Making a dubious list

I usually don’t link to blog comment – particularly when it doesn’t espouse anything new or make any interesting points. However, I did find this a bit cheeky:

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).

Now, I don’t know who this blogger is but the fact that Atl. Canada gets rolled in as one of the examples is interesting.

Maybe that’s a good place to start all of our discussions: is Atlantic Canada ‘obsolete’?

I just find the dismissal or the brushing over of the massive direct government investment to grow successful economies (even the most successful areas like Silicon Valley were the beneficiaries of tens of billions in government funding – things like R&D, large scale government facilities and direct subsidies to industry).

Is Atlantic Canada ‘obsolete’ because of a lack of government interest in supporting economic development? Again, I’m not talking about corporate welfare or large scale income support programs like EI – I’m talking about deliberate strategies to grow specific sectors with investments in education, R&D, infrastructure, etc. We might call this the ‘Donald Savoie’ version of obsoletion.


Is Atlantic Canada ‘obsolete’ because of some long term structural, inability of the region’s economy to be self sufficient? Are the region’s industries destined to decline without massive subsidies? We might call this the emerging ‘conventional wisdom’.

Ultimately, of course, that’s silly. Highly successful economies have developed in some of the worst places you could imagine. Think about Phoenix – one of the fastest growing economies in North America. It’s a desert for crying out loud. Look at Finland – considered by a number of international measurements as in the top five locations in the world to live.

Is Atlantic Canada at the arse end of the North American economy or strategically positioned between Europe (and the Indian subcontinent via the Suez) as the gateway to North America?

My position on this is simple. Communities ‘depopulate’ or “lose their economic reason to be populated” when community and industry officials give up. When they throw in the towel. Over a 200 year period, there are many examples of communities reinventing themselves several times over. It’s not because a specific industry or specific economic activity starts to dry up that communities must die. Rather, they must reinvent themselves. And that requires community leadership – and yes government leadership and involvement.

So, in conclusion, I disagree with the ‘generic policy question’ raised above. If you ask a stupid question, you get a stupid answer.

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