Markusen / CONTRIBUTIONS OF BEN HARRISON
REGIONS AS LOCI
Harrison was interested in regions primarily as arenas in which conflict and change take place. He studied those regions in which he was working—New England, where he taught at the Massa- chusetts Institute of Technology; California, where he taught at the University of California-Berke- ley one semester and frequently visited; Pittsburgh, where he taught at Carnegie Mellon University; and Europe, where he often collaborated with other regional scholars. He was rela- tively uninterested in the microeconomics of regional growth—the stuff of location theory, trade theory, and so on. Indeed, he rarely speculates in his work on why some regions grow faster than others although he sometimes demonstrates such differentials (Bluestone, Harrison, & Gorham, 1987; Harrison, 1982). Nor does he spend much intellectual capital on the role of national policies in causing differential growth rates.
Instead, Harrison used the region as a stage on which to demonstrate firm (he preferred the term corporation) behavior and dynamics as well as labor’s role and response. Although he generally focused on a single region, he often began or closed by reflecting on whether the patterns he found might hold in other regions. He suggested (1982), for instance, that other U.S. regions might follow New England’s deindustrialization path in the future (p. 41), whereas he disparages the possibility that other regions could emulate Silicon Valley.
Harrison frequently began his regional studies by positing a normative concern. For instance, writing critically of the apparent revival of New England in the early 1980s, he downplayed the sig- nificance of efficiency, as evinced in aggregate growth rates, and focused on the other two goals of the traditional economist’s triad—equity and stability. At the time he wrote, the economics profes- sion was already retreating from an even-handed concern with all three, in large part the result of the transcendence of the so-called micro foundations of macroeconomics school over Keynesians and institutionalists. But in Harrison’s work, distribution and stability matter. In his “Instability and Inequality” (1982) article, he documented the worsening income distribution accompanying the region’s revival and warned that the region may become less stable in the future.
Mirroring the seminal article of Doreen Massey and Richard Meegan, “Industrial Restructuring Versus the Cities” (1978), Harrison also rejected the notion that the causal forces in regional devel- opment can be found solely in the region itself. In an article on plant closings (1989), he demon- strated the futility of searching for causality in the characteristics of localities. His evolving thinking about regions was strengthened by his work on the Black ghetto and labor. In an early 1980s talk to the City and Regional Planning Department at Berkeley, he revealed that he had come to believe that he had been studying the wrong actors, that it was capital, not labor or minorities or localities that were the most powerful shapers of society, and that it had come time for him to study capital. This insight marked the beginning of his long interest in the behavior of large firms and consequences for workers and communities.
. . . he downplayed the significance of efficiency, as evinced in aggregate growth rates, and focused on the other two goals of the traditional economist’s triad— equity and stability.
Nevertheless, Harrison remained committed to the regional scale in his work, not because it pro- vided a satisfactory theoretical entry point but because it is there that the politics of change are rooted. In Harrison’s macro work with Barry Bluestone, it is Harrison, with his origins in a northern New Jersey working-class community and his work on ghetto economics, who continually grounds the research in particular regions, whereas Bluestone’s background as the son of a major labor leader pulls Harrison’s work toward the national level. In The Deindustrialization of America (Bluestone & Harrison, 1982), for instance, they illustrated the ravages of deindustrialization by choosing particular communities and regions—Youngstown, Ohio; Newark, New Jersey; Johnstown, Pennsylvania; and New England as a whole (chaps. 3, 4). These examples, and the use of Houston as a putative boomtown, are used to show the multiplier (or in their colorful words, the “ripple”) effects of deindustrialization and too rapid growth.
This moving back and forth from supraregional and powerful agents of change to the regional perspective can be seen even in Harrison’s unusual typological work with Michael Storper on industrial production systems (Storper & Harrison, 1991). Here, they placed firms and firm net- works central to their ambitious analytical structure. But toward the end of the article, they shift the