Monday, March 05, 2018

Black Panther film's fictional Wakanda has lessons for Appalachia, Roanoke Times editorial says

A Roanoke Times editorial takes a whimsical turn, saying that the fictional Wakanda in the hit film "Black Panther" has some lessons for Appalachia. It's not that far-fetched a comparison: Wakanda is a tiny country whose wealth comes from minerals. Though Appalachia has no "vibranium," it does have coal, oil and natural gas, which leads the Times' editorial board to ponder: Can an economy based on resource extraction really become wealthy? Can an isolationist nation really become wealthy?

To the first question, the editorial notes that coal mining has historically enriched a wealthy few, while the miners were among the poorest in the country. "The fictional Wakanda has somehow created a resource extraction economy that re-invests its wealth in its own people. With the demise of coal, it’s too late for Appalachia to do that. Instead, the great challenge for the region now is to build a new economy that generates wealth here, not someplace else," the editorial board writes.

As for isolationism, the Times editorial board remains skeptical that any country would have everything it needs to build a society without trade. "That’s also the danger of Donald Trump’s isolationist trade policies," they write. "By withdrawing from the TransPacific Partnership, Trump basically made it harder for American businesses to profit from future growth in Asia. China is more than happy to step into that void."

Two things the board liked about Wakanda, and hopes Appalachia can replicate, are its focus on education and gender equality. Education matters because the biggest indicator of economic success is in the skill level of the population. And, it notes, getting girls involved in STEM fields is important because "you can’t build a modern economy with only half the population."

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