I am Flint. So are you

We need more than empty political rhetoric to fix this problem
I am from Flint, Mich. Born and raised.

I spent my entire childhood there in the Golden Age – the Golden Age of Flint, yes, but also the Golden Age of industrial America. It was a time when great wealth was created, and much of it was shared with the people whose labor made wealth possible, the Great Middle Class of America. Those industrial jobs provided a standard of living unparalleled in human history, and they were the platform for a myriad of other businesses and services that, all told, made up – indeed created – the American Dream. Each successive generation during the Industrial Age did better than the previous one – they were more educated, healthier, lived longer, owned more homes, were more innovative, and helped spread American influence worldwide.

They didn’t call the 20th Century The American Century for nothing.

Of course, not everything was rosy back in the 1950s and ’60s. But, by and large, when the U.S. was the economic wonder of the world, the American people pretty much from top to bottom benefitted from and believed in the American promise. 

Flint, Mich., was the centerpiece of all that. The Middle Class was born in Flint, and for decades flourished. The greatest industrial giant of the age, General Motors, was founded in Flint. The American labor movement, led by the United Auto Workers, made its stand in Flint. There are those who detest Corporate America, and those who vilify Big Labor, but wherever you stand on the issue, in the late 1940s, the ‘50s and ‘60s, the country’s biggest corporation and its strongest labor union together created the American economic miracle. You could see it all over Flint in the ‘60s; I did. Nearly everyone, men at least, had a job; people owned their homes and had cars, families were stable, schools were first-rate, business was great, the downtown was prosperous and busy, crime was very low, and opportunity abounded. It’s hard to believe now, but in 1960 a photograph of Flint could easily have accompanied the encyclopedia entry for American Prosperity.

Flint has been much in the news lately because of the abysmal water situation, something that should never happen in America. There are many scoundrels in the saga, and I’ll let others play that out. At base, however, is the simple fact that since the collapse of American manufacturing – the move of production overseas – that began in the 1970's and continues apace today, Flint (and many other once-prosperous U.S. communities) is broke, has no tax base and little chance of any real revival if things don’t change. Welfare won’t fix it. Goodwill won’t fix it. Worldwide trade agreements won’t fix it. 

The only thing that will fix Flint – and revive America’s Middle Class – are good jobs. There has been a lot of talk about supporting America’s Middle Class in this year’s presidential cycle, most of it just pure, and empty, political rhetoric from both sides; what we need is a practical solution. I think I have at least the basis for that.

Tax law. Many people, Republicans especially, are always decrying the high level of corporate taxes, so I say cut the corporate tax rate – in fact, slash it, sometimes to zero. But not in a vacuum. Cut the corporate tax burden in return for Corporate America bringing manufacturing jobs back to our shores – the more jobs, the bigger the payroll, the bigger the corporate tax cut. And offer extra tax cuts in return for bringing those jobs to distressed locales, like Flint.

American manufacturing, and the solid jobs it represents, was once the foundation of great wealth for both U.S. corporations and American workers – and through each of them, solvent cities and school districts across the land. Want to revive America? Create wealth – broad-based wealth that everyone truly shares in – and offer the Middle Class the opportunity to prosper the old-fashioned way: Made in the USA. Not just cars, but steel, electronics, apparel, machinery, appliances, toys – everything.

It is sort of popular these days for people to look down their noses at manufacturing jobs and to turn their backs on old Rust Belt towns. But trust me:  When Flint, Mich., is prosperous, the whole country will be economically buoyed.

I am from Flint. We all are.

Categories: Economy/Politics, Magazine Articles