The Pit

Related Post Roulette

26 Responses

  1. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    This is a really good counterpoint to Will’s posts on Boomtowns,Report

    • I’ve actually worked in a busted mine town. It can be depressing. But it had a pretty fantastic run, and that’s not nothing. The hope is that as one opportunity dies, another arises. Back in Redstone, the population is less than a third of what it used to be. Most people did move on. All of which speaking to the importance of mobility!Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

        Despite my love for big cities, I do think that West Virginia can be very beautiful in places and do wonder about having a quiet existence in a small town with lots of books.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

        Though I would probably pick Rhinebeck in New York or Ithaca or Amherst MA for my small towns of choice. I’ve had daydreams about being a professor at a school like Middlebury in Vermont.Report

    • I think of it less as a counterpoint than as a supplement, in that it tends to lend support to what Will says.Report

  2. Avatar Kim says:

    I’m not sure we’ll ever have jobs well suited to those who held foremen roles back then.
    Well, I suppose hitler found jobs for them (Brownshirts, by the main). But there’s precious room
    in the modern world for a bully or a braggart.

    The modern question is what to do with people who have no skills, nor means to earn new ones?Report

  3. Avatar Glyph says:

    Powerfully-written piece, Matty, particularly the closing line.

    This bit: “chavs, a vicious yet comical stereotype that seems to feed off race-based prejudices coming from the US, even though most of the people involved are white“, made me think of the Vice “bros” piece Veronica linked yesterday, which was an entertaining polemic that nonetheless stirs in me some of the same unease your “chavs” note does.Report

  4. Avatar Matty says:

    Woohoo, my first attempt and well receivedReport

  5. Avatar North says:

    The straight forward response probably is mobility. Safety nets should help people retrain and they should help people move out of declining areas. To this the sentimentalists protest the death of rural communities but the brutal truth is they probably should be permitted to fade away.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to North says:

      I don’t necessarily protest the end of rural communities but I do think it is important to recognize the importance of family and social structures. In short, grandparents can help parents a lot. My parents were professionals who benefitted a lot from being close to my mom’s parents with being able to borrow a car at the last minute (if one or both of their cars was in the shop) or last minute baby-sitting if one of us was too sick for daycare and/or the babysitter cancelled at the last minute.

      People generally sticking close to their social and familial structures for a reason.Report

      • Sure, though that phenomenon is also what creates the rural culture you’ve always insisted is so abhorrent. You can’t have “staying close to home and family” as an essential value without having strong social pressure for people to stay close to home and conform even when they feel trapped by the local culture.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        The way I see it is this, social and family networks if only for emotional support and socialization are important and the lower on the socio-economic scale you are, the more important they are. They help you when you need help and vice versa. The middle class and the wealthy are more automized because they can usually buy the services provided by social and family networks like babysitters for kids when the parents want a night out or something like that. There might be some emergency situations where social and family networks are important but at much lower frequency than for people with less money and wealth.

        The only to make poor people more atomized and less dependent on social and family networks is by providing alternatives to the services traditionally rendered. Universal pre-K to take care of children to young for elementary school, etc or public transportation to get people to and from work if they can’t afford a car.* There are still going to be times where social and family networks are important but less so.

        *I realize that certain economists argued that its cheaper for the government just to buy everybody a car but that is obviously not going to happen.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Saul Degraw says:


        I never meant to imply that people should stay close to their families and hometowns if they don’t want to. If someone feels freerer in the big city or somewhere else for whatever reason, they can and should go wherever they want.

        My concern was more for people who want to stay close to their families and support structures instead of being pressured into moving for “economic relocation assistance” or whatever. I am for multi-status welfare.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I’m sympathetic, quite sympathetic in fact. I grew up watching my entire cultural economic history vanish into the maw that results when laissez faire economics meet a commons. There’s nothing there now but memories, nostalgia and crumbling buildings.
        That said there is a myriad plethora of ways that we subsidize and prop up rural communities and I suspect that those subsidies prolong the anguish rather than do any genuine lasting good.Report

  6. Avatar Road Scholar says:

    You see this sort of thing all across the Great Plains. Back in 1986 my tiny* little hometown celebrated its centennial. They (dunno who actually) assembled a history of the town — the founding families, the businesses, churches, etc., and recollections of life back then.

    What really struck me was how much activity there was, just how alive this now very sleepy little town was back then. There was a hotel, an opera house, saloons, a hospital, several stores, at least two churches… just… everything.

    But the most relevant, basic fact was how many more people there were. The county census tallied up more than 12,000 where now it’s listed as 5642 in my road atlas.

    Unlike the town Matty writes about, the decline has nothing to do with any disaster or the closing of a foundational industry. This area was part of the great Homestead Act of 1865(?) settlement. The homestead parcels were 160 acres so originally we had four families per square mile. The truth is that was always a bit small for this region given the natural productivity (or lack thereof) and the climate. More suitable for the Ohio Valley perhaps. Anyway, lots of failures which led to consolidation of land which only accelerated with the advance of mechanization. My dad was one of the last generation of small farmers holding only 320 acres and farming another quarter-section with my uncle. Realistically, if I had wanted to follow in his footsteps I would likely have had to go into massive debt to procure the kind of land the typical farm out there looks like now. Green Acres it ain’t.

    We try to attract people and business and industry but it’s a tough sell. A lot of towns out here will just give you the land if you will build a home or business. It’s not as bad as North Dakota and my current hometown, the county seat, is holding its own, but it’s not exactly booming.

    As late as the sixties, when I was a kid, that tiny little town still had an elementary school, general store, hardware, lumber yard, barber, grocery store, grocery warehouse, two gas stations, grain elevator, and couple construction companies. All that’s left is one gas station and the elevator, but only during wheat harvest. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me sad but I don’t see how it could have gone differently.

    * When I say tiny I mean it. It has three streets running north-south and four running east-west.Report

    • Avatar ScarletNumbers in reply to Road Scholar says:

      road atlas

      I am unfamiliar with this term…Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Road Scholar says:

      three streets running north-south and four running east-west.

      And it had 12000 people? How the hell long were those streets? My town has probably 3 times as many streets, but only about 1/9 the people. But our streets tended to be only 3-4 blocks long.Report

      • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to James Hanley says:

        Sorry for the confusion, @james-hanley . The town has a population of about 200. It’s the county that had 12k and now has less than half that. The town probably never had much more than 300 or so at its peak. The countryside is where the real depopulation has occurred as farms have grown to many times the original homestead size.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

        Ah, I get that. I had a vision of a town that wither was spread out along a handful of streets 10 miles long or that was basically a tiny little Hong Kong of the plains!Report

  7. Avatar Saul Degraw says:


    Re: Chavs.

    I always thought of Chavs as being the UK equivalent of Jersey Shore stereotypes or Southie, i.e. working class and white (if “ethnic white”) over anything racially tinged. Then again, the Northeast U.S. still has a good contingent of working class people of Irish, Italian, Greek, etc background.Report

    • Avatar Matty in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      The stereotype itself is not racial, the connection is a bit more subtle. If you listen to the kind of thing that is said about Chavs and the Price unemployed a lot is echoing American criticism of the ‘urban’ poor, usually without being aware that many of those originated as dog whistles. If you add in a lot of ‘Chavs’ trying to copy hip hop culture the result is something that is not about race but looks like other situations that are.

      [Mike S: edited as requested]Report