Sunday, April 13th, 2008

Review: Caught in the Middle by Richard C. Longworth

Caught in the Middle by Richard C. Longworth, formerly a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, paints a picture of a Midwest ravaged by globalization and unable to adapt to the future. As he puts it, “The first task is to tell the truth, that the Midwest’s golden era is gone forever. Much of the Midwest is in denial. It will take courageous leadership to speak the truth.” (255).

Longworth’s view is sort of a cross between “The World is Flat” and “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” His thesis: globalization has permanently destroyed the ability of the Midwest’s key industries, agriculture and manufacturing, to provide a middle class lifestyle to the majority of Midwest residents. However, Midwesterners are not rising to challenge because they have a low understanding and awareness of the reality of their situation, are too lazy, are completely unwilling to change, have lost the will to innovate, and don’t value education among a host of social values, principally conservative, that Longworth views as pathological. In addition to explaining this, he also dedicates his time to examining outlier communities such as Chicago, Peoria, Warsaw, and others that have been relatively successful. And a significant amount of time is dedicated to the impact of Latino immigrants.

His prescription includes amnesty for illegal aliens along with a ramping up of further immigration, universal government health care, a return to valuing education, and a regional focus on solving problems rather than state by state solutions, which he views as unworkable. Examples of regional collaboration would include better cooperation between Big Ten institutions such as enabling in-state tuition across the Midwest, creating a Midwest regional think tank, and a Midwest regional newspaper. Perhaps his most radical suggestion is that, in a city-based global economic future, rural areas, small towns, and small industrial cities should be left to wither on the vine.

Longworth is at his best when discussing the plight of the rural Midwest, small manufacturing towns, and the metro/non-metro divide. He is also right on in the value of education and the need for change. However, his work suffers from a linear trend extrapolation, failure to examine in the internal contradictions of his globalization thesis, overlooking other urban success stories in his fixation on Chicago’s “world city” status while minimizing that city’s problems, and the gratuitous insertion of politics. What’s more, while he tries to be sympathetic towards the plight of globalization’s losers, he ultimately comes off as patronizing towards them.

Being a journalist, Longworth has an engaging writing style and a good eye for strong anecdotes and quotations. Rather than overwhelming with dry data, he more commonly selects archetypal places such as his hometown of Boone, Iowa and extrapolates their experiences to other locales, using data more sparingly. This is good in that you can take in this entire 300 pager in one session. On the other hand, it suffers from all the weaknesses of journalistic accounts in that it appears a bit superficial and episodal.

Among the strongest and best points he makes in his book is that globalization has changed the rules of the game forever, but the Midwest has, with some notable exceptions, failed to come to terms with this. One of the things he points out that really resonated with me was how in so many places Midwesterners still continue to rail against NAFTA, as if that were the source of their problems. Indeed, we’ve seen NAFTA play a role in the present presidential election. But NAFTA is clearly a sideshow. The problem isn’t plants moving to Mexico from the US, it is the completely dominance of manufacturing by China, the rise of offshore IT in India, nationalization of natural resources, the global mobility of capital and people, etc. All of these are vastly more important than NAFTA, but that’s what Midwesterners fixate on. There’s an old saying, “Without awareness, there is no choice”. If you don’t even know what’s happening to you, you can’t make choices about the best way to move into the future.

Longworth is also right when he says, that, like or not, it is cities that are the economic engines of the 21st century. The small town and the family farm may be the spiritual anchors of the Midwest, its locus of identity, but they are no longer its material future. As Longworth notes, “The rural Midwest, in truth, existed for one era, and that era has passed. It responded to the economic demands of a single century, from 1850 to 1950, and has been withering ever since. Globalization only finishes the work of earlier decades. There is no place in a globalized world for the small town and the family farm.” (98) Painful words, but true. It is easy to see why people who spent their lives in those environments would not easily come to terms with their loss. Giving up on that way of life means to give up on many of the values one holds most dear. Sitting in a big city, it’s easy to lecture about this, but it’s always easier to dispense tough advice to others than to take it yourself. If someone said that the modern, upscale urban lifestyle was toast and it was time to move on, my guess is the latte sipping crowd wouldn’t let it go without a fight and a long period of denial. It is the same for everyone. The first step is admitting you have a problem, and that’s so often the toughest one to take. And nobody can be easily expected to give up the things that are most precious to them.

Of course, many of the Midwest’s cities have problems too, with Longworth also notes. Consider the case of Cleveland. “When I went to Cleveland, I found not alarm but complacency. In a city that is being destroyed by global forces – its industry and young people are fleeing and are not being replaced – I found almost nobody willing to actually talk about globalization or global challenges. In a city crying for answers, no one even asks the questions.” (159)

Because cities are the economic engines of the 21st century, any economic development strategy should be extended metro based. Again, quoting, “In a global era, cities must carry entire economies by themselves. As small towns and cities lose their industry, they’ll become part of a metro region, bedroom suburbs for people who drive into the big city to work. Once, places like Newton and Anderson supported themselves; now they’re part of the Des Moines and Indianapolis region. If these regions are to survive, the big cities must provide enough lifeblood to do it.” (167)

Exactly. I’ve made this argument myself, when I suggested that the path forward for Indiana’s struggling small industrial cities is to bind themselves into a greater Indianapolis economy. But no one seems interested in doing this. Anderson, a frequent example in Longworth’s book, is ideally placed for this. It is only about 25 miles from the I-465 beltway, and located along the principal growth corridor in Indy, I-69 to the northeast. Yet not only does Anderson not seem interested in building a more tightly integrated economy with Indianapolis, it takes active steps to try to keep Indy at bay. For example, Madison County petitioned to be removed from the Indianapolis MSA so they could keep a standalone Anderson one, notwithstanding that Anderson has zero brand recognition outside the state. Recently the newly elected mayor of Anderson scotched building a joint airport with the booming Hamilton County suburb of Fishers, which was an incredible opportunity to link the two regions.

This highlights another key theme of the book – an unwillingness to change. Midwesterners are famously conservative and unwilling to change. Witness the decades of struggle it took just to get Indiana to adopt daylight saving time. Nevertheless, I don’t think this is a particularly Midwestern trait. In his article and book “Change or Die”, Alan Deutschman notes that 90% of people, when faced with the alternative of changing their lifestyle or literally dying, don’t make the change. Astonishing.

There’s a lot of good in this book, and I really haven’t started to talk about it all. But I want to be able to devote space to the downsides as well. One of them is Longworth’s conventional wisdom view of globalization. The world is flat, creative class, bioscience, world cities, etc. etc. But this is merely the trend of the moment, overblown even now, and not likely to endure indefinitely.

For example, why focus on bioscience? Sure, it’s an emerging industry. But why can’t the Chinese do bioscience just as well and less expensively? Is this an industry with staying power in the new global world? Maybe, maybe not.

The whole notion of the creative class is also vastly inflated. Sure, creativity is good, but it is only one value among many. Enron was very creative after all, and look what happened to them. Here’s typical a piece self-flagellation out of Indiana. “’[Richard] Florida says you need a culture of creativity to be successful, and Indiana doesn’t have that culture,’ a morose civic leader in Indianapolis told me, ‘He says you have to have a culture of embracing difference. Not a toleration of difference, but rather prizing people because they are different. Tolerance is one thing, but it’s pretty minimalist. It’s better than intolerance. But Florida’s basis is that you’re excited by the way that people are different from you. You’re glad that some are gay or belong to other races. Indiana isn’t glad.” (162)

Ah, yes, gays. Richard Florida may have invented the idea of turning gaydar into part of the index of leading economic indicators. But as Stuff White People Like – a hilarious send-up of the urban intelligentsia and yuppies – noted, having gay friends is something people love precisely because of the lack of diversity. “Older white people prefer to be friends with gay parents because it enables their children to experience much needed diversity with people who are, for all intents and purposes, exactly the same as them.” What globalism means from a practical point of view in big cities has been the creation of a sort of transnational upper class, who might be of difference races or sexual orientation or nationality, but share the same values and are otherwise exactly the same in all the ways that matter. There’s a bigger gulf between the urban elite of Chicago and someone from downstate than there is between the urban elite of Chicago and the urban elite of Buenos Aires or Paris or Singapore. Gay or straight’s got nothing to do with it.

Longworth also doesn’t pursue his thesis to its logical conclusion in all areas. The two states that figure most pessimistically in his equation are Indiana and Ohio. But if it’s true that cities are the economic future, those state’s actually seem to have some of the more optimistic geography. Virtually all of Indiana, for example, is conceivably inside the metropolitan economic zone of a city over 100,000 people. This doesn’t figure into his evaluation.

In another example, he says one problem with luring bioscience companies to the Midwest is a lack of venture capital. “The problem is money. Any biosciences boom in the Midwest will have to be a financial and scientific collaboration between universities and companies. Bioscience backers assume that the industry will grow much as the computer and information industries did, with companies funding university research or with university researchers taking their ideas and setting up their own companies. But this takes money, and as we shall see, the Midwest so far is short of the kind of red-blooded venture capitalists who finance new ideas and new corporations.” (209)

But is this really the problem. How is it that everything can be globalized, but venture capital is local? Money is the most easily transportable commodity around. As we’ve seen from the growth of the carry trade and “hot money” flows, gigantic amounts of capital move internationally every day. The idea that some venture fund, whose entire existence is about making profitable investments, is going to pass up a good deal because the managing director is too lazy to get on a plane to Ohio doesn’t make sense.

A local Indianapolis entrepreneur named Chris Baggott formed an angel group with some of his other successful buddies. They’ve got money to invest. There’s just one problem: no deals. Longworth is right that the Midwest has the research, but it right now is lacking in the most critical resource: people with an entrepreneurial mindset. There’s no money flow problem, there’s a people flow problem.

Longworth also says repeatedly that creative industries, and things like finance, law, and accounting, require face to face interaction, leading to world cities. But do they? I don’t know why any of these professions aren’t equally as amenable to offshoring as IT or manufacturing. Perhaps we just haven’t gotten around to it yet. I sure hope no cities betting their future on this stuff are sitting on their laurels thinking it can’t happen to them, because you had better believe it can.

This brings me to another beef, his continued praising of Chicago as the paradigm of the new world economy. Of course, Chicago has had a gigantic skyscraper building boom, perhaps the largest city condo building boom of any city in America, is a huge magnet for international immigrants, has the best international connections of any Midwest city, the best universities, etc. However, there are huge problems as well. Longworth notes some of them, but only in passing.

I’ve repeatedly in this blog noted how despite all this development, Chicago is losing population. The creative class is flocking, everyone else is leaving, priced out by soaring real estate prices and crushing taxation. Longworth talks about Chicago (and Minneapolis) attracting immigrants, but fails to note that the Chicago MSA last year had domestic out-migration to the tune of 57,000 people. That’s like losing an entire Anderson, Indiana every year. Even Detroit only had 58,000 people leave. Minneapolis had net domestic out-migration too. Chicago’s overall MSA population growth badly trails the US average at only 0.6% per year.

There are other successful Midwest cities besides Chicago and Minneapolis. Ones that I think provide a better model for the future. These are the ones lying along the I-70 corridor: Columbus, Indianapolis, and Kansas City. All of these are growing faster than the national average in population. All are experiencing domestic in-migration as well as international in-migration. All are extremely affordable and can actually offer a middle class lifestyle to someone who has less than a six figure income. But these cities are barely mentioned in his book apart from some throwaway lines about how boring they are. There’s no prospect of creating another Chicago in the Midwest. But there is ample reason to believe that you could turn some struggling cities into a more Columbus like model.

Longworth’s Chicago bias seeps through in his recommendations as well. Where, for example, do you imagine a Midwest think tank might be located? Or the headquarters of a Midwest regional newspaper? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is just another way for an already prosperous Chicago to extract tribute from other Midwestern places. It’s also why no such ideas are likely to be embraced outside Chicago.

Lastly, my strongest critique is of Longworth’s attitude towards Midwestern people and values. There are a lot of quotes I could give, but I’ll select just this one. “Perhaps rural life wouldn’t mesh with IT, even if it was more available. The Internet exists for people who compete in a 24×7 world. Most rural people are accustomed to an 8-5 world. They aren’t lazy, just more tuned to the slower pace and long weekends. Global people want to do deals. Rural people want to go hunting.” (94)

I dunno, that sounds like he’s calling them lazy to me. And I think it is totally wrong. Every union guy I’ve ever known has grabbed every extra hour of OT he could lay his hands on. The rural and small town people I know have an incredible work ethic. The problem isn’t that. And I’d dare say that, given the number of Starbucks, day spas, gyms, and swanky restaurants dotting the urban landscape, that there’s more than ample leisure time for the creative class. I guarantee you I put in fewer hours at the office than my father puts in at the stone quarry he works at.

This patronizing attitude towards the non-elite turns into condescension at times. “In a world of the Next New Thing, devotion to biblical inerrancy and traditional values doesn’t cut it.” (98) Why mention the Bible? Religion is totally not needed to make any of his points. It only gratuitously offends those who hold strong religious beliefs. Some of the cultural problems Longworth talks about are real, but religion isn’t amongst them. Longworth would have been well-served to check his blue state politics before he sat down at the typewriter. (Was it really necessary to say, “Midwesterners … get their news, so-called, from Fox News” (261)?). He’s only going to turn off red staters, when I think the best parts of the book should transcend traditional left-right politics. If there’s one thing Longworth is right about when it comes to globalization, it is that it is a remorseless force, and no respecter of places, people, or even political parties.

On the whole, despite some weaknesses, Caught in the Middle is a welcome addition to the literature on the affects of globalization, and a notable entry in what has been too light a canon of books on the Midwest as a whole.

Topics: Economic Development, Globalization, Public Policy, Regionalism, Talent Attraction, Urban Culture

23 Responses to “Review: Caught in the Middle by Richard C. Longworth”

  1. thundermutt says:

    Evidently Sen. Obama read this book before making his intemperate comments about Midwesterners being in denial and clinging to God and guns instead of getting on with life.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Obama was right. As a lifelong Hoosier I can attest to how backwards looking and resistant to change the midwest, and in particular, Indiana are.

    Most Midwesterners continue to vote against their own economic interests, and as economic prosperity continues to elude and frustrate them, they sink into the comforts of social issues, blaming their problems on gays, Muslims, immigrants, etc. Suddenly, abortion and gun control become more important than healthcare and trade.

    Thomas Frank was absolutely right in his groundbreaking book, “What’s the Matter With Kansas?”

  3. Anonymous says:

    I am a gay man with a partner. I am always amazed by all the trouble we seem to cause. We both (are professionals)have jobs, own a home and pay taxes.

    On the other hand if the author said what you said he said about for some people it is status cool to have gay friends nohting could more true. And, to us nothing could feel more creepy than people like that.

  4. Brian J. Kelsey says:

    Good review. I’ve not read this book, but it sounds like yet another all-or-nothing account from a pundit committed to a singular view about regional development. I know complexity and exceptions to the rule are not too welcomed by most talking heads with a concept to pitch, but I wish there was a little more balance in the commentary, as you pointed out in the review.

  5. thundermutt says:

    >>Longworth is also right when he says, that, like or not, it is cities that are the economic engines of the 21st century. The small town and the family farm may be the spiritual anchors of the Midwest, its locus of identity, but they are no longer its material future. As Longworth notes, “The rural Midwest, in truth, existed for one era, and that era has passed. It responded to the economic demands of a single century, from 1850 to 1950, and has been withering ever since. Globalization only finishes the work of earlier decades. There is no place in a globalized world for the small town and the family farm.”< < Urbanophile, both you and Longworth may be overlooking the interlocking impact of $100 oil, water shortages in the Plains and western US, and the “local food” movements. This oversight may lead to you being out-and-out wrong about the material future of the Midwestern family farm, especially in places with plenty of water like the “old Northwest” states of Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. The “local food” movement can support smaller-scale intensive agriculture (and aquaculture in an area with abundant water). With the “old Northwest” states’ location inside a day’s drive of a large percentage of the US population, it means that fresh produce, dairy, meat, poultry, and fish produced here can be trucked shorter distances to market. And the inputs for those agricultural products are also local, other than farm labor, which tends to follow the work from across the US’ southern border. As western water shortages (due to the undying thirst of expanding sunbelt cities drawing water away from western agriculture) and $100 oil work their way through the economy, the Midwestern farming lifestyle will find new life in the 21st century. The farm owners may need to learn some Spanish, though.

  6. The Urbanophile says:

    thunder, the book actually talks extensively about just that local agriculture topic. I just didn’t have time to write that up.

    Basically Longworth says that the future is either huge corporate farms or local producers selling direct to urban consumers. I don’t think he sees either of these forms providing a livelihood to any significant number of people, however. I think that is it more than anything. Not so much that industry is dead. As he notes, Indiana produces as much steel as it ever did. But that the large numbers of middle class jobs available to those without education are largely a thing of the past in those industries.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for writing this up. I’m actually really thinking about reading this book now because of your “review.” Although, I’m not looking forward to all the talk about Chicago. My friends are always like why don’t you like Chicago. I think it is cool. It’s fun, but I actually like the smaller neighborhoods around Chicago than Chicago itself. It just always seems drab there, everyone is rude, and they have such an elitist status its sickening.

    Thundermutt, I was going to make the same comment about farming locally. I agree that it won’t die away and become more globalized, but I do think they will need to change their models. Now is the best time than every to start more Local Co-ops with Farmers, combine resources, equipment, money, labor – this will be the only way to get the most yield, profit, and long term success for the farming folk. Thanks for the insite into this book!

  8. The Urbanophile says:

    anon, thanks for the kind words. You might be interested in this review over on Daytonology as well.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I think most of you are really out of touch about what has already happened in the ag communities in Indiana and the Midwest…they already have become corprate farms and co-ops. You have spent to much time in the city.

  10. thundermutt says:

    anon 5:29, you may be right. I stopped spending time on the farm after my grandparents died and my cousin leased the land our family had farmed since the 1830’s to neighboring farmers.

    I do know the life of that “neighborhood” has been enhanced by the growth of the surrounding Amish/Mennonite community, who follow a more intensive practice of agriculture-as-lifestyle than the typical ag-school graduate farmer. Many also run side businesses in dairy products, fresh produce and baking, carpentry, cabinetmaking, welding, ironwork, etc.

    This doesn’t differ significantly from any urban small-business-as-lifestyle (think of your neighborhood pizza place, sandwich shop or cafe, the corner cleaner, or the solo-practitioner doctor, dentist, or lawyer). Many of us in the city spend many years working just as hard and wearing just as many hats in those small-scale businesses as small farm operators, except we may not get our hands and boots as dirty in the city.

    I disagree with the idea that there is (or will be) a complete polarization of ag, just as I disagree that polarization of retail or restaurants or manufacturing into global/corporate and local/family firms will occur.

    Certainly there are forces pushing in both directions, but there are still a range of opporunities and markets for producers of all sizes in all kinds of businesses and industries.

    There are people who want a suburban or exurban lifestyle and will turn to new ways of financing it in the coming decades (intensive agriculture and “village” occupations). Some of them will be derided as “hobby farmers” or “dreamers” or “city slickers”, but I believe they will emerge and revitalize small towns and rural areas as “green” becomes mainstream and transportation costs and water availability increasingly drive location decisions.

    Finally, one cannot overlook the “faith gap”. There is nothing fundamentally backward-looking about a Christian lifestyle or value system; it happens that it is strong in areas least understood by upper-middle-class city people: suburban, rural and African-American communities. Just like everyone else, the well-educated city folk tend to poke some fun at (or make mistaken assumptions about) things and places they don’t understand.

    In my experience (which includes learning to drive a tractor and hay wagon at 11 and graduating from a major university at 21), there’s not much difference between the halls of ivy and the barn: you have to watch where you step in either place.

  11. Jason says:

    I agree that he could have struck a bigger chord, but added a dissonant note by mistake. I can only guess that perhaps he had some pent-up feelings about his own hometown that managed to spill out.

    A couple of things I wanted to add to the discussion. The interesting thing about “local ag” selling to local urban areas might work in the following way: “fresh” local ingredients are becoming fairly popular lately in the upper-middle class during the “healthy living” movement as you might call it. I think that trend will likely continue, and that would be a nice symbiosis between the farm and the city.

    Also, as an engineer I have a “both sides of it” view of globalization. The author argues that the “creative” jobs are immune to outsourcing. You argue how China could just as easily do any jobs it chooses. What I see myself is right in the middle of the two of you. There is nothing stopping anyone, anywhere, from doing any job. However, there are cases where there is an added value inherently added by a SPECIFIC person doing a specific job. You COULD have a foreign worker writing the user manual to your TV, but if they did, the grammar might not be quite correct. It might not seem like an English-speaker was talking to you. This is the important point here. Everyone has to provide something UNIQUE and value-added to what you do. Otherwise you are vulnerable. This is why the author (and you) say that the large availability of jobs for uneducated workers are gone. Anyone can be trained to turn a screw. But, this doesn’t mean manufacturing is dead. It means that you have to have skills in specialized manufacturing that is either difficult to perform or doesn’t have good quality, etc. The “Midwest complacency” is correct, even for the “creative class.” But it’s true anywhere. If you get complacent, the Chinese (or others, India?) are willing to make less than you to do what you’ve already shown the world how to do. So, you must continue to change and adapt your skills, whether you have a college degree or not.

    I don’t read books often, but I might just have to pick this one up. Thanks for the suggestion.

  12. Donna says:

    My fervent hope is that local agriculture can become a bigger part of the Midwestern, and specifically the Naptown, economy.

    That said, the buyers of local ag would be people in the cities, no? So if the cities aren’t thriving with “creative” types, the local ag won’t survive either.

    Sounds like an interesting book, thanks for the writeup, urbanophile.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Anon 8:04, “It just always seems drab there, everyone is rude, and they have such an elitist status its sickening.”
    I would have to agree with you on that. A few years ago, I went to a Cirque du Soleil show at the United Center. There were 2 guys sitting next to me and they started up a conversation. I told them I was from the Indianapolis area and their reply was, “Sorry to hear that.” I just blew it off. Later on, I found out that they were at the show because they heard it was cool (which it is), but they thought because of the name, they thought Cirque started out and is based in France. I corrected them and told them they started out and are headquartered in Canada. I told them to look at the program they bought. They didn’t talk to me after that.

  14. Tom Christoffel says:

    Hello to The Urbanophile – This Blog, book review and commentary is an example of what I call “regional community.” It is going on all over the U.S. and the world. A link to this post will be in the April 16, 2008 issue of Regional Community Development News. It will be on-line April 17 at Please visit, check the resources and even consider a link. Cheers. Tom

  15. Anonymous says:

    I forgot to mention, the 2 guys I talked to, both lived in Chicago.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I have not read this book but, to say that ag communties are some how that backwards..vs old manufacturing in the Midwest is crazy. This country and the Midwest is a big part of that still doesn something better than any country in the work…prduce food. Pound for pound the Midwest farms are the most effiecent producers in the world bar none. The are way ahead of any other country. To say they have some how fallen behind is absurd. They have adjusted to the golbal economies way better than if not all most midwestern cities.

    What rural ag communites and this notion of a backward/regligion based old worldism is just nonsense. They are innovative and on the cutting edge. Tell me another “industry” in this country or world were the government actually pays them to not grow crops because the are so good at it and over produce?

  17. mordant says:

    It seems pretty clear that midwestern farms are very efficient by world standards when measured in crop produced per farmer. They don’t fair nearly as well when other factors of production are in the denominator – land, fossil fuel energy, or capital invested, for example.

    Not sure why the crop per farmer measure is considered by some to be the gold standard, other than that it’s what we do best and therefore feel the need to brag about.

    As for the subsidies received by ag interests (mostly laundered through farmers to a handful of very large corporations), that’s clearly a measure of failure, not success.

  18. Anonymous says:

    The central core of Indianapolis (pre-UniGov city limits) has experienced a population loss of over 156,000 people.
    The population residing in the “old city limits” of Indianapolis was over 486,000 in 1970.In 2002 the population in that same geographic area was 330,000.
    The “old city limits” of pre-UniGov Indianapolis is defined today by the boundary lines of IPS.

    If the future of our country is to be determined by it’s cities then Indianapolis certainly is no model. When 156,000 pack up and move to the outlying townships and even more into the exurbs leaving blighted abandoned neighborhoods and businesses behind then it’s an understatement to say that we have a problem.
    Granted the elite and the gentrification efforts downtown in the Mile Square are notable but the gain there in population is hardly relevant in relation to the 156,000 people who chose to leave.
    Granted, there may be population gains in the county as a whole but the central city core is continuing to see an exodus of people.
    How do you stem the flow of people out? You can’t, not in Indianapolis.

  19. deuteronomy says:

    The original Anonymous poster here (from April 13) is precisely the reason Midwesterners shun candidates that get accused of elitism. I now live in about the most reputedly elitest places in the country (Cambridge, MA) and I’m ashamed that this fellow considers himself a Hoosier. Quoting Thomas Frank’s book (which basically formed the source of Obama’s comments–clearly Obama read it as well) is exactly why liberals have such a hard time getting elected. Has everybody already forgotten John Kerry’s comment about the military being “Stuck in Iraq” because of lack of educational opportunities at home? Remember that great sign “Halp Us Jon Carry…” that the some soldiers posted in response?

    The fact remains, small-town people still valued religion, gun rights, and traditional nuclear families 35 years ago, back when industry was still fluorishing. No reason to correlate economic depression to religiosity and the Second Amendment. And there are plenty of suburbs in Sun Belt cities like Atlanta or Charlotte that are experiencing formidable job growth, yet the people still value God and guns far more than healthcare or trade.

    Obama and Anonymous (and their forebear, Thomas Frank) were all revealing profound condescension through their observations. The book “What’s the Matter With Kansas” predicates its entire argument on the idea that these people’s values are rooted in ignorance. Do Obama, Frank, and their coterie all think that Kansans and Pennsylvanians and Hoosiers are so thick that they can’t even tell when they’re being looked down upon? Despite the fact that many small Rust Belt towns are indeed economically depressed, the unemployment levels are rarely in the double digits in these towns, cost of living is phenomenally low, and welfare dependency still pales to that in inner cities or the severely depressed rural regions (Missisippi Delta, Great Plains, Eastern Kentucky). They indeed lack and will always lack knowledged-based jobs in comparison to places with an well-educated workforce, but the most well-educated cities are often typically struggling nonetheless to retain workers because of a concomitant increase in the cost of living. Boston is a perfect example of this.

    Though I never expect to know, I seriously doubt Anonymous, a “lifelong Hoosier”, can honestly claim such a title; one would have to have lived elsewhere to form such a comparison and to have such condescension for his own neighbors that he can generalize so much. Clearly he doesn’t share the politics that are more commonly associated with Indiana and huge parts of the Midwest (but not all the Midwest, nor all of Indiana). I don’t agree with a lot of Indiana politics either–nor probably do most contributors on this blog. But when a population fails to embrace a politician’s message, isn’t it more politically prudent to question the message rather than to question the intelligence of the population–that is, if said politician wants to retain any political footing?

    I hope Longworth doesn’t go into politics. He clearly prefers the two predominantly liberal cities of the Midwest (Minneapolis and Chicago) over those “boring” conservative places. Based on your respectful description of the book, Urbanophile, he is only surpressing his disdain for Indiana/Ohio in the parts where he does not actively articulate it. Does he ever recognize that downstate Illinois falls far more in line with Indiana and Ohio–if it isn’t actually in considerably worse shape? I’ve lived in Chicago and am still amazed at how provincial they can be toward just about everything non-Chicago that surrounds them–a bit like New Yorkers in fact. This is all the more ironic since New Yorkers consummately look down on Chicagoans as “hicks among the skyscrapers.” I’m glad you could get through that book of Longfellow’s–after having swallowed Thomas Frank’s little opus a few years ago (another Midwesterner who has perched himself snootily in Chicago), I don’t think I could manage.

  20. The Urbanophile says:

    Anon 9:51, clearly, the core of Indianapolis has emptied out. I won’t deny that the city has serious problems. In fact, I think the challenge for suburban Marion County may end up even being more severe. But Indianapolis has vastly outgrown the old city limits. The region’s population is now about 1.7 million and rising at the rate of 250,000 per decade. That’s not a boomtown by any means, but it is certainly much better than most of the rest of the Midwest, and better than the nation as a whole.

    Keep in mind, even without the urban collapse in Center Township, the population there would have dropped precipitously in the last 50 years simply because of decreasing household sizes.

  21. The Urbanophile says:


    To be fair, Longworth’s book does say Southern Illinois is much like Southern Indiana. Perhaps I did him a disservice to compare his book to “What’s the Matter with Kansas”. He certainly takes a much less condescending tone than that book. I do think that some of the thesis applies though.

    You bring up a great point that places like Texas are huge, hardcore conservative, Bible believing places, but are nevertheless thriving economically.

    There is a problem of values. And I’d argue that a conservative, risk averse nature is definitely a Midwestern problem, for example.

    But even if one believes religion, guns, etc. do play a role in the economic performance of those areas, it is difficult to credibly make that point without coming across as attacking. From a pragmatic standpoint, I don’t think it is effective.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Most of what IS Indianapolis is located inside the wasteland emptied when those 156,000 people moved out.
    Sure the Metro area is growing but not by real numbers. People are simply relocating, not moving. It’s a sideways movement.
    Center Township IS Indianapolis NOT Carmel or Brownsburg or Geist.
    A trip downtown yesterday was insightful. More than enough empty storefronts for a booming downtown. Then a venture less than one mile from the Circle to the east side and I felt I was in the worst parts of Cleveland or Baltimore. When visitors venture away from the Mile Square they see an Indianapolis that appears third world to them.
    Without some type plan to regenerate these blighted pockets it is not long before the cancer spreads to the downtown.

  23. Anonymous says:

    The idea of more regional thinking definitely has its merits. I’m always struck by the Indy vs. Hamilton County debate. As a Hoosier now living on the East Coast the difference between Indy and Carmel seems trivial and the debate counterproductive.

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