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Everywhere Is Appalachia
You can be in New York and still be in the forgotten parts of America.
Every week I highlight three newsletters that are worth your time.
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1. Intellectual Inting
A mostly photojournalism newsletter by Chris Arnade that so far is centered around him taking walks in out-of-the-way parts of America and photographing them and writing about them.
It may not sound like much, but I find this sort of thing absolutely captivating:
Binghamton, Johnson City, and Endicott are either the northern-most cities in Appalachia, or the eastern-most in the Rust Belt, depending on what expert you talk to.
What the residents tells you though is clearer: They are struggling towns with good people trying to keep their heads afloat. Towns that haven’t recovered from all the lost jobs that were once here, like making shoes or making computers, and all the good people that left because of that.
The story after that, almost nobody agrees on. Some will tell you things are on the up and up, what with the nearby college growing and all the construction projects planned. Some will tell you things are as bad as ever, that all the renewal projects and fancy programs from the Governor, city council, etc, are just more of the same. Band-aids to quiet us residents down, and line their and their friends’ corrupt pockets with government money.
Geographically and aesthetically the area is fully Appalachian — cities of red brick warehouses, rail yards, wooden homes from the grandiose to simple, churches in every form, Walmart plazas, and solitary smoke stacks coughing into a low slung sky, all jammed into the narrow flats along the Susquehanna River, surrounded by beautifully rough hills.
Culturally and economically they are more Rust Belt. Mostly white towns (European descendants), with a growing minority and immigrant population, still dealing with being on the losing side of the US’s changing economic and cultural scene for the last seventy years.
Those changes created a vacuum of vacant buildings, crumbling communities, and despair, that was filled with urban renewal projects, immigrants, and drugs.
I really love this newsletter. It’s infrequent and free. You can’t go wrong with it. Subscribe here.
2. The Liberal Patriot
I find myself reading Ruy Teixeir’s Liberal Patriot more and more, because whenever I start feeling optimistic, Ruy’s there to bring me back into the darkness.
For instance, take this post about how our system overweights working-class voters:
Nationally and in every state the working class vote is far larger than the college-educated vote. Because of this, if education polarization increases in the manner it has recently, with the college-educated moving toward the Democrats while the working class becomes more Republican, equal-sized shifts favor the GOP. For example, looking first at the national distribution, since the working class share of voters is 70 percent larger than the college-educated share (63 percent noncollege/37 percent college, according to 2020 Catalist data), if a one point increase in Democratic support among college voters is counter-balanced by a one point shift in support against the Democrats among the working class, the net effect would be to reduce the Democratic margin in the popular vote by half a point.
That’s not the overweighting—that part is just the raw math. The overweighting comes here:
According to AP/VORC VoteCast data (Catalist data not yet available on the state level), the working class/college disproportion is even higher than the national average in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. This is perhaps as one might expect.
But consider a state like Arizona. We are used to thinking of it in terms of its increasing race-ethnic diversity, which is helping drive political change in the state. But that trend obscures another fact: it’s still a heavily working class state, significantly above the national average. That means that shifts among working class voters in Arizona are potentially even more powerful than those described for the nation as a whole.
Democrats have hitherto not worried much about the possible impact of overall working class shifts. That’s because the nonwhite working class vote functioned, in effect, as the Democrats’ firewall. If the nonwhite working class vote remained stable, that assured the nonwhite vote as a whole would remained mostly stable, given that nonwhite voters are so heavily working class. This in turn would allow Democrats to keep reaping demographic dividends from a reliable trend of increasing vote share for nonwhites.
This was always a questionable strategy, since the rapidly decreasing support for Democrats among white working class voters has been enough in many places and elections to negate the pro-Democratic effect of rising diversity. But it is much more untenable now, since the nonwhite working class vote can no longer be considered a firewall for the Democrats. Since 2012, running against Trump twice, Democrats have lost 18 margin points (two party vote) off of their support among nonwhite working class voters. Available data indicate that there was a particularly large shift against the Democrats among Hispanic working class voters in the 2020 election. These trends suggest Democrats need to start thinking about how the working class as a whole may shift, not just their familiar problem with whites.
In doing so, they need to recognize the power of the working class vote and the fundamentally disadvantageous tradeoff for Democrats that is implicit in current educational polarization.
Read the whole thing and subscribe. But only if you want the hard-truths projected onto your retinas.
Adam Tooze had a doozey (yswidt?) of an essay about populism and monetary policy that’s worth your time:
“Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”
The address that Nebraska’s William Jennings Bryan delivered at 2 pm on July 9 1896 at the Chicago Convention of the Democratic Party - the “Cross of Gold” speech - is a stunning piece of oratory on the theme of the gold standard and the peril that this rigid monetary system poses to society.
The incident is familiar to anyone with a background in American history. But when I first encountered it, as a European, I was staggered. It struck me as a truly remarkable example of democratic politics engaging with the question of money. It is more than 120 years old, but everyone concerned with monetary politics today should read Bryan’s speech. The full text is here.
Bryan’s oration culminates in these glorious paragraphs:
“If the gold standard is the standard of civilization, why, my friends, should we not have it? So if they come to meet us on that, we can present the history of our nation. More than that, we can tell them this, that they will search the pages of history in vain to find a single instance in which the common people of any land ever declared themselves in favor of a gold standard. They can find where the holders of fixed investments have.
Mr. Carlisle said in 1878 that this was a struggle between the idle holders of idle capital and the struggling masses who produce the wealth and pay the taxes of the country; and my friends, it is simply a question that we shall decide upon which side shall the Democratic Party fight. Upon the side of the idle holders of idle capital, or upon the side of the struggling masses? . . .
“There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that if you just legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, that their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up and through every class that rests upon it.
You come to us and tell us that the great cities are in favor of the gold standard. I tell you that the great cities rest upon these broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country. . . .
Set against the backdrop of recent history the fact that we are debating monetary policy at all can seem shocking. In the era of the 1980s and 1990s, insulating monetary policy from democracy was a key priority. The point, Rudiger Dornbusch, the influential MIT macroeconomist, liked to insist, was to put an end to “democratic money”.
But for money to be unpolitical, is not the natural order of things. It is the effect of a particular politics, a metapolitics of depoliticization.
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So Labash and I are at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner many moons ago. Everyone is dolled up. Famous people are there. This is at the height of the Nerd Prom era, before the event became insufferable. And we spot Christie Brinkley. The Christie Brinkley. The girl who made the 13-year-old version of me notice girls for the first time. And Matt says, “Let’s go talk to her.”
We walk up to Miss Brinkley and even though she’s close to 50 at this point, she is still an unearthly beauty. Would stop traffic. And the thing about her which utterly transfixes me is the size of her head. It’s enormous. Her head is so big it could blot out the sun. I can’t stop staring at it.
And Labash, cool as the other side of the pillow, says, “Hi there. I’m Matt Labash from the Weekly Standard. Love your work.”
Therein follows one of the most surreal moments of my life:
Christie Brinkley: Nice to meet you, Matt.
Matt Labash: When I was in my teens, you did a campaign for Keds and it changed my life.
Christie Brinkley: Keds?
Matt Labash: Keds.
Christie Brinkley: The little white sneakers?
Matt Labash: Yup.
Christie Brinkley: I don’t think I ever did any work for Keds.
Matt Labash [nodding, with absolute, utter conviction]: Believe me, you did.
At which point Christie Brinkley throws her enormous head back, tosses her hair, and laughs. One of those full, body-shaking laughs. Because after standing around this weird DC event with all of us ugly, small-headed gnomes, she had finally met someone interesting.
And we were off to the races. She and Matt talked about all sorts of stuff, the kind of casual, funny conversation you might have with someone you meet while standing in line for concert tickets. After maybe 7 minutes, Matt disengaged us with a smile and wink and we walked away from Christie Brinkley. This guy is so charming that the OG super model, the modern Helen of Troy, would have happily hung out with him all night.
But that was the night Matt Labash taught me one of the signal secrets of the universe: Always leave them wanting more.