The Big Sort


James Bishop & the Big Sort combines “the politics of place” with “political segregation and polarization” producing some potentially interesting consequences for local economic development.

 First, however, let’s put the Big Sort into some sort of context relevant to this article’s purposes. The Big Sort is overtly political in its inspiration and focus as was Patchwork Nation, and for that matter American Nations. As with all articles in this Journal category. the Big Sort is also concerned with social regions, but makes no bones in defining the boundaries of these regions in terms of politics. For our purposes, the Big Sort picks up a dynamic, introduced in our Patchwork Nation review, and carries that dynamic across the goal line. The dynamic? Population mobility.
Mobility is significant. Some 80mm Americans over the next ten years are likely to move across state lines. But so what. The nation has always been mobile–Go West Young  Man, Oregon Trail, Grapes of Wrath, On the Road, Lord of the Rings, Gulliver’s Travels, rise of the Sunbelt! But Big Sort demonstrates that your grandfather’s conception of population mobility is not the mobility we have witnessed in the last couple of decade. The Big Sort alleges that things began to change somewhere around 1965 and the present-day effects of that change are astounding.Well, again, our persistent and tiresome question again rears its ugly head–so what does all that have to do with economic development?

Well obviously from an economic developer’s perspective, people leave his community because he failed, and people go to another community because the other economic developer is better. Or from the policy wonk’s vantage point, the business climate of the original state was terrible and the new one had the brilliance to adopt obviously politically-correct programs and policies. End of story. Well no. After all when it’s said and done, population growth and loss matters quite a bit to our average economic developer, maybe even more than job creation or losses.So population mobility, either coming or going, is clearly related to the central goals of economic development (usually job creation and tax stabilization). But sadly, that is not our real concern in this review.

This article is the third in a series of reviews on Local Culture and Politics and our argument thus far is that (1) economic development is not only about economics, economic theory, strategies and tools; (2) economic development also is deeply affected by difficult to measure “softer” variables such as values, attitudes, even historical experiences–something we call local culture. And these non-economic cultural forces, sad to say, usually morph into (3) troublesome intrusions, i.e. politics, sand in the gears, sabotaging our magically rational economic engines of growth unleashed by correct-thinking policies and programs of economic developers. Our quest in this topic is to better understand these disruptive forces because, say what you will, they are real and they are not going away soon.


So how does the Big Sort help out the economic developer? The Big Sort may provide one of the better rationales for explaining what is going on in the political and cultural lives of our communities–our place-based jurisdictions, if you will. I’ve seen it myself; local politics is not what it was in the 1990’s and even 90’s. Things appear really different today and the Big Sort offers some insight as to why. The practice of economic development and the implementation and application of economic development strategies and approaches occurs within the local socio-political cultural milieu.

Population mobility or “exiting” to an economist is nothing new. For those of us schooled in the Tiebout Model, people move because they do not like where they are at, usually because their old residence is too expensive or does not contain the mix of costs and benefits desired. The relocation decision is essentially economic. It is also pretty rational; people move to maximize benefits and minimize costs. But is that all there is to it? The Big Sort thinks not.The Big Sort can use economics when it needs to, but for Bishop et al, the older socio-political pattern of population mobility, based around decisions involving land, family, class, tradition and religious denomination (all of which, I guess, could be crammed into the Tiebout model) has drastically changed with massively huge consequences.

These traditional socio-political decision criteria  were replaced with a new order based on individual (not group) choice (that sounds Tieboutian). People seemingly are making mobility decisions based on individual preferences, not group socialization patterns.But, for the Big Sort, the choice decision is not economic in its roots. It is almost psychological rooted in notions of individual and personal comfort. Today, when we move we seek out “our own  kind” who pray in like-minded churches, sleep in like-minded neighborhoods, and play using like-minded sources of news and entertainment…. (P.39) Conformity reduces stress and for most of us proximity to those who think and live differently creates discomfort. And when we feel most uncomfortable, like the Princess and the Pea, is when someone unlike ourselves enters our emotionally-gated community and lives across the street.

Why is all this stuff happening? Bishop argues that since 1965 or  so we have incrementally evolved into a “post-materialism  culture”. Borrowing Robert Inglehart’s provocative set of works, typified  by The Silent Revolution: Changing Values and Political Styles in Advanced  Industrial Society (Princeton, 1977) and also, Modernization, Cultural Change and  Democracy: The Human Development Sequence (Cambridge University Press, 2005), the Big Sort believes we left post World War II moderation, characterized by a bi-partisan consensus, public civility and non ideological decision-making, for the current material mind frame.

With few aware of, and with nobody’s permission, a new kind of politics was gradually formed after 1965. The post-World War II moderate society shattered in the  mid-1960’s and the forces that remade its replacement culture piece by piece, created the world we know today. The new politics was molded by Inglehart’s post-materialist realities. The new society was more about personal taste and worldview than attachment of any specific public policy. It was  much or more concerned with self-expression, aspirations and personal belief than with social-economic class issues and perspectives. (P.103-104)

Just what is this “post-materialist” culture:

Inglehart hypothesized that when people grew up in relative abundance, their social values–what they wanted out of life–changed. People who knew that their basic needs were satisfied would gradually adopt different values from those who lived with scarcity. Hungry people cared about survival….But those who grew up in abundance would be more concerned with self-expression. (P.84) Inglehart borrowed heavily upon Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and he held that the booming post World War II economic growth created a ‘worldview” that with each successive generation increasingly replaced the previous, longstanding ‘worldview’ which had dominated the parents of the baby boomers (and their parents and grandparents as well).

The relatively easy fulfillment of material needs would usually be taken for granted, and”education levels would rise along with incomes…. And all that  material progress ‘brings unforeseen changes–changes in gender roles, attitudes  toward authority, and sexual norms; declining fertility rates, broader  political participation; and less easily led public. (P.8) People would lose  interest in traditional religion. They would become increasingly involved with notions of personal spirituality. Class, economic growth, and military security  would decline … replaced by issues of personal freedom, abortion rights, gay  rights, and the environment …. People would be less inclined to obey central  authority and would lose trust in traditional hierarchical institutions. (P.85)

The evolution of this post materialist culture was obviously not uniform throughout all segments of the US population. While those of each passing generation enjoyed material abundance and were secure in its continuation, would embrace various aspects of the post-materialist culture more intensely and pervasively,  other segments of the population, however, would be more hesitant, even reluctant to embrace the culture.

To the extent that materialist prosperity was uneven, or was disrupted either individually or missed by entire social-demographic groups (and geographies), the  older pre-materialist culture survived, even if weakened a bit. Also, some individuals or groups did not choose to adhere to the new cultural sea change and instead sought to retain the post-World War II traditional culture either as a defense against worsening economic tides, or to provide some measure of stability, continuity and meaning in a rapidly changing world.This unevenness of cultural change and evolution provides the core  motivation underlying the Big Sort’s geographical segregation.

For Bishop and the Big Start, the crucial fault line which divides American cultures (and hence geography) is religion. But religion, in so far as Bishop treats it, is not a set of doctrines, particular denominations or even specific religious practices; religion is a value system which is expressed in choices, behaviors, expectations, and hopes carried forth daily in one’s life. Religion has become a synonym for a distinctive lifestyles, sense of values and ethics, and how one defines one’s personal and political hopes and fears. Religion forms a prism which colors how one evaluates events and ideas and which sets one apart from other religions or from the secular perspective.

Citing Layman & Carmine, “Cultural Conflict in American  Politics: Religious Traditionalism, Post materialism, and U.S. political  behavior” Journal of Politics 59, no 3 (Aug 1997) pp751-77), the critical political division in this country wasn’t between regions or classes , it was  between people with liberal notions of religion and those with traditional  beliefs … religion and values–and it was expressed geographically in residential segregation. (P.108), and politically as the critical distinction between  Democratic liberalism and Republican conservatism. (P.110)

And, for the  Curmudgeon’s two cents, in what one watches on TV and how one rears one’s children. As will be dealt with later, it also shapes the environment in which we conduct local economic development. This is the core of the cultural wars.

On one side was traditional religious concepts, drawing deep into the American past and reflecting consistent and persistent periods of “Awakening”,(shades of Woodward’s Greater Applachia and Midlands) and arrayed against it was a secular religion or perspective, what Martin Marty has labelled ‘Private Protestantism’. Those of us who have read our previous review of Woodward’s American Nations may well recognize the Yankee and Left Coast consensus which, while recast in the Big Sort, still stands out as an evolved modern day Puritanism.

Private Protestants promoted individual salvation and promised  that personal morality would be rewarded in the next life. On the other side of  that great divide was ‘Public  Protestantism’, a conviction that the way to God  required the transformation of society…. Private Protestantism considered the  consumption of alcohol a personal failing; Public Protestantism looked at  drunkenness as a social ill. (P.110) The purpose of the religion was either to save souls or save  society–not both.

Ironically, a significant portion of Bishop’s Chapter 5, outlining the early  (1960-1980) emergence of religion as the key dividing line in America, retells the story of the Kanawha West Virginia textbook controversy. In relating this tale, he quotes John Egerton’s Progressive magazine article which concluded  that:

the division was a clash between the ‘hillers’ in Charleston and  the ‘creekers’ in rural Kanawha County: Charleston is Episcopalian, Methodist  and Presbyterian; the churches in the narrow hollows are Free Will-Baptist,  Pentecostal, Church of God in Prophesy (P.121)

In Woodward’s world, this is but the latest manifestation of the  Tidewater and Greater Appalachia conflict which first appears in American history in the 1676 Bacon’s Rebellion.

This is a long nutshell is the essence of the Big Sort’s argument. But all well and good, lets use all this to help us better manage our economic development efforts and understand the socio-political milieu which dominates our communities and shapes the receptivity to various economic development strategies and approaches-approaches and strategies which themselves have been forged by the Big Sort’s culture war.

Economic Development in the Big Sort USA

Chapter 6, “The Economics of the Big Sort”, is our starting point for applying all this background directly to economic development. While the Curmudgeon is concerned with the possibility that the so-called culture wars has permeated into economic development theory and practice, The Big Sort pretty much sees our communities sorting themselves into “growing and declining” communities based on the types of people and the lifestyles that dominated each community’s culture.

First there is the obvious obsession of many with the largest of our cities and even metropolitan areas. Bishop calls attention to “the rise of superstar cities” (probably another variation in what Brookings presently calls “mega cities” and Glaeser speaks of in the current best seller, The Triumph of the Cities). Smaller size communities are simply off the radar. Importantly,  one discovers very quickly that Richard Florida (Rise of the Creative Class) and James Bishop are friends and that the former has seriously impacted the perspective of the latter. Add to the conventional Creative Class approach, a considerable dose of  Paul Romer and his technology/innovation economics (see our Theme on Innovation and Knowledge-Based Economy) and we see the Big Sort claims to have discovered “a new theory of growth”. (P.144) Say it another way, the Big Sort can play out to separate those cities who can grow from those unable to grow.

This new theory of growth departs (some say adds to) more consensual Keynesian & Classically derived economic theories. These earlier models hold that economic growth is created by the infusion of additional amounts of capital and assets while the new theory (really Romer et al’s theory) posits that not only additional amounts of capital and assets create economic growth, but rather the clever or creative manipulation and arrangement of these assets and capital which creates new, innovative productive and economically meaningful ideas, products, and services from which growth results.

This last paragraph is fairly conventional innovation economics. Bishop (as many did and subsequently have-for instance Michael Porter and also the Brookings Institute) link innovation economics to urbanization and, in Glaeser’s new book, to density itself in that cities/metro areas facilitates greater face-to-face contact which enhances the diffusion of these creative ideas et al. Indeed, one senses a belief that large cities are innovation and knowledge diffusion personified. Such large, dense “supercities” are to Bishop (and innovation advocates in general) considerably more than mere geographies which hold “accumulated  sets of production factors (capital, people, and land)” (doesn’t the  reader love the jargon?) (P.148). Say it another way, these large, dense urban areas grow because they diffuse knowledge and innovation better than non-dense geographies. At this point we see the entry of the earlier-described residential mobility decisions on which the Big Sort is based.

Big Sort, Economic Growth, and a Subliminal Culture War

According to the Big sort, the Big Sort culture polarization plays into economic growth and decline? Bishop hypothesizes that certain culture characteristics are more receptive or inhibiting of knowledge diffusion and innovation. Citing Mark Granovetter (“The  Strength of Weak Ties”, American Journal of Sociology, 78, No. 6 (May  1973), p. 1360-80) Bishop develops the position that creative ideas do not start and spread in cultures where people “bowl together” but instead flourish where people “bowl alone”.

 New ideas do not start in cultures “where there were strong, stable social ties…. New behaviors and ideas were transmitted first and fast through weak, peripheral relationships…. strong (social) ties between people bottled  up information.” (P. 148)

In other words, the Big Sort states that the relationship between economic growth and innovation and communities with solidly-developed social ties, and a tight, integrative, supportive social culture permeated with meaningful human interaction is NEGATIVE. Economic growth occurs best where the social culture and human interaction is weak and social relationships more or less unstable or at least somewhat superficial. In such communities individuals concentrate upon themselves, their careers, their need to compete and get ahead, and money, status and success become the goals of individual action and activities. Knowledge diffusion and innovation, creativity, becomes tools useful in achieving these individual goals.

According to this line of thinking, geographies which are settled  in their industries and ways of thinking, reject, if not expel new ideas and  industries. This is along the lines developed years ago in David Perry &  Alfred Watkins, The Rise of the Sunbelt Cities, Urban Affairs Annual Review and  was a persuasive (then) explanation of regional change in the 1980’s. Bishop cites several supporting sources but comes to the conclusion that geographies where social ties are strong restrain innovation and diffuse knowledge more than geographies oppositely inclined. The Curmudgeon’s sharp sensitivities allow him to infallibly discern a Big Sort unspoken assumption, that one of the cultures we today associate with the culture war, inhibits economic growth and the other fosters it.

At this point, Bishop’s argument becomes complex, if not outright  confusing and contradictory. Starting with economist Anna Lee Saxenian  (“Lessons from the Silicon Valley”, Technology Review, 1994, pp  42-51), he posits that Silicon Valley added more jobs and created more  businesses than the Route 128 high tech cluster because the latter had no  institution of human contact similar to the Silicon Valley’s restaurant, the  Wagon Wheel (where apparently techs, geeks, vc’s et al gathered over lattes and swapped each other’s trade secrets, exchanged proprietary data, financed new start ups, and chased new job/investment opportunities). This confuses the Curmudgeon because Bishop’s earlier argument was cultures that lacked institutions yielding meaningful human interaction facilitated innovation and growth. IF the Wagon Wheel is such an institution why did the Silicon Valley do better? We suspect the answer is that the type of interaction facilitated by the Wagon Wheel, in Bishop’s mind, was more occupationally-based, individual achievement, knowledge-diffusing type of interaction than the religious, family and friendship model more characteristic to “the other culture”.

Adding an earlier Edward Gleaser publication (City Growth and the  2000 Census”, Center of Urban and Metropolitan Policy, Brookings  Institution, May 2001) to his already robust litany of post-2000 urban  thinkers, Bishop extends his notion that human interaction diffuses knowledge and innovation. Gleaser, trying to answer the question of why some  cities grow faster than other cities in the post-1990 period, discovered the then common explanation of declining crime rates, did not fully explain why some cities revitalized, others didn’t. Glaeser instead suggested that resurgent cities

“produced ideas” by facilitating “human interaction … face to  face interaction … A certain group of cities had a culture and a way of life  that supported this kind  knowledge and innovation diffusion) of economy.  (P.150)

To still further reinforce his point that cities and the appropriate culture produce innovation and growth, Bishop wanders into the long-standing, cherished, always cited, standby proxy for knowledge and  innovation–patents. Skipping through a variety of more or less anecdotal  comments by noted VC and Tech Leaders, Bishop stress the importance of  “proximity”, i.e. nearness, as an explanation of why patents cluster  in a few areas and not others. For Bishop simple proximity seems to explain the human interaction prevalent in knowledge-diffusion geographies—not social  relationships. And as icing on the cake, he quotes demographer William Frey (p. 151,  2007)  that contemporary growth is a “tale of two cities: those producing patents and  technology” and “older cities that made things (Buffalo and Great  Lakes cities).” (P.151)

It must be something in the water or in the air in those growth  cities. Why do some cities develop human interaction without social ties in a tightly bounded  geographic area and others evolve the rather retarded, non growth culture (these words are, obviously those of the Curmudgeon). The Curmudgeon has issues on several levels with this non-traditional, superficial, self-seeking, career-focused human interaction culture as the model for innovation, creativity, knowledge-diffusion and urban growth. If Bishop is indeed arguing that social interaction characterized by trust, shared religious values, joint worship,  recreational, intellectual and family interaction among friends and folks is hostile to innovation and knowledge  diffusion and patent filing than this Big Sort will inevitably lead to a rather bitter choice between hollow, competitive, self-absorbed lifestyle with growth and affluence and a humanly meaningful, satisfying, secure and predictable world of decline and, logically poverty.

We want to be fair to the Big Sort and we strongly suspect that phased as in the sentence above, Bishop would not agree that is what he is trying to say.  Rather the Curmudgeon believes Bishop is describing a particular class of upwardly mobile, relatively highly educated folk who gravitate into communities not because they have churches and bowling alleys, but Starbucks and museums. The Curmudgeon thinks it more fair to say folks in this lifestyle are prone to knowledge-diffusion, and being upwardly mobile, competitive, and well-educated, are in position to uncover ideas, recognize creativity and the opportunity it creates, and run with the ball so to speak to transform ideas into products and businesses. This perspective may be true or not true, but does it suggest creativity, innovation, and its transformation into products and corporation is more or less exclusive to this culture, or at least that its antithetical culture is disadvantaged?

More subtle, but really infuriating, may be that Bishop, (and he undoubtedly would deny this next assertion,) is treading awful close into an elite versus masses frame of mind. Except in Lake Wobegon, we are not all above average, highly competitive, and well educated. Most of us are not. Possibly most of us do not define our lives solely in terms of self actualization or career and monetary success. Many, the Curmudgeon expects most, want to be members of families that are not dysfunctional, have friends, hobbies and some naive few may even believe in some sort of a higher existence. Frankly, it would not shock the Curmudgeon that many, maybe even most, of those who gravitate to these highly innovative, weak social interaction communities actually want these things also. In essence, the Curmudgeon does not think the linkage of weak socially interactive communities with innovation and growth holds very well.

Innovation can occur in a garage in Cambridge Mass; but it can also occur in Bentonville Arkansas.

Bishop is a Democrat and much of the Big Sort describes the partisan differences between the cultures of the segregated community-types. One does sense that Bishop has his preferences as to which type of community and lifestyle he prefers but this is not sufficient to reject his main thesis. His central point, which we basically agree, is that we have since the 1960’s, and  still are, separating ourselves into communities of competing lifestyles. Because of our common desire to live among those who reflect our values and lifestyle, we have evolved into a politics characterized by political polarization strongly etched in our geography and our individual communities — and this alone has serious implications for an economic developer. But the Curmudgeon does reject the link between these cultural communities and innovation and economic growth. And the Curmudgeon is also uncomfortable with an earlier discussed linkage of city size and density with innovation and growth, but he reserves the right to come back to that topic in another review.

The Big Sort and Clusters

But we are not yet done with Bishop and the Big Sort.

Bishop spends a chapter describing  how, in the eighties and early nineties, Portland Ore (following Albert  Marshall’s agglomeration theory) developed what many economic developers would  call a cluster– in of all things: comic book writing and publication, Bishop draws from interviews with key (I guess) Portland-based comic book editors and writers.

“Comic book  people moved to Portland with no particular plan. “They didn’t have a job  line up, they didn’t have a place to stay, but they had somebody to crash with  for a while, and they figured it would work out”. ” One, a founder of  a comic book printing firm literally got the idea to move from Austin TX (a Florida-like creative city if memory serves) on a Sunday, talked to his wife that night, and moved to Portland on Wednesday. Bishop draws the conclusion that these folk were attracted  by Portland’s love of reading, micro beers, biking and comics last of all. “Portland had all the amenities that your typical liberal-type person would want”. (P.198)

This is meant to be an example of how “people” were sorting themselves out among cities on the basis of lifestyle. But to an economic developer, it offers a bit more insight on the Big Sort and economic development.

Dragging out a tired old, ignored and kinda conservative economic  theorist, Charles Tiebout, Bishop proceeds to turn him upside down (as did Marx to Hegel, some claim). It is the Curmudgeon’s understanding Tiebout argued that people choose communities on the best balance of taxes and services that suits their individual preference orderings. If a jurisdiction violates this balance, than the individual is  inclined to “exit” and find another community closer to the balance. Tiebout’s approach has long served as the principal theoretical defense of individual jurisdictions utilizing tax abatement and “deal-making” to attract private firms and for legitimizing the free for all competition between cities and jurisdictions for taxes and jobs. For this reason (and some studies which  question his approach), he has been practically written out of the current  literature and textbooks.

Bishop’s explanation for the development of a cluster is NOT that of Michael Porter. While there can be some overlap between the Big Sort and Porter’s cluster economics, the root driver of Porter’s cluster formation and evolution is not culture and lifestyle of the entrepreneurs and innovators, it is the economic attributes of a geography; in particular, the cost minimization assets a particular geography creates or takes advantage of. For Bishop, Portland has no particular geographically-related economic assets and strengths which led to its development of a comic book cluster–it was the lifestyle preferences of entrepreneurs peculiar to that industry. To a thinking economic developer, this suggests an entirely different set of policies and initiatives.

Finally, to close our discussion of Bishop and Tiebout! For Tiebout people sort themselves out into jurisdictions based on economics and rational balancing of antagonistic economic goals. Bishop, however, substitutes culture, life-style, and a personal comfort ability induced by the  perception of a more or less homogeneous community for economics. In essence, hearkening back to my earlier reference to Marx and Hegel, if Marx turned Hegel on his head, Bishop is restoring Hegel to his proper place. This is a tangent to an economic developer, but is a rather inadequate attempt on the Curmudgeon’s part to link this review–and the topic of culture, politics and economic development– to a larger, more philosophical dialogue. Potentially of more interest to an academic, and precious few of those, the role of culture (and its ideas) and economics as the prime force behind politics and change is a contested and hopefully unresolved discussion.

Doing Economic Development in a Polarized Community: Wrapping Up

The Big Sort is a sort of reversal in the economist’s  (Tiebout & Romer and everyone in between) consensus that economic-related forces and programs are the near-exclusive determinant of economic growth. If the Big Sort is anywhere near descriptive of what is going on out there, economic-rationality-based models and approaches will not explain everything we need to understand in our pursuit of economic revitalization.

Instead, the Big Sort can be described minimally as a post materialist, non-Tiebout migration pattern, driven by non-economic, cultural forces– people have sought out places that best fit their aspired lifestyle, perceived shared values, their consumer/residential preferences–and indirectly their political affiliations. We don’t think for a moment that all migrants fit into the Big Sort framework and it really does not seem to adequately describe those folk who move, but stay close to their original home. The impact of residential housing costs and affordability has, it would seem to the Curmudgeon, to play a meaningful role. In short, there is more to population mobility in the USA than the Big Sort.


To the extent the Big Sort has captured at least part of what’s going on, the relevant question would be “how does the Big Sort affect local economic development”?

The obvious, but still important consequence of the Big Sort, is that more and more economic developers will be working in communities which are culturally homogeneous and ideologically partisan. In one sense this is nothing new. In the 1990’s the Curmudgeon worked in a Democratic county–but a county which had never elected a Democrat to be County Executive for over one hundred and fifty years. In the 2000’s, the Curmudgeon worked in a Republican county (which the year he left voted a Democratic legislature). Both counties, however, had workable two party systems. The politics of the Big Sort, however, is a world of one party communities–with the opposition party a very distant minority.

In a community where one party wins in a landslide decade after decade, there has to be some consequences for the practice of economic development. Intra party politics will certainly become more relevant and personalities more important. Any insulation of economic development policy-making and program implementation may be very difficult indeed when there is little likelihood of exposure by a viable opposing political party. With partisan checks and balances minimal, the economic developer may well have no leeway, no visible means of alternate support for programs and strategies not supported by the dominant majority.

And in these days of conflict between opposing cultures, it is quite likely the economic developer will be pulled into the morass. Communities which are formed around lifestyle and culture are not likely to escape the current delightful atmosphere of blame, posturing, symbolic and ideologically correct policy, programs and fiscal priorities. Polarized communities are one thing, but if many communities are becoming one culture/political party dominant the range of programs, strategies and tools available to an economic developer has to be more or less limited to what the residents, tax payers and elected officials of that community will accept.

Joel Kotkin recently wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal (Wall Street Journal, April 25, 2012). His position is that the state of California (and its communities) are driving themselves into an economic destruction caused by dysfunctional “progressive” politics and economic development strategies. His article would fall very neatly into our “business climate” theme but it is also very relevant to our present cultural theme. It is not too far a leap for us to suggest there may be emerging a Republican way to manage economic development and a Democratic way. Each has their own mentality, favored programs, definition of what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed–and each hates the other. Academics will almost certainly sooner or later prove definitively with powerful and compelling statistical methodologies that one is superior to the other (Progressives will win that fight for sure).

If this pessimistic outlook is more or less accurate, the Big Sort promises to be a book every economic developer need to read.


Dear Curmudgeon,

May I modestly recommend to you my book, “Community, Culture, and Economic Development: The Social Roots of Local Action” (SUNY Press 1996). I think you would find it interesting, given your background, and also your views on urban political science. Oh, and there’s this article: “The Local Community: Maker of Culture and Wealth.” Journal of Urban Affairs, Volume 18, Issue 2, pages 95–118, June 1996. It was given the Best Paper Award that year, much to the resentment of some in the urban affairs coterie who complained that I “wasn’t even an urbanist.”

Meredith Ramsay

Comment by Meredith Ramsay on September 29, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Dr Ramsay

i have your book and have read parts of it already. I am wrting a text on American economic development and the concluding chapter is on culture and economic development. your book will be a part of that analysis , as will Reese&Rosenfeld, Charles Murray and a whole variety of people. I strongly believe culture is critical to understand public policy and our economic future.
I have used some aspects of your book in my Economic Development class at Johns Hopkins this summer. You tell a tale, afterall of the Maryland “watermen” and one of my real estate students was trying to do a project nearby without success. She could not easily embrace ideas and culture and so it fell on deaf ears.

Please keep in contact and please offer critique.

Curmudgeon, Ron Coan

Comment by The Economic Development Curmudgeon on October 1, 2012 at 1:32 pm

I’m on the Eastern Shore now, and poor Crisfield is taking on the aspect of a ghost town. It’s very sad. I’m glad to hear that you have found my book useful, and I look forward to reading yours.

Meredith Ramsay

Comment by Meredith Ramsay on October 2, 2012 at 3:27 am

Dear Curmudgeon,

I have a newly updated second edition of “Community, Culture and Economic Development” that you might find interesting. I hope you received a copy from SUNY Press.

All the best,

Meredith Ramsay

Comment by Meredith Ramsay on December 16, 2013 at 1:10 pm

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