In this vast expanse of a continent surely there had to be room for at least two different ED paths, ways of thinking to exist? Two macro-political cultures and two distinctive approaches to ED (and many sub-variants) dwell within American ED.  My history demonstrates that in the Early Republic years cities/states taking into account these two approaches laid the foundation for today’s Contemporary Era ED .

How is it these cultures endure and impact present-day economic development? How did these two cultures beget offspring such as Mainstream ED (MED) and Community Development (CD), the two competing approaches within American ED?

Those two questions (1) how did ED-related political culture diffuse across the nation, take root in cities and states, and ingrain themselves into city/state policy-making fabric so they persist to this day; and (2) explain how these cultures begat their distinctive approach to economic development? In this module we shall tackle MED, and CD will be the meat and potatoes of this module.

People Mobility and City-Building

Thought We’d Drop In and Settle Down Awhile

For a starter, political culture is highly linked to people mobility and city-building.  In fact, I believe these are more critical to economic development policy-making, than time itself. I am still struck by the reality we generally vote the way we “shot” during the Civil War, now a hundred and fifty years in the past.

Many observers think culture is secondary in part because they think of it in terms of specific attitudes, beliefs, and opinions on the merits of specific policies–many of which were not even at issue in past Eras–Internet privacy for example. My conception of cultural impact is not tied to attitudes and opinions; it is tied to political structures, and choices between key relationships central to ED policy/strategy–such as perception of capitalism, the use of government, and relationship of public and private sector to each other. These basic choices and preferences reflect deep, hard-to-change priorities and values.

The two cultures were carried over to the United States by European settlers over the several hundred years of our pre-American Republic history. In turn, these settlers and descendants carried them into new, unsettled regions that became states. Population mobility is the principal vehicle for the diffusion of each political culture. That accounts for their diffusion across geography, but not for their transmittal to succeeding generations. Political socialization has been the tradition explanation for that.

Political scientists used to talk about political socialization, and the agents of political socialization (family, school/education, friends, and religion). They are still relevant, of course. Despite the fact, I am a seventh or eighth generation Irish, I still take pride in my heritage, use its heroes as role models, visited my native homeland, and have done some genealogical research. I am a Boston (actually Salem) working class Irish, and Yankee-derived community developers should take notice. Socialization is very real, even if not politically au courant–and my Phd did not dilute it much. Hillbilly Elegy rings true to me. But as far as ED goes, I am more interested in a less-discussed ways in which culture sustains itself, and is transmitted across geographies. Those are the concerns addressed in this module.

First Settlers and “As the Twig is Bent”

The foundations of American state and sub-state communities/jurisdictions, their governance, and policy-making processes were first poured during the pre-Civil War Early Republic (the West, of course, came later). That might be a surprise to most economic developers. Even more of a surprise is that our history views American economic development (ED) strategies and programs reflect values and beliefs (often religious in nature) important to the jurisdiction’s first settlers. How can it be those graves in the oldest sections of our local cemeteries contain the secrets of why we do much of what we do today?

Our history reveals early settler’s values and beliefs are embedded in many of our present-day “structures, charters, constitutions and processes” that approve and implement our contemporary ED strategies and programs. As the twig was bent, so grew the tree. Upon their first arrival in America, immigrants and religious refugees fashioned our first state and local policy systems, structures, processes and relationships—and then their sons and daughters carried them across America. Today we call it “city-building.” City-building is a very neglected ED strategy, and one that is still very important.

Commonly, new communities-cities-towns were versions of the ones the First Settlers left—a home away from home. Lincoln is closely associated with New Salem Illinois, a city he help found and which is now a reconstructed ghost town (Lincoln’s family hails from Massachusetts–a family relative–was Governor of Massachusetts when he ran for the Presidency–they met and Lincoln made a joke about it. The Governor was not amused). Structures put in place by these First Settlers, such as state constitutions and municipal charters, proved quite “sustainable.” Diffusion of cultures, policy systems and structures was neither determinative nor neat. Different migrations, in different time periods, and clashing migrations produced different structures of governance. That is one major reason why we have 50 noticeably different state systems today.

These first settlers formalized the relationships among levels of government, prescribed forms of government, and set parameters for hybrid EDOs and involvement with the private sector through initial state constitutions. Subsequent judicial decisions preserved these relationships while updating them to then-current realities. The twigs of contemporary ED jurisdictional policy systems were thus bent. State constitutions were often copied, and when new constitutions were approved (not all that common surprisingly) they were again copied.

Structures harden into traditions over time, events happen, and Deborah Stone-like “stories” are fabricated. Tradition becomes accepted as simply “the way we do it around here”—that’s one reason why city-building is so important to ED. That is another reason why ED programs administered in one city and state are not clones of the neighboring city or state.

Things, of course, get more complicated when two or more sets of first settlers attend the same constitutional convention and duke it out. The issue of slavery–a vestige of CD–was a hot button in pre-1860 state constitutions. Latecomers, mostly immigrants that followed after the state constitution, can affect popular culture, politics, and much more, but changing state constitutions is not always easy—and once established towns and cities do not disappear. That so-called “neutral” political structures contain values, preferences, beliefs, beneficiaries, processes, and priorities, is not inherently obvious.

Our fascination with political culture requires us to understand how, and by whom, our cities were established. As different population streams came into contact, hybrids and variations of the two cultures developed. The flows of different and distinctive populations were not random. Population streams followed geographic/economic patterns, occured in specific time periods, and led to regional variations that were institutionalized in state constitutions and municipal charters. In the nineteenth century, population mobility was constant–and since migrants moved into wilderness, city-building inescapably was linked to the diffusion of our two ships-the Progressive and Privatist cultures— and establishment of their structural and institutional derivatives.

Importance of Key “Political Structures”

Clarence Stone

Students of policy-making have long acknowledged its importance. Clarence Stone refers to this effect as “entrenchment thesis”. “Because of patterns of population settlement at different times in American history, different styles and structures of government became entrenched in different regions” (Stone, Whelan, & Murin, 1979, p. 174). Wolfinger and Field’s classic article (Wolfinger & Field, 1966) demonstrates a convincing pattern of regional variation in political structures whose root cause lies in the pattern of “political structures” that result from a jurisdiction’s original settlement. Regions differed then, and they continue to do so now, in terms of key political structures.

What are these “key” political structures? The reader already knows some of them–the legally permitted relationship of public and private sectors working together in an ED-related partnership, the type of preferred EDO (private or governmental–or hybrid). The really important political structures also include those associated with the policy processes that will produce ED strategies, tools, and programs. They include form of government (county, town, city, unincorporated, village), the relationship of state to local, including delegation of authority/scope of policy action) to sub-state entities, and local decision-making institutions (legislature(s), executive(s), elections, bureaucratic powers), and fiscal/budgetary powers and limitations (tax-exempt/municipal bonds, taxes permitted, debt permitted).

These (and other) political structures are not value-neutral. The affect different constituencies differently. They result in different policy processes–often with fiscal consequences. Different political structures can and do produce different policies and target different goals and constituencies. It matters a great deal whether the community incorporates as a town or city, has multiple legislatures (House and Senate), long ballots of many executives, and at large or district elections. For economic developers, it matters a lot as to what constitutes a legal public-private partnership, whether private entities can enjoy public powers or funds, or whether a given ED strategy can be implemented by a private/semi-private EDO.

Each of these questions are a beehive of values, constituencies, policy alternatives/choices and each ultimately must be made congruent to the state constitution, existing laws, and past judicial precedents. Embedded values/priorities (and the beliefs they reflect) in key political structures are a principal way in which political culture finds a way to persist to the present day.

Initially, states imposed structures on sub-state entities and as they grew these structures needed to be tweaked. ED and EDOs, strategies, tools and programs got caught up in this nexus–as did state courts which interpreted the state constitution/legislation. In many instances these silent, embedded values which infuse the political structure became criteria/guideposts for future action, or battlefields.

Diffusion of cultures and structures was neither determinative nor neat. That is why we have fifty noticeably different state systems today. Jurisdictional heterogeneity caused by mobile populations over time can clash with entrenchment; new populations can accept, adapt or overturn an entrenched culture. External actors, the federal government in particular, can require changes in key structures (district v. at large elections), and state legislatures/courts, reacting to different influences can require certain structures incompatible with entrenchment structures/values. Structural fluidity over time is real and critical to our history; policy system change can result.

If/how a city could define and implement ED programs and strategies was first set up in the initial state constitutions. Sub-state government is a “creature” of state government; it enjoys no sovereignty under the American constitution, other than what the state constitutions allows. Levels of government incorporated key relationships that had earlier evolved in the “mother” community–or copied from older state constitutions deemed relevant. Two proved especially important: the relationship of private sector to the public/community, and a tendency to sort out “who does what” policy-wise.

Huntington Vermont Town Meeting

Distinctive levels of government often specified which level of government (state or local) would assume primary responsibility for a policy area (ED in our case).  A good example of structural embedded values is the Yankee town or township. Migrants from New England carried them into twenty states–in 2002 there were 16,500+ towns/townships still operating. With two exceptions (the two Dakotas), these states are “Blue”. From ED’s perspective, town/township local government is the least likely form to engage in MED strategy and business assistance programs. They rely on counties or the state itself. Their scope of program areas favor progressive concerns, such as neighborhoods, poor houses/ orphanages/elderly, land use, basic infrastructure, social services and education.

So in the Early Republic years of the 19th century Pennsylvania and New York City developed their own style of Privatism. Yankee New England Progressivism migrated from Boston to San Francisco, Portland and Seattle (missionaries impacted Hawaii, and Yankee gold-rush miners even Alaska)–and filled in the northern third of our transcontinental nation. The central heartland was settled by Mid-Atlantic migrants and early immigrants (southern Germans, and Irish). The South, from 1800 on abandoned our Founding Father’s Tidewater and raced to the Mississippi, setting up cotton (mostly) slave-based plantations–but few cities. As a result state governments became a big deal in policy systems they established.

Alabama Supreme Court Building–State with the Longest Constitution

Hybrid structural systems often resulted when different cultures came into contact–and usually clashed when they constructed their first state constitution. Kentucky, Indiana, and Missouri were examples. Ohio is where four major immigrant cultures met–and compromised. Small wonder that as Ohio goes, so goes the nation. ED in Ohio is conducted mostly at the municipal level with a system of state-created port authorities handling its many river cities and Great Lakes coast. The only other place one sees the latter this is Oregon and Washington, and the Intercoastal Waterway.

That fusion of competing cultures into one document set up today’s fifty-state ED system, placing distinctive policy and ED priority wrinkles among, and within each state.  No one knows this better than an economic developer who has taken a job in another state. By the end of the Early Republic (1870) half of the nation’s major cities in existence today were well-established; by the end of the 19th century almost all of today’s top 100 largest cities had been founded/incorporated with their nexus of embedded structural values in place. Say it another way, much of today’s ED’s policy-relevant structures were in place a hundred–or more–years ago.