What the world thinks of Pittsburgh

At the risk of being overly verbose, I mentioned that I was in Brussels recently at the European Commission for some meetings on the topic of how regions are adapting to globalization and more generally on how they are implementing economic transformation. Lots of blog fodder from that which I will parse into just a few posts. The executive summary is simple: the challenge to transform regions from older industrial bases to modern knowledge-based economies is a ubiquitous goal from the Ruhr Valley of Germany to Harbin, China… Yet it is a challenge that has few clear paths to achieve.

We get invited to these things because Pittsburgh is seen in much of the world as a role model of transformation and resurgence despite what we sometimes think of ourselves. I am the first to tout just how far Pittsburgh has come in the last 2 decades, but to a certain degree I think they may not have as much to learn from us as they think. The Pittsburgh lesson is really the de facto policy in the US of letting regions fend for themselves far more than is typical elsewhere. Thus we endure a lot more pain in the short run, the payoff comes from faster response to structural shifts that are unavoidable. I actually think we have a lot to learn from European regions as well. Anyone who has seen the comparable ‘mill towns’ of Germany will be amazed at just how well maintained they remain even after their core industries disappeared. Europeans rarely abandon in place whole communities to the degree we have left many of the towns of the Mon Valley implode.

Can policymakers find a balance between minimizing economic pain yet hastening the speed of change that must happen inevitably? Whether they should even try borders on a philosophical question. How to find that balance may be the distinction between the study of economics and the practice of economic development. Anyway... enough for now. More to follow in a few days.


2 Responses to "What the world thinks of Pittsburgh"

globalburgh said... 6/26/2006 1:45 PM

I look forward to your series of posts concerning your experience in Brussels.

Is Europe as dynamic as the United States in terms of domestic migration? I've contended that the one characteristic that sets Americans apart from the rest of the world is our willingness to move in order to improve.

The recent development of labor mobility within the EU also complicates the comparison. Any time-series analysis must take this into account.

In short, will European successes translate to the US context?

Anonymous said... 6/26/2006 9:30 PM

The thing you fail to mention is high unemployment in Germany, lack of inclusion and rampant racism.

If you look Turkish you cannot safely travel in most areas of Germany's eastern provinces outside of Berlin.

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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