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A geographer's theory of regional inequality as a cause of revolt (bloomberg.com)
61 points by blegh 70 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 50 comments

The same argument has been made by Christophe Guilly, another geographer, this time from France, starting about 3-4 years ago. From his wiki page (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christophe_Guilluy):

> In France, Christophe Guilluy has got notability with his theory about la France périphérique (peripheral France). In his different books he stated that a great part of the political elite has lost contact to the popular classes mainly situated in rural France, which he defined as the France périphérique. Guilluy has also tried to explain the rise of the National Front in France. In the international Academia his work is currently unknown.[1] Guilluy has also tried to explain the vote for Trump with the existence of a peripheral America in an interview in the French magazine Le Point.[2]

I’ve just finished reading one of his books, he totally deserves to be better known in the Anglo-Saxon world because he makes a lot of sense in what he’s saying.

Should English speakers who are not Anglo-Saxon also read him? Or is he only relevant in to the communities that descent largely from English settlers and have never had to deal with the political consequences of influence from for instance Celtic or Asian or African communities?

In these parts of Europe from where I’m from “the Anglo-Saxon world” is used as a (apparently not so good) metaphor for the United States and Britain, because that’s where most of the “intellectual” books written in English are published (the big universities’ publishing houses in US + NYC, OxBridge+London+maybe Edinburgh). It probably sucks for some people who are from Cornwall or the Isle of Man, but in the end it’s just an expression.

It's a kind of metonymy; you don't take it literally. Like if someone says 'we don't want another Chernobyl' it does not mean literally they don't want a replica of a town in Ukraine. It means they don't want to have a situation where an nuclear disaster could happen.

Coming to a city from one of the depressed regions this rings true for me. People want themselves and their communities to matter - the cold hand of capitalism and progress hasn’t done them any favors in the last few decades. All it takes is a drive to the (non-coastal) countryside to see. There’s a reason voters there are more interested in being against something than for it, and our political discourse has devolved to troll tactics and attention grabbing on the rural right.

We may be past the point of even being able to listen and change anyone’s mind - the solution needs to come from within the right, or a major real reworking of the economic state to include rural prosperity somehow.

I wouldn't count on any "major real reworking of the economic state".

The reality is, lots of people have been asking for just that for a long time, and it's not come to fruition because it is an extremely difficult thing to do.

Consider Native Americans. They wanted change for years, and essentially had to start casinos to begin making headway. Even now, a material number of tribes and reservations are still racked by poverty, and are unable to participate in the vast majority of legal industrial activities at scale. The system has not changed for them, some of them have simply been forced to find a method of adapting to the economic system that we have.

Blacks are another example. They're a group that has agitated for change for what seems like an eternity. It's similarly doubtful that the system will change for them either. The ones who have found success are the ones willing to leave their neighborhoods and participate in the larger economy not on their own terms, but on terms set by that larger economy.

I actually would like for a new economic state to take hold that would include people who concerned thinkers have termed "those left behind". It's just that, given the interests embedded in the current system, I can't see how it will change. As I pointed out, many groups have tried previously, and tried for a very long time, yet we still have the same system in place. The best we seem to be able to do, is to allot a few set asides for the purposes of elevating a chosen few of "those left behind". I suspect we'll follow a similar path in the instance of rural "left behinds". But my suspicion is that the inertia in our system will mean that wholesale change to accommodate the majority of "those left behind" is not likely to occur.

It hasn't come to fruition because the people they vote for have no intention of living up to their publicly stated goals.

Their implicit goals are “we are going to win at all costs against the other team” and at that point they’ve succeeded enough to have a huge amount of ongoing support.

> Blacks are another example. They're a group that has agitated for change for what seems like an eternity. It's similarly doubtful that the system will change for them either.

What sort of change are you referring to? Surely by any metric the situation for black Americans has improved tremendously?

Economic situation is not great for black Americans on average: https://jacobinmag.com/2017/12/obama-foreclosure-crisis-weal...

TLDR: Obama is responsible for the housing bubble.

Which is absurd.

Right, but it's undeniably better than it was, which indicates change is possible if hard.

> include rural prosperity

The United States has just shy of one billion acres of farmland. In 2014 The United States had an agriculture export surplus of almost 40 billion dollars. The current Farm Bill, and the historical trend, pushes the market towards consolidation and mono-crops. In 2014 we produced 54 billion dollars of corn, and our 10th biggest crop (barley) was 0.9 billion dollars. The median farm income in 2014 was $-118.

If you want to increase the wealth of rural America I suggest looking for ways to make small to mid sized farming profitable. We are literally covered in farmable land, and rural areas will be better at it then urban areas for a long time.

I think that ship really has sailed, as there is no longer the expertise and it would be a considerable downgrade in supply to switch back to smaller farms (though I support lessening the burden).

The idea of call centers and "remote" workplaces come to mind frequently - in theory anywhere with an internet connection should be able to find people cheap to do any digital work that needs doing. We need to find a way to not concentrate all the wealth in cities.

Re "We need to find a way to not concentrate all the wealth in cities." You have the crux of the matter right, but the goal might be unattainable in practice.

Urbanization is currently a strong force in all economies. In the developing world, it mostly isn't a bad thing because it improves conditions for migrants from rural areas.

It's an open question whether it's a bad thing in developed economies, especially if it reduces the kind of residual racism and intolerance that brews in the countryside. It's not just economic poverty that is reduced by urbanization.

In other words, the calls for understanding "flyover country" and healing the rural economy can prove to be futile. If they are futile or unrealistic, what then?

It certainly could be, but the jury is still out - plenty of things could come in and change the calculus. I’m not of the opinion that it’s a foregone conclusion, but I also don’t have a whole lot of ideas as to how to make that part of the country support the people living in it.

Call centers and remote offices under perform their Head Quarters counterpart. The best building to work (for your career) is almost always the one where the C-suite has their offices.

Of course they do, but do they underperform to the point that the cost difference means nothing? I’d argue there’s plenty of room for lower efficiency but at vastly lower cost. If you have an office of 1000 employees making $60k vs $100k you’re saving at least 25% (after benefits/healthcare), let alone real estate. You could operate offices at 75% productivity and still come ahead, no? I ask out of actual curiosity.

Why? Small to mid-sized farming is inherently less efficient than large scale farming. Yes, there's a market in designer kale, but it's tiny. Farm efficiency is a great achievement. In 1820, about 77% of US workers were in "farm occupations". Today, 1.5%. Now that's productivity.

Efficiency isn't an absolute good. It can, in cases, be an unambiguous bad.

If, for example, we're going to premise a society on "having jobs" then efficiency-ing those jobs out of existence might not be the wisest move, all in — especially if, to The Fine Article's point, we do so in a manner that adversely affects some regions disproportionately.

(Yes, there are always alternative jobs. They may not be palatable, or the society in question may not offer meaningful forms of skills transitioning. Or people might be stuck where they are for reasons beyond their control. "But efficiency!" isn't very comforting to someone who's out of work and starving.)

EDIT: phrasing.

> Yes, there are always alternative jobs.

We have no proof of this, and the "gig economy" suggests quite strongly to the contrary.

Given that the "gig economy" generally represents jobs of last resort, what happens when we automate those away?

You're right; I spoke hyperbolically, to fend off pointless counter-arguments of the "the invention of cars put buggy-whip manufacturers out of business, but look how many jobs that created!" sort.

In the short-to-medium term, there aren't enough jobs to go around. Automation is only making that worse, and we haven't yet come up with a meaningful alternative for the folks who are being displaced. As for the long term, my crystal ball doesn't work too well, that far out.

Maybe we will come up with something for them, but the alternatives I've seen tossed around suggest everyone will end up trying to market someone else's products, or services jobs. It doesn't strike me as readily apparent there will be enough of those jobs to go around, either.

So, it's perhaps more accurate to say "there are always alternative jobs, but probably not for everyone", which really just reinforces the point that efficiency-ing away this thing we've predicated the functioning of our society upon doesn't ultimately serve us very well.

Maximally efficient is minimally robust.

Perhaps we should prioritize food supply reliability over maximal efficiency.

If shipping around the world suddenly stopped (perhaps due to war), our food supply would become very unhealthy with very little choice until we had a growing season or two to rediversify.

Sane definitions of "efficiency" don't mean that the people producing food have an average income in the negative numbers, nor that they're forced to use crop choices and fertilization methods that kill the land over time. That's not efficient, just exploitative and brittle.

Efficiency is a lousy primary metric to run a society by.


A lot of intelligent hard working people believe in a zero sum world, or at least they look at the decay around them and compare it to the idea that the rest of the country is prosperous. They vote for whomever claims to be against the “rest” of the country, or at least pretends to be on their side. Comments like Cousin Cletus make them damn certain who isn’t on their side.

> The way in which "places that don't matter" have taken their political revenge fits this pattern, too. They have put a premium on drawing attention to themselves even if it costs them.

Fascinating. That analysis sounds very much like the assessment of hostage-taker motivations that FBI hostage negotiators have built their more modern negotiation techniques around (see for example the book “Never Split the Difference”). Riffing on that thought, it feels like Trump’s verbal handling of them aligns much more closely with the FBI negotiators’ recommended techniques than Hilary’s verbal handling of them (hers is a better fit to the FBI’s older more intellectually focused less emotionally focused strategy that was abandoned in the wake of the Waco disaster).

My pet theory is, that it's all about the exposure to the realities of other people in daily life, not through warped representations in the media. Population density correlates well with political preferences[1]. That regions don't need to be forgotten shows the example of wealthy Austria, where the FPÖ gets majorities anywhere not densely urban. I would put the threshold somewhere around 1000 to 5000 people/km².

Also rich gated or very segregated neighborhoods, where people are rarely step out side their homogenous envirements or cars fall under this extrapolation of the contact hypothesis in relation to suspectability to populism for me.

[1] https://medium.com/@davetroy/is-population-density-the-key-t...


Over time, those that are able to move to areas of growth do so, leaving those who didn't leave behind.

This movement of people ensures that the urban-rural divide, as well as the growth-stagnation divide will persist, because the working definitions will naturally fit around the current facts on the ground.

This is neither a new phenomenon, nor freshly articulated. For example, much of Thomas Jefferson's political career was devoted to addressing issues of the urban-rural divide in the early United States.

> Over time, those that are able to move to areas of growth do so, leaving those who didn't leave behind.

> This movement of people ensures that the urban-rural divide, as well as the growth-stagnation divide will persist

Counterexamples are Sweden and Norway. A century ago they were stagnation areas with people moving away. Today they're more affluent than areas they were losing population to.

The tide can change.


Good watch which talks about rural populism in the 1800s quite a bit.

HN title is incorrect. Should be:

How the 'Places That Don't Matter' Fueled Populism

We changed it to a shortened version of the subtitle in keeping with the HN guideline "Please use the original title, unless it is misleading or linkbait." The article title was arguably a bit baity—on the edge, admittedly, but threads are sensitive to initial conditions and the title is the biggest initial condition.

The article's subtitle is more useful though.

George Washington and Mahatma Gandhi might disagree that this is a "new" theory.

The thing is (at least in the US), it's not the case that these places "don't matter". In fact, they matter disproportionately more. Living in a populous state, say CA as the most popular, costs voters power.

A CA electoral college delegate represents the will of ~710,000 voters. A WY delegate represents the will of only ~200,000 voters, so a vote in WY counts more than 3x as much as a vote in CA. (For much the same reason, congress also sees disproportionate representation of smaller states, since the number of senators is fixed.)

Not to mention gerrymandering results in outsized influence of rural/urban boundaries as well.

> so a vote in WY counts more than 3x as much as a vote in CA

It seems like that would only matter, if politicians had to win votes person-by-person. But instead, influence is peddled to subcultures. "Urban blacks", "coal miners", "white supremacists", "tech entrepreneurs", etc. And effort spent appealing to urban blacks will get you votes all over the country, as opposed to appealing to coal miners which will net you support in certain parts of Wyoming and West Virginia.

I think buying a coal miner vote is more expensive than a latino vote, considering the amount of influence both groups yield.

In the sense of strict voting power of course, that's the point of our government setup, a minimization of the influence of 'centers of power.' But rural voters feel alienated from the actual politicians they're able to pick. Take a look at all the top Republicans and Democrats, the ones who are in the news. What has any of them done to help revitalize rural areas? Trump is the only one I can think of that has promised some effort to the problem and even he isn't going to follow through except for a few token, small measures. 'Political elites' don't actually do anything for rural voters despite rural voting power. Hence the breakdown in those areas.

"...But rural voters feel alienated from the actual politicians they're able to pick. Take a look at all the top Republicans and Democrats, the ones who are in the news. What has any of them done to help revitalize rural areas?..."

That's a complaint which is not particular to rural voters though right? The same can be said of the impoverished urban masses gripped by hopelessness and drug activity. Or the impoverished suburban masses gripped by hopelessness and an opioid epidemic.

Many voters all over the US "... feel alienated from the actual politicians they're able to pick..."

Closing the chasm between leaders and those being led is an age old problem. It's a problem that was likely present in every great civilization.

Yes but cities and suburbs aren't degrading in the ways that rural areas are. I agree that most americans probably sense a divide between their own values and those of the 'political class' but if there's still job opportunity and people are still moving in and home values are still appreciating then they just deal with it. In rural areas though, the jobs are disappearing and people are moving away, entire towns just fading out of existence. They need a politician to step in

I'm just pointing out that in many, many urban areas, "...the jobs are disappearing and people are moving away...". I mean, we can debate the point, but I'd argue that this is what happened to Detroit, Youngstown, Gary, etc etc etc. So it's something that has been happening for a long time, and continues to happen today. And it has happened to many, many different parts of the country. That was the only point I was making.

Everyone in the US will be a lot better off if they just doubled the size of the House. Then there would be a lot more people looking for a lot more jobs. Congress members would begin to represent areas that are only inhumanly large instead of areas that are monstrously large. This benefits rural residents most clearly.

And the democratic principle would be more perfectly approached: At the moment, there's 436 democratically allocated seats in presidential elections, versus 102 non-democratically allocated seats. With a doubled congress, it would be more like 872 give-or-take versus 102 (the exact number will depend on how many congress seats Wyoming earns, as this affects the number of college seats DC receives). This benefits urban residents most clearly.

>Everyone in the US will be a lot better off if they just doubled the size of the House.

>This benefits urban residents most clearly.

Yeah it benefits urban residents at the expense of rural residents. There's no way you can claim it would make everyone better off, it reduces rural voting power in presidential elections.

If he actually manages to halt massive importation of cheap labor, which directly competes with these people, both less-educated rural whites and less-educated urban blacks will quickly see wage increases. If you have tons of under-educated poor people without jobs, the last thing you want to do is import more.

Gerrymandering is arguably the principal corrosive agent in the gears of American democracy. It's in complete opposition to 'one person, one vote' as a foundational principle of electoral efficacy.

See [1] and [2]: in [2], about half-way through when the interview topic turns to gerrymandering.

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/10/the-lea...

[2] https://www.npr.org/2018/02/08/584243140/with-closed-circuit...

The Electoral College is also a Gerrymander, in effect. Because low-density states are overrepresented in the Senate and in presidential elections, we get a government that is out of step with the population.

The Senate would be difficult to fix, but House district gerrymandering and a national popular vote for President would be helpful improvements.

Title should be "Geographer claims old theory of regional inequality as his own".

OK, we've taken 'new' out of the title above.

This article absolutely drips with arrogance and unconscious bias. It even mentions allocating "blame"!

TL;DR: People from unimportant areas who don't vote correctly are merely vengeful simpletons having knee-jerk reactions. This is the reason we enlightened people from coastal US cities have been thwarted.

Please don't post rants on divisive topics. That's one reason the site guidelines include this: "Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize."


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