Academic journal article Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics

Civic Commuity Approaches to Rural Development in the South: Discussion

Academic journal article Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics

Civic Commuity Approaches to Rural Development in the South: Discussion

Article excerpt

It has been my good fortune to know Tom Lyson and Ken Robinson when they were very early in their careers. Tom was a colleague at Clemson University for a few years before departing for the icy hills of Ithaca. Ken earned his undergraduate degree in community and rural development at Clemson University before moving on to the LBJ School of Public Policy at the University of Texas where he, no doubt, was energized for his later doctoral studies at Cornell by the intellect and charisma of Barbara Jordan. Although I do not have a personal connection with Ralph Christy, suffice it to say that he was on the faculty at Louisiana State University for a substantial period before his move to Cornell, and his economic development work is widely known and highly regarded. My main reason for reflecting on these connections is to emphasize that the authors have significant grass roots experience with development problems in the rural South. Far from being simply academic theorists from "the outside," these authors are well equipped to address the nuts-and-bolts issues of how a civic community model (CCM) can be developed to address persistent problems of development in the rural South.

The goal of their paper is to explore the potential for civic community theory as an alternative to the neoclassical model of rural development. My main conclusion is that there is a good deal of exploring that remains to be done. There are two main reasons that the authors need to explore a bit more carefully. First, their characterization of the neoclassical model approach to rural development is far too narrow. Second, the proposed CCM ignores fundamental economic forces and adopts a Putnam vision of social capital that some critics say ignores the key role of power in the formation and sustenance of relations between classes or groups in a community. Having said that more exploration is needed, let me emphasize that economic models of rural development and civic community models should be regarded as complements-not substitutes for each other. By challenging the conventional wisdom of the economics of rural development, the authors make a substantial contribution to what should be a renewed effort by social scientists to examine how institutions and social relations interact with fundamental economic forces to shape long-term economic fortunes of residents of the rural South.

The Corporate Community Model: Neoclassical Paradigm or Strawman?

The authors seem to equate the neoclassical model of rural development with the product life cycle ("industrial filtering-down") that has been used to describe the incentives for firms to locate establishments of a more routine/low skill variety in rural areas. One might think of the textile mills in the rural South, or more recently of meat processing plants. The genetic engineering needed to produce hogs suitable for large-scale processing plants is a high-paying "urban" activity. The routine process of processing the animals is relegated to the rural hinterlands where land and labor are "cheap." So it is the "outside" decisions of corporate managers from Smithfield, Inc. and their ilk that dictate the economic base, and thus the economic development of the rural places in the South. Voila! We have the corporate community model of rural development.

However, this view of the rural development process represents only a narrow slice through a set of fundamental economic and social forces at work determining the pace and character of rural economic development in the South. The product life cycle is not a general theory of development, but an outcome of more fundamental economic forces. Most economic explanations of why rural areas of the South grow or decline can be grouped into demand-side Keynesian-type models of the export base and supply-oriented neoclassical models of economic growth that focus on aggregate production functions. A few examples of how regional economists build on theory to understand regional development may help to illustrate that the product life cycle is only a slice through economic and social forces shaping the rural economy. …

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