Jason Clark has lived near Amity, Pa., in the southwestern part of the state, since he was born. He likes to call urban Americans “hypocrites.” At 38, he’s the president of the Pork Association in Washington County, which sits at the edge of Appalachia.
City dwellers are consumers, as he sees it; they gobble up resources like meat and coal and natural gas without knowing where they come from or thinking much about the toll that rural Americans pay to supply them.
There’s a term for that toll. Economists call it the resource curse, or the paradox of plenty. Since the 1990s, political scientists and development experts have used the resource curse to explain why countries richest in fossil fuels tend to remain poor. The problem, they contend, lies in the toxic impact of large influxes of cash: Easy money displaces more productive economic activity and fosters weak governments.
Typically, scholars apply the term to poorer continents, yet it affects America also, and nowhere more so than Appalachia. Oil was discovered in western Pennsylvania in the 1850s. And for more than a century, coal companies have clear-cut hollows to burrow into the earth below.
Corporations influenced local politicians and owned local businesses. They set the price of bread and the number of hours in a workday. For a time, these companies also supplied jobs and, by extension, built communities as churches and schools grew up around mines. Yet education wasn’t really a focus. For laborers, the best-paid positions were underground. They required high levels of specialized skill best learned on the job.
For the rest of this column: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/09/opinion/sunday/appalachia-environment-resource-curse.html