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The American Futures Notebook
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On this page you’ll find notes arising from American Futures project that Deborah and James Fallows have had underway, with appearances on Marketplace radio, since 2013. Their full archive is here.

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Beyond Books: Libraries Reach Out to the Public

A collaboration of libraries and communities around the country Outside The Lines

During our American Futures tour around the country over the past three years, Jim and I have seen libraries, one after another, stretching to engage the people in their communities. They sometimes work in surprising and quite un-library-like ways, at least by traditional measures.

For example, libraries become offices for entrepreneurs and start-ups. They are safe places for children, and sometimes offer supervised homework help and even meals.  Librarians learn how to help patrons with health issues and personal financial challenges.

Libraries are hubs of technology, from helping library users print documents to sponsoring Maker Spaces. And they are centers for the community, providing space for citizenship classes or a corner for seed-lending programs for avid gardeners.

This week, more than 250 libraries and organizations around the country, and actually the world, are busy broadcasting the message of the new relevance of libraries in people’s communities and lives.

Outside the Lines is a week-long celebration of creative library events and experiences to introduce, or re-introduce libraries to their communities. The idea grew from a collaboration between passionate Colorado library directors and marketers, including the Colorado State Library and Anythink Libraries, a public library system in Adams County, Colorado, Erica Grossman of Anythink described to me.

Cattle Drives in Down East Maine

A cowboy with his herd in Maine, en route to Turkey. courtesy Quoddy Tides

Last night my wife Deb put up a report called “Little Town, Big Art.” It’s about how a surprisingly ambitious effort in The Arts—painting, sculpture, photography, drama, music, festivals (like the Pirate Festival underway this weekend), etc.—had given a very small place a much larger economic and cultural presence than it would otherwise have.

Here is a follow-up note on a less artsy aspect of that same place, Eastport, Maine. As I mentioned in this item, “The World Comes to a Tiny Town,” one of the ways in which this part of Down East Maine was connected to the world was by shipping pregnant cows across the Atlantic, mainly to Turkey. That business has become yet another casualty of the horrific warfare in Syria and its spillover effects into Turkey.

Bob Godfrey of Eastport, one of whose careers has been as a photographer, sends an email about the kind of surprise the pregnant cattle brought to his town:

Eastport Update: Electric Power From the Sea

Downtown Eastport, from above, on our previous visit James Fallows

Early in 2014, I wrote a magazine article about the 1,300 residents of Eastport, Maine, with the title “The Little Town That Might.” The theme was that this tiny settlement, on the farthest extreme of Down East Maine just one mile across a strait from Canada’s famous Campobello Island, was trying in every conceivable way to invent a viable economic and cultural future for itself.

It had invested heavily in its very deep-water port (because of the Maine fjords, it is the deepest on the U.S. Atlantic coast) to handle shipments to customers around the world. It was making itself into an arts and tourism center, including whale-watching and other eco-tourism activities along its spectacular coast.

Head Harbour Light, at the far eastern tip of Campobello Island near Eastport (James Fallows)

It was becoming a major salmon-farming locale, in addition to its lobster and scallop industries. An indefatigable group of local citizens pursued plans to redevelop beautiful-but-tattered buildings downtown. And on through a list that you can read about in that article and a number of accompanying posts.

***

There was one more element in the portfolio of Eastport ambitions: a plan to generate electricity from the powerful currents of its Passamaquoddy and Cobscook Bays, which feed into the adjoining and famously tidal Bay of Fundy.

Notes From the Rest of the Country: 'Now That I've Got a Look at This Place, It's Not So Bad!'

Eastport, Maine, "the little town that might," where we're back for a return look at a city trying to remake itself. James Fallows

My wife Deb and I are on the road again this week, but as a reminder of the ongoing theme:

  • People across the country are aware of the serious economic, political, cultural, social, public-health, infrastructure, environmental, and other problems of contemporary America during this Second Gilded Age;  but
  • in most parts of the country, the possibility of dealing with those problems seems closer at hand, and more encouraging, than it does in national politics.

Updates for today:

1. Syrian Refugees in Erie. Two weeks ago, Donald Trump gave a big, angry speech in Erie, Pennsylvania, about the economic decline of the area and the threat posed in particular by Syrian refugees. Just after that, Deb spent time with a Syrian refugee family in Erie. You can read her report here.

The more we have traveled in parts of America that are actively undergoing ethnic and cultural change—whether western Kansas with its Latino immigrants, or South Dakota with its refugee arrivals, or Allentown, Pennsylvania, as it shifts from Pennsylvania Dutch to Latino, or Holland, Michigan, as it shifts from Dutch-Dutch to a more varied population—the more frequently we have witnessed the ongoing power of the American assimilative process.

Around the world and over the eons, ethnic change and newcomer-adjustment has never been automatic or problem-free. But the process moves on more irresistibly in the United States than in most other societies. And based on what we have seen, in most parts of the country it’s occurring with less tumult and trauma than at many other points in our past. (For instance: 1840s; 1880s-1910s; mid-1960s; early 1980s.)

Deb’s report on the Zkrit family—formerly of Aleppo, now of Erie—conveys part of what we have seen. But so does this response, which came in from a reader in the Midwest:

Is it possible to send the Zkrit family packages, welcoming them? Maybe a PO box?

My wife and I have two girls, 8 and 5, and are heartbroken at what is happening to the Syrian people. We’re blessed to know we’ll never know this type of suffering: for ourselves and for our kids.

Deb put the reader in touch with the refugee-resettlement group in Erie. Obviously this is just one note from just one (generous) family. My point for now is how heavily the anecdotal evidence weighs for us on this same side. Over the years we’ve seen and heard more of this kind of response than the “build a wall” “send ’em back” “we don’t want them here!” tone so familiar from political news.

***

2. Where government works, in Oklahoma. When it comes to national voting patterns, Oklahoma is arguably the very most conservative state. The current FiveThirtyEight polls-only reading gives Donald Trump a 99.4 percent chance of victory there. A reader in an Oklahoma city sends this note:

My wife and I were enjoying a libation on the front porch this Sunday evening in the heartland, when we hear someone cry out “Call 911!” We see smoke a few houses down. Within two minutes, the first fire engine. Within 10 minutes, two more, plus police and EMT. [JF: The reader sends a photo of the immediate response, which I’m not using because it would identify the neighborhood.]

After it is clear everything is under control, the fire is out, and the house was empty, we turn to leave. I mention to my neighbors, “Ya know, folks complain about gummint, but look what we just saw happen.” A neighbor replied, “Yep. Gummint works here in *[city name]*...”

And of course by extension it doesn’t work anywhere else.

***

3) Worst place in America. A year ago, Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post wrote that by some objective measures the “worst place” to live in America was the tiny city of Red Lake Falls, Minnesota. Of course he’s aware, as everyone is, that other cities could seem “worst” by other measures. San Bernardino, where Deb and I have spent a lot of time, is arguably worse-off than any other place in California. Mississippi usually has more than its share of “worst” lists. Erie is seriously threatening to close its public high schools.

But Red Lake Falls could make its case. Earlier this year, as a journalistic and data-analysis experiment, Ingraham, his wife, and their small children actually moved there. This past week he wrote about what he has found.

By now you can probably guess what’s coming: Ingraham reports that things are actually going better in this “worst” place than you would ever guess from afar. Sample from his story “What life is really like in ‘America’s worst place to live’”:

The data do not tell you about the relentless industriousness of the people here. Everybody seems to have three or four jobs. One of our neighbors runs a beef cattle operation during the day, drives a bulk mail truck between Fargo and Grand Forks, N.D., at night, and picks up odd trucking jobs here and there on the side. He and his wife built a lovely stone patio behind their house earlier this summer, which I’ve seen them use twice.

The spirit of industry is shared by the younger generations, too. Shortly after we arrived, our friends who run a tubing business in town offered to see whether any of their high school-age summer staff would be interested in babysitting for us on the side. “A lot of the kids are looking for a second job,” they explained. Throughout the summer, kids have stopped by periodically to ask whether there’s any yardwork that needs doing, to make a few bucks for the county fair.

Even though everyone seems to be holding down multiple jobs, opportunities for additional work abound. Around here, you see “help wanted” signs everywhere—at gas stations and restaurants, even hanging on the window at the Red Lake Falls Gazette, the local newspaper serving the town, which publishes once a week.

Statisticians also have not figured out a great way to capture neighborliness, either. Since we moved here three months ago, folks have gone out of their way to help us feel at home.

Of course I realize (as Ingraham must) that the “everyone has three or four jobs” detail could also be a data point for the wage-slavery of modern America. And of course the pressure on middle-income jobs is the fundamental problem of just about every economy in the world, from America’s to China’s to Egypt’s.

But the part of the country where Ingraham now lives, like many others we have visited, was never based on the high-wage factory jobs whose loss has been so traumatic for former paper-mill workers in northern Maine or former steelworkers in Allentown. I know what Ingraham means in talking about “industriousness,” rather than immiseration, as a way some smaller communities have worked for a long time (it is familiar from my small-town upbringing) and that is not automatically associated with economic resentment or fatalism. The piece is very much worth reading.

***

4) The dynamics of news. In the same vein, a reader who I believe lives outside the U.S. writes about the split between widespread pessimism on America’s overall prospects, and much brighter feelings about the parts of America people know first-hand. During the Republican convention, Politico had the headline: “GOP Delegates Say the Economy is Terrible—Except Where They Live.” The reader writes:

If this is a generalized phenomenon, it would seem to be a result of the news and opinion media those folks were ingesting. That is, their view of themselves was sincere and positive but their view of the country as a whole was skewed by the information they were taking in.

The combined reality of each of their data points, however, would actually be that the general malaise we hear about is not supported, at least not by their anecdotal evidence.

What's (Less) the Matter With Kansas

Downtown Dodge City, Kansas James Fallows / The Atlantic

This week’s election news out of Kansas was the defeat in the GOP primaries of some of the hardest-line Tea Party Republicans, at both the Congressional and local- and state-legislative level. The most publicized single upset was that of Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas’s First Congressional District, which covers a huge amount of mainly rural territory in the western half of the state. The “Big First” also includes Dodge City and Garden City, which we began writing about last month.

A theme in the local coverage of these election results, which very powerfully matches what we saw there and plan to discuss further, is the contrast between (on the one hand) the harsh, tribal-friction, polarized tone of today’s national politics plus the very conservative policies that Gov. Sam Brownback and his allies have brought to Kansas, and (on the other) the tone of civic, economic, and educational life at the local level in these same places.

When they went to the polls, residents of the First District and the state as a whole voted for Huelskamp, Brownback, and all Republican presidential candidates in the past 80 years except two. (The exceptions were FDR against their own Alf Landon in 1936, then LBJ against Barry Goldwater in 1964.) But in their community life, they passed a significant permanent sales-tax increase for public investments; a largely white electorate voted a significant bond issue for a public school district with mainly minority students; and handled the complexities of multi-ethnic life in a way different, more “we’re in this together” way from what each night’s news might suggest.

That’s for further elaboration in days to come. For now, my purpose is to point out this latest post by my wife Deb Fallows, about how children of migrant laborers are being educated, cared for, and incorporated in this small city in western Kansas. It follows her report last week on how a similar process is underway at Dodge City High School.

This is operating-level America, which is so many places is practical-minded and inclusive in a way that differs starkly from the campaign struggle that will engage the country for the next 96 days. Our main hope for the country is that this real-world practicality and humanity will prevail. Deb’s story tells you more about it, and also has an embedded video of Edward R. Murrow’s famous Harvest of Shame. As a bonus you see it below.

All this is why, even while going crazy during the election, I feel more positive about the country’s prospects than I otherwise might.

***

The title of this item is obviously an allusion to Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas, about the tension between economic interests there and in other non-super-elite parts of America, and their voting behavior.

A Note About Trumpism, From the Real America

Mayor Kevin Heeke of Spearville, Kansas (far left), with Atlantic interview and video team yesterday (Deborah Fallows)

For the past week my wife Deb and I have been in western Kansas — Dodge City mainly, also Garden City, briefly Spearville. There will be a lot more to report in coming days on the economic, cultural, and political news from this part of the country. What you see above is something that touches all of those themes: me talking with Kevin Heeke, the mayor of Spearville, about the hundreds of wind turbines that have transformed the economy of the wheat- and corn-farming regions in this extremely windy part of the country.

But I can’t let this day end without noting the black-versus-white, night-versus-day contrast between the way immigration, especially from Mexico and other parts of Latin America, is discussed in this part of the country where it is actually happening, versus its role in this moment’s national political discussion.

These cities of western Kansas, Dodge City and Garden City, are both now majority-Latino. People from Mexico are the biggest single immigrant group, and they are here mainly for work in the area’s big meat-packing plants. Others are from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Cuba, and more recently Somalia and Sudan, among other countries. You might think of Kansas as stereotypical whitebread America. It’s pure America, all right — but American in the truest sense, comprising people who have come from various corners of the world to improve their fortunes.

Every single person we’ve met here — Anglo and Latino, African and Burmese and other, old and young, native-born and immigrant, male and female, well-educated and barely literate, working three jobs and retired and still in school—of all these people, we’ve asked the same questions. Namely: how has Kansas handled this shift in demography? And how does it sound, in this politically and culturally conservative part of the country, to hear the national discussion about “building a wall,” about making America “a real country again,” of the presumptive Republican nominee saying even today that Americans are “angry over borders, they're angry over people coming into the country and taking over, nobody even knows who they are.”

And every single person we have spoken with — Anglo and Latino and other, old and young, native-born and immigrant, and so on down the list — every one of them has said: We need each other! There is work in this community that we all need to do. We can choose to embrace the world, or we can fade and die. And we choose to embrace it. (The unemployment rate in this area, by the way, is under 3 percent, and every business we’ve talked with has “help wanted” notices out.)

This is in small-town western Kansas. And it is what we have heard in every discussion. I could give 50 examples, and eventually will, but here is one for now. A white man who grew up in this area, and works in construction, told us a few days ago: I wasn’t sure about the change in town. It’s different. But these people want to work. They want a better life for their children. We need them. Without them, we would shrivel up.

The details and the profiles and the specific extended quotes will follow. For today I just want to register: if you came to a part of America that had undergone some of the most profound recent ethnic change, and that was by inclination in no way trendily progressive, you would find Americans responding the way your best idea of America would suggest: inclusive, embracing, assessing newcomers on their character and behavior rather than on the categories to which they might be assigned (of course with the strains and tensions social change always brings).

This is worth noting at a time when it would be easy to assume that Americans in general were fearful, close-minded, and ready to reject those who were different in any way.

Production line at Mi Ranchito Tortilleria today, on the south side of Dodge City, Kansas. Mi Ranchito is a successful immigrant-owned startup, popular with customers of all ethnicities. (James Fallows)

I can barely express how strongly I wish that anyone writing or opining about American “nativism” or “resentment” could come to a place like this, and see real Americans of many backgrounds responding to real demographic change. We are better, still truer to ourselves, than some of our politics now suggests.

Driving into Dodge from the east side of town (James Fallows)

***

For previous items on this theme, please see this thread.

The Multi-Dimensional Reality of the Nation, vs. the Flattened Reality of National Politics

Activity into and out of Dodge City, Kansas, yesterday afternoon, out the right side of the plane looking west as we neared a landing on runway 14 on a boiling hot day. (Deborah Fallows)

My wife Deb and I have started out on the road again—northern Texas recently, now western Kansas, with a diversion to Colorado and then far southern Texas once again. Reports on substance are in the pipeline. This is a brief but meant-to-be-emphatic report on tone.

If you live in the world of national politics and especially of the presidential race, you feel bad. If you’re a Republican, you feel bad because feeling bad is the campaign theme. Donald Trump last week: “We’re not going to have a country anymore.” If you’re a Democrat, you feel bad because of the possibility that a man like Trump might win. If you’re in the media, this is your world. If it’s your world, you feel bad — as I have both documented and exhibited in my “Trump Time Capsule” and “Trump Nation” threads.

All those things do matter. One lesson of American history is that the values, the personality, the associates, the experience, and other traits of a president have consequences. So five-plus months from now, when tens of millions of Americans go to the polls, their choices for president — and Congress, and governorships, and state legislatures — will have a big effect.

But another lesson of American history is that for the great majority of the citizens outside the media or professional-politicians’ world, elections really don’t command attention until the fall. And even then, they are part of life, not the thing itself. As I mentioned in my Atlantic story three months ago, even while Deb and I were visiting areas very heavily affected by immigration over these past few years, we never encountered talk about “building a wall,” or reference to other “burning” issues in national politics at all. Conceivably this was because people felt powerless to affect national events. But more often the reason seemed to be the gap between the practical-minded possibilities of local-level compromises and solutions rather than the ritualized, hostile, zero-sum standoff that is much of national-level politics and national-level political media as well.

I’m reminded of this because right now we’re in a place — Dodge City, Kansas — that is thriving by some measures, with an unemployment level of just over 3%, yet that has serious challenges like any other city’s plus those added by the budget contortions of Kansas as a whole. But the discussions we’ve had so far, which are just beginning, have again been about the practical and the positive: what has worked, what might work better, what are the resources the community might bring to bear, what is the long-term plan.

We barely talk this way at the national level any more. But in many component parts of the country, it’s the way people still behave. As Deb and I are reminded yet again.*

Scene in the window of what was once a school, then was a municipal building, and is now the home of the new “farm to bottle” Boot Hill Distillery on Boot Hill in Dodge City. (James Fallows)

* … which makes an uplifting way to observe our wedding anniversary!

America by Air: Whitewater

The twists of the White River, namesake of Whitewater, in Arkansas (James Fallows)

In one way or another, all Clinton-era “scandals” trace back to Whitewater. That was the late-1970s Arkansas real estate deal that prompted an investigative crusade by the NYT during Bill Clinton’s presidential run in 1992 and well into his first term. Congressional and special-prosecutor investigations followed. Whitewater was one of the matters Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster was dealing with at the time of his suicide. It was how special prosecutor Kenneth Starr first got onto the Clintons’ trail. The strongest case that it was all a misbegotten and cynical anti-Clinton effort was made by Gene Lyons and Joe Conason in their 2001 book The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton. I find their argument convincing; judge for yourself.

But if you were ever wondering, where did this all happen?, I am here to help. The scene above is of a serpentine portion of the White River in central Arkansas, namesake of Whitewater, as it appeared yesterday on a steamy June afternoon, looking southward out the left window from an altitude of 4,500 feet. This part of the river, in the vicinity of Searcy, is about 100 miles south of the hillier and more wooded area where the actual Whitewater development was located. Still: White(River)water!

***

A Good Start: Bobby's Story

From A Good Start: Bobby’s Story.

One of my favorite features of our American Futures project is the occasional serendipity of crossing the path of some surprising, remarkable person. Like Jerrie Mock, the Columbus, Ohio, housewife who was the first woman to fly solo around the world in 1964, in her Cessna 180. Or abolitionist and suffragist Eliza Tibbets, who started the navel orange industry in Riverside, California, from two small seedlings that she nurtured from her dishpan water. Or Joe Max Higgins, the tougher-than-nails sheriff’s son from Arkansas, who brought $5 billion of new heavy industry to the Golden Triangle of Northeast Mississippi.

Now there is Bobby Q. Narcho, a Tohono O’odham tribal member, who grew up on the reservation, colloquially called “the res,” in Sells, Arizona, in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. Bobby took naturally to taking pictures and making music and spent a lot of his youth doing that. In what he calls his “breakout project” at the Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA), a group dedicated to the sustainability of the health and culture of the Tohono O’odham Nation, Bobby caught the eye of his teacher, a professional photographer. He was able to earn a few paychecks through his talent, and invested it in an iPhone.

With that iPhone, still his only tool, Bobby started making videos for Facebook and Instagram. “Back in the day,” this 24-year-old says, straight-faced, he would share his 15-second videos on Instagram.

Bobby moved to Ajo, about 70 miles from Sells, to be near his cousin, Victor Garcia, who is also an artist. Now, Bobby has five different jobs and seems to be connected with almost everything going on in Ajo, which isn’t that hard in a town of only 2,300 folks. One connection, Lily Williams at the Desert Senita Health Center, who oversees Bobby’s work at the Edible Ajo Schoolyard project (EASY), encouraged Bobby to join a digital storytelling workshop sponsored by the Center’s Plan4Health grant. The theme was biking, a popular new focus in Ajo, and health. Before I tell you the rest of the story, please—please!—watch Bobby’s three-minute video:

A Good Start: Bobby's Story from Creative Narrations

Bobby’s idea was to make a one-shoot short film about his personal story of health and biking, and one that is grounded in his Tohono O’odham traditions.  The story of health, as he describes in the video, comes from the “signs of sickness in his people,” meaning diabetes, and from seeing signs of sickness in himself. (The 28,000 member Tohono O’odham tribe has the highest rate of adult-onset diabetes in the world: about 50 percent.)

‘The Last Best Hope for Public STEM Education in Mississippi’

Campus of the Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, where MSMS is housed (Deborah Fallows).

Over the years my wife Deb and I have frequently mentioned the remarkable Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science. You can read about some of its successes in posts collected here, and about its recent funding challenges here

A reader who grew up in Columbus, Mississippi, where the school is based, and graduated from MSMS writes about why its survival matters:

I cannot pass up the opportunity to thank you for the coverage you have granted my little hometown, and particularly my alma mater, the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science -- or as I like to describe it, the last, best hope for public STEM education in Mississippi.

The faculty, staff, alumni, and students know how desperately the services of such a center of educational excellence is needed statewide, but with the resources available, it's hard to even keep the core of the school operational. 

One comment with an eye to the future: I'm glad you find the "one-donor-at-a-time, handful-of-students-at-a-time nature of the school's private fundraising" touching. However, one of my dreams is that someday the Foundation can move to a large-budget, literally industrial-scale donation model. Only with a larger budget can the true needs be met for the deserving students hailing from some of the most underperforming districts in the nation.

Students from MSMS two years ago, performing a historical re-enactment of segregation-era civic life in their town (James Fallows).

Despite the negative press frequently generated by the state government, I live in hope that such coverage as you provide accelerates the process of acquiring the attention of those with the means to make a difference. Under the day-to-day inanities, there is struggle and value and hope amongst the sleepy towns, like flowers struggling to grow through the cracks; and I hope they get their chance -- as I did.

Budget Challenges at a Remarkable Mississippi School

Students from the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science doing a historical re-enactment in the town cemetery in Columbus, Mississippi, in 2014. (James Fallows)

Over the past two years my wife Deb and I have reported frequently on the remarkable Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, in the eastern Mississippi town of Columbus. You can read two of Deb’s original posts here and here; one by me here;  and a collection of all reports from the region here.

MSMS, as it’s known, is a two-year, public, residential high school for talented students from across the state, based on the campus of the Mississippi University for Women, known as “the W.” The students are drawn from Mississippi’s full racial, economic, and geographic range.

As Deb said in an early report, “The 228 students at MSMS this year, all juniors and seniors, come from all over the state to spend their last two years of high school studying accelerated sciences, math, and computer courses, as well as a rich selection of arts and humanities.” Nearly all of them go off to college. During last fall’s selection of Rhodes Scholars, Ericka Wheeler became the first-ever African-American woman to be chosen from Mississippi. She is an MSMS alum.

This week Bracey Harris of the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson reported that MSMS has been steadily cutting its enrollment. The reason is not a lack of applicants — on the contrary — but rather cutbacks in funding from the state Department of Education. Sample:

The last time MSMS was near its full capacity of 275-300 students was five years ago.

Wade Leonard, a spokesman for MSMS, said enrollment has been scaled back by 12 percent from 271 students during the 2011-12 school year to 238 students for the 2016-17 school year.

If more funding is not received, the school’s class size is expected to drop to 220 by the 2017-18 year, an all-time low….

As a statewide special school, MSMS can’t draw on normal local school-tax revenues and depends on grants from the Department of Education and private donors. I found one other part of the Clarion-Ledger story impressive, and touching, in explaining the one-donor-at-a-time, handful-of-students-at-a-time nature of the school’s private fund-raising:

The Economic Logic of Preserving Wild Areas

Wild Sky Beef logo

A few weeks ago I mentioned a new collaboration between the filmmaker Ken Burns and the creators of the American Prairie Reserve in Montana. They’re working together on a prize in Burns’s name, to recognize artists, historians, or other cultural and civic leaders who have advanced modern awareness of the American idea. “The American Idea” is the Atlantic’s favorite term for this concept, that being part of our magazine’s founding charter; the Prairie Reserve people use the term “American spirit,” but we’re talking about the same thing.

In that item and other reports on the APR, I’ve mentioned their non-traditional, market-minded approach to protecting plant and animal life and recreating, across millions of acres, something like the pre-Lewis & Clark plains bioscape. In response, reader W.B. sent in a lead to a Library of Economic Liberty podcast last fall, in which Peter Geddes of the APR talks with economist Russ Roberts about the economic logic of the undertaking. The podcast is an hour long, and a transcription accompanies it. I found it interesting and recommend it to anyone interested in the long-term economics of sustainability. (Which was also the theme of my Al Gore piece last fall.)

Two samples. One, about the proper scale of the Reserve:

Roberts: Is it enough? I mean, it's big, but is it big enough?

Geddes: It is. What the conservation biologists have told us we need is a minimum size, and then all this of course is overlaid with what you can actually do practically. There are places in the country where conservation at this kind of scale is just frankly impossible. So, you've been out to the Bozeman area and know how popular and how fast-growing it is. The cost of getting the land is just too great.

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