THE NEXT BEST THING, CONT.

So, I don't do this often but yesterday's post and its Facebook cousin spawned an unusually large number of useful comments. I thought I would follow up by addressing two of them here.

First, there was criticism of the idea of writing off a lot of rural and remote urban areas rather than reinvesting in them. That sounds good, but it fails to account for many of the reasons these places were 'de-invested' in the first place. Who exactly is going to do this investing now? We're talking about places that suffer from poor location, poor quality of life, urban decay, poverty, and a potential workforce generally lacking in relevant skills. What exactly is going to bring investment to Decatur, IL or Muncie, IN when there are better, more convenient locations nearby like Indianapolis or Chicago? The company executives don't want to live in the middle of nowhere with a workforce riddled with problems ranging from low skill levels to the associated negative side effects of poverty (crime, drug abuse, lack of support networks, etc).

Tax cuts and incentives, right? Just offer enough tax cuts and incentives that some business will want to locate there. Again, that works in theory. The problem in reality is that you can throw a dart at the U.S. map now and hit a location where state and local officials will shower you, a potential employer, with free public money in the form of incentives, rebates, breaks, and infrastructure improvements. The Decaturs of the world have no competitive advantage. The company can get the same lavish treatment from vastly better locations, particularly in the South. Tax incentives are kind of a collective action problem; if a few places offer it, then it achieves the desired goal. If everyone does it, everyone loses.

The economy as a whole has enough problems across the region that a business could reap plenty of freebies locating near Chicago, 20 minutes from the world's busiest airport, 45 minutes from Lake Michigan shipping, and with a college educated or otherwise skilled workforce numbering in the millions to pick from. Oshkosh and Anderson and Lima can't compete with their nearby, economically stronger neighbors. The only businesses left in the more remote Rust Belt outposts are only there because elected officials throw such an insane amount of public money at them – far beyond any amount that makes economic sense – that it would cost more to leave Moline than to stay. The incentives game is an arms race, and eventually the smaller players have to go nuclear to "win."

Could the government be The Investor? Say, investing massively in infrastructure in these areas to give them a boost? In theory, yes. The political will to do so appears to be lacking, and the rational case for building up the infrastructure of economically dying places experiencing population aging and decline really need new roads and bridges. From the point of view of an elected official, this will have the odor of a Dig Hole, Fill Hole project. A new highway isn't going to bring Youngstown an economic revival, so falling into the trap of investing in new infrastructure continuously just to keep the place afloat is a real danger. Of all the proposed solutions, though, this is probably the most realistic. It has at least some chance of happening, although it remains unlikely with Republicans in control of Congress.

The second major point was that a revival of pro-labor, anti-Capitalist Greed rhetoric once held great appeal to the white working class and could therefore be a viable strategy moving forward. All I can say is…it's possible. It's not IMpossible. It's very difficult to see how that idea takes root at this point, though. The culture wars, the free markets = free people delusion, and the general lurch toward the right over the past three-plus decades are pretty firmly entrenched. We are at the point where the two "sides" of the political debate aren't even speaking the same language and have their own versions of reality.

There aren't enough young people in the most troubled Rust Belt areas to make that work, in my view. I may be wrong. But one of the worst problems the region deals with is the continual skill drain. Young people and people with marketable skills or motivation get out as soon as they can, and the population left behind is largely older, poorer, less skilled, and more resistant to change. As I understand it, building a labor movement relies on turning workers into activists for their own self-interest, and that's hard to do when you bring the idea to a city full of laid-off ex-assembly line workers in their mid-50s or older. I don't know – perhaps the world's greatest orator, leader, and organizer is out there and can find some way to pull that off. He or she will deserve all the praise that follows from accomplishing that. But I think a very natural impediment to labor organizing in these already severely depressed areas is that a lot of the younger workers who would be most involved in the movement are gone, long since having loaded up the moving van and headed somewhere less bleak.

In any event, the comments on this one were unusually numerous and good. I know defeatism is not a popular ideology, and it's possible that I project way too much of my own take on living in one of these places from experience. That said, I don't think the optimistic view can fail to account for the limitations inherent to the ideas mentioned here. It could work, but it's awfully easy to make the Devil's Advocate argument for why it will not.

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125 Responses to “THE NEXT BEST THING, CONT.”

  1. Mo Says:

    I'm telling ya, sell burn-tout small town real estate as quaint rural vacation homes to the Chinese. They have the money.

  2. negative 1 Says:

    You could do what the other few industrial nations do — decide which industries you are going to compete in, subsidize them, offer protectionist tariffs against foreign competition where their wages are substantially lower, and go from there. For good measure, have tax policies that encourage worker owned companies as they are very unlikely to vote themselves out of a job by sending a factory overseas.

    There is nothing wrong with a policy wherein the US, which is a HUGE country by land area, decides that it will grow enough to feed itself as a nation (i.e. tariffs for imported food and, I don't know, maybe insisting we pay a living wage to those picking the crops) and generate its own power. As a matter of fact I vaguely recall the current popular democratic president talking about the job producing effects of the green (solar, wind) energy grid he wanted to build.

    Now, before someone else says robots, we can all have a fun time explaining two things — one, how Germany (with the same, OK better, standard of living) has a full 25% of its GDP in manufacturing while we have 11%; and two, how we as a very educated, advanced nation can't have some fun designing and building those robots.

    Or at least if Facebook fake news is going to be the death of us all we could at the very least build the fucking phones we read it on. There's something un-American about hanging yourself with an imported rope.

  3. Kris Says:

    Is this a problem unique to America? Moline has ≈ 40,000 people. Does a similar sized city in say, Germany, or Canada, 200 miles from a major city, not have these problems?

  4. wetcasements Says:

    Trump has announced that on January 21st he's going to repeal the TPP.

    No, this doesn't make me think any more of a transparently racist, rapist, fascist.

    But it does mean he's basically telling Paul Ryan to go fuck himself.

    Not smart enough to read the tea leaves on this one, and pretty sure 95% of the legislation Trumpolini signs will be boilter-plate GOP horse-shit, but this seems really significant to me.

    No, it won't bring jobs back to America. But it does signal a willingness to enter a trade war with China which will mean our god-given right to cheap-ass flat-screens from and cheap-but-crappy shoes and clothing from Walmart will. . . . Something.

    I mean, there's no way Trump supporters all-of-a-sudden paying full price for their goods (not to mention what will happen to produce and milk prices when mass deportations begin) can blame this on anyone but him, is there? Can he possibly scape-goat immigrants _again_, even as they're literally being deported?

    Who the fuck knows.

  5. scott (the other one) Says:

    "Is this a problem unique to America? Moline has ≈ 40,000 people. Does a similar sized city in say, Germany, or Canada, 200 miles from a major city, not have these problems?"

    Germany is roughly 400 miles from west to east. I do think there ARE any similar sized cities in Germany that are 200 miles from a major city.

  6. wetcasements Says:

    "sell burn-tout small town real estate as quaint rural vacation homes to the Chinese"

    They're smarter than that. It's why they're buying up quality investments like literally all of London, rather than Malarial Crick, Alabama.

  7. Well. Mostly Says:

    Our obsession with national politics and government betray the real power, the real heft all around us: commerce. As big as the federal gov is, military, VA, post office, etc., there are few places where those dominate the scene. The rest is run independently. Thousands of boards running businesses, hospitals, universities, railroads, airports, utilities, even prisons, and all have their own interests. I can't imagine any of those having economic rebirth of small towns up high on their priority list. To what end? Good citizenship? Too much of that and shareholders or supporters back off. We've put our future in the hands of people who by design and even law don't /can't care about our future and yet the future of small towns. Ed's right. There just isn't much reason for hope. The free market is free to take it's business elsewhere. And it has.
    Call me up when Google, Facebook and Apple pull out of silicone valley and set up shop in Muncie. I don't mean a division or server plantation but the real thing. They don't even try that story line in movies anymore. No one would believe it.

  8. bobbyp Says:

    We already went through this. Million left the agricultural sector to move to the cities. That's where the opportunity was. I feel the problem today is these areas, like rural areas before them, are in decline, but the opportunity elsewhere just isn't there.

    So you sit and rot, and the resentment builds.

    This is a policy issue. We need a more equal and fluid society.

  9. Pat Says:

    "As I understand it, building a labor movement relies on turning workers into activists for their own self-interest, and that's hard to do when you bring the idea to a city full of laid-off ex-assembly line workers in their mid-50s or older. I don't know – perhaps the world's greatest orator, leader, and organizer is out there and can find some way to pull that off."

    Higher union density decreases wealth inequality, raises wages, AND increases Democratic party ID, addressing the problem on multiple axes at once. A revitalized labor movement is basically the sine qua non of ending the aristocracy of the 1% and GOP domination.

    And it doesn't require a latter-day MLK. It requires solidarity and organization on a worker-to-worker level. It is assisted by cooperative labor law—a lesson that the Republicans have evidently internalized, as they're busy destroying the unions that, again, increase voter affinity for the Democrats—but it's not an acrobatic high-wire act that only Machiavelli himself can pull off. Just basic social solidarity.

    I will say that I'm not surprised to see this reluctance to embrace unions, just disappointed. Generally my entire cohort grew up in a time when unionism was portrayed as gross, ineffective, pointless, corrupt, or what have you. But of course we grew up immersed in corporate media. Just as you should be skeptical of mass media arguments for, say, tort reform (which are driven by the business world's unified interest in reducing tort litigation), so too should corporations' hostility to unions make you suspicious of the arguments against unions.

    Unions are essential. We used to have a lot more of them, in the 60s and early 70s, before things started on the downward path to where we are now. We could afford them then and can afford them now, and it's only political cowardice that's convincing us otherwise.

  10. scott (the other one) Says:

    "This is a policy issue. We need a more equal and fluid society."

    Okay. So what is, or what are, the policy or policies that will fix or at least significantly help this problem? Now, what are the odds said policies can actually get passed into law?

  11. mojrim Says:

    Of course Youngstown is dead, these places began under economic conditions that will never return. So what? Industrialization makes people move to big cities. As bobbyp said, the problem is that there are no longer opportunities to move to in said cities. In the end the problem comes back to our 30+ year deindustrialization program.

  12. mm Says:

    strange that the rust belt is basically controlled (governor, legislature, congresscritters, senators) by the republicans who have controlled the congress for the past 6 years. i wonder why they didn't turn one of their wonderful ideas to revitalize the rust belt into legislation and send it to the president and dare him to sign it.

    it's almost like the republican party doesn't actually care about these people.

    hmmmm.

  13. Emerson Dameron Says:

    If anything could create an opening for a younger, more charismatic representative of the Sanders wing, it would be the inevitable and brutal backlash to Trump. I'm less confident that the US left would even recognize this when it appeared, considering how effective free-market indoctrination has been.

  14. Rich S Says:

    I think many here are jumping over the first obvious steps to improving life for as many people as possible.
    First, universal single payer medical, dental, vision insurance.
    Second, restore and extend meaningful comsumer protection.
    Third, restore adequate funding for public education at all levels.
    Fourth, some kind of minimum wage.
    These are things that competent progressive politics should be able to sell to enough voters to win a majority.
    After that, I don't know where we go but you have to start somewhere. Maybe the rust belt continues to corrode until our pants fall down around our ankles, bit at least we solve some big problems that are staring us in the face right now.
    It would take decades to get past republican bullshit, but that is a fight worth having. Now that Clinton neoliberalism is dead, a new start is possible.

  15. Rich S Says:

    Waiting for the next great white Obama to save us is not a plan.

  16. charluckles Says:

    I have strong roots in one of the most rural counties in the US, one that perfectly encapsulates the described dynamic of jobs leaving and never coming back, and I just took a long road trip through a lot of red rural areas.

    One thing I haven't seen touched on, and something that really stuck out at me is that the kids can't wait to get the hell out of these places. And it's not just the lack of jobs, it's also the backwardness, and it's the lack of things to do besides drink and drug. I sat down in a family run cafe in the middle of nowhere Idaho and within a few minutes the children of the owner were pelting us with questions about life elsewhere and telling us quite openly about how much they hated their home town.

    Funny, I think a lot of these younger folks from these places still voted Trump, they can't escape their roots completely. But I do think this dynamic creates a significant amount of resentment for those left behind in these places.

  17. Dave Dell Says:

    Activist investors and the ruin they leave behind. Sidney, NE. 6,800 population employing 2,000 at the headquarters of Cabellas (outdoor/sporting goods retailer) now bought out by Bass Pro. It's going to lose major chunks of its tax base. Local government in NE is funded largely on property taxes and sales taxes. Housing prices plummet so property tax receipts plummet. Sales tax receipts plummet.

    Questions come to mind. How old is the major portion of its sanitary sewer system (and other things like the water system, etc? Will there be government aid to fix it/update it for a town that is in a downward spiral? I don't know if it's currently in need of replacement or massive repair but I do know that the political will to do so, if needed, is lacking.

    Nebraska is facing a big budget problem due to low prices for ag products so income tax receipts are sinking. Can't make up the difference there for aid to Sidney. Sales taxes are stagnant except in the larger cities and the representatives from those areas are going to resist using those tax dollars anywhere but where those dollars are generated.

    This leaves the Federal Govt. to pick up the slack. It's not really dig a hole, fill a hole public works. Good infrastructure is in everyone's best interests if you like the idea of treated sewage, and clean water, and less flooding.

    I don't think the political will to do these things is going to be there in a Ryan led House of Representatives. The deficit hawks are not going to help failing cities like Sidney.

  18. Safety Man! Says:

    Ed, I don't dispute the validity of your argument, but telling half the electorate what boils down to "Sucks to be you, lol" is not a winning strategy, or entirely moral imo. Just spitballing here, but we could always try a new CCC, train and hire people to rebuild infrastructure like the NY/Boston/ fill-in-the-blank sewer/water/ blah blah.

    Second, re: Unions, sadly not all the decline is propaganda, my brother's union has been less than useless for him in the two disputes he's had. I don't call them useless because they didn't get him what he wanted, this was the "lost his casework when rep retired and left files locked in his desk" kind of useless. I'm willing to bet this isn't an isolated occurance.

  19. SeaTea Says:

    "This is a policy issue. We need a more equal and fluid society."

    Maybe what we need is to stop being so attached to "our way of live" because it's never static. It can seem that way in the course of one person's lifetime, but I just think about how DRASTICALLY different the world was when I was a kid versus today, and I'm only a half-century old. Change is speeding up. People have to let go of being emotionally attached to the world they know because it's changing under your feet every day. Ride the wave or get swept away. There's no way to stop it, or make it go backward.

  20. negative 1 Says:

    @Safety Man!

    I work for a union. One anecdote doesn't extrapolate to data. We have a failure to organize because surprise! in a slack economy (for trades folks) no one wants to rock the boat for fear of losing their job. Put another way — look at how bad manufacturing is in the rust belt. If you had one of the 8 remaining jobs, would you jeopardize it to help your neighbor? Sad to say, I don't actually blame them for not wanting to be martyrs.

    What labor desperately needs is new jobs. In this economy it would be near impossible to organize in those areas; basically Capital holds all of the leverage. *This* time labor needs to fight for ownership — rather than negotiate conditions of work while ceding control of all profits labor should begin to organize some of the profits to the workers, either through a shared pool or by using some resources to begin to purchase existing stock. This more closely follows the German worker-lead company model.

  21. negative 1 Says:

    @SeaTea — it's not that you're being evicted, it's that 'the world you know is changing under your feet'! Now if you wouldn't mind having it change across the street because your property didn't 'ride the wave' so it's being 'swept away'.

  22. carrstone Says:

    Talking about the investor's dart game – please do not forget that it's the investor who owns the darts and that he's not compelled to play the game you want to play or for which you and your regressive pals have devised the rules [or would like to]. Also don't forget that the dartboard is bigger than the USA.

  23. Maddimax Says:

    Unions lost their power in a two-pronged attack. Reagan broke their backs in the 80's when he threw the Air Traffic Controllers out and replaced them all. Then the sons of union workers poured into the computer industry, convinced themselves that they were "professionals" and didn't need their fathers' unions, and took on a self-destructive Libertarian philosophy. Good job, kids! By the time they discovered they were semi-skilled labor that would be outsourced to India, it was too late. Sad that the folks in the service economy knew better than those in the "information economy". Oh well.

  24. SeaTea Says:

    I think Rich S makes a lot of sense. The steps he outlines, while far from a solution, are at least a tangible step in the right direction and might reveal additional steps on a better path.

  25. SeaTea Says:

    Maddimax, did I miss the part where people in the IT industry are shit out of luck? 'Cause it feels pretty good from where I've been sitting for the last 20 years.

  26. carrstone Says:

    @negative 1

    I have to smile.

    To talk about "the German worker-lead company model", even as your world is collapsing around you, is lunacy.

    The reason the German model works is not because trade unions 'lead' in the board room, it's because, for German unions 'taking care of business' is not only about the labor force, they see their role as helping to safeguard the continuity of the employer, i.e. they realize that the business of business is to remain in business.

    There's a reason why the German model is also known as 'the consensus model'. As long as unions insist that their sole function is the protection of its members, unions are as big a threat to business continuity as Big Government – you may not like it, but history bears me out.

  27. Periscope Says:

    @carrstone: the investors are us. Everyone who is lucky enough to have an employer backed retirement benefits package, who checked the box for having Fidelity or Putnam, or Vanguard, or fill in the blank manage their contributions, was actually investing in the public companies that are offshoring their own jobs, or the hedge funds that are grossly overcompensating their managers, or the real estate investment trusts that are buying up land near the cities to erect their overpriced 3000 sq ft boxes of plastic siding that you get to live in when you can no longer work in the small town. Its absurd. Nobody gets to chose specifically how their company-matched contributions gets invested. It appears we have invested in our own demise. The schadenfreude gods are trying to catch their breath.

  28. Shirley0401 Says:

    @Rich S
    I'm with you. I think the Dems have gotten so high on sophistication, they've gotten away from bread and butter issues. I feel like the mindset must be something like, "If the bill isn't 1000 pages long, there must be something wrong with it."
    Of COURSE people would prefer universal health care. Of COURSE people would support consumer protections.
    The Democrats are bad at taking credit for their successes, bad at pointing out when Republicans keep them from doing things that will benefit people, and are way too committed to complicated solutions that "harness the power of markets," or whatever.
    The one disagreement I have with you is your assumption that "Clinton neoliberalism is dead." I hope you're right, and while HRC might not run again, I'm already seeing suggestions that the Dem takeaway should be to recognize that the electorate rejected her "radically progressive platform."

  29. John Danley Says:

    Well, there is some rural allure: Meth labs, pot plantations, and cheap property tax.

  30. Nick Says:

    @wetcasements: "I mean, there's no way Trump supporters all-of-a-sudden paying full price for their goods (not to mention what will happen to produce and milk prices when mass deportations begin) can blame this on anyone but him, is there?"

    Trump supporters are certainly known for their attention to logic, ideological coherence, and nuanced understanding of historical and economic trends. Undoubtedly they'll see the relationship between Trump and Republican policies and their own issues, and vote in a progressive who would create policies like universal healthcare, strong unions, and progressive tax rates in order to protect the working class. They'll also realize that immigrant labor is not the source of their problems, the Muslims are largely peaceful, that Black Lives Matter is not the moral equivalent of the Klan, and that Obama was born in America. Then, in 2024, we'll elect a unicorn.

  31. Shirley0401 Says:

    Oh, and re: unions.
    I suspect there would be support for unionization if people felt they could publicly support unionization without fear of retaliation. While inspiring stories of turn-of-the-century martyrdom are, well, inspiring, the reality is that most people aren't willing to sacrifice basic security for a shot at a better wage.
    I live in Charleston, SC. It's a pretty progressive metro area for the South. But it's still in SC. Boeing's anti-union activity here is unbelievable to my Northern-transplant eyes. Billboards, disinformation campaigns, you name it. Even sympathetic employees are scared shitless that word one in support of unionization will get them fired. Politicians either stay out of it (again, we're fairly purple here) or explicitly warn against unionization ("but competitiveness!").

  32. carrstone Says:

    @Periscope
    Here we go; like Alice, down the rabbit hole of semantics.

    Investors, to me, are people who take a risk with funds they have earned/saved/borrowed/stolen and who then add value to a product/service that will generate a maximum return.

    You know this, I'm sure, but off-shoring, hedging, negotiating wage costs, hiring and firing are all perfectly legitimate tactics to achieve this goal. And going belly-up may be an expensive lesson but it's always better than waiting for Godot, i.e. the union to reward us for doing as little as possible.

    Otoh, buying stuff to consume is not investment.

  33. Monte Davis Says:

    For 50+ years there has been a real shrinkage in the share of "classic" employment settings — large, concentrated blue-collar work forces in manufacturing, mining/chemical/energy, transport — where the union movement had grown and flourished from the late 19th century into the 1960s.

    Some of it was simply the recovery of the rest of the world from WWII (we'd been half the world's manufacturing in 1946), then the rapid arrival of China, India et al in the global market. Some was automation and other productivity increases here. Some was [what we called] the American dream: union members' kids getting the education for white-collar jobs.
    All that was independent of (and would have happened without) intra-US production moves to non-union states, anti-union legislation and propaganda, etc.

    What I'm asking — honestly, no snark or covert agenda — is why the union movement was so much less successful (and this goes way back, not just to Reagan) with non-"classic" jobs — retail, service, white-collar, knowledge workers — as their share of the economy grew. Its comparative success with teachers and other public employees tells me those job types aren't intrinsically less organizable. My impression is that in many other advanced economies, many more such jobs are unionized even in the private sector.

    Is the answer simply that pushback from business and business-friendly government to unionization outside classic settings has been stronger here? I acknowledge and FWIW oppose that — but are there other factors at work? I'm all for a defense (and revival, to the extent possible) of union strength in its classic settings. But I'm also wondering, maybe ignorantly and quixotically, about the scope for growth in all the areas that have grown as those settings have shrunk.

  34. Michael Says:

    One more thing worth talking about:

    Which rural areas are doing reasonably well? There have to be some that are doing better and some that are doing worse. I keep hearing about how rural North Dakota, with its socialist state banking system, is actually a pretty decent place to live, especially with the internet. Are there others?

  35. negative 1 Says:

    @carrstone

    So all you're saying is the German lead model is different. As am I. However viewing the difference in boardroom culture as 'just there' isn't really borne out. To wit; if the employees are heavily vested in running the company they are also going to be heavily vested in keeping it open. As a guy who just owns stock in Google other than the drop in price I couldn't care less if they are open in 5 years. That's the difference.

    Undertaking a new model when yours isn't working isn't 'lunacy' it's necessary. Here are two things I would argue. 1.) With their votes, and stated preferences in polling, people in the 'rust belt' are arguing that given the choice they'd rather have a job than an expanded safety net. I vote for both, but just the net doesn't get it done.

    2.) Yes, I'm basically arguing for the beginnings of an overhaul on Capitalism. I'm just being subtle. It's not working. It's not working because anyone can see that it deals with productivity gains very, very, very poorly. A classic example is that say tomorrow we invented a robot that could do all labor a person can. Humanity could live a life of leisure and free from toil. Under capitalism, it would be a disaster. There would be no way to distribute the production as no one would have anything to trade.
    Now, are we there? No, not by a long shot. However, we are seeing that productivity gains are not being distributed equally at all. We are using those gains to insure that people who will work for under replacement wages in the third world do ALL of the work, while the profit flows to a select few. So my argument is that we need to start undoing that model.
    I agree with you, though, that it would represent a change.

  36. Parrotlover77 Says:

    I think we need to step back and get some perspective. Clinton barely lost. Democrats gained seats in the House and Senate. This is not a "what happened to our party" come-to-jesus moment. The two previous presidential elections swung wildly the other direction. This time it was modestly toward Republicans. This is kind of a run-of-the-mill third term presidential election. This isn't like the Obama landslide of '08.

    Now, I'm not saying fuck the rust belt. I want to help them. But I also want to toss out the electoral college. That might be a lighter lift than trying to rebuild a bunch of cities that are, at best, on borrowed time and, at worst, already dead and they just don't know it.

    So, I'm just saying, let's take the doomsday down a notch. Trump is going to do damage to this country over the next four years. That is a given. But the Democratic Party is not nearly in as bad of shape as the Republicans were in 2008 and 2012.

    Rhetoric is powerful and Trump set a new standard for truthiness. I have my issues with Bernie and am skeptical he'd perform much different than Clinton did, but fuck if he doesn't understand how to rile people up. He can't complete a sentence without saying "Wall Street" in a negative way. That will be particularly useful in midterms if he actually bothers to get off his ass and stump for candidates.

  37. geoff Says:

    China, where so many of those "good" Midwest Rust Belt jobs went, now has its own Rust Belt:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2016-03-01/death-and-despair-in-china-s-rustbelt

    The real problem is the crisis of capitalism– overproduction. As Ed pointed out last time, America's rise to industrial heights was driven by the war and the consequent destruction of large parts of Europe and Asia. Prior to that it was driven by a very large internal market and protectionism.

    My two cents are, infrastucture, yes, but fuck the roads and bridges for a car culture on its last legs. How about modern sewer and water systems, owned publicly, or at the very least publicly regulated, a modern, resilient 21st century electric power grid powered as much as possible by renewable energy sources, mass transit (clean buses and rail), and nationwide affordable broadband internet.

    Throw in very high tax rates (like Eisenhower era) on high incomes, Medicare for all, and a job guarantee, and we might have a chance.

    I expect the likelihood of any of the above happening is less than zero, but I'd have laffed in your face if you'd told me 18 months ago that Donald fucking Trump would be the next President. And here we are.

  38. Tom Hawk Says:

    How about an universal basic income?

  39. Kaleberg Says:

    If I put on my Utopia Hat, I can think of one possible change that could help outlying cities – high speed rail. I grew up in an area of NYC that had been farmland in living memory. What happened? The subway. (Actually an elevated train, but good enough.) If you have a 300 mph train, you can commute to work 150 miles from your home in a reasonable time. You can base your knowledge business 100 miles from the city center and still make business meetings mid-day.

    If you look at long distance transportation, it has been revolutionized over the past 50 years by continual improvements to diesel and turbine technology. Short distance transportation has benefited from better gasoline and electric engines. This encourages larger and larger cities trading with each other around the world. The mid-range, especially in the US, has been neglected since the development of the interstate highways which are operating at their limit.

    Of course, high speed rail is massively expensive, not for the trains and track, but for the right of way. You can almost hear the NIMBY squealing now. Maybe we need to quietly start running the tunneling machines now, and see where they are in ten or twenty years.

    Yes, I agree. This is ridiculously utopian, but it works by analogy.

  40. Major Kong Says:

    @Kaleberg

    A lot of people in France do just what you suggested. Paris is very expensive, so they my live 100 miles from Paris and commute via the TGV (High Speed Train).

  41. geoff Says:

    @TomHawk, well yeah, but I didn't wanna go full-on Utopian ; ) People seem to be pretty goddamn up in arms about the (largely nonexistent, thanks to the Big Dog) welfare state, so a Basic Income Guarantee seems even more politically unlikely than, I dunno, universal free higher education.

    Of course all of the above's just a pipe dream anyway. I am NOT hopeful about much of anything lately. I suppose we COULD destroy Europe again. Maybe Donnie could work out a deal with Vlad to keep the nukes sheathed.

  42. Mo Says:

    geoff – ever since Reagan the RepubliKlan push is to minimize the Federal budget, refusing to increase taxes, outsourcing everything possible onto the shoulders of the states and private contractors. And RepubliKlan state governments will refuse federal money for mandated programs (Medicaid).

    The notion of publicly owned, non-profit enterprises is anathema to the RepubliKlan party now entrenched in our local, state, and federal government. Look at Trump's infrastructure plan – give contracts to cronies for profitable toll roads? Sure. Or read Matt Taibbi for an entertaining refresher course on Goldman Sachs and county sewer systems.

    And we thought the era of railroads was the low water mark in government corruption and grift. Hey, Zombie Jay Gould, howzit goin'?

  43. Safety Man! Says:

    @carrstone

    Off-shoring, automation, etc., are indeed perfectly valid techniques to benefit shareholders, but companies absolutely can and have wrecked themselves chasing short term gains. I think Ed himself had a post pointing out how GM (I think?) shot themselves trying to over-automate. As a shareholder I'd prefer stability over a 4-month 3% gain, albeit granting that that's because I'm not investing stupid huge amounts of money.

    @negative 1

    Absolutely agree that correlation does not equal causality, but I'm not completely discounting it either. Put another way, I'm sure my local police are law-abiding and upstanding people and can point to supporting statistics, but I'm damn sure going to push for body cameras.

    Full disclosure though; as a safety rep I'm not union eligible, so I guess we can have pistols at dawn if you want ;-)

  44. Major Kong Says:

    The elephant in the room that nobody is talking about is automation. In our lifetimes, we will likely see very high levels of unemployment due to robotics.

    There are already self-driving trucks in the prototype stage. What happens when we put 3.5 million truck drivers on the unemployment line?

    Yeah, it's a crappy job, but it's also one of the few remaining living-wage blue collar jobs.

    Even if you have a job that can't be automated, you may very well be collateral damage when the consumer economy breaks down due to lack of demand.

    The only public figure I've heard address this is Elon Musk.

    I haven't heard any politicians, even Bernie Sanders, address this issue.

    And no, I don't have the answer.

    It could be Universal Basic Income. It could also be "I can just pay half the working class to kill the other half" as Jay Gould infamously said.

  45. Mo Says:

    geoff – Thanks for that Bloomberg link on China's rust belt.

    I just finished reading grinding through Asymmetric Politics which presents, in agonizing detail, the observation that our two political parties are not mirror images; rather, Democrats are a patchwork of interest groups advocating government policy to improve our economy/society, whereas RepubliKlans are an ideological group focused on purity of belief – and reactionary belief, at that. [paging Corey Robin to the front desk]

    It's a lot easier to sell the drug of self-righteous validation than it is to convince 60 million of us that new programs, laws and the taxes to pay for them are required to remedy the misery. Meth and heroin aren't the only drugs our left-behind communities are addicted to – the fave opiate is a completely imaginary belief, producing an addiction that is nearly impossible to cure, even in the threat of death. [Kentucky Medicaid]

  46. Hawes Says:

    The more I wrestle with this, the more I keep circling back to Universal Basic Income. I have zero idea how workable it is, but there are even some conservative economists who like it because you no longer need a welfare state. It would be a revolutionary step and I imagine Europe will need to show the way, but that's about the only hope for anyone in Shitsburg, USA.

  47. carrstone Says:

    @Safety Man

    i think you've missed the point I was making.

    When I mentioned 'maximizing' returns, I was not suggesting that businesses seek revenue 'just in case' as the government does through the raising of taxes. Maximizing does NOT mean massive profits, it suggests a careful balance between profitability reduced by justifiable investment in the business of staying in business.

    It's inane to suppose, as the generic left always does, that all that business is in business for is to enrich the shareholders. The shareholders, as you point out, are like you – they'd rather have long-term income than a flash in the pan.

  48. carrstone Says:

    @ Major Kong
    I'm sure you must have a reason for mentioning French commuters but have you never seen the traffic of grey suits into NYC from New Jersey?

    Telling us there'll be 3.5 million unemployed truck drivers is as inane as talking about Christian children. They won't be unemployed truck drivers, they'll be unemployed without the skills to do work other than driving trucks. Just like the widget-makers of the past, there'll come a time when nobody remembers what a truck driver is.

  49. carrstone Says:

    @ Negative 1

    The reason I responded to you was that you appeared to imply that German unions are in a leadership role in German board rooms. This is patently not true.

    And if you "don't care less if Google is open in 5 years", then you're not an investor, you're a speculator. And hence your opinion has no merit because you are part of that crowd that gives capitalism a bad name.

    Talking about capitalism, do you even know what it is? I sense that you're really talking about the bad things that greed makes people do like speculate, benefit from crony influences, using money to bribe and so on. But that's not capitalism as much as socialism isn't Stalinesque or Maoist communism.

    The big difference between socialism and capitalism is that the former always needs a leader who thinks he knows what's best for 'the people' and the latter is what all people do all the time, freely and voluntarily, even in socialist and communist countries.

  50. negative 1 Says:

    @carrstone

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codetermination_in_Germany

    As far as the difference between socialism and capitalism:
    Really? I thought the difference was who controls the excesses of production.

    Your last sentence defines capitalism as "what people do all the time, freely and voluntarily, even in socialist and communist countries." So, yeah, I'm a little confused. A 'leader' who thinks he knows best for 'the people' is authoritarianism which isn't an economic concept. But if that's socialism, then we just elected Donald Trump and are now socialists.

  51. Major Kong Says:

    @carrstone

    And what jobs will those former truck drivers do that robots won't already be doing? Flipping burgers? Somebody has already prototyped a robot that can make a hamburger.

    Accounting? Medicine? Law? Aviation? Manufacturing? I don't think you realize the wave of robotics and AI that is headed our way.

    I'll gladly be wrong on this one. I'm hoping to make the next 5-10 years to retirement before this hits my industry in a big way. I've already seen navigators and flight engineers go away in my lifetime.

    Just saying that new careers will magically spring up is wishful thinking. If only it were so.

    Yes, it's happened in the past. But what is that thing investors say?

    "Past performance is not indicitive of future results"

  52. Major Kong Says:

    I suspect carrstone lives in that libertarian alternate universe where there has never been a non-socialist authoritarian government.

  53. geoff Says:

    @Mo, you're welcome : ) I don't have any illusions that we'll collectively "do the right thing" as Churchill opined. And frankly, in my opinion, the Democratic Party has abandoned its bases of labor and working people (trade deals, at best benign neglect of unions) and minorities (a significant subset of the previous; "ending welfare as we kn(e)w it", mass incarceration) for Wall Street. Bill set em loose, and O rescued them after their inevitable crash. Obama was pretty good to the health insurance and pharma industries as well.

    SO except on some culture war hot-button type issues (and I DEFINITELY support say, abortion rights, gay rights, etc. and do not mean to discount their importance) I don't see a lot of daylight between the Dems and their pals across the aisle. I fully expect most of them in Congress to roll over for whatever crazy BS Ryan and Trump come up with. And whatever nutjob they find to replace Justice Scalia.

    And point taken about public/private partnerships. I read that Taibbi stuff about Birmingham and GS (JPM?) and don't doubt that quite a bit of whatever money (if any!– we may just be looking at tax credits) is allocated to "rebuilding our infrastructure" will be sucked up by the "private" side of things. Think the reconstruction" of Iraq writ large.

    Sorry to be Debbie Downer today.

  54. sluggo Says:

    I noticed that you did not include Champaign and Bloomington -Normal in your list. That is because they retain their 'anchor employers'; U of I and in Bloomington State Farm and ISU* .

    The simple reason these company towns are currently a wreck is that the company left. End of story. Champaign would look like Decatur without U of I.

    * I am unable to refer to Illinois State without commenting on the fact that it is the ugliest campus on the planet. Makes one want to spoon out their eyes. Truly hideous.

  55. geoff Says:

    @Major Kong, yes. I was going to mention AI or neural networks and glad you beat me to it. Corporate consolidation, made possible by the total neglect of antitrust enforcement hasn't helped employment either. Anyone who has worked in the corporate sector over the last 30 years knows that the buzzwords are "efficiency" and "doing more with less (people)" and that automation is always preferred to hiring. This will likely continue until the corporations have no more customers capable of buying their products or services.

    (O/t, I hope you saw my apology for the "Peace Is Our Profession" crack a couple weeks ago. It was a stupid joke, and I'm sorry I made it.)

  56. sluggo Says:

    @ Monte Davis

    Unionization did not expand partly because a lot of communists and intellectuals were thrown out during the 'red scare' after WWII. That may have been part of Taft Hartley (IDK, someone with more time can research). With a more global perspective, unions would have expanded into other professions and fought for change through the law for all workers.

    With that lack of long range vision, all they were able to do was try to get raises for their members.

  57. krd Says:

    Perhaps the unions need to adapt and embrace the reality of the gig economy. If they did then perhaps they might also take up the mantle of educating and evangelizing to those who remain in the heartland and the rustbelt without jobs. As you say, there is no going back to what they idealized about the past. They need to hear that from entities they can trust and then hear new visions for the future that are accessible and actionable. May industrial economies don't come back to these small towns but workers from small towns can still enter viable economies without abandoning their geography. Can't help but think the unions are the bridge to make this happen.

    In fact fuck it the unions should also be ensuring that kids of current and former union members get the educations they want and need–this serves the communities that make unions strong and it serves the unions, win-win. Their should be legacy benefits for loyalty. People need to be organized into ACTION (not just retweeting/liking/sharing on SM) besides PBO who better to do this than the unions.

  58. sluggo Says:

    @carrstone

    The track record on worker retraining is bad. Especially when the worker is older. A 62 year old truck driver isn't going to enroll in a four year accounting program only to graduate and then retire. These guys mostly just down -cycle since they are physically and mentally beat to holy hell after forty years on the job.

  59. Jestbill Says:

    The farm programs of the '50's and later kept thousands of non-competitive farmers (and families) out of the job market.
    Same old stories, same old answers.

    We could do another farm program but it won't be politically possible until/unless we have another Great Depression.

    The Great Recession wasn't great enough because we have all that Keynesian socialist counterweight going for us–unemployment insurance, the FED, *evil Obama's bailout* 'n all.

    We have a "homelessness" problem. They had a "pauperism" problem in the 16th century.

    We're worried about robots. I seem to remember some class requirement to read some nonsense about a pin factory that somehow managed to manufacture twice as many pins…in the 1860's!

  60. Mo Says:

    Jestbill … try 1760s for that pin factory … Wealth of Nations.

  61. quixote Says:

    Major Kong and others re Universal Basic Income.

    In the high and far off times (1960s) when we were all futurists, we thought we'd be wearing spandex and we knew machines would be doing a lot of the work and we'd be leading lives of fascinating leisure on our guaranteed annual incomes.

    Now here we are. We're wearing spandex. Machines are doing more and more of the work. And we're trying to figure out how to create jobs that don't and can't exist so that people can get paid.

    Kind of funny to think that the goofy hippies were the realists and the coldhearted Calvinists are the ones dreaming impossible dreams.

  62. Major Kong Says:

    @geoff

    No need to apologize.

    In SAC we used to joke that "Peace is our Profession (war is our hobby)"

  63. Old Scold Says:

    I think managed depopulation is the only answer, even if it wouldn't fly politically. Reimburse people for their property at 150% of market value conditional on migration, with free transportation, newly constructed housing, and job training on arrival. Demolish the old housing, plant trees as a carbon sink. Pay for it by taxing the beneficiaries of globalization.

  64. Khaled Says:

    One of the success stories of the Rust Belt is Pittsburgh, and I think it's largely because of government. Hear me out. Pittsburgh has had success because of Pitt and Carnegie Mellon (and government sponsored research, funding, and loans enabling people to go) and the remnants of past glories that had been redeveloped because of government projects. Government CAN work to help grow the Rust Belt. The biggest difference between Dayton and Youngstown (to continue the Rust Belt analogy here) is Wright-Patt AFB and UD vs. empty mills and Ytown State. The federal government CAN help in places, but it's not always easy and it takes time. Remember that the NY Times ran an article documenting the loss of manufacturing jobs and the decline of Johnstown, PA, in 1982. It's been a while coming, and it's not gonna get fixed anytime soon.

    Unionization doesn't really work in low-wage retail jobs because it's really, really easy to replace the workers. Some are unionized, but those unions are very good at taking money and very bad at actually improving working conditions. Having worked in management at retail for over 15 years, I can tell you that unions never scared me because a good boss who relates to his workers and tries to get them better pay and more hours will solve any "unionization" problem.

    Unions also dipped after the 70s because of OSHA. Working conditions and safety were always one of the biggest reasons people unionized, and because companies had to comply with safety regulations starting in the 70s. The other reason that unions don't appeal to retail workers is because there is nothing to strike over with working conditions or safety, it's only pay, and the workers have zero leverage to get paid more. None. If everyone walked out to get more pay, it would suck for like a day, and then a bunch of employees from other stores would show up to work the store while management hired a whole new crew.

    The purpose of any publicly traded company is to maximize shareholder value. Full stop. How that shareholder value maximization is accomplished is in the details. More plowback will help if the company spends it wisely and doesn't blow it on robots that don't work. The short-term, quarterly profit driven world that currently en vogue on Wall Street rewards the C-class for concentrating on the short-term, up over year-to-year profits rather than the long term health of the company. And the corporate raiders, holding companies, etc., are all ways of extracting wealth from a company without actually adding value or maximizing shareholder value.

    As for off-shoring, etc., well, it's a cutthroat world out there, and if your competitors all off shore and can cream you on price and costs, well, you off-shore pretty quick too. What is the more interesting part about manufacturing is that Japanese car makers make money making cars here in the US. How about that. The other part of it that NAFTA doesn't explain manufacturing jobs leaving, they were going before it was passed and the bottom didn't drop out of manufacturing until after 2002, with the final nails being hammered in after the Great Recession.

    German manufacturing also has the benefit of belonging to a rather large free market area with currency controls. There is no benefit, really, of relocating plants to Spain to build the widgets instead of in doing it in Germany because the labor costs don't really change. They are also able to sell their goods at a lower import cost because the Euro trades lower than it would if Germany was still on the Deutschmark.

  65. Major Kong Says:

    @Khaled

    "The purpose of any publicly traded company is to maximize shareholder value. Full stop."

    I think this is a relatively new idea, dating to Milton Friedman. Not too long ago the purpose was to maximize stakeholder value. Stakeholders included the employees, as well as management and shareholders.

    I'm not a Harvard MBA, so correct me if I'm out to lunch here.

  66. April Says:

    @Nick – you owe me a new keyboard.

    One of the things that keeps China afloat is that a LOT of people do cottage – actually more like hovel – industries in their three-room shacks. I like to live in the real Chinese areas (instead of the soul-less "modern" high rises) so these people are my neighborhood. One couple puts together some of the doohickeys that go on motherboards. They use a chemical that smells so lethal I hold my breath when I pass them. Another couple does sewing, that one makes bread rolls, etc. There was a couple in one neighborhood I lived in in Nanjing who collected cardboard from trash bins, flattened them out, bound them together and then (presumably) sold the bundle. When it rained and all the cardboard got wet they would spread all these boxes, and pieces of packaging all over the road to let them dry before bundling. The first time I saw all this "garbage" strewn all over the road I practically fell off my scooter. But, this is the way when people just have to get by. Then again it only takes a couple hundred bucks a month to get by, hovel and all. Basic peasant Chinese food materials are dirt cheap, and virtually every job includes free meals. And even my 2- bed, 3 bath palace in old Chinatown, which includes such luxuries as hot water and ac only costs 180$ / month.

    It appears that online and distance learning methods aren't really as effective as a boots-in-the-classroom teacher who can get IN YOUR FACE, STUDENT so I'm probably safe for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, clearly the future does not hold jobs for the majority of humanity. A guaranteed basic income HAS to be applied at some point – else production will stop. You can't make shit if no one can buy any shit. Seems obvious to me.

    China has a version of this – a lot of people do nothing jobs. Practically every building, every apartment complex has a slew of guards who do…essentially nothing. Streets that could be machine cleaned are instead swept by old people with long brooms. Big shiny malls with designer stuff are stocked with 4, 5 clerks who do nothing but stand around all day. (That is truly an amazing thing to see…a super big mall, 4-5 floors high, all designer stores filled with stuff *I* can't afford, staffed with beautiful young women in stylish uniforms just standing around, doing nothing. Store after store after empty store. Mall after mall after mall.)

    I'm heartened by all the activism that has popped up, and by President Obama saying he will enter the fray after his term. I think we're gonna be ok, but only if we keep alert and don't let up.

  67. April Says:

    Oh, and as for the gig economy…..apparently there are some? many? Airbnb hosts who secretly film their guests and then share with other hosts the "good" ones. I like regulations – I don't want to stay in unregulated places, or ride with unregulated drivers, or eat at uninspected cafes, etc.

  68. mojrim Says:

    @Old Scold: The problem with managed depopulation is that there is nothing for them to migrate to. We have been creating jobs at an ever slower pace for the past 35 years and the jobs we do create are always shittier than the previous lot. Because…

    @Sluggo: You correctly point out the poor record of worker retraining but you don't go far enough. The data indicate that even those who do retrain for whatever the DOL says is "hot" right now don't do much better than those that just take what they can find.

    The reality is that we simply are not creating enough good paying jobs, by any metric, in any field or at any education level. Turning the former truck driver into an accountant just puts downward pressure on accountant salaries. Anyone remember the nurse shortage? A good friend of mine finished nursing school many years ago, when hospitals showed up at graduation with signing bonuses. That's all gone and, while wages are still pretty good, the balance has clearly shifted in favor of employers. Why?

    Over education. Making more accountants, lawyers, engineers, nurses, etc… does not create more jobs for them. If supply and demand works anywhere at all, it's in labor. We are all now competing for a shrinking pool of "good jobs" which we saturate before chasing the next one.

    @SeaTea: You're not immune. In the higher reaches of, say, software design, things are pretty good but I know plenty of DBAs and network people that have started losing ground. They were never "professionals" in a meaningful sense, but their work environment, leisure habits, and the television told them that they were. Now they are screwed and there is no way back.

  69. Khaled Says:

    @Major Kong

    Milton Friedman is credited for the concept of shareholder value, but even before that it's not as if many successful companies ran at all on the concept of stakeholder value. Andrew Carnegie owes a good deal of his success to being obsessed with keeping his labor costs low and always looking for ways to lower those costs. Other large corporations really only looked out for employer welfare because of government regulations or union activism. Look at the awful labor histories of United Fruit, the coal industry, the steel industries, etc. Hell, we in the Rust Belt know exactly what happens when there isn't an EPA around. The Cuyahoga catches fire.

    Corporations exist to make money. Even when it appears that a company is generous to a fault, SAS for example, they do so because they see a competitive advantage to being generous. For example, SAS has an on-site Health Center with a PA (or Dr, I forget which) so that they doesn't lose productivity for employees to take time off work because they are sick or have Dr. Appts. They also spend exactly $0.00 on recruitment because word-of-mouth has spread about how generous they are (60 Minute profiles! Every HR class in business schools!) and they also have incredibly low turnover for a specialized industry.

    Making money isn't a bad thing. Regulations to make sure that employers don't screw their employees are also not a bad thing. Labor markets work, as long as companies don't use outside forces to manipulate them. The meat packing industry for years was a dangerous, yet high-pay job. After the companies broke the unions and lower wages, they had a huge shortage of labor. Rather than raising wages to where people were willing to work, they claimed the jobs were ones that "Americans were unwilling to work" and got permission to import labor from Mexico and Central America. And even now, those plants are often staffed by undocumented workers, so much so that the law enforcement has to coordinate with plant management during immigration raids so that production isn't completely shut down. You want to make the market for less-than-legal work dry up? Penalize the company, rather than the worker. But those companies give lots of money to politicians and usually have local governments in the bag. Undocumented labor is a feature, not a bug, of government policy.

  70. Ursula Says:

    Right wing media for three decades has inoculated many in the rural areas from ever, ever accepting anything like a union again.

  71. Jestbill Says:

    @Mo: I thought it was JS Mill.
    ———–

    Why bother to relocate anyone if a minimum income is required? People on the dole could just live quietly wherever they are.

    Yes, there are many problems with a minimum income, but there are problems with universal health insurance. If it's necessary, it can be worked out.

  72. NickT Says:

    John Danley Says:
    November 22nd, 2016 at 11:26 am
    Well, there is some rural allure: Meth labs, pot plantations, and cheap property tax.
    …………

    And, of course, carrstone crowing from his personal dungheap.

    What greater array of blessings could the human race desire?

  73. Delbort Says:

    mojrim says:
    "Over education. Making more accountants, lawyers, engineers, nurses, etc… does not create more jobs for them. If supply and demand works anywhere at all, it's in labor. We are all now competing for a shrinking pool of "good jobs" which we saturate before chasing the next one."

    You're right. I live in Baton Rouge and I see this all the time. Our big employers down here are petro-chemical plants, which not surprisingly need engineers, chemists, and scientists to run. Engineers, chemists, and scientists are all expensive, though so what to do. Why, talk constantly about a STEM shortage and spend a bunch of money on STEM programs at the University and build a STEM center for the gifted kids and how about some scholarships, you know those STEM textbooks are expensive. Of course, there's a STEM shortage on, don't you know? So we need all you kids to really knuckle under and in about 10 to 15 years you can glut the market and we can start paying people $25K/yr to handle our methylkillyouene.

    My one comfort is that engineering is still very hard and not likely to get easier and most of those kids will end up in business school, where they can become, or continue being, insufferable twats.

  74. April Says:

    @ Delbort OR just bring in Chinese/Indian/other scientists and engineers via H1B visas, and pay them a fraction of what a native would cost, claiming there are no Americans capable of doing the job, even when that's not true. I worked for a research company that did exactly that.

  75. Aurora S Says:

    I don't know if anyone has mentioned it…but soon no one will have to move to the coasts–they'll be under water. Wait for that climate change to really kick in and the cities will move to them!

  76. carrstone Says:

    @Sluggo

    And, pray, why is your truck-driver waiting until he's 62 before re-training? Did the widget-makers not smell the demise of widgets in the wind? Or stokers on trains? Now that four-in-hand is a hobby, what happened to all the coachmen?

    As for 'physically and mentally beat to holy hell after forty years on the job' – that not only goes for truck-drivers. It goes for CEO's, investors and business owners as well. D'you really think that having to deal with recalcitrant staff and demanding customers is easier than sitting on your butt behind a wheel all day?

  77. carrstone Says:

    @Major Kong

    Ah, the ignorance shines through.

    A quick [and free] lesson in blog etiquette – by all means attack my opinions but please, oh please, spare the readers your feeble attempts at ad hominem. Your inability to do even that with just a modicum of style and invention makes you appear to be such a pussy.

  78. carrstone Says:

    @Monte Davis

    It's a good observation – unionization does seems to be more successful in teaching and other public service jobs than in private economy.

    I don't want to discuss the merit of your use of "successful" here but only to say that this could be because, in public service, the person making the employment decision doesn't have his own money at risk.

    Government is concerned with getting a job done, no matter at what cost. Private industry is concerned with adding value to its product and remaining in business. Neither of these challenges are to be found in the public servant's play book.

  79. carrstone Says:

    @ negative 1

    "…who controls the excesses of production"? That's just chatter – do you really think there's a difference in the treatment of stakeholders depending on whether a socialist or an entrepreneur holds the reins?

    My point was that under socialism there's always somebody looking over your shoulder as you try to live your life according to the Golden Rule. This'll be the Fed, the government or the IRS – they're all involved when you, as a free man, even if you only want to buy a Tootsie Roll.

    Capitalism doesn't have these impediments to free trade, there's no law book governing the free and voluntary exchanges that could be contracted without outside interference. capitalism isn't cursed by people who think they know better than you what you want.

  80. Major Kong Says:

    Poor carrstone.

    If you think this is a tough crowd, let's see you head over to Breitbart and lecture them on the virtues of free trade versus protectionism.

    I think you'll find this is a kindergarten playground in comparison.

  81. April Says:

    A couple more things…garbage collection is all government. We put our trash in cans that are strewed about and government-paid collectors empty them. No charge to us. No private service. I think the government understands that if they charge people to get rid of their garbage, people won't. They don't have enough disposable income to pay to take away trash. So they'll just throw it in the streets.

    Water. No tap water in China is potable, at least not officially. I have friends who drink it (AND feed it to their kids!) and no one has dropped dead yet. I think it's probably full of heavy metals, and, like most Chinese AND Expats, buy and only drink bottled water. Here's the thing, though. Keeping all those people involved in the bottled water business employed gives the government no incentive to make tap water potable. But unlike trash, people understand that drinking poison water will hurt them, so they are willing to buy water. (Like all necessities, it's dirt cheap. A 5 gallon tank for my water machine costs 2 bucks. And most Chinese people never drink cold water, and really, don't drink much water at all. Unless it's a banquet, people don't drink anything with meals. So a tank of water could last a family of 7 – two sets of grandparents, set of parents and the kid – like a whole month or two.)

    They will sip a quart of tea all day, and I'm not so sure that since they boil that water they are all that concerned it comes from a bottle.

  82. carrstone Says:

    @ Major Kong

    Not heeding my advice on avoiding personal attacks and sticking to discussing opinion? Could that be because you have nothing sensible to contribute?

    I am surprised, though, that you would appear to glean from my comments that I think the commenters on this thread are a formidable opposition – I certainly never said so.

    I will admit to being frightened by some of the comments, though – less because of their insight and erudition but more because of their naivete; regressive thinking is all about blaming others for woes of their own making.

  83. S M McBean Says:

    @ Carrstone – "Not heeding my advice on avoiding personal attacks…"

    REALLY? You remind me so much of Trump, spending 8 years slamming Obama and questioning his legitimacy, then 18 months name calling like a
    10 year old and now DEMANDING civility and respect for the office.

    Why don't you go somewhere else and/or STFU?

  84. greatlaurel Says:

    @carrstone HaHahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

  85. greatlaurel Says:

    @MajorKong and @ S M McBean. Thank you for taking out the garbage this morning. Much appreciated.

  86. greatlaurel Says:

    @April I love your China perspectives. Do you have a blog? Love your writing.

  87. OtherAndrew Says:

    "…capitalism isn't cursed by people who think they know better than you what you want."

    Sure it is. They're called capitalists.

  88. Major Kong Says:

    @carrstone

    How is calling you a libertarian a "personal attack"? Are you saying:

    a. You're not a libertarian? If so, my mistake, but you certainly sound like most libertarians I've encountered.

    b. There's something wrong with being a libertarian? I happen to disagree with libertarians but it's a valid political philosophy.

    And you never did dispute my statement about rightist authoritarian states. You paint with such a broad brush that seemingly any government whatsoever is "socialism".

  89. Gerald McGrew Says:

    Here's something that fascinates me about conservatives and libertarians…..

    For years they've been harping on and on about "free market solutions" to things. We don't need regulations because if a company is making an inferior or unsafe product, "the market will take care of that". We don't need minimum wage because workers will get paid "according to their market value". We don't need price controls because "costs will be what the market will bear".

    Ok, so if they really believe those things, why aren't they going to the rust belt and telling the working class "Your jobs left because labor costs are far, far cheaper in China and Mexico. In other words, this is what the free market has determined"?

    Trump ran on a decidedly anti-free market platform. Trade restrictions, tariffs, protectionism, and forcing companies to make decisions on factors other than the bottom line (i.e., keeping jobs in the US).

    So why aren't Democrats making Republicans own their own hypocrisy? Why aren't they noting how conservatives love the free market….right up until it produces outcomes they don't like?

  90. April Says:

    @ greatlaurel Awww, thank you! No, I don't have a blog. When I first came over I started writing one, got a couple of followers, then felt pressure to produce. Since I don't really like to write, and since there are a LOT of I'm-a-Western-person-in-China blogs already out there, I stopped.

    The problem for me now is that, after almost 8 years here, I pretty much hate everything Chinese. If I were to start up another blog it would be almost nothing except moaning and groaning about this miserable country and these miserable people. That would result in 1)inevitable blowback in the comments section and 2) probably being found out by the people who employ me perhaps causing me to lose my cushy, very well paying job. And what with SS now being on the block the imperative to make and save as much as possible is even more important.

    Just to let you know, though, you made my day! Thanks again!

  91. So Trump won. Why and what now? « blueollie Says:

    […] sure, I agree that Trump promises are somewhere between "highly improbable" to "impossible" to achieve; the clock is not going to be turned […]

  92. democommie Says:

    Carrstone:

    You're a douchebag–a whiny, self-entitled douchebag at that–aND the world would be a far better place without you and your Trumpsuckling ilk.

    That, FUCKFACE, is a personal attack. Everyone else here is waaaaaay too nice to you.

  93. April Says:

    @democommie slow hand clap

  94. carrstone Says:

    @ democommie

    There, there, feel better now?

    Now, go to Mommy, she'll give you a nice drink and you can go back and play in the sandbox with all the other naifs.

  95. Noskilz Says:

    I seem to recall back in the late 80's and early 90's there was a lot of excitement about pharm animals and bioplastics – but something tells me if there was going to be a wave of biotechnologists needing vast swathes of countryside and modern cowboys to ensure their pharmaceutical producing dairy critters were healthy and happy, it would have already happened.

    Fanciful notions aside, I do think you have hit the nail on the head in that many of these places are essentially obsolete – if they're to change that, ways have to be found to change that math. For small towns in my area, it seems they mostly wind up becoming bedroom communities for larger towns and cities – although obviously people can only practically commute so far before being an affordable place to live stops being useful.

    It does sound a bit like the sort of thing canny government could have some effect on – it isn't as if various elected officials haven't been very aggressive about steering contracts to their constituent areas in the past – but I'm doubtful how much constructive effort on that front we can expect. But if congress decides that putting significant facilities and resources in various places is worthwhile as part of some renewal strategy, that might make those places relevant again.

  96. Katydid Says:

    DKos has a good article up with a link to an even better article that backs up what Ed is saying: http://www.dailykos.com/stories/2016/11/24/1603742/-Don-t-blame-Democrats-for-not-understanding-WWC-rural-voters

  97. democommie Says:

    Dear Carrtonedeaf:

    My mom is dead, asshole. I haven't required her encouragement in about 50 years. FWIW, she had a family full of bloviating Randroids JUST like you. If I wasn't an atheist, I would thank KKKRIST that insidious, self-absorbed dumbfuckery of the sort that you and they personified is not genetically inherited.

    Privilege too often results, in those persons so advantaged, having contempt for those who are less privileged while simultaneously engendering in them a delusional sense of superiority.

    If it was a physical disease process, you'd be one of the walking dead.

    Am I "happy"? Only in the sense that any of us are happy when they take a good shit.

  98. Skepticalist Says:

    Not on topic but while watching Obama at a Medal Of Freedom ceremony recently, it was a pleasure to witness a little class and as Peggy Noonan rights, little patriotic grace during the presentation and of course some self deprecating humor.

    Trump has no class, no grace and his humor is always at another's expense; just like a nine year old.

  99. Katydid Says:

    @Skepticalist; have you seen a clip of him pardoning the turkey? That's Democratic-type of humor; self-effacing, goofy. Republican "humor" seems to be cruel and divisive.

  100. democommie Says:

    Katydid:

    It's the whole raison detre for the modern GOP.

  101. carrstone Says:

    @ dumbcommie

    No sense of irony, you must be a Murican. How could I possibly have known your mother is no longer among the living? Are you this vituperative because aggression is the only tactic you know?

    If you were to read again what I've said in these here threads, you'd have noticed that I don't actually support either side in American politics – one's as bad as the other with the added bonus of having a shrill progressive regressive left screwing up any humanity there might have been in the Democratic phalanx.

    You know why there's going to be Trump in the WH, don't you? The aforementioned shrill left and the insidious academia put him there.

  102. Skepticalist Says:

    I can't believe I spelled write as right…..

    Missed the turkey pardon.

  103. Major Kong Says:

    Trump ran to the left of Hillary on trade. He at least claims to favor protectionist trade policies.

    Can't say I want to see a trade-war with China. I work in the international shipping business.

  104. Rich S Says:

    This is usually a good comment thread crowd. Don't ruin it by feeding this carrsone fucking troll.

  105. mago Says:

    Water. It's all about the water. Rust Belt's salvation or further demise.

    People are stupid.

    Carrstone's off his meds.

  106. Aurora S Says:

    @carrstone–

    Why are you here?

  107. carrstone Says:

    @Aurora S

    Why am I 'here'? Isn't it obvious? It amuses me to see how consistently Ed's claque, no matter what I write, resorts to insults only because I'm not afraid to disparage their unicorn fancies.

    If that's typical of progressive behavior, it's just as well they've not got a seat in Congress or the Senate – imagine, as a citizen, always being shouted at when we've only just become accustomed to being slyly manipulated.

  108. Rich S Says:

    Your arguments are bullshit, carrstone. That's not a personal attack.

  109. Major Kong Says:

    Yawn

  110. Ironcity Says:

    We may have a lot of good (as in accurate or correct) ideas in this thread re rust belt, education/retraining, etc but the timing is a little off.

    As a refugee from the rust belt (Pittsburgh) in the 1970's I can tell you from first hand observation that the place was going down since the 1960's and maybe before that. So what did that rust belt city/area do about it? Diversified into health care, finance, and other stuff and kept the rumps or developments from the older products/technologies. Lots of public funds/breaks/etc to stimulate business and nonprofits. Combined with a great location, good quality of life, reasonable cost structures. Without going into a dissertation on location theory a lot of other places in the rust belt don't have the same characteristics for different industries that Pittsburgh has. Loads of other people left western PA and Ohio at that time. As a overpaid underworked government employee I first worked in an office with 2 guys from Ohio (Youngstown), one from MA (?), one from WV. And this was pretty typical for the time.

    As a Fed my career is not in a typical blue or white collar situation. Civil servants are not in general much different from people working in the private sector, except their reward system is a little skewed. They get off on doing things that help the country and it's people. Since there is no great big cash bonus or investment return the perks are working with good people for goals like truth, health, the American way etc. in spite of some of the direction given by the board of directors in the funny round domed building on the hill. Union penetration is very modest in most agencies since there is very little that unions are perceived to be able to do (and in fact have been able to do) to improve the lot of the employee or the functioning of agencies. This appears to bke fairly common recently. Maybe it is a matter of the obvious things lie OSHA type stuff and employment conditions (random firings, company policies) are handled more or less and the unions have not been able to come up with other issues that need addressed that they can or feel like doing anything about. Too many good stories about the Homestead Strike and such I guess. After spending 150 or so years in opposition to corporate smokestack barons with Pinkerton thugs spending years of incremental improvements in training, corporate governance and other stuff isn't so exciting.

  111. Major Kong Says:

    I was technically a civil servant for a few years.

    The National Guard has a small core of full-timers that are known as "technicians". As a technician I was classified as a GS-13 when I was on civilian status. If I was put on active-duty orders I was paid at my military rank.

    It's a very strange setup because you're wearing the same uniform, but depending on your pay status you could be "military" or "civilian" on any given day.

  112. Rich S Says:

    Yaaaawn

  113. carrstone Says:

    @ Rich

    So you say, Rich, so you say.

    Your condemnation of anyone who doesn't agree with your sloppy opinions doesn't diminish the blessing that is the Clinton fail.

    And, just to make sure your brain registers what I said – I'm not passing judgement on Trump, not before he's shown what he's capable of. In the meantime, hurling abuse at me is not an attractive way of convincing me on the merit of your argument.

  114. Aurora S Says:

    @carrstone

    So…you're just here to annoy everyone? Clearly, no one here agrees with you and you're just coming off like a self-righteous turd…so what's the point? It's a colossal waste of time for you and everyone else.

  115. carrstone Says:

    @Aurora S

    As long as you enjoy free speech, so do I. Like the poor, I'll always be with you; rejoice in an opposite opinion, you may learn something.

    What you progressive regressives fail to understand is that people like me are not offended by being called a turd. We know that turds are useful which is more than can be said for your contribution to society. Why, night-soil collection was big business – if you'll forgive the pun – in late 19th century New York and was a noble undertaking in the old Japan].

    You guys have so much to learn before your opinion can begin to count; start by reading and listening to what people actually say, don't respond to what you'd like to believe they said.

    You want me to stop? Really? All you need do to achieve that aim is talk sense.

  116. Major Kong Says:

    Such a sad, sad little man.

  117. Robert Walker-Smith Says:

    Ironcity – fellow career Fed civil servant here. Twenty four years at the VA hospital. My last day was the Friday before Obama's first inauguration. I used to say that while many functions of government are perceived as making life more difficult for people, my job was to help people whose lives *had* been made difficult in the past. One of the moments I remember with pleasure: a veteran asked if he would have to pay for the piece of medical equipment I was issuing to him. "Were you wearing your country's uniform when [specific injury] occurred?" Yes, he said. "Then you've already paid for it." He was visibly moved by the sentiment.

    Carrstone – domestic cats are Nature's libertarians; completely incapable of independent survival, utterly convinced of their own superiority.

  118. democommie Says:

    Chancresteen:

    You're too fucking stupid to know what you do or don't support. If it was only me that knew that you'd be home free, putz. Too bad, so sad that's not the case.

  119. Skepticalist Says:

    Carrstone calls us "progressive" Got it.

    Regressive doesn't do it for me.

  120. mago Says:

    Hello Ed. Please post anew. This comment thread's skewed and screwed by that Carbuncle fellow.

  121. Lless Says:

    Your hard nosed realism runs up against the problem that the electoral college's structural rural bias coupled with the scathing cynicism of a Republican Party that puts forth Trump, marches us down the road to fascism.

  122. Aurora S Says:

    All:

    The most effective way one deals with a petulant child or a dog that engages in nuisance barking is to ignore the offender and not dignify the behavior with a response. HOWEVER (and this is important), you can't break. If you ignore the behavior until you eventually get frustrated and respond, the offender will only learn to be persistent. Initially, the behavior may get worse, but eventually it will stop.

    In other words, everyone quit feeding the goddamn trolls.

  123. carrstone Says:

    @Aurora S

    Oh c'm on, Sunshine, let's face it – if it weren't for me you'd only be talking to each other. That's got to be more boring than a frogs' chorus particularly given the opinions you spawn.

    So you recommend silence or yelling. I'll give you one thing, that behavior's straight from the Dems handbook and lets you fit right in with all those hurting snowdrops who're either going to Canada or threatening to kill themselves in the wake of Trump's success.

    Any thoughts on joining them?

  124. Periscope Says:

    Dear Ed: I wouldn't blame you if, in despair and disgust, you never wrote another word (assuming you are following this sad excuse for "dialog"). But please know that I and I am sure many who visit this site appreciate your challenging ideas and perspectives and your terrific sense of humor. I can't remember the number of times I have laughed myself to tears reading your blog. You made a difference man…don't be discouraged.

  125. Brian M Says:

    Ironcity: I am skeptical about the universality of Pittsburgh's model. To me, "higher education" seems like another underfunded bubble that will burst. Heck…for that matter, who is going to pay for all of the expensive, high tech medical equipment in the hospital-industrial complex? Some sources note that these industries, too will consolidate over time, with many cities losing their hospitals and schools to better located, wealthier places.