Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Burgh Diaspora

chicago-brown-line

A CTA Brown Line train leaving the Madison/Wabash station in the Chicago Loop. (Photo: JeremyA/Wikimedia Commons)

A Second American Century

• February 19, 2014 • 12:10 PM

A CTA Brown Line train leaving the Madison/Wabash station in the Chicago Loop. (Photo: JeremyA/Wikimedia Commons)

The United States will continue to lead the world as it shifts to a Legacy Economy, but only some cities will play a role in that.

If I remember my political geography and world-systems theory from graduate school, then (taking my cue from Peter Taylor) we have witnessed three hegemons. The Dutch ruled the 17th century. The 18th and 19th centuries belonged to the British. Colonialism and imperialism gave way to the Washington Consensus in the last century. Will the new millennium end hegemony and the world-system? Or, will China dominate the 21st century? Both questions assume the decline of the United States. The foundation for a second American century:

As part of his landmark civil rights initiatives, Johnson signed into law the 1965 Hart-Cellar Act, which was then viewed as a minor tweak but had revolutionary consequences. The legislation brought to an end the discrimination in immigration imposed in the 1920s in the form of quotas favouring northern Europeans and excluding Asians and Africans altogether. It decreed that future immigration would be non-discriminatory, and based on skills and family reunions. …

… When the Hart-Cellar Act was debated in Congress, politicians treated it simply as a logical extension of civil rights legislation. They expected little demographic change, with most additional migration coming from Italy, which had a backlog of 250,000 visa applications. Dean Rusk, then secretary of state, estimated 8,000 Indians would enter in the next five years. The number turned out to be 27,859. Arrivals from Europe were soon dwarfed by those from Latin America and Asia. Today the nation has 18m US and foreign-born Asian-Americans, including 4m Chinese-Americans and 3m Indian-Americans.

The act started a demographic revolution that intensified with further liberalisation of immigration laws. Until the 20th century, immigration comprised overwhelmingly North Europeans, along with enslaved Africans. But after Hart-Cellar, non-whites and Hispanics soon began to dominate immigration. The outcome is that the historically dominant white, non-Hispanic majority in the US will become a minority by 2040. This has already happened in California.

Emphasis added. Indeed, the 1965 Hart-Cellar Act changed everything concerning migration. The poorest and least educated (see Great Migration) got stuck. The best educated would move to improve. Countries started complaining about brain drain. Richard Longworth unintentionally hits on the inflection point in a review of the history of two Chicagos (global and parochial):

Two Chicagos spring from the same era, the sunburst of heavy industry that once made Chicago the “City of the Big Shoulders.”

Immigrants came from around the world to work in the city’s mills, factories, and stockyards. So, from about 1910 until 1960, did black Southerners, fleeing the racial oppression and poverty in the South in search of a better life in the North. About 6 million African Americans came north, with hundreds of thousands of them settling in Chicago, because that’s where the jobs were.

Legal residential segregation confined these arrivals to enclaves on the south and west sides of the city. But these ghettos were economically integrated, home not only to factory workers but to teachers, business people, and other middle- and upper class blacks. The workers themselves were poor but not destitute, earning a living wage, living mostly in intact families.

Starting in the 1960s, two things happened. First, the big factories and steel mills that provided most of the jobs for unskilled labour went away — at first to the suburbs or the South, later to Mexico and Asia. Second, legal segregation ended and anyone who could leave the ghetto — the more educated and skilled, mostly — did so.

Everyone else was left behind, without jobs or hope. Today, it’s their descendants — the third or fourth generation by now — who live in these decayed neighbourhoods. Most of these areas carry verdant names — Englewood, North Lawndale, West Garfield Park — but they are killing fields of broken families, drug wars, and 50 per cent unemployment rates.

Hart-Cellar effectively birthed global Chicago and isolated the Great Migration ghettos. African-Americans move to the North for the wrong economy, manufacturing. The first American Century wasn’t about industrial might. Britain owned that distinction. Mighty Pittsburgh started its slide into global irrelevance in 1910. The atom bomb and space race scattered seeds of economic development in the form of government laboratories. Hart-Cellar delivered foreign-born talent to the mix that would give rise to the Innovation Economy. Silicon Valley rules the world.

Silicon Valley is dying. In 1910, Pittsburgh was dying. By my count, the decline of the current hegemonic economy is right on time. Silicon Valley has peaked and it is a long slide before most people notice the downturn or the advent of something new. Something new is the Legacy Economy and it will underwrite the second American Century.

Innovation is spreading to an increasing number of outposts. The next few decades will celebrate one next Silicon “X” after another, a la the Manufacturing Economy and the brash upstart (e.g. Japan) sporting its own hell with the lid off. But demographics won’t support this knowledge sprawl. The world is dying.

In response, every country legislates its own Hart-Cellar. That is, if the politicians can mollify the nativists. “Tolerance,” the enlightened will preach. Not every welcoming place can win the war for talent if too many play Moneyball.

Blue- and white-collar Chicago only comprise 2/3 of the current economic story. Chicagoland also boasts an impressive Legacy Economy. Color Longworth unimpressed:

From Washington University in St. Louis to Case Western in Cleveland, Midwestern cities have long boasted first-rate universities. Many of these universities had their own hospitals and medical centers. Often, both the universities and the hospitals were philanthropic creations by the families and companies that owned the local factories.

The factories are gone now. The schools and hospitals remain. Since they’re all there is, the cities are basing their futures on them. …

… In Cleveland, four of the top five employers are eds or meds, led by the mighty Cleveland Clinic. In St. Louis, Boeing ranks second in employment and Wal-Mart fifth: otherwise, it’s Washington U., two health care systems, Scott Air Force Base, and the local Roman Catholic archdiocese.

Longworth doesn’t discuss Chicago, likely because the metro has successfully cultivated a robust Innovation Economy. Global Chicago is a winner, not caught in the middle like Cleveland or St. Louis. It needn’t cling to a false hope such as eds and meds.

I agree with Longworth that most Rust Belt cities won’t benefit from the Legacy Economy. But some regions (e.g. Cleveland and Pittsburgh) will. The sources for the talent that birthed the Innovation Economy will have their day in the sun and support a second American Century.

As those with college degrees streamed to San Francisco, Boston, and (yes) Chicago, the talent will swim back upstream and return home. If Case Western or Carnegie Mellon aren’t feeding Silicon Valley or Alley, then from whence will the creativity come? A few stellar universities will educate the world. A few health care centers will provide high-end services for export. The United States will be at the center of this world system. Will Chicago be there, too? I’m skeptical that it will. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs are doubling down on the wrong economy, yesterday’s.

Jim Russell
Jim Russell is a geographer studying the relationship between migration and economic development.

More From Jim Russell

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 26 • 4:00 PM

Turmoil at JPMorgan

Examiners are reportedly blocked from doing their job as “London Whale” trades blow up.


November 26 • 2:00 PM

Rich Kids Are More Likely to Be Working for Dad

Nepotism is alive and well, especially for the well-off.


November 26 • 12:00 PM

How Do You Make a Living, Taxidermist?

Taxidermist Katie Innamorato talks to Noah Davis about learning her craft, seeing it become trendy, and the going-rate for a “Moss Fox.”


November 26 • 10:28 AM

Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals’ actions pile up quickly.


November 26 • 10:13 AM

Honeybees Touring America


November 26 • 10:00 AM

Understanding Money

In How to Speak Money, John Lanchester explains how the monied people talk about their mountains of cash.


November 26 • 8:00 AM

The Exponential Benefits of Eating Less

Eating less food—whole food and junk food, meat and plants, organic and conventional, GMO and non-GMO—would do a lot more than just better our personal health.


November 26 • 6:00 AM

The Incorruptible Bodies of Saints

Their figures were helped along by embalming, but, somehow, everyone forgot that part.


November 26 • 4:00 AM

The Geography of Real Estate Markets Is Shifting Under Our Feet

Policies aimed at unleashing supply in order to make housing more affordable are relying on outdated models.



November 25 • 4:00 PM

Is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Doing Enough to Monitor Wall Street?

Bank President William Dudley says supervision is stronger than ever, but Democratic senators are unconvinced: “You need to fix it, Mr. Dudley, or we need to get someone who will.”


November 25 • 3:30 PM

Cultural Activities Help Seniors Retain Health Literacy

New research finds a link between the ability to process health-related information and regular attendance at movies, plays, and concerts.


November 25 • 12:00 PM

Why Did Doctors Stop Giving Women Orgasms?

You can thank the rise of the vibrator for that, according to technology historian Rachel Maines.


November 25 • 10:08 AM

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.


November 25 • 10:00 AM

If It’s Yellow, Seriously, Let It Mellow

If you actually care about water and the future of the species, you’ll think twice about flushing.


November 25 • 8:00 AM

Sometimes You Should Just Say No to Surgery

The introduction of national thyroid cancer screening in South Korea led to a 15-fold increase in diagnoses and a corresponding explosion of operations—but no difference in mortality rates. This is a prime example of over-diagnosis that’s contributing to bloated health care costs.



November 25 • 6:00 AM

The Long War Between Highbrow and Lowbrow

Despise The Avengers? Loathe the snobs who despise The Avengers? You’re not the first.


November 25 • 4:00 AM

Are Women More Open to Sex Than They Admit?

New research questions the conventional wisdom that men overestimate women’s level of sexual interest in them.


November 25 • 2:00 AM

The Geography of Innovation, or, Why Almost All Japanese People Hate Root Beer

Innovation is not a product of population density, but of something else entirely.


November 24 • 4:00 PM

Federal Reserve Announces Sweeping Review of Its Big Bank Oversight

The Federal Reserve Board wants to look at whether the views of examiners are being heard by higher-ups.



November 24 • 2:00 PM

That Catcalling Video Is a Reminder of Why Research Methods Are So Important

If your methods aren’t sound then neither are your findings.


November 24 • 12:00 PM

Yes, Republicans Can Still Win the White House

If the economy in 2016 is where it was in 2012 or better, Democrats will likely retain the White House. If not, well….


November 24 • 11:36 AM

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it’s relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.


Follow us


Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals' actions pile up quickly.

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it's relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.