WHAT A DUMP

My current city is essentially a company town. There is a bit more here than simply Caterpillar, but everything else lags far behind one of the fifty largest corporations on Earth with $100 billion in assets and operations in something like 100 countries. It is not an overstatement to say that Cat runs the show around here; all local governing is done with the company's blessing and most of the very small number of things to do here are funded directly or indirectly by the company coffers. As is the case with all company towns, the city has risen and fallen with the fortunes of its great patron.

At least it used to, that is. Now the company continues to rise and the city continues to fall, as it has followed the trend of closing up facilities here in its Midwestern home and shifting them to developing countries or, if they really feel like slumming it, the deep South. In fact, on the day I moved from Athens to Peoria, Cat announced the closure of a Peoria manufacturing facility to be replaced by a new facility in Athens complete with the usual Southern governments' buffet of free money, tax abatements, infrastructure investments, and promises of a docile $10/hr workforce. I can say without exaggeration that I was traded to Peoria for a major industry to be named later.

So while the city lives and dies by the company, there is less of the company here with each passing year. Part of the reason is the quest for cheaper labor and more obsequious state and local governments. Another part of the reason is that Peoria is a world-class dump. Think Flint, MI or Youngstown, OH with the headquarters of a major global corporation plopped in the center. I've said enough about it to fill volumes; suffice it to say here that Caterpillar does not relish bringing leaders in the business world to Peoria. It's pretty embarrassing.

This isn't idle speculation; I know a handful of white-collar Caterpillar folks, and they complain regularly about the condition of the city. They have berated the city government for lacking suitable hotels (now being built or remodeled downtown with plenty of "incentives"), restaurants, entertainment, or airport. The downtown looks neat from a distance but up close is an abandoned Scooby-Doo ghost town. They have legitimate complaints.

However, they also seem ignorant of their own role – arguably the leading role – in the city's decline from the post-War boom years to its present sorry state. Whenever Cat people, be they acquaintances or the top executives on TV and at city council meetings, complain about what a dump they inhabit I have to suppress the urge to say, "That's funny, because it looked a lot less like a dump when you had 30,000 factory workers here compared to the few hundred here now." And by "suppress the urge to say" I mean that is what I say.

This is not new; General Motors has been doing it to Detroit for years, as have General Electric, Kodak, Dow, and other companies that make up the crumbling cities of upstate New York. They openly pine for the neatly manicured office buildings, suburbs, and downtown chain restaurants of a Phoenix, Dallas, or anywhere-in-Florida. And they criticize their cities – cities and people that have bent over backwards to make them the enormous successes that they have been for a century or more – as though some exogenous force (alien invasions, perhaps) have destroyed everything. It never occurs to them that if they would like the city to be full of the kinds of things that sprout up wherever sizable populations with disposable income exist then perhaps they should stop cutting the workforce and perhaps even consider expanding it. Of course, that suggestion inevitably leads into the race to the bottom that is modern competitive federalism – why stay here when Alabama's politicians are willing to write blank checks and its people are willing to work for half as much because Freedom?

For people and institutions who hold the principles of capitalism so dear, they sure do seem to struggle with "You get what you pay for."

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31 Responses to “WHAT A DUMP”

  1. Tim H. Says:

    Because they don't really want capitalism, as much as a comfy teat to suck on.

  2. xynzee Says:

    It's the same kind of stupidity that votes in people who want to destroy government and then are astounded that government doesn't work.

    Who cannot connect the dots between cutting taxes and crappy schools.

    Who are surprised that sales and profits are "falling", yet cannot see that it's because no one can afford to buy their product/service due to having their wages/jobs cut.

    Yup, we be smart.

  3. middle seaman Says:

    We live in a federation of two countries. One, mainly the north and the west, is headed by Obama. The second, mainly the deep south and a mountainous part of the west, is headed by Robert E. Lee. Despite tensions between the countries free movement between the countries exists. Since the Lee country has a social system of the 19th century, the Obama country based businesses want to escape their 1950s social system. Businesses love slavery.

    Most European countries, federations or not, have a common social system dated to the 1980s. Movement within the federation or the country is less likely. Businesses there, and here, move to Asia or Central America. The latter countries have the social system of the Middle Ages.

    So there.

  4. Anonymouse Says:

    I've seen this same scenario play out on a smaller scale with individual companies I've worked for. The company is thriving and prosperous, with lots of team spirit and a cheerful corporate culture, then the owner gets greedy and wants ever more profit in his pocket. To do this, he cuts support staff to the bone and treats the "customer on-site" folks like a huge nuisance. Often the office moves to smaller digs, so when the folks who work at the customer site need to show up to the office for admin or meeting functions, they have nowhere to go and end up standing awkwardly in the hallway or lobby. Nobody gets raises. Meanwhile, the owner (who's now living in the lap of luxury with season tickets to the football team and a seasonal parking pass that costs more than any one of the support staff, not to mention vacation homes in various nearby states and other perks) bemoans the lack of "team spirit" and berates the employees for looking and acting like second-class citizens when he treats them like fifth-class citizens.

  5. c u n d gulag Says:

    This is all part and parcel of the plan by our Plutocrats to destroy the middle class.

    The post WWII tax system brought social changes, because the wealthiest had to pay a much higher rate than they do now.
    The result of having wealth concentrated not at the top, but in the middle, was the fastest economic growth that probably any nation in history, had ever experienced.
    And that growth, kept fueling the further growth and power of the middle class.
    And, as the middle class grew, the people looked around, and saw that minorities and women weren't treated equally, and so, we had the Voting Rights Acts passed – and near passage of the ERA, for women.

    The middle class got too powerful, thought our Plutocrats, and had to be destroyed.
    But NOT too quickly – there, lie revolution, tumbrels, guillotines, and heads on pikes.

    Our rich are no longer dependent on Americans buying all of the goods, like the were after WWII.
    Over the decades, countries all around the world recovered from the devastation of WWII, and, as their middle classes grew, they provided new markets for out Plutocrats.
    And our Plutocrats moved our jobs there, to fuel the growth of their new markets.

    And so, the dismantling of America's middle class has taken place slowly, over the last 40+ years.

    And here we sit, a nation virtually in ruins.

    Victims of the greatest con game ever played.
    Starting with JFK, ever lowering taxes on the wealthy gave them more and more money to spend on influencing our politics.
    And the rich grifters, have effectively used wedge issues like race, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia, over the years, to divide people.

    ANYTHING, to stop regular people from realizing that are all the victims of Class Warfare.

    The rich in this country are at the point of a complete victory.
    The question at this point isn't, what are we going to do about it, but what can we do about it?

    For their own sake, the rich better hope that we try to change things back slowly, via our political system.

    The alternative, ain't exactly pretty.
    Unless you're a fan of having heads on pikes, at major intersections.

    "You need to go where? Oh, that's easy! When you leave here go to the left and keep going until you come to the intersections with Jamie Dimon's head.
    Take a right there and stay straight until you come to the heads of the two Koch Brothers.
    Take a left there and keep going until you go past Pete Peterson's head, and you'll find the place you're looking for.
    If you come to Mitt Romney's head, you've gone too far. Good luck!"

  6. Pathman Says:

    I'm curious what kind of responses you receive when you point out the problems to these white collar people. Do they get it? I'm guessing no.

  7. anotherbozo Says:

    "And by 'suppress the urge to say' I mean that is what I say."

    LOL! As the kids say.

    Charles Pierce may write up a storm, but there is only one Ed.

  8. Major Kong Says:

    The down-sizings will continue until morale improves.

  9. Frank Says:

    wonderful post

  10. wetcasements Says:

    I don't want to sound like an obnoxious coastal elite (raised in DC!) but there's a reason the phrase "flyover country" exists.

    I moved from a large urban area to a small American city in order to be closer to family. "Charming" everybody called it.

    Well, charming is all well and good but "no jobs" is kind of a problem.

    The largest American cities are far from perfect but I can't imagine _not_ living in one of them when I eventually move back to the States.

  11. Major Kong Says:

    All I've seen of Peoria is a hotel out by the highway, across from a mall.

    This, by the way, is what most of our layovers look like any more.

    I might just as well have been in Dayton, Oklahoma City or Des Moines.

    Every place is starting to look the same. Same stores. Same crappy chain restaurants.

  12. GunstarGreen Says:

    Ford, way back when, stuck to a simple principle: His employees should be able to afford the vehicles they made for him. He paid them accordingly, and all was well.

    Now, iProducts are made by people that cannot afford them. Retail stores like Walmart and its similars are staffed by people that cannot afford to shop there without government assistance. The quality of the country has declined accordingly.

    Since the 70s, productivity has skyrocketed, compensation for executives has skyrocketed, and compensation for Joe Average Employee has stagnated. Actually dropped, in some cases. Median household income has dropped over the past couple of years.

    It turns out that when you take your 2000s and 2010s economy back to the style of the Robber Barons of the 1920s, you end up in the exact same place that you ended up the last time you tried this idiocy — the Great Depression of the 1930s.

    How fitting that the 2020s should follow the exact same economic pattern as the 1920s. A hundred years on, and the United States of Dumbfuckistan hasn't learned a single goddamned thing.

  13. Dave Dell Says:

    I'm sure they get it. "But what can I do? I'm responsible to the stockholders."

    There's approximately 7 billion of us. In my opinion there's useful productive jobs for 2-4 Billion.

    I recall Wm Greider's "Who Will Tell the People", large parts of which are relevant – perhaps more relevant – today than when first published. We can, through automation and process efficiencies, overproduce everything with a minimal workforce of lower skilled workers. With robots doing the welding you don't need a lot of trained welders to build a car, just a couple of techs to fix the automated welders. Enough of this and the question becomes one of: Who, then, will buy the car? The company town leaving the city in the lurch fosters the problems inherent in this blog: Company leaves. Lower tax base, people move away lowering the tax base further. A downward, irreversible spiral. I've read of cities "closing" entire neighborhoods to minimize costs.

    As I see it today, the main problem we have is not in identification of the problem(s). It's not even in identifying solutions to those problems. It's a lack of political will to implement those solutions.

    Never going to happen… Solutions will be swamped by the rising population and climate changes. I can't even get my extended family to cooperate in ensuring the children (starting to talk "greats" here) will have a debt free college/tech education. Now try to sell that to the general population – the idea that someone else's child should have a trade or education and be debt free when ready to enter the work force.

  14. acer Says:

    Peoria. Yeesh. Let me be the first to take back anything I said to try to cheer you up before.

    @gulag:
    I've considered buying stock in private security. And/or pikes.

  15. Brian M Says:

    Yeah. I should have not been so eager to defend the town. Two+ years in the mid 1980s was indeed really enough (Brandley University, before I realized that I was the last person suitable for an engineering degree)

    Still…at least Peoria still has the remnants of Cat. Too many midwestern factory towns don't even have that!

  16. jon Says:

    Years ago, I was visiting Minnesota from my new home state of Arizona. My stepmother was complaining that her mother's 24-hour care facility cost $600 a month. She also complained that her taxes were SO HIGH.

    24-hour care for $600/month? Raise my taxes, please. Also: better schools, roads, pensions, government, and more. Even with professional wrestlers in the governor's mansion, Minnesota is a better place. Also: higher wages and lower unemployment. And unions destroying the freedom of job providers? Yes, please.

  17. Syrbal/Labrys Says:

    It reminds me in reverse, in a way, of various military posts I've lived at around the country. In some places, the cities knew what a bonus monthly paychecks to the troops brought to their economies and treated the soldiers/Marines/Airmen/sailors well. Other places, the civilian populace constantly bad-mouthed the military members. They treated them like crap as renters, ripped them off as shoppers and were general asshats to anything "not local".

    Oddly, when bases began closing? Those bases where the local populace mistreated their semi-golden geese were the first to go. And some of those towns and cities dried up and blew away. Your companies dismissing the cities that should be sustaining them because all they want is cheap rent and foreign labor markets may find themselves in the same boat. Because if there are no good jobs, there are no good consumers.

  18. Mo Says:

    Want to really scare the piss out of yourself?

    On the bright side, a 10-hour work week?

  19. proverbialleadballoon Says:

    Ed: Peoria does have the best bar in Jimmy's, and the thincrust pizza at Sully's, especially if they still have free food for Monday Night Football. Avanti's isn't a bad plate of food for a nickle. The coffee shop across the street, One World, still there? I was going to school there when they opened, early-mid 90's. There are some cool things to do for cheap in Peoria, but yeah, mostly it sucks. The business district is like a Scooby Doo scene, all quiet and mostly empty. If Cat were such a job producer, how come it hasn't attracted other jobs?

  20. cromartie Says:

    True story: The reason NCR relocated from Dayton, OH to Duluth, GA was because the CEO (whose wife did not want to relocate from New York City) did not like having to take a connecting flight to get to corporate headquarters. That's Bill Nuti, for those of you who want to add a name to the list of people you hope die of testicular cancer.

  21. j Says:

    > "That's funny, because it looked a lot less like a dump when you had 30,000 factory workers here compared to the few hundred here now."

    So what is the response when you have said this to those white collar workers?

  22. martinmc Says:

    Speaking from (not for) Alabama, we have the big new subsidized factories and many our of cities are still dumps. We just get rich enclaves on the outskirts of town.

  23. freeportguy Says:

    "With more power comes greater responsibility" (Spiderman I)

    This is so typical in business as it is in life: people/companies crave to become powerful, the big dogs in their town/city, and when they do, they REFUSE to use that power for anything other than to fill their own pocket with money!

    And once they've sucked all they could from a location, they take their marbles and move to the next one coming with a golden bridge.

    I wonder what percentage of Peoria vote GOP and is anti union…

  24. Ursula Says:

    c u n d gulag and Anonymouse – yes

    And this is why we need higher taxes on higher incomes – exactly so there isn't this incentive to always make more money. All this time and energy spent to gain efficiencies just lines the pockets of a few well connected opportunists, who couldn't possibly work hard enough to earn what they have taken. I'm happy to decrease their incentives by making earning over a million worth half as much, because their incentives are starting to getting in the way of getting things done.

  25. Bitter Scribe Says:

    And don't forget the schools. Companies that demand huge property tax breaks with one breath never fail to bitch about the quality of the local schools and their graduates with the next.

  26. Goforthanddoscience Says:

    Ed, if it makes you feel better, I spent 4 years in Galesburg. Peoria was the bustling metropolis we would go visit in order to get ethnic food.

  27. Tom Says:

    This is addressed to c u n d gulag:

    There's an Ann Coulter quote that essentially says, "Bush let Lehman Bros. die [put their heads of pikes]; Obama saved Goldman [tried to do the "compassionate" thing]. Ergo, Obama and the dems are pro Wall St."

    It seems as if these "plutocrats" are only able to do the things they do because Democrats get elected from time to time. I don't really know anything about the (recent history of the) financial sector—I only have a vague, heuristic sense of what money really is—so could you please tell me if there's anything wrong with her comment or my interpretation of it.

  28. Barry Says:

    Well, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troubled_Asset_Relief_Program, TARP was passed in October, 2008. Those who remember their US history know that Bush was president.

    They also remember that Lehman Bros. dying kicked off a financial crash.

    Shorter version: there is no recorded instance of Coulter speaking a true statement.

  29. dugsdale Says:

    I'm gonna recommend a book, "Were You Born on the Wrong Continent" (disclaimer, I do NOT get a free toaster if you read it) because among other things, I learned from it that in some European countries, when a company wants to relocate from the community to another, it has to do an environmental impact statement on the effects of its move, and COMPENSATE the community for the negative effects its departure will have (damage to the tax base, lost wages, etc.)

    Now, I read the book a while back and don't remember which European country this is (Germany, perhaps) but I'm outraged on a daily basis at the way corporations in the US get to evade paying any sort of price for wheedling millions in tax abatements and state subsidies for locating a factory in a particular locality, then up and leaving in a year or two, WITH the benefits of those subsidies intact.

    Possibly naive of me, but i can't help but think that if more Americans knew how other countries handle this sort of thing it might help us all establish a "new normal" in which, between having to face up to the damage their relocation creates locally, and having to pay reparations for it, companies might develop some awareness that they are citizens responsible for more than just their bloated pay packages.

    http://tomgeoghegan.com/2010/07/born-on-the-wrong-continent/

  30. Tom Says:

    Barry, your comment and links agree with Ann Coulter.

  31. Mark Says:

    I am a 1964 graduate of Peoria Central High. The town was a pit then. Even with many employed UAW members, the town had no sense of vision or of a future. Working inside the industrial complex does not always lead to a meaningful life; Marcuse wrote on these topics. My sense then was that people were alienated in those days. Of course, economic hard times only pile anxiety on top of the alienation. The TV show about life in the midwest in the early sixties was called "Happy Days" ironically.