Wednesday, April 20, 2016

From the Atlantic: How America’s Coastal Cities Left the Heartland Behind St. Louis and other Midwestern hubs prospered for much of the 20th century. Then lawmakers in Washington quietly changed the rules of the economy.

Here's a look at how seemingly unrelated laws passed by the national government can have an impact on the viability of cities. They help some, hurt others. Helps explain why cities lobby the national government.

The article highlights a variety of laws, each is worth a look. The article wraps its analysis around the advertising business that once thrived in St. Louis.

- Click here for the article.

The relative decline of St. Louis—along with that of other similarly endowed heartland cities—is therefore not simply, or even primarily, a story of deindustrialization. The larger explanation involves how presidents and lawmakers in both parties, influenced by a handful of economists and legal scholars, quietly altered federal competition policies, antitrust laws, and enforcement measures over a period of 30 years. These changes, which enabled the same kind of predatory corporate behavior that took the Rams away from St. Louis, also robbed the metro area of a vibrant economy, and of hundreds of locally based companies. This economic uprooting, still all but unaddressed by today’s politicians or presidential candidates, accounts for much of the relative stagnation of other Middle American communities, and for much of the anger roiling voters this election cycle. The rise and fall of St. Louis’s advertising industry stands as a cautionary tale for what ails so many of America’s once vigorous and innovative cities.
. . . While these diverse companies were homegrown and locally based, they often owed their existence as independent entities to government policy, especially in Washington. As all students of high-school history will recall, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries powerful “trusts” run by financiers like J. P. Morgan and Jay Gould grabbed monopoly control of railroads, steel production, meatpacking, electrical utilities, and other industries. Their actions often thwarted local economies—St. Louis a prime example. In 1881, for instance, Gould won control of St. Louis’s famous Eads Bridge, a major crossing point for rail over the Mississippi. The high tariffs Gould charged led rail companies to re-route through Chicago, leading the Windy City to emerge as the Midwest’s dominant industrial center.
The behavior of the trusts ignited the Populist and Progressive movements, which in turn led to a series of laws that safeguarded independent businesses in cities like St. Louis from the predations of monopolists, and encouraged regional equity.

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