Can A Place Cease To Exist?
Just down the hill from where I live sits the former town of Bayou Sara. Or rather, the trees that now grow where Bayou Sara once was, before the 1927 flood breached the levee and wiped it out. Natural disasters can obliterate a town. But what about human factors? Megan McArdle sees little hope for Detroit’s survival:
Radical action is needed. But what sort of radical action is feasible? You can imagine a sensible plan that would essentially condemn all the houses in the outer rings of Detroit, arranging land swaps to bigger and nicer houses closer in, in order to compress the city into a manageable size. But you can’t actually imagine it being implemented. The politicians whose districts would go away would freak out. So would many of the home and business owners. The downsized public service departments would also be none too pleased.
When a business runs into this sort of problem, we know what to do: liquidate and sell off the non-performing assets. But Detroit doesn’t have any way to stop existing, even if it needs to.
Detroit was once one of the nation’s largest cities. McArdle says it’s lost 60 percent of its population since its peak. How do you reverse that slide?
Edward Hugh examines the case of Ukraine, which is in population freefall, due to high rates of
immigration emigration and low fertility. Excerpt:
Obviously people aren’t leaving because the population is declining, but rather because the economy is not able to incapable of generating sufficient economic growth and sufficient jobs to encourage people to stay. There is a loss of confidence in the future of the country because the economic decadence becomes associated with degeneration in the political system.
Decadence certainly seems to have set in at the economic level. The economy fell by nearly 15% in 2009, recovered growth of 4-5% a year in 2010/11 and then fell back into recession in the second half of 2012 (in which year overall growth was effectively zero. The IMF forecast a further year of zero growth in 2013 followed by a return to 3% growth thereafter. This subsequent out come may be very optimistic, and the country will possibly suffer from weak growth from hereon in, before eventually turning negative.
In this context the feeling inevitably grows that there is no way to turn the situation round. This feeling feeds on itself, and the big question is whether it produces a kind of circularity whereby the loss of confidence and the loss of people also feeds back into the economic process making the lack of growth and employment even worse.
So where does all this lead. Well it leads me personally to ask the question whether it is not possible that some countries will actually die, in the sense of becoming totally unsustainable, and whether or not the international community doesn’t need to start thinking about a country resolution mechanism somewhat along the lines of the one which has been so recently debated in Europe for dealing with failed banks.
What do you do when your place dies (in the sense of not being able to sustain life), not from natural disaster or war, but because of the inability of the local culture to adapt to changing conditions? I was thinking about this a few years back, driving through the bleak Texas Panhandle, looking at the shells of dead and dying towns, and wondering when the people there realized that the end had arrived. At what point does a noble dedication to place become suicidal?