Capitalism and underdevelopment in the American South

Capitalism and underdevelopment in the American South

Keri Leigh Merritt writes:

In 1938, near the end of the Great Depression, the US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt commissioned a ‘Report on the Economic Conditions of the South’, examining the ‘economic unbalance in the nation’ due to the region’s dire poverty. In a speech following the report, Roosevelt deemed the South ‘the nation’s No 1 economic problem’, declaring that its vast levels of inequality had led to persistent underdevelopment.

Although controversial, Roosevelt’s comments were historically accurate. The president’s well-read and highly educated young southern advisors had convinced him that the South’s political problems were partially a result of ‘economic colonialism’ – namely, that the South was used as an extractive economy for the rest of the nation, leaving the region both impoverished and underdeveloped. Plantation slavery had made the planters rich, but it left the South poor.

Unlike the industrialising North and, eventually, the developing and urbanising West, the high stratification and concentrated wealth of the 19th-century South laid the foundations for its 20th-century problems. The region’s richest white people profited wildly from various forms of unfree labour, from slavery and penal servitude to child indenture and debt peonage; they also invested very little in roads, schools, utilities and other forms of infrastructure and development. The combination of great wealth and extreme maldistribution has left people in the South impoverished, underpaid, underserved and undereducated, with the shortest lifespans in all of the United States. Southerners, both Black and white, are less educated and less healthy than other Americans. They are more violent and more likely to die young. [Continue reading…]

Comments are closed.