Late Sparks of the Rust Belt

by Nick Lukas Wieczorek

The rust belt is not just the name for the economically weakened industrial area stretching from the state New York to the land region of Chicago. It is also a financial noose for many people living in it.
The time in which states like Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan acted as crossroads for the United States‘ automobile industry are over. Since the sixties, foreign producers have taken over the market by offering cheaper goods and lower prices. The free trade agreement „NAFTA“ came into effect in 1994 and pushed the unemployment rate of the region to one of its peaks by automating the manufacturing industry. Most people affected by this depression put their hopes to the newly elected President Donald Trump and his promise to „bring the jobs back to America“. Pursuing the answer to this issue is a feasible task which can lead to a solution for the financial problem of the rust belt. This essay is an attempt to approach the issue on a historical, scientific and economic level whilst occasionally displaying my factual but slightly optimistic views on the matter.

The victory of Trump surprised many people around the world. His aggressive views on immigration and economics have made him unappealing for many Democrats and even some sworn republicans. However, this has not stopped the majority of citizens living in the area of the rust belt to vote for Donald Trump and, as a result, provide him the victory of the 2016 election. An anomaly compared to the apparent democratic support for Obama just four years earlier. The people of the region rather favored the candidates Barrack Obama and Donald Trump than the parties they represented. Both have promised to support the working people of America and strengthen the US economy. This promise, however, appears unachievable given the course the American economy has set.
Since the beginning of industrialization humanity has been caught up in a competition against its own inventions. Whilst it is true that America’s manufacturing output increased in the last decades, the credit does not go to hard working American workers but to automated machine work. Every labor is slowly but consistently being taken over by machines worldwide. The only way for the American industry to compete appears to be the implementation of a non-human labor force.
The replacement already happened to coal and iron miners, it is happening to manufacturing laborers and it is going to happen to the college graduates. It is very unlikely for President Trump to bring manufacturing jobs back to the American people. At least he cannot do that without witnessing a great rise in the price of homemade products due to labor costs. This makes them unappealing for global and national market competition.
Donald J. Trump’s construction company background and his use of the English language were key parts to appeal to the working class. Trump uses simple words like „bad or „evil“ – understandable and reminding of the Bible. The people of the rust belt never had the chance to educate themselves or their children. Their work never allowed them to take the time. Trump can claim that his money truly is „the good money“ as his companies employ thousands of workers.
The demographics of the region highlight another great issue that is lying over the history of the rust belt. The employees of the major companies that were hit by the recession have never gained any state offers for retraining after the downfall of the American automobile industry. They were abandoned by their government.
This resulted in the high unemployment rate of the region and in the rise of crime, violence and drug abuse. The rust belt has not been adapted back then but can still find hope in today’s politics led by the Senate and Trump. This whole matter was to be addressed by Donald Trump as he was quoted on his inauguration day: „It is going to be only America first […] Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families.“
This quote generally promises the American people that their president will try to look after them in any way. There is also a military aspect – the United States maintains nearly 800 military bases around the world. More than half of the nation’s money spending go into the armed forces‘ costs and expansion. An unsuitable investment for a country that is only involved in the war on terror. This gives Donald Trump the option to restructure the finances of the country and direct the money to more important areas as education; medical insurance; and yes: retraining of abandoned labor forces.
It appears to me that there are two major factors that are the automation of the country and the abandoning by the government which make it almost impossible to rebuild the automobile industry in the rust belt. Therefore, I propose a concept that seeks a cooperation between man and machine
Artificial intelligence and robots in present times might possess quantity, power, and competence. However, what they do not have (at the moment at least) are creativity and flexibility. As a result, automation has created new jobs as the IT management which act as a human guidance for mechanization which is still in its earliest days. This new agenda does not suit everyone as there will still be people left unemployed. It is the duty of the government which they have chosen to assist them and offer them a new future.