Writing yesterday at the New York Times, liberal economist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman addressed economic challenges of rural communities in Getting Real About Rural America. It is a blog post about which reasonable observers of any ideology – left, center, right, or libertarian – could agree. Krugman writes
There’s nothing wrong with discussing these issues. Rural lives matter — we’re all Americans, and deserve to share in the nation’s wealth. Rural votes matter even more; like it or not, our political system gives hugely disproportionate weight to less populous states, which are also generally states with relatively rural populations.
But it’s also important to get real. There are powerful forces behind the relative and in some cases absolute economic decline of rural America — and the truth is that nobody knows how to reverse those forces.
So what can be done to help rural America? We can and should make sure that all Americans have good health care, access to good education, and so on wherever they live. We can try to promote economic development in lagging regions with public investment, employment subsidies and, possibly, job guarantees.
But as I said, experience abroad isn’t encouraging. West Germany invested $1.7 trillion in an attempt to revive the former East Germany — more than $100,000 per capita — yet the region is still lagging, with many young people leaving.
It says all one could say about the conditions of rural economies that a gifted economist on the left sees the limitations of a strategy of “public investment, employment subsidies and, possibly, job guarantees.”
Bluntly stated: if Krugman lacks a public-spending solution for rural areas, there’s not the slightest chance that (far) lesser thinkers at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation or tiny local versions of the WEDC in towns across Wisconsin will be able to craft an effective solution. At the WEDC and local level, the discussion isn’t even economics as a social science – it’s political sorcery and rhetorical alchemy.
There’s no claim here that Krugman is an unbridled free-market man – it’s merely that he’s practical about state-sponsored solutions.
Krugman’s willingness to speak plainly to his fellow Democrats (“As you read this, Democratic presidential hopefuls are crisscrossing Iowa, trying to assure farmers that they share their concerns”) is admirable. (His criticism of Modern Monetary Theory – that theory being a fad of the far left – is compelling.)
Strangest of all, in Wisconsin: the strongest advocates of those rural solutions Krugman doubts aren’t Democrats, but WEDC Republicans.