Why I’m Moving Home
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.
Experts have warned for years now that our rates of geographic mobility have fallen to troubling lows. Given that some areas have unemployment rates around 2 percent and others many times that, this lack of movement may mean joblessness for those who could otherwise work.
But 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.
The brain drain also encourages a uniquely modern form of cultural detachment. Eventually, the young people who’ve moved out marry — typically to partners with similar economic prospects. They raise children in increasingly segregated neighborhoods, giving rise to something the conservative scholar Charles Murray calls “super ZIPs.” These super ZIPs are veritable bastions of opportunity and optimism, places where divorce and joblessness are rare.
人才流失也推动了一种独特的、现代形式的文化疏离。因为这些离开的年轻人会结婚——通常他们的配偶也具有相似经济前景。他们在日益隔离的社区中抚养孩子，推动了保守派学者查尔斯·默里(Charles Murray)所说的“超级邮编”(Super ZIP)区域的形成。它们是机会和乐观的真正堡垒，离婚和失业在这样的地方很少见。
As one of my college professors recently told me about higher education, “The sociological role we play is to suck talent out of small towns and redistribute it to big cities.” There have always been regional and class inequalities in our society, but the data tells us that we’re living through a unique period of segregation.
This has consequences beyond the purely material. Jesse Sussell and James A. Thomson of the RAND Corporation argue that this geographic sorting has heightened the polarization that now animates politics. This polarization reflects itself not just in our voting patterns, but also in our political culture: Not long before the election, a friend forwarded me a conspiracy theory about Bill and Hillary Clinton’s involvement in a pedophilia ring and asked me whether it was true.
其后果不仅仅是物质上的。兰德公司(RAND Corporation)的杰西·苏塞尔(Jesse Sussell)和詹姆斯·A·汤森(James A. Thomson)认为，这种地理上的分流，突显了牵动当今政治局面的两极分化。而两极分化不仅体现在我们的投票趋势中，也反映在我们的政治文化中：就在大选之前不久，一位朋友转发给我一篇帖子，内容是比尔和希拉里·克林顿参与一个娈童团伙的阴谋论，朋友问我这是不是真的。
It’s easy to dismiss these questions as the ramblings of “fake news” consumers. But the more difficult truth is that people naturally trust the people they know — their friend sharing a story on Facebook — more than strangers who work for faraway institutions. And when we’re surrounded by polarized, ideologically homogeneous crowds, whether online or off, it becomes easier to believe bizarre things about them. This problem runs in both directions: I’ve heard ugly words uttered about “flyover country” and some of its inhabitants from well-educated, generally well-meaning people.
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. It’s jarring to live in a world where every person feels his life will only get better when you came from a world where many rightfully believe that things have become worse. And I’ve suspected that this optimism blinds many in Silicon Valley to the real struggles in other parts of the country. So I decided to move home, to Ohio.
It wasn’t an easy choice. I scaled back my commitments to a job I love because of the relocation. My wife and I worry about the quality of local public schools, and whether she (a San Diego native) could stand the unpredictable weather.
But there were practical reasons to move: I’m founding an organization to combat Ohio’s opioid epidemic. We chose Columbus because I travel a lot, and I need to be centrally located in the state and close to an airport. And the truth is that not every motivation is rational: Part of me loves Ohio simply because it’s home.
I recently asked a friend, Ami Vitori Kimener, how she thought about her own return home. A Georgetown graduate, Ami left a successful career in Washington to start new businesses in Middletown, Ohio. Middletown is in some ways a classic Midwestern city: Once thriving, it was hit hard by the decline of the region’s manufacturing base in recent decades. But the town is showing early signs of revitalization, thanks in part to the efforts of those like Ami.
最近我问一个朋友艾米·菲特丽·科曼纳(Ami Vitori Kimener)，她是怎么考虑回老家的。她毕业于乔治城大学，在华盛顿的职业生涯很成功，但她回到俄亥俄州的米德尔敦开拓新生意。从某种程度上说，米德尔敦是一个典型的中西部城市：曾经蓬勃发展过，但近几十年来，该地区制造业基地的衰落给当地人带来了沉重打击。但是，该市显示了复苏的一些早期迹象，这部分上要归功于艾米这样的人。
Talking with Ami, I realized that we often frame civic responsibility in terms of government taxes and transfer payments, so that our society’s least fortunate families are able to provide basic necessities. But this focus can miss something important: that what many communities need most is not just financial support, but talent and energy and committed citizens to build viable businesses and other civic institutions.
Of course, not every town can or should be saved. Many people should leave struggling places in search of economic opportunity, and many of them won’t be able to return. Some people will move back to their hometowns; others, like me, will move back to their home state. The calculation will undoubtedly differ for each person, as it should. But those of us who are lucky enough to choose where we live would do well to ask ourselves, as part of that calculation, whether the choices we make for ourselves are necessarily the best for our home communities — and for the country.