Tuesday, May 4, 2010

David Brooks on the influence of culture, ethnicity, and region

Columnist David Brooks writes in today's New York Times about "The Limits of Policy." He argues that ethnicity, culture, psychology and "a dozen other factors" are far more powerful forces than government policy in terms influencing well-being and longevity. Here's a quote that doesn't refer explicitly to rurality, but which suggests it--and aligns it with negative outcomes.
The region you live in also makes a gigantic difference in how you will live. There are certain high-trust regions where highly educated people congregate, producing positive feedback loops of good culture and good human capital programs. This mostly happens in the northeastern states like New Jersey and Connecticut. There are other regions with low social trust, low education levels and negative feedback loops. This mostly happens in southern states like Arkansas and West Virginia.
Of course, states like Arkansas and West Virginia are popularly thought of as culturally rural; they also have significant rural populations. While outcomes in these places are poor by several measures, I--unlike Brooks--am not willing to give up on policy as a way to alter that. I don't think the answer is to simply let the negative feedback loops just continue to loop.

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