If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy—which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog—you will come to an awful realization. It wasn’t Beijing. It wasn’t even Washington, as bad as Washington can be. It wasn’t immigrants from Mexico, excessive and problematic as our current immigration levels are. It wasn’t any of that...He's a good enough writer that I assume he didn't misspeak.
The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. The white American under-class is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin.
I don't share his economic theories. I do think immigration had a major effect on destroying America's working class, and I think the free-trade policies he champions did too. Bracket that, though: we'll agree to disagree on the question.
The welfare dependency he cites is a major part of the problem. America's welfare state, set up precisely to help the poorest Americans, has been deeply destructive to their lives and culture. It should be dismantled.
However, I am surprised that he doesn't see the effect of both welfare and over-regulation on the traditional economies of these regions. What did they ever produce? Small farms. You weren't going to get rich running a family farm, but you could sell the milk you got from your cow each day, and cheese, and a few crops. You were going to have to work hard (the absence of which he says is the root of the moral rot he describes). You'd need to keep the family together, somehow, to get that work done. Presumably no one would do it if they could sit back and collect a check from D.C., and the checks get bigger if the family falls apart. Subsidize anything and you get more of it.
But now not only is there the check, there's a huge set of rules and regulations that ban you from collecting and selling your cow's milk without expensive technological investments. You'd need to hire a lawyer to make sure your farm wasn't violating rules nine ways to Sunday.
The black market in drugs flourishes in part because, if everything you know how to do for money is illegal, you might as well do the most profitable one of the crimes.
The problems he cites of course generalize to all of America's working poor, but if you wrote the same column about the urban poor you'd be fired as a racist. (John Derbyshire's equally honest treatment of urban black culture in America is how he got shown the door). I won't call for that, because I value honesty. It's good to speak your mind plainly. Being offensive is sometimes helpful to breaking a deadlock on a big problem. The solution to America's poverty problem is not that the poor communities should 'die out,' however.
The solution is dismantling the existing transfer-payment welfare system and also the vast set of food production regulations that make farming the business of corporations instead of small family farms. In their place, we will need to set up CCC-style systems to teach people how to do the things that the current generation no longer knows how to do because their grandparents had to give it up.
We can structure our regulations to make it more likely that small family farms succeed, and we can make work-based systems like this the only welfare game going. Do that, and you'll have a healthier working poor. They'll still be poor. But they will have decent lives.
Along the way, we'll also get a better kind of food. Small farmers doing grass-fed, grass-finished beef or free-range chickens is something people want anyway: it's just too expensive to be marketable. Increase the supply vastly, however, and the price will come down. Doing so will ultimately be much cheaper than the transfer-payment systems we have now, and give us several goods we would be glad to have.