from Follow the Money

Christmas Kansan

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That would be me.  

I like David Brooks’ pop sociology – for all its inaccuracies -- better than I like his politics.

And when he used the term Christmas Ohioan in his Times Select column two weeks, I felt a pang of recognition.

Ohioans are leaving the state, only to return for the holidays, because manufacturing is shedding jobs.   Some of that is byproduct of productivity growth.   More goods can be made with fewer people.  Some, I suspect, is the by product of global competition – including the impact of competition spurred by exchanges rates that the central banks of some manufacturing powerhouses have kept lower than they otherwise would be.

Kansans are leaving the state because of agricultural productivity growth, not Argentine exchange rate manipulation.   One man (or woman), a modern tractor and a modern combine can grow an awful lot of wheat – a lot more than a man, an old tractor and an old combine, let alone a man, a team of horses and threshing machine.  


One Walmart, a fleet of trucks, an interstate, a global supply chain and customers willing to drive an hour for a bargain (that is part of Walmart’s distribution) can sell the goods formerly sold by a lot of small stories – and generally with fewer workers and lower price. 

Some of the labor no longer needed to work the land and the shops that sell to those who work the land ends up in university towns in the Midwest.   Some ends up in suburban Kansas City.  Some ends up in DC.  And some ends up in New York City. 

I grew up in a (thriving) university town, not a (slowing shrinking) small market town built around a grain elevator, the local bank and the country courthouse. But I am still touched by occasional story about small town Kansas that runs in the Times, particularly if the story is done well.   I am aware that change – Schumpeter’s creative destruction – sometimes doesn’t just mean moving into new activities.   Sometimes it also means moving away.

Those who have left are not in the greatest position to comment on the politics of those who have not.    But I am heartened by stories that suggest Kansan politics is returning to the center – after a long period when it drifted away.

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