Tag Archives: Daily Yonder

Why do regions fail?

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 RobinsonHere’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.


Mississippi counties that are gaining (and losing) population.

Most of the nation’s rural counties lost population from 2010 to 2011, according to an article by Bill Bishop in The Daily Yonder.  Most of the loss was due to outmigration.

Among the 50 counties with the most population gains were Lee County, Mississippi, which came in at number 26 (gained 1,109), and Lafayette County, Mississippi, which came in at number 31 (gained 956).  Number One on the list of population gainers was Harnett County, NC, with a gain of 3,467 persons.

Mississippi counties that made the list of 50 counties that lost the most population were Washington County, which came in at number 7 (loss 644), Warren County at number 20 (loss 457) and Leflore County at number 26 (loss 432).  Below is a map from the above-referenced article and a table listing the 50 gainers and losers.

Rural voters key to Republican victory


Republicans won the U.S. House Tuesday largely by winning districts with high proportions of rural voters.

Two-thirds of the 60 House seats switching from Democrat to Republican in this election were in the congressional districts with the most rural voters.

Daily Yonder This map shows the election results in the 125 most rural House districts.

Unemployment in rural America.

The image says it all.  Well, most of it anyway.  When unemployment is high in a community it is difficult to sell real estate.  Special appreciation to Bill Bishop and the folks at Daily Yonder who focus on rural America issues.  For more info read this post on the Daily Yonder Web site.

Suspicious of academics who study rural America

Kelley Snowden, writing in an article entitled Speak Your Piece: Ph.D.s Do the J.O.B. in the online Daily Yonder, is suspicious of academics who study rural America.  Snowden states:

From what I have observed, there is a palpable disconnect between academia and the “real world,” including rural America. Partly to blame is our system of higher education and what we have traditionally valued in academia (we are “doctors of philosophy” not technicians or engineers, and certainly not farmers). Part of it is, yes, our system of tenure, which forces many into a frenzy to publish or perish. This pushes many academics to jump from topic to topic, going with whatever is trendy at the time so they can say they made a “contribution,” the whole time making their vitas longer and heavier but producing very little of use to those of us on the ground.

The article is insightful because of the national conversation growing louder about urban vs. rural issues.  Recommended reading.

P.S.  The Daily Yonder also has an enlightening piece about Choctaw Chief Phillip Martin, who recently passed away.

Leflore County, Mississippi

An interesting article by Jason Gray about Leflore County, Mississippi is available on the DailyYonder Website.  Some highlights and tidbits:

The two businesses are the Viking Range Company, a high-end kitchen equipment manufacturer, and Staplcotn, the world’s largest and oldest cotton cooperative.  These two firms are the new and old South cheek by jowl — a stark contrast between entrepreneurship and an agricultural subsidy system that underwrites white privilege in a region that is predominantly poor and black.    It is also a contrast between a business that creates good jobs and a prosperous economy and one that does not.

The Census Bureau’s Consolidated Federal Funds Reports tells us that USDA nutrition programs (food stamps, school lunch) pumped $46 million into the county from 2005 to 2007…

But for the town of Greenwood and Leflore County, a new South is rising. Inside the small downtown of Greenwood you can see restored old buildings, foot traffic on the sidewalks, and energy. The reason? In large part it’s because of the Viking Range Corporation, a locally-owned business that now has three plants in the area employing more than 1,000 people. A renovated hotel, The Aluvian, is perhaps the finest in Mississippi, and hosts travelers from all over the world who come to take cooking classes at Viking.

More locally, from 2005 to 2007, the USDA subsidized commodity crop producers in Leflore County to the tune of $48.8 million, according to the Environmental Working Group’s most detailed compilation of publicly available data. These payments dwarf the $1.2 million spent by the USDA Rural Development program in Leflore County over the same three years.  Other federal small business and community development grants added another $1 million. These totals probably miss some workforce training investments in the county. Still, the margin between the amount spent on commodity subsidies in Leflore County and the amount spent on rural development is enormous. 

For all the money spent on agricultural subsidies, they create little regional economic vitality. Agriculture employs few people, is largely seasonal, and pays lower wages than manufacturing.

Click here to read the entire article.

What should you do when your community is featured negatively on the news?

How many times has your community been the subject of a news report from an outside organization that you felt disparaged your community and failed to project the whole story?  What should you do? I suspect that it varies on a case-by-case basis.  How would you handle this case?

Eastern Kentucky has found out that when a national news organization (ABC’s 20/20) pays a visit and then airs a program on national television in prime time the feelings of the locals can run deep and visceral.  Was this program fair?  Was it good journalism?  Does it reinforce negative stereotypes?

There is a thought-provoking article entitled “Speak Your Piece: Diane Sawyer in Eastern Kentuicky,” by B. L. Dotson-Lewis about the above case in Daily Yonder, which is a digest published on the web by the Center for Rural Strategies.