The West Virginia productivity miracle

You heard it right, and that is the topic of my latest column at Bloomberg.  Here is the key idea:

In contrast, per capita income in France or Japan, by purchasing power parity measures, is in the range of $40,000 to $41,000. In other words, if we consider that living in West Virginia is especially cheap, its people may have real incomes roughly equal to the French or Japanese.

I have found that even raising such a comparison provokes outrage. After all, we are told, France and Japan have higher-quality public goods, and West Virginia has an opioid epidemic, one of the lowest rates of labor-force participation in the U.S., and one of the highest rates of uptake on disability insurance.

But that’s exactly what I mean by the West Virginia productivity miracle. The more burdened some of the state’s residents are, the higher productivity must be for those who are hard at work.


Most of the major industries in West Virginia have added workers since 1990, and the state’s population is up by about 50,000 people. Again, that performance is hardly an incredible one, but the state isn’t exactly falling into the dustbin.

And this:

It’s not that economic development for this region is mainly about turning meth-snorting squirrel hunters into steady workers; rather, it’s that West Virginia needs to build upon its existing strengths.

There is much more detail at the link.


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