Quote of the Week


“[I’m not able to] involve myself in many, many locations.”

–Bill Nuti, NCR’s Chief Executive Officer, on NCR’s (Nuti’s) decision to move its headquarters from Dayton Ohio to a suburb of Atlanta Georgia, after 125 years of operations in Dayton.

This excellent article by Dan Barry of the New York Times describes the decision of the New York-based CEO Nuti to sever ties with Dayton, Ohio, the ancestral home of NCR, formerly “National Cash Register.” When we think of the origins of populism in America today, we do well to consider the possibility that its basic motivation may lie in the destruction of dignity that is experienced by numberless ordinary Americans as decisions are made – whether by private businesses or distant government (or both together) – that deprives them of the decent expectation that they can live in a community where children can be well-raised, neighbors known, enjoyed and sometimes mourned, and in a place loved and cared for. That basic and decent expectation of life was treated like a piece of soiled toilet paper by Mr. Bill Nuti, as his comment about being too busy or oblivious to “many locations” suggests. Doubtless he is a proud example of a high-level commitment and an educational system that aims to produce deracinated, placeless individuals.


“In this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than their potential.”
–President Barak Obama (D), State of the Union Address

“A child’s educational opportunity should be determined by her intellect and work ethic, not by her zip code.”
–Governor Bob McDonnell (R), “Republican Response” to President Barak Obama’s State of the Union Address

(NOTE: It’s important to recall that the two political parties claim to differ over deep fundamentals. Let the evidence of these two previous quotes, and the actions of Mr. Bill Nuti, be taken into account in assessing that claim).


  1. Very nice catch with Obama’s and McDonnell’s comments, Patrick. They are both, of course, ignoring the same reality which most Americans (and, perhaps, most human beings in general) have been ignoring for a fair number of generations now: that “where you live” is as much a part of your education as anything which “intellect” or “work ethic” can provide.

    But, to continue with my patented role as FPR’s designated devil’s advocate for modernity, I would ask: is there anyone on this sight who would actually disagree with the essential meaning of either of their remarks? Is there anyone who would actually say “this expensive university, with it scholarships and sports teams, really should only be available to the people who already live in this town; those who live elsewhere have no cause applying”? Assuming, as I suspect, that those who would make that statement are few and far between, it supports the larger and more difficult point: the real problem is not the ignorance of Obama and McDonnell, as sad and predictable as it is, but rather in how “success” and “opportunity” (educational, economic, and otherwise) are conceptualized and concentrated in modern America. That’s a harder nut to crack.

    (Bill Nuti, presumably a typical, no-doubt-perfectly-pleasant corporate functionary, is of course hopeless.)

  2. I would tweak this a bit as well to point out that they are speaking in code about the urban/suburban school district split and by extension the problems associated with race relations in America’s large cities. In a national context, I agree that this is profoundly meritocratic and cosmopolitan in the worst way. In a more local context of white flight and the challenges of inner city schools and the way those come together to reify seemingly arbitrary borders in metropolitan regions, then yes I think they rhetoric has more power. This does not necessarily upset any localist traditions unless localism does in fact carry a segregationist component, which I don’t believe it does.

  3. I know what was intentionally meant by the two State of the Union quotes. I wanted to draw attention to what was ALSO being said, which the Nuti quote highlights.

    Russell, what’s the Social Democrat response to the issue of meritocratic brain drain? You’re asking a question that essentially capitulates to the reigning order, in which smart and ambitious students almost by necessity need to leave their localities or regions to receive the “best educations” (though we might raise a few questions about how that’s defined, to boot). But the aim of this system is to concentrate talent in a few places, and leave places of origin ever less attractive to those who might be interested in staying were the options not so stark. The outcome is a radical increase in inequality – something about which I’d think a good Laschian like yourself would be highly dissatisfied with. You’re asking me to answer a challenge arising from symptoms, and I’d ask you in turn to consider the causes.

  4. I am highly dissatisfied with it, Patrick. That’s exactly why I said the deeper issue is “in how ‘success’ and ‘opportunity’ (educational, economic, and otherwise) are conceptualized and concentrated in modern America.” I would suppose that the proper social democratic response–one carefully extricated from the unthinking statism which unfortunately afflicts too much of the left–is to emphasize patterns of economic development (in wages, in access to markets, etc.) and social goods (health care, schooling, etc.) which are not so obviously subject to being uprooted by individual or corporate choices. If city centers stay healthy, not hallowed out by box stores, then there will be more businesses and more opportunities locally, and it won’t be so hard to convince people (people like Nuti, who complained that he couldn’t attract talented people to Dayton) to stay. If finance capitalism is restricted and regulated, or if union and employee-ownership is strengthened, then there won’t be such a free-wheeling drive for businesspeople to play to the bottom lines of corporate boards and Wall Street. If health insurance was more broadly affordable and available and less tied to employers, then there would be the greater likelihood of medical providers developing where the people are, rather than where business owners makes deals for them to be. Etc., etc.

    Obviously, there are limits and problems with all of this; real cultural and technological problems. But those would be my first social democratic thoughts about making more real the genuine moral costs of treating “education” and “opportunity” as something that is placeless.

  5. I too am sorry for the move of NCR to Atlanta, given the role that company has had in Dayton for such a long time. The move simply adds to the problems faced in an area that has been on the skids for a long time.

    But it makes me wonder. Back in the day when Ohio had a stronger economy and capital and labor were not leaving Dayton, were the pols really placing family and community first when when they denied right-to-work legislation in Ohio, or when they ratcheted up taxes and regulations in efforts to satisfy the special interests lobbies that kept the pols in power? Obviously not, and this has left many community-defining firms with the sorry choice between choosing to go out of business altogether or move to other places more business friendly and closer to markets.

    Ohio and the Midwest grew because, 100 years ago, capital and labor were relatively more secure there, and this had tremendously positive socioeconomic implications for the region. That is not the case anymore, and the region suffers. NCR’s move is not the cause. It is part of the effect. What surprises is that the company remained committed to Dayton for so long.

  6. Russell, one key thing missing from your response to Patrick — and this line of thought is by no means uncommon — is the complete absence of the rural as a setting worthy of discussion. The fact is that modernity has proven to be downright ruthlessly destructive of those living in rural areas in pretty much every nation or region that it has taken hold. Modernity has smashed old traditions and gutted old networks of mutually-shared obligations among community and kin. Perhaps most destructive is the way in which it has completely undermined any sense of the importance of place by making mobility so much easier and safer. I’m certain that most people would argue that being able to travel to other places is a good thing — the problem lies in not fully considering what was LOST in that transition. Rural has been relegated to a periphery to be escaped from in the minds of most rather than something worthwhile.

    Of course, there is not any way around this problem in the presence of modernity, because the problem is a direct consequence of modernity, as opposed to a “technological” or “cultural” one.

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