A review of the book Caught in the Middle by Richard Longworth.
Last week, a former Chicago Tribune journalist turned author, Richard Longworth, was in Muncie to speak about his book at the Ivy Tech campus within the Patterson building in downtown Muncie.
His book details the painful history of the Midwest, including what led to the decline – failing automotive industry and globalization. It generally paints a rather grim and depressing picture of the Midwest and its “American Hometowns” spread throughout the region.
Since the book was published in 2008, it didn’t cover how the recession further pounded the Midwest with declining property values, increased taxes, and high unemployment.
However, Mr. Longworth did take advantage of postscript in the back of the book. In a few short pages, he shared what we’ve been witnessing the past several years, and what we see with our eyes daily, but deny in our hearts – the industrial age, and the automobile industry, is not returning to revive our communities. Mr. Longworth states, “Much of the Midwest remains in denial.”
The book is not just about bruising our ego, and sharing that our high school dropouts will never make above minimum wage for life.
He does offer solutions: the Midwest must reinvent itself and invest in the new clean energy sources of tomorrow – biofuel, biogerontechnology, and even clean water technologies.
His suggestion is reinvention and future development of resources should be done in collaboration with neighboring states. As opposed to competing against one another., he offers, “Our future success will come to the region as a whole when we work together.”
What, no more silos?
As we’ve suggested in the past, it would appear our competitive nature is working against us. Within a few short years, our society has been flattened by globalization. Our competition is no longer sitting across county lines, or in another region. It’s in another country, or even a continent away. Now, our neighboring communities must become our allies if we are to sustain.
The author even recommends utilizing the post WWII Marshall Plan which gave European countries the money to rebuild, but only if the ideas came from the countries themselves. Mr. Longworth says the federal government could do the same for regions within the United States – an interesting idea.
Forced collaborations might be a really good idea – something Muncie has exhibited under new leadership in 2012, but could be expanded upon with the county and our surrounding towns/cities.
Mr. Longworth identified several key players throughout our region who are leading this new era of collaboration, so we should seek their advice and guidance.
The takeaway we received from Mr. Longworth’s book and presentation is Muncie cannot rely on the good old days to return – it’s over and done. We have an entire generation that has become obsolete and unable to contribute, and we’ll have to provide for them whether we live in the new suburbs or inner city.
He also fired a warning shot that education is even more vital than it ever was before. Our kids dropping out of high school, or barely passing, will be subjected to a lifetime of minimum wage earnings and unable to support a family. To combine his thoughts with other leaders in the global revolution – America’s educational system is failing, and we must do better now.
We have a chalkboard with old plays and players that just don’t work in the new game. Like many others, Mr Longworth is asking us to reinvent ourselves, and work together with our neighbors in order to be successful.
How will we answer the wake up call?