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Appalachia's Path to Dependency

Appalachia's Path to Dependency: Rethinking a Region's Economic History, 1730-1940

Copyright Date: 1994
Edition: 1
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Appalachia's Path to Dependency
    Book Description:

    The debate over the source of Appalachia's economic problems has been going strong since Harry Caudill'sNight Comes to the Cumberlandsappeared in 1963. Now a new study illuminates the region's plight, making a vital contribution to the understanding of this area's critical economic dilemma.

    InAppalachia's Path to Dependency, Paul Salstrom examines the evolution of economic life over time in southern Appalachia. Moving away from the colonial model to an analysis based on dependency, he exposes the complex web of factors -- regulation of credit, industrialization, population growth, cultural values, federal intervention -- that has worked against the region.

    Salstrom argues that economic adversity has resulted from three types of disadvantages: natural, market, and political. The overall context in which Appalachia's economic life unfolded was one of expanding United States markets and, after the Civil War, of expanding capitalist relations.

    Covering Appalachia's economic history from early white settlement to the end of the New Deal, this work is not simply an economic interpretation but draws as well on other areas of history. Salstrom compares Appalachia with the Midwest at mid-nineteenth century, today's Appalachia with Third World countries, and the region with Japan.

    Whereas other interpretations of Appalachia's economy have tended to seek social or psychological explanations for its dependency, this important work compels us to look directly at the region's economic history. This regional perspective offers a clear-eyed view of Appalachia's path in the future.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4806-9
    Subjects: Economics, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Tables and Figure
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  5. Introduction: The Issue
    (pp. xiii-xxxvi)

    As of 1840, southern Appalachia figured as one of the most self-sufficient regions of the United States. By 1940 it had become one of the country’sleastself-sufficient regions.

    Between 1880 and 1930 the southern mountains experienced a rapid transition toward industrialization. During that half century, the region’s self-sufficiently in food production waned. Later, when Appalachia’s industries faltered in the 1930s, the federal government provided relief on a massive scale. Relief became so extensive that it brought many mountaineers more economic stability than they had known for generations—since, or even before, industrialization had begun—but in the process it...

  6. 1 Early Settlement and Self-Sufficiency, 1730–1860
    (pp. 1-19)

    The settlement of North America, including the settlement of Appalachia, occasioned major examples of what Robert Brenner calls “massive improvements in the security of the food supply.” Between 1714 and 1775, for example, thousands of rent-racked flax and linen producers abandoned their tiny leaseholds in Northern Ireland and flooded across the Atlantic to America, where many or most of them “lit out for the territories” of that day. Their venturesome settlement of Older Appalachia multiplied their direct access to their means of economic reproduction.

    But why, then, did their descendants eventually find themselves economically dependent on other American regions? Here...

  7. 2 Accelerated Agricultural Decline and Adverse Federal Policy, 1860–1880
    (pp. 20-40)

    The Civil War hurt agriculture far more in the Great Appalachian Valley (Older Appalachia) than on the Appalachian Plateau (Newer Appalachia). Table 2 makes this evident. Despite minimal population growth during the 1860s in the Older subregion—about 6.8 percent as compared to about 17.7 percent in the Newer subregion—the number of farm hogs per person in Older Appalachia was nonetheless cut almost in half. In Newer Appalachia, by contrast, farm hogs per person fell by less than a third in the war-torn 1860s.

    Paralleling these hog numbers was the supply of feed for fattening hogs: farm corn production...

  8. 3 Rural Appalachia’s Subsistence-Barter-and-Borrow Systems
    (pp. 41-59)

    A scholar has remarked that the greatest success achieved by America’s massive effort to export economic development to the Third World “was the attention it focussed on the transformation of ourownearly economy.”¹ This may be so, but, contrariwise, one of the ideas that has hindered America’s success in exporting development has also hindered scholarly understanding of early America. This is the idea that all development has to be measurable by the same yardstick.

    The same economic goals have been pursued in different ways, and “development” has meant different things to people who have pursued similar goals in different...

  9. Labor-intensive Mining and the Subsistence Reproduction of Labor Power, 1880–1930
    (pp. 60-82)

    During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, several colonial countries in various parts of the world experienced phenomenal population growth. One explanation now advanced for this is that an increased output was required from the inhabitants of those countries if they wished to maintain their previous living standards. Often, production for export was added to the already extant production for subsistence and internal trade—inspiring many local people to increase the size of their families to keep up with their enlarged workloads.

    In rural eighteenth-century Northern Ireland, for example, children were set to spinning linen from flax as early as age...

  10. 5 The New Deal and Appalachia’s Industry
    (pp. 83-93)

    From the 1880s on, and particularly after 1920, Appalachia’s highly competitive mines enforced a curb on the profits attainable by northern coal operators. In 1920 the mines of West Virginia and Kentucky supplied only 23 percent of the country’s bituminous coal, but by 1927 they were supplying 41 percent.¹ Already by 1924, production in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois had fallen 27 percent from its 1920 level, whereas production in West Virginia and Kentucky had risen 23 percent from its 1920 level. As for the size of the work force, that fell more than two-fifths from 1923 to 1929 at the...

  11. 6 The New Deal and Appalachia’s Agriculture
    (pp. 94-110)

    In May 1927 a torrential, once-in-a-century rainstorm struck much of the Appalachian Plateau, tearing topsoil and clay off its plowed hillsides in sheets. Three years later, from Arkansas to West Virginia in a west-to-east belt, the 1930 growing season saw the onset of a major drought. In northern West Virginia, the Monongahela River and the Tygart Valley River shrank to isolated pools that were transferred downstream through water hoses so that the cities of Morgan-town and Elkins could receive drinking water.¹ As far east as Roanoke, the year 1930 saw only 16.27 inches of precipitation, well below half of that...

  12. 7 The Welfare of Rural Appalachia
    (pp. 111-121)

    New Deal policy makers betrayed no misgivings about the usefulness of pumping money into “backward” areas such as Appalachia. Harry Hopkins and his assistants often bucked local political opposition to attain their relief quotas. And Franklin Roosevelt, from 1934 on, frequently blamed the South’s low living standards on its dearth of money—money with which southerners could buy goods and also could pay taxes for better roads, schools, and social services. When New Deal money injections into the rural South didnotrevive its economy, the government’s prescription nonetheless stayed the same. At a March 1939 press conference, Roosevelt reiterated...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 122-138)

    The stagnation of which Jonathan Hughes speaks is still with us in the 1990s, and I venture to say it has grown systemic to American capitalism. This rethinking of Appalachia’s odyssey began with Frederick Jackson Turner’s comment that early American settlers poured “their plastic pioneer life into geographic moulds.”¹ As we have seen, they were also pouring their lives into the molds that we call economic systems. Even in a single region, no one mold—no one economic system—molded the behavior of everyone. Many of Appalachia’s people poured their efforts into subsistence-barter-and-borrow systems, many others into the capitalist system,...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 139-169)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 170-190)
  16. Index
    (pp. 191-204)