Monday, December 27, 2010

Social Capital And Geographic Mobility

Increasing geographic mobility is one way to develop talent. However, migration can be disruptive. Rootlessness erodes social capital. Neighborhoods with too much churn often look dilapidated. The community suffers.

The above is one of the upsides to "house lock", people unable to move because they can't dump underwater mortgages. Patrick Coolican, Las Vegas Sun journalist, ponders a possible silver lining to the collapse of the migration economy. When asked about my thoughts, I talked about efforts to tie people to a certain place:

Jim Russell, a geographer, consultant and proprietor of the blog Burgh Diaspora, notes that a goal of federal policies designed to increase homeownership was to get people rooted in their communities, to have a stake in the future of their neighborhoods.

And although federal housing policies centered on homeownership may have contributed to the current mess by encouraging the bubble, the end result may indeed be a new rooted-Ness, at least in Las Vegas.

I've taken the firm stance that any policy designed to discourage geographic mobility (e.g. talent retention) is bad for economic development. I'm ignoring the discourse about social capital. I'm aware of the issue. I live in a neighborhood that struggles with rental residences. When my wife and I bought the house, many people asked if we were renting or owning. They wanted to know if we would stick around and take pride in our property.

At the federal, state and local level, we tend to incentivize staying in place. This legacy frames the discussion about brain drain. In my estimation, the gains in social capital fall well short of benefits for economic development. Decreasing geographic mobility is a drag on prosperity. And rootedness isn't the only way to build social capital.

Robust inmigration and substantial churn are challenging for any community. Necessity is the mother of invention. We deal well with an influx of newcomers. We fail miserably to manage the outflow of natives. Lots of people are leaving Las Vegas. What's the upside?

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