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Global Midwest
Chicago, Illinois
The Global Midwest Initiative of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is a regional effort to promote interstate dialogue and to serve as a resource for those interested in the Midwest's ability to navigate today's global landscape.
Interests: Midwest, Chicago, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, agriculture, farming, renewable energy, Great Lakes, globalization, immigration, rural issues, urban issues, high speed rail
Recent Activity
There’s a theory, held by some American pundits, that Vladimir Putin’s menacing of Ukraine is all our fault. Here’s the argument: In the 1990s, Moscow had just lost the Cold War. The Soviet Union had broken up. The Warsaw Pact was dead. Russia was down and all but out. Instead of being gracious winners, the West gloated. We brought Poland and most of Moscow’s other allies into NATO. We expanded the alliance eastward all the way to the former Soviet border. By rubbing it in, we guaranteed that, sooner or later, we’d get a future nationalistic Russian leader—Putin, for instance—bent on avenging this humiliation by hitting us where he could—Ukraine, for instance. According to this theory, if we’d just treated Russia more like an equal and foregone NATO expansion, Putin would be running a proper parliamentary democracy and diplomatic harmony would rule from the Azores to Vladivostok. Not likely. To... Continue reading
The drive to reorganize the Midwest into economically sensible regions moves ahead slowly, but it does move. I was reminded of this recently when I spent time with people working to make it happen in northwestern Illinois, a beautiful backwater that is trying to figure out its future. The core organization here is the Tri-County Economic Development Alliance (TCEDA), which embraces all or part of three counties just east of the Mississippi River. TCEDA held its first annual meeting on a bluff high above the river, and I came away with two thoughts: They’ve still got a long way to go, but: The thinking and talking I heard there wouldn’t have happened five years ago. TCEDA is trying to get Carroll, Whiteside, and Jo Daviess counties to work as one unit. The region is barely a speck on the Midwestern map, but it hangs together in its unique geography, its... Continue reading
There’s more than tax breaks to attracting a business to a state. Such as whether that business may have gay employees—even executives—who don’t want to live in a state that treats them as third-class citizens. That didn’t used to be a problem, when most gay business people were closeted and the same-sex marriage issue was barely on the to-do list of gay rights advocates. That’s changing now, fast. Seventeen states, including three Midwestern states, recognize same-sex marriage, with more sure to come, possibly this week: a circuit court has stayed until Wednesday the ruling last week by a federal court in Michigan which struck down that state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriages. The gay marriage issue points up other problems for more conservative states, including some in the Midwest. How many global companies, especially scientifically-based ones, are anxious to move their operations and employees to states, such as Ohio or... Continue reading
We’ve been here before, we and the Russians. We’ve stood eyeball to eyeball, playing double-dare in international politics, mostly in Eastern Europe, plotting just how far we can push the other guy before he pushes back. Back then we called it the Cold War. We didn’t think the possibility of another Cold War would loom quite so quickly, but it has. By and large, we got the last one right. What do we do now? Just before the Sochi Olympics, I published another post on What Makes the Russians Tick?, stressing that the differences between us and the Russians have little to do with Vladimir Putin and a lot to do with a millennium of history and a deep cultural divide. As I noted, this is far from my usual beat. But before I returned to the Midwest, I spent a journalistic career bookended by the Cold War, starting with... Continue reading
Forty years ago this month, Studs Terkel published his epic oral history, Working: People Talk About What They Do all Day and How they Feel About What They Do. Today, the book reads like dispatches from a lost world. Chicagoans knew Terkel, who was 96 when he died in 2008, as a legendary broadcaster and master interviewer. Nationally, his reputation rested on his oral histories – books of edited interviews, mostly with unsung Americans, about their lives during the Depression, in World War II, or in old age. One of them, “The Good War,” won a Pulitzer Prize. Working was probably Terkel’s best and best-known book. It includes interviews with 137 persons, from steelworkers to truckers to stewardesses (as they were called then) to jockeys to bosses. Recurring themes run through the book, and it is these themes that make it ancient history. There's no better way to gauge the... Continue reading
You’ve heard the debate about the shortage of good jobs, the stagnation of wages, the collapse of the middle class – all the problems that ail the U.S. in general and the Midwest in particular. Actually, there’s not one debate but two, and that’s one reason why the problem isn’t getting solved. Simply put, one debate is economic and the other is political. The real problem is both economic and political, but you’d never know it from listening to the two debates. On one side are those who think that our problems stem from sweeping economic change, especially globalization. We’re in a new global economy now, they say. It’s an economy that pits American workers against Chinese workers, that encourages outsourcing, that prizes trade around the world over good jobs at home, that rewards skills and education, that privileges the 1 percent at the expense of the 99 percent, that... Continue reading
The epidemic of inner city murders in Chicago is well known. Less well known is the spread of heroin and other drugs to the rural counties of the Midwest. The link between these two pathologies is virtually unknown, but is crucial to an understanding of the Midwestern battlefield in the drug wars. Oddly, the battlefield is getting more bloody partly because of social and police policies that can be seen as successes in themselves. These include the demolition of Chicago’s huge public housing projects, the flow of Mexican immigrants to Chicago, the city’s role as the nation’s transport hub, police successes in breaking up huge urban gangs, the spread of affordable housing in small towns, and state laws that have helped squelch local labs making methamphetamine, or meth. One of the best descriptions of this recently is an article in the October issue of Bloomberg Markets Magazine that focuses on... Continue reading
On this fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s unforgettable speech during the March on Washington, my thoughts turn to Frank Lumpkin. Frank Lumpkin was 93 when he died three years ago. A black man, barely educated, born into a Georgia sharecropper’s family, he escaped the Jim Crow South, made his way to Chicago, and got a good job on the city’s south side, at the old Wisconsin Steel plant, then owned by International Harvester. Harvester sold the mill to a tiny California company, mostly to get rid of its pension obligations. The mill closed in 1980 and its bank, Chase Manhattan, froze the company’s assets, including unpaid paychecks and pensions. Lumpkin, recently retired, went to work. He formed the Save Our Jobs Committee, made up of the stranded workers. There were whites, Czechs and Croats from the old neighborhood, and Mexicans and other Latinos, and blacks, mostly refugees from... Continue reading
The news about growing inequality and middle-class decline – in the Midwest, in the country, even abroad – keeps flowing in. As promised, we’ll keep an eye on this news and, from time to time, will pass on the more interesting and insightful articles. Josh Lehner, an economist analyst based in Oregon, has pulled together national statistics on which jobs are being created – and which aren’t. He concludes that jobs indeed are being created as the recession recedes. But they’re all in low-paying occupations or highly-paid jobs. The middle class is missing out. Specifically, Lehner’s graphs show strong job growth from 2010 to 2012 in low-wage jobs such as restaurant workers, home health aides, building maintenance, and cashiers, and in such high-wage jobs as finance, healthcare practitioners and management. Taken together, they account for about 75 percent of all recent job growth. Lehner splits the middle class into two... Continue reading
-0-0-0- No new postings for the next couple of weeks. The Midwesterner is taking a summer vacation -- in the Midwest, naturally. See you in mid-July. -0-0-0- Continue reading
A Detroit business man with immensely deep pockets and an equally deep love for his town, has taken it upon himself to rebuild the blighted heart of that tragic city. Dan Gilbert is putting his money where his heart is, but his project, called Opportunity Detroit, raises both hope and questions. Does a city without a vibrant center have a future? But is a vibrant center enough to revive a virtually moribund city? What is the relation between the business-dominated core of a city and the largely working class people outside it? More to the point, can even Dan Gilbert save Detroit? Gilbert is the founder and chairman of Quicken Loans, and his story was told in a two-page spread in the New York Times. Basically, it says he’s already pumped $1 billion into buying buildings and other real estate, has a light rail system and other projects in mind... Continue reading
by Steve Brick, Senior Fellow, Energy and Climate, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs President Obama is coming to Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois, on Friday, March 15, and he is expected to talk about energy policy. For more than four decades, we have heard US Presidents call for national energy policy, make grave declarations about the urgent need for change, and chart bold courses to effect that change. We have also, invariably, seen these bold plans founder on the shoals of political intransigence, economic short-termism, and public apathy. Here are two suggestions for concrete things the President can do to encourage innovation, improve energy security, and take meaningful steps to reducing greenhouse gases. 1. Approve the Keystone XL Pipeline President Obama should approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Opponents to the pipeline are disappointed by the lack of progress on international and national climate policies. For... Continue reading
(This is the first of several posts on the link between globalization and social and economic decline in the United States.) The presidential election, now a month away, may or may not produce solutions to the immediate problems, such as the deficit, that ail us. But no matter which candidate wins, he won't be able to deal with the deeper problems -- the collapse of the American middle class, the vast inequalities between the rich and the rest, and the decline in this nation's ability to support its people. The reason is globalization. The American economy, once mostly national, used to respond not only to national laws and regulations but to American ideas of economic decency -- the belief that the one true purpose of an economy is the well-being of the people who live within it. Now it has gone global. Neither old American regulations nor old American beliefs... Continue reading
Is the Midwest’s industrial recovery as real as it looks? This item was originally posted on the American Review Magazine website. After an economic winter that has lasted nearly a decade, the first green shoots of thaw are appearing in America’s industrial heartland. Headlines sprout words like “recovery” and “revival”. Factories that had slashed workforces are hiring again. There are even signs of jobs coming back from China. This is good, of course. But how good? Is this a blip or a boom? Do these green shoots have roots? No one knows yet, so it’s too early to celebrate the Midwest’s revitalisation. But it’s wrong to conclude, as some have, that manufacturing will drive the Midwest’s economy in the 21st century, as it did for most of the 20th. We think of the current recession as something that began in 2008, just as Barack Obama became president. In the Midwest,... Continue reading
I’ve been asked to speak at a University of Chicago conference on the NATO summit in Chicago that just ended – both on what the summit meant for NATO and how Chicago itself survived and benefitted from its big weekend in the global spotlight. Most of this blog posting deals with my comments on Chicago and how the capital of the Midwest took to a new role as the focus of the world. Chicago set several goals for itself. First, it knew that the summit would draw protesters, so it was anxious to exorcise the ghosts of the 1968 Democratic convention. It wanted to strut big on the world stage and behave like a global city should behave. Mostly, it wanted to show itself off, on television and elsewhere, and in the process become more of a global tourist destination than it is now. I apologize to non-Chicago readers of... Continue reading
Many Midwestern cities see their post-industrial future in a combination of health care, education and high-end manufacturing. They may be chasing an impossible dream. This is a conclusion drawn from recent studies that argue that manufacturing -- high-end or not -- isn't coming back, at least as a major source of jobs, while growth in jobs in health care and education is going to slow down or stop, mostly because the governments that fund it are deeply in debt. For many Midwestern cities, this is like telling them there's no Santa Claus. Most of these cities have a rich industrial past, where factories provided the jobs that created a middle-class way of life. After years of decline, these cities have accepted that these jobs -- low-skill, high-wage jobs on assembly lines and blast furnaces -- are gone for good. But I've been struck by how many of these towns have... Continue reading
Writing about the Midwest presents a problem unknown to those who write about, say, the South or New England. The problem is that no one can define, with any precision, just what the Midwest is. I made a stab at it in my book on the Midwest, Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism. I based my definition on what I could see and sense when I was doing my research. So I've been charmed, not to say gratified, to read a book that says that the Midwest exists as it is today because of the four great glaciers that rolled across the region, starting about a million years ago, and that this glacial expanse pretty much matches my impressionistic definition. Geology, it seems, is destiny. In my book, I defined the Midwest mostly as the eight states of the Upper Midwest -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa,... Continue reading
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The Midwest has become the political fulcrum of America. Some Midwesterners, especially the over-politicked citizens of Iowa, might be willing to forego this honor, but the fact remains that Midwestern politics is setting the agenda for the election year to come. If American politics are becoming more partisan, these Midwestern battles exemplify the split between right and left. With the Republican caucus in Iowa set for Jan. 3, the clout of right-wing Republicans, especially evangelical Christians, is pulling that party's presidential candidates far to the right of many moderate Republicans. In Wisconsin and Ohio, a Democratic backlash against attempts by Republican governors to break public service unions is pushing the Democratic party into a pro-union stance that may not play with the party's national electorate. The probable Republican presidential candidate, whoever he or she is, is going to leave Iowa with a far-right stance that will be hard to shed... Continue reading
I spent the last week in Galena, a gem of an old Victorian town, nestled in the hills and forests of the so-called Driftless Area, in northeast Illinois near the Mississippi River Valley. I came away thinking how this area could be more than the beautiful but generally depressed region it is now. Galena itself seems to be doing fine. It is a tourism and second-home mecca, packed with good restaurants and refugees from Chicago. But the Driftless Area itself is divided between four states and some 25 to 35 counties, depending on where you draw the boundaries. None of these jurisdictions -- not the states nor the counties -- has been able to work with the others to leverage the region's scenic potential and combat the economic distress that, like the scenery, they all share. Most outsiders think of the Midwest as one big flat cornfield. Much of the... Continue reading
Richard C. Longworth appeared on NPR's Talk of the Nation today with Mayor Chaz Allen of Newton, Iowa, and Mayor Tommy Battle of Huntsville, Alabama, in a segment called "Company Towns, After the Company Leaves Town." Click here to listen to the discussion. Continue reading
In this third year of the Great Recession, jobs -- how to get them, how to keep them, how much they pay -- are the key issue, in the Midwest and across the nation. Two recent newspaper articles focused on this issue and, in the process, revealed what's being done, what's being done wrong, and the price we all will pay in the future. The Chicago Tribune turned its Sunday business section over to a study of the job retention program adopted by the state of Illinois, focusing on Gov. Pat Quinn's policy of giving hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits to companies to get them to stay in Illinois (see articles here, here, and here). A day later, the New York Times singled out Michigan as an example of the states and cities that are firing government workers in veterans' hospitals, prisons and other state-run facilities and... Continue reading
A few years ago, The Chicago Council published a book called Global Chicago, with two goals in mind. The first was a wake-up call to Chicagoans that their old industrial City of the Big Shoulders was gone, replaced by a global city with new strengths and challenges. The second was an attempt -- probably the first anywhere -- to study globalization's impact on cities by looking hard at one of those cities. I was talking recently with the editor of the book, Charles Madigan, then a writer and editor at the Chicago Tribune (as was I), now Presidential Writer in Residence at Roosevelt University in Chicago. We were exploring what's changed in Chicago since the book came out, and what is unchanged -- or still undone. Perhaps the biggest change is that the wake-up call no longer is needed. The educational job is done. Chicagoans get it. Maybe we can... Continue reading
You can bet on it. Any time a Midwestern company announces it wants to (1) move, (2) stay, (3) grow, (4) shrink, (5) hire, (6) fire, (7) come or (8) go, you just know that some government or governments will throw money at it to persuade it to do what it was going to do anyway. As we've written in earlier posts, Midwestern states are doing this more and more in a desperate attempt to hold on to investment and jobs. Cities do it, too, none more vigorously than Chicago, which has just done it again, giving $3.1 million to a steel company which may or may not need the money. The beneficiary, apart from the company, seems to be a Chicago neighborhood that doesn't need jobs. One loser is a neighborhood, also in Chicago, that really needs jobs. Another loser is another Midwestern city, Cleveland, that also needs jobs.... Continue reading
I have an op-ed article in the Chicago Tribune today, commenting on the turmoil in our politics, as shown in the recent debt ceiling debate and tying this dysfunction to our inability to understand or cope with growing globalization and the country’s relative decline. Click here to read the article. Continue reading
Most Midwestern cities base much of their economic futures on health care. Big cities and small, having lost much of their industry, are looking to their hospitals, medical schools, health researchers and clinics to provide jobs and income. So far, we don't know if there's going to be enough sick people to keep a whole region afloat. But if health care really is the wave of the economic future, the Midwest is well-placed to take advantage of it. That's the message from U.S. News and World Report, which is best known for ranking colleges and universities but does the same for hospitals and other institutions. The latest ranking, just out, endorses what Midwesterners have always claimed, that the region has some of the best hospitals in the nation. The magazine ranked the 17 best hospitals in the nation on a number of indicators. Mostly, it said, top ranking went to... Continue reading