The Political Implications of Metropolitan Growth

Daedalus, Vol. 90, Winter, 1960, pp. 61-78. Reprinted in Edward C. Banfield, Here the People Rule: Selected Essays (Washington, DC: AEI, 1991).


The rapid growth of the metropolitan populations will not necessarily have much political effect. To be sure, many new facilities, especially schools, highways, and water supply and sewage disposal systems, will have to be built and much private activity will have to be regulated. But such things do not necessarily have anything to do with politics: the laying of a sewer pipe by a “public” body may involve the same kinds of behavior as the manufacture of the pipe by a “private” one. Difficulties that are “political” arise (and they may arise in “private” as well as in “public” undertakings) only insofar as there is conflict—conflict over what the common good requires or between what it requires and what private interests want. The general political situation is affected, therefore, not by changes in population density or in the number and complexity of the needs that government serves (“persons,” the human organisms whose noses are counted by census-takers, are not necessarily “political actors”) but rather by actions which increase conflict in matters of public importance or make the management of it more difficult. In what follows, such actions will be called “burdens” upon the political system.

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