“I don’t want to leave. This is my home.”

From a Tyler Cowen interview of New Yorker writer Larissa MacFarquhar:

COWEN: Your next book is on why people leave American small towns and general issues of geographic mobility. Why has American cross-state mobility fallen so much since the 1980s?

MACFARQUHAR: There is a dominant American mythology that the smart, ambitious, interesting people move. They leave — not just small towns, but anywhere — they leave their homes, and they go somewhere else, partly because they’re restless, partly because they’re curious, and partly because what they want to do is so big, it can’t be done where they are. And that leaves the people who stay looking dull by comparison. But I really want to question that.

The lodestar of this project, at least so far, is the great economist Albert Hirschman’s essay Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. He argued that if you’re discontent with where you are or what product you’re buying, discontent with something, you can do two things: You can exit, which means you can either leave a place or stop buying a product. Or you can exercise voice — you can complain, you can try to change it.

I think this is extraordinarily important when thinking about issues of mobility because if everyone left, if everyone’s response to a bad job or a bad home was to leave, then nothing is fixed. It’s the people who say, “No, actually, I don’t want to leave. This is my home. There are many things wrong with it, but because I don’t want to leave, because I feel attached to it for other reasons, I’m going to fight.”

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