Raising the South

I’ve frequently pointed out, here and elsewhere, that a good deal of past Soviet and present Chinese economic growth resulted from transferring relatively unproductive agricultural labor to manufacturing. In the middle of the 20th century the Soviet economy was the marvel of the world just as the Chinese economy is now and much of its economic growth was for just that reason. The Soviets had the aggravating problem that they did not increase agricultural production while they did it as the Chinese have. A key problem with this strategy is that eventually the process of transition ends. Then what?

How much of American economic growth during the second half of the 20th century was for a similar reason? Unlike the North the American South had large numbers of small farms and even subsistence agricultural right into the 1960s. Rather than examine the multiple reasons for the transition I think I’ll just leave it as a question.

How great a role did the resurgence of the South in the second half of the 20th century play in total U. S. post-war growth?

5 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw Link

    I would say there is a lot to that theory, though I would go back a hundred years to make the point. The Civil War freed the North to advance a market-based economy that had been stalled by Southern-based agricultural interests in Washington. During the Civil War, the North introduced sound currency, national banking, great railroads, homestead laws to expand West, and land-grant colleges. These increased productivity, helped expand opportunities for immigrants, and spread the economic system into the West.

    The South barely enjoyed these productivity gains until living memory. The “why” is probably a complicated question, but I would say the productivity gains in the North beginning in the Civil War, spread West in the beginning of the 20th century, and only spread to the South after WWII.

  • Hi Dave

    “How much of American economic growth during the second half of the 20th century was for a similar reason? ”

    I would guess, very little as that demographic transition happened much earlier, after the Civil War to the first part of the 20th century, though immigration clouds this picture. By 1920 the US had become a majority urban nation and the “great migration” of America’s equivalent to Chinese and Russian peasantry, Black sharecroppers, went north to work in factories during the World Wars. In 1915, Black Chicagoans were economically and educationally indistinguishable from their white neighbors, whom they lived amongst. By the 1950’s they were mostly desperately poor and crammed into the so-called “plantation wards” (with white aldermen) and those wards controlled by Congressman Dawkins’ African-American political “sub-Machine” .

    The real transformation that occurred in the South and West was putting it on the electrical, untilities and infrastructure grid during the New Deal and the national highway program in the fifties which put conditions into place for the massive sunbelt expansion ( business and population) in the 70’s -2000.

  • Given how constant the 1.8% per capita GDP growth has been, I think it is something else at work.

  • If you wanted to be ugly, you could say the financiers exploited the North, then exploited the South, then moved on to the rest of the world.

    Transportation is more efficient now.

  • You did have unproductive beach properties developed along both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts during the past 50 years.

    And the development of Atlanta. Texas burgeoned, likely at the expense of the mid-west and the old south.

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