The US South was a place where some of the basic logistics systems that drive our global economy today were born. Coca-Cola, FedEx, Walmart, Delta Airlines, and Bank of America each pioneered swift, long-distance networks of commercial exchange that accelerated the pace of global warming. They emerged in a political ecology constructed by southern state governments that gave these firms broad latitude to conduct business as they saw fit, passing few environmental or labor regulations. These firms grew like weeds, and in time, helped build our have-it-now, fly-by-night, buy-on-credit “Amazon” economy, placing heavy demands on working people and the planet. These companies from the south grew big by engaging in “country capitalism,” systems of servicing the rural countryside or smaller communities removed from major metro centers. They were interested in becoming the conduits of capitalism, perfecting methods of channeling secret ingredients, high-flying businessmen, dry goods, and investment capital to consumers in remote corners of the globe. In the 21st century, these companies have committed themselves to addressing their environmental impacts, but they have focused mainly on efficiency—cutting out waste, investing in energy-efficient equipment, etc.— which in most cases has increased their capacity to ship more goods through their corporate systems, resulting in enormous greenhouse gas emissions and other major pollution problems. In our discussion we’ll consider the challenges these firms and the government agencies that regulate face as they consider future sustainability objectives in the decades ahead.
Past Faculty Workshop•Apr 25, 2023
Bartow Elmore, Ohio State University
Country Capitalism: How Corporations From the American South Remade Our Economy and the Planet