What the People of Appalachia Want

The narrative Stoll substitutes is less linear. Subsistence farming isn’t a relic of the past but a means of life made nearly impossible in Appalachia, certainly not because of historical progress but because of dispossession. Farmers grew what they could, hunted what they could, consumed what they desired and exchanged the rest to fulfill various wants and desires. But population expansion and the requirements of industrialization overwhelmed the ecological basic that subsistence farmers depended on. This drove persons to wage-earning do the job, which in turn accelerated the disappearance of the subsistence farm. The aged homestead might have been tough, nonetheless it supplied the necessities of lifestyle along with independence. The wage-based economy, alternatively, fostered dependence, powerlessness and the privation that comes with depending on the boom-and-bust cycle.


If you couldn’t tell already, Stoll has a viewpoint. He clarifies that he favors “democratic socialism” and a “reinvention of the nation-state.” As a good conservative, I frequently have a unique viewpoint. Stoll’s criticisms of the marketplace economy are sometimes needlessly polemic. Capitalism features its problems, of study course. But “Ramp Hollow” is sometimes hence earnest that it ignores obvious complications because of its core thesis. Unquestionably, a lot of West Virginia family members experienced in the boom-and-bust coal economy of the first 20th century. But the wealth made in the capitalist economy didn’t merely enrich the coal barons, it also enabled the advancement of new technologies, drugs and professions that manufactured various lives materially better. Above the 20-12 months period from 1920 to 1940, for instance, child and maternal mortality dropped precipitously in West Virginia.

The book’s great strength is that it acknowledges something our politics often does not: that not everyone wants the same things or possesses the same preferences. Stoll discusses the difference between “lowlanders” and “highlanders” of Appalachia, implicitly revealing the importance of culture. “Mountaineers had a need to think differently about how precisely they did things” about the rapidly changing dynamics of commercial agriculture, he writes. “But they approached the landscape with longstanding assumptions that they cannot (or wouldn’t normally) adapt or abandon.”

For many, an improved future – the American dream, you may call it – isn’t about yachts and private jets, but about simpler pursuits: family comfort rather than wealth, stability rather than dynamism and a life rooted in a thriving community instead of individual achievement. Our general public policy often ignores this, pretending, for instance, that struggling persons just need a great educational or work possibility to achieve some measure of success in the present day economy. But probably they need different things – emotional abilities that their traumatic family lifestyle deprived them of; a social community or civic group that behavior or circumstance destroyed. Or, as Stoll encourages us to consider, probably they don’t want “achievements” in the present day economy at all. Probably they merely want a nice fire and a nice backyard. “Ramp Hollow” reminds us that integrating some persons in to the modern economy will always be a difficult concern, even as Stoll inquiries the wisdom of this integration in the first place.

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I disagreed with much of this challenging, interesting and engrossing reserve. Nonetheless it made me think. And that, it appears to me, may be the whole point.

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