On Wednesday, May 6, 2020, Justin Farrell appeared via Zoom at the Bill Lane Center to discuss his new book, "Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West." Video of Farrell's talk is now available here.
In a presentation followed by an audience Q&A, Farrell, a native of Wyoming, explained that his project grew out of wanting to understand first-hand how the ultra-wealthy see themselves, other people, and the natural environment. The author, now a sociology professor at Yale, spent five years in Teton County, Wyoming, the richest county in the United States, where income inequality is also the worst in the nation. "When we think of inequality and wealth distribution," Farrell offered to the Lane Center online audience, "we think of it as an urban problem. But the numbers show that across the West, it also very much a rural problem."
Farrell elaborated that his main finding in writing the book was that "the culture of many of these rural communities becomes an ideal setting for the ultra-wealthy to resolve existential dilemmas they face as moneyed people." Many of these wealthy people, in interviews with Farrell, would reflect on how "normal" they felt when they moved out West. They'd say things like, "I have working class friends, it's not about money out here, everyone is in love with nature, social class doesn't matter here." But the author observed a very different reality, noting that the when the super-rich and rural poor live side-by-side as they do in Teton County, the community veneer that "all is well" in these Western rural environments gets in the way of real talk about economic or political action to address wealth inequality or global environmental problems.
Though the Bill Lane Center remains closed for live events at this time, we continue to offer many wonderful virtual programs about the American West. We hope you enjoy Justin Farrell's fascinating book talk, and we hope to see you on Zoom for more Lane Center events in the future.