Emily Conrad: “Third World Solutions” For South Carolina?

SEPARATING TRUTH FROM HYPERBOLE … || By EMILY CONRAD || I think we have all heard it or read it at some point or another: “South Carolina is like a third world country.” Most everyone nods their heads in agreement, solemnly, recognizing this statement as fact.  But how true is…


emily conrad|| By EMILY CONRAD || I think we have all heard it or read it at some point or another: “South Carolina is like a third world country.” Most everyone nods their heads in agreement, solemnly, recognizing this statement as fact.  But how true is this statement, really?  And if it is true, how do we change it?  Equally problematic is the acceptance of our fate as a third world country.  If this is indeed the case, why isn’t South Carolina growing at the pace of other developing nations?  In 2014, South Carolina grew at 2.2 percent, whereas the projected 2015 growth for Kenya is about 6 percent and that of Peru is 4.5 percent.

The plight of South Carolina’s development was recently brought into the limelight through the Annie E. Casey Foundation report, which measures the overall wellbeing of children.  While South Carolina rose from 45th to 42nd nationwide, our economic indicators either stagnated or worsened: 27 percent of children live in poverty (around $23,000 as annual income for a family of four); 35 percent of children lack at least one parent who has full-time, year-round employment; and 40 percent of children live in single-parent homes.

Not surprisingly, some of the counties with the worst indicators are in the “Corridor of Shame” along Interstate 95 or in the aptly-named “Mill Crescent” in the Upstate and Midlands.  It should come as no surprise that South Carolina children are faced with such a bleak future: In November 2014, the South Carolina Supreme Court in Abbeville County School District v. State of South Carolina ruled that the state had failed in providing a “minimally adequate” education to many children in the state’s poorest counties.

This decision was the much-awaited result of the longest trial in our state’s history – lasting over 20 years.

The truth is that South Carolina is by no means a third world or developing country.  This statement is hyperbolic, accentuated to make a point close to election time.  The reason why it hits home so powerfully is because we have all experienced South Carolina poverty up close and personal.  On the way to work, I have to drive through the dilapidated textile mill town of Una, with its run-down, unkempt houses and boarded-up stores and restaurants.  Although it seems like a world away, it is mere minutes from bustling downtown Spartanburg.  Needless to say, I find myself driving through Una with the same demoralization as I would drive through a developing country.

There is always a thread of truth behind any hyperbole: South Carolina does embarrassingly rank behind some developing nations in several human development indicators.  Our state’s life expectancy of 77 years is below that of both Cuba and Colombia.  The life expectancy of African Americans is calculated at 74 years, lower than those of Brazil, Mexico, and China.  In its recent “Cradle of Shame” report, The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier delves into the statistics showing that many South Carolina infants die at third world rates. Shockingly, this report exposed the fact that eight of our 46 counties lack a single OB-GYN. As this is the case, should South Carolina begin to study third world experiences and solutions to assist in our state’s economic development?

Viewing our development challenges in South Carolina from an international development perspective leads to interesting results.  We are facing many of the same problems of third world countries around the world, just on a less lethal scale.  In other words, we can feasibly hope to tackle all of our challenges and spur a high level of human and economic development in South Carolina, since so many other countries have overcome much worse.

In his book “The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done about It,” Oxford economist Paul Collier describes four main vicious development traps: conflict, natural resource, bad neighbors, and bad governance.  Interestingly, South Carolina’s narrative can loosely fit into each one of these traps: Although the author was referring to the civil wars and military coups when discussing the trap in which conflict leads to poverty and poverty leads to even more conflict, South Carolina has had a great deal of violent and non-violent political conflict of its own.

Having started the Civil War, South Carolina has experienced repercussions ever since in the form of internal social conflict and political uncertainty. In 2007, a group of Auburn University economists discovered by analyzing the timber market that much of the South (including South Carolina) shows evidence of falling into a natural resource trap called Dutch Disease. This occurs when the presence of abundant natural resources counterintuitively leads to stagnation or decline because other industries suffer from lack of development and competitiveness.

Although South Carolina is not landlocked, we do fall into the “bad neighbor” trap, which basically means that our neighbors are not growing at a fast enough pace for us to benefit from a spillover effect.  In fact, several of our neighbors have even worse economic indicators than we do.  Finally, it can be argued that we also suffer from bad governance.  The cost of our state’s inability to solve its problems builds up year after year in a vicious cycle.  When the political leadership does not tackle this issue, it is essentially entrapping South Carolina further.

Of course, the first part of finding a solution is admitting that changes need to be made to the current system – and we do not seem to have gotten to that point.  In South Carolina, our economic development plan has been the same for decades: Offer big subsidies to businesses (particularly foreign corporations) willing to build a plant or a factory.  This strategy has led to Spartanburg County having one of the highest Foreign Direct Investment per Capita in the entire nation.  While this strategy has created a lot of wealth for some people and regions in the state, it certainly has not had much of a positive effect in our poorest communities, the communities which most resemble developing countries.

The economic development industry has boomed in recent years, employing countless of the country’s brightest young minds in international development consultancies, think tanks, and charities.  Students delve into international development at universities and the newest releases at the local bookstore will invariably include books about development.  The problem is that we generally export these solutions instead of applying them here at home, often sidelining state development and relegating it to the realm of local non-profits and advocacy groups.  I understand that “third world solutions” might sound disconcerting to some readers.  However, in light of China’s spectacular growth in recent years, many top economists are recognizing that there is a lot we can learn from the developing world.

All of us have seen or experienced poverty in South Carolina, to the point that politicians and academics alike have been able to call our state “like a third world country” and get away with it.  I believe that instead of just utilizing poverty as a talking point, we should demand action.  The American Dream cannot exist in third world conditions.  A solution just might be to begin utilizing the experiences of the developing world and the knowledge of international development groups as we work to achieve a more prosperous future for ourselves.

Emily Conrad works in communications for an international textile firm in Spartanburg, S.C. A Phi Beta Kappa Wofford College graduate, she is the founder of book blog, Global Book Challenge.


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euwe max August 5, 2015 at 11:32 am

The competition for outhouse construction is *brutal*!

Speak D Truth August 5, 2015 at 11:46 am

Modern outhouses are made from fiberglass. Most likely imported from China. I’m not sure they would be building them here. Filling them but not building them.

The Colonel August 5, 2015 at 12:31 pm

Most porta johns are made here, Canada or oddly enough in Brazil.

shifty henry August 5, 2015 at 12:52 pm

If there is a shortage — weeel, you can find plenty in the state and national parks!

Speak D Truth August 5, 2015 at 5:00 pm

Been a while since I have had to use one.

CorruptionInColumbia August 6, 2015 at 8:59 am

ExLax and a few other OTC items can help with that problem.

euwe max August 5, 2015 at 4:55 pm

More brutal than I had even imagined!

flip August 5, 2015 at 11:52 am

No Emily ALL of us have not heard SC is a 3rd world country? SC is thought of as God’s country-beautiful beaches,mountains and a cultural base of arts,music and festivals.

Way it works Emily is somebody get an education,works hard and achieves. I realize that is hard for socialists like you to understand that have been brainwashed at universities but is the way it is.

Comparing the economy of SC with Kenya where even the pResidents family lives in squalor and filth and a corrupt country like Peru, is insane.

That you Rocky?

LD August 5, 2015 at 12:43 pm

Have you ever been to Allendale County?

Rocky Verdad August 5, 2015 at 2:52 pm

I have. Add that to the poor counties with third world conditions.

Rocky Verdad August 5, 2015 at 1:29 pm

My wife grew up in the third world albeit in a wealthy family nestled in a first-world set of neighborhoods etc. Her and her Mom have identified the following areas as very closely resembling third world areas in their home country – US17 from I95 to Charleston, US 321 from Hardeville to Swansea, the area bounded by Marion to Florence to Kingstree, and US 176 from Goose Creek to Columbia. Haven’t been up to Barnwell in a long time, though I doubt it’s any less third world than it used to be. Now, to the degree – I’ve witnessed some serious poverty in South America (including Brazil) that is far worse that what you see in SC. But that was the extreme fringe. The average third world poverty is about the same as those areas. The difference is, in most third world countries, the government is working to find a way to bring the standard of living up, typically through a mix of tax incentives for increased commercial business (i.e. jobs) and infrastructure projects. And all are ardent about improved education. Here in SC – I see NONE of that. These areas are left to fester.

flip August 5, 2015 at 1:47 pm

Most of the persons whom the government defines as “in poverty” are not poor in any ordinary sense of the term. The overwhelming majority of the poor have air conditioning, cable TV, and a host of other modern amenities. They are well housed, have an adequate and reasonably steady supply of food, and have met their other basic needs, including medical care. Some poor Americans do experience significant hardships, including temporary food shortages or inadequate housing, but these individuals are a minority.

Sorry Rocky.Even the poor in this country live better than ANYONE in a third world country.

Rocky Verdad August 5, 2015 at 2:52 pm

Well Flip, I’d encourage you to take a drive down from I-26 to I-95 in the real SC, through towns like Estill, and Luray, and Scotia – and I can tell you you’ll find small shacks without air conditioning, or cable TV. For a steady supply of food, OK, though until recently, on medical care, it’s been spotty. Point is, near third world is pretty sorry, and the worst part is, nothing at the State level is being done about it. Hasnt for a long time. I’ve got 30 years time study of driving up 321 or out US17, and I can tell you, that over that timeline – conditions have gotten worse – steadily.

easterndumbfuckistan August 5, 2015 at 12:05 pm

Mande, Taylor, Liz, or Amy please come save us from Emily.

Thanks in Advance

E Norma Scok August 5, 2015 at 3:39 pm

Emily is hotter. Haven;t seen the chestal area yet, so my money is on Taylor for that win.

E Norma Scok August 5, 2015 at 3:49 pm

Ok I saw the twitter feed, I think I rescind some of that.

Just like 99% of everyone in her age bracket, she seems to be trying to impress someone.

CorruptionInColumbia August 5, 2015 at 4:25 pm

Her blatherings probably warm the hearts of Taylor and Mia.

easterndumbfuckistan August 5, 2015 at 5:27 pm

Emily is just depressing. At least Taylor is funny sometimes and Mia is usually interesting even if she is wrong.

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PattiAnn August 5, 2015 at 12:22 pm

Nicely written article Emily. The facts may upset some but they’re still the facts. SC has a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the country in term of infant mortality, education, income & quality of life.

E Norma Scok August 5, 2015 at 3:45 pm

Speak for yourself.

I’ll take my quality of life anyday over about 95% of the rest of the country (and over anyone that lives in Columbia). Its warm most of the year, I don’t live in a ghetto, and I’m 6 miles from the ocean.

erneba August 5, 2015 at 12:22 pm

South Carolina ain’t that bad, I finally got running water and an internet connection to my hut.

TroubleBaby August 5, 2015 at 12:36 pm

“Having started the Civil War, South Carolina”

lol, nothing controversial about that statement. Nope.

The Colonel August 5, 2015 at 12:40 pm

You noticed that too…

dwb619 August 5, 2015 at 10:45 pm

In the first place it is not called the Civil War.
In my days of high school, you would change that term or receive a 1 point deduction in your daily grade.
The preferred term was, and still is, War Between the States.
North Augusta Senior High School 1967-1969.

jimlewisowb August 5, 2015 at 12:48 pm

‘…..Having started the Civil War, South Carolina…..”

As a communications professional it would seem you would want to build your arguments on something solid such as rock rather than falling off your toad stool into a pile of fucking toad shit

Really – South Carolina started the Civil War all by itself – Really. Just South Carolina, no one else.

South Carolina did not start the War of Northern Aggression – Period

Once you get that fact in your pea brain post again. Otherwise shut the hyperbole up

My head is filled with peas August 5, 2015 at 1:36 pm

“your pea brain post”

Dude, why you have to go there?

bobbymac August 5, 2015 at 3:55 pm

You are misinformed …my great, great grandfather (Wade Hampton Gibbes) started the Civil War. He fired the very first mortar shell at Ft Sumter. He was from Columbia SC and definitely not from the North. I have always wondered where the term “war of northern aggression” originated.

Buddy Miles August 5, 2015 at 1:22 pm

But Mayor Riley said, “Charleston is no longer too poor to paint or too proud to whitewash”. He failed to mention all the damn yankees that now live below Broad. What gentrification?

Rocky Verdad August 5, 2015 at 2:56 pm

I dare say, sir, that the majority south of Broad remain, and will always be, the true families of Southern heritage and previliage.

E Norma Scok August 5, 2015 at 3:41 pm

Lulz…until the yankees come buy them out.

Haven’t been down there recently, have you?

E Norma Scok August 5, 2015 at 3:42 pm

You speak of “gentrification” like there is a gun at the head of the people moving out. They are getting bought out and taking the money and running. If they rent–they know the deal before signing the contract.

Sam de Mattosr August 5, 2015 at 1:34 pm

Emily Conrad hit the nail on the head. For the less educated she might be exaggerating facts; however she presented true numbers and valid statistics, in a hyperbolic and passionate manner and with the ardor of one who loves the land.
The problems I find in this beautiful corner of the world are complacency, expecting help “from above” and above all, education. The Carolinians are the most self-reliant and creative American, I ever met. But, perhaps we should disrobe ourselves from past delusions of the glories, put an end in the Civil War issues, realize that we are a small State, focus on our “quality as a people” and not quantities as Texans and Californians often do. Acceptance of different people, though growing, is also a must.
Education acceptance and a pinch of realist humility, I believe, will put us in the First World, in the very top, for “quality” is already here:
Now, we just need polish it with knowledge and education.

Edumacation! Edumacation! August 5, 2015 at 2:02 pm

I wish I had a nickel for every backyard philosopher that claimed the solution to all our woes was “education”. George Carlin had it right.

I know a lot of “uneducated” people running around with a shit load of money. You know what they all have in common? They work their asses off.

Now granted, if you don’t want to work and still make a lot you can get elected, but thankfully I don’t run with cockroaches.

CorruptionInColumbia August 5, 2015 at 4:26 pm

+ 1,000

Free candy for kids at Tango's August 5, 2015 at 1:42 pm

How did you get on Grand Tango’s property to take that picture of his house without being shot?

flip August 5, 2015 at 1:53 pm

Obama took his brothers tent while he was in Kenya and traded an old ‘prayer rug’ with the natives for this estate.

sparklecity August 5, 2015 at 2:28 pm

Dear Ms. Conrad
I live in the Spartanburg area myself and did some technical work at the rail yard right by Una so I know the area pretty well
Granted, it ain’t Beverly Hills but I can tell you this much……
I’ll take the worst place in Una and put it up against some of the hovels (or just plain shit piles that people were living on) I saw in Pakistan.
Since you work for an “international textile firm” perhaps you’ve had the pleasure of visiting Pakistan yourself (since they are heavily involved in textiles).

Sparklecity August 5, 2015 at 2:37 pm

I was just thinking about something…
I know the Una area fairly well so why in the hell would you cut through Una to get to downtown Spartanburg or wherever your “international textile firm” is in Spartanburg proper? Asheville Highway or I-585 makes a lot more sense
Una ain’t a “cut-through” for anywhere except to maybe the area by Spartanburg Methodist College or the back side of the Westgate area unless you are going to Gibbs International on US 29………….

Terry August 5, 2015 at 3:12 pm

SC is the Republican Party’s dream for every state. Mostly poor, dumb people, working for low wages. That is the plan for competing with Mexico.

Soft Sigh from Hell August 5, 2015 at 6:33 pm

Good editorial.

A few additional problems:

SC doesn’t learn anything from anyone . . . ever.

It’s ruling class especially is Third Worldish–banana-republic style.

Far too many of its citizens (yeah, yeah, I know: residents) have the outlook of peasants or even serfs with respect to (1) the powers that be, and (2) their feared “competitors” (i.e., black people). #1 especially is peasant-like and makes a mediaeval (“Dark Ages”) rather than third-worldish comparison tempting.

Limbaughsaphatkhunt August 5, 2015 at 8:32 pm

You can try and dress mutton up as lamb Emily but here’s the reason S.C. is literally (not figuratively….but literally) one of the worst 50 states:

1. GOP owns this state (Gov. mansion, both houses, most mayors, town councils, sheriffs, judges, etc.).

2. GOP owns this state b/c voters are willfully ignorant and are easily misdirected by the politics of religion and guns and keep voting for them…against their own interests.

3. There is a church per acre ratio of 1:1.

4. S.C. still considers the Confederacy as something to be proud of.

5. For all its hating on the Feds, we suck Federal bosom to the tune of like $1.40 for every $1.00 we give. We are a moocher state.

6. We couldn’t give a fuck about people’s healthcare or preventative care by way of legislative direction.

7. We couldn’t give a fuck about education by way of a 20 year lawsuit to provide “minimally adequate” education.

8. Obviously don’t give a fuck about roads and bridges because hey…”taxes are bad”. When that’s your default position….just “taxes are bad”….you get what you pay for…or in this case don’t pay for.

How to fix:

Stop voting for right wing nutcases and perhaps…just perhaps…vote for somebody besides the GOP.

The Colonel August 6, 2015 at 8:28 am

Yeah cause the Democrats did so well during the 90% of the time they’ve controlled the state…

Soft Sigh from Hell August 6, 2015 at 7:37 pm

Then just change “GOP” to “conservatives.”

Mike at the Beach August 5, 2015 at 9:20 pm

Good Lord…more silliness from yet another young, blissfully un-self aware, female Sic Willie sycophant. Even as intentional hyperbole, the “third world” bit is tired and stupid. Kenya?! Really? Just dumb. Cherry-picking growth rates isn’t even clever. Kenya’s growth rate is OK because they’ve sucked so hard to date. They have 10 times the population of SC and 1/4 the GDP. I spent what felt like 10 years there one month, and I can assure you that there weren’t many families retiring there from the US. It pains some folks to admit that little ol’ SC has a lot going for it, but most of the whiners just have a need for some kind of pseudo-intellectual sense of superiority. SC has problems. Every state has problems. It’s OK.

ThanksToNikki August 6, 2015 at 8:07 am

It’s even easier than that. Nikki Haley is our governor. Third World is the Only Standard she knows.


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