Opening up a can of economic whoop-ass.
Opening up a can of economic whoop-ass.

For a Californian, Joel Kotkin sure sounds like a Southern triumphalist. One hundred and fifty years after its defeats at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, he writes in “As the North Rests on Its Laurels, the South Is Rising Fast,” the region is on the move. While Northerners stereotype the South as the home of the ignorant, the prejudiced, the obese and the under-educated, the region is whupping the North like Lee whupped Pope at Manassas when it comes to job growth, population growth, the climb up the value-creation chain and the increase in number of educated workers.

When it comes to absolute levels of wealth, Northern regions still prevail. But the North is playing defense, Kotkin argues and Southern regions are coming on strong. While some observers predict that the South will lose the distinctive regional identity that has allowed it to prosper, Kotkin predicts that “it’s unlikely … that the South will emulate the North’s social model of an ever-expanding welfare state and ever more stringent ‘green’ restrictions on business — which hardly constitutes a strong recipe for success for a developing economy.”

The South’s population nearly equals that of the Northeast and Midwest combined. Given continued strength in job creation, in-migration and birth rates, the South will continue to grow in power and influence.

Bluntly put, if the South can finally shake off the worst parts of its cultural baggage, the region’s eventual ascendancy over the North seems more than likely. High-tech entrepreneurs, movie-makers, and bankers appreciate lower taxes and more sensible regulation, just like manufacturers and energy companies. And people generally prefer affordable homes and family-friendly cities. Throwing in a little Southern hospitality, friendliness, and courtesy can’t hurt either.

I’ve just finished reading Mario Polese’s book, “The Wealth and Poverty of Regions: Why Cities Matter,” who argues that the relative wealth of regions tends to change very slowly over time. Dominant cities tend to remain dominant not just for decades but centuries. That trend, Polese suggests, is becoming all the more pronounced  in the knowledge age, in which there are strong “agglomeration economies” associated with size. All other things being equal, larger cities enjoy higher output per worker, higher wages, higher profits and higher incomes than smaller cities. Regions develop industry clusters that, once established, are difficult to dislodge. That economic inertia, which long favored the North, makes the South’s rise all the more remarkable.


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13 responses to “The South Has Risen”

  1. Neil Haner Avatar
    Neil Haner

    Industry moves to the South for the same reason it relocates to Latin America and SE Asia… lower tax rates, cheaper (and largely unorganized) labor, less regulation. Makes plenty of sense.

    Of course, environmental and safety regulation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I like my water drinkable, my mines structurally stable, and my fertilizer plants not exploding.

    I realize these are just individual examples, but the South does have an image (maybe not reality, but definitely a perception) of general irreverence towards Gub’mint types pokin’ ’round. That’s definitely a piece of the “cultural baggage” I’d like to see changed.

    Hooray for Right to Work however.

    (Here’s hoping my HTML coding worked, never tried it before, my apologies if it didn’t.)

  2. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Not sue the premises in Kotkin’s story are all correct. This is rather old news — they’ve been pushing the New South since the Grady days in Atlanta in the late 1880s. A few issues:
    (1) I’m not sure non-Southerners castigate and make cartoons of Southerners like they used to. It’s almost passe to do so what with Jeff Foxworthy and all the Bubba reality shows about Louisiana alligator trappers and North Carolina loggers and hillbillies of all types. Once you get to that level of media saturation, it just isn’t the same. It certainly did exist. I graduated from a Northern college almost 40 years ago and had never really thought of myself as a Southerner, certainly not by family ties. I had, however, grown up in DC, North Carolina and West Virginia, so I got to hear everybody’s Highway Patrol story and lots about the KKK. Fact was, all these kids knew about the South was from watching “In the Heat of the Night” or “Gone With the Wind.” I started thinking of myself as Southern by default — I sure wasn’t one of THEM.
    (2) Having said this, there is a pathetic remnant of the South in Kotkin’s piece. He props up economic success with union-bashing. Geez, how many years are we going to have to deal with this? The South has been anti-union since Reconstruction and this likely retarded much of the economic growth, education and upward mobilization of many people while benefitting a few (Like Jim Bacon’s buddies!). Too bad Kotkin can’t get beyond this.
    (3) As the Internet, social media and itinerant work continue to blossom, what can be identified as “Southern” is evaporating. All the strip malls look the same. All the chain restaurants serve the same food. All the TJ Maxxs sell the same stuff. This diluting of Southern culture has been written about since the 1970s for God’s Sake.
    (4) The white folks who hold the dream are dying off. Who remembers Civili Rights? Jim Crow? The Civil War?
    (5) As the memory dies, the only people who try to keep it are whacko groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans and militias. Ouch!

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      Unfortunately, everyone is dying off, Peter.

  3. larryg Avatar

    The South is America’s Bangladesh. Cheap, ignorant, easily intimidated labor.

    It’s the same reason we like undocumented Latinos.

    cheap, ignorant, easily intimidated labor.

    and … we’re all likely to pay for it as time goes by.

    the slaves of the south have been replaced by the sons and daughters of the Confederacy!

    at some point, “working for the man” is going to take on wider meaning than before!

  4. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Goodness, Larry. Hope you’re enjoying your vacation.

  5. larryg Avatar

    Here Reed:

    Robbinsville, NC – a town in the western mountains of North Carolina:

    As of the 2010 Census, there were 620 people, 283 households and 157 families. The population density was 1,352 people per square mile.As of the census[6] of 2000, there were 747 people, 346 households, and 207 families residing in the town.

    The median income for a household in the town was $14,688, and the median income for a family was $21,705. Males had a median income of $16,912 versus $14,886 for females. The per capita income for the town was $10,275. 34.5% of the population and 26.5% of families were below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 46.6% of those under the age of 18 and 37.8% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line.

    I’m not blaming anyone for this -just pointing out the economic circumstances and the realities of empoyment for people with minimal educations in areas were jobs from forestry are mostly gone.

    Unfortunately the biggest job creator in the town these days is fast food estabishments…..

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Yeah, LarryG – The unions and northern liberalism did wonders for the people of Detroit, Buffalo, St Louis, etc.

      The poor in those cities are whatever is below Bangaldesh – not just poor and ignorant but entirely without hope as well.

      1. larryg Avatar

        The unions helped west Virginia miners, sweat shop workers, not to mention UPS and the guys that fly your airliner.

        cities go up and down but what about people who work no matter which city they live in?

        do you want all workers to be treated like undocumented hispanics are?

  6. larryg Avatar

    In a “libertarian” world – Robbinsville would have non of that windpower-killing rural electricity, dirt roads, no public schools and no free lunches for kids nor health care for the elderly.

    People forget that America was a vision of building a country where opportunity existed for everyone and that required building the commerce infrastructure that we did build.

    We build rails by giving land to the railroads. We built roads by using Eminent Domain. We built a national electricity grid by “subsidizing” the rural areas and we leveraged our natural resources by giving the right of ED to natural resource developers so they could build a national pipeline network.

    Now that we’ve done these things and are, as a direct result, one of the most robust economies in the world, the people who forget or never knew, want us to “go back to Libertarian principles” as if Libertarian principles were what built the country in the first place.

  7. DJRippert Avatar

    It would be interesting to track the rise of southern universities over the past 50 years. While UVA may have sunk in the ratings (although still excellent) others have risen remarkably. Look at the rankings for Duke, Vanderbuilt, UNC, University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Rice, Florida, Clemson, VT.

    The economic strength of the south is being built on an ever improving set of strong universities.

    Duke #8
    Rice #17 (tied)
    Vanderbuilt #17 (tied)
    Emory #20
    UVA #24 (tied)
    Wake Forest #27
    UNC #30
    William & Mary #33
    Georgia Tech #36
    University of Miami #44
    University of Texas #46
    Tulane University #51
    University of Florida #54
    Southern Methodist University #58
    University of Georgia #63
    Texas A&M #65
    Clemson University #68
    Virginia Tech #72
    Baylor University #77 (tied)
    University of Alabama #77 (tied)
    University of Tulsa #83
    Auburn #84
    Texas Christian University #92
    Florida State #97

    That’s 24 of the Top 100 national universities in the south. And … I didn’t fall for the ruse of including Maryland and DC in the south or I would have added four more universities to the Top 100 list including one (Georgetown) rated higher than any university in Virginia.

    Including Maryland and DC, that’s 28 of the Top 100. The arrogant, over-rated and largely failing NorthEast has 33 of the Top 100.

    How would those top university counts have looked 50 years ago?

    The economic strength of the south may have started with the movement of manufacturing plants from New England but it has accelerated with the rise of many, large, top tier universities.

  8. Don, this is a really interesting list. The rise of Southern universities is all the more remarkable given the extraordinary advantages that Northern institutions started out with, particularly wealthy alumni bases and hefty endowments. In a world in which all universities seek to improve their prestige and rankings, hire more prominent professors and generate more R&D dollars, universities that start out ahead tend to stay ahead. Climbing the prestige rankings is a process that literally takes place over generations.

  9. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Of course this is a novel idea for much of educated modern society, but the fact is, and always has been, that great wealth (particularly great personal wealth) drives the building of great universities.

    So the rise of great universities in the south reflects recent economic history. Namely that folks who live in southern Communities, or have emotional ties there, are getting their hands on ever more of the nation’s wealth.

    Hence the aptness of the title of Jim’s article – The South has Risen. Perhaps to this is the start of a long term trend.

    At the rate we are going, much of the North and of the South will flip rolls within the next several generations. And California will bring up the rear.

  10. larryg Avatar

    I note the fact that several are land-grant Universities – incubated by the Federal Govt.

    what would be interesting would be to compare the universities based on state-funding per student and average student loan debt.

    My thinking is that these two factors had as much to do with modern Universities in the South as the “wealthy”.

    When we say “wealthy” are we talking about POST grad alumni for philanthropists?

    but none of this changes the plight of those who do not get to college and have to earn a living working in jobs where if there was no National minimum wage laws or Federal OSHA standards the South would be more like Mexico than the US.

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