Thursday, June 07, 2007

Genealogy of Pittsburgh

While I've been babbling about trust and human capital, Pittsblog seized upon a juicy Burgh Diaspora moment in the Post-Gazette. First, there is some question (albeit a minor aside to Mike's main topic of conversation) about the importance of the 1980s on the collective psyche of Pittsburgh. Take a gander at Chris Briem's post about putting recent unemployment data in historical perspective. The graph concerning Pittsburgh unemployment relative to the unemployment rate in the entire United States does indicate a massive shock to the regional economy to start off the 1980s. Employment opportunities were much more abundant outside of Pittsburgh. So, the pain of the 1980s seems real enough.

Second, Mike uses the Post-Gazette article to spark a debate about Pittsburgh's self-defeating mindset. Is the region on the road to recovery from the economic death spiral of the 1980s; or is Pittsburgh's malaise much more deeply seated and therefore more difficult to overcome?

If Pittsburgh has a problem, it is too much navel gazing. I don't think Pittsburgh's plight is any different than that of Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, and all the other Rust Belt tales of woe. That Pittsburgh is the post-industrial urban rule, not the exception, indicates that the current stretch of risk aversion is a product of recent events. If anything, Pittsburgh has weathered the economic storm relatively well.

I'm bullish on Pittsburgh. Regardless, the positive outlook the region needs is in abundance among the Burgh Diaspora. That which seems to be holding Pittsburgh back is its greatest asset, a strong sense of identity that travels well over long distances. I've seen this firsthand as a member of Steelers Nation.

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