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The American South as developing country

November 22, 2010

This past Saturday, GOOD put up a nifty infographic (that’s what they do) showing Human Development Index scores by U.S. state. “Does America Have ‘Developing States’?” is the headline, and the brief text asks whether we should think about West Virginia and Tennessee as “developing.”

This is not a new concept; in fact, in a development class I TA’ed for in 2001, the instructor used the question, “Is the American South effectively a developing country?” as an organizing principle for part of the class. (Keep in mind the instructor got his degree from a university in the American South, and all the students were also from the American South.) This isn’t just a glib question. Human Development Index scores are clearly lower in Southern states than elsewhere in the country, particularly the northeast and west. Furthermore, it could well be argued that through the history of the United States, the economic organization of the country has been set up in a kind of extractive developed/developing relationship, with the industrial (and protected) North exploiting labor and cheap primary products from the agricultural (and more free-trade) South.

I haven’t seen the argument taken much further than this, but I don’t have much doubt that it could be. It’s certainly a useful teaching tool and food for thought.

Flying Whale

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