A Startling Shift in Demographics: Everything Seems to Be Going South

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A Startling Shift in Demographics: Everything Seems to Be Going South

Sadly, there will come a day when Detroit speaks of Henry Ford and Walter Reuther with the same sense of nostalgia and lost glory that the Greeks reserve for Plato.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (L) participates in a new conference with Toyota Motor Corp and Mazda Motor Corp officials during the announcement that they will build a $1.6 billion joint assembly plant in Alabama in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. January 10, 2018.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (L) participates in a new conference with Toyota Motor Corp and Mazda Motor Corp officials during the announcement that they will build a $1.6 billion joint assembly plant in Alabama in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. January 10, 2018. REUTERS/David Shepardson.

It was many decades ago when word first reached business executives in faraway Tokyo, Japan, that if they were ever seriously considering putting down permanent manufacturing roots in the U.S., they would be well advised to place them in the American South.

Not only was the U.S. an unbelievably fertile market—indeed, we invented “mega-consumerism”—but because the former CSA (Confederate States of America) was conspicuously and stridently opposed to collectivism, government regulation, and labor unions, the American South would be the perfect place to establish, well, an “industrial empire.”

And that more or less marked the beginning GIM (the Great Industrial Migration). Following the Civil War, when those diehard Johnny Rebs uttered the famous words, “The South shall rise again!” they weren’t lying. It has not only risen, it continues to rise.

As for organized labor lamenting the loss of manufacturing jobs to foreign countries, it’s true. We have lost our manufacturing “core.” In the parlance of the day, it has been “hollowed out.” But there’s still meaningful growth in the manufacturing sector. The only drawback is that you have to live south of the Mason-Dixon line to benefit from it.

In 2009, when the federal government (with President Barack Obama leading the charge) decided to bail out the auto industry—notably General Motors—by lending them $80 billion, the Republican Party (with Mitt Romney leading the charge) insisted that this was none of the government’s business, and that, as sad and distressing as it may be, America’s citizens were obliged to stand back quietly and watch GM go bankrupt.

The anti-bailout charge in Congress was led by the formidable Alabama Senator, Richard Shelby. Although Shelby, on the Senate floor, televised on C-SPAN, registered his objections in classic laissez-faire economic rhetoric (“It clearly is not the role of the federal government to prop up failing businesses!”), he wasn’t motivated by ideology. Rather, he was motivated by self-interest. By the lure of self-improvement. By the demands of self-preservation. By the reality of GIM.

Brutal as it seems, it’s no exaggeration to say that every current House and Senate member in Dixie, for purely economic reasons, wishes to see Detroit destroyed. The way they view the economic landscape because the future of the American auto industry will eventually and inevitably reside in the Deep South, there’s really no point in postponing it.

Just as Greece was the “cradle of Western Civilization,” Detroit was the epicenter and impetus of what became America’s storied and on-going love affair with cars. And clinging to our Greek analogy, it’s fair to say that the good people of Alabama would like nothing better than to see present-day Detroit reduced to the same level of insignificance as present-day Greece.

It’s already happening. A couple weeks ago it was announced that a $1.6 billion Toyota-Mazda auto plant will be built on a 2,500-acre site in Huntsville, Alabama. This Huntsville facility is expected to create at least 4,000 jobs, and inject millions of dollars into the local economy. Not just new jobs, but “good” jobs—non-union jobs that pay close enough to union wages and offer close enough to union benefits to keep the unions out.

By the last count, there were already more than 40 auto plants in Dixie—including assembly facilities, parts factories, and auxiliary support—with more to come. The communities that successfully lured these automakers were able to do so by offering them the moon. Enormous tax breaks, free services, re-routing railroad tracks to accommodate shipping, providing free recruiting of workers, and even agreeing to underwrite their training. Who’s going to turn down that offer?

Of course, Donald Trump has sought to take credit for this decision, boasting that it was his economic policies that lured Toyota-Mazda to this country. Which is pure nonsense. Japan couldn’t have cared less who was president because the migration South transcends presidential politics. Automakers have been quietly setting up shop in Dixie well before Trump even divorced his second wife.

They are here. More are on the way. Eventually, the GIM won’t even be called that anymore, because it will no longer be a “phenomenon” worth mentioning. Sadly, there will come a day when Detroit speaks of Henry Ford and Walter Reuther with the same sense of nostalgia and lost glory that the Greeks reserve for Plato.

David Macaray

David Macaray

David Macaray, a former union rep, is a Los Angeles-based playwright and the author of It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor and Night Shift:  270 Factory Stories.” His latest book is “How to Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows:  Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About India But Were Afraid to Ask.” He can be reached at Dmacaray@gmail.com

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