CUT BAIT

It is fashionable and born of good intentions to say that Community as a concept is important, positive, and is worth preserving. All of those things can be true while also recognizing that at some point the patient is deceased and no amount of medical intervention will bring it back to life.

Cairo, IL just received attention in the form of an NPR story about its latest in a drawn-out series of death throes. For those who have not had the pleasure, Cairo (KAY-row) is the worst and saddest place you can find in the United States. I have been to all 50 states. I have driven through every inch of the Midwest, which practically abounds with Sad Places. Cairo is the worst. It is a cross between a theme park Ghost Town and a FEMA camp for evacuees from a natural disaster. There is nothing in Cairo. Nothing.

Cairo was important and viable a long time ago due to its geographic position at the confluence of two major rivers. Since this is not the 19th Century anymore and riverboats are not the driving force behind the economy of the region, there no longer is any reason for Cairo to exist. It is conveniently positioned for river traffic but otherwise totally desolate. It is a four-plus hour drive to any city of consequence (St. Louis, Louisville) and even a solid hour removed from remote backwaters like Paducah, KY. When a description of your location uses both "Paducah" and "one hour from," you are admitting defeat.

Even the schools in Cairo are closing, and not for the trendy budget-slashing reasons. They are closing because there are no students. Everybody able to leave this place has left. They have left because there is no reason to stay. Emotionally, I find the willingness of the remaining residents to try to Save Cairo endearing. Intellectually I know that A) it will not work and B) there is no defensible reason to try.

When the state and Federal governments reckon the amount of money they pour into a place like Cairo, the following offer would be in the best interests of everyone involved: give every man, woman, and child in Cairo who does not own a home a voucher for a free moving van, a check for $10,000, and advice on places they could move that are not totally devoid of opportunities and amenities. Give every home or property owner in the city a check for their property and send them on their way similarly. Just pull the plug. The place is finished. Go.

If that seems ludicrously expensive, cutting checks would cost little compared to the long term costs of keeping places like this on life support for no reason anyone can articulate. And there is plenty of precedent for it. The EPA and Congress have evacuated communities before due to determinations that remediation would be so prohibitively expensive that the only cost-effective option is to pay people for their property and move them elsewhere. Gilman, CO. Picher, OK. Centralia, PA (of the infamous smoldering underground mine fires). Times Beach, MO (which is so soaked in dioxin that even the rodents died). These are not examples from 1850 during the Gold Rush. These are recent. This can be done. It is done, when deemed necessary.

It is not absolutely necessary to wait for enough toxic material or enough flaming coal to accumulate before the government decides that a place is no longer habitable. A broader view would include things like economic prospects and quality of life in determining habitability. The problem places like Cairo cannot solve is that the provision of public goods is expensive and providing them in the middle of nowhere at great cost for no obvious reason is a proposition that, rather than leading to eventual improvement, signals the beginning of a death spiral from which small towns rarely if ever recover.

I want to be clear that my point is not "Let Cairo fail" but that Cairo has already failed. It's dead. This is not Detroit, a place with all the amenities of urban life that is struggling to realign its public policy with its reduced population. This is a tiny city that has literally nothing going for it, where the few people who remain are either directly or indirectly (through government employment, just about the only decent employment remaining) subsidized. If subsidizing the population had the tiniest hope of improving the situation there I would be all for it. But it doesn't take an expert in economics or urban planning to take a look at the place in person and realize that it has flatlined.

Should the government go on a town-killing spree to save money? Absolutely not. But with a handful of the worst cases, it would make sense to ask what rationale there is for trying to save places that are too far gone to ever recover when the money could be better used to provide the same citizens with meaningful improvements and better quality of life elsewhere. There is a point at which cutting bait and declaring that there is nothing left to do is in fact the right thing to do.

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62 Responses to “CUT BAIT”

  1. Mo Says:

    Ye gods. Did a Google images search. You're not kidding.

    The two similar shots of Commercial Street – one a 1929 postcard, the other from 2009 – are appalling.

    Looks as if everything is too rotted to even spiff it up and turn it into some sort of 1860s theme park with residents doing cosplay as revolting 19th century characters. Plus, nobody wants to/can get a visa to travel to the USA for tourism anymore.

    The Daily Mail thinks it's quaint how the place is going back to Mother Nature

  2. TAGinMO Says:

    From the linked NPR piece:

    "There hasn't been a new, private home built in Cairo for 50 years."

    FIFTY YEARS. At first blush, that is astounding. But when you check Wikipedia and see that the 1960 population of the town was 9,348 and the estimated 2015 population is 2,467…well, I suppose it's not all that surprising after all.

    In fact, given that the population had already declined to 6,277 by 1970, I suppose the bigger surprise is that someone built a new house there in 1967 rather than buying and fixing up an unoccupied one.

  3. jestbill Says:

    I just don't see a point in making any special effort for or against Cairo.

    I favor a minimum basic income that would allow people to live in Cairo without increasing the unemployment/welfare rolls elsewhere.

    What exactly does the outside world contribute to Cairo that it would not if everyone moved? I mean,does government pay extra for people to live in log cabins in the woods? How would that be different from the world of Cairo residents?

  4. mainmata Says:

    Wow, after your post, I read the Wikipedia entry for Cairo since I used to live in the original Cairo, which is pronounced al-qawhiraw, BTW (and Egyptians actually call their country "Misr" (transliterated, of course). Anyway, it appears that Cairo, IL was kind of doomed from the start. It was built at the lowest point of any city/town in IL and subject to constant seasonal flooding. First mistake. Its occupation by the Union Army during the Civil War diverted a lot of business to Chicago. Still great post-Civil War economy until the late 19th century. It has had well over a century of really horrible race relations. All the rail and road bridges across the Mississippi bypassed the city. Basically, the city has only a little over 2,000 residents, as you noted. Apparently, it's a museum of Victorian architecture as well so maybe it should just be turned into a theme park. It seems to have been a serious geographical mistake (understandable at the time) that just got worse basically because the populace couldn't get along and evidently were really bad at lobbying for their city's economic fortunes.

  5. mainmata Says:

    Replying to Jestbill, sorry, I must disagree. Humans are social animals. Paying people to live in a sad, dead city with few communal ties is not really fair. Probably, most of them are older folks who need a more vibrant community.

  6. Monkey Business Says:

    I wrote an article on this very topic a few months ago after taking a flight from Chicago to Indianapolis. When you fly as often as I do, especially at night, you realize that there are hundreds of Cairo's, all over the country. These are tiny towns, built around steamboats that never arrived, tourist attractions that didn't pay off, and railroads and highway bypasses that never got built, that have stuck around for decades out of something approaching sheer spite. You have factory towns dotting the midwest – places that sprung up around steel mills and coal mines and factories that are still there, long after the mills and mines and factories have closed and left for Mexico or China or somewhere else.

    The truth is that these are hopeless places, kept alive by virtue of government assistance and the occasional weary traveler in need of a tank of gas or cup of coffee. No sane businessman is rushing out to build a factory in a place like Cairo, and even if they were no bank would agree to finance it. Whatever intellectual talent these places might have has long since left for far greener pastures, so the only people left are the ones too old, too stupid, or too stubborn to go somewhere else.

    Then you have West Virginia.

    If there were ever such a thing as a "failed state" in the US, West Virginia would probably be it. An economy propped up by a dying industry that on it's own would be about the same size as Iraq, a population that's ranked as one of the most miserable, unhealthy, uneducated group of people in the entire country, and a terrain that's suitable for looking at wistfully and walking around in and pulling something very specific out of but not much else.

    At some point, someone has to ask why these places are allowed to continue to exist. Rugged individualism is great, but there are liberal AND conservative arguments to be made for Ed's economic condemnation. If you're a liberal, these people are suffering from a lack of basic services and would be better served by closer proximity to a metropolitan area. If you're conservative, the free market has abandoned these places and they should be allowed to die, free from government interference.

    As Spock once said about the Klingons in Star Trek VI: "They are dying." And as Kirk retorted, "Let them die."

  7. rustonite Says:

    Add Homer, Louisiana to the list.

  8. RP Says:

    If it's in the heartland, it must stand.

  9. Manifest Irony Says:

    The major public expense for a place like Cairo, IL is flood protection. The place is right at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. This means it's incredibly susceptible to flooding from either river system. I have to agree with Ed. It's cheaper to offer less than 2,500 a new life somewhere else than it is to maintain the levees protecting the city. Let it revert to the wetland it once was.

  10. Major Kong Says:

    Minimum basic income sounds like a great idea.

    I'm sure the Kochs, Mercers, Waltons, Silicon-Valley libertarians and their pet congressmen will sign off on it any day now.

    Seriously, in what bizarre alternate reality do you think Paul Fucking Ryan is going to sign off on Minimum Basic Income?

    As Jay Gould said in the last Gilded Age:

    "I can just pay half the working class to kill the other half"

  11. Bob Says:

    I attended Southern Illinois University from 1976 – 1983 and went to Cairo sometime during that period – I'll guess 1981. It was all but a ghost town then. But it wasn't the worst place in Illinois. That title belonged to National City, which was a true company town, owned lock, stock, and barrel by the St. Louis National Stockyards Company. In 1996 the Company evicted all the residents and within the year or two it was razed.
    Surprised no one has mentioned Cairo's central role in Huckleberry Finn.

  12. Major Kong Says:

    @Bob

    SIU, as I'm sure you know, had a reputation as a "party school" back then.

    It was probably around 1980-81 that some of us took a road trip down from U of I for the big Halloween party down there.

  13. FastEddie Says:

    We drove through what is left of Carrier Mills, IL last year. Same thing. These ghost town are kept alive by government pensions and Medicare. Pull the plug. The #1 construction project is senior living / nursing home. Move those folks into better, cheaper care and let Cairo go back to the river.

  14. democommie Says:

    "As Jay Gould said in the last Gilded Age:

    "I can just pay half the working class to kill the other half"

    I suspect that Mr. Gould would have found out that once taken off the leash mobs, paid or otherwise ARE mobs.

  15. oiojes Says:

    Bad as Cairo is, I'll see it and raise East Saint Louis. There are failed cities and cities that have gone through failure and come out the other side into toxic.

    Here's the wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_St._Louis,_Illinois

    According to the 2006 statistics, it had 20 times the national murder rate. It's probably less now since there are fewer people.

  16. carrstone Says:

    Typical progressive agenda stuff – Nanny knows best!

    Never mind what plans the residents might have – just "give every home or property owner in the city a check for their property and send them on their way …. Just pull the plug. The place is finished. Go."

    What a boon that the government can be relied upon to be the shameless poking-in of the nose in the affairs of man.

    Where were you, Ed, in 2008? Did you subscribe to bank bailouts, stimulus programs, quantitative easing or did you, even then, hold the sensible opinion that "…with a handful of the worst cases, it would make sense to ask what rationale there is for trying to save [banks]that are too far gone to ever recover when the [bailout money]could be better used to [enable]… citizens [to achieve] meaningful improvements…"?

    You might have told us then!

  17. OtherAndrew Says:

    Actually, I'm pretty sure that Ed is on record being against the bank bailouts.

  18. drouse Says:

    I wouldn't be so quick to abandon large swaths of country just because they have no more economic value. There is an argument to pay the cost of what is essentially a caretaker population. You running a anti-government group, criminal organization, or your garden variety outlaw biker gang? Need a base of operations? Pick a town, any town. No need to "take over" because there is no population. Just move in. Even failing infrastructure will work for these groups and if things get too trashed, just move. Then throw in billionaires who figure out that they can buy entire counties for their personal playgrounds on the cheap.

  19. Ten Bears Says:

    Flogging a dead horse. Bunch of little towns like that.

  20. JB in Walla Walla Says:

    "When a description of your location uses both "Paducah" and "one hour from," you are admitting defeat."

    I can't stop laughing.

  21. Sour Kraut Says:

    Or we could send gallstone to give the residents another hollow lecture about bootstraps and personal responsibility. Perhaps they'll be kind enough not to beat him afterwards.

  22. Steve Holt! Says:

    It ain't just the Midwest – The Grande Olde South is full of these towns too. My hometown in the middle of NC has had so many foreclosures that there are entire neighborhoods full of abandoned, rotting homes that were inhabited by textile and furniture workers 40 years ago. Literally the only jobs that have been available for at least fifteen years have been government subsidized certified nursing assistant gigs, and so many people have entered this vocation that these people are commuting to other bigger cities to do their $9phr jobs, when they can get them. Drug abuse is rampant, burglaries happen every day and the police department is a very unfunny joke.

  23. Major Kong Says:

    Actually I was in favor of the bank bailouts, even though I found them distasteful.

    The result of not bailing them out would likely have been catastrophic.

    Unlike the average GOPer these days, I'm not going to live in Mad Max just to be ideologically correct.

  24. Brian M Says:

    Steve Holt: Look at a Zillow map of Cleveland, Ohio. A sea of blue dots in the "urban prairie" of the East Side. Detroit is not the only city that has faced widespread abandonment….just the most publicized.

  25. Brian M Says:

    Major Kong: The federal government should have followed the Swedish approach from a few years back…nationalize them, break them up, sell them off to better "stewards". Instead, they just enabled the damn things to grow even bigger and funded some juicy bonuses.

    I would pay to see Jamie Dimond's smirk wiped off his face.

  26. Major Kong Says:

    There is plenty of money in Detroit, it's just out in the suburbs like Novi and Farmington Hills.

    We lay over in Novi. The other pilot is usually surprised it's not the post-apocalyptic hellscape the local news down in San Antonio assured him it was.

  27. Major Kong Says:

    @Brian

    I totally agree. Iceland actually went one step further and put some "banksters" in jail.

  28. Ten Bears Says:

    That whole Black Tuesday "Banksters jumping out of skyscrapers" canard is just that: a canard. They didn't jump.

  29. seniorscrub Says:

    Thanks, Ed. You've probably given Trump an idea…
    "And after we restore all the coal, China won't know what hit them, it'll be such a win, the jobs in coal will be good paying, the best, jobs, we're going to save the riverboats, believe me I know rivers, and boats! Big boats, and the jobs will be the best, so many jobs you won't know what to do with them. The best."

  30. mothra Says:

    Oh, you don't know pathetic until you've gone to Budville, NM.

  31. democommie Says:

    "believe me I know rivers, and boats! Big boats, and the jobs will be the best, so many jobs you won't know what to do with them. The best."

    Sidewheeler or sternwheeler? Who gives a shit? As long as it burns good, GODfearing white oak!

  32. Safety Man! Says:

    I dunno. If I were a software developer or freelancer, I would choose Cairo over LA, provided I worked almost entirely online. I'm not being hypothetical, I just took a job in Eastern Kentucky because living in DC, after three separate promotions I'm still magically paying almost exactly 1/2 my take home income in rent, every time. In KY, even with a 16k paycut, rent is so low my take home income stays the same. Worth noting that I'm a straight white male though, so I don't have as much to worry about culture-wise.

    Tl; dr maybe the ways forward are the job sectors that are completely unhitched from geographic location. That and Universal Basic Income.

  33. Major Kong Says:

    I am fortunate that I can live anywhere I want, as long as I show up for my airline trip.

    I stay in Columbus OH because it has most "big city" amenities but is still pretty affordable.

  34. Brian M Says:

    Safety Man: I am looking to retire soon. due to my own failures at being an "adult", I am not a homeowner, and absent a LOTTO prize, there is no way in heck I can buy a retirement home in California (my current rental is not forever. My landlady will eventually retire herself). I love Northern California, but jeezou…to buy a crappy 1975 ranch house in a bad neighborhood costs $300K (at least…until the market crashes). So, am looking at the homeland (Fort Wayne, Indiana) The landscape is so…boring (corn stubble and flat for miles) but the City is actually looking up and trying really hard. Plus, the glory days were the late 19th/early 20th centuries, so some beautiful old neighborhoods-many of which that did not collapse totally at all.

    SPOKANE, despite its many problems, might be another option. Home prices are a good $100k+ below coastal markets, and you have mountains and rivers and lakes and fantastic road cycling.

  35. Bob Spelled Backwards Says:

    The whole, "This is where I'm from" and "This is where my Great-Great-Great Grandpappy settled" crap drives me nuts. Unless you are of native descent, your ancestors that originally settled there faced the reality that there was no more opportunity where they currently were (and their family had previously settled) and uprooted everything in their lives in search for more opportunity elsewhere. Some across continents by horse and oceans by sail with language differences. Now moving 4 hours away by air conditioned vehicles to St. Louis or Louisville where they speak the same language and offer much more opportunity would be too much of a burden because you'd have to find 2 or 3 new radio stations during the trip.

    I'm from rural farming Kansas. It's great that there are people that can produce so much food that so many others can live in cities and produce other goods and services but I see so many of my family and HS classmates that aren't involved with farming floundering with no or low opportunities just because their families moved to that area in the 1860s-1880s. Suck it up and honor your ancestor's courage by moving on to the current opportunities. It has never been easier.

  36. Scotius Says:

    I can see how both sides of the "let the towns die" and "no, let them live" have a point. The one problem we have is that these discussions are taking place on blogs rather than in DC or the Sunday talk shows. There are entire regions of the country that have entered into an economic tailspin out of which they cannot possibly retrieve themselves without outside help. At the moment, Congress, the White House and the national media are doing sweet fuck all to adress this.

  37. Scotius Says:

    @oiojes
    I was reading up on National City, IL that Bob mentioned upthread. It was a suburb of East Saint Louis. I just can't imagine a place like East Saint Louis actually having suburbs. That would imply people living just outside of a city that are drawn to its amenities.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_City,_Illinois

  38. BubbaDave Says:

    The whole, "This is where I'm from" and "This is where my Great-Great-Great Grandpappy settled" crap drives me nuts. Unless you are of native descent your ancestors that originally settled there faced the reality that there was no more opportunity where they currently were

    Pretty sure a significant proportion of the remaining Cairo residents are from ancestry that did not voluntarily choose to take an intercontinental boat ride to explore the exciting new opportunities in the field of picking cotton.

  39. Bitter Scribe Says:

    Is there such a thing as a professional ghost town? Maybe a city-sized version of a haunted house?

    Sorry. Don't mean to be flippant. But I honestly don't know what can be done here.

  40. Katydid Says:

    I've also been waffling on the "save ALL the towns!"/"let them go with dignity" debate. I live in an overcrowded area. The traffic jams are just tragic. A common comparison is the "rats in a cage" analogy. Get one rat, put it in a cage; no problem; happy rat. Get another rat, still no problem. Put 50 rats in the same cage and it devolves into Thunderdome. Wouldn't it be nifty if more people could continue to live in their small towns and enjoy life?

    OTOH, how exactly do we save all the dying small towns? My spouse is from a tiny town in western NY state. In 1900 there were 90,000 people. In 2000 there were 6,000 people. It's a beautiful town; several green parks, a downtown area right on the Erie Canal (that's got paved towpaths that you can push a stroller or roller skate or walk for miles), a small library, a tiny hospital, some gorgeous Victorian houses. Unfortunately, since the railroad and the canal are no longer valuable transportation resources, everyone has to drive to Buffalo or Rochester for work. The jobs started leaving those cities in the 1970s. The town is valiantly trying to save itself by appealing to tourists and build up its downtown. I wish them luck; I'd love to retire there.

  41. mago Says:

    If it ever falls my lot to teach Huckleberry Finn again, I'll know how to pronounce KAY row.
    Thanks Ed for another post on Places I've Never Been and Never Want to See.
    Jesus. I live such a sheltered life.

  42. Heisenberg Says:

    "your ancestors that originally settled there faced the reality that there was no more opportunity where they currently were (and their family had previously settled) and uprooted everything in their lives in search for more opportunity elsewhere…. Suck it up and honor your ancestor's courage by moving on to the current opportunities."

    Excellent argument that I've never thought of before.

  43. Major Kong Says:

    My in-laws live in Vinton County Ohio, population 15,000.

    Part of Appalachia, it's culturally and economically pretty much West Virginia.

    Most industry moved out of there long ago. There are jobs to be had in Columbus, a mere 90 minutes away, but they don't want to leave their "country lifestyle".

    So they stay down there and work whatever crappy jobs Vinton County has to offer, and live an hour away from a grocery store and 90 minutes away from decent medical care.

    Oh well. Life is full of choices.

  44. greatlaurel Says:

    @Major Kong In the 1800's Vinton County, Ohio had several charcoal iron furnaces. There were a number of the charcoal iron furnaces located in Southern Ohio and Northern Kentucky. The iron ore was found in the Hanging Rock Iron Region which extends from Greenup County, Kentucky to Hocking County, Ohio. This was a massive industry and employed thousands of people. No one mourns the loss of these jobs and the towns that disappeared after the furnaces all closed down. It took 200 to 600 acres of hardwood timber to produce charcoal to feed each furnace. I have seen pictures of the time that show the completely denuded landscape of Vinton County, which lead to massive soil erosion and degradation of the streams and loss of species. The air pollution from charcoal production is massive. "The discovery of the really immense supply of iron ore in the Lake Superior Region led to the decline of the Hanging Rock Iron Region with the last furnace, Jefferson, west of Oak Hill, “blowing out” in 1916." http://www.oldeforester.com/ironintr.htm. These furnaces produced the iron for the Merrimack and the Monitor and cannons for the civil war. The Hope Furnace, located in the Lake Hope State Park, in Vinton County, operated from 1854 to 1875. Here is a link about the furnace http://www.oldeforester.com/Hope.htm

  45. greatlaurel Says:

    The deterioration of small towns that used to serve family farms is directly linked to the policies of the GOP. The destruction of the family farm economy was started by Nixon to keep commodity prices low during Nixon's massive escalation of the Vietnam War. Reagan and his minders took it to another level, along with the 2 Bushes. Obama was not helped by hiring the vile Vilsack as Ag Secretary. (Obama's two greatest mistakes were Vilsack and Duncan at Education) Driving small farmers off the land allows the concentration of the agricultural lands and their wealth into fewer and fewer hands.

    Thanks to right wing radio and the purchase of nearly every small town newspaper by the far right media conglomerates , these people keep voting for the very politicians that will continue to make their lives more and more difficult.

    Many people think farm life is stultifying, but I have known a number of farmers who were always interested in trying new things and learning about just about anything. The family farm economy supported small businesses that allowed a wide variety of jobs and opportunities. The American economy will always be based in agriculture until the soils are eroded away. That is why the Kochs and their ilk are determined to hoover up the land and its wealth for themselves. The destruction of the farm economy and its take over by oligarchs is a terrifying situation that no one wants to challenge. Although Hillary Clinton did have some good ideas in her campaign, far better than Obama. No wonder the GOP was wild to stop her.

    @Katydid The reason those small towns in upstate New York are dwindling away is directly linked to the loss of the family farms that used to abound there. There is no better place for dairy farms than the snow belt from Northern Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. They are all gone due to bST and the mega-dairies owned by giant corporations(which produce mega amounts of manure that runs off into the Great Lakes, especially Lake Erie). Thanks for the reminder.

  46. Safety Man! Says:

    To those that doubt Katydid, they actually proved that one about the rats empirically.

    Brian M, imo three states that are good for retirement income are Texas, Florida, and Delaware, as all three, as far as I know, don't assess state income tax, or at least not on retirees.

  47. Katydid Says:

    @GreatLaurel; in the case of that particular small town in upstate NY, the problem is more the collapse of canal and trains to transport goods. At its heyday, the town had a furniture factory, a nut factory (as in tree nuts, not lug nuts), a toy factory, and a couple of decades later, a tire factory joined them. There was also a National Guard outpost and just outside of town there were (and still are) various farms of various sizes.

    When my spouse was growing up, the town boasted two supermarkets, a grand movie theater, several restaurants, two drugstores, a bookstore, a catalog-order branch of Montgomery Ward *and* Sears (you go in and place an order directly with the company using the catalog) in addition to the library and the other stuff. There was also an elementary school, junior high, and high school all within the town limits.

  48. HoosierPoli Says:

    All I can see in those pictures is all the beautiful pre-war architecture that is being left to rot while suburbs full of McMansions and modern condominium monstrosities spring out of the earth in the sprawl of pustules like Northern Virginia and the Bay Area.

    Sure these towns are dead, but the infrastructure and history that dies with them are a profound loss.

  49. greatlaurel Says:

    @katydid my comment makes a little less sense as my first comment did not post for some reason. I hope to repost it. Your points are well taken about the loss of the factories. When did the factories start to close? The transportation issues would certainly be an issue, especially when fuel prices peaked under Shrub. However, having driven through upstate New York the loss of family farms from one decade to the next was astounding. There are still farms, but many fewer and much of land is held by absentee landlords, thus the wealth is taken away from the communities where the commodities are grown.

    There have been many waves of industrialization that have run through North America. The cycle of boom and bust advantages the moneyed classes. The working classes have to straggle from industry to industry The working classes continuously face desperation while the jobs they depended on disappear in each wave of industrialization and deindustrialization.

    The family farm economy was a brake on this cycle by allowing people the dignity and dependability by owning their land and homes. Even if one crop failed most family farms(east of the Mississippi anyway) could depend on other crops to make it through to the next year to ward off starvation and at least pay the property taxes. Hogs, dairy, eggs and tobacco were considered mortgage makers by many.

    My point is the loss of family farms has been devastating to the American economy. Each town used to have at least one, usually two, grain elevators, parts and implement dealers, hardware stores, car dealers, drug stores, grocery stores, clothing stores etc… As the farms were sold off to larger land holders, all these middle class businesses dried up pretty quickly. The only choice for most people was move to bigger towns desperately looking for some sort of stability. Right wing propaganda has laid the blame on women, POC and government regulation, but the GOP policies destroying family farms is at the base of this cycle. This process concentrates money in the hands of a few and this ripples through the entire economic structure as fewer people have money to buy the things that used to be produced in those factories.

  50. greatlaurel Says:

    @Major Kong In the 1800's Vinton County, Ohio had several charcoal iron furnaces. There were a number of the charcoal iron furnaces located in Southern Ohio and Northern Kentucky. The iron ore was found in the Hanging Rock Iron Region which extends from Greenup County, Kentucky to Hocking County, Ohio. This was a massive industry and employed thousands of people. No one mourns the loss of these jobs and the towns that disappeared now after the furnaces all closed down. It took 200 to 600 acres of hardwood timber per year to produce charcoal to feed each furnace. I have seen pictures of the time that show the completely denuded landscape of Vinton County, which lead to massive soil erosion and degradation of the streams and loss of species. The air pollution from charcoal production was massive leaving the citizens suffering from terrible illnesses. "The discovery of the really immense supply of iron ore in the Lake Superior Region led to the decline of the Hanging Rock Iron Region with the last furnace, Jefferson, west of Oak Hill, “blowing out” in 1916." This quote is from the old forester blog that has a lot of historical information about Southern Ohio. These furnaces produced the iron for the Merrimack and the Monitor and cannons for the civil war. The Hope Furnace, located in the Lake Hope State Park, in Vinton County, operated from 1854 to 1875.

    Vinton County is the poster child of extractive industries. The timber, iron ore, limestone and coal have been extracted from the county enriching the moneyed classes while the land and people are impoverished. The coal and timber barons destroy the land and leave behind impoverished people dealing with poisoned land and water. The only jobs are in the extractive industries, so the victims of the endless cycle of abuse vote for their abusers. As you point out, medical care is bad. The schools are horrendously underfunded. With poor schools and no infrastructure, attracting new industries are impossible.

  51. Katydid Says:

    @GrealLaurel; not arguing with you at all about the small family farms. One of my do-gooder habits is to buy my eggs, chickens, and meat from small family farms in my area. I belong to a CSA (farm-share) for my veggies. A couple of years back, that year's CSA lost his farm through a combination of the worst weather at the worst time. I made a very good friend who's a farmer an hour away from me–I drive up to her place twice a year to buy a quarter of a cow (it's cut into pieces and wrapped).

    I can't speak about the agriculture in New York because I don't know a thing about it–my inlaws live "in town". Oh, wait, I can–there's a seasonal farmer's market in town and the year we were up there that happened to coincide with a farmer's market day, we walked downtown (4 blocks) and I stocked up on berries, flowers, honey and baked treats for the house (I bought something from each farmer). My in-laws think I'm a bit nutty anyway, and I was sad that it didn't even occur to them to buy from their local farmers.

  52. Katydid Says:

    So, back to the rats (thanks for backing me up, SafetyMan!). I live in an area that has mucho employment opportunities. The good side of this is, well, employment. The bad side is the unceasing development–tacky crappy townhouses, condos, and $800,000 McMansions-on-a-tenth-of-an-acre.

    A common topic of conversation around my area is the complete and utter idiocy of the drivers. Several highways are known for always having an accident on it at all times–the best you can hope for is that the accident is upstream from you to give you a break in the traffic. One of my kids is in college 22 miles from the house, and it can take 2 hours to get there because traffic simply doesn't move for about six hours a day. I've been taking the rescue pup to a training class 11 miles from my house in the opposite direction from the college, and every.single.week it's taken an hour because of an accident that bogs down traffic.

    Another topic of conversation around my area is the complete and utter idiocy of the people who cram the stores, movies, parks, and basically any public places.

    A large part of the problem is tha the population has overwhelmed the area. The physical dimensions of the area haven't changed, but the amount of people in it has quintupled in the past 20 years. Too many rats in a cage. Trying to get a gallon of milk out of the cold case in the grocery store, but there's someone parked in front of it furiously posting pictures of the cheese to Facebook? Don't politely ask them to move, because they'll stab you. (This actually happened recently and was written up in the local newspaper.) Stuck on the road behind someone going 25 in a 55 and weaving as they text furiously? Don't go around them, because they'll notice and speed up and try to ram you off the road for "disrespecting them" (also true story). Are these the actions of sane people? Nope.

  53. Fiddlin Bill Says:

    Go to Portsmouth Island, NC sometime. It was once a major port, with a military hospital. It is now part of the Outer Banks National Seashore, and the last permanent residents moved away in the early '70s. You can get there by private skiff from Ocracoke, or on a private ferry from Cedar Island, NC and walk about 12 miles or so up the beach to the town.

  54. Noah Says:

    @Katydid If this isn't NoVA I will eat my hat.

  55. Davis X. Machina Says:

    @Katydid If this isn't NoVA I will eat my hat.

    Could just as well be Atlanta.

  56. Katydid Says:

    @Noah; as a matter of fact, it is, but it could just as easily be anywhere within 100 miles of Washington DC.

  57. I'll be Frank Says:

    Just having Cairo is very expensive. When the Mississippi floods sufficiently, the Corp blows up the levee at Bird's Point to "save" Cairo. Then when the water recedes the Corp has to rebuild the levee and restore Bird's Point. It clearly costs more to "save" Cairo than it is worth.

  58. TakomaMark Says:

    @ Brian M…indeed Detroit became the poster child for a phenomenon that affected many other cities (former poster child? Pittsburg) including Cleveland, Buffalo, Milwaukee, St. Louis and probably dozens of other smaller examples.

    On your retirement destination if you're considering Indiana I'd recommend looking just a bit further North to West Michigan. It is still topographically challenged compared to California, but has more roll than most of Indiana. Housing is affordable compared to CA, and there are tons of lakes, rivers, forests, beaches, sand dunes, and of course Lake Michigan to provide recreational opportunities. Lots of snow in the winter is a downside unless you take up cross country skiing.

  59. bob Says:

    I don't know why you feel the need to knock Paducah. I drove through it once and spent a few hours there – a pleasant little town
    http://www.paducahky.gov/museums

  60. Brian M Says:

    Takoma:

    Grand Rapids looks pretty neat as a city, but the domination of the regional culture by hard core Calvinism is a big turnoff.

    Of course, Spokane has its own nasty cultural aspects (not that far from Northern Idaho), but….maybe it (and GR) are large enough to have some cultural diversity. Spokane is sure tighty-whitey though, demographics-wise. (LOL).

  61. xulon Says:

    Wasn't all this the purported rationale for Michigan's horrible Emergency Administrator Law? We'll take it over and administer right without interference from the actual citizens. Of course, Michigan is run by greedy, mean-spirited people owned by the DeVos family. The only thing they care about is enriching their owners for free.

  62. bs Says:

    GR has a large Vietnamese population, which means the concomitant Pho restaurants, shops & the like. But it's very economically segregated. East Grand Rapids is lily-white & butt rich. The city will have "Blues on the mall" & ice skating in the winter, so the DeVos' at least throw the proles some scraps.