Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Rust Belt Deorai

The concept of economic refugee is controversial. To relocate for financial gain is a rational choice. Yet seeking opportunity via relocation doesn't mean the migrant wanted to leave. He or she might feel forced to go elsewhere. Subjectively, they are refugees. Objectively, they are run-of-the-mill economic migrants.

Refugee or not, many migrants maintain a deep attachment to the homeland. I see that in the Rust Belt Diaspora, exceptionally so for Pittsburgh natives. That's why when I see a good international diaspora story, I take notes. From Ireland:

The visitors came at the invitation of Ireland Reaching Out, an organization that just put on its first Week of Welcomes after a year spent tracking down the descendants of Galway exiles and preparing for their return.

“The project is based on a very simple idea: Instead of waiting for people of Irish heritage to trace their roots, we go the other way,” said Mike Feerick, who has been leading the charge to rekindle ties between the Irish and their diaspora.

“The people who left Ireland were in some sense the best part of us,” said Stephen Kinsella, an economist at the University of Limerick. “They were the most dynamic, the most ambitious, the most willing to succeed, and we did not give them the conditions where they could succeed.” ...

... “I want Ireland to start thinking of itself not as a physical place, but as a people,” Mr. Feerick said, and he wants it to start acting like it, too, through local projects like the one in Galway.

The last two comments form the crux of my post. The people who left the Rust Belt were the best part of those struggling communities. That's the brain drain problem. The brightest are the most able and willing to leave. Hence, calling myself a "Rust Belt Refugee" is disingenuous. My father's move to improve was a strategic decision.

The second comment is the solution to the brain drain problem. Fixing the Rust Belt on a map is a debate, not a fact. Beyond reproach is someone who identifies with the Rust Belt. You don't have to be born there in order to feel a deep connection to Pittsburgh.

That connection is a pathway for economic development. That's diaspora economics. The Rust Belt is the most prodigious producer of talent the world has ever seen. Why that matters is the way forward for shrinking communities.


rootvg said...

Jim, we know what the problem is back home. You and I and others have discussed this almost to the point of exhaustion.

A major issue is demographics, specifically all the blue collar old folks (and those who think like them to gain political favor in their communities) and until they're either pushed out of the way or die off, the region will not rebound. They are strangling that place.

It's not just Ohio. It's older and poorer parts of Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan without preexisting traditions of college attendance among most of the population. The region's leaders are more focused on getting kids to high school graduation than to college graduation...and that is about the blue collar culture and long history of class struggle and class hatred.

It's culture, demographics and then outdated standards for public education and physical infrastructure. Judging from the opposition to SB 5 that appears to be assembling in Ohio, it looks as though once again the "we don't need that" and "we don't want change" crowd will win at the polls in November. Then you'll REALLY see a flood of bodies out of that place. Where will they go? I'm guessing Florida, the Carolinas, Georgia and then Texas. Dallas is going crazy again, just as it did in the mid nineties when I lived there.

So, Jim...what does a nice four bedroom/three bath in Fairfax cost these days?

Jim Russell said...


I ended up in Loudoun County, Leesburg. Fairfax was out of my price range for a 4 bedroom/3 bath. I'm greatly impressed with the Economic Development Authority in Fairfax County.

rootvg said...

If my wife didn't have a guaranteed pension here, we would be right with you.

You'll like Leesburg.

Jim Russell said...

I already love Leesburg. I want to raise my kids here.

rootvg said...

There used to be a place catty corner from the outlet mall on Olde Route 7 called Johnson's Charcoal House of Beef. It was basically an old fashioned diner that served top drawer steaks. It was straight out of 1962 when you walked in there: old floors, worn out leather booths, gun racks on the wall, etc. I never missed it when we visited up there. Someone said it was recently torn down to make way for (another) Chevy Chase Bank branch. When I heard that I cried.

There's also a very nice general aviation airport at Leesburg. FAA Washington Center is located on Olde 7 so it stands to reason they would only have the best.

Jim Russell said...

That part of Leesburg is all strip mall development now. Some good hole-in-the-wall ethnic eats to be found. That's about it.