Persistent poverty, economic decay and lack of opportunities are at the root of considerable discontent in declining and lagging-behind areas the world over. Poor development prospects and an increasing belief that these places have “no future”—as economic dynamism has been posited to be increasingly dependent on agglomeration economies—have led many of these so-called “places that don’t matter” to revolt against the status quo. The revolt has come via an unexpected source: the ballot-box, in a wave of political populism with strong territorial, rather than social foundations. I will argue that the populist wave is challenging the sources of existing well-being in both the less-dynamic and the more prosperous areas and that better, rather than more, place-sensitive territorial development policies are needed in order to find a solution to the problem. Place-sensitive development policies need, however, to stay clear of the welfare, income support and big investment projects of past development strategies if they are to be successful and focus on tapping into untapped potential and on providing opportunities to those people living in the places that “don’t matter”.
“The revenge of the places that don’t matter (and what to do about it).” Cambridge journal of regions, economy and society 11.1 (2018): 189-209.
Professor of Economic Geography
London School of Economics and Political Science
The interview transcript
Andrés thank you very much for accepting this invitation to a coffee break, how are you doing?
Fine thank you very much for inviting me.
I want to talk with you today about the paper you wrote in which you analyse the role of places that don’t matter and what to do about it, could you please tell me what the paper was about?
Well the paper was about places that, as a result of changes in economic theory and in policy, have been neglected for a very long time, places that very often were not that long ago, hubs of economic activity and that have over the last few decades lost services employment, productivity, capacity to innovate and they have lost economic dynamism, these are very often the places that have been characterised as in the U.S. flyover states or rust belts so areas that have been losing out for quite some time and have decided enough is enough.
And which ones are your main findings of the paper?
Well the main findings are that these places that have been suffering very often in silence for a long time have decided to take revenge, that because they have been not being heard that they have been neglected by policy, they have said we need to show our power and how have they done that at the moment they have done it through the ballot box by choosing to vote for options both to the stream right and stream left that are against the system they’re saying, if we’re sinking we’re sinking the whole boat vote boat with us.
I understand that, and what can we do about it? Which are the policy implications about that?
Well the policy implications are clear that we cannot go as we have been going for the last 20 years, the main economic theories have emphasised agglomeration identity, if I can translate that is the idea that if we want to make a cake we need to put all the ingredients in one place, so that we can make a cake much bigger and if we have a bigger cake everyone is going to eat from it, the reality is not like that, very often when we put all the ingredients in one place mainly the most dynamic regions, very often capital cities, large cities sometimes we end up with not a bigger cake but a smaller cake and what is certain that regardless of the size of the cake there’s some areas some people some groups that are going to eat the majority of the cake and most of the others are only going to get the crumbs if anything.
I completely understand that coming from a developing region myself I can completely see that, and let me ask you about the personal motivation you had to to do this research?
Well uh like in every type of research there are many types of sources of motivation one, is always an internet intellectual journey I’ve been working for many many years on regional disparities and the growth of regional disparities, which has been a trend virtually all over the world and I was thinking
that this greater polarization of economic activity into a few places could not be good and most of the research that I was finding was that first we were not mobilising the potential of many intermediate cities, small cities rural areas in our countries and that by betting on just one horse mainly the biggest the most dynamic city in the past sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t so that there was something to be done, but on top of that, there are other types of more let’s say personal motivations, some sort of personal reaction that for many years most people that I was interacting with in economic conferences, etc were telling me well territorial inequality doesn’t matter what matters is fundamentally interpersonal inequality but I always thought that the conditions in the place where one lives actually determines your outlook of life and your opportunities and this is something that was ignored by the majority of the theory and even by policy-makers, so there was something that needed to be done because territorial inequalities were growing but interpersonal inequalities that tend to be larger were not the ones that were threatening the system to the extent that territorial inequalities are and then, finally I was given the opportunity when I was at a conference in Warsaw in early 2018 to change my topic at a very short notice, present that in front of a large audience of not just academics but a lot of policy makers and I could see the reaction that I was hitting the right chords so I knew there was something that needed to be translated into a paper and that’s why I put this into words and send it to the Cambridge Journal of Regions Economy and Society.
We’re happy you did it, so thank you very much again those were all my questions and I wish you all the best for your future research and hope to see you again in another coffee break.
Thank you very much Lorena.
Thank you for watching, if you’re interested in more details about this academic publication you can find here the link below.
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