by Jim Fedako
It appears that the Appalachians are about to move again. Earthquakes? Shifts in tectonic plates? Not this time. Instead, the movement will be the result of an even more damaging force: congressional legislation.
As a young buck growing up in Pittsburgh, I enjoyed riding my bike through the hills and valleys of the Appalachian Plateau of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Today, residing in Central Ohio, the Appalachians are far from my horizon. However, not to fear, while I can no longer open my front door to rides in the Appalachians, the feds are slowly, and graciously, bringing the Appalachians back to me.
A new bill introduced and passed in the House includes the addition of four more Ohio counties to the Appalachian Region. Though geologists may growl at the addition of glaciated plateaus and till plains to the region associated with rounded mountains and deep river valleys, classifications of rock formations and topography have no impact on those intent on redistributing money to likely voters in the next election.
On a recent camping trip to Kentucky, I was able to once again experience the wonders of the road network that crisscrosses the northern portion of that state. The sites and sights are fantastic, as is the surface of almost every road I traveled. For a cyclist, the road condition is a key factor in the enjoyment of a ride, yet there wasn't a single Pittsburgh-sized pothole to be found within these impoverished mining and timber sections of Kentucky. Smooth and safe roads beckoned at every intersection. And this got me thinking.
The book, The Siberian Curse: How Communist Planners Left Russia in the Cold, details the failure of centralized planning to encourage economic growth in the hinterlands. For years, Russia has been trying to settle the wilds of its frozen tundra. First, the tsars encouraged population movements, then the Soviets commanded it. The result today is cities crumbling in Siberia, far removed from population centers and markets.
As these cities age, Russia is burdened by their very existence. A solution under a system of interventionism does not exist. And, an authoritarian government cannot simply let its masses exit the tundra and find their own productive places to live and work; places likely within the already burdened population centers of Moscow, etc.
We look at such a system – centrally planned cities that are inefficient and unprofitable, and far removed from centers of commerce – as vestiges of the Evil Empire. Yet, the US does the very same despite knowledge of Ludwig von Mises’s clear refutation of the ability of central planners to achieve anything greater than general starvation.
Russia suffers due to the cost of supporting the residents of cities that are not efficiently located. At the same time, the US suffers due to redistributive measures that support residents in regions that no longer provide jobs. In both cases, residents remain in areas that are unproductive while the rest of their respective nations suffer due to the redistribution of wealth from economically productive regions to economically unproductive regions.
As noted above, the US House is looking to make matters worse by proposing an increase in the area receiving tax-funded support. So the Appalachians move farther west in Ohio, possibly encompassing counties that are near tabletop flat; counties where the unemployment rate is not much different from the state or national average. Not only are these proposed counties non-mountainous, they are productive, with an ample supply of jobs.
Of course, counties that are designated as Appalachian by the feds receive loads of federal dollars. For the local politicians, being designated Appalachian is a cash cow. Federal appropriations include dollars earmarked for rural poverty assistance. Whether it’s the smooth asphalt on roads that have little residential or commercial traffic, or the war-on-poverty-type programs such as federal support for education, counties benefit from being declared rural and impoverished. And the politicians – local, state, and federal – benefit at the polls by being the providers of this fattened pork.
Yet, the Appalachian Region is impoverish because high-paying jobs do not exist there. So, instead of having acting individuals move to areas of economic prosperity, the feds attempt to chain rural residents to areas where the golden years have long gone.
You hear the politicians claim that the infrastructure needs to be improved, and then jobs will follow. This is similar to the pronouncements coming from the Soviet planners of yore. However, both claims are fallacious and without merit. Building a new school and paving additional roads in the Appalachian regions will not encourage businesses to relocate anymore than doing the same in Siberia resulted in profitable enterprises.
Business owners – entrepreneurs – are not fooled by the plaintive tales spun by the vote-hungry class. Businesses locate in areas that the owners deem most profitable. The lure of paved roads, new schools, and government support programs, are not enough to counteract (say) the physical distance to market.
In addition, by extending the Appalachian region to the already profitable glaciated plateaus and till plains, the feds will lock even more voters into lives of tax dependency. Federal dollars will be spent by local and state politicians in a manner not too different from the Soviet planners; local infrastructure will be increased where it is not needed, and support programs will be created or expanded.
Sure, in the short-run, some rural residents will benefit by being employed in these governmental works-projects. But these very same residents will be unemployed once the projects or programs go belly-up or lose federal funding. The cycle of poverty will continue.
As harsh as it sounds, the only way to improve the lives of rural residents in the Appalachian region is to remove government support. Let these folks face the true cost of their decisions. Some will accept reduced lifestyles and remain to enjoy the natural features of these still-wild regions, while others will migrate to areas where they can attain higher-paying jobs. Either way, acting individuals will demonstrate their preferences within a market environment. And, US taxpayers will not have to continue funding what has become America’s Siberia.
Jim Fedako, a former professional cyclist who lives in Lewis Center, OH, is a homeschooling father of five and maintains a blog: Anti-Positivist.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
A recent post of mine over at the Blog at Mises.org.