Over coffee in Baton Rouge, Hochschild meets Dr. Paul Templet, a chemical physicist from the area who used to teach at Louisiana State University and run the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. Hochschild wants to understand Louisianan conservatives’ faith in the logic of “the more oil, the more jobs.” Presumably, these jobs would boost people’s income and make government aid unnecessary, but Hochschild has visited Dr. Templet to ask if the logic really works. When he tells her that “less than 10 percent” of Louisiana jobs are in the oil industry, she is shocked. Oil jobs, it turns out, are increasingly automated; the ones that remain are mostly temporary construction jobs filled by out-of-state workers.
Hochschild expects that Louisianans’ loyalty to oil has some basis in fact, which explains her shock when Templet tells her that their jobs largely do not depend on the oil industry. It is becoming more and more apparent to Hochschild that this loyalty is based on feeling rather than facts. Their faith that the free market will bring them economic success is one main reason they reject government regulations on oil companies.
Hochschild wonders whether lawmakers might prioritize oil because it brings in so much tax revenue. While “it was the largest single source of revenue,” oil money only made up 14% of the state’s budget, and Governor Bobby Jindal—who received half a million dollars in campaign contributions from oil executives—slashed taxes on oil companies between 2008 and 2012 and paid for these tax breaks by cutting 30,000 public sector jobs. Furthermore, the agency responsible for making sure that oil companies pay their taxes “has close ties with the industry” and “performed no audits at all” between 2010 and 2013.
Hochschild again seeks an empirical explanation for the Louisiana government’s behavior but finds that the facts fall short: under Jindal, the government actually prioritized the redistribution of wealth—to oil companies rather than to the needy. As governor, Jindal fulfilled Louisianans’ desire to rid themselves of regulation by letting his state government crumble, hurting citizens in the process.
Hochschild and Dr. Templet start on “a second round of coffee and a second layer of revelations.” Templet explains that oil also displaces jobs in other industries, like fishing and tourism, which were “severely hurt” after the Deepwater Horizon spill. Contrary to popular belief, Hochschild explains that “oil wages don’t trickle down; they leak out.” Dr. Templet explains that most of the profits go to executives who live nowhere near Louisiana, and most of the temporary construction workers that build the oil infrastructure send their incomes back home, out of the state. In fact, he says, oil has done nothing to benefit Louisiana’s economy in the short or long term.
Although Louisianans see oil as their state’s economic savior, the evidence contradicts this belief. The opportunities oil creates are not accessible to the majority of working Louisianans, and the way oil wealth flows to the top reflects the broader trends Hochschild sees in contemporary capitalism, which lead workers to see declining wages and increasingly fall behind in their progress toward the American Dream.
Hochschild calls Louisiana’s strategy for economic growth the “low road” approach: by creating conditions that make it cheaper to do business, Louisiana hopes “to get industry that exists somewhere else” to move. In contrast, a “high road” strategy would try “to stimulate new jobs by creating an attractive public sector.” Hochschild argues that the Tea Party chooses the “low road” but progressive states like California choose the “high road.”
By putting the market before the government, “low road” approaches help multinational corporations use cheap foreign labor to maximize their profits and pressure governments into letting companies use their resources with the promise of economic progress. Ultimately, these companies fail to deliver the progress they promised but fund political campaigns to sustain their economic dominance.
Hochschild and Templet order yet another round of coffee, and she asks him about the idea that “you must choose between jobs or a clean environment.” He tells her about a 1992 MIT study showing that stricter environmental regulations actually correlate with faster economic growth in the United States and a 2016 study that proved the same thing across the globe. She wonders why her conservative friends have not heard about this new “growing consensus” among economists.
Hochschild again notes that the facts do not seem to make their way into Louisiana; rather, they are strategically silenced. This also harkens back to Louisianans’ widespread climate change denial: in both cases, citizens defend industry from science by painting the latter as an instrument of an overbearing, interventionist government. This basic denial of scientific fact, which is based on people’s underlying faith that unregulated capitalism will eventually bring them the American Dream, serves to retroactively justify their often fruitless hard work and protect corporations.
Hochschild hypothesizes that conservatives might not know about this consensus due to the “growing dominance of oil and its show of generous company largesse.” This creates a cycle in which “companies squeeze favors out of the state,” which pays for those favors by redirecting money from public services. As public services crumble, opportunities dwindle for poor Louisianans and sectors of the economy besides oil start to fall behind, which “further concentrates power in the hands of oil.” Oil companies often donate a small portion of their tax incentive money to environmental groups as a gesture of goodwill, which makes Louisianans think they are helping preserve the environment.
Oil uses its political and cultural power to protect citizens from the truth. Because oil companies already have so much influence and governmental support, they can easily control the way the public perceives them. By spending the money the government gives them on advertisements, oil companies are able to hide drilling’s negative effects and validate citizens’ belief that they care about the common good. Ironically, the oil companies donate to environmental groups to make themselves look good, even though the oil companies are responsible for many of the problems that the environmental groups are fighting to resolve.
Wondering if Louisiana is an “oddball oil state” rather than the true “heart of the right,” Hochschild reads a “startling” study demonstrating that red states are more polluted than blue states; her own follow-up shows the same effect on a county level. People who live in more polluted counties “are more likely to believe that Americans ‘worry too much’ about the environment” and identify as “strong Republican.”
The county-wide evidence shows that the people voting against environmental protections are actually the ones suffering from pollution, rather than—as MacGillis might have it—wealthier residents of the same states living further from toxic waste. In addition, the evidence also illustrates that Louisiana is truly representative of conservative America with respect to Hochschild’s keyhole issue of pollution.
Hochschild wonders why companies like PPG would specifically choose to build plants in Louisiana. She discovers the answer in a consultant’s report for the California Waste Management Board. Powell, the consultant, tries to figure out how to get neighbors to deal with the downsides of “locally undesirable” industrial projects like waste-to-energy plants. He suggests that, instead of trying to convince residents who resist “locally undesirable” construction, companies should simply go to the kinds of communities that would be unlikely to resist in the first place.
This report demonstrates how waste companies and state governments—even in Hochschild’s liberal home state of California—collude to silence resistance rather than minimizing harm. They take advantage of conservatives’ unwillingness to protest—a trait that Hochschild later identifies as part of the “endurance self.”
Some of Powell’s key “least resistant personality” traits are being conservative, pro-free market, and Republican; having low educational attainment and lacking a “culture of activism;” and working in “nature exploitative occupations.” Hochschild realizes that these all the Louisiana residents she has been studying fit the description. She wonders whether people with the “least resistant personality” are more easily influenced by the “psychological program” Honoré described, but then considers that this may be “too easy an idea,” one that does not give Louisianans enough credit for what they do believe. Hochschild suggests that “the empathy wall was higher than I’d imagined” and resolves to explore the cultural institutions that her subjects rely on in order to better understand their way of life.
Hochschild is apprehensive about outright declaring that Louisianans’ “least resistant personality” makes them susceptible to the “psychological program.” She recognizes that this explanation still views Louisianans as being deceived by outsiders rather than being active participants in their own defense of oil. Hochschild realizes that she has focused so much on Louisianans’ silence about her keyhole issue, that she has lost track of the positive values they do proclaim.