For-Profit Democracy: Why the Government Is Losing the Trust of Rural America

Loka Ashwood. Yale Univ., $40 (328p) ISBN 978-0-300-21535-9
Auburn University agricultural economist and sociologist Ashwood relocated to rural Burke County, Ga., to better understand the growing distrust between the government and rural populations for this thought-provoking investigation. She chose the location because the extremely poor county is home to the first new nuclear power plant built in the U.S. in decades, and the process by which the for-profit companies that own the plants took the land of poor disenfranchised residents, polluted and eroded the country’s natural resources, then found a loophole to avoid paying much-needed taxes to the county, illustrates what she refers to as the “public-private fallacy” that prioritizes benefits to corporations over those of individuals, leading to a system in which profit creation drives policy. While this sounds like a relatively academic concept, the work itself is character-driven, affecting, and philosophical. Recounting many of the interviews she conducted with more than 80 people, Ashwood successfully illustrates the human impact of eminent domain and abstract-seeming ideas such as what she terms “the rule of numbers.” She argues that a centuries-old preference for privatization and industrialization in places like Burke County has germinated loss of faith in the government, and highlights the stories of Burke County residents William Gresham and Lela Roberts, who oppose the for-profit democracy ethos through civil disobedience–for instance, treating the land now owned by the plants as though they still belong to the locals—and religion. A more intellectual cousin to recent cultural soul-searching works like J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, this is an accessible exploration of how government affects and is perceived by rural Americans. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/07/2018
Release date: 06/26/2018
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