Americans may be torn up by the BP oils spill and its destruction of the Gulf of Mexico's natural habitat -- and torn up we should be -- but that habitat has not been pristine for decades. In many ways, Louisiana made its deal with the devil long ago.Wealth that comes from the skills of the people is much better for any community than wealth that comes from what happens to be under the ground.
And what a bad deal it was. Long before the oil spill, the state's embrace of the petroleum industry cast it under what economists call "the resource curse": the paradox that countries rich in minerals or petroleum tend to grow more slowly and have lower living standards than other nations. Simply put, Louisiana is the closest thing America has to a petro-state.
Instead of blessing Louisiana with prosperity, the oil industry fostered dependency, corruption and an indifference to environmental damage. Our Cajun sheikdom's oil and gas riches -- like those of the Niger Delta, the Orinoco belt in Venezuela and the Iraqi marshes -- also stunted its development, leaving it far behind states with fewer natural resources.
According to the Census Bureau and Harvard University health data, Louisiana ranks 49th among the states in life expectancy, has the second-highest rate of infant mortality, comes in fourth in violent crime, ranks 46th in percentage of people older than 25 with college degrees, and ties for second in percentage of people living below the poverty line.Oil riches didn't create these problems, of course, but it is striking that they didn't ameliorate them.
How you make your money matters.