The Flinchum File
Thoughtful Economic Analysis and Existential Opinions

Only 99% Responsible

01/13/2021

Maybe it was my strict Southern Baptist upbringing, but I always feel some responsibility when bad things happen, and not many things are worse than the attack on our Capitol last week.

Of course, my responsibility is tiny, but I do feel some tiny sympathy for the thugs and hooligans attacking us.  Most of them come from small towns with limp economies, which were badly hurt by globalization.  I was an enthusiastic supporter of globalization in 1972 and still am today.  Economist after economist testified before Congress that year on the impact of globalization from NAFTA.  No conscientious member of Congress could have been unaware of the impact on small “company” towns and their workers.  Naturally, Congress promised to provide extensive job training and relocation assistance.  Naturally, they did not!

J.D. Vance’s landmark 2018 book Hillbilly Elegy described the impact on small town workers after two decades of broken dreams and no reason to hope.  Stuck with underfunded schools and health care, they became understandably bitter and resentful of “the elites” with good education and good jobs and a superior attitude.  I benefited from globalization, but they suffered from it.  They don’t like me, and I don’t blame them.

The point is not to excuse their heinous attack on our Capitol.  I hope everyone of them goes to jail.  The point is that Congress also deserves some blame for taking the benefits of globalization and not paying the costs of retraining and relocation resulting from globalization.  Congress double-crossed those under-educated small town workers, especially those in “company” towns.  The workers paid the costs of globalization with a lower standard of living, with reduced opportunity, and with reduced self-respect.  I understand their anger and think they are only 99% responsible.

There is no excusing what they did, but understanding it may help us avoid a repeat.

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