Carney perhaps overstates things when he says we should focus on closed churches rather than closed factories; we can focus on both, as he himself skillfully does throughout the book. Wage growth for men near the bottom of the income spectrum has been disappointing at best—indeed, Carney relies on disputed estimates that these men’s wages have actually declined—and globalization really has hit a lot of communities hard. It’s difficult to imagine that this isn’t a big part of what feeds the frustration that found a voice in Donald Trump. At minimum, however, the loosening of social ties is closely bound up with everything else that’s wrong, and it deserves a closer look from those who would like to help these communities.
Like most diagnoses of the maladies plaguing Trump country, however, all this must leave us profoundly pessimistic that there can be any near-term solution. As with globalization and women’s empowerment, secularization and atomization are trends that may work to the disadvantage of low-skilled men and the communities they cluster in, but that are not going anywhere. We’re not going to make people go to church or join book clubs (though some would like to throw more federal money at local organizations). Carney himself does not pretend otherwise—”the alienation described herein is particularly immune to any big solutions,” he writes—though at various points in the book, particularly its conclusion, he provides hints and suggestions that could help on the margins.