By Courtney Westlake
Globalization is transforming the Midwest of the United States, and the region is struggling to meet the challenges.
This is the message that guest speaker Richard Longworth brought to the campus on Tuesday evening, May 20, during a presentation in Brookens Auditorium. Longworth is the author of "Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism," which describes this transformation and suggests ways in which the Midwest can fight back.
Longworth lives in Chicago, but grew up in Iowa. It was while he was traveling abroad as a foreign correspondent that he picked up an interest in globalization and spent a lot of time looking at the effects of globalization on the third world and the first world.
"I got curious recently about how the Midwest, my old home, was handling globalization, so I spent most of the year driving around the eight states of the Midwest, visiting as many places as I could and talking with as many people as I could," Longworth said. "And the short answer is that we've got problems."
Longworth said his personal definition of globalization is that the United States is in a global competition with the entire world, not only with other states or regions of the country.
New global challenges are coming about in the Midwest - challenges to the education system, innovation, a political system that is inadequate to the needs of the 21st century and more, Longworth said. And these challenges are turning both heavy industry and family farming upside down, undermining old factory towns and rural areas, destroying old jobs and putting new demands on education, government and Midwesterners themselves, he said.
"A lot of what is happening has been going on for years, but globalization is putting the final nail in lot of coffins, is making many of these trends irreversible," he said.
The Industrial Age was very good for the Midwest, Longworth said, and created thriving Midwestern towns and cities. But globalization is seemingly causing the death of many Midwest cities today, with less immigration, more unemployment and poverty-stricken inner-city areas with a dim future.
"What I really found is that the Midwest is, by and large, in denial," Longworth said. "This is a big deal; this vast inland nation that we call home may have been a winner in the industrial area but is losing in the era of globalization. Globalization is here and is not going to go away."