January 16, 2013
In Mississippi, public policymakers, elected officials at all levels (local, state and federal) and community leaders of every stripe continually discuss ways to improve the Mississippi Delta. There has been no shortage of studies, initiatives and funding programs for just about everything imaginable. Although there are some bright spots, one wonders why there has not been more improvement in the region as a whole.
With that backdrop, I was especially interested in an article at the Daily Yonder website entitled Speak Your Piece: Why regions Fail, written by Jason Bailey. The first sentence reads, “What’s kept Eastern Kentucky from prosperity?” The author first discusses a critique of the region by outside observers, and then posits that one of the problems with such “diagnoses” is that it is too narrow. We should look at the greater historical and economic context about why the families in the region live the way that they do, he says. Reference is then made to Why Nations Fail, by economist Daron Acemoglu and political scientist James Robinson. Here’s a clip from that part of the article:
They conclude that economic success is not the result of culture, geography or other standard explanations. Rather, prosperity is caused by a country’s human-made institutions.
They characterize nations’ economic and political institutions as either inclusive or extractive. Inclusive institutions create a fair environment for competition, provide education and encourage innovation, distribute political power widely and encourage public participation, and have an accountable and responsive government. Extractive institutions are designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many. They discourage democratic participation, fail to enforce the rule of law or promote new economic activity, and are characterized by corruption and cronyism.
So, could this observation be applied to Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta? Or is it already being applied, and not getting the desired results?
The questions and observations about the solutions to poverty go on. I recommend the above article as a good read to start/continue the discussion.