The Real Reason Middle America Should Be Angry

Source: Brian S. Feldman, Washington Monthly, March/April/May 2016

Like many “flyover” cities, St. Louis’s decline is not mainly a story of deindustrialization, but of decisions in Washington that opened the door to predatory monopoly. ….

…. Experts often point to manufacturing decline, off-shoring, and racial strife to explain the relative economic weakness of St. Louis and other Rust Belt cities. But these ills hardly have afflicted St. Louis more than they have Chicago, New York, Boston, and Los Angeles—which all have mounted much stronger comebacks in recent decades. Yes, those other cities made the transition from manufacturing to services and technology. But a quarter century ago, St. Louis was already (and, to some extent, it still is) a hub of many of the post-industrial industries that have gone on to experience the fastest growth, from pharmaceuticals to finance to food processing. ….. The relative decline of St. Louis—along with that of other similarly endowed heartland cities—is therefore not simply, or even primarily, a story of deindustrialization. The larger explanation involves how presidents and lawmakers in both parties, influenced by a handful of economists and legal scholars, quietly altered federal competition policies antitrust laws, and enforcement measures over a period of thirty years. These changes, which enabled the same kind of predatory corporate behavior that took the Rams away from St. Louis, also robbed the metro area of a vibrant economy, and of hundreds of locally based companies. This economic uprooting, still all but unaddressed by today’s politicians or presidential candidates, accounts for much of the relative stagnation of other middle American communities, and for much of the anger roiling voters this election cycle. The rise and fall of St. Louis’s advertising industry stands as a cautionary tale for what ails so many of the once vigorous and innovative cities of “flyover” America. …..