New York Times economic policy reporter Annie Lowrey took to Twitter last week with a tough but fascinating question: "What is the most perfectly average place in the United States and why?" George Mason economics professor Tyler Cowen thinks he has the answer: Knoxville, Tenn. Writing on Marginal Revolution, he calls it "big enough to be something, but not a truly large metropolis" (it's third in line behind Memphis and Nashville within the state). It has a Southern flavor but also manages to avoid some of the region's "more stereotypical features" (Cowen points out it's the country's No. 2 "reading city.") And it's not located in New York, California, Texas, or any other coastal state, which Cowen thinks should probably be "ruled out" for their lack of perfect averageness.
Slate's Matt Yglesias ignored that rule in selecting Jacksonville, Fla., which he describes as a not-so-coastal city that just so happens to be on the coast, and a not-so-Southern city that just so happens to be in the South. Why he picked it, other than the fact that it's "not especially distinctive or noteworthy": Unlike Cowen's "distressingly unsystematic" choice, he ranked US metropolitan areas by population size and Jacksonville was smack dab in the middle. And on Mother Jones, Kevin Drum votes for Albany, New York, citing its reign as the country's No. 1 consumer test market.