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DARREL SMITH: Rural/urban diversity creates more challenges?

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New York Skyline as seen from Ellis Island, Manhattan, New York

Published Mobridge Tribune, January 20, 2016

Darrel SmithAmerica is full of different kinds of diversity. The differences between rural and urban America is another growing diversity. Three significant changes have happened since our country was founded.

The first is a population shift from rural to urban areas. We were originally an overwhelmingly rural country. The U.S. population in 1790 was almost 95 percent rural and is now less than 20 percent rural. The same population change has happened in every state with only a few states still more rural than urban.

The second change has been a massive increase in governmental control over our lives. I once read that before the Civil War an American probably spent his entire life without any contact with the national government except through postal roads and post offices. Every year the federal government and states pass thousands of new laws and regulations. These add to the considerably more than the million already existing.

The third change is how we think we should be governed. In the 2012 election 27 of the 30 largest cities voted for Barack Obama. One writer suggests that primarily liberals don’t move to cities but cities create liberals. Rural areas remain primarily conservative. This rural/urban difference is seen clearly in recent national county voting maps.

These three changes mean that rural people are more and more being governed by the decisions of urban people in a way they often don’t appreciate. This is true at both a national level and also within many rural states with urban cities. It used to be that as rural people moved to cities they maintained an understanding and appreciation of rural life, but those times have largely passed. Unfortunately, many urban dwellers now know very little about rural life and are condescending towards rural people. To them we are flyover country.

The problem is made worse by the fact that 28 percent of our land (over 630 million acres, primarily in the west) is still owned and controlled by the federal government. This federal ownership reduces local control. It reduces the potential development of the land, which also reduces the prosperity of the land and the surrounding areas. Also, environmental regulations, including recent water regulations, threaten federal control over all land.

Most businesses dealing with complexity and diversity decentralize many aspects of their businesses. Even our military is noted for encouraging decentralized decision making. Our government is responding to our increasingly complex and diverse culture by gradually centralizing authority in the national government. Our complex diversity and increasingly centralized authority increases frustration and anger with governments.

Our most important divisions aren’t about race, ethnicity, where we live, or some other difference. They are about how we think and believe. They are about the diversities in how we view the world. How do we come together when we think so differently?

Darrel Smith writes a weekly column for the Mobridge Tribune. He is a South Dakota businessman and the owner of ChristsInternet.com