Wednesday, May 06, 2009
  Why small towns fail........

I haven't been writing much here ... just sort of uninspired and dull lately.

Have been commenting often at FrontPorchRepublic.com, the first truly populist 'big blog'. One article today stirred me to thinking again, so I'll copy and expand my comment here for future reference if nothing else. Maybe it will refocus my mind.

The article at FPR was discussing the decline of midwestern small towns, proposing meritocracy as a prime cause: the best brains leave to work in brainy places like New York or San Francisco.

Earlier, I disputed the basic Charles Murray premise that academic achievement, the quality tested by IQ, is the primary determinant of national success. The same applies here. More IQ isn't the main cause of success for a nation or a town, and losing high-IQ people isn't the main cause of failure for a nation or a town. Especially a small town.

Midwestern towns have always lost a certain type of kid to New York or Hollywood. The loss didn't matter much, because those New-Yorkish types didn't steal any of the skills that really mattered to a small town. They may have removed a brain capable of high abstraction, but abstraction doesn't fix a car or settle a dispute between neighbors or put out a fire.

The main problem is that the anchors of small towns, the pins that held them on the map, have been ripped out. The ripping is partly natural, but mainly a result of Federal policies since 1962.

Picking 1940 as a baseline, what were the pins that held a town in place and kept its people from flying off?

In semi-historical order: (1) the railroad depot; (2) the church; (3) the family; (4) the school; (5) civic organizations like lodges; (6) unmovable businesses like mining, specialized farming or logging; (7) the local newspaper and radio station.

(1) Federal policy intentionally weakened the railroads to the advantage of trucking. This yanked out the fixed centerpoint for business and travel, which was the sole raison d'etre for many small towns.

(2) Leftist penetration of mainline churches weakened their appeal while Federal policy disconnected churches from education. Then non-local televangelists gave a new outlet for the Christian passion that was no longer welcome at First Presbyterian.

(3) No-fault divorce laws, feminism, and feral capitalism conspired to ruin the family. Feminism started the trend, using Stalin's classic disruptive gambit. Robber barons soon realized that they could pay half as much to each worker when both husband and wife were expected to work. Now that it's no longer possible for an ordinary man to support a wife and kids on one income, neither sex has any particular reason to stay married, thus no particular reason to stay in one place and raise kids.

(4) Federal special ed and non-discrimination mandates require each school district to have a large bureaucracy and a team of lawyers, which you simply can't manage with a small town's resources.

(5) Non-discrimination laws, social security and welfare entitlements removed the concrete purposes of civic organizations and lodges, which formerly maintained some forms of medical insurance and old-age homes. Only the social aspect remains, which isn't enough to keep people linked in mutual responsibility.

(6) Federal environmental laws make it hard to run resource-extraction businesses like logging and mining. Only the biggest ones can afford the army of lawyers to fight off the Sierra Club.

(7) In 1940, local newspapers and radio stations provided an outlet for local talent which could be read and enjoyed by local people. If you were a good writer, a good singer, a better-than-average pianist, you could exercise your gifts for pay without having to face the harsh competition of New York or Hollywood. Both of these outlets were weakened by television, then delocalized and deracinated by monopolies.

(8) More generally, as others have said, unfettered globalization and monopolies make life difficult for every small manufacturer. Even if you were doing a good enough business in the local pond, you're now forced to compete with slave labor in China and Burma. Nobody except the slavemasters can succeed for long in these conditions.

= = = = =

Later: We tend to think of gov't-caused problems as overregulation, but with one exception, all of the Federal changes that uprooted the small town were deregulation or supposed advances of "rights". The only exception is the environmental laws that made mining and logging hard; those are actual increases in strictness. Everything else is an increase in permissiveness. (1) Railroads were weakened by the abolition of the Interstate Commerce Commission, which had kept trucks and trains in balance, and had forced railroads to serve small towns. (2) Churches were removed from civic life when the black-robed saboteurs granted special "rights" to Atheist Commissar Madelyn Murray O'Hair, may she share an acid-soaked bed of nails in Hell with Betty Friedan. (3) No-fault divorce was a loosening of divorce laws, and feminism is advertised as advancing the "rights" of females. (4) Special-ed laws grant special and very expensive "rights" to stupid kids and bad kids, making it much harder to teach normal kids. (5) Because lodges were generally for one ethnic group or for men, they were killed by non-discrimination laws. Again more "rights" for females and a lower quality of life for everyone. (6) Environmental laws, the exception. (7) Specific decisions by the FCC and other agencies have "opened" the airwaves and newspapers to monopolistic ownership. Knight-Ridder and Clear Channel don't give a flying fuck about local concerns or local talent, they only care about increasing their share price.

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Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.

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