It's hard for those of us living in New York...

It's hard for those of us living in New York City and its suburbs to fully appreciate the extent of New York State's decay. Credit: istock

The damnedest thing about history is that it never rests; it just keeps going. Right when you think you've mastered the natural order of things, it churns forward, rolling over deeply held assumptions.

I've always assumed New York is the capital of the world, and that it will always remain that way. Nothing can shake it from its perch in my mind. But sometimes history has its own ideas. I should know that by now.

I once got in trouble as a kid for stuffing cooked peas into an Air Mail envelope -- for the starving kids in China. Now China is the world's biggest exporter.

At around the same time that I filled that envelope, Americans watched U.S. bombs drop over Hanoi on the nightly news. Forty-five years later, I have two brilliant and beautiful nieces from that bustling, entrepreneurial city.

It was impossible not to think about history and its ironies when reading a riveting piece in Forbes this week by demographer and Chapman University professor Joel Kotkin. In "How the South will rise again," Kotkin chronicles the remarkable shift in demographics going on in this country, in which businesses and educated Americans are increasingly moving southward from the northeast, Midwest and California. That is, they are moving from states with high taxes, heavy business regulation and powerful public unions to states with lower taxes and less union influence.

It's a must read for New York political leaders obsessed with the news of the moment at the expense of the larger picture being carved out by time. Where news is the conceited hare demanding daily attention, history is the humble tortoise pressing forward without fanfare. We notice him only at long intervals and are often amazed at the ground he's covered and the direction he's taken.

While Albany tinkers on the political wedge issues du jour, American history is being rewritten on a grand scale. The mighty industrial northeast is atrophying, and the once-shattered and undereducated south is on the ascent.

It's hard for those of us living in New York City and its suburbs to fully appreciate the extent of New York State's decay. Things are relatively good downstate, even with this slowed economy. But take a drive through parts of Binghamton, Buffalo, Rochester or Syracuse, and you will see what demographic change means. Large swaths of neighborhoods and commercial districts are boarded up, and young families are almost nowhere to be seen. They've gone south and west, where the jobs are.

A few startling statistics from Kotkin's piece:

* The South, the Northeast and the Midwest each had about the same number of people in the 1950s. Today the South is almost as populous as the Northeast and the Midwest combined;

* Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and South Carolina are all among the top eight states in domestic migration over the past decade. The top four losers? New York, Illinois, New Jersey and California;

* CEO Magazine ranks Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee as the best states to do business in the country. New York ranks 49th; Massachusetts 47th; New Jersey 45th, and Connecticut 44th;

* Brains are moving southward, too. The number of college graduates in Austin and Charlotte grew by 50 percent in the past decade. There was a 35 percent increase in bachelor's degree holders in Baton Rouge, Nashville, Houston, Tampa, Dallas and Atlanta during that time.

Politics is an irresistible game of short-term tactical thinking., But that does New Yorkers no favors in the long haul. What we need in Albany is strategic long-term thinking to reverse the blunt decision-making process history seems to have ordained for us in the coming years.

We hear nothing of the sort coming from our state capital.

William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.