The final stage in the deindustrialization of America

Essay by gjohnsit and crossposted with permission.

I’m old enough to clearly remember their lies. Their promise to us was that we would “think” while others would “sweat”.

It sounded too good to be true, and like anything that sounds too good to be true, it was a lie.

The pro-globalization, pro-free trade crowd was very clear. If we lowered our trade barriers to cheap foreign imports, while we retrained our workforce, other nations would do the hard, manual work of producing goods while we would do the do the mental stuff of high-tech goods and services.

It was an appeal to our egos. They tried to manipulate us with false pride, and it worked to some extent.

What was sowed was hubris. We are now reaping that false promise.

With enough abandoned lots to fill the city of San Francisco, Motown is 138 square miles divided between expanses of decay and emptiness and tracts of still-functioning communities and commercial areas. Close to six barren acres of an estimated 17,000 have already been turned into 500 “mini- farms,” demonstrating the lengths to which planners will go to make land productive.

The city, like the automakers, has to shrink to match what’s left, said June Thomas, a professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“The issue is how,” she said. “There’s no vision.”

“People are moving out of the city, trying to find work,” said David Martin of Wayne State University’s Urban Safety Program. Those who stay “can’t afford to move out.”

There is no example more poetic of a failed policy than a major city turning back into farmland. America is returning to the one thing that can’t be exported by the globalists at a profit – dirt.

We were supposed to keep the “thinking” jobs, and the American workers did their part. All major advances in computers were pioneered by American workers.

But it turned out that “thinking” jobs were exportable too. Our computers are now made overseas, as are our call centers. It didn’t matter what our thinking could invent. The only thing that mattered was that the work could be done cheaper overseas.

The hollowing out of our industrial base is so complete that once large, vibrant cities like Flint are literally looking at abandoning whole sections of the city.

Property abandonment is getting so bad in Flint that some in government are talking about an extreme measure that was once unthinkable — shutting down portions of the city, officially abandoning them and cutting off police and fire service.

[Mayor] Brown said that as more people abandon homes, eating away at the city’s tax base and creating more blight, the city might need to examine “shutting down quadrants of the city where we (wouldn’t) provide services.”

He did not define what that could mean — bulldozing abandoned areas, simply leaving the vacant homes to rot or some other idea entirely.

Abandoned cities never looked like progress to me. Yet that appears to be America’s future, not just Michigan’s. It’s true in Youngstown, Ohio, as well.

Under the initiative, dubbed Plan 2010, city officials are also monitoring thinly-populated blocks. When only one or two occupied homes remain, the city offers incentives – up to $50,000 in grants – for those home owners to move, so that the entire area can be razed. The city will save by cutting back on services like garbage pick-ups and street lighting in deserted areas.

“Abandoned houses here are like rainfall in the spring,” said Mayor Jay Williams, “That has gone on for decades.”

When the good paying factory jobs left the local tax base was gutted. Inevitably that meant that the money for the local school was gutted as well. Even if their lies were true, and all we needed was to just train our kids for the “thinking” jobs, how was that going to happen when our schools were falling apart?

The free-market fundamentalist crowd told us that globalization was inevitable, there was no stopping it. If that was true then why did we need to pass NAFTA and CAFTA and China’s MFN status? Why did globalization have to be helped along if nothing was going to stop it anyway?

Was it just another lie?

The fact that the gutting of our industrial base happened right around the time of massive deregulation and free trade agreements point to “yes”.

The theory of the pro-globalization, pro-free trade crowd was that the people in these towns would migrate into jobs in new industries. Those industries never came.

So the hardworking people that lived in these cities left for new cities in the sunbelt, where everything was supposed to be better…except that it wasn’t.

Cul-de-sac neighborhoods once filled with the sound of backyard barbecues and playing children are falling silent. Communities like Elk Grove, Calif., and Windy Ridge, N.C., are slowly turning into ghost towns with overgrown lawns, vacant strip malls and squatters camping in empty homes.

Estimates predict that by 2025 the nation will suffer a surplus of 22 million large-lot, suburban homes. Instead of the sunbelt poor taking over the centers of our cities, they will be pushed to the fringes by economics, out of sight and out of mind.

If that sounds vaguely familiar to you, it should. Just look at the cities where our jobs went. Anyone familiar with Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Jakarta and other cities like it will recognize that the wealthy live near the city centers while the slums of the working poor are on the edges.

We have a lot more in common with those third-world countries than just the structure of our cities. From a non-American perspective, our political system looks very third-world.

In its depth and suddenness, the U.S. economic and financial crisis is shockingly reminiscent of moments we have recently seen in emerging markets (and only in emerging markets): South Korea (1997), Malaysia (1998), Russia and Argentina (time and again).

But there’s a deeper and more disturbing similarity: elite business interests—financiers, in the case of the U.S.—played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive. The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them.

The center of free-market fundamentalism, the leading advocate of deregulation, free-trade agreements, and the exporting of good-paying jobs, has always been Wall Street.

Make no mistake, when you send your hard-earned money to your 401k you are also sending money to the same people that want to export your job. You are empowering the people who most threaten your job security and financial well-being.

These people on Wall Street didn’t just create the current economic crisis, they also bought your government. These banksters aren’t just an enemy of your economic way of life, they are also an enemy of your democracy.

The best way to protect everything you hold dear, the most patriotic act you can make for your country, is to stop contributing to your 401k and IRA. If you really do love your country you would move your life savings into a local credit union or regional bank. You would take the money out of the stock market and away from the oligarchs that have done so much damage to our nation.

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