The Hollowing Out of America*

The Hollowing Out of America

There have always been two Americas: the rural, onetime agricultural America; and the urban, once the-center-of-manufacturing America. In 1900, America was a rural country with a rural-to-urban population ratio of 60:40. By 1950, the country had become urbanized with a ratio of 40:60. And by 2010, urbanization accompanied by significant de-unionization had become dominant with a rural-to-urban ratio of 15:85. The substantial majority of Americans today are concentrated in urban megalopolises like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth. Only 19{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35} of Americans currently live on 97{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35} of America’s land mass. More than 80{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35} live in cities. The South and Midwest boast an urban population of only 76{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35}, while the West and Northeast are over 87.5{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35} urbanites. That significantly differentiates the East and West coasts of America (and several interior cities) from its vast center … and especially from its South. These two Americas, however, no longer are divided into agricultural America and manufacturing America.

Which two Americas are they?

Urban areas are wealthier than rural ones … and getting wealthier, though not because of increased manufacturing or union-negotiated wage increases. The cities and the coasts have become complex business hubs (for research and technology, medicine, entertainment, the financial industry, etc.) attracting the highly-educated together with service workers to support increased urban demand. The multi-faceted nature of cities has made them serious job-creators that attract workers at all income levels. It has made the two coasts and America’s major cities economically stronger than the South and Midwest. Urban areas provide everything from education to transportation to entertainment to broad social connectivity … and they therefore attract younger Americans in ways that non-urban areas cannot. Rural areas for the most part provide fewer educational opportunities, inferior (and more costly) transportation, little in the way of non-wired entertainment, and limited social contacts … and, as a consequence, fewer employment options and opportunities. In addition, automation is continuing to reduce the need for farmworkers or, at least, for those who aren’t lowly-paid illegal immigrants. Autonomous tractors, after all, can work 24/7. Farm work has zero attraction for upwardly mobile young men and women, the substantial majority of whom have received some level of 21st Century college education. As a result, less than 1{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35} of Americans currently work on farms … compared with 12.2{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35} in 1950. With fewer farmworkers, towns, villages and businesses that once supported agriculture have been emptying as well. Their distance from urban areas has largely determined their destiny. With the U.S. highway system connecting cities hundreds of miles apart – primarily on the East and West coasts – what was once farm and forest land has become part of growing interconnected exurbs … and the towns and villages not abutting major connecting highways have seen time pass them by. Educational institutions that once were remote ivory tower havens have, by reason of their embedded faculties, research facilities and conveyer-belted alums, attracted businesses, then workers, and then larger companies that turned them into centers of urbanization. Witness Stanford, Duke, the University of North Carolina, the University of Texas, the University of California, and the University of Michigan. These multi-decade-long trends continue to worsen the economic divide between the two Americas.

America’s middle continues to be hollowed out …, and not only economically. Middle America also is being hollowed out socially.

It’s tempting to see the issue as one of extremes, as coal versus solar power, or a struggle between liberals and conservatives, or the socially-conscious and the socially-conservative, or rich and poor, or the religious right and the atheist left …, but that oversimplifies. The divide includes all of those large differences … and many smaller ones. It’s between small-town thinking and big city perspectives, between those resistant to change and those embracing it, between the old ways that die hard and the new ways that necessity is foisting on city-dwellers … ways that, in reality, are being forced on all of America and the rest of the world as well. Some call it progress …, while others call it by nastier names. For everyone, however, it’s change … and these days, that change has become pretty radical.

Those who are comfortable with rural living and rural values avoid the cities and disparage the city lifestyle. These Middle Americans are staunch nationalists, adhering to America’s historical values and defending America’s fundamental Judeo-Christian way of life. They have eschewed shunned disdained the significant changes and difficulties that urban living would require and traded the possibility of a better economic life for the status quo – the comfort, stability and historical confirmation of their rural roots. They are surrounded by similarly-minded friends and relatives whose beliefs are self-supporting … and uniform. Social media confirm their value system.

That makes it cultural as well. America has become divided between two very different American cultures. Middle Americans worry torment themselves about jobs and wages and lost economic opportunities. Most believe that the benefits of change have been unfairly doled out to those in the cities and on the coasts. They’re worried about the character of American society and feel alienated from those in the big cities who they believe consider themselves somehow better, smarter because they graduated from so-called elite “East Coast” colleges and universities – in short, the unfairly privileged who have lost the essence of what it means to be American. Distance means that Middle Americans interact less with immigrants and are removed from the diverse cultural mixing found in cities. They are alarmed by news reports of aliens pouring over America’s borders and by the prospect of being overwhelmed by a non-white majority. Middle Americans are threatened by the changing times … and by those in the cities and on the coasts who have embraced the changes and whose beliefs, culture and economics have become so very different from theirs.

The obverse is true of Americans in urban areas. They fail to understand the issues facing their country cousins and are consumed by their own uniquely difficult modern issues. Unlike Middle Americans, they are less insulated from global events and therefore are more sensitive to and alarmed by them. They also are forced to engage with foreign tourists and businesspeople, with foreign trade and traders and with immigrant groups and, as a consequence, have a different opinion of foreigners and globalization … and of immigration. Unlike Middle America, nearly every large American city has seen skyrocketing housing costs with unnerving budget deficits and worsening traffic, parking, transit and homelessness … none of which are issues for rural America. Urbanites therefore see it as their due to receive greater consideration from the Federal government … and a larger piece of the local pie from their State governments.

Advances in technology were supposed to decentralize American cities, rendering the over-concentration of urbanized workers obsolete through tele-commuting and cloud computerization and returning hardworking Americans to mix with their brethren in the countryside. That hasn’t happened. The future of hollowed out Middle America therefore may already have been written. The future of America’s cities hasn’t.

Finally (from a good friend)

Intelligence Test:

It’s July, the time of year for your annual intelligence test.

Exercise of the brain is as important as exercise of the muscles. As we grow older, it’s important to keep mentally alert. If you don’t use it, you lose it! Below is a very private way to gauge your loss or non-loss of intelligence. Take the test presented here to determine if you’re losing it or not. The spaces below are so you don’t see the answers until you’ve made your answer.

Five seconds per question … don’t think too much. It’s much better if you read the question aloud to yourself and then attempt the answer at once. Have Fun!!!

OK, relax, clear your mind and begin.

  1. What do you put in a toaster?

Answer: “Bread.” If you said “toast,” give up now and do something else. Try not to hurt yourself. If you said, bread, go to Question 2.

  1. Say “silk” five times. Now spell “silk.” What do cows drink?

Answer: Cows drink water. If you said “milk,” don’t attempt the next question. Your brain is over-stressed and may even overheat. Content yourself with reading more appropriate literature such as Auto World. However, if you said “water,” proceed to question 3.

3. If a red house is made from red bricks and a blue house is made from blue bricks and a pink house is made from pink bricks and a black house is made from black bricks, what is a green house made from?

Answer: Greenhouses are made from glass. If you said “green bricks,” why are you still reading these??? If you said “glass,” go on to Question 4.

  1. It’s twenty years ago, and a plane is flying at 20,000 feet over Germany (as you recall, Germany at the time was politically divided into West Germany and East Germany). Anyway, during the flight, two engines fail. The pilot, realizing that the last remaining engine is also failing, decides on a crash landing procedure. Unfortunately, the engine fails before he can do so and the plane fatally crashes smack in the middle of “no man’s land” between East Germany and West Germany. Where would you bury the survivors? East Germany, West Germany, or “no man’s land”?

Answer: You don’t bury survivors. If you said ANYTHING else, you’re a dunce and you must stop. If you said, “You don’t bury survivors,” proceed to the next question.

  1. Without using a calculator – You are driving a bus from London to Milford Haven in Wales. In London, 17 people get on the bus. In Reading, six people get off the bus and nine people get on. In Swindon, two people get off and four get on. In Cardiff, 11 people get off and 16 people get on. In Swansea, three people get off and five people get on. In Carmathen, six people get off and three get on. You then arrive at Milford Haven. What was the name of the bus driver?Answer: Oh, for crying out loud! Don’t you remember your own name? It was YOU!!

Now pass this along to your friends and pray that they do better than you.
PS: 95{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35} of people fail to correctly answer most of the questions.

*┬® Copyright 2019 by William Natbony. All rights reserved.

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