I have written in the past about the economic cost of embracing backwardness and bigotry. Here in Virginia, the region of the state that has most strongly embraced backwardness and bigotry is Southwestern Virginia and southern portions of the state extending west from Emporia. And what is its economic status of these regions? They are economic basket cases in decline, both economically and socially. The growing parts of Virginia that have the strongest economies have rejected the racism, celebration of ignorance, and anti-modernity that defines the declining parts of the state. The decline of the textile and furniture industries and coal have had a severe impact on the regions in economic decline, but their refusal to move into the 21st century have helped to guaranty that new industries and innovators have decided to locate elsewhere. As a column in the New York Times notes, there is similar divide developing in America. Not surprisingly, the region embracing backwardness and bigotry includes much of the South, and the Bible Belt in particular. Increasingly conservative Christianity and progress and prosperity are mutually exclusive. Here are column excerpts:
Inside the ancient town hall of Siena, Italy, the walls hold a series of magnificent 14th-century frescoes showing the effects of good government and bad. One side depicts a prosperous city-state, where justice and tolerance prevail in the Tuscan countryside. The other is ruled by a horned, fanged figure, the streets deserted and scary.
We saw our own version of this allegory with the two Americas this week — one going backward, the other stepping into tomorrow. We saw a retreat to bigotry in states dooming themselves to decline. And in other states, we saw a way for people to get around a do-nothing Congress controlled by Know-Nothing throwbacks.
First, the good. On Monday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a bill that will eventually raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, lifting the earnings of 2.3 million New Yorkers, and he authorized one of the strongest paid parental leave laws in the nation. On the same day, Gov. Jerry Brown of California put his signature to a $15 minimum wage plan in the most populous state. Then San Francisco became the first place in the United States to require businesses to provide paid leave for new parents.
What had seemed impossible just a few years ago is now rolling through cities and states led by forward-looking politicians. Together, these changes amount to a “revolution in the workplace,” as one exultant activist put it. But let’s not get too excited: The United States remains the only developed country in the world that does not mandate paid parental leave.
Now, the bad. Following North Carolina’s lead, another state, Mississippi, passed a law allowing people and institutions to deny services to gay people. With this measure, Mississippi, already one of the poorest states in the nation, ensures that good job providers will stay away.
Next door, in Alabama, the embattled Republican governor signed a bill earlier this year preventing cities from raising the minimum wage. This after Birmingham dared to dream of a day when its lowest-paid workers could make $10 an hour.
Nearly all the states with the highest percentage of minimum wage workers — full-time jobholders making $290 a week, before taxes — are in the South. These are also the same states that refuse to expand Medicaid to allow the working poor to get health care. And it’s in the same cradle of the old Confederacy where discriminatory bills are rising. Don’t blame the cities; from Birmingham to Charlotte, people are trying to open doors to higher wages and tolerance of gays, only to be rebuffed at the state level.
Essentially, this Republican-controlled block has decided that it’s better to be poor, sick and bigoted than prosperous, healthy and open-minded. And its defense is precisely that: The region is too economically distressed and socially backward to accept progress, so why change? Discrimination, as they see it, is just another term for religious freedom.
Lifting wages for low-end workers and bringing the United States into the 21st century on family leave should be no-brainers. And yet, Congress refuses to move on President Obama’s call for paid parental leave for federal employees, and will not raise the minimum wage beyond the paltry $7.25 an hour.
Being LGBT is not a choice. Embracing ignorance and clinging to childhood religious brainwashing is a choice. These regions that embrace backwardness deserve to decline. Hopefully, smart, progressive people will flee for more enlightened regions and these cesspools of ignorance and bigotry will become increasingly marginalized - which is precisely what they deserve.