Paul Krugman: A Hammock In Kentucky?:
National Review has an actually interesting report by Kevin Williamson on the state of Appalachia... [the] moral: the big problem, it argues, is the way government aid creates dependency. It’s the Paul Ryan notion of the safety net as a 'hammock'.... But do the facts about Appalachia actually support this view? No, they don’t. Indeed, even the facts presented in the article don’t....
Williamson dismisses suggestions that economic factors might be driving social collapse: 'If you go looking for the catastrophe that laid this area low, you’ll eventually discover a terrifying story: Nothing happened.' But he almost immediately contradicts himself, noting that employment in eastern Kentucky has fallen with the decline of coal and what little manufacturing the area once had.... The underlying story of Appalachia is in fact one of declining opportunity.... Is it any surprise that people have turned to food stamps? And what would they do if they didn’t have food stamps? Williamson is too good a reporter to argue that people could find jobs in eastern Kentucky if only they really wanted to work.
Instead, he implicitly argues that the 'dole' fosters dependency by allowing people to stay in their home counties rather than going someplace else. Maybe--but as he also notes, many people are leaving.... My take on Williamson’s report (like my take on Charles Murray’s recent book) is that it basically says that William Julius Wilson was right. Wilson famously argued that the social troubles of urban blacks emerged, not because there was something inherently wrong with their culture, but because job opportunities in inner cities dried up. Sure enough, when the God-fearing (and definitely white) people of Appalachia face a loss of employment opportunity, their region turns into what Williamson calls the Great White Ghetto.
And this in turn says that the problem isn’t that we’re becoming a nation of takers; it’s the fact that we’re becoming a nation that doesn’t offer enough economic opportunity to the bottom half, or maybe even the bottom 80 percent, of its citizens.