The Campaign to Save The Rust Belt

Drew Carey's libertarian Cleveland crusade is just the beginning

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In a March 2009 cover story for The Atlantic, Richard Florida considered the decline of America's rust belt as all but inevitable. "The challenge that many Rust Belt cities share," is not related to saving those cities but in making sure their implosion is carefully orchestrated for minimal harm. The best case scenario, he wrote, is "managing population decline without becoming blighted." A year later, Florida's grim predictions are still holding true. But pundits and media figures are coming forward with ideas to help. Here's why the rust belt is so troubled and what we can do about it.

The Rust Belt in particular looks likely to shed vast numbers of jobs, and some of its cities and towns, from Cleveland to St. Louis to Buffalo to Detroit, will have a hard time recovering. Since 1950, the manufacturing sector has shrunk from 32 percent of nonfarm employment to just 10 percent. This decline is the result of long-term trends—increasing foreign competition and, especially, the relentless replacement of people with machines—that look unlikely to abate. But the job losses themselves have proceeded not steadily, but rather in sharp bursts, as recessions have killed off older plants and resulted in mass layoffs that are never fully reversed during subsequent upswings.

  • How To Save Detroit: Shrink It  In the New York Times, economist Edward Glaeser explains, "At the extreme, urban right-sizing could mean bulldozing large swaths of the city. Will the benefits of downsizing Detroit outweigh the costs?" The plan to cut services to broad areas and plan for a shrinking city sounds crazier than it is. "For a big-city mayor to warn that some areas will be no-service zones is radical, but our country is filled with less populated areas that lack public trash removal, bus service and water provision."
  • MidWest's Shining Example: Indianapolis  The Indiana city provides a rust belt beacon for how to reform, writes New Geography's Aaron Renn. It boasts job growth, population growth, and braggable demographics like those of Portland, OR, all "thanks to an aggressive pro-business attitude and local industry clusters like life sciences, motorsports, and internet marketing." Renn says Des Moines, IA, has had similar success by working to attract white-collar industry while avoiding high-cost "boondoggles" like sports stadiums.
  • Can a Libertarian Revolution Save Cleveland?  Joining with Cleveland-based comedian and TV personality Drew Carey, Reason magazine produced a 50-minute, multi-part series exploring the ills of Cleveland and ways to bring it back from the brink. Reason, a leading libertarian publication, comes up with libertarian-minded solutions: Replace public schools with charter schools, privatize everything from golf courses to parking spaces, cut taxes, and roll back environmental regulation. Here's part 3 of the series, which suggests comprehensive privatization:
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.