DR: Every time I get to D.C., [the question] I always ask is: What caused the recession? I know it is a simpleton’s question, but the way in which they answer gives me some idea about how well people understand the economy. By their defining the origins of the problem, you can get some sense of where they see the solution lying. Frankly, I’m still trying to decide for myself what caused the recession. Everybody did everything rationally. Everybody responded rationally to the market and to the system, and yet it still imploded.
There’s a real question here about whether this is a flaw in capitalism, or whether this is a flaw in the people who are supposed live in a free market system. What people aren’t asking is: Is the system flawed, and if so, how? And is it a system that can be fixed by regulation, or fixed by deregulation, or is it just inherently a flawed system, but just the one we’re gonna have to deal with?
That’s the only national story that I would either like to write or like to read. Other than that, I want to tell very intimate stories, because that’s really the only way to explain the economy to people is through themselves.
KB: What’s in the pipeline for you?
DR: I would like to take a bit of a look at young people entering the job market. This is a theory that I’m still noodling around with, but I think we see a more defined and more deeply etched line between various classes. I think we’re developing an economic and social caste system in this country, and I think it’s going to be reflected in the many measures in the fate of the kids who graduate from the Ivy League schools, versus the kids who graduate from state schools, versus the kids who graduate from community colleges. Meritocracy gives way to a sort of redefined aristocracy and I’m wondering what this is going to look like, what this is going to reflect. I don’t see too many Yale people sitting out there asking if I have an extra quarter. But, I get the feeling I’m going to see a few kids from branch campuses and no-name colleges finding themselves in that.
I’m also interested in the connection between geographic isolation and economic struggle. Emporium was an excellent example of that. People live there because they want to live there. People often times live in places because that’s where they choose to live. And this sense of place is put at risk, it can be lost.
I learned this myself because I was born and raised in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. My plan as a young man was to live my life there. To me it was all the city that I needed and it was all the place that I wanted. In 1977, the steel industry started to go. There was really nothing left there for me, and I had to go.
I am curious as to the different ways that this depression will displace people, physically, emotionally, culturally. I see a huge potential for a ripple effect. We’re not going to see people traveling like the Okies in the 1930s, but we’re going to see changes just as significant, and just as important, and, I fear, maybe just as unfortunate.