Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 14 of 14)

This is the final post in a series of considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story.

I can happily recommend Goldstein’s book, both for the tale it tells of a single city’s struggle after an auto plant closes, and for what readers may reasonably infer about a none-too-bright boosterism that has left Janesville (and other cities) divided between actual conditions experienced by many and self-congratulatory optimism from a well-fed few.

When I began this series (and an earlier series on Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment), I did so to search for insights that Goldstein and Cramer might have about our current condition, one in which the greatest republic in all history has found itself under leadership of a mendacious, mediocre autocrat.

(Cramer offers little, and what little she offers both too narrow and too broad: claims of a Wisconsin resentment, but of an indeterminate kind, might be applied anywhere at anytime. Her thesis is, notwithstanding her insistence that it’s a serious political ethnography, is slight, and might have served as a ephemeral conservation piece, nothing more.)

Goldstein’s work tells part – and by her own design only part – of a story that is truly useful for our time – how a dense and dim-witted boosterism in Janesville reveals the way sugary claims are offered in the place of serious, practical policy.

The shallow thinking that has made ‘Two Janesvilles‘ possible has led, I think, to far worse things than sham economic proposals. Once weak, the body becomes susceptible to all sorts of infections, one invading after another.  (Acceptance of myriad lies as facts, yet a contradictory insistence that there are no facts.)

Goldstein’s book is about a place, but that place’s experiences are not isolated. Cities far removed from Janesville, stretching from one end of this continent to another, are now suffering a cumulative and debilitating illness, whose early signs one could identify from events of Janesville’s last decade.

Previously: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 78, 9, 10 1112, and 13.

Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 13 of 14)

This is the thirteenth in a series of posts considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story. In this post, I’ll cover one chapter of Part Six (2013) of Janesville (Chapter 54, A Glass More Than Half Full).

Goldstein’s 54th chapter describes a 2013 dinner of Forward Janesville (a local “business alliance hell-bent on reviving the city’s economy”). Someone at Forward Janesville, it turns out, must have read Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt and thought he or she were reading scripture, so sure do they seem to be in their boosterism:

Each table is covered with a heavy sand-colored tablecloth, and at each place setting is prime rib with hollandaise and, as a party favor, a clear tumbler with green printing that says, “We See the Glass More than Half Full.”

While some in town scoffed at the slogan that [banker] Mary [Willmer] came up with early in Janesville’s economic crisis—that everyone needs to become ambassadors of optimism—Forward Janesville embraced it. Exuding optimism has become central to Forward Janesville’s credo and its strategy. The organization now has a cadre of volunteer “good-will ambassadors,” who attend ribbon cuttings and visit every Forward Janesville member at work at least once a year.

John Beckord, leader of Forward Janesville, shows a video during the dinner, so very precious that it’s delightful:

To begin this evening’s program, before Paul [Ryan] speaks, John Beckord, Forward Janesville’s president, takes the stage and introduces a video. The video was made for this occasion, and its purpose is to deride what John calls “um, a pervasive, negative attitude in the community, especially anonymous online commentators.”

“The Crabby Bloggers” is the video’s title. It juxtaposes upbeat statistics about Janesville’s economy with a cartoon that features furious typing and grumbling by blogging nay-sayers. It celebrates “a resurgence in employment opportunities,” showing that 1,924 jobs have been created in Rock County by forty-one companies since the start of 2010.

Goldstein quickly sets the record straight: “neither the video nor John mentions that the county still has 4,500 fewer jobs than when GM announced it was closing the plant. And when the video highlights the opening this month of the Janesville Innovation Center, built with a federal grant and city money to provide office and manufacturing space to nurture start-ups, it gives no hint of the scant interest so far among fledgling companies in renting space in the center.”

Imagine someone so dense that he would think that the video would be persuasive to anyone not already committed; indeed, imagine those already committed who would be so dense to remain committed after seeing the video.

Voltaire is credited with once contending that he prayed to God that his enemies should be ridiculous, and God granted the request. (“I always made one prayer to God, a very short one. Here it is: ‘O Lord, make our enemies quite ridiculous!’ God granted it.”)

(I’d not describe Beckord as the enemy of bloggers or blogging, but one sees the point. Beckord’s just perfect for the role of not-quite-up-to-it adversary. It’s almost as though a blogger in Janesville secretly picked Forward Janesville’s president for the role.)

Goldstein explains:

If John and the “Crabby Bloggers” video and Mary herself attest to certain headway in Janesville since the depths of the Great Recession, they attest to something else, too: an optimism gap that divides these crusaders for economic development with the experiences of many other people in town….

And here is another glimpse at the gap between Mary and her fellow optimists versus the rest of town: a survey has shown that nearly six in ten people think that Rock County will never again be a place in which workers feel secure in their jobs, or in which good jobs at good pay are available for people who want to work. Most of the rest think that returning to such a place will take many years. Just one in fifty believes that Rock County has returned to the job security—or to the good jobs at good pay—that it used to provide.

Overall, just over half say that their household’s financial situation is worse than when the recession began. Yet among people who lost a job—or live with someone who did—nearly three fourths now say that they are worse off.

As it turns out, even the matter-of-fact style Goldstein uses to great effect seems polemical when the truth is so plain:

Tonight, the job losers and the pay losers are not in the banquet room, tucking into tulip glasses of strawberry and chocolate mousse for dessert as Mary is onstage, saying that, since the dark, stunning days right after the plant closed, sales tax receipts have been rising and industrial vacancy rates falling. The progress this community has made, she says, is phenomenal….

Previously: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 78, 9, 10 11, and 12.

Tomorrow: Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 14 of 14).

Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 12 of 14)

This is the twelfth in a series of posts considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story. In this post, I’ll cover one chapter of Part Six (2013) of Janesville (Chapter 50, Two Janesvilles).

Amy Goldstein is not, by style of writing, a polemicist (something that might be said, for example, of a blogger). Yet, for it all, she knows how, by contrasts within a chapter, to make devastating point.

Goldstein does so in Chapter 50. In 2013, banker Mary Willmer is doing quite nicely, thank you very much:

In one Janesville, Mary Willmer is in a whirlwind. She is in good spirits. The initial work of converting her corner of M&I bank into BMO Harris is starting to ease, even as her responsibilities at the bank are about to expand. Next month, she will become BMO Harris’s manager in charge of developing teams of “premier bankers” and financial advisors through a swath of Wisconsin that stretches nearly two hundred miles from Green Bay down through Madison and Janesville and into Beloit. Premier banking is offered to BMO Harris customers “in the mass affluent sector,” with savings in the range of $250,000 to $1 million.

Goldstein tells us that Mary’s also personally preoccupied:

Mary’s life is evolving. She is falling in love. Her long marriage to a mortgage banker has ended, and she has just met a new guy, an architect in Madison. She recently was asking her Facebook friends to recommend their favorite all-inclusive resorts for a January trip to Mexico, and they are planning a week in California’s Napa Valley later in the year. “Couldn’t be happier,” Mary posts on Facebook the day that she helps her youngest, Connor, celebrate his eighteenth birthday—and that she books the wine country trip.

Meanwhile, to help support their family, the high-school-aged Whiteaker girls are taking online high-school classes so that they will have more time to work:

For making car payments or helping out with families’ bills, Virtual Academy has a benefit: Its students are exempt from Wisconsin’s limits on how many hours teenagers are allowed to work. The online courses available seven days a week, day or night, its students are trusted to get their studies done on their own schedule and work as much as they want. This has become the main draw. Alyssa figured that maybe she can bump up the hours at one of her three jobs—the one at the same car dealer as her mom—from fifteen hours a week to twenty-four, if she can go in at 1 p.m. a couple of weekdays.

So, earlier this month, she took a test to assess whether she would be a good fit for Virtual Academy. The results showed that she is self-motivated, efficient at time management, hardworking, optimistic. Quite a good fit. So at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, January 24, mere hours before Mary will introduce Forward Janesville’s 2013 lifetime achievement winner, Alyssa is not at Parker. She is sitting on the living room couch at home, with a black ASUS laptop that she bought herself….

(In Goldstein’s Epilogue, one learns that Mary has literally moved away, if not entirely having moved on: “Mary Willmer continues to work at BMO Harris Bank. She has remarried and moved to a Madison suburb. She remains involved in Rock County 5.0 and other volunteer activities, including the YWCA’s Circle of Women fundraiser…”)

Previously: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 78, 9, 10 and 11.

Tomorrow: Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 13 of 14).

Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 11 of 14)

This is the eleventh in a series of posts considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story. In this post, I’ll cover one chapter of Part Five (2012) of Janesville (Chapter 47, First Vote).

Amy Goldstein’s chapter about the November 2012 presidential election is a study in contrasts, between the polling-place experiences of first-time voter and vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Goldstein’s subtle, but makes her point.

Kayzia Whiteaker (and with her sister) casts her first vote:

But before their school day begins, they first meet a mile from their house at Madison Elementary School. This is their neighborhood’s polling place….

When they arrive at 8 a.m., Madison has a line out the door—a big turnout, because of the presidential election. They get in the line. When they finally are handed ballots to fill out with black markers, they vote for the reelection of President Obama and for every other Democrat on the list, none of whom they have ever heard of before, including a Democrat named Rob Zerban from Kenosha who is challenging Paul Ryan for his seat in Congress.

After filling out their paper ballots, Kayzia is nervous about whether they are feeding them into the machine the right way for their votes to be counted. They manage to get the thick paper fed properly. It is a big moment on the day that they come of age. Alyssa remembers that their parents have taught them that people can’t complain about any outcome if they haven’t done their part. They have now done their part. Kayzia updates her Facebook page: “Only took a half-hour to vote today. A great way to start this chapter of my life!”

Paul Ryan arrives at his polling place a bit later:

a caravan of shiny black SUVs pulls up to the curb alongside Hedberg Public Library on Main Street. Secret Service officers emerge and scout the sidewalk. And then, from the third of the SUVs, Paul Ryan hops out in a dark suit and pale silver tie and helps his three kids step down to the ground. Paul, with Janna and the kids and the Secret Service in tow, shakes a few hands and greets reporters and camera crews waiting inside the library entrance.

This little entourage Paul is leading walks past the line of people waiting to vote that snakes through the library’s first floor. The entourage walks right up to the front, and the Secret Service hangs back a few yards, scanning the crowd for anything untoward, in the unlikely event that anything untoward would happen inside the public library in downtown Janesville, while Paul and Janna give their names to poll workers and are handed their ballots.

I’m sure I’ll long remember Goldstein’s contrasting descriptions.

Previously: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 78, 9, and 10.

[Corrected] Next on Sunday: Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 12 of 14).

Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 10 of 14)

This is the tenth in a series of posts considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story. In this post, I’ll cover one chapter of Part Five (2012) of Janesville.

Goldstein writes of the broader events of 2012 (the Recall election, Ryan running for vice president) and others that are more intensely individual (a graduate of a retraining program takes her own life following a personal controversy). Of the year, though, Janesville’s desire to attract a high-tech venture stands out for its lingering uncertainty (as it’s still not established): Chapter 37’s SHINE.

SHINE Medical Technologies is a start-up company in Madison that has devised a novel method for producing a medical isotope from uranium. The isotope in question is needed in hospitals for stress tests to detect heart disease, bone scans to detect cancer metastases, and twenty-eight other diagnostic imaging purposes. The global supply of this isotope, molybdenum-99, is running low, and SHINE is one of four companies that have received $25 million, early-phase matching grants from the U.S. Department of Energy to try to develop commercially viable manufacturing methods to keep enough Moly-99 (or Mo-99), as it is known for short…

But there are challenges with SHINE, that the head of the Job Center (whose insight seems doubtful elsewhere) sees:

SHINE would not bring many jobs. [CEO] Piefer has been saying that he’d need 125 employees—a tiny fraction of the jobs that went away. And the soonest those jobs would arrive is three years from now, and it could be later, unless all goes smoothly with investment capital and the federal reviews. And whenever he’s been asked, Piefer has side-stepped the question of how many of those jobs could be filled by people from Janesville, instead of people from elsewhere with greater scientific expertise. “What are the skills he is looking for?” Bob Borremans, over at the Job Center, has been wondering. And if SHINE is going to need to import people with master’s degrees and doctorates in nuclear engineering, Bob wonders, too, what makes Piefer so confident that he can attract those people to what has essentially been a blue-collar town?

Two members of the Janesville City Council speak on opposite sides of funding SHINE (with $9 million at stake from Janesville):

One speech is by Russ Steeber, who, in addition to being the Council’s president, works as a captain in the Janesville Sheriff’s Department. Russ begins with the very words that Mary often uses. A game changer is what SHINE will be. His argument unfolds: “The city of Janesville, for almost 100 years, produced automobiles. . . . Unfortunately, those days are done, and that stream has dried up. Although we can hope that that plant someday opens its doors again, the reality is, we have to redefine what the city of Janesville is. This is one of those opportunities that can really take and define where we are for the next century. . . . And I truly believe that sometimes, when you look at making a decision like this, you have to be bold. I understand that the money the city of Janesville is about to possibly expend can be fairly extensive, but we are looking beyond SHINE. . . . We are looking at other technical type jobs that could come in, other medical research that could come in. We are looking at developing a region for the future.”

…the opposing view comes from Yuri Rashkin. Yuri is the Council’s most colorful member—born in Moscow, emigrated with his parents as a teenager, and arrived in Janesville eight years ago. He is a musician, a Russian interpreter, and a talk radio host….Yuri takes his Council work seriously, and he has concluded that the cost of the SHINE opportunity is too steep, the gamble too big, and the opportunity for public input too slim. The core of Yuri’s soliloquy is a long metaphor: “I feel like we maybe are looking to cross a river that we really need to cross, because we need the economic development, and we have a great company with people I’ve been really impressed with, who are looking to build a bridge, and they got an awesome plan, because we really need to get across the river . . . but this material has never been used, and the bridge has never been built with this stuff.”

Goldstein describes the vote succinctly: “By the time the Council members vote, two hours and twenty-one minutes have passed….But four vote yes, one abstains, and Yuri alone votes against SHINE.”

SHINE won, but (even now) one can’t be sure about Janesville.

Previously: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 78, 9.

Tomorrow: Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 11 of 14).

Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 9 of 14)

This is the ninth in a series of posts considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story. In this post, I’ll cover remaining chapters from Part Four (2011) of Janesville.

Part of this story is well-known to Wisconsinites: Gov. Walker introduces a Budget Repair Bill (since its enactment into law now-universally called Act 10 by Wisconsinites), Democratic senators leave the state to deny a quorum, Republicans pass the bill by changing it so that a smaller quorum (17 senators) is sufficient, Walker signing the legislation that the two chambers deliver to him.

Goldstein returns in this section of the book to the local program of job retraining. Mike Vaughn, having finished twenty-three courses at Blackhawk Technical College, with strong grades throughout, is justifiably proud, but surprised:

Two months ago, Mike began to apply for jobs. Dozens of jobs. He figured that his résumé might get noticed, with his near-perfect grades and his decade on the union side of human resources work, including five years as the shop chairman of an eight-hundred-person factory. He would get noticed, he figured, because of the contracts that he negotiated, the grievances he handled, the employee contract language he interpreted, the Kronos workforce management system that he already knows how to use. Union side or management side, he figured, the work is similar, and companies would surely notice that he had been doing it for years.

Mike is surprised that all he has gotten are rejection letters, when he has heard anything at all.

But Vaughn hears good news, fortunately and after all:

This pride-fear combination will linger inside Mike for precisely two more weeks. Two Wednesdays from now, he will go for an interview at Seneca Foods Corporation, a vegetable processing plant in Janesville that happens to have an entry-level position in its human resources department. That Friday, he will get a call to come in on Monday for a pre-employment physical. On Tuesday, he will be told that he can start work the next day. And so, on June 1, Mike will not be thinking much about the fact that he has to work the overnight shift, or that he will be dealing with workers and interpreting labor contract language from the corporate side and not the union side, or that he and Barb will, between them, be earning just over half the money they had made at Lear.

Mike will be thanking his lucky stars that, after twenty-eight months without a job, he is starting a new career.

Yet Mike’s luckier than many others:

Counterintuitive as it may seem, the out-of-a-job workers who went to Blackhawk are working less than the others. Nearly two thousand laid-off people in and around Janesville have studied at Blackhawk. Only about one in three has a steady job—getting at least some pay every season of the year—compared with about half the laid-off people who did not go back to school.

Besides, the people who went to Blackhawk are not earning as much money. Before the recession, their wages had been about the same as for other local workers. By this summer, the people who have found a new job without retraining are being paid, on average, about 8 percent less than they were paid before. But those who went to Blackhawk are being paid, on average, one third less than before.

At the Job Center, through which so much federal money has flowed in support of the job-training gospel, Bob Borremans has been noticing that not everyone who went to Blackhawk has emerged with a job with good pay. Or with a job. This is not what he expected. He has a mystery on his hands.

A student at Parker High, meanwhile, to her own surprise and relief, discovers the Parker Closet Closet:

When Mrs. Venuti unlocks the door, Kayzia can’t believe what she sees: shelves filled with jeans and shoes and school supplies, and open cabinets stocked with food and body washes and toothpastes. The Parker Closet. What amazes Kayzia is not just that this room exists. What amazes her most is the avalanche of a realization she is having that, if this room exists behind the door that Mrs. Venuti has unlocked for her, that must mean that other kids at Parker are from families whose situations are not the greatest either….

Previously: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8.

Tomorrow: Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 9 of 14).

Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 5 of 14)

This is the fifth in a series of posts considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story. In this post, I’ll cover four chapters from Part Two (2009) of Janesville (Blackhawk, Ahead of the Class, A Plan and Distress Signals, and The Holiday Food Drive).

Goldstein’s not polemical, and her descriptions are more subtle than they would be for those who are more acerbic. Yet in these chapters, one finds unmistakable signs of how she feels about the (false) promise of many job training programs:

Training people out of unemployment is a big, popular idea. In fact, it may be the only economic idea on which Republicans such as Paul Ryan and Democrats such as President Obama agree, anchored, as it is, in an abiding cultural myth, going back to America’s founding, of this as a land that offers its people a chance at personal reinvention. The evidence is thin that job training in the United States is an effective way to lead laid-off workers back into solid employment. Still, there is a lack of political consensus that the government should invest in creating jobs, and there is very much a consensus that it should help displaced workers go back to school.

Others might have said this more pointedly, but she says it plainly, and plainly enough.

An anecdote about Matt Wopat, a laid off auto worker and son of a retired auto worker, shows how oddly unfocused job-counseling is:

Matt took a test called JobFit that gauged his learning style (visual/verbal, it turned out), his numerical skill (rapid grasp of numerical information), and his sociability (comfortable working with a group or individually). Matt was then issued a “Career Compatibility Passport,” which told him that he would be equally adept as a database developer, a podiatrist, or a registered nurse—his best fits out of a list of fifty occupations for which he was well suited, with horticulturist and software engineer not far behind.

Next to a box indicating that he was being recommended for a training program, a Job Center caseworker handwrote about Matt: “Currently undecided.”

Wopat wants a job, and both he and society would benefit if he had one, yet a program that recommends wildly disparate occupations as equally suitable will hardly be of much help. There’s something both sad, infuriating, and vacuous in the results the Career Compatibility Passport provides.

Worse is the local conceit, though, that the work of a banker Mary Willmer and billionaire building-supply magnate Diane Hendricks through Rock County 5.0 will be more than a drop in the bucket. Here’s the Willmer and Hendricks effort:

Just before Halloween, they decide the time is right. Rock County 5.0 has not yet reached the goal of $1 million in private support. But it is $400,000 along the path. Respectable. And the project now has five well-defined, five-year strategies to buttress its 5.0 name: persuading local companies to stay and expand, attracting new businesses, offering special help to small businesses and start-ups, preparing real estate for commercial uses, and forging a workforce that employers will want to hire. This is the hopeful vision of Rock County from a business-centric point of view: moving beyond Janesville’s automotive identity.

Remember, though, that to keep the plant, alone, mostly public entities were willing to offer the “biggest incentive package in Wisconsin history” (“The package adds up to $195 million: $115 million in state tax credits and energy-efficiency grants, the $20 million that Marv Wopat pushed through the county board, $15 million from the strapped Janesville city government, and $2 million from Beloit, plus private industry incentives, including from the businesses willing to buy out the tavern in the assembly plant’s parking lot. And that isn’t counting concessions worth $213 million that UAW Local 95 is willing to sacrifice in exchange for retrieving jobs.”)

The point isn’t that government should have offered so much (after all five times the amount left winning bidder Orion, Michigan with much less than that for which she bargained).

The point is that it is hardly credible that Janesville’s private sector was so poorly capitalized that it could only offer 0.5% of what state and local entities offered. (Indeed, at the time of the Rock County 5.0 innaugural announcement, a partial offer of only $400,000, or 0.2%, of hundreds of millions in public offers.)

Goldstein knows as much, that in 2009 Rock County 5.0 isn’t what it’s touted to be:

“It will change the culture within Rock County, long-term,” Mary is quoted as saying….

This is a victory for Mary. And yet, from her perch at M&I Bank, she can’t escape noticing unmistakable signals that some members of her community are having a hard time keeping their lives glued together.”

A hard time, indeed.

Previously: Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Tomorrow: Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 6 of 14).

Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 3 of 14)

This is the third in a series of posts considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story. In this post, I’ll write about five chapters of Janesville (Change in August, To the Renaissance Center, Mom, What Are You Going to Do?, When One Door of Happiness Closes, Another Opens, and The Parker Closet).

In chapters 5 through 9, Goldstein gives readers slices of life in Janesville from the summer through fall of 2008 (between when the GM plant’s closure was first announced, but before the last Tahoe rolled off the line in December).

Alyssa and Kayzia Whiteacre are trying to explain why their father is home during the day in August:

All of a sudden, even though they can sleep in a little during these lazy August days, their dad is home for breakfast….whatever is happening, it must be touchy, and if he wanted them to know, he’d have told them. So they take turns asking their mom little questions. “We’re trying to figure this out” is the kind of answer she gives. Not much help. So it is from the news and from a couple of friends that they piece together that their dad must have had a bad enough anniversary date that he’s part of the GM shift that’s already been laid off. What they deduce is correct. He was hired on May 29, 1995, handed a referral by his father. Both their dad and mom grew up in the security of GM wages, in the same way that Alyssa and Kayzia and their brother, until this summer, have been doing.”

Meanwhile, a combination of Democrats and Republicans try to keep the plant open:

In this conference room, each team member presents, in a tidy mosaic, the case they have rehearsed for why GM should continue production in Janesville. Paul [Ryan] knows [GM executive Troy] Clarke well, speaks to him on a weekly basis. Paul’s mosaic piece is a reminder to Clarke that he has fought on Capitol Hill for General Motors’ concerns about its pension costs. Tim[ Cullen]’s pitch is the compelling fact that, at Janesville, the cost of producing each vehicle is lower than at a plant making the same SUVs in Arlington, Texas—a newer plant that no one is talking about closing. Finally, the governor sums up the case: Wisconsin stands committed to preserving its relationship with General Motors. And, to fortify the seriousness of that commitment, the state and Rock County and Janesville and the local business community are honing a large package of economic incentives to induce GM to stay. General Motors is, everyone in the room knows, planning an inexpensive subcompact car model as a corporate coping mechanism in this awful recession. Wisconsin will, the governor [Jim Doyle] says, make it worthwhile for the company to trust its oldest assembly plant to manufacture its newest little car.

Most telling in this part of the book (with a chapter on a local banker and another on a community clothes & supply closet), however, is Goldstein’s account of Bob Borremans, who runs the local job center. Goldstein explains Bob’s work, in the face of thousands of impending layoffs, as he creates a resource guide:

Having long prided himself on staring down problems, though, Bob is pleased with a move he already has made: creating a guide to all the resources in town that can help people who have been thrown out of work, or who will be soon. He felt a take-charge satisfaction as he and some of the Job Center’s staff started contacting the leaders of organizations across Rock County to ask permission to include them in the new guide. Organizations that dispense help with job training, consumer credit, housing, health care, literacy, food, bouts of depression, bouts of addiction, bouts of domestic violence—two hundred far-flung, help-offering organizations in all.

Goldstein describes how Bob adds his own special touch, too:

So on page A8 of the guide was a box with the heading, “What to Do After a Layoff.” The box had fourteen bullet points, the first of which contained a crucial antidote to lost-job paralysis. “Don’t Feel Ashamed,” the heading of this first bullet point said. “Being laid off is not your fault.”

And scattered through the guide were words from Americans renowned for the challenges they confronted….from Helen Keller: “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”

Bob may be well-meaning, but Goldstein applies her blade at the end of chapter 8:

Bob believes, catastrophe might prove to be unbidden opportunity to help people find the work paths that would have suited them all along. Sure, people will need to retrain for this new work, but that’s his specialty, and he can help them go back to school while waiting for jobs to emerge on the far side of this recession.

If only it were so easy…

Previously: Parts 1 and 2.

Tomorrow: Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 4 of 14).

Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 1 of 14)

This is the first in a series of posts considering Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story. Bloggers have the luxury of time, so I’ll happily use that abundance to write at length on Goldstein’s book, one for which many have been waiting these last few years.

Before beginning, though, I’ll post an introduction to the book from the Washington Post, where Goldstein is a reporter (she was part of  a “team of Washington Post reporters awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting for the newspaper’s coverage of 9/11 and the government’s response to the attacks. She was also a 2009 Pulitzer Prize finalist for national reporting for an investigative series she co-wrote with her colleague Dana Priest on the medical treatment of immigrants detained by the federal government.”)

See, at that paper, JANESVILLE: AN AMERICAN STORY: When the nation’s oldest operating General Motors plant closes, residents emerge from the Great Recession into an uncertain future. I think the story is a concise overview to the book, and gives a good sense of Goldstein’s outlook.

I’ll also recommend an interview with Goldstein on the Joy Cardin Show of Wisconsin Public Radio.

See, at the WPR website, Exploring Human Consequences Of GM Plant Closure In Janesville, including a link to the audio of the interview.

Tomorrow: Considering Janesville: An American Story (Part 2 of 14).

Media Dependency

Concerning national publications, Eliana Johnson describes How Trump Blew Up the Conservative Media. Her observation on this point has local relevancy (both about and apart from Trump). Here’s Johnson’s key observation:

“For the 89 percent of Republican voters who cast ballots for Trump, their backing represented a departure from many of the principles that have animated the American conservative movement for six decades. Today, those voters remain broadly supportive of the president personally, and as a result, insiders say, the conservative media have been increasingly pulled by a tractor beam that demands positive coverage of the president regardless of how far he wanders from the ideas they once enforced. Producers and editors have been faced with a choice: Provide that coverage or lose your audience.”

That’s spot on.

It has local meaning, too: nearby publications either tip-toe around Trump, or avoid the subject entirely.

Consider what that means: these publications are too timid to address the most significant political development (toward a nativist authoritarianism) of contemporary times.  It’s not for or against for them, it’s head down, eyes averted, let me be your buddy.

This weakness may be financial (‘please, I’ll not say anything that might make our few over-charged, under-served advertisers complain’) or emotional (‘please, I’ll keep quiet about a major political development so that I can ingratiate myself with others’).

Either way, it’s not worth publishing on those sad terms. No one has to discuss, let alone cover, political issues. If a publication does cover politics, however, and skirts these issues, it’s not truly covering politics.

The noted English philosopher Adam Ant beautifully explained the terms of a good life in his 1982 masterwork, Goody Two Shoes:

We don’t follow fashion
That’d be a joke
You know we’re gonna set them, set them
So everyone can take note, take note

One stays true to one’s convictions.

The Revolution, Abolition, the defense of the Union, civil rights: those great moral & political causes called for more than faint hearts and a faltering step.

A few national publications have been invigorated in opposition to Trump, and a few nativist ones have profited in support, too. For many others – both local and national – an existing, difficult media environment is doubly constraining now.

The way forward requires (1) financial independence (or at least diversification) and (2) the confidence to express one’s views clearly and firmly. Indeed, the latter makes the former more likely. This is a key point: one lives better – in the deepest, fullest sense – this way.

A publisher’s policy that begins with distance and detachment, and ends with diligence, is incomparably better than living one’s life in constant servility to national or local pressures.

Considering The Politics of Resentment, Concluding Thoughts (Part 9 of 9)

This is the ninth in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

I first thought I’d post, chapter by chapter, on Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment after I read her 11.13.16 article in the Washington Post, “How rural resentment helps explain the surprising victory of Donald Trump.”

That’s quite the title, enticing readers (especially opponents of Trump, as I am) to learn about a purported key to his rise.

Her work offers no insights about Trump’s rise.

In Politics of Resentment, Cramer contends that rural voters were resentful, that they favored small government solutions against their interests, and that voters’ concerns were of economic anxiety and not so much about race.

Trump ran on a platform that advocated (mendaciously but insistently) a trillion dollars in infrastructure spending, healthcare supposedly better than ObamaCare, protectionism to compel jobs back to the Midwest, wall-building to restrict immigration from Mexico (although most immigrants are not Mexican), and insistence on a registry for Muslim Americans.

That’s not a small government agenda.

Cramer’s entire book is premised on the notion that rural residents are so resentful they favor small government over their own supposed economic interests.

Trump’s entire campaign rested firmly on lavish promises of spending, a trillion for public works, and a steady diet of anti-Mexican and anti-Muslim rhetoric. Indeed, Trump’s campaign only took off after he insisted on immigrations to keep from America a flow of immigrants he falsely smeared as rapists, murderers, etc.

All the while, Trump relied on a steady diet of lies and ludicrous claims from Putin’s trolls to smear his principal opponent. This undermining of standards of truth and evidence is one of the most significant developments of our time, but Cramer’s book has nothing to say on the matter (and neither does her November WaPo article.)

On its own terms, Cramer’s book disappoints; as an explanation of Trump’s rise, it offers nothing useful.

Previously: Parts 1, 23, 4567, and 8.

Next week: On Monday, I’ll begin a series on Amy Goldstein’s Janesville: An American Story.

Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘We Teach These Things to Each Other’ (Part 8 of 9)

This is the eighth in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

Cramer claims in Chapter 8 that

Beyond garnering the insight that people use social identities to think about politics, this book also shows how social group divides can operate as the central narrative by which people understand the political landscape and by which they structure their ideas about which candidates to support. In this politics of resentment, when we tell ourselves and others about the reasons behind how events have unfolded, the stories hinge on blaming our fellow citizens. What I am calling the politics of resentment is a political culture in which political divides are rooted in our most basic understandings of ourselves, infuse our everyday relationships, and are used for electoral advantage….

When has this not been true? Evening setting aside her earlier & false claim that small government advocacy stems from resentment against economic in interests (and only as Cramer defines those interests), have not large-scale political movements almost always involved ‘social group divides’ and accusations of blame (including toward the blameworthy)?

There’s nothing new on display here; Cramer esteems her work too highly.

Previously: Parts 1, 23, 456, and 7.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, Concluding Thoughts (Part 9 of 9).

Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘Reactions to the Ruckus’ (Part 7 of 9)

This is the seventh in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

In Chapter 7, Cramer describes the conditions immediately before, during, & immediately after the Great Recession, with consideration of Obama and Walker’s candidacies. With regard to Barack Obama, there’s much here that shifts, if not contradicts, Cramer’s earlier insistence that race isn’t a primary motivation in sentiment among rural voters.

In Chapter 3 Cramer contended on both sides of this issue (that race was and wasn’t important):

So yes, it is highly likely that when people refer to “those people in Milwaukee” they are often referring to racial minorities. But notice how complex this is. The urbanites that rural folks were referring to were not predominantly racial minorities. When white outstaters (i.e., those living outside the major metropolitan areas) complained of the laziness in the cities in these conversations, their comments were almost always directed at white people: government bureaucrats and faculty members at the flagship public university.

In that way, antiurban resentment is not simply resentment against people of color. At the same time, given the way arguments against government redistribution in the United States have historically been made by equating deservingness with whiteness, these conversations are about race even when race is not mentioned.

Cramer frames this so that she can insist race isn’t involved (“antiurban resentment is not simply resentment against people of color”) except that it always is (“these conversations are about race even when race is not mentioned”). She knows this not specifically about the residents with whom she converses, by the way, but because “historically [arguments] been made by equating deservingness with whiteness.” Even if Cramer should be right about this general historical truth, she imputes the generality to particular people and conversations. If others can’t see what she sees, well, it’s because she’s more discerning, and knows “these conversations are about race even when race is not mentioned.”

Now consider in Chapter 7 how Cramer describes reactions to Barack Obama:

In general, white people across all types of communities seemed uncomfortable talking about the fact that Obama is African American….At the same time that people seemed uncomfortable with Obama’s race and race as a concept in general, Obama’s theme of change and unity resonated with people—or at least they believed it resonated with others. The professionals in central Wisconsin might have found it necessary to qualify his appeal as a certain “kind” of African American, but they also nodded as one man said, “He is the one with the best truth out there.” I heard glimmers of hope that he was a different kind of politician, one not entrenched in Washington, and one who, especially compared to Hillary, was closer to the people.

When Cramer writes that “white people across all types of communities seemed uncomfortable talking about the fact that Obama is African American” she cannot possibly mean all communities in Wisconsin. It’s simply absurd to contend that whites in Dane County, for example, were uncomfortable with Obama. Here, she must mean rural whites (and perhaps suburban ones).

If this should be so, in her estimation, what does it say about her earlier contention that “antiurban resentment is not simply resentment against people of color”? Of course it’s not simply that, as though the supposed resentment were of one kind only. Yet, if her work should be social science, and not mere political commentary, how much of the resentment she sees is racial in motivation?

Cramer is evasive, but assures us (almost like Justice Potter Stewart’s observation about obscenity, ‘I know it when I see it’) that she’ll let us know when she spots something racist.

A more interesting inquiry for Cramer would have been to consider how views on gender affected the Obama-Clinton primary in 2008. Cramer observes that she, herself, met with sexual harassment from rural residents, but leaves aside a more thorough consideration of gender when describing views of Hillary Clinton.

(Cramer also implies that rural harassment was worse than what a woman might have encountered at university; sexual harassment and assault on college campuses is too often downplayed, and federal Clery statistics do not reflect the extent of actual campus harassment & violence.)

Previously: Parts 1, 23, 45, and 6.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, ”We Teach These Things to Each Other” (Part 8 of 9).

Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘Support for Small Government’ (Part 6 of 9)

This is the sixth in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

In Chapter 6, Cramer declares that

In this chapter, I am going to make the bold claim that support for small government is more about identity than principle.

Cramer explains to readers why she calls this claim ‘bold’:

Why is this a bold claim? We can look back on “Obamacare” or the “Affordable Care Act” and note that which side people took is related to partisanship. And we can say that whether people side with Republicans or Democrats in general is related to their attitudes about the appropriate role of government (e.g., Green, Palmquist, and Schickler 2002; Goren 2005; Carsey and Layman 2006). But those correlations do not help us understand why someone without teeth would not support government- funded dental care. Is it really the case that such a person is thinking to himself, “In principle I believe the less government the better; therefore, I am going to vote for the Republican Party and against single-payer health care, even though I need health care myself”? I don’t think so.

There are three components to these assertions: (1) primarily that one’s support for small government is identity-motivated, not principled, (2) that professions of support for small government among rural voters are false, although perhaps unknowingly so, and (3) that the alternative in health care to the market is single-payer.

Her first assertion is profoundly ignorant, so much so that one would think – and from her work might assume – that there had never been principled arguments against government intervention. It’s hard to get a full grasp of how unknowing Cramer must be: it’s as though she’s never read even a small part of classical or neoclassical economic theory, and its philosophical derivatives. Centuries of economic and philosophical literature: just identity politics in disguise, you see.

It’s astounding that Cramer ignores a vast literature – one that has in contemporary times produced over a dozen market-supporting Nobel laureatures in economics & other fields – and reduces this to a Republicans versus Democrats debate. (Most of these laureates where from neither major American political party.)

An omission like this is so great that the entire work begins to look like a political tract masquerading as ethnography. 

Because, you see, all these economists and philosophers weren’t advocating principles, they were either in the grip of identity politics, or committed to ensnaring others in that grip.

Under Cramer’s reading, rural voters – if not urban sophisticates – support small government for irrational reasons, contrary to their economic interests, interests they are too resentful to see clearly.

Finally, and almost as absurdly, Cramer particularly implies that economic interests are a choice between markets and single-payer healthcare (‘I am going to vote for the Republican Party and against single-payer health care’). Single-payer? Senator Sanders might have wanted as much, but neither Pres. Obama nor Sec. Clinton nor most Democrats in Congress pushed for single-payer, the alternative Cramer posits was before rural voters.

Previously: Parts 1, 23, 4, and 5.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘Reactions to the Ruckus’ (Part 7 of 9).

Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘Attitudes toward Public Institutions and Public Employees’ (Part 5 of 9)

This is the fifth in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

In Chapter 5, Cramer describes conversations she had with rural residents. In the early part of the chapter, she recounts discussions about the university system. Some rural residents tell her they don’t like Madison (and UW-Madison) because they see it as politically liberal:

Glenn: UW is the only place where you can be a hippie for forty years and not be out of place. [chuckles]
Dan: Sometimes you can’t tell them from the professors, either. [laughs]
Tim: Well that’s true, too.
KJC: Right, right.
Glenn: UW and San Francisco got about the same initials. [chuckles]
KJC: So what do you think the UW–Madison should be doing here in [this town]? And I mean that very broadly, like from students to ordinary folks who live here, you know beyond student age, are there things they should be doing?
Tim: I don’t know what they could do—I guess I’m like Glenn and the rest of ’em as far as the liberal—I’m not a Madison person. There’s a reason that I don’t live in Madison, I like [this town]. I don’t like Madison at all. It’s big, it’s . . . to me, I don’t like to drive in the city—
Glenn: Best part about Madison is the fifty-five miles that it is away.

But that’s not their primary objection, it turns out:

KJC: Why don’t [students from here] go to Madison? I mean I have all kinds of guesses why, but why do you think?
Tim: Cost is the biggest thing.
Dan: Tuition is higher in Madison than it is in La Crosse or Platteville [cities with other UW System schools] for one thing.

In any event, the university is a topic (but of uncertain priority) because Cramer’s made it one:

My presence alone, though, brought the university into the conversations. The first thing I usually said to these groups, especially during my first visits in 2007 and 2008, was, “Hi! I’m Kathy. I’m from the UW–Madison.” So I want to acknowledge up front that it is likely that these groups would not have talked about the university and higher education as much if I hadn’t inserted myself into their conversations. But my focus was not how much they talked about the university or other aspects of government, but how they made sense of it when they did so. Their conversations about UW–Madison provide a window to their attitudes about government and public employees more generally.

Here, Cramer’s claim about negative views of the university is tenuous, because she can’t show what priority the university has in residents’ minds. (In fact, she guesses they “would not have talked about the university and higher education as much if [she] hadn’t inserted [herself] into their conversations.”)

Oh my: Cramer wants to define a rural consciousness, but by her own admission the role of UW-Madison within that consciousness depends not on residents’ priorities but her own questioning. This is simply flimsy. (It’s for lack of a solid prioritization, presumably, that Cramer offers unquantifiably and nebulously that their responses are a “window to their attitudes.” How big and how clear a window neither Cramer nor we know, as she can’t reliably say.)

Cramer exhibits guilt about her role as an academic:

To be honest, I felt sheepish explaining to people during my first year of fieldwork that I wasn’t teaching any classes. In the midst of conversations about the wear and tear of common rural occupations on one’s body, I had a difficult time thinking of my job driving around the state, inviting myself into coffee klatches as hard work.

An honest admission, but nonetheless an admission of a bias (one that could be both more pronounced in focus-group questioning & less susceptible of review than it would be in data-released opinion polling).

Indeed, Cramer acknowledges that scientific opinion polling reveals that suspicion about education’s value extends far beyond a rural demographic:

Let me end this chapter by acknowledging that people of many walks of life feel distant from institutions of higher education and also public employees. First, consider that public opinion surveys suggest that many people feel a sense of disconnection from institutions of higher education. For example, a December 9–13, 2009, Public Agenda poll of 1,031 U.S. adults found that 60 percent of the public perceives that “colleges today are like most businesses and mainly care about the bottom line,” as opposed to “colleges today mainly care about education and making sure students have a good educational experience.”16 Also, that same poll found that 33 percent “agree strongly” and 27 percent “agree somewhat” that “colleges could take a lot more students without lowering quality or raising prices.”

If so many feel this way (however regrettable those views may be), we can be certain that this skepticism is not unique to a supposed rural consciousness. And as it is not unique, and even appears in rural residents’ conversations at Cramer’s admitted instigation, identifying anti-educational views with rural residents seems truly uncompelling to anyone other than those who would expect to find such views primarily in rural communities.

Previously: Parts 1, 23, and 4.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘Support for Small Government’ (Part 6 of 9).

Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘The Context of Rural Consciousness’ (Part 4 of 9)

This is the fourth in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

If in Chapter 3 Cramer sought to provide the contours (outlines) of a rural consciousness,  in Chapter 4 she attempts to describe the context (the circumstances around it) of it all.

Cramer sees the obvious challenge to her work:

I know many readers will be wondering whether this thing I am calling rural consciousness is justified—that is, whether it reflects real or simply perceived disparities in government resources, concern, and attention.

(She doesn’t concede so plainly other challenges to her work, however: that a small government preference is not necessarily a rural product, any more than a socialist one might not be a rural product, that the divide in large areas is more than rural and urban, indeed more than economic, and that ample work across centuries in market theory sits outside her urban-rural framework but has nonetheless shaped life across this continent and planet.)

And yet, and yet, here’s Cramer’s answer to this question, as she frames it:

I know this because when I describe complaints of injustice among small-town residents to urban audiences, I am almost always asked whether it is actually the case, for example, that rural areas get fewer public dollars than urban areas do. In the conversations I observed in rural Wisconsin, many people thought they were getting the short end of the stick with respect to taxpayer dollars. But was that really the case?

The evidence is mixed.

That’s quite the concession. Imagine someone asking about the effectiveness of a medication, or of a parachute, and receiving that reply: the evidence is mixed.

Here’s how Cramer describes basic fiscal policy for rural and urban Wisconsinites:

In Wisconsin, rural counties do receive fewer public dollars than urban counties. In the aggregate, measures of both state and federal government expenditures at the county level in fiscal year 2010 show that more than 75 percent of this money went to counties with urban metropolitan communities (fig. 4.1)

However, there are far fewer people living in rural counties than urban ones, so a more apt comparison might be one that uses a per capita basis for comparison. Figures 4.2 and 4.3 show two correlation plots, with each dot representing a single county in Wisconsin. This pair of figures shows almost no relationship between how rural a county is and the dollars it receives in expenditures per capita from the state and federal government.1 Excluding outliers, a slight upward trend is evident, with more rural counties receiving slightly more dollars per person; however, the relationship is weak.2 But the evidence certainly does not support the notion that urban counties receive far more than their share of tax dollars per resident.

(Emphasis mine.)

Seeing this, that in fact rural residents aren’t short-changed in the amounts that they receive, Cramer must – if she believes that a rural consciousness depends on rural residents accurately and correctly observing a disparity with urban areas – find another economic explanation.

She does:

While this evidence does not back up the perceptions I heard among many rural residents that there is vastly disproporationate spending in urban counties and higher tax burdens falling on rural communities, many would also be quick to point out that what these numbers do not reveal is how effectively the money was spent. Even if the spending were proportionate across type of place, if the spending failed to meet the needs of people living there, it really would not matter. Some services simply cost less per capita in cities because of economies of scale.4

Where, though, does this economies of scale endnote (#4) lead? Here: “I am sincerely indebted to Ben Toff for these analyses and to Sarah Niebler for a similar set of analyses in the early stages of this project.” That is, Cramer’s presumably thanking Toff and Niebler for their data collection for the preceding Figures 4.1 to 4.9, not to an economies of scale analysis. She offers no such analysis here.

If Cramer cannot provide compelling data for her claim that a supposed rural consciousness rests significantly on an actual mis- or under-allocation of government funds to the detriment of rural residents, then she’s left either with (1) her own misperception of a rural consciousness, (2) rural residents’ misperception of their own condition, or (3) both.

By her own account, she cannot offer, so to speak, unmixed economic data.

That’s quite a predicament for her thesis.

Previously: Parts 1, 2, and 3.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘Attitudes toward Public Institutions and Public Employees’ (Part 5 of 9).

Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘The Contours of Rural Consciousness’ (Part 3 of 9)

This is the third in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

The simplest way to think about Cramer’s work, by analogy, is to think of it not as a scientific poll of attitudes and preferences, but as a series of considered focus groups. Considered, to be sure, because Cramer ponders at length about how she should interact with rural residents, and has read well of academic literature on interactions like the kind she undertakes.

And yet, for it all, her work is truly the focus group work of a Wisconsinite who (at seemingly every turn) exhibits her own class consciousness, all the while insisting, in effect, that she’s suitably tamed that consciousness.

Consider how Cramer describes her role (effectually as a focus group moderator):

My obvious status as an urbanite very likely made the out-group of urbanites more salient (Turner et al. 1994). But rural consciousness was not an artifact of my presence. I say this for a variety of reasons. Rural consciousness was not just about rural versus city folks. It contained perceptions of the distribution of power, values, and resources that could not have been constructed suddenly in my presence. Second, the people I listened to revealed the perspective of rural consciousness quickly, suggesting that they used this perspective quite a bit, not suddenly when meeting me. Third, for the people who used this perspective, it was so fundamental to the way they talked about politics that when I asked about it directly they were often downright astonished that I found it necessary to do so.4

Cramer’s sure that her rural interlocutors lack awareness of their own perspective, but that her own role as an ‘urbanite’ is obvious. Perhaps so obvious to her, in fact, that she lacks an understanding of how quickly she assumes others’ imperception.

As for one rural coffee klatch she describes in Chapter 3 (jokingly named by its members as the ‘The Downtown Athletic Club’), their composition is hardly representative of must rural residents:

I quickly learned that all four of those men were former public school teachers. One had been a principal. Right away, they voiced concerns about state legislators raiding tax dollars out of the highway fund (they wanted that to stop), the liquor tax (they wanted that higher), the price of gas (they wanted that lower), and the cost of health care (they wanted someone to do something about it).

Most rural Wisconsinites aren’t teachers; many are not college educated. A focus group of retired rural teachers is not simply a focus group of rural residents.

There’s nothing unscientific about this methodology; the point is, rather, that there’s nothing exclusive (and so nothing conclusive) to it, either.

Cramer defines her terms:

“Rural consciousness” is the term I am using to describe a strong sense of identity as a rural person combined with a strong sense that rural areas are the victims of injustice: the sense that rural areas do not get their fair share of power, respect, or resources and that rural folks prefer lifestyles that differ fundamentally from those of city people….First, rural consciousness was about perceptions of power, or who makes decisions and who decides what to even discuss. Second, it showed up with respect to perceptions of values and lifestyles. Third and finally, it involved perceptions of resources or who gets what.

How is this different from other possible perspectives? A sense of oneself as a rural person, to be sure, but otherwise? One can be confident that residents of Staten Island and Los Angeles are concerned about ‘perceptions of power,’ ‘perceptions of values and lifestyles,’ and ‘perceptions of resources or who gets what.’

Cramer learns that rural residents don’t like high gas prices:

Few people like rising gas prices, but to people in rural communities—who typically drive long distances to everything—they are a major source of concern. By the time I met this group, I had come to realize that there was something important about the way many people in small communities thought about their towns in relation to more urban places.

Wouldn’t commuting – with gas or rail transit costs – be a concern just as much of suburban commuters near Washington, D.C. or Chicago? This simply isn’t exclusively or primarily a rural concern. For commuters in these areas, one might as easily come to realize that there was something important about the way many people in suburban communities thought about their housing developments in relation to more urban places. Wouldn’t transportation costs matter as much to poor urban residents without cars, without money for auto insurance, and the daily managing of public transit fares and schedules?

Cramer’s not sure how racial views play in all this:

So yes, it is highly likely that when people refer to “those people in Milwaukee” they are often referring to racial minorities. But notice how complex this is. The urbanites that rural folks were referring to were not predominantly racial minorities. When white outstaters (i.e., those living outside the major metropolitan areas) complained of the laziness in the cities in these conversations, their comments were almost always directed at white people: government bureaucrats and faculty members at the flagship public university.

In that way, antiurban resentment is not simply resentment against people of color. At the same time, given the way arguments against government redistribution in the United States have historically been made by equating deservingness with whiteness, these conversations are about race even when race is not mentioned.

Cramer believes that ‘arguments against government redistribution in the United States have historically been made by equating deservingness with whiteness,’ a claim that shows only how shallow her understanding of neoclassical economic and libertarian theory truly is. For Cramer anti-distributionist arguments rest – using the qualifier historically – on ‘equating deservingness with whiteness.’ Friedman, Hayek, et al., are here either ignored or misunderstood (likely both).

Worse, I think, is that this view of racism – that anti-urbanism is the general problem – dilutes particular racial injuries into a larger anti-urban potion. It’s an exoneration to say that people don’t dislike, let’s say blacks,  because they actually dislike urban residents. Those being subjected to stop-and-frisk in New York, for example, aren’t just urbanites; they’re disproportionately black or Latino.

(For a different assessment from Cramer’s of Wisconsin-specific views on race, consider Alex Macgillis’s 2014 essay on Wisconsin politics.)

In this way, Cramer’s concern about race is both too broad and too narrow.

That’s a bigger concern than how a group of retired, rural teachers perceives a woman in a VW Jetta.

Previously: Parts 1 and 2.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘The Context of Rural Consciousness’ (Part 4 of 9).

Gazette Editorial Begs Paul Ryan: Call Me Maybe?

 

There’s an editorial at the Janesville Gazette, hometown of Paul Ryan, complaining that Ryan won’t hold a town hall:

 

Paul Ryan, your constituents have waited long enough.

It’s time for a town hall, even if it’s only the telephone kind. Something. Anything to show your constituents that you—not only your staff—are hearing their concerns.

See, Our Views: Detached from his district @ Janesville Gazette (subscription req’d).

Ryan has ignored the Gazette more than once:

Your spokesman, Ian Martorana, told us you planned to hold a telephone town hall in March, but that never happened. Now he says you’re looking to schedule one in the “next three to four weeks but potentially sooner.”

Desperate for a reply, the Gazette – a paper that not long ago counted itself among community ‘movers and shakers‘, is now begging for anything, even a telephone town hall that the paper admits would be a dodge:

If the town hall isn’t for you, the telephone version works well because you can control who’s talking and when. Sure, it’s a dodge, it’s not as good as hearing from your constituents face-to-face, but it’s better than nothing.

Ryan’s in the presidential line of succession immediately after the vice president, but he won’t show up in person in his own district, and the Gazette is so lacking in influence with him that he simply ignores the paper.

They’re down to a bit of pleading:

Call Me, Maybe?

Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘A Method of Listening’ (Part 2 of 9)

This is the second in a series of posts considering Katherine Cramer’s Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

One might think that Cramer’s second chapter, ‘A Method of Listening,’ would be a dry (but useful & necessary) description of her methodology. It’s far from merely that: it’s an oddly personal description of her own class consciousness. So much so, in fact, that I’m not sure whether it’s a confessional of sorts, or an attempt to reach out-of-Wisconsin urbanites through tales of adventures among rural natives.

Cramer describes her thoughts when presenting herself to rural Wisconsinites:

My identity as an urbanite matters for how I perceive things. But it also matters for the way I presented myself. My training, like that of political scientists in general, was predominantly positivist. In other words, much of what I learned in school was how to analyze causation. I learned that the goal of a good social scientist is to approximate the scientific method as closely as possible. In such an approach, one aims to have little or no effect on the research setting.

Reasonable enough, of course.

Yet, indeed, she goes on at some length about visiting towns in the state, despite having lived in Wisconsin for most of her life:

When I first started my fieldwork for this study, I tried to wear the same outfit to every research site in a given round, or set of visits. My purpose was to try to interact with each group in precisely the same way, to act as a scientific instrument as much as possible. But as my work went on, it seemed that it did not matter that I dressed the same across groups. Blue-collar groups in low-income communities knew I was wealthier by virtue of my job. They knew I was different because I rolled up to their diner or gas station in a Volkswagen Jetta wagon, and parked it next to a bunch of Made-in-USA pickup trucks. I learned that, rather than obscure who I am, I had to be a human being in order to be welcomed into their conversations.

When would Cramer, dressed in whatever fashion, not been a human being to her fellow residents, or thought of herself as such?

To have a certain class consciousness is, itself, no impediment to understanding. Indeed, to acknowledge as much is mere self-understanding.

(It’s fair to say that I have a sense of this, coming from a pre-Revolutionary family. Yet, it’s never been so pronounced that I thought this simple truth made my fellow residents alien to me. I’ll readily acknowledge that listening to a white resident insist that his family’s three or four generations here entitles him to something more than others is both laughable and contemptible to me: the obvious truth is that he didn’t earn his family’s arrival, and many non-white families were brought here in bondage far earlier than a few generations ago. The past is a burden, not an entitlement, but burden in ways far different from being merely a socioeconomic bugbear.)

Cramer also ascribes to her rural visits a common gender bias from men in those communities:

In my daily life, I do not experience a lot of overt ogling. But I got ogled on these visits. People asked me out on dates, despite the wedding ring on my hand at the time. On my first round, when I traveled with a visibly pregnant belly, several groups of men joked with each other about which member was the father of my child-to-be. Walking in the door to a men’s group with one of the men resulted in a pretty embarrassing barrage of comments assuming we had just had sex….”

I don’t doubt Cramer’s accounts, nor do I condone any of these remarks directed to her; on the contrary, these comments made to her or about her are wrong in part and full. I’ve no desire to excuse any of them.

It does seem to me, however, that to imply that these conditions are worse in rural areas is to understate the subtle-yet-as-destructive harassment that women experience in urban and supposedly cosmopolitan places areas.

There are countless women at university, for example, who would not describe harassment as a primarily rural problem…

Postscript:

Yesterday, in Part 1, I expressed surprise that Cramer had a narrow, distributionist outlook that ignored the complexity of economic and philosophical critiques of state power (“Cramer gives not the slightest hint that there might be a vast body of liberty-oriented theory (including a libertarianism of the left as well as the right) stretching back centuries in America and thousands of years across civilizations earlier”).

A remark from Chris Hayes, the progressive author of A Colony in A Nation, Twilight of the Elites, and MSNBC host (published just after I posted yesterday) nicely summarizes the importance neoclassical economics (an understanding absent from Cramer’s first-chapter):

The entirety of the corpus of Hayek, Friedman, and neoclassical economics. I think it’s an incredibly powerful intellectual tradition and a really important one to understand, these basic frameworks of neoclassical economics, the sort of ideas about market clearing prices, about the functioning of supply and demand, about thinking in marginal terms.

I think the tradition of economic thinking has been really influential. I think it’s actually a thing that people on the left really should do — take the time to understand all of that. There is a tremendous amount of incredible insight into some of the things we’re talking about, like non-zero-sum settings, and the way in which human exchange can be generative in this sort of amazing way. Understanding how capitalism works has been really, really important for me, and has been something that I feel like I’m a better thinker and an analyst because of the time and reading I put into a lot of conservative authors on that topic.

I wouldn’t describe these ideas as conservative, but Hayes assesses them soundly. There’s not the slightest evidence Cramer sees that they might offer insight into Americans’ economic conditions before or after the Great Recession.

Previously: Part 1.

Tomorrow: Considering The Politics of Resentment, ‘The Contours of Rural Consciousness’ (Part 3 of 9).