The Growth of the American Economy: An Introduction to the Economic History of the United States

By Robert G. Albion; Harold F. Williamson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 25
The Location of Economic Activity

THE MAP OF THE UNITED STATES today pictures a vast and elaborate network of communications linking major and minor centers of industry and trade. In contrast with the local self-sufficiency of earlier days, the outstanding feature of the present geographical pattern is interdependence. A specialized manufacturing center like Akron, or a financial center like New York, serves the entire country; and a community anywhere draws on distant places for many of its daily needs. Particular types of economic activity have their distinctive patterns of regional distribution, concentration or scatter, urban or rural habitat. Most important of all is the fact that these patterns are always changing.

Many of our most serious social problems have been and are associated with shifts in location. The modern metropolis with its difficulties of traffic congestion, land planning, and provision for public services represents a stage of evolution in response to new means of transport, production, and marketing. Poverty descends on whole regions as a result of depletion of resources or migration of industry. The economic and social stability of particular localities is profoundly affected by the degree to which they are dominated by single specialized lines of activity, and diversification is urged as a remedy. Regions and communities bid against each other for new industries, and in such matters as transportation rates, public power development, and wage regulation (to name only a few) the heat of controversy rages fiercest around the locational implications. Finally, a special series of locational problems is posed by the urgencies of a war economy, while those of the eventual post-war readjustment dimly take shape for the future.

The key to an intelligent approach to such issues lies in an understanding of the evolution of our present pattern of economic activity.

This pattern developed in a natural setting comprising the resources of climate, soil, forests, and minerals with which the United States was endowed, and topographic features, such as the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Valley, that ordained certain natural routes of transportation. Much of the economic, and indeed the political, history of this country can be explained in terms of these fundamental factors of con-

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