Progress in Mississippi - The Daily Reckoning
The Daily Reckoning by Bill Bonner
On This Day - 22 May 2013
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Vicksburg, Mississippi

"God's blessings on you...God's blessings on you..."

We had breakfast in the Waffle House, just off route 5, up from Jackson on the way to Memphis. An old man came in supported by a cane. He announced that in a loud voice that it was his birthday.

"Well, happy birthday," said one of the Black women behind the counter.

"Huh..." he asked?

"I said happy birthday," she repeated.

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"I don't hear too good."

Then the Black women behind the counter and one other customer, a heavy white man, began singing 'Happy Birthday.' We joined in. But when the familiar words to Happy Birthday were exhausted, the white man didn't stop.

"God's blessings on you," he continued, using the same tune.

This is rural Mississippi. It's easier to get washed in the blood than soaked in the sauce. There are more churches than bars. Maybe more.

But this is the New South, as they used to say. The old south was bigoted, backward and dry. The New South is forward looking, progress oriented and open to suggestion.

We can confirm the prosperous part. Everywhere you look, there are new cars on new roads going to new malls and buying new stuff. At least, everywhere within 50 miles of the new Nissan plant in Canton. The white building is huge. It takes up acres. It has what looks like thousands of autos in its parking lot...and thousands more in inventory, waiting to be shipped out.

But let's check in with the markets before we tell you more about Mississippi. Stocks jumped up again yesterday as a Fed governor assured the world that the US central bank had no intention of backing away from its EZ money program.

Bloomberg:

    U.S. Stocks Rise as Bullard Says Stimulus Should Continue
And then, Goldman added to the fun by advising stock market investors to get ready for 33% gains through the end of 2015. Bloomberg again:
    S&P 500 May Reach 2,100, Goldman Sachs Says

    Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said the U.S. stock-market rally may last at least another 2 1/2 years, sending the Standard & Poor's 500 Index (SPX) up 26 percent to 2,100.
Blah. Blah. Goldman is talking its book. The more people get excited about the stock market, the more money Goldman makes. But further increases in stocks come with great risk. And Goldman's insiders are probably selling!

The Dow rose 52 points. Gold dropped another 6 bucks.

So, back to Mississippi...

Nissan was a godsend to this part of Mississippi. It was once the poorest state in the union; maybe it still is. But all around the Nissan plant, new housing developments are going up.

We criticized La Jolla for its failure to come up with a distinctive style, a vernacular architecture that unifies the city and gives it a brand. But here in the Jackson/Vicksburg area the architecture is worse. The area had a gracious and elegant style - based on white clapboard houses with generous porches. The kind of place you see in the picture books; the kind of plantation houses the Yankees burned to the ground. You still see them in the old areas of town. They can be as fancy or as simple as you want. Porches in front. Porches behind. Porches on the first floor. Porches on the second floor...round porches, square porches, all kinds of porches. And on these porches you can still drink a mint julep or a lemonade and enjoy the long southern evenings.

Too bad, but the locals have completely rejected porches. First, the porches got smaller and smaller as the California ranch house invaded this area in the '60s, '70s and '80s. And now, the new Normandy style is growing faster than kudzu. Practically every house built in the last 5 years shows tendencies toward this foreign genre of architecture, with heavy brick walls, small windows, and steep, hipped roofs. There are no porches, which is a sin against nature in this part of the world.

"I wonder what people do in these houses," asked Elizabeth. "I guess all they can do is to close the door and turn on the air-conditioning, cutting themselves off from the place they live in."

While this part of the New South seems prosperous, there are backward parts too. In Canton and in Vicksburg...as well as in the country in-between...there are still shacks worthy of Tobacco Road. Men still loiter on busted chairs in front of them. Rusty appliances and broken-down autos still litter the area around them. Beat up pick-up trucks still head to liquor stores on Friday evening.

And the towns - Canton as well as Vicksburg - seem to have been abandoned. Canton is a beautiful place - with a central square that was the scene for much of the Coen brothers' film, "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou." Of course, it is a nice place largely because it hasn't been tampered with. The buildings around the square are much the same as they were 50 or 100 years ago. But the town is dead.

"It seems very quiet," we said to the pretty woman at the tourist office.

"Well, it's still early. It gets busier later on."

She was talking her book too. Her job is to sell the place to tourists. We passed through down later in the day. It was as dead as it had been in the morning. Most of the parking spaces were empty. Most of the buildings around the square were for rent or for sale. The New South seems have forgotten Canton.

It forgot Vicksburg too...and all that happened there. Despite a bloody battle in which 19,000 soldiers and civilians died, the city flies the flag of its conqueror from every lamp-post. And though it has never been liberated from the Northern grip, it seems to bear no grudge.

More on the battle for Vicksburg, tomorrow.

Bill Bonner is the President & Founder of Agora Inc, an international publisher of financial and special interest books and newsletters.

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