Pete Buttigieg's Sovietesque Plan for Rural Revitalization
In his bid for the presidency, Pete Buttigieg rhetorically grabs a tiger by the tail, so to speak. Not the Siberian tiger still clutched by Russia, but an American mountain lion.
The tails in both instances are vestiges of towns and cities far from viable markets, a situation that leaves those remaining with little hope for economic expansion. These lives of despair are encouraged by government policies purporting to revitalize rural areas whose futures have long since passed. So, instead of migrating to areas with remunerative prospects, folks remain.
The book The Siberian Curse: How Communist Planners Left Russia in the Cold details the failure of centralized planners to encourage economic growth in the hinterlands east of the Urals. For years, Russia has been trying to settle the wilds of its frozen tundra. First, the tsars encouraged population movement, then the Soviets commanded it. The result today is cities crumbling in Siberia, far removed from population centers and markets.
As these cities age, Russia is burdened by their very existence. A solution under a system of interventionism does not exist. And a semiauthoritarian government cannot simply let its masses exit the tundra and find their own productive places to live and work, places likely within the already burdened population centers of Moscow, etc.
We look at such a system—centrally planned cities that are inefficient and unprofitable, far removed from centers of commerce—as vestiges of the Evil Empire. Yet, the US does the very same thing, despite Ludwig von Mises's clear refutation of the ability of central planners to achieve anything greater than a sustained descent toward general starvation.
Russia suffers due to the cost of supporting the residents of cities that are not efficiently located. At the same time, the US suffers due to similar redistributive measures supporting residents in regions that no longer provide jobs. In both cases, residents remain in areas that are unproductive while the rest of their respective nations suffer due to the redistribution of wealth from economically productive regions to economically unproductive ones.
In the face of this, Buttigieg has proposed a plan to repopulate declining rural areas with immigrants, stating,
I'm proposing what we call "Community Renewal Visas" that when a community that is very much in need of growing its population, recognizes that, and makes a choice to welcome more than its share of new Americans that we create a fast-track, if they apply for an allotment of visas, that goes to those who are willing to be in those areas that maybe are hurting for population but have great potential.
Who will recognize potential (great or small) in a struggling area? Acting men and women? Entrepreneurs seeking to satisfy consumer desires? No. Potential will be defined politically, just as in Russia and the former Soviet Union.
And when populations in depressed areas are propped up for political reasons, more taxpayers dollars are likely to follow. Areas designated as impoverished by government already receive federal dollars. For the local politicians, federal largess is a cash cow. Federal appropriations include dollars earmarked for rural poverty assistance, road and infrastructure improvements, new and revitalized schools, etc. Whether it's the smooth asphalt on roads that have little residential or commercial traffic or war on poverty–type programs such as federal support for education, politicians—local, state, and federal—benefit at the polls by being the providers of this pork.
However, struggling rural areas are impoverished because high-paying jobs do not exist there. So, instead of having acting individuals move to areas of economic prosperity, the feds attempt to chain rural residents to areas where the golden years are long gone.
You hear the politicians claim that the infrastructure needs to be improved and then jobs will follow. And now Buttigieg wants additional residents, claiming that renewal will follow. This is similar to the pronouncements coming from the Soviet planners of yore. Both claims are fallacious and without merit. Building a new school and paving additional roads in declining rural regions will not encourage businesses to relocate any more than doing the same in Siberia resulted in long-term, sustainable enterprises, nor will adding citizens to an area that has no need for them.
Business owners—entrepreneurs—are not fooled by the plaintive tales spun by the vote-hungry class. Businesses locate in the areas that their owners deem most profitable. The lure of paved roads, new schools, government support programs, and additional unemployed workers are not enough to counteract (say) the physical distance to market.
Of course, by adding more residents (future citizens and voters) to these regions the government will lock even more voters in to lives of tax dependency. Federal dollars will be spent by local and state politicians in a manner not too different from that of the Soviet planners; local infrastructure will be increased where it is not needed, and fruitless support programs will be created or expanded.
Sure, in the short run, some rural residents will benefit by being employed in these governmental works projects. But these very same residents will be unemployed once the projects or programs lose federal funding. The cycle of poverty will continue.
As harsh as it sounds, the only way to improve the lives of the residents of struggling rural regions is to remove government support. Let these folks face the true cost of their decisions. Some will accept reduced lifestyles and remain to enjoy the natural features of these still wild regions, while others will migrate to areas where they can attain higher-paying jobs. Either way, acting individuals will demonstrate their preferences within a market environment. And US taxpayers will not have to continue funding what has become America's Siberia.