Lost Landscapes and Failed
Economies: The Search for a
Value of Place
295 PP. $35.00 HARDCOVER

While this book is firmly based in the rhetoric
of academic economics, Power’s local economies
and popular folklore makes it an excellent text for
economic anthropology. Specifically he focuses on
the ways in which folklore expresses local economic
decision making wisdom with regards to environmental
resources. These issues are brought to life
through descriptive ethnography of the diversity of
political and economic interests in American extractive

But this work is not merely descriptive. Power
advocates the demystification of two competing
modes of thought in local economic behavior. One
is the ideological bias of academic economic science
that assumes absolute truth. The other is the uncritical
bias of naïve folk economics that mistrusts
expertise external to local communities. This demystification
is motivated by his objective of helping
local people better understand how they make their
decisions so that local economic policies are neither
misled nor distorted.

Three basic assumptions inform his arguments
in the body of the book: 1) popular folk economies
that assume natural resource extraction industries are
critical to economic development are incomplete and
misleading; 2) contrary to popular belief, people seek
high-quality residential environments over economic
opportunities; and 3) business development follows
labor, not vice versa.

Environmental economic issues (i.e., agriculture,
ranching, fishing, mining, and logging) are
primarily rural in context, where folk wisdom persists
in political and economic decision-making. These
extractive activities are centers of economic and
environmental conflicts. Power argues that it may
be more productive to view these conflicts from the
perspective of scientific vs. folk economics rather than
as political interest group conflicts. This new perspective,
I think, is his main contribution to economic
anthropology and environmental scholarship.
According to Power, the various interests representing
extractive industries and environmental
protection are often deadlocked. He proposes a
different framework for engaging in civil discourse
to examine local realities. Scientific economics can
be employed to demystify the significance of the
role of extractive industries at local levels. In most
cases, argues Power, that role is not as significant as
many locals assume. Scientific economics can also
identify the significance of protected landscapes on
local economies. In most cases protected areas and
ecotourism contribute much more to economic vitality
than is locally believed.

Power argues that it is people’s commitment to
local environments that influences local economic
agendas. Therefore, environmental protection is not
only central to economic decision making, but the
most central resources in the local economic base.
When local people begin to see the protection and
preservation of their natural landscapes as essential
to economic development, and not in opposition to
it, acrimonious conflicts are transformed into opportunities
for collaboration.

He states that “there is little evidence to support
the idea that vigorous protection of environmental
quality limits economic opportunity” (p. 22). It does
mean economic transition, however, which is often
disruptive to local economies without public policies
to enable and energize adaptations. He identifies
the local factors that reveal the instability of income
from extractive industries. He also shows the relative
stability of the service industry in providing sources
of employment in the U.S. economy. Power is not
just touting low paying service jobs as the solution
to rural unemployment. His focus is on the kind of
service goods and services that offer entrepreneurial
opportunities. He provides a “bootstrap economic
development” model that contributes to greater local
self-sufficiency and attracts nonemployment income
flow to the local economy.

Power supports these arguments with economic
models that non-economists can read and understand.
In each of his chapters, he reviews basic academic
models of economic behavior and applies them
to local economic activities. By building an environmental
model of the local economy, Power includes
an aesthetic value of social and natural resources.
He creates a broader vision of a total economy that
includes noncommercial resources that contribute to
and support the local economic base. Through these
more comprehensive models of economic activity, he
shows that the vitality of local economics is a better
goal than just measures of quantitative growth.
Working as an applied economic anthropologist
in an agricultural community in northeast Iowa,
I’ve organized local stakeholders to read Power’s
book. Economic opportunities in this community
have diminished steadily, but local efforts to develop
ecotourism have been met with cynicism in this
community. If Power is correct, however, the stable
residential environment and the high quality of
natural environment amenities in this community
suggest that the cultural and intellectual inertia that
exists can be overcome by glimpsing a new vision.
Rather than fearing that things will get worse, people
can learn to gain confidence in their communities
and nurture their commitments to them as active
economic development strategies at the grass roots.
I recommend this book for all economic anthropologists
engaged in economic development issues
in rural communities. Power thinks more like an
anthropologist than an economist, but his academic
economic science rhetoric brings a much needed
perspective to rural economic development and environmental
preservation from the grass roots.

Barbara J. Dilly, Department of Anthropology

  Lost Landscapes book