Small Town Economics

As I spend more time in a small town and compare it to my experience(s) in cities and even just regions closer to larger population centers, I am starting to learn one of the primary problems in small towns: lack of competition.

I mean lack of competition in an individual sense.  There is no need for self-improvement or even, maintenance of quality in small towns for many positions just because there is no one else to take that place if it is an essential job.  For example: middle management of any business.  Once an individual gets into that sort of position in a business that stays stable within the community and can get comfortable, they really have no need to improve themselves or the business really.  No other business will likely move in due to it being prohibitively expensive to move in and start a new business and there are not many new candidates moving into town to cause competition in the field itself for promotions etc.  So, it becomes very easy to fall into a “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” attitude about everything.  This hurts small towns most when it comes to leadership.

Having dynamic leadership is one of the best ways to promote expansion, development and improvement I think, having managers/mayors who are always willing to try new things and help those below them become more capable.  Dynamic leadership happens when non-dynamic individuals filter down/are limited in their promotion abilities because of competition or cannot get into higher levels due to a lack of initiative.

A mayor and/or board which is not dynamic, not curious and willing to look into new ideas and not really in competition because of no one else running for those elected positions ends up leaving a town stagnant.  The stagnant individuals essentially create a ceiling of potential and end up pushing those with more initiative, abilities or curiosity out and away (this tends to be associated with the younger generation) which then means that there are fewer opportunities which leads to even more people leaving essentially filtering down to those with the least amount of dynamism or initiative so that those who stay end up being the people who get up, go to work, come back and just sit in front of the television and doing nothing really at all with their spare time and becoming unhealthy and disconnected.

The question then becomes, how can small towns reverse this cycle now that it has generally started?  The obvious solution is to get more people coming to promote competition but, they need to be able to have a viable life there, which is very hard to do since it seems that most of the possible work in small towns is either healthcare or construction related, with the latter requiring driving where it could be more efficient to simply live closer to the worksite.  Thanks to cars, small towns are not self-sufficient anymore with small stores employing small amounts of people in the town to service everything unless they have some major industry which has yet to move away or is not mobile.  The problem with those industries is that if they could move they probably already have at this point and those that are not mobile tend to be seasonal (agriculture, waterways, tourism).   Seasonality does not make for a stable life, especially without being able to get land for oneself either.  The other job industry growing right now is technology.  Technology requires infrastructure which, sometimes, does not exist in small towns or it is not up to the requirements of the technology yet.  The only way to improve that infrastructure though would be through an increase in funding which would only happen if, instead of shrinking and aging, the population of small towns was growing and younger.

We come back to, how does one stop this cycle?  It seems that the most effective way would be for leadership to recognize its own failures – something that only happens through competition.  Not to mention, recognizing the problems, which is another major issue for most of the small towns I have seen; they simply cannot recognize that there is a fixable problem that could benefit the town often because, no one wants to change at this point and everyone is afraid of dynamism.  People want the same things that have worked for their entire lives to apply in the exact same way to everyone else and then magically everything will be dandy.  Quite an interesting world those people live in so, next time you’re listening to a small-town friend of yours complain maybe just ask them, what have they done to help their small town besides simply existing in it?

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What Causes Poverty?

This week two questions were asked: “what is poverty?” and “what causes poverty?”

My knee-jerk, smart-ass response to that was: Poverty is caused by sitting around asking these questions.

Talk about the kettle calling the pot black being a philosophy major. Meaning I specialize in asking questions and not going much further than that.

But really, it is an interesting topic to an extent.  Also, I have to react in some way to someone who wrote “capitalism” as the thing that causes poverty.  I intend to start with “what is poverty” though, I am a philosophy major, defining words is my thing.

Poverty, I think, is instability if one goes to the very root of poverty although I think the better phrasing is “lack of stability.”  (Yes, I do in fact enjoy going that deep into phrasing.)

I say this because lacking stability leads to a feeling of no control and probably a relatively poor environment (physical, emotional, psychological).  These things then cause some form of hopelessness meaning no planning for the future or minimal planning for the future.  That leads to certain mindsets which just continue this terrible cycle.  I like plant analogies so, in this situation, poverty would basically be lack of stable soil/water/sunlight for a seed.  Take those things away and a seed probably will not grow and, if they are of poor quality, that seed may grow but not to its full potential.

I say this because, without some sort of stability, some sort of solid ground, it is impossible to make any leaps, any leaps of faith.  Those leaps of faith are the things required to be and feel successful (just run with me on that for sake of argument please).  Think of all of the assumptions made on a daily basis by an individual 1) there will be a tomorrow that they will wake up to 2) their living shelter will still exist and still be theirs 3) they will wake up in good enough health to get to work 4) they will still have work to go to or have the ability to find work 5) they can or will get some sort of food/nourishment.  The alarm has not even been turned off yet and we have 5 assumptions!  Plenty more get made once you sit down and think about it.  Not being able to make these fundamental assumptions leads to instability and loss of control which, I think, leads to a cycle into the usual sort of poverty of lacking money etc.

The problem is, how do we promote that stability required without simply hiding poverty?  As in, how do we create something that helps someone create their own stable environments without simply creating a fake stability and thus helping to create a reliance on the help and then generational poverty?  Somehow we have to figure out how to help someone build their own permanent stability where there is none or very little to start out with.

STOP what you’re thinking.  This is not a critique of current programs that exist or anything, I am simply pursuing a line of thought that is not often discussed openly (at least not in the circles I frequent).  Instead of critiquing government etc., what if I threw the responsibility back to you, as an individual and member of society?

Instead of waiting for a government program to come and help solve poverty without you, as a citizen and possibly neighbor to someone needing help, doing anything, maybe it is time to think about how you, since you are right there, can help create stability for your neighbor.  You, as the person on the ground, can actually see where stability is most lacking and are closest at hand to help that other person actually begin to find stability or create stability.  As an actual face too, that person is less likely to become reliant on you because humans are proud individuals and having to look at someone constantly that they owe will help them want to get free of that “owing” and return the favor in the best way that they can.  Not saying you ought to look for something from that person but, their want for their own individual pride, can help make sure they do not become reliant on you for stability; something that a vague program simply cannot do.  Just saying, next time you want to critique a vague program of any sort: what part have you had with it and what are you doing to fix those problems you are critiquing?

Positive/Negative Rights

Currently we are at a crossroads in the U.S. over negative or positive rights, I think.

Negative vs. Positive rights are not necessarily ideas debated about in our politics so, we can start at what is meant by negative and positive rights:

Negative rights are those rights such as “freedom of speech,” “freedom of religion,” etc. they are those rights which prevent government/society from making rules or decisions in.  They are the “live and let live” style of rights.

Then there are positive rights.  These rights are those which require society/government to step in and DO something to promote/protect those rights.  These are the ones that tend to cause a bit more debate as to whether they “are” rights or not such as the right to clean water that is debated.  But, I will stick with it due to ease. This “right” would, if read in a positive sense, require that society step in to try to make sure “clean” water (however that is defined) is available to all individuals in that society.  One that may be of more interest to people is this un-written yet, seemingly assumed, “right to social security benefits.”

Most of the time in our politics, these differences get mixed together or confused in such a way as to obfuscate the different types of rights and goals of programs trying to work with those rights.  Most importantly, since this difference is not discussed generally, it means that our debate/separation between parties does not find common ground and ends up putting emphasis on different types of rights for different groups without ever recognizing that those different goals exist.

This muddling is what I think is helping to contribute to the rift between parties and the feeling of separation that some people feel in a general sense.  Arguably, there is a group of people who tend to think more in terms of “negative” when it comes to rights, they focus on those sorts of rights and tend to picture rights and think that programs that support that style of right should be promoted.  At least, for certain aspects.  What is really interesting is people across the political spectrum want both positive and negative rights, just in different ways (usually to suit themselves only).

Take that “right to clean water” I mentioned earlier.  Some people think that is definitely a positive right meaning policies/practices need to be put in place to make sure every individual in a society can get drink-able water for a reasonable price or free.  Definitely something someone in say, Flint, Michigan, can look forward to and consider to be important.  Or, in a larger sense, farmers in dry regions in the United States and those sorts of “water rights.”  Notice how someone in Flint wanting free water is asking for a hand-out or entitlement program but, a farmer wanting access to water in land basically unfit to farm on, is asking for a right to work on that land.  Also notice how both want a positive right in their favor and not necessarily towards the other side due to not considering negative/positive rights. Or, say  in the EPA debate, the EPA enacts rules/regulations to try to make sure waterways stay clean enough to drink out of, a very positive action towards a right to clean water but many want to push against the EPA and would rather have a “negative” right to clean water in that, there simply is nothing preventing them from water access. How about that, just sliced one thing into three separate ones all of which have potential to be at odds with each other.  What would happen if we, as a society, began to actually have a discussion which explored this slicing?

How about something more interesting: the right to healthcare.  A relatively…..fresh topic on the minds of citizens in the U.S.  Take a look at the difference in view of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and the American Health Care Act.  Basically, one could say/assume that the ACA was a step towards a “right to health” in a more positive sense as in, entitlement program.  Whereas, probably, an American Health Care Act will be a push back against such a strong positive right and more of a negative right in that, barriers to getting healthcare/insurance will be broken down.

Essentially, who’s responsibility is it for rights: the individual’s or society’s?  That is the question that ends up happening in some of our current debates I think and no one is asking it openly so we cannot begin to actually make headway in sorting out what is the best option.  In reference to healthcare, is it the individual’s responsibility to save/invest/whatever to have insurance to pay for healthcare or is it society’s responsibility to set up some way for healthcare to be accessed for every individual?  So far, since that debate has not happened it seems that we have a bit of both and neither side works particularly well then.

I do not intend to come down on a side on this debate yet because I am currently on the fence but, an important question that could be asked is “who’s responsibility is this?” Next would be, “why them?” I think if we began to get those two questions answered clearly we might be able to start finding some solutions to many of our problems.