Listen to the full story here. A full transcript is pending…
So I said “What the hell” today and actually pressed “6” on my radio dial, which tuned me into NPR.
Every now and then there is interesting programming on, and I am in a mood to shun music and listen to voices talking about bread in Afghanistan or something along those lines.
Today was one of those days. The topic was how Greene County, a rural North Carolina county, went digital.
You see, Greene County made a huge investment. The school system went through the budget and, with grants, funded the acquisition of laptops for most of the students in the school system. Additionally, the county is running programs to teach adults how to operate computers.
Of course, there is no established relationship of statistical significance, but since this investment in technology, Greene County has seen a decline in teenage pregnancy, a rise in the number of students applying to and attending college, and growth of around 20% in business. The mass introduction of computers and broadband access certainly has, at least to some extent, fueled these trends.
BUT THAT ISN’T WHAT REALLY CAUGHT MY ATTENTION.
NPR in its infinite liberal wisdom spent only a few seconds explaining that what prompted this investment in technology was the federal government’s termination of farm subsidies to tobacco growers. That fact, however, was what turned this good piece of journalism into a great story…for me anyway (being the libertarian that I am).
Greene County’s story is not just one of bold local governance…it is one of a community forced to finally grab the reigns of modernity in the absence of subsidies that kept it backward and complacent for far too long.
Let me begin with a quite by Milton Friedman, from his book Capitalism and Freedom:
“…the effect of the [agricultural subsidy] program has been to keep more people on the farm than otherwise would have stayed there.”
Now Friedman dislikes farm price-supports for many reasons, but we won’t digress and will just focus on this one and its applicability to the story of Greene County.
Faced with the (long-overdue) termination of its agriculture subsidy, Greene County was faced with a choice. The county was too backward and lacked a labor force to entice commercial investment, and so it took a prescient step and invested in the technological advancement of its youth, which spread naturally to parents and to the whole community.
Greene County, in the words of a resident, skipped the industrial age and jumped right into the technological age.
Such a bold move has certainly contributed to a wider understanding of the world by the citizens of this rural community, and has increased the level of knowledge of its youth, who are, in larger and larger numbers, leaving the farm for higher education. Furthermore, Greene County’s renaissance is attracting new businesses in a way it could not have before.
A young adult resident of Greene County must wonder what their life would have been like had they continued to live in the artifically created comfort and very real stagnation of price-supports.