‘Hillbilly Elegy’ recalls a childhood where poverty was ‘the family tradition’

Fresh Air podcast:

My guest, J.D. Vance, is the author of the new best-seller “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir Of A Family And Culture In Crisis.” He says the book is about what goes on in the lives of real people when the industrial economy goes south. He writes about the social isolation, poverty, drug use and the religious and political changes in his family and in greater Appalachia. He grew up in a Rust Belt town in Ohio in a family from the hills of eastern Kentucky. Until the age of 12, he spent summers in Jackson, Ky., with his grandmother and great-grandmother. Vance joined the Marines, which helped him afford college. After attending Ohio State University, he went to Yale Law School where he initially felt completely out of place. He has contributed to the National Review and is now a principal at a Silicon Valley investment firm.

J.D. Vance, welcome to FRESH AIR. There’s a paragraph from your new book that I want you to read. It’s on Page 2.

J D VANCE: There is an ethnic component lurking in the background of my story. In our race-conscious society, our vocabulary often extends no further than the color of someone’s skin – black people, Asians, white privilege. Sometimes these broad categories are useful. But to understand my story, you have to delve into the details.

I may be white, but I do not identify with the WASPs of the Northeast. Instead, I identify with the millions of working-class white Americans of Scots-Irish descent who have no college degree. To these folks, poverty’s the family tradition. Their ancestors were day laborers in the southern slave economy, sharecroppers after that, coal miners after that, and machinists and mill workers during more recent times. Americans call them hillbillies, rednecks or white trash. I call them neighbors, friends and family.

Working poor whites have been a neglected minority in the US: Exploited by the religious right and populists like Donald Trump, and scorned and ridiculed by small-government conservatives and liberals.

“Why I don’t think it makes sense to attribute Trump’s support to economic anxiety”

Matthew Yglesias, Vox:

While plenty of people, including plenty of Trump fans, certainly have concerns about the economy, it’s racial resentment that drives who does and doesn’t support Trump. And without endorsing the resentful views of people upset about declining white privilege, you can see that supporting Trump is perfectly reasonable for people who think this way.

The social and cultural clout of nonwhite people really has grown in the United States, and demographic trends suggest that it is likely to continue growing in the near future. This is a real and important change, and whenever real and important change happens, you would expect some people to dislike the change. Trump has tapped into this resentment.

Trump supporters are looking to make America white again.

Baby boomers are taking on ageism — and losing

Lydia DePillis, The Washington Post:

In a weak economy, companies are sometimes all too happy to dump veteran employees, with their higher health-care costs and legacy pensions, for younger ones who expect neither.

Not a problem for me — yet. At 55, maybe I’m not old enough for ageism to be an issue. And I’m blessed with good genes.

Keeping physically fit helps limit age discrimination. You move like a younger person. But you can’t do anything about your genes.

As senator, Clinton promised 200,000 jobs in Upstate New York. Her efforts fell flat.

Jerry Markon, The Washington Post:

In her presidential bid, Hillary Clinton has made job creation a centerpiece of her platform, casting herself as a pragmatist who would inspire “the biggest investment in new, good-paying jobs since World War II.’’

Her argument that she would put more Americans to work has focused on her time in the Senate, when she took on the mission of creating jobs in chronically depressed Upstate New York. As her husband, former president Bill Clinton, put it recently, she became the region’s “de facto economic development officer.”

But nearly eight years after Clinton’s Senate exit, there is little evidence that her economic development programs had a substantial impact on upstate employment. Despite Clinton’s efforts, upstate job growth stagnated overall during her tenure, with manufacturing jobs plunging nearly 25 percent, according to jobs data.

The former first lady was unable to pass the big-ticket legislation she introduced to benefit the upstate economy. She turned to smaller-scale projects, but some of those fell flat after initial glowing headlines, a Washington Post review shows. Many promised jobs never materialized and others migrated to other states as she turned to her first presidential run, said former officials who worked with her in New York.

Clinton’s self-styled role as economic promoter also showcases an operating style that has come to define the political and money-making machine known to some critics of the former first couple as Clinton Inc. Some of her pet economic projects involved loyal campaign contributors, who also supported the Clinton Foundation, The Post review shows.

As New York Senator, Clinton sent lucrative business to private companies to deliver jobs to upstate New York. The jobs didn’t materialize, and the companies contributed financially to the Clinton campaign and foundation.

Unlike the mailgate and Benghazi nonsense, this matters. It might make me support the Republicans — but sadly the Republican candidate is a crazy shouty homeless guy.

Pokémon Go is everything that is wrong with late capitalism

Pokemon Go takes money out of local communities and centralizes it to big corporations, and that’s what’s wrong with late capitalism, says Timothy B. Lee at Vox:

If you were looking to have fun with some friends 50 years ago, you might have gone to a bowling alley. Maybe you would have hung out at a diner or gone to the movies.

These were all activities that involved spending a certain amount of money in the local economy. That created opportunities for adults in your town to start and run small businesses. It also meant that a teenager who wanted to find a summer job could find one waiting tables or taking tickets at the movie theater.

You can spend money on Pokémon Go too. But the economics of the game are very different. When you spend money on items in the Pokémon Go world, it doesn’t go into the pocket of a local Pokémon entrepreneur — it goes into the pockets of the huge California- and Japan-based global companies that created Pokémon Go.

There are, of course, some good things about this. Pokémon Go can be a much more affordable hobby than going to a bowling alley or the movies. In fact, you don’t have to spend any money on it. And the explosion of options made possible by online platforms creates real value — the average teenager has vastly more options for games to play, movies to watch, and so forth than at any time in American history.

Stay-put nation

How America Lost Its Nerve – Derek Thompson, The Atlantic

Americans today are strangely averse to change. They are less likely to switch jobs, or move between states, or create new companies than they were 30 years ago.

Increasing housing prices are keeping Americans where they are, and when they do move they move from wealthier areas – where housing is more expensive – to poorer areas, where housing is cheaper. That’s the opposite of the pattern through the 19th and 20th Centuries, when Americans moved to find work and prosperity in wealthier areas.

Moreover, entrepreneurship is concentrating in wealthier areas, widening the wealth gap.

Donald Trump plans to default on the national debt 

This Is Astounding,” says Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo:

It is not too much to say that centuries of American prosperity have been undergirded by the “full faith and credit of the United States.” In other words, the US always pays its debts in full and on time. Indeed, it’s black letter text in the US constitution that the country’s debt can never even be questioned. Defaulting on the national debt would clearly be unconstitutional.

That’s the constitution part, which is a weighty matter. But the entire architecture of the global economy and the United States place in it rests on the certainty and basic risklessness of US government debt obligations. It’s as simple as that. (This has actually allowed the US to in effect have people pay the Treasury to hold on to their money since 2008.) Introducing the idea that the US might pay back only a portion of the returns on Treasury bonds would basically disrupt the entire global economy, have massive and traumatic knock-on effects on the US economy and its ability to service its own debt. It would be catastrophic, an entirely self-inflicted wound.

The odds are against us

America now has nearly 5 PR people for every reporter, double the rate from a decade ago [Mike Rosenberg – Muck Rack Daily]

15 years ago there were two PR people for every reporter in the country. Now the ratio is 4.8:1.

But wait, there’s more: Journalism is contracting, while PR is growing. The number of news reporters declined from 65,900 in 2000 to 45,800 in 2015. Meanwhile, the number of PR people has gone from 128,600 to 218,000.

This is a huge change, as companies and organizations are seeking to bypass a shrinking media industry and tell their own stories. What this means is that people are getting less objective news and more biased content.

Also, the pay gap between journalists and PR people is widening.

And this:

The 89% Pay Cut That Brought Trump-Mania to America’s Heartland

 

“Nafta is the worst thing that’s ever happened to the U.S.,” said Beverly Anderson, a Scottsville councilwoman who worked at the town’s now-shuttered electric-motor plant for 28 years.

For millions of white working class Americans, a vote for Trump is a vote against NAFTA, which one economist estimates has cost 850,000 Americans their jobs. That job loss causes a ripple effect that cuts wages for everyone without a college degree.

Amid the rugged cattle farms that dot the hills of southern Kentucky, in a clearing just beyond the Smoke Shack BBQ joint and the Faith Baptist Church, lie the remains of the A.O. Smith electric-motor factory.

It’s been eight years since the doors were shuttered. The building’s blue-metal facade has faded to a dull hue, rust is eating away at scaffolding piled up in the back lot and crabgrass is taking over the lawn. At its zenith, the plant employed 1,100 people, an economic juggernaut in the tiny town of Scottsville, population 4,226.

Randall Williams and his wife, Brenda, were two of those workers. For three decades, they helped assemble the hermetically sealed motors that power air conditioners sold all across America. At the end, they were each making $16.10 an hour. That kind of money’s just a dream now: Randall fills orders at a local farm supply store; Brenda works in the high school cafeteria. For a while, he said, their combined income didn’t even add up to one of their old factory wages.

Politicians “keep saying things are going to get better,” [Williams, 60] said while waiting for customers to show up at the farm supply store on a recent weekday afternoon. “They’re not going to get better.”

Jeff Woods is still angry, too, about A.O. Smith’s departure. His mother had worked at the factory. Today, she’s a pharmacy technician, making a fraction of her old wage. “Somebody works there all their life and you get to be 50-something-years-old and your income gets cut in half because the place moves to Mexico,” he said. “That’s not right.”

Woods played it coy when asked which candidate he backed. He wouldn’t outright say, but he went on to speak glowingly about just one of them—the one who’s not a career politician and who says he’ll crack down on illegal immigrants and bring jobs back to America.

The 89% Pay Cut That Brought Trump-Mania to America’s Heartland [Thomas Black & Isabella Cota  – Bloomberg Business]