Fidest – Agenzia giornalistica/press agency

Quotidiano di informazione – Anno 29 n° 327

The right way to help declining places

Posted by fidest press agency su venerdì, 20 ottobre 2017

the economistPOPULISM’S wave has yet to crest. That is the sobering lesson of recent elections in Germany and Austria, where the success of anti-immigrant, anti-globalisation parties showed that a message of hostility to elites and outsiders resonates as strongly as ever among those fed up with the status quo.
Economic theory suggests that regional inequalities should diminish as poorer (and cheaper) places attract investment and grow faster than richer ones. The 20th century bore that theory out: income gaps narrowed across American states and European regions. No longer. Affluent places are now pulling away from poorer ones (see article). This geographical divergence has dramatic consequences. A child born in the bottom 20% in wealthy San Francisco has twice as much chance as a similar child in Detroit of ending up in the top 20% as an adult. Boys born in London’s Chelsea can expect to live nearly nine years longer than those born in Blackpool. Opportunities are limited for those stuck in the wrong place, and the wider economy suffers. If all its citizens had lived in places of high productivity over the past 50 years, America’s economy could have grown twice as fast as it did.
Divergence is the result of big forces. In the modern economy scale is increasingly important. The companies with the biggest hoards of data can train their machines most effectively; the social network that everyone else is on is most attractive to new users; the stock exchange with the deepest pool of investors is best for raising capital. These returns to scale create fewer, superstar firms clustered in fewer, superstar places. Everywhere else is left behind.
What to do? One answer is to help people move. Thriving places could do more to build the housing and infrastructure to accommodate newcomers. Accelerating the reciprocal recognition of credentials across state or national borders would help people move to where they can be most productive. But greater mobility also has a perverse side-effect. By draining moribund places of talented workers, it exacerbates their troubles. The local tax-base erodes as productive workers leave, even as welfare and pension obligations mount.To avoid these outcomes, politicians have long tried to bolster left-behind places with subsidies. But such “regional policies” have a patchy record, at best. South Carolina lured BMW to the state in 1992 and from it built a thriving automotive cluster. But the EU’s structural funds raise output and reduce unemployment only so long as funding continues. California has 42 enterprise zones. None has raised employment. Better for politicians to focus on speeding up the diffusion of technology and business practices from high-performing places. A beefed-up competition policy could reduce industrial concentration, which saps the economy of dynamism while focusing the gains from growth in fewer firms and places. Fostering clusters by encouraging the creation of private investment funds targeted on particular regions might help.Perhaps most of all, politicians need a different mindset. For progressives, alleviating poverty has demanded welfare; for libertarians, freeing up the economy. Both have focused on people. But the complex interaction of demography, welfare and globalisation means that is insufficient. Assuaging the anger of the left-behind means realising that places matter, too. (abstract). This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “Left behind” The Economist.

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