Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Decent And Welcoming

Since I have been in Minnesota, everyone has been extremely good to me. Andrew has been good to me, Andrew’s parents have been good to me, Andrew’s brothers have been good to me and Andrew’s friends have been good to me. People at church have been good to me. People at the bookstore were good to me. People at my law firm have been good to me. Our landlady has been good to me.

I shall miss Minnesota when we leave in August. The people here are very welcoming, and very decent. People in Oklahoma were always welcoming and decent, too, but there are no large cities in Oklahoma. In rural areas, one always expects people to be welcoming and decent as a matter of course—and they invariably are. Minneapolis is a very large city, and yet the people in Minneapolis are welcoming and decent, too. This was not true of the people in Washington, D.C., where I went to university, and I doubt that it will be true of the people in Boston, where we will reside for three years starting in August.

In the 19th Century, Walter Bagehot described Boston as “the Athens of the present day”, which no doubt was true between the American Civil War and the end of the 19th Century. Boston was an intellectual and cultural mecca during those few decades, rivaled—but not exceeded–only by Berlin, London, Paris and Vienna.

Today Boston is a provincial, decaying New England city, a city that for decades has been losing wealth, population and influence. It has long since been supplanted in wealth, population and influence by Dallas, Houston, Miami and San Diego. In another thirty years, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Las Vegas, Nevada, both provincial backwaters until recent years, will be more important and more influential than Boston.

Indeed, Charlotte may be more important than Boston right now, simply because Charlotte is an overwhelming presence in the world of banking and finance. By contrast, old-line Boston institutions such as Bank Of Boston, Bank Of New England, Fleet Bank and Shawmut Bank are no longer in business. The capital those institutions represented no longer exists, or was shifted to the Sun Belt, an enormous transfer of capital and influence.

Boston-based Fidelity is now dwarfed by Los Angeles-based Capital Research Management. John Hancock no longer carries any primacy within the insurance industry; Texas is the current locus of growth within the insurance industry.

Migration of people and migration of capital have decimated so many Northern cities—Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Hartford, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh—that it is interesting to contemplate why Minneapolis, counter to trend, continues to thrive and grow.

Andrew’s father says that the answer lies in the tradition of good government in Minnesota, as well as the presence of an enlightened business community that focuses on the twin necessities of economic growth and civic philanthropy. Northern cities suffering from ongoing decay, unlike Minneapolis, all lack good-government traditions and enlightened business communities.

It is amazing to consider how many giant companies are headquartered in the Twin Cities.

Cargill, naturally, must be listed first.

But Cargill is joined by Ameriprise Financial, Andersen, Best Buy, Deluxe, General Mills, Land O’Lakes, Medtronic, Minnesota Mining And Minerals (3M), Northwest Airlines, Saint Jude Medical, Supervalu, Target, The Toro Company, The Travelers Companies, United Health, U.S. Bancorp, Xcel Energy and too many others to list.

The Twin Cities, measured by population, constitutes the U.S.’s fifteenth largest metropolitan area. The Twin Cities, measured by wealth centered here, ranks behind New York but no other city.

There are astonishing numbers of fortunes that have been made here, and are continuing to be made here. Further, fortunes made in the Twin Cities tend to remain in the Twin Cities.

Honeywell, for instance, remains a Twin Cities company for all practical purposes, even though it moved its corporate headquarters to New Jersey after Honeywell acquired Allied-Signal. Wells Fargo, to use another example, became a Twin Cities company after being acquired by Norwest Bank, even though Wells Fargo was permitted to retain its original name and its original headquarters. Pillsbury was sold almost twenty years ago to a British conglomerate and yet the Pillsbury money remained behind in Minneapolis after the sale (and now Pillsbury itself is back, too, having been most recently acquired by General Mills).

A healthy business environment is a condition precedent to a healthy, thriving metropolis, and Minneapolis is one of the few cities outside of the Sun Belt that is as healthy and vibrant today as it was before the Sun Belt migration began in the late 1960’s.

That Minneapolis is thriving is probably one of the reasons why people are so considerate here, and so decent, and so welcoming. The pie is large here, ever-growing. The pie is not stagnant or contracting, either in absolute or relative terms. Pieces of the pie are not siphoned off by corrupt officials, as happens in decaying municipalities.

Andrew and I will definitely come back to the Twin Cities after I graduate from law school. This is where we want to be. This is where we want to spend our lives. This is where we want to be buried (but not for a long, long time).

When I arrived in Minneapolis, in June 2006, I was truly surprised that everyone I met accepted me so fully and openly. I was not quite prepared for that. Before I moved here, I feared I might be viewed as an outsider or as someone who did not quite fit in.

I never received that kind of reception at all. The attitude I always encountered, from day one, was “If he’s Andrew’s friend, then he’s one of us”—and that was the end of the matter, with no further discussion needed or even allowed. From the day of my arrival here, I have been treated as if I have always been a part of the community of family, friends and associates, and now I feel like part of that circle.

I hate to leave that now, even if only for three years.


  1. Beautiful.

    I hope Boston is as welcoming as Minneapolis, Josh.

    Take care,

  2. Hey, J.R.

    How are you doing?

    Do you have any thoughts about Kathleen Battle? The Minnesota Orchestra is sponsoring a Kathleen Battle recital at Orchestra Hall on Sunday afternoon, March 30. Will the recital be worth attending? The program has not been announced. Will this be a serious musical event or a vanity project?


  3. Good luck with your move.

    Out of curiosity, how did you find my blog?

  4. I was never into her for some reason.

    But don't let than hinder you from deciding to go and see her.

    At least, you'll be able to say you've attended a Kathleen Battle recital.


  5. There are two things sort of weird, J.R., about Kathleen Battle's Minneapolis recital.

    First, it is not being sponsored by the regular presenter in the Twin Cities, The Schubert Club. Instead, it is being presented by the Minnesota Orchestra, which generally does not present recitalists.

    Second, it was only recently announced and placed on the schedule.

    Neither Andrew nor I have heard Battle, and we have no opinion about her.

    If her voice is intact, we probably would not mind going to hear her. If the recital is merely a vanity event, however, we would rather not go.

    The program will be "announced from the stage".

    It sounds like something thrown together at the last minute, if you ask me.

    However, this may be our one and only chance to hear Battle, if she is still worth hearing.

    We're not sure what to do.


  6. And, J.R., we are trying to decide right now, because we are going to go over to Orchestra Hall after work to hear Alfred Brendel tonight. It will be Brendel's final Minneapolis appearance.

    While we are at Orchestra Hall, we may get Kathleen Battle tickets. That is why Kathleen Battle is on our minds this afternoon.

  7. So, did you get the Kathleen Battle tickets, Josh?

    Wishing you a fabulous, relaxing, rejuvenating weekend!


  8. Hey, J.R.

    Yes, we did pick up tickets for the Kathleen Battle recital.

    It may have been a mistake, but Andrew said that we could never forgive ourselves if Kathleen Battle had a meltdown or a nervous breakdown on stage, and we missed it.

    Maybe we should pick up some NASCAR tickets, too?

    Take it easy, and enjoy your weekend.


  9. hey there, I was blessed to attend Ms. Battle's recital at Carnegie. Please visit my blog and comment.