Author: J.D. Vance
Review by: Richard Phillips, dean of the Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University
J.D. Vance’s memoir describes a family whose grandparents choose to leave poverty in rural Kentucky to pursue the possibility of a middle-class income in the factories of post-World War II southern Ohio. Two generations later the family finds itself vulnerable to slipping back into poverty due to the impact of advancing technology on the local economy and the resulting choices individual family members make. Some of the family indeed does fall back into poverty; Mr. Vance escapes this outcome by getting an education.
The book made an impression on me as it helped to explain the outcome of the 2016 national election, as well as the mood of a good part of the country. And it gave a reasonable voice to a segment of America that is fearful and seeking leadership on a topic of growing importance.
Mr. Vance’s treatise on the subject of growing up poor and the value of an education to escape poverty is not new or novel. But the publication of his memoir at this moment does add a compelling narrative to other stories of the day, including Donald Trump’s ascendency to the presidency, the opioid crisis, declining male labor participation rates and increasing mortality rates for middle-aged white people in our country, just to name a few.
I find it is almost impossible to imagine the world our grandchildren will inherit, as we live in a time of immense change where the creation and subsequent adoption of innovative technologies is creating new opportunities to greatly increase living standards. It is a potentially magical moment in time. But we have a lot of work to do to ensure the benefits of these technologies and the immense wealth potential they create will be widespread so they positively impact all members of society.
For me, and perhaps other readers, Mr. Vance’s book is a call to arms for public, non-profit and private officials to provide leadership on the topic of how technological change can best be leveraged to build toward a more just and decent society for all.