There was a time in America where small towns were built around a manufacturer. Sometimes it was a lumber mill, as pictured above, other times it was a mine, or a factory. Most of the people in the town worked for it in some way, and it was the central hub that held the community together and brought financial security and prosperity to the community.
Oh yes, and because it was not owned by some corporate conglomerate, they often cared deeply about their community and workers in many ways from pay, to benefits, to charitable efforts.
Yet today, many small towns are struggling, and many small town youth are moving to the city. Why? Opportunity. Opportunity that no longer exists in the small towns.
Yet it is the WHY it no longer exists that matters, because that helps us to pinpoint where we as a society have messed things up.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came into existence on July 9th, 1970, and began operations on December 2nd, 1970 under the order of Richard Nixon who said that its purpose was "to protect human health and the environment." While this was understandable given the level of gross pollution at the time, it is very unlikely that those voting for the establishment of the agency would understand the societal impact of what they had done.
You see, any Federal Agency exists to sustain itself first, and accomplish its task second. They justify this mindset to themselves by stating that if they are not there, then their job will not be done or taken seriously. Thus, when the EPA accomplished the basic task for which it was created, it did not downsize or close, but rather created a new series of "problems" which were ever smaller and more detailed. Thus, they created a no-win scenario in which there would never be a point in which they were done.
So what does that have to do with that old broken down mill?
You see as the EPA grew, and as their nits to pick got smaller and smaller, they had to keep finding "violations" in order to justify their existence, their jobs, and their worth. So, they started creeping further and further into areas that were questionable because it gave them a purpose, yet for every new "violation" type that they found, they increased operating costs for these businesses. New compliance standard? More cost. New disposal standard? More cost. New emission standard? More cost.
More costs, more costs, more costs...
Yet no additional profits to cover those increased costs.
And no tariffs on foreign goods to cover those costs either because we did not want to public to know that the government was inflating their cost of living.
So costs went up, profits went down, plants, mills, mines, and manufacturing sites closed.
And when the central economic pillar of these small towns closed, those living in it had no choice but to seek employment in the city.
The older people refused to move. They had too much pride in their town. So they commuted grudgingly.
Their children did not move, because they wanted to be near their parents. So they commuted willingly.
Yet the next generation did move, because there were no houses being built because there was no local economy to support them.
And so begins the death of the small towns.
Oh yes, we could also spend pages on the Occupational Health and Safety Administration's (OSHA) part in all of this, but no one would read it if it were that long.
So as more and more people moved to the city, more and more jobs were needed, yet without the raw materials and resources coming from the small towns, there were less and less jobs to go around. And let us not pretend that city manufacturing was not also affected by these new organizations.
So the welfare dependence grew in the cities, which used their state governments to take tax money from the small towns to fund it by saying that they were supporting the people from those towns who were moving there. Yet this became a self-perpetuating situation as the cycle only got worse.
Enter the Federal Government now to try to fix it with more welfare, all while not addressing the key issue. We had decimated American manufacturing. We sent those jobs and plants over seas. We had accomplished the "goals" of the EPA (and OSHA), but the result of those victories was not a victory itself, but rather the death of the patient for which they were supposed to care.
Why does Wal-Mart, McDonalds, et al all pay minimum wages?
Simple. You cannot go get a job at the factory making three times as much with no experience or education as you could prior to the 1970s. There is no competition anymore for low skill workers. Now they are a burden, not a commodity. So they get treated as a burden, exploited, used up, and discarded. No different from the cooking oil that these companies use.
Why? Because there is no alternative. No better reality. Nothing.
If we ever want to genuinely correct what has gone wrong in our economy, we have to first fix what we broke, and we have to return the small town mill to its rightful place in our economic system.
Until then, there is very little we can do to make things better, and corporations will only grow and expand.