Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Private Investment Is the Answer to Declining Postindustrial Towns | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on July 30, 2021

Daniella Bassi

My town, Tallassee, Alabama, is an old mill town. It straddles the Tallapoosa River, which is dammed at that point by the Thurlow Dam to generate electricity. On both sides of the river are the ruins of a massive complex of textile mills which employed a significant portion of the town’s population until 2005. In fact, the current mayor, Johnny Hammock, worked in the mills as a young man, and his father and grandfather also worked there. Today, the town is somewhat stagnant: some of the mills, which were burned in a massive fire in 2016, are in shambles; the bridge connecting the two sides of the town is rusty and the paint flakes off in the wind; and there are many empty storefronts and houses. Many people think that the way to restore the town is for the government to take an aggressive role, and one of the mayor’s main strategies has been to apply for grants to undertake the projects that he thinks would benefit the town most. In light of this approach, it is important to take a look at how Tallassee developed into the bustling little city it once was. Private industry had a strong hand in the town’s development.

Tallassee is one of many examples of towns that were developed by private industry. Although large landholders and small-scale businesses contributed to the town’s development, arguably the most significant changes were spurred by the cotton mills. The Tallassee Manufacturing Company built the first mill on the west side of the river in 1844.1 It constructed a larger, four-story mill nearby in 1852. In this early period, the company also built “grist and flour mills, a gin, a sawmill, a foundry, and a blacksmith shop” to serve its employees (many part-time farmers) and local people.2 These mills were powered by electricity generated by a dam that the company had built partway across the river.3

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Contact Daniella Bassi

Daniella Bassi is assistant editor at the Mises Institute and copyedits the Mises Wire, the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, and the Journal of Libertarian Studies. She holds master’s degrees in early American history from the University of Vermont and the College of William and Mary and an undergraduate degree from Amherst College.

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