I picked up Boom, Bust, Exodus: The Rust Belt, the Maquilas, and a Tale of Two Cities in order to prepare for a class I’m teaching next spring, and I was impressed by both the story-telling and the research. Thoughts below:
- Broughton does an interesting take on the reasons-the-rust-belt-died narrative – he goes between Galesburg, Illinois (home of a Maytag plant that loses out to Mexico after NAFTA) and the Mexican border cities in which the appliances are now made. He goes deep, plunging into the lives of several people on both sides of the border.
- On both sides of the border working people are the ones hit the hardest. The Maytag plant was renowned for turning out high quality appliances for years, and after some of the friendliest CEO leadership (at least in regards to workers) suffered through the invasion of the accountants and stockholders that sunk a lot of US companies in the 80s and 90s.
- On the Mexican side Broughton interviews labor leaders, priests, and some business leaders in trying to understand the free trade corridor from the Mexican side.
- His book makes several arguments, which he notes in his “Methodologies” section. He argues that he is most concerned with what happened to the people who worked in the plants – he’s not as concerned with engineers or board members, and he spends almost no time with the Mexicans who made a lot of money on their side of the border.
- He argues that these companies never had to move, that if management was not hell-bent on maximizing cost reductions they could have been run profitably from the US side.
- He also argues that the infrastructure costs on the Mexican side made the maquilodoro boom good for a narrow elite.
- Finally, the book makes an argument for the run on inequality that affects both sides now. I’m also reading Piketty’s Capital, and the combination of the two are making a bit leery of seeing any progress towards reducing that inequality. Rational arguments don’t seem to have much bite. As usual, I’ll take progress where we make it, and I will continue to find solace in the ways in which common people just continue to live their (and our) lives despite the insane roadblocks that their fellow humans put in their way…