Cultural Revolutions

People's Republic, MI

Saginaw, Michigan, in popular culture, is identified with the late county singer Lefty Frizzell, who sang in his 1964 hit song of fishing on the nearby bay that feeds into Lake Huron.  But the mid-Michigan city, 100 miles north of Detroit, is best understood as a 20th-century manufacturing behemoth whose physical assets and intangible knowledge are being consumed early in the 21st by quasi­private and government entities in the People’s Republic of China.

U.S. debt—government and private—expands as our manufacturing base contracts.  China’s discipline, thrift, and savings allow her to build new factories and mills, while purchasing U.S. debt, physical assets, and technical knowledge.  General Motors, once America’s largest manufacturing enterprise, a backbone of World War II armaments production, files for bankruptcy.  China, determined to become the world’s largest economic and military power, picks at the carrion in liquidation.  The end result of this process is clear: a larger American underclass.

GM was so intertwined with Saginaw that its minor-league hockey team, now defunct, was called the Gears.  Hockey is tough, like the men who worked at Grey Iron Foundry on Saginaw’s north side.  The foundry was a hot and loud environment, its work regimen dangerous and physically demanding.  Work at Saginaw Steering Gear (known today as Nexteer), on the city’s...

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