Global Heartland

Global | Local | Middle

Monday, May 03, 2010

GH: Moving to

After a long hiatus, I'm re-engaging with this blog in a new location:

Please drop by for a visit.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Businesses of the Heartland

This is a Google Map of business hits for "heartland."

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"The World Awaits its New Keynes"

That's the closing line from this good, brief article on the decline of the Washington Consensus. Harvard prof Dani Rodrik profiles the new and growing cadre of globalization critics: Not street-fighting anarchists, but members of the economic and intellectual elite.

The global economy is in danger of collapse because, he writes:
Unlike national markets, which tend to be supported by domestic regulatory and political institutions, global markets are only "weakly embedded." There is no global anti-trust authority, no global lender of last resort, no global regulator, no global safety nets, and, of course, no global democracy. In other words, global markets suffer from weak governance, and therefore from weak popular legitimacy.
It's always been a paradox of neoliberalism that it has been most thoroughly enacted via military dictatorships (think Chile and Argentina, or China). No functioning democracy has fully embraced neoliberalism for itself, only as something that other people ought to do.

So now that mainstream economists (who until recently championed neoliberal globalization) are worrying about the downsides, we can expect some moves toward re-regulation across the board. But whom will it benefit? For clues, check the new housing bill. Or read this slightly more hopeful analysis.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

News Flash: CEOs Defend the New Deal!

This isn't really about the Midwest, but it is about neoliberalism, globalism, and the limits of our current economic model.

In my email today, believe it or not, arrived a note from a dozen airline CEO asking travelers to join them in demanding Congress re-regulate the economy! Kind of amazing from a group that owes their jobs and big salaries to deregulation.

The letter claims that as much as $30-$60 of the price of a barrel of oil is due to speculation on the oil futures markets. And it points to a slick website S.O.S. NOW. But what I find most interesting is that these leaders of American industry now are maligning speculation in language that sounds, well, a little social democratic. It's not just the excessive price increases, it's the fact that oil speculators "trade oil on paper with no intention of ever taking delivery." And here's the kicker from the airline execs letter:
Over seventy years ago, Congress established regulations to control excessive, largely unchecked market speculation and manipulation. However, over the past two decades, these regulatory limits have been weakened or removed. We believe that restoring and enforcing these limits, along with several other modest measures, will provide more disclosure, transparency and sound market oversight. Together, these reforms will help cool the over-heated oil market and permit the economy to prosper.
Folks, we're witnessing a real turning point in neoliberal globalization. Back in the mid-1940s the socialist economist Karl Polanyi wrote about the "double movement" of the reformist state and and free markets. Capitalism needs state intervention to survive, and at certain crisis moments even free-marketeers will demand that the state step in to rebalance the scales. It's becoming obvious that the American model of "free" trade and upward redistribution of wealth doesn't work. Obvious even to CEOs.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bud Buyout Burns St. Louisians

News comes this week that the symbolically "American" beer company Anheuser-Busch may be bought out by a Belgian-Brazilian brewing conglomerate. As the Guardian tells it, St Louis will become the global HQ for the new company (yet to be named). Locals have already mounted two protest sites (Save Budweiser and SaveAB), and rallied to protest the sale wearing T-Shirts with slogans like "This Bud's for the U.S.A." and "Keep my Bud American." Consider this broadside from "":
My fellow Americans,

Like baseball, apple pie and ice cold beer (wrapped in a red, white and blue label), Anheuser-Busch is an American original. Founded in St. Louis, Missouri, AB represents the spirit of our country, giving millions of Americans the "pursuit of happiness" through its high quality products and thousands of great paying jobs. Generations of Americans have grown up loving AB products and have appreciated its committment to our communities.

Now, our city, our state, our nation and our workers are being threatened with the loss of A-B to foreign investors.

With your help we can fight the foreign invasion of A-B. We will fight to protect this American treasure. We will take to the Internet, to the streets, to the marble halls of our capitals, whatever it takes to stop the invasion.
Wow. No doubt, the merger will bring job cuts to communities that are already struggling--reason enough to protest. But after a generation of economic restructuring in which "American" employers led the way in outsourcing jobs and undermining communities, I wonder if the "Keep my Bud American" sentiments can really gain traction. Then again, a good number of Americans are already primed by Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and Lou Dobbs to connect this corporate takeover with their fear of immigrant workers. The term "invasion" is key here.

From a historical perspective, the story of Bud is all about the dynamic of globalization and localization. Let's review. According to the corporate history, Anheuser-Busch started as the Bavarian Brewery in 1852 in the heavily German immigrant city of St. Louis. A "prosperous soap manufacturer" German immigrant (according to Wikipedia) named Eberhard Anheuser bought the brewery, and was later joined by his German immigrant son-in-law Adolphus Busch. (Forgive the shaky source material, it's all I have at hand.)

Beginning in 1872 (again from the corporate history), the company trade mark was solidly Americanized: a large letter "A" over a bald eagle standing on stars-and-bars, red-white-and-blue shield. A few years later, the company introduced "Budweiser" beer, drawing the name from beers brewed in the Bohemian town of Budweis (then part of Austria-Hungary, now Czech Republic). Today, the Budweiser website is at pains to emphasize the brew is a "great American lager," but it seems likely the name was initially intended to suggest the opposite: this beer is as good as the stuff you can get back home.

The irony that Anheuser-Busch's patriotic defenders seem to miss is that the company was a product of 19th century globalization that brought millions of Europeans to North America. The population of cities like St. Louis, a gateway to the American West that was experiencing an economic take-off, was disproportionately immigrant. But over time, and by various means, immigrants laid claim to American national identity. That process, like A-B's marketing, was always something of a two-step. Fixing immigrant culture in North America required local claims (cultural as well as economic) but rarely rejected international connections. Whether out of sentiment or marketing acumen (not that the two are mutually exclusive), "Budweiser" worked. Over time it became an "American" brand.

In 1980, A-B went public with a listing on the New York Stock Exchange, and in the 1990s it began partnerships with large breweries in Mexico and China. The Mexican brewers of Corona are major shareholders in A-B. The Busch family itself owns a mere 4% of the company's stock, although they are still the top managers. The company is already largely globalized in terms of ownership, although most of its sales are still in the US. The buyout will simply make plain what is already a reality.

The defenders of A-B's American identity are likely the great, great grandsons (perhaps some daughters) of those immigrants who danced a local-global two-step toward Americanization. These days they dance to a different tune, but it's still a two-step. A parody ad playing on a local radio station intones over the strains of beer-commercial rock music, "interwoven into fabric of American culture and landscape since the 1850s, the great American beer-maker may soon have a European flavor." And that's the story of how a product of the immigrant economy becomes American, how the global is localized and turned back around to fight a perceived global threat. I would look for the immigrant-success-story angle to appear soon in the anti-takeover rhetoric, it's just too full of possibilities for them.

As for me, I've never been a big fan of Bud. I grew up on Stroh's. Same story, different town.

Update: Anheuser gave up and agreed to the buyout today (7/11/08), according to the Financial Times.

Monday, February 18, 2008

New Media Notes: Printing the Public Domain

Here's a fun new online option for historians that I heard about on the Digital Campus podcast from the Center for History and New Media. From this basic interface ( you can request reprints of out-of-print books that are in the public domain.

Here's how it works. As we all know, libraries are furiously digitizing their collections, sometimes with the aid of new media giants like Google and Microsoft. Under U.S. copyright law, anything published before 1923 is now in the public domain and we are all free to share, reproduce, etc..

As some of you may know there are several commercial services out there that offer "print-on-demand" books. Generally, these services have been used for inexpensive self publishing. So for instance, you can buy my college roommate's book of poetry. Or you can buy Eric Lee's book on How Internet Radio Can Save the World.

The genius behind simply brings these two services together. The interface allows you to search for public domain books on GoogleBooks and the Internet Archive, and then submit a request to the print-on-demand service Lulu to make the book available for purchase. About 24 hours later, they send you an email letting you know that the book is ready, and you can buy it. You can also download the PDF file for free.

I decided to test drive the service with a few esoteric labor volumes, and a classic of early sociology (Robert Park's "The Immigrant Press and Its Control")--all of which are either unavailable in my library or perpetually checked out. The prices were reasonable: around $7 for the proceedings of the 1921 Conference of the Workers Education Bureau (about 100 pages); $16 for Park's "Immigrant Press" (more than 500 pages).

We'll have to see what the physical volume looks like. The PDF images are a little foggy. I'm a little dubious about the quality of the binding on a 500 page book. But I'm willing to be surprised. If the quality is good, I could see using this for course assignments.

One note of frustration: the book has to be clearly in the public domain or they will not let you print it. For many users I'm sure this won't be a problem. But I wanted to print some of the obscure social movement pamphlets that have been scanned. Unfortunately, many of those don't include a publishing date. Therefore, it is not possible to conclusively say they are in the public domain. As if the Industrial Workers of the World would care!

Next on the New Media Notes theme: I remain confused by the appeal of facebook.

Update: Just got my books in the mail. For me the real test is whether this is better quality than a photocopy, and on balance I think the answer is yes. At first glance, it is a mixed bag. The text on each of the books is a little foggy, as is often the case with photocopies. And of course, you get all the underlining and marginalia in the original. So that's a draw. The binding on each book seems strong (we'll see over time), the covers are plain but serviceable. One book, "The New Unionism in the Clothing Industry" (missing from our library stacks), is pretty clean. At $11.99 for a 340 page book, I'd say it's better than photocopying. Robert Park's "The Immigrant Press" ($15.99 for 490 pages) suffers from one big problem: at the bottom of every page is the statement: "Digitized by Microsoft" with the registered trademark "R". Not a very nice thing to have to look at *on every page*. So the lesson is, when downloading a scanned public domain book, look for the cleanest copy and avoid those scanned by Microsoft.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Library of Congress and Flickr Team Up

For the past year or so a few bold libraries and museums have been posting their images to the photo sharing service The latest collection, and surely the most exciting, is from the Library of Congress.

The collaboration, known as The Commons, has apparently been up since last summer. It is a Flickr photostream drawing on LOC's prints and photographs online collection, including color FSA/OWI images from the 1930s and 1940s, and black and white news photos from the 1910s. Of course, these images are already freely available via the LOC's American Memory site. But I am sure this project will bring the images to a much wider audience. Also, part of the fun is adding descriptive tags to the images.

The move toward Flickr seems to have started the photos of John Collier, Jr. from the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology. The next formal effort I found was from the Tamiment Library at New York University. Their first effort drew from the recently donated papers of the Communist Party USA, and now they also have a collection of anarchist documents and artifacts. (Last year I uploaded a collection of Chicago protest images that were originally part of Newberry Library exhibit on free speech in Chicago, but this was not a library-sponsored effort, nor did I make any effort to create formal metadata.)

Along with these library-sponsored efforts, I've been watching the photostream of "vieilles_annonces", a midwesterner who buys slide collections and old magazines at estate sales. A large collection of travel slides taken by one family during the 1950s and 1960s offers some historically interesting images of cityscapes and workplaces (including stone masons in Lebanon during the 1950s. These images remind me very much of those in the Charles Cushman collection from the Indiana University.

Naturally, there is a difference between the well-documented library-sponsored efforts and the labor-of-love salvage operations, at least in terms of metadata. But I suspect the formal and the informal efforts inform and stimulate each other. Together they offer a huge deepening of the historical imagery of online life. It will be fascinating to see how people use these collections, and what new collecting they stimulate.

It's been several months since I posted. Moving from the Midwest to California was pretty disruptive. But this is just the kind of fun development I needed to get me back online. So look for posts in the near future about other digital tools, the usage of "heartland" in the West, and other odds and ends.

The image of women war workers at the Willow Run factory in Michigan goes out to Frank who always likes to remind me of the world-historical role played by "heartland" industries during World War II.