Look Homeward, Capital

Ross Douthat has a piece in the New York Times about Lebron James' return to Cleveland. Douthat uses the event as an opportunity to censure highly-educated people who have migrated out of the midwest and towards the coasts:

But elite self-segregation, and what Charles Murray has dubbed the “coming apart” of the professional and working classes,  has also contributed to America’s growing social problems — hardening lines of class and culture, adding layers of misunderstanding and mistrust to an already polarized polity, and leaching brains and social capital from communities that need them most.

Douthat blames the emigration of the highly educated (which he chalks up to "personal and professional" reasons) for the various problems that afflict this region. I know Douthat is prone to chalk up all things to cultural trends, but this is a bit much. The problems of places like Ohio have not been caused by the abandonment of the professional class, but by the ruthless abandonment of capital.
 
As has been extensively documented elsewhere, the Rust Belt, of which Ohio is a part, was absolutely wrecked by deindustrialization starting in the 1970s. As rubber, steel, cars, and all the other manufacturing left, so too did the kinds of good-paying, family-sustaining jobs that make possible vibrant and healthy communities. In its perpetual hunt for greater profits regardless of its cost to people and families, capital left these working class communities to die.
 
As happens when capital floods out, communities ruptured as people left to try to find jobs elsewhere to survive. When 20 percent of manufacturing jobs disappeared in the matter of a decade or so starting in the 1970s, people of all sorts (working class, professional class, and so on) started leaving and never stopped. From 2000 to 2012, Youngstown lost another 21 percent of its population, Cleveland another 19 percent, Dayton 15 percent, Canton and Toledo 10 percent. These emigrants aren't just highly-educated professionals. Everyone goes when capital's departure wrecks the local economy.
 
That Douthat decides to castigate some supposed crush of emigrating professionals is understandable. They end up as the dreaded yuppie social liberals that he loathes more than any other cultural group in the country. If there is a problem in the world and some halfway plausible story can be told that pins it on them, he will get behind that story and tell it often. But this single-minded focus leads him astray from time to time and especially here.
 
Capital's decision to throw away entire parts of the country and great American cities in search of more unearned income for the wealthiest among us is what destroyed these communities. This is what capital does. It is the leading progenitor of throwaway culture. But Douthat lets capital off the hook, as conservatives tend to do. You will never see a Times piece where Douthat lectures capitalists to cut it out and stop abandoning their brothers and sisters in search of greater riches. Capital has no moral obligations to others, it seems.
 
Ultimately, the strangest thing coming from Douthat's piece is the view that the return of coastal professionals would, by itself, do much to fix what's broken in these areas. The return of coastal professionals doesn't bring back the manufacturing jobs that sustained working class families and communities. It doesn't bring any capital investment with it either. At best, some telecommuting coastal professionals could help employ some of the masses of people left poor and unemployed by capital's flight to do low-paid service sector work (in the restaurants and other leisure consumption venues the returned professionals might patronize). That may be better than nothing, but it won't mend what capital broke and families will still suffer from the material hardships associated with the low wages those kinds of jobs will pay.

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