“Political leaders don’t have to do the hard work of building human capital and promoting sustainable economic growth — they can just coast along, riding the benefits of the resource boom.”
The above quote was taken from a new article in Foreign Policy Magazine by David Rothkopk. The article, “Cursed with Plenty,” looks at a theme familiar to many West Virginians: the resource curse. Rothkopk believes that the national shale energy boom could make the country complacent and render it unable to deal with our country’s crumbling infrastructure and education system, climate change, and long-term fiscal outlook. While Rothkopk is focused on the national scene, some of his insights equally apply to West Virginia -which is experiencing a boom in shale gas development in the northern part of the state.
For example, West Virginia has one of the most undereducated workforces in the country – with a little more than half of its workers with a post-secondary degree. According to a recent report by Workforce West Virginia, very few of the jobs in Marcellus Shale related industries require post-secondary attainment. This means that the state could grow complacent about putting adequate investments into higher education because the perceived demand and necessity for highly-educated workers is diminished. Shale extraction could also crowd out other businesses and entrepreneurs, as communities act rationally and place little stock in education as a means of securing future employment. The ability of a community to invest in education could also be negatively impacted by property tax abatements aimed at recruiting industries related to natural resource extraction, as we witnessed last year.
West Virginia would be wise to not repeat the mistakes of the past, where an over concentration in coal extraction has left the state with an undiverse and struggling economy. Luckily, there are plenty of solutions to ensure that the state benefits from natural resource extraction and that we continue to make the necessary investments in human and physical capital that will ensure a broadly shared prosperity and a sustainable future for our state.
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