A conversation on a bloggers’ listserve and with a visiting colleague raises a generic policy question we should have much more debate about, and in public. It comes in two distinct sizes that may have different answers.
“What should be done about places that have lost their economic reason to be populated?”
“Is there a humane way government can help obsolete regions to grow small gracefully?”
I’m thinking about places like Atlantic Canada, the Northern Great Plains, New Orleans, some swathes of the rust belt at the large scale, and poverty-blighted urban neighborhoods at the small (most of inner Detroit).
One answer, of course, is “bus tickets”. This is how the collapse of Southern agriculture was handled in the 20s and 30s. Of course it shreds all the social capital of the places that get depopulated. Another is unemployment checks, which I believe is what the Canadians are doing. This too may ruin the culture that one wants to preserve. Still another is one or another kind of subsidized economic development, high-tech labs and factories and training for residents; this almost certainly will cost a fortune and fails the all/any test (you can ‘save’ any county in Nebraska from depopulation with an Intel or Toyota plant that gets a really nice tax break forever, but not all of them).
Politically, one can understand why those who [claim to] speak for communities like this would oppose dispersion: if your constituents get speckled out as a diffused minorities in a lot of different places, what happens to you?