American Nations

A GENERAL INTRODUCTION OF CULTURE TO ALL ECONOMIC DEVELOPERS

The notion of a linkage between local culture and the practice and theory of economic development is far from evident to most economic developers, or to their academic-think tank compatriots. So we really have to start at the beginning for culture to make any sense to our readers. Most economic developers whose career included employment or residences in diverse communities across the nation would probably agree that communities are different, have different priorities, political “styles” and institutional relationships, and whose residents, taxpayers and politicians expect different things to happen from economic development initiatives.  Similarly those economic developers who have lived and worked pretty much in the same general area would likely agree that within their community, different folks and groups look at economic development from different prisms, want different things, and tend to approach economic development in very distinctive ways peculiar to their group.

These differences in attitudes, values, expectations (1) among communities and (2) within communities are what we lump together to call “culture”. To the extent these attitude, value and expectation differences enter into politics, they enter into something we call “political culture”. To be sure, look closely enough and every community and jurisdiction in some way is distinctive from all other communities; these very unique attributes need to be recognized and dealt with if local economic development is to be successful, but our focus is on those attitudes, values, and expectations which are shared by groups of communities and jurisdictions.

These shared attitudes, values, and expectations result from impactful baseline sociological, political, historical and demographic dynamics or drives which through common shared patterns of migration, population mobility, historical experiences and timing, ethnic and racial family socialization and child-rearing, not to mention reaction to economic change create a relatively limited number of distinctive social and political cultures scattered throughout the states and the nation as a whole. We believe that to some degree, the definition and the practice of local economic development will reflect these different cultural patterns, and in some cases actually do more than set the tone or parameters of local economic development, but will actually dominate or at least fundamentally shape HOW and WHY and FOR WHOM local economic development is pursued.

We’re Here. This is our new home!

These distinctive shared cultures, because they are driven by shared dynamic drivers, can be mapped out geographically. They produce sexy colored maps, usually with counties as the unit of analysis, which allow each economic developer to easily locate themselves and then to perhaps understand how these cultures affect them. But be careful! The maps are what the Curmudgeon calls “heuristic”, i.e. useful; they are not the inspired word of God and should not be interpreted as a definitive and timeless description of the attitudes, values and expectations of every blessed soul in the county. What the maps do say is that the mapmaker believes that at critical times, in some manner, these bottom line attitudes, values, and expectations, shared as they are by the bulk of that county’s population will manifest themselves, and raising their ugly head will somehow inflict themselves upon economic development policy-making and implementation. It is also to be expected that different demographics within the county will embrace the culture with varying intensity–and some demographics will outright reject the dominant culture.

Be careful then not to set up a straw man when one uses culture. Understanding culture is meant to be helpful, not a complete explanation of everyone’s actual behavior. Remember, it tries to get at what people are “thinking”, and what values they hold most dear. How these people actually act or vote can be more idiosyncratic, and being cross-pressured by other forces they may act in ways counter to what they think and want. Imagine that? Culture is often a fuzzy concept, it has a strong emotional core, and don’t ever expect high culture R squared correlations with anything. But the thing about culture is that it is deeply held, surprisingly hard to change, and over the long run tends to set the tone and the character of public policy making in that community.

OUR FIRST BRUSH WITH CULTURE: INTRODUCING POLITICAL CULTURE

Over the years a number of sociologists and political scientists (not economists) have tried to understand culture and its affect on individual behavior, institutional values, and political action. The Curmudgeon wants to spare the reader from a more or less tedious summary and instead will focus or a more or less tedious subset of this literature: public policy-making (a branch of political science). For public policy scholars a phenomena  they label political culture (which includes just about any attitude, value, or shared historical experience which can affect political behavior) has always been important to understanding the development and implementation of any public policy, including economic development.

We have selected a work of very recent vintage which is one of the latest academically acclaimed books using American political culture. Its merit to us is that it makes the argument that the political cultures of our earliest colonial immigrants still exists to this very day, and it very much affects institutional and political behavior of its members. This is wild. Are we still voting as Benjamin Franklin did? Do we expect government, and economic development to resemble colonial and early American Republic politics? Tea Party to the contrary, this seems like quite a leap.

I cannot tell a lie. I voted for Reagan!

American Nations makes that leap, whether you accept it or not. In explaining its position American Nations outlines eleven distinctive political cultures which the author believes existed and still exist. In so doing, he introduces us to many sub-concepts and relationships which help us to better understand culture and how it can last over surprisingly long time frames-even across massive economic change such as the Industrial Revolution. Our take on American Nations will depart from its current description of American politics and instead acknowledge on the inertia or durability of culture expressed in our political institutions, especially State Constitutions and municipal and county charters.

Our current economic development obsession with economics and regional economies simply ignores or even depreciates the notions that (1) fragmented, parochial communities and their residents matter (2) and that differences among and within these communities matters equally little to economic developers or economic development.

To be sure, economists agree that each economic region is in its own way different in its configuration of clusters, industries, sectors, and value chains. But these sectoral differences pale in significance to the economic reality that they all share a common goal–economic growth expressed in jobs created and the macro-economic, mega city environment pervading all economic regions equally is a shared third wave, knowledge and information based era and the best, dare we say universal magic bullet for economic developers to create these jobs in such an age is technological growth, productivity, innovation and entrepreneurship–all of which rests upon a set of skills (and even lifestyle values) which are required.These economic regions, however, are composed of good folk, not full time economists, and these good folk do not think solely in economic terms, or draw exclusively on economic values and assumptions.

Instead, oh most horrible to relate, these economic regions contain (1) antagonistic populations, bickering within inefficient and economically meaningless boundaries, (2) bearing longstanding divisive historical and cultural baggage (including a 150 year old civil war, massively different ethnic/racial migrations and immigrations, and recent regional population shifts), (3) are composed of distinctive combinations of demographic/social (and yes, even economic groupings) which value different things and advocate for substantially different economic and political programs, and work out of different types of economic development organizations. Even if they allegedly all profess agreement with the goal to secure meaningful employment, the residents of economic regions (4) define meaningful employment differently and use different tools, strategies and concepts to obtain it. All this dysfunction is just not very relevant to an economics-based perspective in that sound thinking folks should understand the underlying correctness of the economic models and correlations and simply faithfully execute the correct programs which will inevitably be required if their community, region, is to compete in this era of global competitiveness. How can rational thinking folk think otherwise?

Well, it should be pretty evident to anybody that works in economic development that they do. And perhaps it’s time to put down the professional blinders and look outside our office windows at the folks passing by. The reality is that our profession confronts all this internal economic regional dysfunction on a daily basis, and moreover economic developers are themselves probably lined up on one side or another of the cultural landscape. Certainly, it is a sure bet the citizens and politicians, who directly or indirectly sign their paycheck, or awards those grants and contracts, are players in the cultural wars. Political culture matters to an economic developer!

AMERICAN NATIONS (and you thought Colonial was a type of housing)

On the recent academic best seller list, at least if one correctly judges the publicity and the reviews afforded this work, is Colin Woodard’s, AMERICAN NATIONS, (Viking, 2011). In many ways, American Nations is the latest effort in a persistent, and by now relatively longstanding strand of academic/journalist literature which chronicles the interrelationship of geography and cultural values/attitudes/structures on, usually, political phenomena. For instance, economic developers may be aware of Joel Garreau’s Nine Nations of North America (and even his more recent Digital Divide). There are tons more out there. Academics will have read or heard of David Hackett Fisher’s, Albion Seed, or Morris P. Fioria’s, Culture War: the Myth of a Polarized America, and the Curmudgeon’s “cultural bible” Claude Fisher’s, Made in America: A Social History of America’s Culture and Character.

Politics junkies all speak (or squeak) of Red States and Blue States and some of our readers might remember Kevin Phillip’s works (which Woodard relies on and respects greatly), The Emerging Republican Majority. Others, usually of the more liberal persuasion will have read Thomas Frank’s, What’s the Matter with Kansas (Holt Paperbacks, 2005), or Bill Bishop’s, the Big Sort, and, of course, Patchwork Nation. The latter two works are the subject of summary articles in this edition of the Journal. A brand new work, and already controversial, is Charles Murray’s, Coming Apart: The State of White America, Crown Forum, 2012.

Economic developers may not have tuned into culture, but the reader must admit, a lot of other bright folks have, and it has had considerable impact on the non-economic development world. There are more, lots more, and there will be more in the future, given the fascination with and the enhanced importance of cultural and political polarization and the “sudden” awakening to the ever startling fact that Americans don’t all think alike, that we want and value different things, and in recent years have become ever more intense about these differences in values and politics.

      Ok you answer, but counter with the question “what does all this have to  do with economic development”?

A lot!

Ok! Than how does an economic developer understand and deal with these differences that obviously exist and obviously affect his/her performance and effectiveness? The Curmudgeon thinks American Nations is a good place to start.

First, let the Curmudgeon admit that this article does not intend to provide a complete review or assessment of American Nations. The Curmudgeon will briefly summarize Woodard’s main points, but as the reader will quickly discover, the massive detail and the various contemporary political assessments Woodard makes are of little relevance to our topic. We are most interested in his conception of how regional cultures first developed in the United States. In this issue of the Journal. we will review other works (Patchwork and Big Sort) for our discussion of the contemporary regional cultures.

The question why we divorce ourselves from Woodard’s contemporary cultural/political perspective (regional “coalitions”) stem from our concerns that (1) Woodard is evidently not without his biases–he has been critiqued with good reason as an anti-Southern, Yankee (progressive liberal) and that his comments on the recent past political history, while interesting, are not adequately objective or adequately supported; and (2) that he does not properly deal, again in the Curmudgeon’s estimation, with the vital question of how the original colonial and early American regional cultures persist to the present day. The latter is the more important concern relevant to this article.

A TIRESOME SUMMARY OF THE AMERICAN NATIONS

Woodard’s first nine chapters detail in rather broad strokes, supported with sufficient historical background, the evolution of eleven distinct North American “nations” (he includes Canada and northern Mexico, but interestingly not Hawaii or Alaska). He “very consciously used the term ‘nations’ to describe these regional cultures” because previous to the formation of our present constitutional republic in 1789, “each had long exhibited the characteristics of nationhood”. (P.3) He defends his use of “nation” by defining a nation “as a group of people who share–or believe they share– a common culture, ethnic origin, language, historical experience, artifacts and symbols…. North America’s eleven nations are all stateless (they do not possess a sovereign policy entity (government))” (p.3-4) Intellectual distinctions aside, whether we call these eleven geographical regions “nations” or “regional cultures” is not something the reader should get hung up about.

I need to sign the State Constitution. Do you have a Penn?

These eleven nations are entitled: Yankeedom, New Netherlands, the Midlands, Tidewater, Greater Appalachia, the Deep South, New France, El Norte, the Left Coast, the Far West, and the First Nation (which could include Alaska). These “nations” will form coalitions with each other and for a time each will dominate or significantly affect national politics for a period of time. The core of Woodard’s argument is that various   coalitions fo these eleven nations have been the catalyst for much of American national politics and Presidential elections. Indeed, the rivalry between Yankeedom and the Deep South (which to the Curmudgeon’s surprise really seems to have been important to understanding the Civil War and Reconstruction–sarcasm folks) is both long-standing and pervasive and almost a permanent feature of our politics.

These nine chapters are very interesting reading and are the best part of the book. As a “degreed”, but amateur historian (who  currently teaches undergraduate history), the Curmudgeon, for what it’s worth, believes Woodard’s history is more or less pretty accurate (yes, inevitable mistakes, but not consequential) and although told in rather broad sweeps and some generalization, his analysis and description offer considerable value and understanding to the non-history major. Woodard really does describe the American colonial period best and the early American Republic accurately and realistically.

Given that the underlying detail of American colonial history is virtually left out of the high school curriculum, and most college courses for that matter, many readers will be surprised at the picture drawn by Woodard of these early periods. Our early history is far different than most Americans think it was, in that it has been reduced to myths, holidays, and anecdotal stories, without a cohesive and integrated overview. Americans should understand the roots of their Nation and Woodard’s American Nations offers a wonderful and enlightening perspective that in the main can be relied upon-certainly for a US History 101, less so for US History 102. In short an economic developer could do worse than better understanding his nation (and region’s) early history.

An economic developer can draw from these nine chapters how eleven distinctive political and cultural regions formed over time, then spread across the continental USA. He even has a map in which you can locate your county. Suffice it to say, if we follow Woodard, there are eleven Americas, not one, and Americans are not all alike, do not think identically, or want the same things. As to the so-called nationalization of American culture, he offers that “Few (researchers) have shown any indication that they (the eleven nations) are melting into some sort of unified American culture. On the contrary, since 1960 the fault lines between these nations have been growing wider, fueling culture wars, constitutional struggles, and ever more frequent pleas for unity”.(P.3)

So what are these eleven nations and how do they differ? Focusing on the more geographically dominant nations, and employing Woodard’s own words, we briefly summarize each region’s key and distinctive values and perspectives.
YANKEEDOM—founded by radical Calvinists in Massachusetts desiring a religious utopia. A culture “that put great emphasis on
education, local political control, and the pursuit of the ‘greater good’ of the community, even if it required individual self denial, Yankees have the greatest faith in the potential of government to improve people’s lives, …and a vital bulwark against the schemes of grasping aristocrats, corporations, or outside powers. Yankees have sought to build a more perfect society here on earth through social engineering, relatively extensive citizen involvement in the political process, and the aggressive assimilation of foreigners”
(P.5) Contemporary Yankeedom is labeled by Woodard as “secular Puritanism”.

THE DEEP SOUTH— “founded by Barbados slave lords as a West Indies-style slave society so cruel and despotic that it shocked even its seventeenth-century English contemporaries”, a “bastion of white supremacy, aristocratic privilege, and a version of classical Republicanism modeled on the slave states of the ancient world, where democracy was the privilege of the few and enslavement the natural lot of the many…. a one-party entity where race remains the primary determinant of one’s political
affiliations”. (P.9)

What’s For Supper?

GREATER APPALACHIA— “founded…by wave upon wave of rough bellicose settlers from war-ravaged borderlands of Northern Ireland, northern England, and the Scottish lowlands …. this culture had formed in a state of near-constant war… fostering a warrior ethnic and a deep commitment to individual liberty and personal sovereignty…. Intensely suspicious of aristocrats and social reformers alike”. (P.8)

THE MIDLANDS— “founded by English Quakers …. Pluralistic and organized around the middle class, the Midlands spawned the culture of Middle America and the Heartland, where ethnic and ideological purity have never been a priority, government has been seen as an unwelcome intrusion and political opinion has been moderate, even apathetic… an ethnic mosaic….society should be organized to benefit ordinary people, but are extremely skeptical of top-down governmental intervention” (P.6-7)

THE LEFT COAST— “originally colonized by two groups: merchants, missionaries, and woodsmen from New England Yankeedom)…and farmers, prospectors, and fur traders from Greater Appalachia….the Left Coast retained a strong strain of New England intellectualism and idealism even as it embraced a culture of individual fulfillment. Today it combines the Yankee faith in good government and social reform with a commitment to individual self-exploration and discovery”. (P.11)

EL NORTE— “Overwhelmingly Hispanic, it has long been a hybrid between Anglo- and Spanish America, with an economy oriented toward the United States rather than Mexico City….Hispanic language, culture and societal norms dominate…. Split by an increasingly militarized border,… El Norte … resembles Germany during the Cold War.” (P.10-11) By 2050 the Pew Center predicts that Hispanic growth will double and “Much of that growth will take place in El Norte”. (P.11)

THE FAR WEST— “environmental factors truly trumped ethnic ones …. conditions so severe they effectively destroyed those who tried to apply farming and lifestyle techniques … (of) other nations. … couldn’t be effectively colonized without the deployment of vast industrial resources: railroads, heavy mining equipment… dams and irrigation systems…. (hence) colonialization … was facilitated and directed by large corporations … or by the federal government …. settlers were dependent (on corporations and
government) …. its political class tends to revile the federal government for interfering in its affairs…while demanding it continue to receive federal largesse. It rarely challenges its corporate masters.” (P.12)

NEW NETHERLAND— “from its start a global commercial trading society: multi-ethnic, multi-religious, speculative, materialistic, and free trading…. where no one ethnic or religious group has ever truly been in charge …. a profound tolerance of diversity and an unflinching to the freedom of inquiry … passed down to us as the Bill of Rights …. its influence over the continent’s media, publishing, fashion and intellectual and economic life is hard to overstate”. (P.6)

The Curmudgeon said Woodard talked in broad strokes and painted with a wide brush and the above descriptions transmit the flavor of what you get in this book. Those of us more anal and detail-oriented are now recovering from stroke or heart seizure induced by  these generalizations, stereotypes, and simplifications. But hold on! Let’s give him his historical due and see if these eleven nations, however, charmingly, but with some bias, can be useful constructs to better understand our present local cultures.

So back to Woodard! Each of his eleven “nations” is in our terminology a distinctive political (and social/economic) regional culture. These cultures were all established by the original settlers of the geographic territory–as far back in the case of El Norte to the sixteenth century. For Woodard, the culture, values, perspectives of the original settlers persist to the present day. Certainly, all would concede these original cultures are obviously a bit long in the tooth by 2012 and one should assume that Woodard clearly understands they have adjusted, modernized and mutated over the years to accommodate our present day realities. He really does not object that current specifics are different, that issues change, but he does argue that core values from which we decide current questions do not.

So make no mistake, the fundamental thrust, orientation toward politics and priorities of values of each original culture does endure, however modernized, over the years. This constancy in the fundamentals of the original culture of each “nation” must be accepted in order to get the most out of Woodard. We shall deal with this issue of constancy/durability of the core culture off and on in this article, but our concern with constancy is one, but not the only reason, why we believe American Nations is more useful for US History 101, but less for History 102.

Do we have reverse gears on these things?

How do the fundamental values, perspectives, orientations of each of the eleven nations survive to the present? Political scientists have for many years messed around with a concept of how values and beliefs persist across time and spread to new geographies (i.e. population mobility), diffuse into diverse demographic groups, and are transferred to younger generations. They entitled this process “political socialization”.

Socialization is performed by “agents of socialization” such as parents, schools, churches, government & laws, and the media. The core unit of political socialization is usually the family and through ethnic intermarriage, upbringing by different generations of family members these cultural values are transmitted to young whippersnappers. As a meaningless tangent, now that present society has effectively destroyed the traditonal family, political socialization should get really interesting in the future. In any case, the gurus of political socialization do have a way to explain and justify durable and persistently held values across both time and geography.

Still most Americans probably tend to think in terms of constant change and new “cool and awesome” innovations, a world in which nothing is timeless. Sociologists and political socialization gurus, however, when they survey actual real people find much less change, and much more persistence, than our average American would expect. For example, an excellent work by Claude Fisher (a gray hair and dean of American Sociology), Made In America, University of Chicago Press, 2010, demonstrates rather effectively how constant over time and generations are our values and beliefs. In short, Mr. & Mrs. Reader, take your skepticism  regarding the persistence of cultural values down a notch and be more willing to believe, as does Woodard, that past values somehow persist, largely unseen and unappreciated, but firmly embedded in our mental and political DNA.

But at least two observations can be made before we move on.

Remember that Woodard writes a chapter on most of these cultures/nations–and that we have reduced his observations to a handful of descriptive phrases. Woodard does capture real differences that existed in the past and continue to the present. Don’t be quick on the gun because the Curmudgeon himself oversimplified Woodard. Likewise, Woodard can explain and account for a lot of history with these rather gross, yet plausible, overstatements. Cut him some slack. The reader ought to bear with the fuzziness of the cultural approach, the broad sweeps of history. True, those more mathematically inclined will be tempted to denounce the lack of rigor in the book. and one certainly does wish Woodard had backed some of this up with more concrete social research and survey data, but that is likely to follow as others test his ideas.

To be sure Woodard does pick and choose his historical examples and that is always an issue, but the larger problem is that the culture concept seems a poor substitute to competing alternative rationality-based economic criteria and methodologies. Culture ignores-semingly defies- specifics; culture is more like impressionism than landscape art. Its essence is more emotional  and almost intangible, especially historical cultural analysis. Culture lacks the nail to the wall proof, the statistics, and the data sets. But however warm and fuzzy it may be, cultural analysis does get hold of the soft underside of rationality, a side we “all know exists” but can’t articulate, and sometimes even fear to touch: the irrational or the emotional elements of our being that allow us all to divide humanity into in groups and out groups–which separate and bind us from and to ourselves.

Are we pushing Woodard’s eleven nations too far?

The key to our thinking about Woodard’s nations is exposed by our hesitancy to apply him to US History 102. After the Civil War and Reconstruction the USA may have changed its earlier ethnic-based value consensus rather radically. Woodard, of course says no, but there are obvious changes which, to the Curmudgeon at least, need more thought and perhaps some survey research for support.

For instance, ending slavery could and perhaps should have created a 12th nation and, if so this new nation has subsequently  migrated across and into all their other “nations”. Recent immigration from Africa (and Caribbean Hispanics) have added further depth and diversity into the African American nation but also rendered the El Norte Hispanic nation a more complex grouping. Certainly, the massive Southern and East European immigration that poured into Post-1870 America, stopping only in the 1920’s, had to inject Catholicism and Judaism somewhat and somehow into the heretofore exclusive Calvinist and Quaker-inspired nations. Asians now are a rapidly growing demographic. As we proceed through the twentieth century, one has to wonder how all these population and attitudinal shifts imprinted themselves on the early and original American character, and we are unsatisfied with Woodard’s somewhat cavalier treatment of this issue.

Honey, Stop at the next gas station and get directions!

Woodard argues, but provides little support, that the original eleven nations assimilated these new entries and converted them into the mind frames and mentality of the the original culture. He alludes to a dominant theme in the political socialization literature which emphasizes the human need to conform, to seek security through uniformity, and to satisfy ambitions by joining the dominant culture. Assimilation, Woodard argues, did force modernization and some adjustment in the original cultures of the eleven nations, but left the essential core beliefs, values, perspectives largely unaltered. Hence they persist today and underlie the current national electoral and issue dialogue.

To explain this persistence Woodard employs Wilbur Zelinsky’s 1973 concept: the Doctrine of First Effective Settlement. “Whenever an empty territory undergoes settlement, or an earlier population is dislodged by invaders, the specific characteristics of the first group (are) able to affect a viable, self-perpetuating society of crucial significance for the later social and cultural geography of the area, no matter how tiny the initial band of settlers may have been.” (P.16)

Don’t reject this argument too quickly. The literature in political socialization does provide some support for the assimilation of new groups into the attitudinal framework of the original settlers–but we need some evidence for this before we can uncritically apply all of Woodard to the present day. What persisted? What didn’t survive? What changes occurred? Are existing nations now composed of a variety of sub-cultures which imperfectly have assimilated the ethos of the original dominant culture? Even Woodard suggests the last phenomenon is likely.

The Curmudgeon, however, with all his typical modesty, would suggest that this assimilation and perpetuation of the core perspective of the eleven nations in post-second World War period could easily have undergone a significant mutation. As a consequence of (1) the decline in traditional religion, (2) the rise of ethnic and racial intermarriage, (3) the increase in rates of higher education and the (4) subsequent class and occupational mobility (upward and downward), and (5) huge inter-regional and intra regional population shifts, the core values and perspectives of each of the eleven nations (probably in varying degrees) delinked from ethnicity and religion and diffused throughout the general population in the form of interrelated ideas and values which, with the proper psychological, social and economic triggers, hardened or jelled into something akin to an “ideology”– a way of looking at the world somewhat peculiar to the historical cultural traditions of each of the eleven nations.

All this is way too tortured for an economic developer to imagine. Woodard’s present day political and cultural scenarios are interesting to read, but an economic developer is looking for a firmer, more relevant insights into the the culture of her region. For this insight, the reader is urged to take a gander at other more useful current treatments such as Patchwork Nations or the Big Sort. We will conclude, however, with one specific insight of potential utility to an economic developer which can be drawn from Woodard’s American Nations: the notion that the cultural values of the original founding fathers persist in the constitutions of the several states, constitutions which create, define and demarcate the powers and responsibilities of local governance and the willingness of the state to allow for its peculiar degree of local self-governance, decentralized administration of programs, and the intrusion of local cultures into administrative decision-making.

 Of What Use is This Stuff to an Economic Developer?

Any economic developer, the Curmudgeon would warrant, who has worked in several of the American “nations” would be willing to grant that management, political values, and even administrative behavior is not the same in Los Angeles, Chicago, Birmingham Al, or Crofton Md. This is the starting point for our commentary. Economic developers ought to be sensitive to cultural variation in the practice of economic development. For any economic development goal, tool or strategy to take root and be successful, it should be adapted to that culture and politics-a trite generality perhaps, but one usually ignored in the literature or lost in the implementation process.

See What Can Happen When We Work Together.

Woodard, as I have repeated constantly in this review, alerts us to the existence of several regions with distinctive cultural–and hence political and economic value systems. These cultural regions do not correspond to our usual physical or political boundaries or economic regions (SMSA-Census, the fifty states, cluster maps, or the various business climate surveys). If they are to be effective economic development tools and strategies might better served if we apply them with some recognition that they are not necessarily perceived identically by everybody simply on the basis that everybody is somehow “rational” as assumed by economists. The practice of economic development is likely to be much more complex than the simple copy-cat application of a strategy or book-inspired approach to revitalization

This regional diversity may seem commonsensical, but the Curmudgeon is rather uncertain that this simple observation is not lost in the welter of nation-wide databases and correlation/regression analysis upon which much of our theory and practice is based. Regional variation is not only expressed in the appropriateness of program design and the style of its implementation, but more importantly on an activity/strategy/program’s correspondence to consensual values of those (1) who actually administer the activity, those (2) whose support is required for the program to be effective, and (3) those who benefit or are disadvantaged. Say it another way, differing values and attitudinal perspectives allow variation in the definition of rational behavior. For example, tax abatement is quite accepted in some communities/regions, but less so in others.

Quarrel as the reader might with any or all of Woodard’s core value nations, the eleven nations are testimony that there are many potentially different Americas.  We, as a nation, do not think alike, desire the same things, and worse can often define seemingly consensual goals like job creation, economic growth and tax stabilization hugely differently. Citizens, politicians, media hold different expectations in different geographies; they are worried and concerned with a great variety of different ideas and expectations; they want different things from their economic development programs (aside from the usually cited twin goals of economic development: taxes and jobs). Economic development itself, as a public policy priority, shifts in importance from one region to another. It is defined differently from “nation” to nation”. Like real estate, economic development is “local, local and local”.

In other words, looking below the surface of the waterline, one sees a vast, almost unexplored new world–a world that emphasizes differences rather than commonalities, which seeks to understand how policies, strategies, and programs can be tailored to satisfy varying goals and expectations rather than uniformly copied or imitated, a world which does not assume magic policy bullets demanding to be uniformly applied no matter what geography ones dwells in.

Ok! But Give Me Something More Specific.

Hold on a minute! While the Curmudgeon blather often trips the light fantastic, dreams the impossible dream, boldly travels to galaxies to which no one has gone before, should we just hold our horses, not put cart before the horse, and look before we leap (did you ever think so many cliches could be put together in less than a sentence?) before we accept the Curmudgeon’s basic and always simple proposition? Can he provide at least one observable reality as to how differing regional cultural values can affect the theory and practice of economic development? You betcha!

Woodard has thrust us into the new world of attitudes, expectations, cultures, and values. We can talk all we want of economic regions, cluster maps, value chains and economic bases, but alongside those concepts sits an equally important concept: the social-political region. But how does this social-political region concretely shape our daily economic development actions? Try this! The Curmudgeon is willing to believe that the first non-Native American settlers of our states and communities, drawing upon their sets of cultural attitudes, values, expectations and past ethnic histories, set up and framed the governance rules of the road and created the structures, relationships and processes of state and local political and administrative (and by default, economic) activity to correspond to their values, hopes, and experiences. For the most part, the Curmudgeon contends these original values and culture of the first migrants persist to the present day through the sections and articles of each state constitution and local charter of incorporation.

We Need Some Infrastructure Around Here.

These state constitutions set up and empowered a system of local governments and governance, through which current day economic development activities and programs are carried forward. These constitutions endure for significant periods of time, are hard to modify and when modified are usually only incrementally changed, but are seldom entirely rewritten. Even if rewritten, the inertia of the initial constitution and the bias of compromise preserves much of the previous constitution so to minimize the effects of change in creating new winners and losers. The original eleven nations or socio-political cultures may well persist to the present, expressed in the constitutions of the fifty states which set up the structures and governance of sub-state economic development.

Where is the Curmudgeon’s proof for this ridiculous assertion? Consider that 38 of our states operate under state constitutions either written/approved previous to 1900 or are the original (and only) constitution since the state’s entry into the federal union. Only 7 current state constitutions have been adopted since 1965, and no state constitution has been approved in the last twenty years. Nineteen states have had only one constitution in their entire history; Maine Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Vermont, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire for instance operated under constitutions adopted previous to 1850 (and Ohio, Indiana, 1851).

Yes constitutions can be amended. In California, amending constitutions through referendum is a way of life (and look at the trouble it gets them into). But amendments which alter the structural relationships and institutions of governance are not common, or easy. There have been spasms of these reforms-the Progressive era and the city management option for local jurisdictions is an obvious example, as was the efficiency and federal budgetary and organizational structural reforms of the Franklin Roosevelt years which also permeated into some state constitutions. Most recently, the addition of an Administrator to the Mayor-Council form of government indicates some structural flexibility. There certainly have been many a charter reform and home rule option injected into constitutions-(but far fewer communities taking advantage of their new found flexibility). But still, most of the basic features of most state constitutions set up by a region’s first Non-Native American settlers endure to the present.

Yes there are fifty states, and yes there are 366 Metropolitan Statistical Areas. And yes Michael Porter is quite free to define any number of regional clusters– but to those of us who serve in the cities, towns, villages and counties, the notion of distinctive regional cultures, each with their own values/traditions/expectations, overlapping and crisscrossing through states, differentiating among cities in different parts of the same state from each other can offer an important insight into one’s own community, but also a tactical, if not strategic, understanding of state legislatures and state politics as well. If you believe, as does the Curmudgeon, that local and state politics are important to the success of our economic development strategies, than this insight can be very useful indeed.

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Comment by Lee on August 15, 2016 at 8:36 am

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