Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Lofgren: The Midwest Can't Catch a Break

Mike Lofgren: When I was in elementary school in the early 1960s, Summit County, Ohio was ranked second among all the counties in the United States by median household income. All four of the major American tire manufacturers of the time -- Goodyear, Goodrich, Firestone, and General -- had enormous production facilities in Akron, the county seat. The money rolled in, and life was good. Twenty-three years later, on a dismally cold January morning, I left Akron, Ohio, and the Midwest, never to return except for the briefest of visits. What had happened? According to Jon K. Lauck, an adjunct professor of history and political science at the University of South Dakota, it's because the Midwest, like Rodney Dangerfield, just doesn't get any respect from anyone ... he argues that the Midwest at the beginning of the 20th century was perhaps the most dynamic and most "American" of all the country's regions, as well as a hub of American literary excellence.

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Beyond de-industrialization and consolidation, GOP politicians have dismantled the public infrastructure of the heartland.

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Mike Lofgren writes ...

Eight of the eleven Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction from 1918 to 1929 were Midwesterners. Frederick Jackson Turner, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin, became an eminent historian by writing a Midwest-centric regionalist narrative of America's story and a laudatory view of Midwestern culture.

Then it all came unglued.

Smart-alecky Eastern critics like Carl van Doren, H.L. Mencken, and Van Wyck Brooks willfully misread the themes of such Midwestern writers as Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In so far as these authors had literary merit, it was, according to the Easterners, purely because they rebelled against the stifling parochialism of their region, the so-called "revolt against the village."

The charge was untrue, Lauck says, but it stuck anyway. Henceforth the Midwest would be viewed as a cultural Gobi Desert, full of retrograde boors, Bible thumpers, and the furtive malice of the small town.

On the academic front, a similar campaign of sabotage was underway.

Professors from Harvard and Columbia made unfair attacks on the Turner school of Midwestern historical development, charging that a regionalist historical focus is always a slippery slope towards mere antiquarianism, if not out-and-out political reaction.

Beyond literary and academic criticism (the main focus of the book), virtually every development of the 20th century that Lauck notices seems to have conspired against the Midwest.

The concentration of publishing in New York, the national focus of the New Deal, the outward orientation of the United States during World War II and the Cold War, the horrific example of Wisconsin's Senator Joseph McCarthy as Midwestern bigot par excellence, the homogenizing effect of television and postwar entertainment, even the invention of air conditioning which made the South and Southwest livable for the masses.

And on and on -- the poor Midwest just couldn't catch a break. The term "fly-over country" of course gets a despairing reference from the author, underlining the disrespect that Easterners supposedly feel for the territory west of the Alleghenies.


It's no coincidence that the decline of our national moral compass tracks with the decline of the Midwest.

#1 | Posted by PinchALoaf at 2017-12-26 07:28 AM

Lofgren's main criticism of Lauk's book revolves around retrograde Republican policies that purposly gave the Midwest the short end of the economic stick, but gave the heartland plenty of regressive social policy ...

Statehouses all over the Midwest have been taken over by legislators so stultified by the dominant atmosphere of social regression that they are incapable of thinking of any aspect of public policy aside from abortion restrictions.

The Missouri legislature seems to have nothing better to do than dream up dozens of ever-weirder abortion laws.

This from the state that sired Harry Truman, Thomas Hart Benton, and T.S. Eliot.

What has happened to the Midwest has been replicated in the regions of other developed countries with declining industries.

The fading ore and steel-producing regions of northeastern France opted for the National Front in recent elections.

The old industrial north of England, weakening since the shipbuilding and textile crash of the 1920s, chose UKIP and Brexit.

The worn-out industrial and coal-mining region of Silesia in Poland hopes for improvement from the proto-fascist Law and Justice Party.

And that is the principal flaw of Lauck's thesis.

The topics that Lauck writes about -- the cultural and intellectual trends of a region -- must at some basic level be influenced by the industrial or commercial changes in the society that gave rise to those trends.

That perspective is absent in Lauck's book.

A book about the decline of the Midwest in the 20th century should have given more reference to the epic industrial collapse and political transformation that has taken place.

Along with these misfortunes, massive changes in the federal regulatory structure over the last several decades have severely handicapped the region's competitiveness with the coastal centers.

All these adverse trends have resulted in the almost surreal physical aspect of post-industrial Detroit, Youngstown, Gary, and other cities.

They resemble the bombed-out wastelands of defeated Germany in 1945.

I did not leave Ohio because it had been derided by H.L. Mencken and a bunch of Eastern snobs.

I left because jobs were scarce and unremunerative.

Summit County, once a beacon of prosperity, now ranks 519th among American counties by median household income, well below the national average.

The post-industrial squalor that blights much of the Midwest is now reaching a tipping point of near-societal collapse.


Our recent fiscal policies since 2001 show we've spent nearly $30 trillion on: two Bush Cuts, the Iraq War, Medicare Part D, bailing out Wall Street, Obama's Stimulus, and now Trump's tax cuts for already record profit making corporations ...

At least Obama's 2009 stimulus came at a time when the tanking economy he inherited needed the requisite goosing to keep America's economy afloat and to eventually recover.

All other spending has been a monumental (or monstrous, take your pick) waste.

No one can ever convince me that the money, in even modest amounts (we're talking tens of trillions of dollars!) could not have been aimed at revitalizing the Midwest due to higher national priorities.

As someone born and raised in the Midwest (and has moved back there to work and live), I resent this willful apathy/disregard/negligence to the overall well-being of the region -- it doesn't take a genius to understand causal relationship between very little hope for dignified livelihoods and plenty of opoiod overdose deaths.

#2 | Posted by PinchALoaf at 2017-12-26 11:36 AM

eightiesclub.tripod.com

ftl: In Hills, Iowa, a farmer kills his banker, his neighbor, his wife, and then himself. Near Ruthton, Minnesota, a farmer and his son murder two bank officials. In South Dakota's Union County, a Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) administrator kills his wife, daughter, son, and dog before committing suicide. In the note he leaves behind he claims the pressures of his job became too much for him to bear.

These tragic circumstances were the byproducts of a crisis that struck the American farm in the 1980s, a crisis that had tremendous human costs. Surveys revealed that cases of child abuse and neglect rose 10% in a nine-county rural area in southern Iowa during this period. Studies also showed an alarming rise in divorce rates and alcohol abuse in farm families. Some individuals broke under the strain of an economic disaster in America's rural heartland; many more who depended on American agriculture for their livelihood faced financial ruin.

#3 | Posted by ichiro at 2017-12-26 06:07 PM

Minnesota is doing fine.

#4 | Posted by Sycophant at 2017-12-27 03:04 AM

Trump Employment Gains Are Not Helping Rust Belt
www.newsweek.com

President Donald Trump says America's dropping unemployment rate is one of his greatest accomplishments -- but Rust Belt states so crucial to Trump's White House win last year have been largely left out of the employment boom.

Unemployment is up in Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio since May, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, even as the national unemployment rate is at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent.

Factories nationwide have added 171,000 jobs so far in 2017, but most of the benefits are in the South, where labor unions are weakest.

The largest gains in manufacturing jobs between 2010 and 2016 were in South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia.

... Trump has so far been unable to make good on his promise to revitalize the deindustrializing Midwest by bringing back meaningful factory jobs.

And the Midwest is suffering not only from lost jobs.

The Rust Belt was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, but most of the bills proposed by Trump to repeal or replace Obamacare would undo the expansion.

And the Republican tax bill set to pass this week would likely increase insurance premiums, analysts say.

The bill largely favors the richest Americans, business owners and their shareholders leaving the struggling Midwest behind.

The GOP claims that business owners will use their extra money to create jobs, but research shows that over the past 30 years, trick-down economics have have barely budged worker's wages.

President Trump's favorability has dipped in states like Michigan and Indiana, leaving some worried that he won't be able to win these crucial areas in 2020.


Just like what Lofgren is saying, the Midwest can't catch a break.

#5 | Posted by PinchALoaf at 2017-12-27 05:07 AM

#5 Those numbers were before the tax breaks. Let's see what happens in the next year when hopefully those breaks will spur increases in production investment.

#6 | Posted by fishpaw at 2017-12-27 09:53 AM

Check out this surreal slide show of Rolling Acres shopping mall just west of Akron - it was abandoned for years and started to morph into a scene from a zombie movie:

www.clevescene.com

It was caught up in a legal snafu for years but I think it's finally an abandoned lot now.

#7 | Posted by schifferbrains at 2017-12-27 10:20 AM

Those numbers were before the tax breaks. Let's see what happens in the next year when hopefully those breaks will spur increases in production investment.

#6 | POSTED BY FISHPAW

What about 30 years of evidence showing that tax cuts are simply pocketed and not passed on to worker's wages or reinvested?

#8 | Posted by PinchALoaf at 2017-12-27 01:14 PM

My brilliant relatives all believe these tax cuts are a great thing...but none of them can explain how.

#9 | Posted by eberly at 2017-12-27 01:19 PM

#8 I didn't see any improvement over the last eight years did you? Admit it, you didn't want this tax break to happen because you knew it might work.

#10 | Posted by fishpaw at 2017-12-27 01:46 PM

#5 Those numbers were before the tax breaks. Let's see what happens in the next year when hopefully those breaks will spur increases in production investment.

#6 | POSTED BY FISHPAW AT 2017-12-27 09:53 AM | REPLY |

The tax breaks are pretty much irrelevant to the equation. We only tax profits. If a company can't make a profit cutting taxes is irrelevant. American Steel companies can't sell their product for the same price that Chinese steel factories can. First there are wage differentials and then you have the lack of infrastructure and shipping support. When roads and bridges deteriorate 2 things happen. First shipping has to go slower over longer routes. Second bad roads cause increased maintenance costs for the trucks that bounce along the rough roads.

Corporations are not going to give up TRILLIONS in wage differential in return for BILLIONS in tax breaks. The Math does not add up to jobs coming back.

#11 | Posted by hatter5183 at 2017-12-27 01:55 PM

#11 Stranger things have happened. Bitcoin is worth a bundle, retail came steaming back over Christmas. Plants could be built, the work force is there and states are offering huge incentives.

#12 | Posted by fishpaw at 2017-12-27 02:33 PM

#11 Stranger things have happened. Bitcoin is worth a bundle, retail came steaming back over Christmas. Plants could be built, the work force is there and states are offering huge incentives.

#12 | POSTED BY FISHPAW AT 2017-12-27 02:33 PM | REPLY

Who is paying for those incentives? What got cut to cover the incentives? How much of that incentive money goes into the pockets of foreign shareholders? Wisconsin just paid $3 Billion for 3,000 jobs for 10 years. That's $100,000 per job per year for jobs that pay an average of $32,000/year. and Gov Walker balanced the budget by cutting education, skipping payments on the state debt, Delaying projects, eliminating prevailing wage laws for contractors, and charging state employees more for insurance while capping their raise at CPI, ensuring that they will never get a check with as much buying power as the first check they get as a new hire

#13 | Posted by hatter5183 at 2017-12-27 03:18 PM

I didn't see any improvement over the last eight years did you? Admit it, you didn't want this tax break to happen because you knew it might work.

#10 | POSTED BY FISHPAW

Obama's tax cuts were aimed workers and the middle-class when the economy he inherited from Bush was tanking and job losses were hemorrhaging at a rate of hundred of thousands per month -- so there was real justification for Obama's Stimulus/Tax Cuts.

This round of tax cuts are at a time when unemployment is low and corporations are making record profits -- and they're aimed at those same corporations ... so there's absolutely no justification to go deeper into debt to simply give billionaires more free money.

Now, if Trump and the Republicans had the guts to aim that $1.5 trillion at those areas of the country that have been racked with job loss and de-industrialization as a way to re-vitalize these regions -- a Marshall Plan for America -- then I'd be all for spending this money.

#14 | Posted by PinchALoaf at 2017-12-27 08:03 PM

"#5 Those numbers were before the tax breaks. Let's see what happens in the next year when hopefully those breaks will spur increases in production investment."

You can tell some folks fairy tales over and over and they believe them every time.

#15 | Posted by danni at 2017-12-28 10:04 AM

"The tax breaks are pretty much irrelevant to the equation. We only tax profits. If a company can't make a profit cutting taxes is irrelevant. American Steel companies can't sell their product for the same price that Chinese steel factories can."

Which is why we neet VAT on all imported goods. All of our competitors have them, the only reason we don't is because American billionaires invest in Chinese and other foreigh manufacturers fully knowing that the goods produced will be exported to the U.S. and cost us jobs. Germans and Japanes, nor Chinese are as stupidly naive as are Americans. Use VAT to make trade fair not free. Free trade is only practiced by the U.S., the rest of the world laughs at us over it. Trump said he was going to do something about it, so what's he waiting for? He's a liar and the sooner you recognize that FACT the better.

#16 | Posted by danni at 2017-12-28 10:08 AM

"#5 Those numbers were before the tax breaks. Let's see what happens in the next year when hopefully those breaks will spur increases in production investment."
You can tell some folks fairy tales over and over and they believe them every time.

#15 | POSTED BY DANNI AT 2017-12-28 10:04 AM | FLAG:

I said let's see what happens. You predicted that the economy would crash if Trump was elected and look where that got you. And if say you didn't predict that you are a bigger liar than we all know you are.

#17 | Posted by fishpaw at 2017-12-28 12:50 PM

I said let's see what happens. You predicted that the economy would crash if Trump was elected and look where that got you. And if say you didn't predict that you are a bigger liar than we all know you are.

#17 | POSTED BY FISHPAW

Thankfully Trump hasn't instituted 90% of the policies he campaigned on.

#18 | Posted by Sycophant at 2017-12-28 02:30 PM

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