Once again a favorite nemesis of mine, Michael Hicks, is advocating that government abandon the less fortunate members of our communities by abandoning their neighborhoods. Hicks is the Director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University. In case you missed it, Ball State was in 2016 the recipient of a 3.25 million dollar grant from the Charles Koch Foundation and John Schnatter, the owner of Papa Johns and a Ball State alumnus.
Hicks is a frequent guest columnist in the Indianapolis Star whose columns typically appear on the editorial page of the Sunday edition. Interestingly, today’s column appears on the first page of the Business section. The heading, “Sustaining middle-class areas is key in the Rust Belt,” is as misleading as are his usual arguments. Although he mentions how small expenditures by local governments can avoid decay in middle-class neighborhoods, the thrust of his column is the necessity to avoid such expenditures in distressed neighborhoods. He argues that the recovery of distressed neighborhoods in a decade or two is unlikely. He writes of the inevitability of shrinking “urban footprints” in smaller cities, that he attributes to long term population decline which he forecasts will persist through much of the twenty first century.
What he scrupulously avoids is any discussion of the cause of this. This avoidance is most telling when he cites vacancy rates in Terre Haute, South Bend and Muncie but makes no mention of Muncie’s close neighbor, Anderson, which is far more distressed. The reason for that avoidance is most likely the undeniable cause of the decay in Anderson, the departure of General Motors to Mexico and China facilitated by the provisions of the WTO and NAFTA. Conservative commentators typically ignore globalization as a cause of unemployment and the resulting urban decay and the rust in the Rust Belt, consistently arguing that it is a consequence of technological development.
In a post on February 20, 2017 (still available on this blog archive), I addressed a column in the Indianapolis Star by Hicks in which he offered the mechanization of agriculture as evidence that our current economic angst was caused by technology , not globalization. I responded with historical fact that demonstrated the absurdity of his argument.
A part of the Hicks argument is correct. Technological gains have made the problem worse but did not start it. Those gains will continue and will make the problem worse .Walking away from it, as Hicks seems to advocate, ignores the impact on people. He also ignores the reality that those middle-class neighborhoods he values will slowly, or maybe not so slowly, become like the neighborhoods he proposes to abandon. Notice that when he speaks of neighborhoods he never mentions people.
He also fails to mention the bigger cities such as Indianapolis and Gary where the decaying and decayed neighborhoods are populated by racial and ethnic minorities. Maybe he did not notice or maybe the mention of that would offend Charles Koch.