A reader sends a Robert Krulwich article about an experiment in tracking dollar bills, to see how far they circulate. What researchers found was the existence of distinct commercial “communities” or “neighborhoods” where most of our money circulates. The thicker the blue line, the more rare it is that dollar bills (= people spending their money) circulate outside the region it borders.

It’s a pretty fascinating way to determine how people move within their part of the country, and, in turn, what they consider their community. I was instantly struck by the lines in and around my state, Louisiana, and what it revealed to me about my own psychological conception of the boundaries of my community.

Notice the faint blue line following the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to the Gulf.  That separates French Louisiana to the west from English Louisiana to the east. Growing up in English Louisiana, we never really thought to go shopping across the river. It wasn’t a matter of hostility at all; it was just not something we did. I notice too that there are lines boxing in the Cajun capital of Lafayette; the folks in Acadiana keep their shopping close to home. You may not be surprised to learn that the Cajun region of Louisiana has the smallest outmigration of any region in America. 

Anyway, I see from the map that I reside in a dollar-defined region that stretches across Mississippi, Alabama, most of Georgia, the Florida Panhandle, and (more or less) Tennessee. As it turns out, that’s exactly where I consider myself “from,” though I hadn’t thought of it in quite that way. The Carolinas and Virginia are culturally distinct (I think of Florence King’s wonderful line about the South of “horses, tobacco, and Episcopalians” versus the South of “mules, cotton, and Baptists”), so I’ve never really thought of them as part of my South, though plainly they are Southern. French Louisiana is undoubtedly Louisiana, and thank God for it, but the cultural affinity with people on this side of the river is less than outsiders might think. Again, no hostility, but we in this part of Louisiana have more culturally in common with the people in Mississippi and Alabama — and that’s where our money tends to circulate, it seems. My hometown is about equidistant from Mobile, Alabama, than Lake Charles, Louisiana (near the Texas border), yet I think of myself as having more in common with Mobile than Lake Charles — though I hadn’t quite realized it until I saw this map.

Interestingly, by a quirk of culture and geography, I grew up thinking of north Louisiana as the Other, even more than the Cajun region — this, despite the fact that the north Louisianans are culturally Protestant, as are we. Yet they are heavily Baptist (“hard-shell Baptists” as we always heard), while we in the Florida parishes of Louisiana are more diverse, perhaps because we live closer to the coast.

The money map revealed to me a fascinating psychological reality about my place and region. Tell me if you had the same response to what it says about how money circulates in your region.