Can We Reverse the Fortunes of Regions That Never Had Much? The Case of Underdevelopment in the Rural South

Peter Coclanis, University of North Carollina at Chapel Hill
David Carlton, Vanderbilt University

The so-called resource curse—the idea that areas blessed with bountiful resources often have lower growth rates than areas with fewer resources—has engendered a sizable literature over the past few decades. Scholars have argued vociferously for and against this idea, which is sometimes also known as the paradox of plenty. A variety of questions have been raised about the idea, and numerous qualifications and exceptions have been noted, but the resource curse/paradox of plenty still commands a great deal of scholarly attention. But what about areas without much in the way of resources? There is, to be sure, a vast literature in the field of development economics regarding strategies for promoting growth in LDCs, but relatively little on paths for countries/regions without much in the way of resources upon which to build. In this paper, we examine two such areas in North Carolina: the northeastern-most part of the state and that part of the state in the far southwest. North Carolina has never been a wealthy state, but these two regions have lagged behind other sections of the state through most of North Carolina’s history. They remain economic backwaters today, despite sporadic efforts by the state to jumpstart growth and development in each. Our paper is based upon extensive research conducted under a two-year grant from the North Carolina Department of Transportation, the intent of which was to come up with strategies that would enable these regions to overcome the “wicked” developmental impediments that they have long faced and continue to face today. In the paper, we lay out the profound problems of these resource-poor areas—a number of which have long historical roots-- and offer some possibilities for the future. This case, we hope, will offer some lessons relevant to other areas suffering from resource dearths of their own.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 122. Perspectives on Regional Development in the U.S. South