Thursday, March 16, 2017


J.D. Vance, author of the much-discussed book Hillbilly Elegy, tells us in The New York Times today that he's moving back to Ohio, the state where he grew up:
COLUMBUS, Ohio — In recent months, I’ve frequently found myself in places hit hard by manufacturing job losses, speaking to people affected in various ways. Sometimes, the conversation turns to the conflict people feel between the love of their home and the desire to leave in search of better work.

It’s a conflict I know well: I left my home state, Ohio, for the Marine Corps when I was 19. And while I’ve returned home for months or even years at a time, job opportunities often pull me away.

... from the community’s perspective, mobility can be a problem. The economist Matthew Kahn has shown that in Appalachia, for instance, the highly skilled are much likelier to leave not just their hometowns but also the region as a whole. This is the classic “brain drain” problem: Those who are able to leave very often do.

... I’ve long worried whether I’ve become a part of this problem. For two years, I’d lived in Silicon Valley, surrounded by other highly educated transplants with seemingly perfect lives.... So I decided to move home, to Ohio.
Vance's website tells us that he "grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky"; he has been working "as a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm." The Times piece tells us that he's establishing an anti-opioid organization in Ohio. So he's had success as a financier and an author, and he's returning to the kind of struggling community he came from in order to do good.

Or at least he's moving to the same state where he grew up.

Columbus Monthly tells us:
Columbus has won the J.D. Vance sweepstakes. The "Hillbilly Elegy" author announced on Tuesday he will relocate from San Francisco to Columbus, choosing the Ohio capital over Cincinnati as his new home base....

Though Cincinnati is closer to his hometown, Vance chose Columbus for its more convenient airport, central location and availability of promising job opportunities for his wife, Usha, a lawyer and fellow Yale Law School graduate. Speaking before an event hosted for him at Miranova by Columbus power couple Larry and Donna James, Vance, an Ohio State graduate, said he and his wife plan to move to German Village with their two dogs, Pippin and Casper.
German Village is described in the video below as "the crown jewel in the city's ring of historic neighborhoods ... one of the nation's best-preserved and -reimagined neighborhoods."

Vance may be doing good work, but let's not pretend that he's taking a vow of poverty and living in the depths of grinding poverty. I can't begrudge him that choice, but he wants to retain his comforts and signal his virtue at the same time. (And I bet he'll get a second book out of this move.)

Vance isn't the first to do this. In 2012, when Charles Murray was promoting his book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, he told the Times that more people should emulate him -- he, a cultural elitist, had moved to a rural town in Maryland to live among the proles:
In Belmont, the fictional name Mr. Murray gives to the part of America where the top 20 percent live, divorce is low, the work ethic is strong, religious observance is high, and out-of-wedlock births are all but unheard of. Meanwhile in Fishtown, where the bottom 30 percent live, what Mr. Murray calls America’s four "founding virtues" -- marriage, industriousness, community and faith -- have all but collapsed.

... the people of Belmont ... need to leave their upper-middle-class enclaves and move closer to Fishtown.

That's exactly what Mr. Murray said he did two decades ago, when he and his second wife, Catherine Cox, a retired English professor, moved from Washington to Burkittsville, Md., a historic rural town of about 170 people about 50 miles to the northwest....

Life in Burkittsville, as he described it, approximates the small-town virtues he enjoyed growing up in Newton, Iowa....
As I told you at the time, Burkittsville isn't exactly a rural backwater -- it had a median household income of nearly a $100,000 (now it's over $100,000), and the occasional near-million-dollar home sale. So, again, Murray wasn't taking a poverty vow. He built not only his entire Times interview but an entire book and book tour around virtue signaling.

I also have my suspicions about Ron Fournier, who gave up his job in the D.C. political press last year to move back to him hometown of Detroit -- a life change he proudly announced in The Atlantic. Fournier took a job at Crain's Detroit Business and told us that "The real news in Detroit is revival and reinvention, and" he and his wife would "like to be a small part of it." Personally, I think he just got tired of being attacked for his relentless bothsidesism by wise-asses like me, but maybe I'm giving myself and other Fournier skeptics too much credit. We'll see if his next book is about how interesting and noble his return home has been.

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