Debating “Southernomics”

Michael Lind, author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United Statesconsiders “cheap, powerless labor” to be the “original sin” of the South:

The purpose of the age-old economic development strategy of the Southern states has never been to allow them to compete with other states or countries on the basis of superior innovation or living standards. Instead, for generations Southern economic policymakers have sought to secure a lucrative second-tier role for the South in the national and world economies, as a supplier of commodities like cotton and oil and gas and a source of cheap labor for footloose corporations. This strategy of specializing in commodities and cheap labor is intended to enrich the Southern oligarchy. It doesn’t enrich the majority of Southerners, white, black or brown, but it is not intended to.

He sees the influence of “Southernomics” in calls for guest-worker policies, the fight against unions, and support for the Earned Income Tax Credit. Ed Kilgore acknowledges an historical focus on “low-road” development but resists the claim that it is regionally specific:

Lind appears, however, to be entirely unaware there was a fairly powerful revolt against this model of economic development in the South during the 1980s and 1990s—indeed, it’s one of the things that helped make Bill Clinton famous… The revolt died out during the last decade, in no small part because Democrats lost their competitive status in the region, yielding the field back to atavistic pols like Rick Perry and Nikki Haley, to cite the most egregious examples. But the recent rapid adoption of the low road to development by Yankee pols like Scott Walker is another indicator that it is not some inherent or exclusive product of the evil Southern Character.