The Corner

Politics & Policy

WFB on the White Working-Class Conundrum

In 1959’s Up from Liberalism, William F. Buckley Jr. made some observations that seem to me precisely relevant to the current debate under way in these pages between our friends J. D. Vance, David French, et al., in response to Tucker Carlson. WFB writes:

As I write there is mass suffering in Harlan County, Kentucky, where coal mining has become unprofitable, and a whole community is desolate. The liberal solution is: immediate and sustained federal subsidies. The conservative, breasting the emotional surf, will begin by saying that it was many years ago foreseeable that coal mining in Harlan County was becoming unprofitable, and that the humane course would have been to face up to that reality by permitting the marketplace, through the exertion of economic pressures of mounting intensity, to require resettlement. That was not done for the coal miners (they were shielded from reality by a combination of state and union aid), any more than it is now being done for marginal farmers; so that we are face to face with an acute emergency for which there is admittedly no thinkable alternative to immediate relief—if necessary (though it is not) by the federal government; otherwise by the surrounding communities, or the state of Kentucky. But arrangements for relief having been made, what then? Will the grandsons of the Harlan County coal miners be mining coal, to be sold to the government at a pegged price, all this to spare today’s coal miners the ordeal of looking for other occupations?

The entire essay, in fact, is worth revisiting in light of our current debate.

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