Sunday, February 15, 2015

Chad Broughton's "Boom, Bust, Exodus"

Chad Broughton is Senior Lecturer in Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Boom, Bust, Exodus: The Rust Belt, the Maquilas, and a Tale of Two Cities, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Boom, Bust, Exodus [inset below left, click to enlarge], George Carney is spiraling downward because of his impending layoff, and his girlfriend, Lynn Nelson, is struggling as this once energetic man succumbs to depression. Then, in 2004, Carney still worked at a Maytag appliance factory in Galesburg, Illinois, and faced losing his $15 an hour job, low-cost, high-quality health care, and a solid pension.

The Page 99 Test worked. This is the emotional core of the book, the personal battle to find a new life in an era of widespread job insecurity and growing inequality. For Carney, it’s largely tragedy, and in the book’s other pages we see other workers adapting—and sometimes flourishing—after the big factory closing.

What one page cannot capture, understandably, is the reach—across both time and geography—of the book.

In time, the book extends back to 1959, to give the reader a sense of what factory life was like in the heady postwar years. The book also extends forward a decade from the factory closing, so we can see former Maytag workers not only in the moment of trauma—around the time of the closing announcement and the layoffs—but also how they pick themselves up and endure for a full decade after the factory shutters.

Boom, Bust, Exodus also takes readers across North America, and roots half of the chapters in Mexico. The Maytag appliance factory went to Reynosa, Tamaulipas—a booming industrial city at the border—in 2004, and became a maquiladora (export-oriented factory). Those chapters tell the story of factory workers like Laura Flora, a single mother of three, who took up George Carney’s former appliance work at Planta Maytag III, the Maytag maquiladora in Reynosa. Factory workers in the borderlands like Flora are mostly internal migrants from Mexico’s south so, in addition, readers travel to the rural towns of Veracruz to learn about life there, and to see why people stay, why people leave for the border, and how all of this economic change looks from their point of view.

In a book that interweaves narratives from across North America and over several decades, it’s impossible that any one page could tell us everything. But Carney’s story, as revealed on page 99, is at the heart of this book about how the economic integration of North America has knocked many down—and their battle to make a new life amid rapid economic change.
Learn more about Boom, Bust, Exodus at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue