Hit the Road, Joad


Kristin Devine

Kristin is a geek, a libertarian, and a domestic goddess. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals and works with women around the world as a fertility counselor. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of https://atomicfeminist.com/

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32 Responses

  1. Avatar CJColucci

    Every accusation is a confession.Report

  2. Avatar Brandon Berg

    But there were jobs! In 2017 the unemployment rate started out at 4.7% and fell to 4.1% by the end of the year. The unemployment rate was higher in rural and deindustrialized areas, of course, but that means it was even lower in the major cities. There were definitely jobs to be had.

    A population center needs to produce something of value to trade for things it doesn’t produce. You have farms, you can support a farming community. Not just the farmers, but also the various support services needed by farmers. But the farms are the ultimate source of value. If there are no farms, there are no jobs at all, because without food to export, you can’t import goods, and you can’t have an economy consisting entirely of people providing services to each other. You need imports.

    It can be mine, a casino, timberland, a factory, whatever. In theory it could be a software company or research lab, though those tend to cluster in cities. It could be an eccentric billionaire selling off his stocks. It could be tourism. It doesn’t really matter what it is, but you need something bringing in the money so the community can import goods.

    When that goes away, that’s it. If you can’t find a replacement, it’s time to leave. That community has no means of supporting itself, and there’s no economic reason for it to exist. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but it’s a thing, and I’m not sure what you want us to do about it. I get that some people want to live there, and I’m not judging them, but that doesn’t really translate into an economically viable plan to productively employ them.

    Also, I just rewatched How I Met Your Mother, and man, do they say “tranny” a lot in the early seasons. If it’s not already retroactively cancelled, city slickers aren’t watching reruns nearly as much as you think.Report

    • Avatar CJColucci in reply to Brandon Berg

      Having hewn wood and drawn water in my time, and worked alongside hewers and drawers, I know better than to suggest that our struggling farmers, miners, and low-tech industrial workers “learn to code” and “move where the jobs are.” The jobs they know how to do are disappearing, or becoming more onerous, for reasons bigger than anyone can control. The economic rationale for many population centers, including some where I have spent much of my time, is disappearing. The town that grew up around a now played-out Adirondack garnet mine has no economic reason to continue to exist. Yet real human beings live there and would like to stay there. They are not stupid to want this. Though they may be stupid if believe someone’s promises to save the garnet mine or to despoil another mountain for yet another ski resort. Stupid or not, however, they are in a hard way. Creative destruction is a bitch. Nobody can make it the way it was, and the best anyone seems able to do is to mitigate their pain over a harsh but inevitable transition — though the folks in pain often insist on voting against the mitigators and for the phony promisors.
      But that’s assuming that the issue is “what you want us to do about it.” When there isn’t much anyone can “do about it,” there’s always resentment, a resource never in short supply and easily exploited.Report

  3. Avatar Chip Daniels

    Urban protest threads:
    “You people should work within the system, and obey the authorities and besides, your complaints are invalid!”

    Rural protest thread:”We’re fed up, we’re pushing back. Quite a few of us are ready to blow it up rather than service your needs any more, while patiently hoping you maybe throw us a scrap from your table…”

    I’m not really sure where all this anger is coming from, or who it represents or what injustices are being reacted to.

    Aside from passing mentions of snobbery, I don’t see any sort of injustice being described.

    What’s ironic is that the only real injustices in ruralia I ever hear about come from the left side of the aisle, where people describe the horrible injustices being dealt the farmworkers and meatpacking plant workers and remaining manufacturing workers. But of course, those are almost always immigrants doing the labor and suffering the injustice.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird

    A while back, Kazzy discussed Ruby K. Payne’s “Understanding Poverty”. In it, she points out that different strata of the classes have different vices and different virtues. These things are rewarded or punished and, in rewarding or punishing, they entrench the behaviors that help maintain a person’s standing in their current strata.

    Here’s an image that hits the high notes of what she’s talking about:

    A million years ago, Gene Marks wrote an essay called “If I Were A Poor Black Kid“. Without getting into all of the myriad things that Mr. Marks screwed up by hitting publish on this essay, I’d point out that what he’s doing is saying “If I were a member of *THIS* group, I would merely act like a member of *THAT* group and, eventually, get the carrots from being in a member of that group” without even noticing that, in the meantime, he’d forego the carrots of being in his current strata *AND*, at the same time, he’d get the stick. *AND*, on top of that, future carrots aren’t guaranteed. (We can argue over how likely they might be… but, let’s face it, even if you’re optimistic about chances, that ain’t the same as it being a sure thing.)

    Over and over again, there are arguments that are, effectively, “If I Were A Poor White” that are exactly as tone deaf as Mr. Marks’s’s essay.

    They just don’t take into account that being a member of a group has rewards. Leaving a group is scary.

    And, lemme tell ya as someone who left the church in my late adolescence: Membership to the New and Improved Culture ain’t guaranteed.Report

  5. Avatar Swami

    Kristen, Sorry, but I really don’t agree with much in this piece. I guess your main point is that the liberal elite should quit being so rude and snobby toward the fine people in the heartland. If so, I at least agree with the central premise.

    On a personal note, I have relocated about twenty times in my life, across 6 different states and ten different metro areas, mostly in the heartland*, but also in California. I certainly do agree that we need to consider more than just dollars and cents when thinking about relocating, but moving is often an excellent solution, especially for younger people. Go to where the opportunities are, if you can. If you can’t, well then things may get tougher…

    One question I have is with the lack of jobs. As others have already commented, in 2017 the US had one of the lowest unemployment rates in history, and an extremely low rate compared to Europe. There was no lack of jobs then. Now things are different, due to you know what, but there is no good reason to expect current conditions to extend indefinitely. The point here is that there are (or at least were) jobs for people to go to.

    You then pivot to how we have screwed the economy over (again in 2017). I am not sure what you are referring to here. Is this being written in the mindset of a person who does not understand the pretty much inevitable transition to a global economy built around services? I will just say that the economy of the US in 2017 was pretty much at the apex of prosperity for the human race. If someone had screwed it over, the question is, compared to what or where?

    Another concern is for subsidies of these rural folks unwilling to move to where jobs are. I would suggest that the subsidies in housing, food, welfare etc are what they are living on now, and is a significant part of the reason they don’t relocate. State welfare ties people down into dysfunctional locations. I reasonable change to welfare systems would be to not just allow moving across state lines, but to encourage it for job opportunities.

    Finally, the argument that we should appreciate the Joads more because our lives depend upon them is a bit of a mess. If they are working, then we do depend upon them, but then nobody is expecting them to move. If they aren’t working, then they depend upon us and everyone else. To complicate matters further, the ones that are working also depend upon the people in cities. We are all interconnected and interdependent, that is how modern economies work.

    *Are Denver, Phoenix, Jackson, Chicago, Dallas and Houston considered “Heartland”?Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Swami

      Are Denver, Phoenix, Jackson, Chicago, Dallas and Houston considered “Heartland”?

      Denver, at least, is a “coastal elite city” by pretty much any reasonable measure. One of the jokes heard around the State Capital from time to time is “The eastern third of Colorado is Kansas; the western third is Utah; the middle is California.”

      I discuss a related topic from time to time with my friend the anthropologist. We believe that “heartland” is based on a settlement pattern that breaks down west of about the 100th meridian. The West has always been less rural in terms of its population than is depicted in media. Today, a very large majority of its population lives in a small number of major metro areas. In between is empty, not the “small town every few miles, a small city every 50 or 60 miles, and a uniform spread of farmers and such in between” that the NYTimes or WashPost are enamored of. I live in a Denver suburb of 120K in a zip code area with density pushing the usual definition of “urban”. That’s far more representative of the West than any rural area.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Swami

      As best I can figure it, “Heartland” is a term that refers to the people that Hollywood likes to imagine as Real Americans.

      When the NYT or cable news shows go on a Cletus safari to interview the Real Americans in Heartlandia they are in search of someone who is white, Christian, and where the husband is lanky and sunchapped and wears a hard hat and says “Yes, Sir” and No, Ma’am” and “Hell yeah, I’m Merican” and the wife is spunky and pretty.

      What they will likely find, and studiously ignore, is the Honduran immigrant working in a meatpacking plant or the black home health care worker bathing the lanky guy’s grandfather in a assisted care facility.

      If they are in the western states, they will go looking for a real cowboy for some homespun wisdom but be disappointed when they discover most of them are speaking Spanish and offering homespun wisdom from Michoacan.

      They won’t see the people working in the Walmarts or Costcos or Amazon fulfillment centers or low rise office campus because, well crap, those places look just like New Jersey.

      Heartland isn’t on a map, it exists only in the minds and imaginations of scriptwriters and cable news editors.

      It resembles Urban America in this regard.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Swami

      “in 2017 the US had one of the lowest unemployment rates in history”

      Yes, well. People who’ve decided to stop looking for jobs because there are none to be had don’t count as unemployed.

      “If they aren’t working, then they depend upon us and everyone else.”

      Congratulations, asshole, you’re doing the thing.Report

  6. Avatar James K

    You make very good points here Kristin. There are good reasons to stay in a community you know, and it is far from easy for someone to move from a rural community to an urban one (especially considering that the largest urban areas have been working hard to make it difficult in recent years). But everything Brandon Berg said upthread is true. A community is more than its economy, just as a human is more than the rhythm of their heartbeat. But if that rhythm ever stops, so does the rest of you.

    A community needs an economic base, something to either make what it needs or trade to outsiders to get what it needs. And it is an iron law of economics that industries have a geography to them – you can’t just drop jobs anywhere you care to like some kind of Johnny Employment-Seed. This is most obvious with resource extraction jobs – farm jobs can only go where arable land is and mining jobs have to exist next to minable resources. But it’s true of other jobs too; industrial jobs tend to need large numbers of people and ready access to logistical networks and that calls for cities. Information jobs seem to be even more dependant on cities – a lot of innovation calls for spontaneous meetings leading the exchanging ideas and that sort of thing calls for high population density.

    The simple truth is that, barring The Apocalypse, the future will call for less of what rural areas do, and what is called for will take fewer people to do. This has been a worldwide trend since cities came into being and every technological change has only accelerated it. We’re certainly seeing it in New Zealand, “Zombie Towns” where there are few jobs, the population keeps getting smaller and older and more shops close each year.

    I don’t know what the solution is, some of it involves stopping cities from blocking new housing construction and some of it may involve helping whole communities to move together some how, but what I do know for certain, or near to certain as one can be in the Social Sciences, is that a lot of small towns aren’t going to exist in 100 years and none of us can stop it any more than we can stop the tide.Report

  1. October 9, 2020

    […] Even if you could convince millions of people to pick up stakes and move, would that not create a massive amount of economic and social upheaval? Peaceful division, no matter how attractive it may seem, is not really a viable option here. And […]Report

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