While relaxing at home, a man that I had gone out with a few times this past summer phoned me. We didn’t get to know each other well. I had always intended to try to reconnect with him, but timing was against us. Unfortunately, when we first met, I was deep into the Never Ending Research Project of Doom. Later, the semester started and I became bogged down in classes. I meant to phone him when things stablized, but I had to travel for some conferences. Then, of course, there was the Project Runway finale. When all was said and done, I just never found the right time.
When he called the other night, he let me know that he had been laid-off by his company in Decaying Midwestern Urban Center. As a result, he was leaving the Midwest region and wanted to say goodbye.
I was struck by his disappointment at having to move. He was a Mexican national who had come to the U.S. Midwest because he wanted a place radically different from his home surroundings. For him, life in the Midwest was an adventure even after several years. He was one of the few people that I have met here who talked about this state with enthusiasm.
With his company hemorrhaging money, though, they cut his position. Unable to find any other work around here, he was forced to take a job in Texas, a state that he hated passionately (We had so much in common! I should have tried harder to make that relationship work).
Such is the story of the U.S. Midwest. The economy has become so crippled that even people who would like to stay simply can’t. The mass exodus from the Midwest has meant that people have relocated to places which are environmental disasters. I am looking at you, Phoenix. The Midwest actually has water. Arizona does not.
For decades, this part of the country has been in decline while the rest of the nation simply ignored it. I am willing to wager that the conditions in Detroit are comparable to pre-Katrina New Orleans, probably even post-Katrina.
Most times, the media pretends like the Midwest doesn’t exist at all. Take, for instance, election night coverage. I was astounded by the number of pundits who claimed that the Democrats, before 2008, were only a “coastal party." Well, yes, as long as you count the shores of the great lakes as “coasts.”
Today there is a question about whether the U.S.-based automotive industry will survive. The corrupt leadership in Detroit has come to the U.S. government looking for a handout. To my mind, it’s the same as giving your druggie cousin $500 for tuition money that he promises will turn his life around. Oh, sure, the auto execs made us all sorts of assurances that they will put the money to good use and become upstanding citizens. A week after they get it, though, you just know that we are going to stumble upon GM sprawled out in an alley somewhere with a needle full of petroleum up its arm. We’ll confront them, but they’ll tell us that we don’t understand what it is like when you start jonesing for the high-premium.
Much to my surprise, it is the Republicans who are now calling for these industries to fail. Their arguments can be persuasive (except for the part where they blame those audacious unions for demanding a living wage (If only American companies could simply enslave people again! Then we would show you an automobile worth driving!). Of course, many of the Republican critics are in states with foreign-owned auto factories. So, are we, as a people, conceding that we are unable to build decent vehicles anymore?
As a nation, we will now produce what exactly? Some argue that we are a "knowledge economy" or a "technology economy." To them I ask, Have you tried using Microsoft Vista? If that's our niche in the global market, we are screwed.
The sad reality is that the collapse of the automotive industry will be the death knell of several major states. Longtime readers know that this is not my first time in the Midwest. My graduate university was located in a town that once produced a major car brand that ceased to exist somewhere in the middle of last century. What replaced that industry in town? Nothing. Do I mean several smaller industries? No, I mean nothing. Do I mean that the town became oriented to service or information technology? No, I mean nothing. The abandoned factory, some sixty years vacant, still stood in the middle of the town (which was too broke to even have it torn down).
Even my current residence, Midwestern Funky Town (which is largely considered one of the garden spots of the region), is clearly feeling the economic collapse. Some of our roads have gone so long without repair that I am thinking of calling NASA for a moon-buggy to navigate the potholes.
The problems of the Midwest are the problems of the nation. I don’t mean that in some idealized “fields of amber grain” or “apple pie” sort of way. Instead, I mean that the nation’s worst impulses has resulted in the near total destruction of this part of the country. Unless we seriously reevaluate our priorities and relationships, it will happen to the rest of the U.S. Greed, petty self-interest, and unchecked corporate growth have now given us its fruits. And let me tell you, it’s going to be some nasty-ass lemonade that we are going to end up making.
I am uncertain and torn about what is best. On the one hand, I am furious by the greedy idiots who ran the companies that churned out gas-guzzling Ford F150s or Hummers. I am also furious at the people who bought gas-guzzling Ford F150s or Hummers.
Most of all, I am frustrated by the continued myth that corporations are the key to the nation’s salvation. Corporations have created many of our problems because they have sought wealth for the few at the expense of the many. I am disheartened that Democrats seem to cling to long defunct notions of “trickle down economics.” We are to believe that rescuing banks, automakers, and Goddess-knows-what-else will ultimately make its way down to help the working class. This has not proved to be true. Meanwhile, they have totally ruled out helping individual citizens in debt up to their earlobes.
Throughout this economic crisis, we have often heard that certain banks/companies are “too big to let fail.” Well, isn’t that the problem in the first place? Why did we allow any company to become that big? Mergers that were against the interests of consumers and workers have been granted for well over the past two decades. How many of you, my dear readers, heeded my Cassandra-like advice and wrote to your government leaders to oppose the merger of Northwest Airlines and Delta? Think of me in my star-spangled panties telling you “I told you so” when you try to book that ticket home to see grandma for Thanksgiving.
Alas, I can’t disagree that the region needs the auto makers for the time being. If the U.S. government does bail out these industries, however, they should adhere to GayProf’s demands:
- * First, there should be a clean-sweep of all executives in the company. They ran it into the ground, they should be shown the exit.
* Second, let’s break up “the big three” into the “mid-size ten” or the “small twenty.” Why do we need three giant corporations? If we are capitalists, aren’t we supposed to believe that competition will make better products?
* No matter what, the government should own part of the companies and have a direct hand in their operations. If we are paying for it, we should have title to it.
* Fourth, profits from GM’s overseas Asian operations should also be funneled directly into their U.S. branch.
* Lastly, GayProf should receive a brand new Dodge Challenger as payment for this advice. Hey, no matter what, it still is a hot car.