community and exit


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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14 Responses

  1. Avatar Sam M says:

    Yes. One of the main problems of small towns is the difficulty in exiting. Know what one of the strenghts is? The difficulty in exiting.

    That is, people KNOW exiting is difficult. You can’t just throw a tantrum at the borough council meeting, or flip off the guy in the parking lot, or harangue the labrarian. Because you’re probably going to see them all at the PTA meeting, at the Elks Club, and everywhere else. This is not a foolproof guarantee of civility, obviously. But it leans in that direction. And to great effect.

    Finally: “Not all families and communities are able or willing to provide these. So the two things that government should always attempt to provide for its citizens are economic choice and social safety nets.”

    Well, maybe. You are correct that not “all” families and communities can supply these things. But many can and do. Of course, these people are not stupid. These things are immesely hard to provide. And expensive. So once someone starts providing these things to other communities free of charge… what happens? These people are not stupid.

    My mother was a home health nurse for many, many years. She saw a lot of heroic families take care of elderly members, and a lot of dirtbags do the opposite. In recent years, she noticed a pronounced trend of people EXPECTING the gommit to take care of granny. So much so that the prevailing idea was for granny to sell her house to the descendants for a pittance, thereby breaking herself financially. Thereby forcing the government to pick up the tab for the nursing home, etc. And the family gets to sell the house and split up the money?

    This was always an option, and there is not a lot you can do about that if you want a syste, that really does take care of the worst off. Still, she says only the dirtbags used to do it. The good people always used to sell the house and use the money to pay for extended care. Now, she says, nobody does it that way.


    A lot of people overplay the “moral hazzard” card. But it’s real.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:


      Yes. This is very true – the closer-knit community can be very good in promoting stronger community values and can keep people in lime with shame, etc. These are pros. But I think people are too quick to cast them only as pros and not see the downsides that may cause for many people. And actually, some small communities force exit on young people, too, through what is essentially banishment.

      I also agree that government should not step in where private individuals and families are capable of handling it themselves. Welfare can do as much harm as it can good – only spend some time on the Navajo Reservation to see what I mean. But a safety net does not have to be the same as a welfare program. Safety nets should be temporary – places to fall and then stand back up – not places to reside.Report

  2. Avatar Jeremy says:

    The idea of “economic freedom” is a little underdeveloped here. With respect to social policies that might aid or foster “economic freedom”–and by extension, the ability to exit–it seems to assume open information, in which all residents of all low-economic communities have the necessary info to take advantage of certain opportunities for mobility. It might do us some good to explore this a bit more.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      I left economic freedom wide open on this post for a reason, since it was more the freedom to exit from social situations that I wanted to discuss. Economic freedom is a very big topic, obviously. Freedom of information is certainly worth exploring in more depth as well.Report

      • I’m going to second the point Jeremy makes. In 2009 it’s hard to not be informed about the ways to exit woeful economic locales. But in the rare cases people aren’t, I guess there’s another reason to expand broadband access.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

          I’m a little confused by this. Are you saying that the information about poor economic areas is enough to give people the capacity to exit? How’s that exactly?Report

          • Well for example I got Pell grants in college. They essentially changed my life because they made college possible and that has led to all sorts of opportunities. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are tuition-less schools like Berea College here in Kentucky. There are programs like AmeriCorp or SitAYear. Lots of options to help kids create ‘breakout momentum’. Do they know about them?Report

            • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

              Oh certainly these things help. But you have your entire life prior to college to consider. A lot of ground is paved before you even get to that point.Report

              • Prior to one’s college years the significant factors keeping one in a given locale are cultural. Nobody wants to leave their favorite hunting spot, girlfriend, buddies and Grandma’s apple pie. I don’t really know how any public policy could change that.Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

                This isn’t a policy post in that sense (though I do zoom out to national politics there in the second-to-last paragraph). My point is that the idealistic view of small town America glosses over the very real downsides that come with small towns’ lack of freedom to exit (which is amplified for low income people).Report

              • Well as you point out the problem seems to be linked much more closely to income level rather than income level and locale i.e. a poor inner city kid is going to have just as much trouble ‘getting out’ as a poor rural kid.

                Yes, we tend to idealize small towns over urban areas. I’m in full agreement with you there, but I would argue we do the same with cities.Report

      • Avatar Jeremy says:

        The open access to information piece is pretty key here, especially from a policy perspective. Take housing vouchers for example. Valuable access to information (a form of social capital)–such as knowing which neighborhoods are safe, which schools are good (and why they’re good), where available affordable housing is, how much more development is planned, and where–are all tantamount to “economic freedom” and the ability to successfully and efficiently utilize your resources. In an isolated community, say, in Iowa, some folks may not even be able to fathom life outside their sleepy town. Where would you even start to look? Who would you ask? Who would you even know to ask? These are all important places in which access to information–or lack thereof–influences this “ability to exit” and either undermine or support policies aimed at facilitating exit.Report