Arianna Huffington's column tells the same story as Krugman's—immediatley below. (She seems to use the same sources as well.)
Hawaii has gone beyond laying off teachers and has begun laying off students -- closing its public schools on 17 Fridays during the last school year. In the Atlanta suburb of Clayton County, the entire bus system was shut down. Colorado Springs turned off over 24,000 of its streetlights. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Camden, New Jersey is soon to permanently shutter its entire library system. And last month the Wall Street Journal reported on the trend of cash-strapped states and counties giving up on the idea of maintaining paved roads, allowing them instead to turn back into gravel. And those localities that can't even afford to put gravel down are just letting the roads, as the Journal put it, 'return to nature.' A seminar at Purdue University on this trend was entitled 'Back to the Stone Age.'Huffington is starting a "Third World America" section of the Huffington Post. I wonder to what extent the picture they both paint is credible. I'm not doubting the stories, and I believe that Krugman in particular is pretty careful about what he writes. The charge that the country is devolving into the status of a third-world economy is quite serious. To what extent will it come true. I guess we'll see. It's certainly useful for that idea to be out there. It's now something that people can point to and focus on as a characterization of what's wrong with where we're going.
The Huffing Post "Third World America" section has a Google map of the country with icons for troubled areas. Interestingly the troubles seem to be concentrated in three specific regions: California, the old manufacturing states such as Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio (the "rust-belt), and Florida. The rest of the country looks like it's not in too bad condition—at least based on the distribution of icons.
I will be very interested to see how this perspective develops. A year from now will we be talking about how much further down the road to Third World America we are, or will we have pretty much forgotten that idea?