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The Appalachian Regional Commission: Twenty-Five Years of Government Policy.

British geographer Michael Bradshaw, a student of the Appalachian region since the mid-1970s, has written a positive, institutional history of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), the most recent of the many outside attempts to modernize and "uplift" mountain society. The key to the ARC's success, and the element that makes it worthy of emulation, was its recognition of the need to involve both local leaders and national politicians, even when they mold plans to their political ends. "It is one of the central theses of this book that the political dimension should assume a much greater role in consideration of regional development" (p. 5).

Bradshaw begins by briefly introducing both the concept of regional development and the Appalachian region. Public planning, he writes, remains an inexact, even experimental social science. As an example of what not to do, he points to the Tennessee Valley Authority, which excelled as a utility but failed as regional planning. Washington's topdown management style, which ignored local issues and desires, as well as a commitment to bad theory, doomed TVA, Bradshaw believes. The Appalachia he depicts will be recognizable to those well versed in current Appalachian studies, particularly the model of the unfairly stereo-typed area reduced to poverty through the outside exploitation of its resources.

Unlike TVA, the ARC began at the grass roots. In Northern Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Eastern Kentucky, local business and political leaders began to cooperate with the goal of attracting industry. The Council of Appalachian Governors then developed to coordinate the efforts of the states. In 1960, John F. Kennedy's journey to West Virginia in search of a Southern primary victory alerted both the future president and the national media to Appalachia's ills. Once elected, Kennedy did not forget. After the Area Redevelopment Act of 1961 failed to meet the crisis, and the terrible floods of 1963 worsened the situation, Kennedy called together an advisory committee. The President's Appalachian Regional Commission, working with Lyndon B. Johnson after Kennedy's assassination, advised the creation of an independent federal agency to coordinate federal and state programs involving the infrastructure, job creation, health care, and education. As a result, over Republican objections, Congress created the ARC in 1965. Bradshaw discusses how Congress not only watered down the proposal but increased the boundaries of the target region in exchange for votes. The author sees this, and subsequent compromises (including the addition of Northeastern Mississippi), as pragmatic and wise sacrifices for the greater good.

In its first decade of existence, the increasingly independent ARC, with the states as full partners, established a reputation as a can-do agency. Bradshaw notes that by 1975 the region had better roads, hospitals, vocational schools, and jobs. Most of this, however, was due to the OPEC-induced coal boom rather than the ARC. At its height, from 1975 to 1980, the ARC had its greatest access to federal funds and came to be seen as a model for new legislation. Then came Ronald Reagan. Although Congress stymied Reagan's attempts to cut all ARC funding, he did reduce its funding substantially and narrow its goals to job creation. Conditions in Appalachia again worsened. Bradshaw, however, ends on an upbeat note, as George Bush has so far supported the commission more than his predecessor. Overall, Bradshaw concludes that the ARC played an important, often unrecognized catalytic role in improving the region's infrastructure and human-resource development, particularly in the southern third of the region. Considering the national political climate, the author asserts, little more was possible.

Based to a large extent on the ARC's own publications, the book not surprisingly reflects the agency's positive view of itself. Bradshaw does discuss the criticism the ARC has received constantly since its inception. Conservatives have opposed it as unnecessary Washington bureaucracy, even creeping socialism. Meanwhile, Appalachian activists on the left have attacked the ARC as inadequate, unresponsive to local needs other than those of local elites, too business and road oriented, and too enmeshed in the status quo. Appalachia suffered as a result of integration into the national and now international economy, they warn, and more of the same cannot help. Bradshaw dismisses these critics, however, and clearly aims to counter their arguments and "set the record straight" (pp. xiii, 142). Considering the highly politicized state of Appalachian scholarship, that is not likely. Still, those interested in the region, and in rural America in general, will find this both a useful history of the ARC and a thought-provoking treatise on government's role in shaping the rural economy.
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Author:Noe, Kenneth W.
Publication:The Mississippi Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1992
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