Sunday, October 10, 2021

A Portrait of Love and Struggle in Post-Industrial, Small-City America | The New Yorker

'As she writes in a newly published book of the resulting work, "Upstate Girls," Troy was once a wealthy industrial city, the kind of place that "embodied the idea of America as a land where every person's dreams were realized." But, by the time Kenneally was a teenager, in the nineteen-seventies, the industrialization that originally distinguished the city had contributed to its demise, as factories left the region to chase overseas deals. Except for one aunt, who became a teacher, no one in Kenneally's family had any higher education. Kenneally herself quit high school and hitchhiked to Miami when she was around the same age that many of her subjects were when she met them. But she found her way to A.A. and then, through her sponsor, to photography; the process of applying to college, where she studied sociology and photojournalism, further transformed her life. All of this granted her enough perspective to keep her from being destroyed by misplaced shame.'

'A timeline hung in the living room, like a monstrous mobile, tracking the decline in public health alongside once-lauded American products—tobacco, high-fructose corn syrup—and their code-switching, class-based marketing campaigns. These products had a particularly ruinous impact when they trickled down to North Troy residents, whose safety nets were being eroded by attacks on public education and other social supports. Kenneally had been studying inequality long enough to know that countering arguments about "personal responsibility" required that she expand the frame of her work to show exactly how lies about meritocracy cloak, and normalize corporate greed. She obsessively gathered evidence—she calls it "hoarding"—to make us see these lives as she saw them, and to memorialize them as part of our nation's history. At the Peoples' Museum, this exhaustive contextualizing made it impossible to treat her subjects with contempt.'

I have many relatives who lived in poverty.  They were the product of the Great Depression and World War II.  They worked their way out of poverty and enjoyed comfortable lives.  This is the benefit of a free society and industrious people.  Having lived through much worse times, when they see the kind of things that we fuss about today, they think that we have lost our way.

Out of 190 countries, 182 have lower GDP per capita than the United States.  The average outside of the United States is about a quarter of what we make here.  At least half of the people in the world would find our poverty level a blessing. 
Before COVID, we were in one of the most prosperous periods in our history.  Even now, there are 10 million unfulfilled job openings.  There is enough prosperity to go around.

I am concerned that there will always be a few people who can't make it.  For those who can't manage, we have an abundance of social programs.

What distinguishes prosperous nations from everyone else?  There are likely many factors, but the biggest by a huge margin are freedom and peace.  The real lesson of history is that economic freedom by far is the best way to bring people out of poverty.

The complaint by the left is one of "inequality."  It doesn't matter that the vast majority are doing pretty well, but as long as some people are superwealthy then this is unfair.  However, every economic system ever tried has produced unequal outcomes.  It is an emergent property of human societies that we organize in hierarchies.  This leads to unequal outcomes, but a healthy free society produces the greatest prosperity for the most number of people.

Boohoo.  Life isn't fair.  Some people grow up in bad circumstances.  Most people make bad decisions.  Everyone has different levels of natural ability.  Some are stronger.  Some are healthier.  Some are smarter.  (Relevant to this is a talk by Jordan Peterson:

The word "corporation" often is used negatively and is equated with "rich person."  They are not the same thing.  Not even close.  Corporations are a way of democratizing business. Through funds, I own stock in hundreds of companies. So do most people who have retirement funds.  If there were no such thing as a corporation, then I might not have a stake in any business nor have a good way to invest my money.  In that case, maybe the best that I could hope for is to be a silent partner by owning a tiny portion of a single company.  However, this type of investing is risky and could lead to disputes, fraud, and possible bankruptcy.  On the other hand, our system of corporations is kept relatively honest through legal regulation requiring that financial information be made public.

Another thing about corporations is that larger businesses tend to be more efficient.  This is not always the case, but the market seems to favor larger companies.

America has changed much since the Great Depression.  We have grown larger and more crowded.  We have a bigger and more corrupt government.  Americans have to compete with the rest of the world, and many jobs have gone overseas.  We live in a very complicated time.  However, to blame corporations for poverty is to ignore a lot of other factors.  If anything, businesses have been the engine of our prosperity, and corporations are just a way of allowing people to own a stake in those businesses.

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