Appalachia and the Rust Belt Do Not Need Big Government

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by Robert Carbery

Laura Reston and Sara Jones wrote an April piece in the New Republic about why Appalachia needs big government.
 
In the article, they lay out why the Appalachian Regional Commission, or ARC, is an example of big government at its best. And with Trump’s budget taking aim at this extra layer of government bureaucracy, the authors declare that the president has abandoned this part of the country that helped propel him to victory last fall.
 
Places like Hancock County, Tennessee, have seen manufacturing jobs disappear over the last decade. Plants are moving to China. Coal jobs are vanishing. Since Hillary Clinton overlooked the Rust Belt and much of Appalachia, almost 83% of Hancock voted for Donald Trump, the highest of any county in Tennessee. This result also played out in rural Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan.
 
Reston and Jones think that since places like Hancock and other poor counties in these suffering towns in the once industrial Midwest rely on federal funding for basic services, this must continue in perpetuity. As if a commission funneling money from the federal government to the state government is the only way to take care of these folks who need the most help.
 
While President Trump has promised a sizable government that can take care of everyone in this country, he is also being a realist and getting our outsized spending habits in order. The current administration is thinking about the taxpayer funding countless projects in addition to the many Americans becoming increasingly reliant on government handouts just to get by.
 
Perhaps the Democrats could use Trump’s cut to their advantage by doing what they always do and call the Republican move as mean-spirited and heartless. At this point, I doubt those in Appalachia are clamoring for more big government. They want actual results. Sure, many want the freebies, but in the end they want what is best for them and their families.
 
J.D. Vance’s mesmerizing memoir, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, discusses what is really going on through his life story growing up in northern Kentucky then later Ohio as his family and others in that part of the country struggled to keep it together. His prescriptions to alleviating the pain being felt by many white working class families and others like his is that it comes down to culture and family. Big government solutions will likely produce nothing positive.  
 
For example, Vance believes that social services systems need to adjust how they treat convoluted families like his. Vance’s mother dealt with drug problems and he spent much of his time living with his grandparents. He knew social services were there to protect him, but he quickly realized they were obstacles he would have to overcome. When he told social services he’d like to continue his arrangement of living with his grandparents most of the time, they responded that the courts would not necessarily sanction that, seeing his grandparents as untrained caretakers “without a foster license (243).” So in order to stay with his family and not have his mom hauled off to prison for too long, he kept his mouth shut to avoid the foster care system. Therefore, Vance thinks the definition of family needs to be expanded to include grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles.
 
There is no government solution to this problem. Only people can fix what is wrong in Appalachia. As Vance wrote, “These problems were not created by governments or corporations or anyone else. We created them, and only we can fix them” (256). Vance writes that we need to stop blaming the government for problems that are tied to how a family functions and a culture develops in a certain region. Focusing on what we can actually do to make our lives better is all that matters. The closer to the individual/family and farther away from big government, the better.
 
In an exciting development, just when no one thought the coal jobs would ever come back, a new coal plant was opened up outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania this week. This is how government can help ailing states and cities across the country, by installing an economic environment that allows for maximum job growth, especially in hard hit industries like fossil fuels. The CEO of the plant said there were 70 positions available and 400 people applied.
 
There’s room for growth. People want to get to work. Now let’s get the government out of the way and create a culture that rewards hard work for those willing to put forth the effort.

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