One nation?


Eric Rauchway, noted historian and kayaker over at EotAW, posts a series of graphs that show productivity by region and state, from 1880 to 1960.  His point is “the [economic] convergence of the South on the rest of the country” — that is, that the South has gradually caught up with its richer relatives.

While there’s no arguing that the curve has flattened out, the most striking thing to me about the graphs is how little movement up the curve there is by Southern states.

The 2 outlier states that have really done well — Delaware and Maryland — are considered part of the South by reason of tradition, but they’re no more still the South than Indiana and Illinois are still the West, despite what the census-takers may say.

The other Southern states that have moved appreciably up the graph are the 3 oil states — Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana — and Florida, which is sort of two states in one — North Florida, which is very Southern and still relatively poor, and South Florida, which is not Southern and wealthy.

West Virginia has made a slight push up the curve, presumably thanks to its coal fields.  I’m not sure how meaningful that is, either, though, since that money mostly left the state and its residents remained dirt poor in the 1960s.  This study, from 1996, indicates that has since changed, however.

Maybe I’m just a glass-half-empty kind of guy, but my takeaway is: the bulk of the South was in exactly the same place in 1960 as it was in 1880 — bunched together at the bottom limit of the graph.

On the other hand, the one good thing about starting at the bottom is you don’t have far to fall.  Look at Vermont and Maine.  Yikes.  What happened to those dudes?



5 Responses to “One nation?”

  1. eric Says:


    You’re right, of course, about the South’s position, but the shape of the curve changes. That’s something, isn’t it?

  2. urbino Says:

    Definitely. I’m just saying it’s not the something that jumps out at me.

    I thought I remembered you kayaking out to some headlands or other in the SF area. Not so?

  3. eric Says:

    Oh, that. I have kayaked, twice. I thought you were referring to the infamous photo.

  4. urbino Says:

    That was a swim, as I recall. “Kayaker” is way more fun to say/write than “swimmer.”

  5. eric Says:

    Oh, yeah, gotta have your comedy k’s. Launch is not funny; skiff and canoe are funny; kayak is twice as funny.

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