June 24, 2016

Gateway Arch, St. Louis

Gateway Arch, St. Louis. Credit: Fernando De la Torre / Flickr Creative Commons

When news broke that the St. Louis Rams were moving to Los Angeles, lots of people were disappointed, but fewer were surprised.

The Ram’s leadership team noted that there was tremendous economic potential in LA, a fact that seemed to stand in contrast to the manufacturing decline that has plagued the Rust Belt for decades.

But Brian S. Feldman, a researcher-reporter with the Open Markets Program at the New American Foundation, argues that the real reason for Midwest’s economic woes - and the reason that its fortunes have diverged from cities on the coasts - is rarely discussed.

He notes that government policy privileges the coasts, and in turn, hurts cities like St. Louis.

After all, for a long time, St. Louis was was booming. “If we go back, and we look at 1980, something really interesting happens.” Feldman says. “In St. Louis, for instance, one in five people were still working in professional service jobs...the per capita income of St. Louis was 89% that of New York [City]...St. Louis [was] still doing great. In many ways it [was] almost poised to become this world class city.”

But today’s numbers tell a different story. “If we look at the current state of St. Louis, the number of Fortune 500 companies has declined to nine, the per capita income of St. Louis has decreased by 10% to 79% that of New York.” Feldman says. “St. Louis is not as well off as it was in 1980.”

For a long time, Feldman argues, we had “policies and economic laws that look[ed] to distribute economic opportunity.” But that started to change. By the time the 1970s rolled around, people were less concerned about concentration of corporate power.

And then there was Robert Bork—you might remember him as Reagan's failed Reagan's failed Supreme Court Justice nominee or his role in Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre.” But Bork was also responsible for overhauling our antitrust laws. He prioritized efficiency over independence, which, Feldman says, led to massive corporations.

Ultimately, this put smaller companies—often based in the middle of the country—out of business.

Feldman says there is now anger bubbling up about what has happened to the Heartland, anger that feels similar to that of the masses during the Gilded Age. What will come of this anger? We don’t know. But without a football team, perhaps St. Louis residents will have more time to channel it.

Business, St. Louis, Brian S. Felman, Kara Miller

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