By on September 24, 2007

fall-r.jpgSamuel Slater started the industrial revolution in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Slater's 1793 textile mill set-off a manufacturing boom in The Ocean State, which soon spread throughout New England. Nearby Fall River Massachusetts became one of the world's foremost textile manufacturing centers, generating untold riches for its masters. The human cost at the bottom of the social scale was immense. Immigrant labor– including thousands of children– worked in horrific conditions for minimal compensation, with little hope of a better life. No one who's ever fully contemplated the human misery inflicted on these workers would begrudge their right to form a labor union, to protect themselves from heinous exploitation. It's a story that played out across America, in a range of labor-intensive industries; including mining, construction and automaking. And yet, at some point, the balance of power shifted too far the other way. Unions controlled the cost, pace, scale and scope of labor, tying the hands of those who would organize it for commercial survival. As the local labor force became too expensive and unwieldy, the Fall River mill owners abandoned the town. All that's left are dozens of huge, empty mills, now occupied by laser tag, indoor golf and… nothing. It's the same right across America's northern states, the country's former industrial heartland. Could the exodus have been prevented? It's hard to know. Will it now happen to Detroit's once all-conquering automotive industry? It already has. 

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7 Comments on “Daily Podcast: As Fall River Falls so Falls Fall River...”

  • avatar

    it happens because both the rich and the workers both want more, more, more. it’s the American way.

  • avatar

    Hey I know Fall River and it is an old mill town full of hard working blue collar portuguese “greenhorns”. Yup greed, wrath and probably the rest of the seven deadly sins helped knocked Fall River off its crown, but what really did it in was Ricardo’s principle of comparative advantage. Economies of countries,areas,cities are always in constant flux-either change or be changed. At least Fall River and Slater’s Mill didn’t kill all the poor whales like nearby New Bedford which hasn’t fared as well as Fall River.

  • avatar

    The tragedy gets played out again and again. The principle on which this country was founded was to ensure that three separate groups were pitted at one another’s throats (legislative, executive and judicial branches) and thus stave off the time when the thugs come in to loot the till. The idea that the union will protect the workingman from thugs who would take over is sound, but what happens when the thugs take over the union? Suddenly (or not so suddenly), two groups of thugs are vying to take advantage of the people who actually do the work.

    The issue of social equality, however flawed, is perhaps the greatest principle put into law by the founding fathers. The idea that each citizen is entitled to an equal say under the law is one which worked wonders for generations of immigrants and helped turn the U.S. into a great meritocracy.

    Socialism, on the other hand (at least as practiced in the West), recognizes that social equality is incredibly fragile; even though the “haves” in Germany, France and many other “socialist” countries do indeed live well, the system seems to set some appropriate limits and encourage social responsibility. Unbridled markets just seem to harvest unbridled greed, and we have seen two generations of thugs who have consolidated economic and political power and now appear in control of the three branches of government.

    There is something dreadfully wrong when “entrepreneurs” like Carl Icahn can take control of vital operations and then strip them of wealth which has taken decades to gather. In the case of the auto industry (Chryslerberus perhaps excepted), it has not been so much deliberate as simply a build-up of corporate plaque in the form of overpaid do-little managers “led” by greedy thugs whose sense of social responsibility ends at their own stock portfolio.

    What we have seen happen to GM, Ford and Chrysler is the result of decades of poor management, each group simply leaving the festering sores to the next guy and getting out while the getting is good. All the while insisting that recovery and real leadership are “just around the corner.”

    The crime perpetrated by the thieves at Enron was merely an acceleration of what has been going on in corporate boardrooms for a long time. Sadly, people seem to keep buying into the lies and too few leaders come forward who have the interest of the public in mind.

    Meanwhile, the thugs set up meaningless arguments among the very folks they are stealing from so that no one really watches while their pockets, their retirement and the financial future of their children is stolen.

  • avatar
  • avatar
    Brian E

    In defense of Honda, at least with their current lineup you can get what you want. They’ve held the line on the size of their Euro Accord and they do indeed sell it in the states, as long as you’re OK with getting it loaded.

    Regarding column shifters, given that the trend in modern automatics is towards paddle shifters, could we see a change in the PRNDL selector? Jaguar’s trying something interesting with the XF, and it looks a lot more usable than BMW’s Martian reproductive apparatus.

  • avatar

    I don’t understand why Ford took the shifter off the column in their Explorer series and hogged up very useful space in the center console with a big bulky automatic shifter…

    Is there really that much of a marketable coolness factor for a center-automatic shifter in vehicles that really don’t need that?

    To quote Hyundai… duh.

  • avatar

    Well said, edgett.

    Much the same thing has happened throughout America, not just the old rust belt. Here in the deep South, the same mill owners and their ilk that abandoned Fall River a century agao moved down here and started textile mills that have since closed……textile manufacturing is now done in lower labor cost locations worldwide (i.e. India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, etc).
    Those who control the means of production (in this case, mill owners) are always on the move, looking for greater profits and lower costs to exploit, without regard for other considerations. Predatory capitalism at its finest. Thus it can be said that class warfare is alive and well, since such decisions have little to do with unionization or their supposed ‘control’ over labor costs, for at the end of the day, one cannot reasonably expect to pay an American the same as wages as the average Pakistani due to the higher cost of living found in the US.
    Robbing from the poor and selling to the rich continues to be the driving force behind such vaunted “entrepreneurialism”.

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