Bluster won’t work. Turning away won’t work. Hoping for the best won’t work. Nothing will save communities when all economic reason to be goes away.
Taxpayer-supported investments in an economic safety net could not only rescue residents left behind through no fault of their own, but protect taxpayers as well.
This week, when General Motors announced plans to close five plants in the United States and Canada, President Donald Trump promised that GM will be sorry if it does so. His remarks were an act of government strong-arming and intimidation that conservatives have traditionally warned against. It won’t work.
Under pressure from Trump in 2016, Carrier Corp. saved only half the promised jobs in Indianapolis, Ind., and those only temporarily.
When tariffs were trumpeted as job savers this year, Harley Davidson moved all its production overseas.
GM will not only cut jobs, but will pay half as much in taxes by creating its profits overseas thanks to last year’s tax cuts.
The sad truth is that when the economics are no longer viable, towns sometimes die. An ironic convergence of the American promise of economic opportunity and the American dream of homeownership death-traps workers with no jobs into homes they cannot sell.
Manufacturing jobs drew people out of Appalachia. Federal gifts of land drew people to the Great Plains, where they could make a decent living making cars or growing wheat. The jobs and land grants enabled them to grab the ultimate prize of homeownership.
However, when the plants closed or the farms consolidated and the jobs moved away, those dream homes turned into nightmares.
When towns die, no one moves in. No one wants to buy. Homeowners can’t move out. To do so, they have to abandon their largest asset, the one that represents financial and family security.
Government can do something about the trapped victims of sweeping economic changes. It can buy the valueless homes and free their owners to move on.
Companies often do that to relocate executives. They do it when real estate market drops leave employees unable to sell. It seems counterintuitive, but they know their investment generates good returns in the form of talent retention and productivity.
Taxpayers should assume the same. Workers free to move to new jobs don’t need food stamps and Medicaid and can continue to build retirement savings.
A homeowner’s safety net can’t save dying towns, but it could lift up those left behind. That’s more than can be said for a lot of hot air.