Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Allegiance To Dirt

The locals of Morgantown love to tell the history of how they landed West Virginia University. The story has variations, but it generally goes that the state was trying to figure through the political process where to locate a prison, a university, and the state capital. Apparently towns coveted the prison most, the capital second, and the university the least of these three projects. Morgantown’s politician was only influential enough to land the university. This is the part of the story where the locals laugh -- that the Morgantown residents would be so upset that they landed a university instead of a prison, how ridiculous! Obviously the university was the “right” choice.

This story makes me think that we do not even have the correct language to think about economic growth because we think about it in terms of these artificial geopolitical borders, whose long-term livelihood is something that needs to be concerned about rather than that of flesh and blood human beings. Think about the Morgantown residents of the 1860’s….the prison was better for them. They weren’t going to get jobs teaching geography or philosophy, and probably didn’t care for the people who were going to move into town to take those jobs. The character of Morgantown residents has changed over the last 150 years in such a way that the current locals do probably value the university more, but this is because of generations of gentrification and self-selection.

Having recently attended the Southern Regional Science Meetings, where many discussions including the keynote address rested on “saving” this or that region from population loss, I kept thinking to myself that our time would be equally well-spent discussing how to save the typewriter. Not every tract of land should have resources drawn from other areas devoted to sustaining a population.


Matt E. Ryan said...

"This story makes me think that we do not even have the correct language to think about economic growth because we think about it in terms of these artificial geopolitical borders, whose long-term livelihood is something that needs to be concerned about rather than that of flesh and blood human beings."

Couldn't agree more. How much different of an impact would half a century of foreign aid have had if it focused on the well being of individuals, not countries? It still wouldn't be largely effective, but at least the focus would be in the right place.

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