Skip to comments.Killing Cities: Indiana versus Texas
Posted on 05/06/2009 3:38:14 PM PDT by Leisler
As I mentioned in my last post, my son and I watch Life After People on the history channel. In the last episode, Outbreak the show used the abandon buildings of the downtown of a major American city as real world examples of how quickly abandoned buildings fall into decay.
No, the abandoned buildings were not in Detriot, they were in downtown Gary, Indiana.
How many of these abandoned areas are there in the Great Lake region? Most people point the finger at the auto industry to explain the fall of Detroit but what explains the fall of Gary?
Steel. Gary was founded in 1907 by U.S. Steel as a company town. U.S. Steel built Gary because it was great place to make steel in 1907. Gary grew because for the next 60 years it was a great place to make steel. Then suddenly Gary stopped being a competitive place to make steel. Why?
More importantly, why dont all regions that lose a major industry suffer the same decay?
Part of the fall of Gary results from a natural and universal processes of the evolution of technology. Even if Gary still produced the same percentage of American steel that it did in its heyday, it would have seen an economic decline.
However, thats not the main story. A lot of regions have faced the collapse of their primary industry and not only survived but thrived. The end of energy crisis in the mid-80s came with a massive collapse of oil prices that devastated the economies of Texas and the other oil field states. The states entered a five year recessions so severe that some economist classified it as an actual depression.
The region was even more proportionately dependent on gas and oil than either Detroit or Gary were on their principle industries. Yet, the oil field states, especially Texas, not only recovered but created new industries and boomed. Why could the cities of Texas reinvent themselves while the cities of the Great Lakes still cannot?
I think the answer lays in the differences in political culture between the two regions. Texans still think of ourselves as rugged, independent, frontier people even if were standing in line at Starbucks for a latte. This self conception in turn leads to a political culture in which people do not default to government coercion to solve economic problems. We prefer to think of ourselves as people who individually create our own solutions.
The end of Gary began in 1959 with a six month long nation wide steel strike. The Unions primary goal in the strike was to prevent the steel industry from modernizing the plants built during the 30s and WWII. Like all modernizations, the new steel making technology would allow the companies to make more steel with less manpower. In order for the Steel industry to adapt and remain competative competitive, it had to make due with a smaller workforce. The unions, interested in nothing but controlling the maximum number of workers, said no. In the end, they got new contracts blocking modernization.
The six month long strike caused all major consumers of steel to start buying steel outside America for the first time even though foreign cost more and was of inferior quality. Steel consumers knew that expensive inferior steel was better than no steel at all and the unions had made it very clear that they were willing to put everyone else out of job to keep their privileged economic position.
Most people who blame foreign competition for the decline of American steel blame the low labor cost of developing countries for foreign producers competitive advantage but low labor cost were ultimately a minor component of the foreign advantage. Their real advantage came from modern factories. While unions trapped American producers with 1940s era plants, foreign competitors could build plants with 1960-1970s era technology. Even if labor cost had been perfectly equal, the union driven technological stasis doomed American steel.
Gary was ultimately destroyed by unions and the penumbra of political policies accompany the political culture that creates unions. Worse, that same political culture kept Gary from attracting or generating new industries.
When oil failed in Texas, the states political culture did not impede the development of new industries. In the Great Lakes region, business people are treated like like criminals who steal from working people. In Texas, theyre treated like heros who create jobs and wealth. Texas culture allowed new industries to arise to take the place of oil. Good paying jobs in the oil fields were replaced by good paying jobs in manufacturing, high tech, finance and a plethora of small businesses. Garys political culture prevented a similar adaptive change.
Frankly, I dont see any hope for major change in Gary or similar communities in the Great Lake region. Fish are not aware of water and the people of the Great Lakes region do not seem to be aware of destructive effects of political culture they live emerged in. High taxes, invasive regulation and runaway unions are simply so common that people think of the them as the natural, default condition and therefor not conceivably responsible for any negative change.
The erie eerie abandoned buildings of Gary are towering moments to statist political culture. Gary failed because people couldnt accept the inevitability of change and embrace it for the opportunities it offered. The city and region will never recover until they do.
One factor was steel prices — when JFK jawboned the steel companies to prevent a price increase.
Another factor was the longstanding tradition of political corruption, payoffs, one-ghost-one-vote.
The author makes a good point - the folks in MI, for instance, have been standing on their heads in a bucket of stuff for so long, they no longer recognise that it stinks.
And the problem is, if you wanted to put a factory or bring industry to Gary, the local government would welcome you with open arms. However, because of the eventuality that a union would come into your business why would you even bother to look at Gary.
And the buildings will decay even more and in 20 years, another post human show will use it to tell us what is going to happen when we are no longer here.
We Hoosiers have long said that Gary Indiana is the armpit of America. In fact we view it as part of the cesspool that is Chicago.
After the riots, in the late 60’s, each city that had experienced destruction in certain neighborhoods, took different approaches to the ruins.
In some cities, the neighborhoods were rebuilt, so that today, if you travel through those neighborhoods, you would never know.
In other cities, like Toledo, some of the burned out neighborhoods were bulldozed and turned into green space. If you drive through those neighborhoods today, they just look like parks.
In Gary, the political machine was majority black. Their decision was to leave the burned-out buildings in place, as a testament to “black power”. The power of destruction.
For over thirty years, the other cities moved on from the 60’s riots, but Gary was like a burned-out set from an apocalyptic movie, frozen in time. A few years ago, enough residents of Gary got fed up and elected some people with a different vision. They even elected a white mayor!
Gary has made a few baby steps of progress, but how much change can you expect overnight? The biggest problem, of course, is the mindset of many of the residents. I personally know people who have invested their own money and sweat equity in rehabbing properties in Gary, to improve the neighborhoods and hopefully to earn a living; only to have everything stolen from the property in the middle of the night - plumbing, wiring, furnace, water heater, the windows, and even the siding.
Yeah, blame the steel mills for Gary's problems. That's a good story. While you're at, blame Detroit's problems on the auto industry. It certainly couldn't have anything to do with the residents, and the people they elect to run the place.
Quite right. More specfically Gary is part of what is locally known as “Da Region”, as in the Calumet Region, named after the Calumet River that runs through the area.
And please Freepers, don’t think that Gary is really what Indiana is like. We’re really a lot closer to Texans when it comes to rugged individualism and personal responsibility.
Gary is like a Chicago suburb. What ails Gary is Democrats.
Quite right as well. In fact you hit the nail on the head. Didn’t want to come across as too non-PC in my earlier post but the facts are what they are.
Even though no one lives there, and no one works there it’s very reassuring to see that the city updated the streets/sidewalks to make them handicapped accessable.
I don’t know which story is the right story, but the original column didn’t blame the steel mills, it blamed the unions.
That makes sense to anyone who knows anything about unions.
Excellent article, although the author could use a copyeditor. More than a dozen misprints or errors or misspellings.
She is absolutely right. As it happened, I spent a summer working at Youngstown Sheet & Tube when I was in college, back in the 50s, and I saw it first hand. It was obvious to me even then, as a lad in college, that the steel industry was doomed. And when the great steel strike happened a few years later, it put the seal on that doom.
Eisenhower intervened to send the unions back to work, but it was hopeless.
I know the first part is true owning a real estate business in Chicago.
I hope the second part is true because I am looking at the Dallas area to relocate to in 2 yrs when my son starts college.
I went to the site and looked at all of the pictures. I see by Wikipedia that Gary has 99,000+ people. Where do the residents shop? Where do they hang out? Is there neighborhood shopping, but no downtown?
Man, this is as depressed-looking as Detroit. http://www.forgottendetroit.com/
Good job, unions!
Never been in Gary—the place gives me the creeps when looking at the pix. The place looks like the world ended right there.
A place to bury bodies rather than in Chicago. That’s why the grass grows so fast around the concrete slabs.
Yes, you are correct. And the unions are certainly to blame (along with the environazis) for the demise of the steel mills (and refineries) in places like Gary and Cleveland.
However, other cities have been able to reinvent themselves, at least somewhat, because they tried to do so. Gary wallowed in its own misery for decades, as though burned out buildings were a badge of honor.
I think it's clear that Gary would be a lot closer to a first-world city today, if they had put the ruins of the 60's riots behind them decades ago, and tried to move forward.
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