Brian Bolduc writes in the WSJ:
When [Robert] Byrd became senator in 1959, West Virginia ranked No. 39 in median family income, and No. 42 in per capita income. Today, it's No. 48 in both categories.
True, Byrd was never a governor of the state even if he was its political patron. Also true is that mining companies developed more efficient techniques for extracting coal and natural gas, which eliminated the need for many blue collar jobs. Laid-off workers lacked the skills to attract other types of businesses and college students couldn't find jobs after graduation, so they left. Such dramatic changes would be serious obstacles for any politician.
But other states learned to cope with similar economic change. Take North Carolina, a state West Virginia beat in the rankings in 1959. Back then, the Tar Heel state lacked a skilled work force. But it kept taxes low and regulations light, allowing private actors to harness the state's resources. . . .
Byrd's supporters point to Interstate 68. In 2003, the federal government built a penitentiary in Hazleton, W.Va., precisely because the highway made it an ideal spot—sparsely populated yet accessible. But in both cases, the government made the development, not private investors. In fact, 51.3% of the state's economy relies on spending by the local, state and federal government—the highest level of any state. "We've created this culture of dependency," warns [Russell Sobel, a professor of economics at West Virginia University], "Our human capital is not good at competing in the marketplace; it's good at securing federal grants."