Sunday, October 05, 2014

Patrick Derocher – Can the GOP Win Over Hipsters?

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his home borough of Brooklyn are nothing if not shorthand for the policies espoused by the burgeoning populist wing of the Democratic Party. (Generally in a less than positive way.)

Separately, the same borough has become synonymous with hipster culture and its affinity for fixed-gear bicycles, obscure music, and putting birds on things. (The de Blasio – hipster connection has not gone unnoticed.) Intuitively, the link makes some sense; hipster enclaves like Chicago’s Wicker Park, Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties, and the entire city of Portland, Ore. represent some of the bluest and most culturally liberal parts of the country.

 But what if instead of treating hipsters with derision, Republicans embraced the trend? Although conservatives often chafe at the trappings of hipsterdom, including esoteric coffees, vintage and faux-vintage clothing, and $15 artisanal cocktails, the fact remains that every quirky brunch spot, every reclaimed furniture shop, and every combination coffee shop/craft beer bar is a business, many of them small, and all of them employing people. Moreover, these are all instances of individual entrepreneurs who saw a need in the market and in their community, and seized the opportunity to fill that need while employing others, growing the local economy, and, yes, turning a profit. These are values Republicans have espoused for years, and we should champion them wherever they provide benefit to communities. Regardless of the beards.

 Beyond individual businesses and their employees, the hipster ethic has the potential to transform entire neighborhoods and cities, and Brooklyn is perhaps the best example of this. Twenty years ago, the borough was a pariah, abandoned on the crime-ridden outskirts of New York City culture. Now, it represents the most sought-after brand in the city, and is the fastest-growing borough in terms of both population and economic strength. Though Brooklyn represents a somewhat extreme example of this shift, it exists on a much smaller scale: further upstate in New York, Ballston Spa has transformed from a case study in post-industrial economic stagnation to a thriving community of small, unique businesses and entrepreneurs who have poured their time, energy, and passions into rejuvenating their economy. (To be clear, this is no defense of the faux-entrepreneurs who spot an easy opportunity to co-opt hipness solely for their own gain). Moreover, there is reason to believe that Republican fiscal and regulatory policies can and will appeal to entrepreneurial 20- and 30-somethings.

For starters, more small business owners means more people with an incentive for lower taxes, and while this is not a uniformly Republican demographic, they are by and large more pragmatic in their politics and less likely to be straight-ticket voters. On a more micro level, GOP initiatives like the Uber petition serve to bring free-market solutions to immediately relatable problems that urban voters encounter on a daily basis. In the longer term, school choice has the potential to be strong selling point to a generation of individualist entrepreneurs getting ready to send their children off to school.

A hipster-inspired model of small-scale economic investments has the potential to be a template for economic growth in struggling cities across the country, and the Republican Party would be wise to encourage it.


About the Author: Patrick Derocher is a native Upstate New Yorker and graduate of Fordham University.  In his spare time, he enjoys bike rides, the more obscure fiction of C.S. Lewis, and all manner of trivia.

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