Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Rust Belt is Dead. Long Live the Rust Belt.

I suspect that the news about the income gap widening in the United States resulted in the spate of articles about the dark side of globalization. There may be a rising tide, but it isn't raising all boats. Along comes a story in the Sunday New York Times, speaking of Michigan's "exodus" and the last death throes of the Rust Belt:

As the workers depart in greater numbers than either their union or their employers anticipated, the exodus becomes more than a long ledger of altered lives. It is an accounting, of course, but an accounting of the most personal and poignant sort. Communities are fragmenting, families are relocating, and years of individual choices tethered to the notion of a certain kind of job in a certain kind of place are giving way to uncertainty, regret and loss of control.

“The question is, Are we seeing a final end to what we have called blue-collar aristocracy?” asks Sheldon H. Danziger, a public policy researcher at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “Big Steel is gone, coal is gone, shipbuilding is gone — all the big industrial unions are gone or going, except the auto workers. These are the people who had the strongest ability to fight, and now they seem to be giving up the struggle.”

This is a tale of globalization and the resulting great migration. Actually, this is the tale of the people globalization left behind. And the struggle is one of refusing to move in order to improve. My take is that globalization will reward the most mobile. Globalization will also reward the places most open to mobility.

I'd spend more resources on helping people relocate than helping people retrain. Instead, those who leave are ostracized because they "gave up." Migration demands courage, vision and will. The exodus reflects the region's grit and ambition. However, current policy stifles these positive attributes.

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