Thursday, October 28, 2021

Globalism's negative impact on rural places

Jared Phillips, a professor of history, rural development and human rights at the University of Arkansas, published a thoughtful op-ed in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette today, "At what cost?  Rural areas bear the cost of globalism."  His focus is the Arkansas Ozarks, where he lives and works and where his family has lived for five or six generations (just like my family, I might add).  Here's an excerpt focusing on burgeoning inequality within the region--inequality that is obscured by the region's growth and facial prosperity:  

Well, in the last few decades, the fleeting wealth created by global corporations like Walmart has hidden a legacy of loss for the Arkansas uplands, making it difficult for many to believe that globalism can indeed be beneficial--especially when we're told that we as a community aren't needed, displayed best by a recent campaign to attract people here that promises $10,000 and a bicycle.

This image is incomplete, however. Because of efforts like this, and the millions of dollars funneled into the region by the Walton Foundation and its partners, Ozarkers look more prosperous, stable, and well-positioned to meet the future than ever before. But are we? I wonder.

The Ozarks is generally a rural and remote region, and following the trend of much of America, since 1950 farm numbers have plummeted by 59 percent. Certain sectors--like dairy--within agriculture have dropped by 99 percent. As these farms disappeared--and with them the small towns they surrounded and supported--the region's urban and semi-urban populations boomed as outsiders flocked to Walmart, or Tyson, or the University of Arkansas.

As farms folded, land values have jumped, and folks on the fringes are pushed into troubling employment at places like those listed above--all three of which have troubling histories of how they treat and pay their respective work forces.

This shift paved the way for a new story in the hill country, one defined by globalized progress and corporate ambition. This prosperity, however, is only true for the upper ranks of Ozark life.
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This type of community change--rural decay coupled with corporate extraction and an expansion of inequality--has fueled the expansion of a strong anti-federal, anti-outsider ideology in corporate boardrooms and back hollers alike.

Most folks--at least those outside the region--think all of  Northwest Arkansas is rural.  It's good to see someone who knows and cares about the region disaggregating rural from urban and honestly observing that the rising tide in northwest Arkansas is definitely not lifting all boats.  

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