In a mobile, multimedia Snapchat image-messaging world, all human glory is explicitly fleeting and self-deleting. Midwest Rural America, so crucial to Electoral College victory last November, now risks its own Snapchat moment.
Pessimists predict that newfound interest in salvaging America’s industrial heartland may evaporate as attention spans shift, compelling alternative priorities and “gotcha” scandalmongering suck up surplus policy oxygen, and “winner takes all” ideological wish lists burn up remaining political capital. In this scenario, the inexorable Washington, D.C. bureaucratic sausage-churning of poetry-campaigning into governing-prose balks at achieving something both so Herculean and Sisyphus-like as the recoding, rebooting and re-anchoring in situ of America’s manufacturing and productivity DNA.
The winning presidential campaign promise is to re-open factories and mines, many of them proudly represented by America’s finest private sector unions in areas of the country peopled by the country’s 29,000 cooperatives fielding over 320 million memberships. There was no mention of shadow-boxing and jujitsu-dancing around minimum wage service job substitution without benefits and other forms of depressing Band-Aid contracts plastered over decades of gaping unemployment wounds.
Midwest Rural America (MRA) economic turnaround legitimacy means recreating a new profit-seeking culture of work from the bottom-up. Without this intentional restructuring, ongoing accelerating economic alienation and social dislocation risk compounding the strong sense of victimization felt since the 1970s by rural working class communities, weary veterans of the long, forced march through the wastelands of globalization bait and switch.
Engineering enduring Midwest Rural America Greatness suggests a new culture of work that is forward-looking, inclusive, profitable, regenerative and resilient especially during market cycle downturns (Using Donald Trump’s Tough Talk to Create Real Jobs by Scott N. Paul). More effective, replicable and lasting than robbing Peter to pay Paul not to outsource or offshore jobs perennially threatened by labor-arbitraging, corporatist personhoods disrespecting national borders; worker-centric approaches that re-seed America’s founding individual and community ownership ethos way-show how to create an economy built to last that works for all.
Offered-up, post-election solutions (What Would It Take to Replace the Pay Working-Class Americans Have Lost? by Neil Irwin) careen between redistributive tax cuts, tax credits and regulatory changes. Similar to intractable resource restructuring challenges facing the country’s healthcare and education sectors, the nation’s intrinsic “Robin Hood Dilemma” self-paralyzes progress towards fomenting a rising, resilient middle class. Even outright charity comes with strings attached as the nation’s influential philanthropic-consultant-industrial complex makes and plays by its own rules. Metrics show how America’s socially embedded inequalities will dig deeper roots unless user circles are enlarged so that more may enter through new equity equations that are structured to encourage better democratic workplace outcomes.
Stakes couldn’t be higher. The possibility of failing to regenerate American industrial exceptionalism by re-launching the country’s rural Midwest economy is already provoking extreme disaster scenarios. Eduardo Porter (NYT) points to Stanford History professor, Walter Scheidel, who contends in “The Great Leveler“(Princeton University Press) that only man-made calamities such as an “all-out thermonuclear war” can force predatory capitalist culture to equate stakeholders with shareholders by redistributing wealth between those who have too much and those who don’t have enough. In this dystopian prediction, it would appear that American society prefers to wallow in the extremes and is incapable of aiming for the middle, of sharing or engendering solidarity among its wildly diverging economic classes unless self-driven to the “eve of destruction.”
Clearly it’s time to place new forms of broadly-shared equity on the nation’s table without threatening preexisting privilege chasms. The tools employed to push back on inequality are just as important as intended outcomes. Extending the single class stock metaphor by using “equality-inducing instruments” to engender broadened and deepened rising economic middle class opportunities creates more workplace and community solidarity, historically America’s societal secret success sauce now sorely missing in action. Invented “Bitcoin economic development” currencies and equity out of whole cloth can be structured and empowered to reach out to those currently stuck outside of America’s ownership quadrants.
Rebuilding a more equal version of America’s Manifest Economic Destiny starting with a new culture of work permeating rural Midwest factories and mines can generate stakeholder equity provisions to match the new sources of capital Ellen Brown describes in “We’ll Look at Everything:” More Thoughts on Trump’s $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan. The state of Ohio, for example, sports more employee-owned businesses per capita than any other U.S. State. Leading local advocacy organizations (e.g. the Ohio Employee Ownership Center and the Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative) could take this process into overdrive with strong and clear federal political and policy mandates.
The New York Times financial business columnist, Andrew Ross Sorkin, suggests that Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, SolarCity and SpaceX, represents the new manufacturing, private-public partnership model of choice: “Mr. Musk, 45, is arguably the one person in the nation more responsible than anyone else for generating a vision for the re-emergence of manufacturing in the United States en masse” (nearly 35,000 jobs created with 6,500 expected to be employed by 2020 at the Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada, a 5.5-million-square-foot battery factory under construction; after the factory’s construction and when fully operating, 95% of Tesla parts will be made in the United States).
This approach is replicable across multiple industry sectors and geographies. On the demand side: enlightened public-private-academic partnerships focus on integrating and positioning profit-seeking MAKER labs and FAB labs within local manufacturing centers together with corporate clients helping to develop industrial cluster demand for locally-produced 3D printing products. On the push/supply side, artificial intelligence and advanced nanotechnology production applications matched with crowd funding and crowd-sourcing platforms form regionally-based, mutually fulfilling, customer-provider supply chain ecosystems.
According to Dr. Cynthia “Mil” Duncan and researchers at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy, Rural America’s two biggest needs are access to capital and capacity to develop. The former can be solved by non-regressive (i.e. no post build-out rent-seeking tolling that taxes working class constituents) public-private-academic regional partnerships assembling inexpensive debt-fueled liquidity to launch a targeted Midwest Rural America Marshall Plan. Incoming federal politics are aligned to do just that.
The latter requires matching America’s founding individual and community ownership traditions of bootstrapping, self-reliance, and civic equity to bottom-up, not top-down, local stakeholder empowerment models that have proven to work. This is both the simplest and hardest part of the overall equation with the premise being that locally-produced revenues starting with those proceeding from public sector-funded projects should be reinvested locally.
Metrics show that bottom-up worker ownership culture is more resilient during economic downturns, more productive during upturns, more democratic in workplace practices and serves as a healing alternative to suffocating crony corporatist, rent-seeking capitalism strangleholds. From working notes for Bipartisan Future of Work, “Much more than a debilitating buggy-whip versus smart phone debate, we need to focus on the reinvention of work and the social compact relationships involved in both producing and benefitting from the increased productivity and local wealth creation that accompanies this reinvention.”
“Such transformation starts with a foundational return to individual ownership of land, home and now workplaces as the ineluctable, ‘original American system condition.’ Loyalty to this formula traditionally has set the generational stage to dream of successive self-betterment couched in participative democracy practices governing a ‘free market’ that is not freely abused by privilege benefitting a few at the expense of many. Finding new ways to seed individual and community ownership as well as capital ‘out of thin air’ is not only doable, it’s an entirely American cultural ‘slam-dunk.'”
For those who voted last November for an honorable culture of work in rural as well as urban America so that technology-induced “creative destruction” might be matched by a solidarity-infused culture committed to “creative reconstruction;” for those who voted not in spite or out of envy against any singled out constituency but in favor of broadened and deepened equal economic opportunities regardless of geography, gender, race and all other human rights protected categories; for those who voted against predatory global trade pacts and special interest legislation advancing corporatist, rent-seeking personhood at the expense of individual and collective worker rights; and for those who voted against the financialization of America’s democracy starting with global labor arbitraging, offshoring, outsourcing and the corruption of private money in public politics – this post is for you.