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Globalization Has Hollowed Out Rural America

What do we make of an economy in which a handful of bubblicious urban areas are magnets for jobs and capital while rural communities have been hollowed out? The short answer is that this progression of urbanization has been one of the core dynamics of civilization for thousands of years: opportunities are greater in cities, and so people move from rural areas with few opportunities to cities with greater opportunities.

But that’s not the only dynamic hollowing out America’s rural communities: globalization plays a key role, too. Rural economies can rarely muster economies of scale that enable globally competitive enterprises. Rural communities generally lack the capital, expertise, global supply chains and cheap transportation costs that are the building blocks of successful global production and distribution.

In a global economy characterized by over-capacity, over-production and mobile capital, localized rural economies can’t compete with the low cost of commoditized products distributed by finely tuned global supply chains and cheap transportation.

Pre-globalization and cheap transport, local bakeries imported bulk flour and baked bread that was lower in cost than loaves shipped in from afar. The local bakeries held the competitive price advantage, and so local bakeries could pay local labor and local taxes that then supported the rest of the local economy.

But in today’s economy, commoditized bread can be delivered rural communities at prices local bakeries cannot match.

The same holds true for virtually all globally tradable goods– foods, clothing, etc. The only economic sectors with a toehold in rural communities are corporate farms, the occasional small specialty corporate factory making non-commoditized components and non-tradable services such as hair salons, motels, thrift shops, cafes, etc.

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