Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Internet saves rural North Carolina county

This was a very heart-warming story I heard on NPR on the way back home from work: a rural North Carolina county, facing difficult times with the end of tobacco subsidies, decided to get itself wired and get all of its citizens broadband access. Part of this involved giving laptops to all the students in 6th-12th grade throughout the county.

There were numerous positive effects, especially for the kids and youth: the college attendance rate increased dramatically (though there were other pro-college efforts in place at the time, so how much can be attributed to the laptops and broadband is unclear), and business in the county increased.

My favorite stat was that teen pregnancy dropped a lot. I wonder why. Maybe people used the Internet to find a way to gratify their sexual impulses that doesn't involve procreation. Or maybe they used the internet to order certain things that reduced the procreative risks of the activities they continued to engage in. Or maybe they used the Internet to learn all the things they weren't being taught in their abstinence-only sex education. (I have no idea if this particular county used abstinence-only.) Or maybe they were all so busy playing World of Warcraft and updating their Facebook pages with annoying little applets that they had less time to impregnate each other. Or maybe access to computers and the Internet gave them a glimpse of a better future for themselves, so they were a little more careful with that future. I'd really be interested to learn more about why the teen pregnancy rate went down.

Anyway, I love it when something I love (cool technology) makes people's lives better.

A libertarian blogger also liked this story:

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.

I'm not a libertarian, but I agree that farm subsidies should be phased out. Not a good use of our money, it distorts the market, and makes it hard for developing nations to compete in the agriculture sector. The latter is quite a serious moral issue: millions of people are pushed into poverty and deprivation by the West's agricultural policies.

A liberal response to this story of rural wiring might be: what if the entire country got access to computers and broadband? Might the entire country experience the kind of revival that Greene County seems to have managed?

2 Comments:

Anonymous bill in minneapolis said...

Ironic, the libertarian like it when the Federal government bows out (ends tobacco subsidies), then is quite happy when local government steps in and porvides everyone computers. Who does he think paid for the computers ?

5:30 PM, July 16, 2008  
OpenID cameronp1013 said...

Zachary, I want to thank you immensely from quoting from my blog. I was ecstatic to know that others are finding substance in my words :). I will add you to my blogroll.

To Bill in Minneapolis:
The money came from grants that the county received and from the school budget. As far as I am aware, no additional taxes were levied. However, I find it perfectly justified on libertarian grounds since the tax (if it exists) went toward funding education.

7:25 PM, July 16, 2008  

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