Dystopic Detroitus: The Bi-Partisan Austerity Cliff
I don’t ever link to, or quote other internet articles at length, and I probably won't do it again. But there is something punchy about this one that should not be missed. It is from “TomDispatch,” one of the best left-wing non-sectarian sites on the internet. It is a graphic representation of what has happened to the American working class in the last 40 years.
On a personal note, I myself was a factory worker for 20 years, and after being laid-off too many times, decided I’d had enough, and jumped out of the frying pan and into the soup. After being laid off some more in Cubeland, I finally got a job in the finance industry at a Wall Street firm. I went from the sick industrial sector of the
economy to one that helped kill it. It was
actually the only full time job I could get, so now you know what sector was
growing in the mid-1990s - that lovable Clinton-time. Most
workers, however, would not be able to make the jump. While I don’t agree with his general picture
of southern towns, here is the reason why I left the factory life. U.S.
The post is from the 12/3/2012 Salon.com, by Steve Fraser of TomDispatch:
And yet the pit exists. It goes by the name of “austerity.” However, it didn’t just appear in time for the last election season or the lame-duck session of Congress to follow. It was dug more than a generation ago, and has been getting wider and deeper ever since. Millions of people have long made it their home. “Debtpocalypse” is merely the latest installment in a tragic, 40-year-old story of the dispossession of American working people.
Think of it as the archeology of decline, or a tale of two worlds. As a long generation of austerity politics hollowed out the heartland, the quants and traders and financial wizards of Wall Street gobbled up ever more of the nation’s resources. It was another Great Migration — instead of people, though, trillions of dollars were being sucked out of industrial
Scenes from the Museum
In the mid-1970s, Hugh Carey, then governor of
As it happened, the tourists weren’t interested. Abandoned railroad stations might be fetching in an eerie sort of way, but the rest of the museum was filled with artifacts of recent ruination that were too depressing to be entertaining. True, a century earlier, during the first Gilded Age, the upper crust used to amuse itself by taking guided tours of the urban demi-monde, thrilling to sites of exotic depravity or ethnic strangeness. They traipsed around “rag-pickers alley” on
Times have changed. The preference now is to entirely remove the unsightly. Nonetheless, the national museum of industrial homicide has, city by city, decade by decade, grown more grotesque.
That was 40 years ago and yet, today, news stories are still being written about
Once upon a time,
Burglaries, robberies, and assaults doubled after the steel plants closed. In two years, child abuse rose by 21%, suicides by 70%. One-eighth of
The Wall Street Journal called
If you were unfortunate enough to live in the small industrial city of
“Good times” or bad, it didn’t matter.
Midway through this industrial auto-da-fé, a journalist watching the Campbell Works of Youngstown Sheet and Tube go dark, mused that “the dead steel mills stand as pathetic mausoleums to the decline of American industrial might that was once the envy of the world.” This dismal record is particularly impressive because it encompasses the “boom times” presided over by Presidents Reagan and Clinton.
The “Pit” Deepens
In 1988, in the iciest part of the Frost Belt, a Wall Street Journal reporter noted, “There are two
Closing up, shutting down, going out of business: last one to leave please turn out the lights!
Such was the case in cities and towns around the country. Essential public services — garbage collection, policing, fire protection, schools, street maintenance, health-care — were atrophying. So were the people who lived in those places. High blood pressure, cardiac and digestive problems, and mortality rates were generally rising, as was doubt, self-blame, guilt, anxiety, and depression. The drying up of social supports, even among those who once had been friends and workmates, haunted the inhabitants of these places as much as the industrial skeletons around them.
In the 1980s, when Jack Welch, soon to be known as “Neutron Jack” for his ruthlessness, became CEO of General Electric, he set out to raise the company’s stock price by gutting the workforce. It only took him six years, but imagine what it was like in Schenectady, New York, which lost 22,000 jobs; Louisville, Kentucky, where 13,000 fewer people made appliances; Evendale, Ohio, where 12,000 no longer made lights and light fixtures; Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where 8,000 plastics makers lost their jobs; and Erie, Pennsylvania, where 6,000 locomotive workers got green slips.
Life as it had been lived in GE’s or other one-company towns ground to a halt. Two travelling observers, Dale Maharidge and Michael Williamson, making their way through the wasteland of
Nor was the calamity limited to the northern Rust Belt. The South and Southwest did not prove immune from this wasting disease either. Empty textile mills, often originally runaways from the North, dotted the Carolinas,
In 2008, in the sunbelt town of
And no one can forget
Even the public zoo has been privatized. With staff and animals reduced to the barest of minimums and living wages endangered by its new owner, an associate curator working with elephants and rhinos went in search of another job. He found it with the city — chasing down feral dogs whose population had skyrocketed as the cityscape returned to wilderness. History had, it seemed, abandoned dogs along with their human compatriots.”
And I read it on the Internet, not in my local mainstream newspaper.
Red Frog December 5, 2012