too pathetic.

Republicans have spent decades harping on the supposedly socialistic belief systems of Democrats as a way to scare voters back into the GOP, a ruse that suddenly went quiet when former President Donald Trump began his fawning obeisance toward Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. Now, it seems Russia is back in its old “evil empire” role, as long as it suits the party’s political purposes.

But the fact is that social programs, and other policies to support families left bereft of good-paying jobs by an economic system that is tilted toward keeping the rich rich, and the rest of us in our subservient place, is not socialism.

It is an investment by the public — that’s us, the masses — in ourselves and our future.

And our local governments realized that a long time ago; it’s too bad our national government is so slow in catching up.

jbcolson51@gmail.com


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