The Herald Bulletin

June 22, 2013

Nancy Vaughan: Globalization the Midwest's friend or foe?


The Herald Bulletin

---- — “No real future exists except the future that the Midwest creates for itself.” This is the opening statement of the last chapter of author Richard C. Longworth’s compelling book, "Caught in the Middle, America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism."

Notes one reviewer, “Nearly every chapter…could generate a book’s worth of debate.”

As the second offering of United Way’s Community Book Club, I look forward to having a spirited conversation July 10 at noon at The Salvation Army, 1615 Meridian Street, during the Community Services Council meeting. Copies of the book are available at all county libraries and at our office. The meeting is open to the public and lunch is available for a nominal fee.

Never have I seen the Midwest so well defined.

Longworth, a native of Nebraska and longtime journalist based in Chicago, understands the Heartland’s past and offers stark assessments of the conditions that prohibit success today and tomorrow. When I read the book, I took fast and furious notes because I could relate so much of what he was saying to my own experiences. I loaned it to my Dad and he did the same thing, making a list of what his small northern Indiana hometown used to look like economically compared to today.

Much of the book details the depressing loss of industry and comfortable way of life that those of us who grew up during the mid-20th century know well. “Muncie and Anderson lie only fourteen miles from each other in east-central Indiana, not far from Ohio. Between them, they are exemplars of the old manufacturing economy and what happened to it.”

Some assessments are harsh: “Neither ambition nor innovation has been needed for a century. Now they are crucial and no one knows where to find them.”

He also notes that globalization treats farming and industry alike. “An independent rural society is vanishing and probably won’t come back.” And, he addresses our very culture: “You need a culture of creativity to be successful and Indiana doesn’t have it….It takes more than a few bicycle paths and coffee shops to make a creative city.”

Yes, he throws a powerful punch: “In life and in literature the Midwest has too often been a place to leave.”

Recently, Michael Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, made a similar argument in a Herald Bulletin op-ed piece titled “The real cause of Indiana’s brain drain.” In short, he stated that young people leave Indiana because our communities are not places they want to live. Ouch!

But the book does more than offer harsh assessments (thank goodness!). It offers some quite compelling recommendations for change and makes the case that it must begin with individuals, higher education, private business and organizations leading the way. In fact, he states that government is ill-equipped to make meaningful change.

Longworth has a lot to say about immigration, diversity, attitudes and institutions that may challenge your beliefs and even make your blood boil. Just the stuff for a lively discussion!

Nancy Vaughan is president of United Way of Madison County Inc. Her column appears the fourth Sunday of each month. She can be reached at n.vaughan@unitedwaymadisonco.org or 608-3061.