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January 11, 2014 6:50 AM   Subscribe

In Appalachia the country is beautiful and the society is broken.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (109 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Eight southeastern Kentucky counties named “Promise Zone” by President Barack Obama

Fact Sheet: President Obama’s Promise Zones Initiative

posted by T.D. Strange at 7:07 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Two thoughts:

1. Was the point of that article really "public assistance is bad for the rural poor?"

and

2. I have no idea what this sentence is supposed to mean:

Kentucky is No. 19 in the ranking of states by teen pregnancy rates, but it is No. 8 when it comes to teen birth rates, according to the Guttmacher Institute, its young women being somewhat less savage than most of their counterparts across the country.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:12 AM on January 11 [27 favorites]


...run out of profitable uses for the class of people who 500 years ago would have been known, without any derogation, as peasants.

Got stuck about here... expecting the summation advice to be to teach the good folks how put up a web page and enter the information economy.
posted by sammyo at 7:16 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


A lot of teen pregnancies end in abortion; less so in Kentucky.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:17 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


The author is saying that KY teens get pregnant at a slightly below average rate, but more often choose to keep the baby, rather than savagely abort. Whether by choice or lack of access to choice isn't mentioned, obviously.

It's the National Review, what did you expect?
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:19 AM on January 11 [8 favorites]


There is no cure for poverty, because there is no cause of poverty — poverty is the natural condition of the human animal.

Translation: This part of the nation is dirt poor and broken, but I'm writing in the National Review, so attributing a cause might conflict with my free market principals and proposing a solution my violate my small government beliefs, so I'm just going to indulge in a little poverty porn, make some racist remarks, and call it good.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:21 AM on January 11 [108 favorites]


I spot a new $50,000 Ram pickup truck with an exterior as shiny as a silver ingot and a camouflage interior, the usefulness of which is non-obvious.

It means that someone likes to hunt deer on the side of the road without ever leaving their truck.
posted by Brian B. at 7:21 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


I was wondering how an article that expressed compassion for the poor could possibly be from the National Review until I got to the part where he blamed welfare.
posted by Ndwright at 7:22 AM on January 11 [22 favorites]


I was reading the FA and trying to figure out the author's point. For the first three pages, he does nothing more than describe scenes of life in Appalachia: "the countryside is pretty and the people who live here are poor." Which is more or less the standard view of Appalachia, and has been for a very long time. The author actually drove to Kentucky and West Virginia to interview people, and this is his contribution? I was at the very least expecting a gentle paternalistic shake of the head, what with this coming from the National Review.

I was not to be disappointed, as Page 4 delivered the goods. The author at first appears to be confounded by the failure of liberal and conservative solutions to the problem of Appalachian poverty. While calling welfare "poison," he also criticizes conservative claims that marriage reduces poverty. But by the end of the article, his point is clear: "In effect, welfare has made Appalachia into a big and sparsely populated housing project — too backward to thrive, but just comfortable enough to keep the underclass in place."

He goes further: "The lesson of the Big White Ghetto is the same as the lessons we learned about the urban housing projects in the late 20th century: The best public-policy treatment we have for poverty is dilution. But like the old project towers, the Appalachian draw culture produces concentration, a socio­economic Salton Sea that becomes more toxic every year."

So, to sum: welfare has made Appalachia a housing project, and the lesson of Appalachia is to move people out of Appalachia. This first claim is simply incorrect and inaccurate, and the second claim is just naive spitballing based off his conversations with a handful of people he met while driving back roads in Harlan County.

This is not a serious article.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:23 AM on January 11 [25 favorites]


2. I have no idea what this sentence is supposed to mean:

Kentucky is No. 19 in the ranking of states by teen pregnancy rates, but it is No. 8 when it comes to teen birth rates, according to the Guttmacher Institute, its young women being somewhat less savage than most of their counterparts across the country.


It's an oblique statement of the abortion rate in Kentucky in relation to the other states. Probably a way to imply that poor + liberal social welfare = abortion

Interesting point revealed in the comments (which are otherwise predictably ugly) that the county in question voted 81% for Romney in 2012.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:23 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


2. I have no idea what this sentence is supposed to mean:

It means they get knocked up a bit above average, but keep those pregnancies well above the norm, because abortions are savage.

Or, in other words, it's a deeply problematic article.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:24 AM on January 11 [11 favorites]


This is not a serious article.

The National Review is not a serious publication.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:25 AM on January 11 [29 favorites]


...run out of profitable uses for the class of people who 500 years ago would have been known, without any derogation, as peasants.

The condition of "peasants" has varied across history - 500 years ago was before the Enclosure Acts and their parallels in Europe, for instance, and there were plenty of rich "peasants". This idea that because you are not part of the elite you must necessarily be a forelock-tugging "peasant" is the product of the same mercenary capitalism endorsed by the NR.

Also, the whole "people in this area are familiar with hard work but the welfare state prevents them from doing it" - well hey, I used to do a little journalism, and neither it nor bloviating for the National Review is "hard work" the way working class jobs are hard.

Sadly, I think this was a left-ish piece for the NR to run.

Also, it's sure interesting to see the right's true colors on social services. First it's "people are too comfortable on welfare so we should cut it" then it's "welfare is too little to help people thrive but too much to push them to work, so we should cut them off altogether". This dude talking about the perverse incentives of welfare - seriously, if someone is pulling their kid out of school in order to get a grand total of a pathetic $8400 a year in welfare payments, that person is desperate, not a criminal.
posted by Frowner at 7:26 AM on January 11 [32 favorites]


Oh it's always fun to watch the crypto fascists try to deal with the Why Are There Poor White People In God's America question in a way that flatters the ego of the not poor white people while not alienating the poor white people that are thier voting base.

I'm surprised they got as close to the eugenics argument as they did.
posted by The Whelk at 7:28 AM on January 11 [23 favorites]


I think it's a bit oblique, but the article seems to be saying not so much that welfare is bad for the poor, but that welfare is not ENOUGH for the poor, and it's all they're getting. Necessary is not the same thing as sufficient. That because all they have are the welfare payments and no hope of anything else, all they can do is work to maximize those welfare payments. I hope. It's a little hard to tell what the author's actual point was.

But the bit about the abortion rates and how that was described was a very WTF moment, and it left a very bad taste in my mouth about the rest of this.
posted by Sequence at 7:30 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


'if it was 98.5% white, we call it a reservation'

Well because when brown people live in squalor, its not news.

I had the opportunity to do 2 long road tours of this area this past summer, by bike and camper. Also recently, some bit of time on reservation by the Grand Canyon. On the reservation, you live in a hut or camper, here you live in a house or double wide.
posted by sfts2 at 7:31 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Chief Logsdon has time to indulge his hobbies because the Big White Ghetto is different from most other ghettos in one very important way: There’s not much violent crime here.

Unlike that other ghetto. You know the one I'm talking about (wink, wink).
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:35 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


"If you go looking for the catastrophe that laid this area low, you’ll eventually discover a terrifying story: Nothing happened."

The article doesn't even approach this - but I think it really is a intra-state version of the resource curse. Appalachia is our own little Nigeria, as evidenced by what's going on in Charleston, WV right now.

I'm so upset every time time someone from the American Petroleum Institute tells us hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale is an economic blessing for ordinary Americans. If they've ever actually been to Appalachia, they apparently didn't take note of the surroundings.
posted by nowoutside at 7:36 AM on January 11 [18 favorites]


"A woman who is intimately familiar with the local drug economy suggests that the exchange rate between sexual favors and cases of pop — some dealers will accept either — is about 1:1, meaning that the value of a woman in the local prescription-drug economy is about $12.99 at Walmart prices."
Even granting that it's the National Review and this is going to be the cognitive framing, to see it expressed so...

Rage?

Depression?

Ragepression?

Derage?

There's a word for my feels, but I don't know what it is.
posted by mikelieman at 7:40 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


It's also a bit painful watching him describe the ruinous effects income inequality while simultaneously praising it as an advantage:
For the smart and enterprising people left behind, life can be very comfortable, with family close, a low cost of living, beautiful scenery, and a very short climb to the top of the social pecking order. The relative ease of life for the well-off and connected here makes it easy to overlook the real unpleasant facts of economic life, which helps explain why Booneville has a lovely new golf course, of all things, but so little in the way of everyday necessities.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:41 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


A Nat Review article on this subject is never going to have a coherent point cause the current state of Appalachia is THIER dream for the rest of the country, a white god-fearing politically impotent populace that can be endlessly exploited and its land used in whatever way they see fit without sky regulations or health concerns stopping profit margins.
posted by The Whelk at 7:42 AM on January 11 [48 favorites]


At the risk of derail, its also of note that churches are ubiquitous and in good repair for the most part.

Its...indescribable.
posted by sfts2 at 7:43 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Krugman Krugs the FA. He duh's it. Sample:
Oh, and about the soda: things like that will happen when you try to provide aid in kind to very poor people. Give an only moderately poor person food stamps, and she’ll probably be willing to use all of it on food. Give a very poor person, with hardly any other source of income, food stamps and she’ll try to convert part of it into cash to be spent on other things. This doesn’t say that they’re getting too much help; it just says that they’re pretty desperate across the board, not just in their food budget.
Duh.
posted by hexatron at 7:43 AM on January 11 [57 favorites]


There's a lot of interesting stuff to be said about white rural poverty. This isn't it. It's a pretty repulsive article for several different reasons, and also myopic, and not worth deliberating over in serious discussions.
posted by Miko at 7:51 AM on January 11 [8 favorites]


In other words, Krugman nails it. We're not going to find in character the cause of something that really resides in the economic structure.
posted by Miko at 7:53 AM on January 11 [6 favorites]


Yep. Krugman's blog post about this article (which hexatron linked) is worth reading. It's not that long. Also, which hexatron didn't mention, is that, nope, something did happen: the decline of coal mining.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:57 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


Also, the most disturbing thing I learned from that Krugman blog post was that Charles fucking Murray is still writing books.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:58 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


In case you missed the thread yesterday, WV counties told not to drink the water after an industrial chemical is found in it. The spill has been going on for an indeterminate amount of time. But yeah, Appalachia's problems are from welfare and women killing their fetuses.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:02 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


But yeah, Appalachia's problems are from welfare and women killing their fetuses.

The author's argument is that women in Appalachia have lower rates of abortion than elsewhere.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:04 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Every sentence of that article made me angry, starting with 'The National Review' at the top of the page.
posted by empath at 8:11 AM on January 11 [9 favorites]


I'm glad I read this (or at least some of it) if only to subsequently read the Krugman piece.
posted by Dr. Zachary Smith at 8:16 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


This is the most criminally stupid idea in this awful article:

There is no cure for poverty, because there is no cause of poverty — poverty is the natural condition of the human animal.

It's a vision of society where probably 70%-80% of people are in poverty, and the majority of the remainder hang on to the scraps as best they can. This vision is the way that the architects of such a society assuage their consciences; they create poverty through their decisions, whether it's about infrastructure or education or industry, but they tell themselves that the poverty is simply a natural phenomenon, and that trying to alleviate it will only trap people permanently in dependency. It's a lie, and a vicious and brutal one.

The article is also viciously racist, with the "savage" comment literally taking it beyond the pale. It essentially says that white poor people might be alcoholics and pill poppers, with women who sell themselves for the equivalent of $12.99 at Wal-Mart, but they are less violent and less "savage" than the people in the "other" ghetto. It's worrisome that such a piece can get coverage given the racism that's very clearly implied.
posted by graymouser at 8:17 AM on January 11 [36 favorites]


It's the National Review, what did you expect?

For trash like this to not be posted here.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:19 AM on January 11 [14 favorites]


Why, it's almost as though the author felt he had to reveal that there are poor white people in the U.S. too, as if it were some kind of great revelation. The palaver about government programs is just icing on the cake of racial animus.
posted by Bromius at 8:19 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Got stuck on the same sentence as sfts2: If the people here weren’t 98.5 percent white, we’d call it a reservation.

Were their ancestors forced there as the only alternative to genocide? No? Then let's not call it a reservation, OK?
posted by maryr at 8:25 AM on January 11 [24 favorites]


I hate to rerail the conversation, but it really is stunning what is quietly happening in America's backyards, especially in the red states. I took a road trip recently; parts of Nebraska made me just go wow. "Big White Ghetto" is almost a compliment.
posted by phaedon at 8:27 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]




There is no cure for poverty, because there is no cause of poverty — poverty is the natural condition of the human animal.


I love this line, it sums up the whole attitude, proud, smug, judgmental, hand-washing, faux-intellectual, and completely self-serving.
posted by The Whelk at 8:31 AM on January 11 [25 favorites]


By way of contrast, the Lexington Herald Leader has been doing a pretty good series about the history of poverty in Eastern Kentucky, Fifty Years of Night. Some of it may turn out to be paywalled after you read a few articles, which is one of a couple of reasons I haven't tried to use it as an FPP.
posted by dilettante at 8:34 AM on January 11 [7 favorites]


it really is stunning what is quietly happening in America's backyards

It's been over 50 years since Michael Harrington's The Other America. It's no longer OK for Americans to be shocked by poverty hidden in urban slums or rural backwaters; that's a long-standing and institutional part of American society. As long as we have modern American capitalism, we'll have this kind of poverty.

Raising awareness of poverty doesn't excuse this article, which is extraordinarily racist and steeped in modern conservative dogma to the point of calling food stamps "poison."
posted by graymouser at 8:36 AM on January 11 [9 favorites]


It's the National Review, what did you expect?

For trash like this to not be posted here.


I will point out that it's important for us to know our enemies, how they think, what manoeuvres they are making.
posted by erlking at 8:41 AM on January 11 [18 favorites]


Also, the line about poverty being the natural condition of the human animal is a very pure distillation of ideology. It's very telling and very galling all at once. Of course poverty isn't natural! The economic system is not natural. Money really doesn't grow on trees! But that's what ideology does: it makes socially-constructed systems seem natural, static, and permanent to those enmeshed within them. And if the system serves you well, why ever question or threaten that impression?

Urgh, this article.
posted by erlking at 8:47 AM on January 11 [22 favorites]


Just think what Appalachia would look like if it were economically possible to move the coal mines to China. Lack of fucking jobs is the problem, not welfare. The horse goes in front of the cart, assholes.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:47 AM on January 11 [9 favorites]


but they are less violent and less "savage" than the people in the "other" ghetto.

As assessed by a refugee from Staten Island. My wife and in-laws are from Staten Island. I'm walking away from the computer now.
posted by mikelieman at 8:47 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Margaret Thatcher lived above her family’s shop as a little girl, too, but a grocer’s in Grantham is a very different thing from a gas station in Kentucky, with very different prospects.

Yes, yes, I do suppose it's a little different. You'll have to tell me how it's even slightly close to relevant, though.
posted by ambrosen at 8:49 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


So is "I stopped at/couldn't get past XYZ" a new meme or just people wanting to express disapproval but not be bothered to finish an article?
posted by fraxil at 8:50 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


I thought it was interesting that for all the bleakness described the unemployment rate was only 11%. That's significantly better than the entire countries of Spain and Greece right now.

poverty is the natural condition of the human animal.

This is one of those nice proposals that you can instantly identify liberals/conservatives with. Believing it is a sharp dividing line.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:57 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I found this an interesting read but very problematic. The author comes off as smug, and though his main point isn't exactly clear, i don't agree with his politics where he shows them. The overall message seems to be that, yes, welfare only enables the poor to be shiftless and lazy.

This type of disaster porn article will earn a "roving correspondent" a paycheck, but it doesn't produce reliable journalism. You say one young woman you met told you that sexual favors cost about as much as a case of soda? Works for me. Print it.

Its a lie that we can't do anything about poverty. The problem is we've yet to really commit to trying to do so. If we really directed our resources to providing real alternatives to poor people we could make huge strides in improving their lives. But the market isn't concerned with poor people and it never will be. So as long as the market dictates our social policies society will do the very least it can get away with for the poor and they will remain trapped where they are or worse.

This is the mark of a morally bankrupt nation if you ask me -- one that has forgotten its duty to the people and what it means to be great. I hope some day some true leaders will emerge that are interested in running this country for the benefit of the people instead of just lining their pockets. But this appears to be so anathema to both the current system and human nature that I don't have much hope anymore.
posted by nowhere man at 8:59 AM on January 11 [6 favorites]


There is a bit of a push on the Right to acknowledge poverty(warning:auto play video) as something that exists. There is an uneasy relationship there to begin with among an audience that has long been primed to regard the issue with complete derision. So, baby steps, I suppose. Still, it's no surprise that the likes of Williamson, Rubio, Ryan and Paul are likely to strike out when considering the issue in any detail.

Also, Williamson is a huge asshole to begin with, sometimes writing pieces that get traction outside the bubble.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:01 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


One of Krugman's commenters made the salient point that if NR and Williamson and the GOP were so truly concerned about debilitating dependency that reduces the incentive to work and be productive, they'd perhaps be worried about the inheritance of great wealth?

"This is one of those nice proposals that you can instantly identify liberals/conservatives with. Believing it is a sharp dividing line."

I don't even know what that could actually mean, so I neither believe nor disbelieve it. But you're right: it's a marker for conservatives as an extreme example of the conservative attraction to the just world fallacy.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:02 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


So is "I stopped at/couldn't get past XYZ" a new meme or just people wanting to express disapproval but not be bothered to finish an article?

It's how Metafilter decides that canned outrage is a better way to spend a morning than actually engaging an article that might have valuable bits. Like how everyone took the point about abortion to be that the moral failing of abortion is partly to blame, when Williamson was really setting up the point that "the great white ghetto" has higher rates of marriage and lower rates of abortion than everywhere else, and is still a ghetto despite Republican harping on the nuclear family as the solution. Or how their lower violent crime rate is brought up in response to the same sort of "ruin tourism" that any Detroiter would recognize when a journalist shows up looking for running gun battles.
posted by fatbird at 9:04 AM on January 11 [10 favorites]


Kevin Williamson is certainly clueless, but I'm not sure that Krugman has the whole picture either with his thesis that "we’re becoming a nation that doesn’t offer enough economic opportunity to the bottom half." Indeed, most of American politics and economic commentary focus on increased employment as an end goal, with progressives adding the additional stipulation that the increase be in "good jobs," i.e. ones that pay a living wage and provide benefits. This model rests on the assumption that, beyond the wages, the actual activity of the economy generates positive (or at least neutral) utility for the community.

As was pointed out above, however, this is not always the case. Because it can't be easily monetized, the economy doesn't care about the public good. This simple fact represents a deficit in our system of valuation; if we want clean air, efficient transportation, and an educated electorate, we can't expect the Invisible Hand to do any of the legwork. And that's fine, so long as we provide for the public good through alternative means. At least for a little while, the American solution was The Great Society, the New Deal, the 1956 Highway Act, the Social Security Act and myriad other programs. These programs not only provided jobs, but they addressed failings of the free-market economy, preserving and improving our society and our environment.

Over the last half-century, however, we've allowed the narrative to change. We've allowed for the devaluation of the public good and the blind acceptance of the Market as the only system of valuation. The Chicago School economists provided intellectual cover for Goldwater and his acolytes, and as they dismantled the social safety net we bought into their idea that the only way out of poverty was employment, and that the only way to increase employment was through tax cuts and deregulation of the private sector, which only served to further diminish the funding for public education, public works, and the public good.

So yeah, let's focus on jobs.
posted by The White Hat at 9:05 AM on January 11 [9 favorites]


There's an interesting comparison to be made here if you've read Sudhir Venkatesh's book Off the Books. The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor, in which he goes into great detail describing the "grey" economy of Macquis Park in south Chicago and how it works in perfectly rational local ways that defy outside attempts to address it with programs or police crackdowns.
posted by fatbird at 9:09 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


The "there is no cure for poverty" is such bullshit, I can't even. There certainly is a cure for poverty; WWII in the US is proof enough of that. Take a bunch of poor malnourished farmboys, feed them properly and give them an education, and suddenly you have a real middle class.

I mean, Jesus, I'm not even awake yet and I can hit that barrel of fish.
posted by notsnot at 9:13 AM on January 11 [15 favorites]


This is not a serious article.

The National Review is not a serious publication.


Why whatever do you mean? How could a magazine founded by William F. Buckley, Jr. with a deliberate ideological bias be anything but the paragon of journalistic integrity?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:14 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


[One comment deleted; stopping this derail, meta-conversation about "what metafilter is like" doesn't belong on the blue. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:16 AM on January 11


The rise of the gray market is, very simply, a case of " you gotta do what you gotta do". It's, ironically, the market at work in its rawest form. Don't ask me how I know. I'm just a mid-fifties, college-educated (expensive) worker who spent (wasted) his career in a construction industry that doesn't really exist anymore. Five years now of un- and underemployment have taught me many of the finer points of the gray market. The people harping about a "dependence" problem are talking out their asses.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:20 AM on January 11 [8 favorites]


So is "I stopped at/couldn't get past XYZ" a new meme or just people wanting to express disapproval but not be bothered to finish an article?

Not that I feel a burning need to make excuses but I could not get past "White Ghetto" and won't read the article. Seriously, "white" as opposed to what, pink? Chartreuse? I don't see how qualifying regions of abject poverty and desolation by color helps the sufferers much. Oh wait, racism.
posted by fuse theorem at 9:23 AM on January 11


If there's a better argument for a guaranteed minimum income than the soda pop economy, I'd like to see it.
posted by nev at 9:25 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


Grey markets, along with black markets and completely legit markets, pretty much always behave in rational ways, and within the framework imposed by whatever regulations. Actual demands that dictate markets can be as flaky as the humans that create them. But those demands, legal, illegal, or somewhere in between, will find a way as they always do.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:30 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I don't see how qualifying regions of abject poverty and desolation by color helps the sufferers much. Oh wait, racism.

Actually, continually pointing out how white the area is, is just a means of defusing the reader's racism amongst a readership that tends to dismiss poverty issues as being driven by "cultural" problems.
posted by fatbird at 9:37 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


There is no cure for poverty, because there is no cause of poverty — poverty is the natural condition of the human animal.

JFK, 1962: "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

National Review, 2014: Hey, shit happens. Whaddya gonna do?
posted by tonycpsu at 9:41 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


Notsnot is on the money. Job guarantee. Run the economy at full employment, poverty goes away. Here's an article with video: link.
Interestingly, there was a job guarantee program in Argentina for heads of household, which is discussed briefly in the article/video link.

If you're interested, here are more academic papers on the subject:

1.[PDF} Is Argentina's job creation project Jefese de Hogar a true Employer of Last Resort Program?

2. Public Employment and Women: The Impact of Argentina’s Jefes Program on Female Heads of Poor Households

3. [PDF] Argentina: A Case Study on the Plan Jefes y Jefas de Hogar Desocupados, or the Employment Road to Economic Recovery

A job guarantee would be to supplement the private sector. It puts money in the hands of people who are going to spend it into the economy; this means more money spent in restaurants, in retail stores, etc. As the economy picks up in the private sector, people can leave the job guarantee program for other employment etc.
posted by wuwei at 9:45 AM on January 11 [6 favorites]


First, they say you can't just give the poor money, because they'll go spend it on drugs or gamble it away. Then when we give them coupons that can only be used for food, they have the nerve to complain about "inefficiency" when the poor try to convert food coupons into cash. These assholes get you coming and going.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:47 AM on January 11 [10 favorites]


nev: If there's a better argument for a guaranteed minimum income than the soda pop economy, I'd like to see it.

If you mean basic income, I'm 100% behind you.

There's also the idea of giving directly, providing money to poor people so they can spend it on anything, with minimal oversight and no conditions on receiving the funds. The Economist has an article on the Kenyan efforts, with more detail of how it worked, plus the usual amount of skepticism because such efforts aren't the silver bullet to solve poverty. Which might bring us back to a national basic income.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:57 AM on January 11


One of Krugman's commenters made the salient point that if NR and Williamson and the GOP were so truly concerned about debilitating dependency that reduces the incentive to work and be productive, they'd perhaps be worried about the inheritance of great wealth?

Hey, hey, hey, slowdown there, Thomas Paine. If there's great wealth for someone to inherit, it's proof he's decended from the kind of steely-eyed he men who are naturally primed to rise above man's natural condition, thus it should be left in his hands, as he'll undoubtedly make better use of it than would a poor, who might piss it away on food or clothing or, heaven forfend, beer.

I'm with 2N2222 --- find this article very interesting on a meta level: The National Review is writing about poverty? And pointing out that it seems to be endemic to certain regions and that some of conservatives' preferred solutions are in place and not doing dick? The zeitgeist has taken a strange turn; this may be the first whiff of sanity on the right blowing in like an El Nino.

Of course, having done his poverty tour --- and at least having the self-awareness to admit he's about the thousandth pilgrim making the stations of Boonseville --- when it comes down to about the only solution that seems to be lurking between the lines is "maybe if we cut them off they'd all move somewhere they could actually get a job." The reason he seems to not be more explicit about this is that even Williamson seems to have a dim awareness that this is not much of a solution.
posted by Diablevert at 9:58 AM on January 11 [9 favorites]


The more I ponder this, the more ridiculous the premise becomes. People who are against "dependence" aren't actually against dependence. They just disagree with benefactor. Government bad, corporate titan good. It has fuck-all to do with fixing the problem; it has everything to do with keeping the power and calling the shots.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:58 AM on January 11 [9 favorites]


And if you were wondering about the weird note on the Booneville Police Chief's photography, you can see some of his pictures on the Owsley County website (unscaled photo; more here).
posted by filthy light thief at 9:59 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Hey, hey, hey, slowdown there, Thomas Paine. If there's great wealth for someone to inherit, it's proof he's decended from the kind of steely-eyed he men who are naturally primed to rise above man's natural condition, thus it should be left in his hands, as he'll undoubtedly make better use of it than would a poor, who might piss it away on food or clothing or, heaven forfend, beer.

Why can't everyone pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and inherit a petrochemical company from their Daddy?
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:02 AM on January 11 [7 favorites]


Benny Andajetz: It has fuck-all to do with fixing the problem; it has everything to do with keeping the power and calling the shots.

Was there a discussion of the balance of power? It seemed like the travelogue version of ruin porn - here's this amazingly depressing place that you never want to see in person, (not so) neatly packaged for the reader in a four-page write-up, tied with NR-branded bow.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:03 AM on January 11


By way of contrast, the Lexington Herald Leader has been doing a pretty good series about the history of poverty in Eastern Kentucky, Fifty Years of Night.

The title of this series honours the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Harry Caudill's epic history of Appalachia and eastern Kentucky, Night Comes to the Cumberlands. Harry was a lawyer and historian from my ancestral homeland of Letcher County, Kentucky. I can't possibly praise or recommend his work enough to anyone interested in this topic.
posted by HillbillyInBC at 10:05 AM on January 11 [8 favorites]


The kind of problems described in this article pre-date welfare. I was just reading The Longest Mile by anthropologist Rena Gazaway, which was written in 1969 and describes most of the same problems, probably worse problems, than this article does, minus the meth and painkiller addictions of course.

As far as "crime," coming partially from this culture on my father's side, I can say there are things that would be considered crimes in the city that aren't considered crimes in this culture, mostly related to the abuse of women, children, and animals. Family loyalty keeps most of these crimes away from the police, and when they do get to the police, often the local police's priority is "keeping the family together." To me it explains why Appalachia has the marriage paradox, where marriages seem strong, but they also seem to render none of the supposed benefits of marriage.

I don't know if there are good solutions to these problems, but any program that empowers young people to be more independent from their families would help such as summer meal programs, schools that have a boarding element, etc. Programs that work in other places aren't going to work in Appalachia. Appalachians will do almost anything to prevent, for example, kids from going to foster care.
posted by melissam at 10:07 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


Plenty of other arguments of the author have already been countered above, but this specious assertion:

Today there is one grocery store, and the rest is as dead as disco.

is patently untrue. Disco had a revival in the mid-90s and again in the past few years. DISCO LIVES.
posted by LMGM at 10:22 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


mike lieman, this part of the quote you selected was particularly nauseous to me:

"the value of a woman in the local prescription-drug economy is about $12.99 at Walmart prices."

No, Kev, the value of a fuck is about $12.99.* One fuck is not equivalent to one woman... except perhaps in your antiquated mind.

*SAIT
posted by GrammarMoses at 10:28 AM on January 11 [24 favorites]


Revealing, and it makes my skin crawl.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:30 AM on January 11


I spot a new $50,000 Ram pickup truck with an exterior as shiny as a silver ingot and a camouflage interior, the usefulness of which is non-obvious.

What is the "usefulness" of leather seats? Woodgrain on the dashboard? Could it be that poor country people think different things look good?
posted by scose at 11:01 AM on January 11 [6 favorites]


Camo interior helps people hide from the cops in their truck. Wearing camo. Blend right in.
posted by wuwei at 11:05 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


As an aside: Appalachia is not post-industrial, it's post-feudal. In the 19th and 20th Century, the towns would have their One Industry, run by the One Family, often people whose last names linger in the names of mayors and judges. Now, those industries are gone, and the local big men hold on to power by hook crook and inertia, and they're conservative because to be otherwise would be to admit that their rule is sub-optimal. Meanwhile "conservatives" from outside who fantasize about being part of an aristocracy come in and see the ruins of a real (de facto, if not de rigeur) aristocracy, and say that what the lazy bums need is to have their paltry government assistance taken away.
posted by sonic meat machine at 11:33 AM on January 11 [24 favorites]


Plenty of other arguments of the author have already been countered above, but this specious assertion:

Today there is one grocery store, and the rest is as dead as disco.

is patently untrue. Disco had a revival in the mid-90s and again in the past few years. DISCO LIVES.


It's like he never turned on a radio all summer! Or, rather, it's like his intended audience didn't.
posted by erlking at 12:35 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


a camouflage interior, the usefulness of which is non-obvious

It hides stains. That's not obvious?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:37 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Camouflage caskets (both interior and exterior), the usefulness of which is non-obvious. This is basically just a cultural shibboleth, like the Duck Dynasty guys wearing ZZ Top beards and expressing a dispreference for teh gayz.
posted by dhartung at 1:36 PM on January 11


I just returned a few hours ago from a brief visit to my home state of Kentucky, where I lived the first 43 years of my life, until I got married and left four years ago.

I love the place, but virtually every negative thing the author writes is true.

The thing that struck me most:

For the smart and enterprising people left behind, life can be very comfortable, with family close, a low cost of living, beautiful scenery, and a very short climb to the top of the social pecking order. The relative ease of life for the well-off and connected here makes it easy to overlook the real unpleasant facts of economic life

After we moved far away, I tried to explain to my wife (not from Kentucky) why I missed the place so much. Eventually I realized that I missed being a relative "somebody" back home. It's easy to feel successful when so many people around you are doing so much worse. Even if you're average like I am.
posted by JeffL at 1:36 PM on January 11 [12 favorites]


What I don't get is how anybody clicked through to page two. The marginal returns were down to zero before I realized there were three more pages of the junk.
posted by bukvich at 2:25 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


The wit and wisdom of Kevin D. Williamson.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:47 PM on January 11


There is no cure for poverty, because there is no cause of poverty — poverty is the natural condition of the human animal.

Wow... Isn't the point of civilization to move beyond the human animal "state of nature"...
posted by Bwithh at 6:03 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


"run out of profitable uses for the class of people who 500 years ago would have been known, without any derogation, as peasants."

I don't know about the rest of you, but my ancestors left Europe so they would NOT be "known, without any derogation, as peasants" any longer. I mean that is pretty much seriously why they left a civilized continent on terrible, shitty ships in steerage because it was BETTER THAN BEING PEASANTS to risk death on the high seas to go to a strange continent where half of people died from the climate. Because FUCK THIS SHIT, I have to go shop at my unionized grocery store now because living wage.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:15 PM on January 11 [12 favorites]


On that "poverty is the natural condition of the human animal" bit: Does that make riches unnatural? And if what is "unnatural" is always bad (!) -- for example, work resulting in non-poverty -- shouldn't we avoid that sort of thing?
posted by GrammarMoses at 7:23 PM on January 11


I clicked through and didn't really think through the fact that this was in the National Review. Possibly because of this, I took the whole "natural condition of the human animal" thing as sardonic, and was so baffled by the "somewhat less savage" bit that I honestly assumed there must be a typo there somehow that I wasn't able to fill in correctly.

It was interesting to see him describe the place as "not like Elmore Leonard" while describing so many things that...sounded a lot like they were right out of Justified.
posted by PussKillian at 7:41 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


"Pillbilly wampum" is either my next band name or my next sockpuppet.
posted by nevercalm at 7:46 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


Got stuck on the same sentence as sfts2: If the people here weren’t 98.5 percent white, we’d call it a reservation.

Were their ancestors forced there as the only alternative to genocide? No? Then let's not call it a reservation, OK?
posted by maryr at 8:25 AM on January 11
[16 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]

I did favorite this, but I need to add something. I haven't read all the MeFi comments, so forgive the following history lesson.

Black people in the U.S. mostly arrived as slaves.

Almost any American of Highland Scots descent with pre-revolutionary ancestors, almost any American of pre-Famine Irish descent is the descendant of indentured servants.

In many cases indentured servants worked alongside Black slaves. Their color did not spare them the lash.

The only advantage an indentured servant gained from his or her color was this;

So long as one's face was not branded, one could go into the woods and go West. That was not an easy life or choice, but it was possible.
A Black person did not have that opportunity.

Before the end of coal-mining, Appalachia was no
Paradise.
Horrible working conditions, and union busting put many part of Appalachia in a state of war.

White people don't like being reminded that they can be as bad off as Black people.

'White Privelege' is a double-edged sword.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:29 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


The only advantage an indentured servant gained from his or her color was this;

Even at the height of indenture there were legal distinctions between indenture and slavery. I don't think it's helpful to conflate the two at all. They are/were different.
posted by Miko at 8:39 PM on January 11 [7 favorites]


This resource lends some clarity.
posted by Miko at 8:48 PM on January 11


Even at the height of indenture there were legal distinctions between indenture and slavery.

I don't give 'legal distinctions' a lot of credit. Too easy for someone without an attorney on retainer to be taken advantage of without recourse. ON PAPER it looks fine, but in reality? Not so much.
posted by mikelieman at 2:27 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Mikelieman--in keeping with your emphasis on the reality over the semantic--can you show us an Irish or Scottish American hanging from a tree?
posted by applemeat at 5:19 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


It's worth noting that they didn't extend the franchise to folks who didn't own property until like 1820.
posted by The White Hat at 5:48 AM on January 12


Actually, continually pointing out how white the area is, is just a means of defusing the reader's racism amongst a readership that tends to dismiss poverty issues as being driven by "cultural" problems.

I doubt it's defusing their target readership's general racism about poverty. It's probably just allowing their typical reader to carve out a small exception to their racist belief that "ghetto" applies to anything but white. Hence the qualifier in the title.
posted by fuse theorem at 6:02 AM on January 12


This link is the best I could find in a brief search. I really don't think it advances anyone's positions however.
posted by mikelieman at 6:42 AM on January 12


I don't give 'legal distinctions' a lot of credit

But they, in fact, are exactly what made someone's ancestry the legal basis for allowing another person to hold them prisoner and to force them to work without pay and without the possibility of freedom for the duration of their lives and the lives of all of their offspring. If that and its consequences don't "deserve a lot of credit" then I don't think you're equipped to understand American history.

This link is the best I could find in a brief search

You're right - it doesn't advance your position. Lynching, generically, is a mob-rule punishment that's been used against people of probably every race. There are a lot of recorded lynchings of white people - sometimes because that's the form of justice that was standard in their context, some because of their association with black people. And it's likely that a great many lynchings were never recorded, so no statistics can be perfect. It's not single incidents of lynching as a form of mob justice that tell us about the relative position of people of various racial groups in society, but the broad-based, organized, viral pattern of lynching that was part of a grassroots campaign to intimidate free black people in post Civil-War society.

While as a history professional I recognize that our conceptions of race are late-Modern constructions, and that the very early Colonial US was a place of greater complexity around social status, race and class, I think that suggesting there has been no difference between the status of poor whites in Appalachia and American blacks wherever, other than skin color, is reductive and unhelpful and can lead to some very misleading conclusions. It's not as though concentrations of poor white people didn't and don't exist in other parts of the country, and yet that crushing generational poverty has not become as entrenched. To account for the condition of today's white Appalachia you cannot ignore land use and ownership policies (ownership and the vote having been extended to all white people generations before they were available to any black people) the Industrial Revolution and the geographical patterns of manufacturing and its linked extraction, urbanization really beginning in earnest in the 1850s, the divestment of state education funding in rural schools during 20th century district consolidation (something I did research on college), the late arrival of improvements to rural America such as electrification and communications "echnology like the phone, and so on. It's just ahistorical and painfully oversimplifying to go back to 1639 (the last time the premise was arguably true on paper) and say "poor whites were the same as slaves, therefore, 2013 poverty."

Also to say that "whites could go West" and blacks couldn't belies the significant history of blacks in the West and the perhaps surprisingly fluid nature of racial interactions on the frontier - and I'm talking about well before Reconstruction as well as the great wave that followed its institution. The truth is that the constantly shifting frontier disrupted most hierarchical social systems in the US for a relatively short span of time, replacing what was left of an aristocratic ideology (never as strong in the North as the South) with what is basically kind of an ideology of enterpreneurial, meritocratic plutocracy.
posted by Miko at 7:42 AM on January 12 [12 favorites]


Oh, and in my list of important historical forces impacting Appalachia, I forgot a really essential one, changes in farming policy and associated technology which massively disadvantaged the small-scale production zones in Appalachia and drove federal investment, subsidy, and research elsewhere.
posted by Miko at 7:48 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


With all the talk of "what Appalachia needs is a jobs program," I'm wondering: What would such a jobs program do? The region has natural resources, but it's environmentally prohibitive to extract them. So what's left? The area is hard to get to (so manufacturing for export isn't practical), it's enormously undereducated and not super interested in changing that (ruling out telecommuting), so why isn't depopulating the region and turning it into a national park the only alternative to generations of crushing poverty?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:46 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


That's kind of the same question that plagues the entire country, and that people with this guy's economic philosophies really have no answer to.

Not to be jokey, but this is actually what Dollywood was intended to address, on a local scale:
Parton said she became involved with the operation because, "I always thought that if I made it big or got successful at what I had started out to do, that I wanted to come back to my part of the country and do something great, something that would bring a lot of jobs into this area."
posted by Miko at 9:06 AM on January 12


Kevin Williamson's response to Krugman's correction is an abomination:
Professor Krugman and those who share his orientation see the bottom half, and maybe even the bottom 80 percent, of citizens as passive participants in economic life, not people who do things but people to whom things are done, the direct object in Lenin's summary of politics: "Who? Whom?" And from the point of view of the policymaking class -- not just the progressive perches at Princeton but the policymaking class in general -- it is easy to see the great majority of the American public as something like dogs exhibiting various degrees of ruliness while waiting for table scraps. People cannot be expected to live. It is up to "the nation" to "offer" them life.
Steve M. sends Williamson's response to a farm upstate:
Well, yes, actually. Or if it's not up to "the nation" to "offer" them life, it's up to other people -- the technical term for them is, I believe, "employers" -- to offer them what are known in the economics literature as "jobs."

Or what, Kevin? What are people in coal country supposed to do if their job searches don't result in other people giving them jobs, despite (perhaps) years of work experience and (perhaps) reschooling and retraining after the old jobs dried up, not to mention a hell of a lot of pavement-pounding? We see that plenty are voting with their feet by getting the hell out of Kentucky coal country (or dying), and yet the unemployment rate is still disturbingly high. As for the rest, many of whom might not be able to afford to leave (no cash, underwater homes) -- what are they supposed to do? Become new-media entrepreneurs? Load up the truck and head to Silicon Valley for some venture capital?

...

The problem is, Kevin, if you're not a capitalist -- and most people aren't -- then yes, you absolutely are, to at least some extent, at the mercy of others if you want to find employment. Some people who haven't been entrepreneurs have the wherewithal -- the cash in reserve, the education, the salable idea, the profit-oriented mindset -- to exit the employment market and create jobs for themselves. But even then, the vast majority of new businesses fail. And you simply can't have an economy in which every single person is a sole proprietor. It's a sign of right-wingers' insane devotion to the cult of capitalist that they can't grasp this, can't grasp that we are not all absolute masters of our own fate.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:42 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]


Haven't read the comments yet, but I hope someone refutes that nasty mess of libertarian determinism. Now I have a bad taste in my mouth.
posted by glasseyes at 1:28 PM on January 13


Is the National Review the paper you don't click to if you know where the link goes, like the Mail?
posted by glasseyes at 1:30 PM on January 13


Well, if you do click, be prepared for the Ron Paul pop-under.
posted by Miko at 1:57 PM on January 13


I read this as a hit piece against food stamps. "You see, we can't trust the poor with anything, even the money we give them for food goes to drugs!"

No stats, just a couple of anecdotes, some race baiting and a hearkening to the good ole days. I won't even touch the poverty is the natural state thing, that just makes me sick.
posted by Hactar at 2:02 PM on January 13


People cannot be expected to live. It is up to "the nation" to "offer" them life.

Interesting. His accusation directly hints at a personal value system where if people cannot find a job, they are expected to die. Just another false nobility used to hide poor character. The kind of guy that sees his own tax dollars being misused, or sees someone getting a free meal and asking what the recipient ever did for him lately.
posted by Brian B. at 4:28 PM on January 13


I don't know if he thinks they're supposed to die, or just live on possum and homemade corn likker like Pappy in Huckleberry Finn, or maybe start up an entrepreneurial business doing...something...in exchange for ...something.
posted by Miko at 6:53 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


Re: the fifty years of Night Comes to the Cumberlands (linked above)

It is in five installments and in my browser configuration I never hit a paywall. It is a well-written and sad story.

From part 5:

Having juggled a law practice and a writing career, Caudill took advantage of the more relaxed scholarly atmosphere. He took several years and traveled to England to research his next book, Theirs Be the Power: The Moguls of Eastern Kentucky. It identified by name the businessmen who had controlled Appalachia by accumulating — ruthlessly, in many cases — its land, timber and coal, while avoiding responsibility for taxes; pollution; and sickened, injured and killed miners and their families.

Sturgill, the UK board chairman, took another drubbing in Theirs Be the Power. So Caudill was aggrieved but not truly surprised when the University Press of Kentucky, which published several of his earlier books, passed on this one. The University of Illinois Press released it instead in 1983. Some reviewers called it his best book.

"What Harry represented could not have been entirely comfortable for the University of Kentucky," said writer Wendell Berry, a friend of Caudill and a former creative writing professor at UK. "He was a dissenter, and a dissenter is a pariah there. This business about leading a free discussion on important issues in search of the truth is a genteel fiction at UK."

Sturgill, now 88, did not return calls seeking an interview for this story.


At the time he published the last book Caudill's job was teaching at UK.

Also, Night Comes to the Cumberlands is in print and in stock at amazon!
posted by bukvich at 3:29 PM on January 14


"Also, the line about poverty being the natural condition of the human animal is a very pure distillation of ideology. It's very telling and very galling all at once. Of course poverty isn't natural! The economic system is not natural. Money really doesn't grow on trees! But that's what ideology does: it makes socially-constructed systems seem natural, static, and permanent to those enmeshed within them. And if the system serves you well, why ever question or threaten that impression?"

It is and it isn't; it's easy to take a historical long view and say that poverty is a natural state, in so far as we've made global progress in wealth over recorded history. It only fails because it's an appeal to nature there — poverty may be the natural condition of the human animal. Nasty, brutish, short, yeah? But we have increased lifespans, we have ended diseases, we have triumphed over the "natural condition" again and again — progress is possible, despite the starting point.

It's also worth noting that there's a difference in definitions here — using "natural" to mean "default" or "starting," versus using it to mean "not artificial," or "not created by humans." Being barefoot is the natural human condition; most of us wear shoes.


"Then when we give them coupons that can only be used for food, they have the nerve to complain about "inefficiency" when the poor try to convert food coupons into cash. These assholes get you coming and going.

What Is Roark Soda?

"Professor Krugman and those who share his orientation see the bottom half, and maybe even the bottom 80 percent, of citizens as passive participants in economic life, not people who do things but people to whom things are done, the direct object in Lenin's summary of politics: "Who? Whom?" And from the point of view of the policymaking class -- not just the progressive perches at Princeton but the policymaking class in general -- it is easy to see the great majority of the American public as something like dogs exhibiting various degrees of ruliness while waiting for table scraps. People cannot be expected to live. It is up to "the nation" to "offer" them life."

This is so weird — Williams et al. still do think of poor Americans as dogs, that's the whole taker narrative.

He gets into it further in, where he basically argues that if freedom is to mean anything, people have to be able to choose to be poor. Which, fine, yeah, some people will always make extremely short-sighted decisions that keep them in poverty. But the problem is that a) for most people who are poor, the impact the decisions they make is dwarfed by the circumstances they're in, and b) the less people are poor, the less they make bad choices.
posted by klangklangston at 7:55 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]


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