April 15, 2008

Mayor assigns us a book to read
(and there will be a test)

The word of the day is globalism. And its sibling, regionalism.

They both came to City Hall yesterday, as Gary Becker took the occasion of his fifth anniversary as Racine mayor to deliver a simple message:

The city is dead. Long live the region. (P.S. The region is also dead...The World is Flat, as everyone whose job has been outsourced, and everyone who has tried to get tech support from India knows.)

Tom Friedman's book came out in 1999; now there's a new, regionally relevant book, and Becker has assigned it (will there be a quiz?) to all the members of the City Council. It's Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism by Richard C. Longworth ($17.13 from Amazon). The mayor gave a copy of it to each council member Tuesday, as part of his state-of-the-city address.

Publisher's Weekly said the book "paints a bleak, evocative portrait of the Midwest's losing struggle with foreign competition and capitalist gigantism. It's a landscape of shuttered factories, desperate laid-off workers, family farms gobbled up by agribusiness, once great cities like Detroit and Cleveland now in ruins, small towns devolved into depopulated rural slums haunted by pensioners and meth-heads.

(Ouch. That's not us by a long shot, yet -- but the cacophony of gunshots lately...)

"But the harshest element of the book is Longworth's own pitiless ideology of globalism. In his telling, Midwesterners are sluggish, unskilled, risk-averse mediocrities, clinging to obsolete industrial-age dreams of job security, allergic to change, indifferent to education and totally unfit for the global age. They are doomed because global competition is unstoppable....the idea of trade barriers (is) simplistic nonsense...the silver linings — biotechnology, proposals for regional cooperation — are meager and iffy. The Midwest's real hope, Longworth insists, lies in a massive influx of mostly low-wage immigrant workers and in enclaves of the rich and brainy, like Chicago and Ann Arbor, where the creative class sells nebulous information solutions to dropouts and Ph.D.s."

Whew! This isn't going to be a feelgood read. Luckily, Becker finds a more optimistic message, even as the Racine economy has seen globalism drive off Jacobsen Textron (and all those jobs), bulldoze Case's foundry (and all those jobs), and... well, why belabor the point. Becker says Caught "explains why we can never be satisfied with where we are...(it) does a great job of explaining the impact globalism has on the Midwest and provides ideas to not only survive, but to have our city prosper.

"The world is not going to stop changing because those of us in Racine find it uncomfortable or difficult to continue to adapt to a new world," he warns. "The key to the future of our city is in doing everything we can to make education at all levels accessible... The people of Racine need to take advantage of educational opportunities unless they want to be on the bottom of the economic ladder. In addition, we must make our city attractive to others who can bring key skills and creativity to our community."

Becker told the council, "We must think beyond the limits of our city. The lines that separate us from Mt. Pleasant and Caledonia can only exist on the map. We must continue working together for our immediate area. There are things we need to work together on to strengthen the Racine area."

Sewer, water? Check (finally, 20 years late.) Regional dispatch? Zoning? Policing? Not so much. Real unification? Heck, after all these years there's a school secession movement afoot.

Regional transportation? Arghhh.

But Becker is thinking far beyond the normal adjacencies... far beyond getting Mount Pleasant and Racine to swap some land and clean up their borders. "Regionalism needs to go further," he said. "We can not view the rest of South Eastern Wisconsin as competitors. They must become partners as we all have different strengths, and what is good for one is generally good for the region. And then we need to understand that the Illinois state line means nothing. The benefits from Chicago’s economy can positively impact us if we choose to understand that they are the engine that drives our region." (Yes, he touched briefly on commuter rail, although not mentioning KRM by name.)

It's a message that doesn't yet resonate with everyone. A similar -- but phrased more negatively -- message from Barack Obama last week created a firestorm for the Democratic presidential candidate (who has been endorsed by Becker): "...a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them... and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Becker doesn't want it to come to that. Instead, he wants us to embrace the opportunities globalism and regionalism present ... since the negatives will be thrust upon us in any event. All in all, a gutsy message.

Here's the complete text of the mayor's address.


  1. The problem with thinking of our neighbors as partners is that they have the economic upper hand and every deal we cut will help the burbs, hurt the city, and drive more people out of town.

    It's time to economically protect the City and the people who live here. Enabling suburban sprawl is not the answer. They will continue to use our services without any fair payment while building their $350,000 houses and leaving 80,000 people to fend for themselves while at the same time taking criticism from those who suck them dry.

    In short, Becker is wrong in a big way. He has bought into something that is said so often that it starts to become fact.

  2. concrete katie4/16/2008 7:59 AM

    Globalism is another word for greed as long as capitalism is worshipped. The corporate family is a sorry substitute for the soul. Americans are waking up and can figure out that maybe things aren't going so well. Give me Leaves of Grass and leave me alone!

  3. Racine is failing due to the simple fact that when folks see bad schools high crime and ever higher taxes they move.
    When that happens leaving a smaller number of folks to pay the dame amount or higher taxes the cycle continues. The ones staying either do not have job skills/jobs that will allow them to leave. Most of them will need more not less city services. The schools will have a greater percentage of minorities/ (Illegals) and even less of them will graduate
    High gas prices might slow the the migration down but not by much. We will see States?cities will less taxes attract folks who will start companies in more friendly places.
    Wait 5 years see how many folks are still living in Racine.
    Unless this city will start to think outside the box to bring in NEW manufacturing such as Northern Wisconsin is doing to bring in companies to provide parts for Wind Power equipment, what Madison is doing to bring in Video Gaming Companies (due to Film Wisconsin tax credits.
    Of course in Racine for whatever reason we see ourself as another Door County (I think that Green Bay does not see 5 shootings a month yet alone in a week)
    My thought is that we the people need to say NO MORE and take back this City if we do not in 5 years we will have less then 60,000 in the City and no tax base call us not Green Bay but Detroit.
    the fist step to do that is reject
    the old guard be it the Jounral Times or the Downtown Racine Corp.
    Find or create new groups at allow groups like RAMAC or RCEDC to wither and die since they are not doing the job.


    Anon 7:41 As Hitler would say tell a big lie often it becomes fact. In Fascist Italy the trains did not run on time the papers were not allowed to write about it.

  4. Green Bay is in Brown County.

  5. My Bad does not refute the point does it?
    But Cheep shots are the last resort of bullies

  6. from the speech:

    "You may notice a little different layout of the Council Chambers. Except for special events I am sitting at the same level as the aldermen. The council and I are in this together. We are working together to move Racine ahead. This new layout is symbolic of my commitment to work as one to solve the problems and issues we face."


    "...I am pleased to announce that the city will be instituting a tuition reimbursement program for city workers...."

    so the mayor says he wants to work together with the city council and then he "announces" a new program without getting the council's approval.

    who died and appointed becker god?

  7. Mayor Becker,
    Please list for me all the mass transit companies in the U.S. that are profitable. And if you can not find even one, why would you want to burden the taxpayers of Racine with this? God help us all!

  8. because it will help him on his climb to a better job.
    Goggle the book see what group help get it done ask:
    1) Is the Mayor a member
    2) When Connections does this group have that the Mayor may want to use
    3) How many members would be interested in have a former Mayor with a background in "Greening" a City on staff

  9. 3rd poster....

    Kudos, you get it.

  10. I agree with concrete Katie that "Globalism is another word for greed as long as capitalism is worshipped."

    Joseph Stiglitz said while on a trip to India, that 600 million people from India (out of the one billion!) have been left out of the “development” fold of globalization. And if anything, the inequality is far, far worse now, after the advent of globalization. Similarly newspaper reports have pointed out how Chinese workers are working in apalling conditions, to chhurn out the low cost products, with poor pay, cramped rooms, no accident or health insurance benefits, no job security, no overtime, long working hours - so who is actually benefiting from this sort of globalization? Corporates ofcourse, and the few privileged people of India and China who have been able to get educated in engineering and technology! Not the vast majority of population.

    The small, but interesting book, by Aronica and Ramdoo, "The World is Flat? A Critical Analysis of Thomas Friedman's New York Times Bestseller," offers a counterperspective to Friedman.It is a small book compared to the 600 page tome by Friedman, and aimed at the common man and students alike.

    "Globalization is the greatest reorganization of the world since the Industrial Revolution," says Aronica.

    You may want to see www.mkpress.com/flat
    and watch www.mkpress.com/flatoverview.html
    for an interesting counterperspective on Friedman's
    "The World is Flat".

    Also a really interesting 6 min wake-up call: Shift Happens! www.mkpress.com/ShiftExtreme.html

    There is also a companion book listed: Extreme Competition: Innovation and the Great 21st Century Business Reformation

  11. Becker is just a big government guy. Don't pick on him. He can't help it. He believes that government is here to save us all from the "failures" of private enterprise and the free market. Unfortunately he "knows" that he is right so proceeds undaunted. Truly an arrogant individual. Becker doesn't know and doesn't know that he doesn't know. I believe that was the classification of "the fool." And the advice was to avoid him. Any one for a new mayor?