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The big picture of natural resource economy

 

Some thoughts after having attended the County Commissioners meeting on the Bitterroot Valley Resource Plan: From the truck on the cover to the innumerable references to traditional culture and custom, the document expresses a profound nostalgia. As someone who worked in the woods, I think a less sentimental look back at the industry’s practices would be helpful. The big corporations got in and got out, providing profits for shareholders and leaving us with the mess.

A sentiment that I heard expressed at that meeting was that the economy of Darby is hurting. This document is a product of that pain. The fact is, many, many communities around the globe are struggling with the problem of economic development, especially since the last “free market” bubble burst and recession began. Like us, they all struggle to create a vision for a prosperous future.

When I lived in western Massachusetts in the late 70’s, the boarded up factories and hollowed out cities were a testament to the textile industry’s move to the South. When I moved to North Carolina in 2001, once thriving textile and furniture factories were then shutting down and moving jobs to Mexico or overseas. We can talk about “comparative advantage” and a globalized economy, but the important thing is an understanding of the scope and reach of the complex forces that are at work in the modern capitalist system. The document assumes nothing has changed since the 1970’s. How many jobs would there be in a modern, mechanized mill?

No matter how much sovereignty or increased jurisdiction pro-logging folks believe they will gain through their “coordination” strategy (the word is mentioned 25 times!), they are still relying on the notion that western Montana can compete globally, with Brazil and Canada and Russia, in timber and mining. Perhaps if we gutted all regulations and safeguards and received another twenty inches of rain per year, and another construction bubble inflated, we could attract investors. Perhaps.

Dave Jones

Hamilton

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