GM, Flint, and Metropolitan Organization

Check this new article by Andrew Highsmith in the Journal of Urban History (while you’re at it, you can check out my article on the San Fernando Valley secession movement)
Highsmith complicates the narrative of capital flight established in many classic histories of Michigan’s auto cities by arguing that General Motors sought not so much to flee the Flint area as to leverage surrounding suburban governments to pursue metropolitan consolidation. 
These events also complicate the public choice theories of competitive localism that follow from Paul Peterson’s City Limits, which would predict that a major employer would prefer fragmented government to increase its leverage over whatever municipality housed its facilities. 
I’m thinking about how to apply some of this insight to the case of Atlanta in the 1970s. Although Atlanta wasn’t a one-company town like Flint, it did have a centrally organized business elite that was deeply enmeshed in metropolitics debates on two planes–should businesses invest in booming outlying areas or defend downtown? and should they seek consolidation of regional governments or enhance suburban autonomy?–that neither the mechanistic logic of public choice nor the historical trope of disinvestment adequately recognize.

2 comments on “GM, Flint, and Metropolitan Organization

  1. Will have to track down these articles. Interesting the thesis about GM and Flint. Vacating Detroit as a major manufacturing center by the auto industry was not about creating metropolitan government in the tri-county area.

    Also, it would be interesting to study the same vis-a-vis Pontiac. Granted, GM’s concentration of plants wasn’t as big in Pontiac as it was in Flint (both Buick and Chevrolet I believe), but they moved plants out of the city I believe (like the big GM Truck and Bus plant in Pontiac Township or was it Bloomfield Township) and Pontiac, like Flint, like Detroit, became screwed economically.

    I don’t think the thesis is extendable to other cities where GM had an overwhelming presence, but, I gotta read the article…

  2. […] The proposal taps into longstanding anti-welfare myths about urban cultural pathology, while offering the excuse of structural unemployment to explain the woes of rural whites. Of course, the gross inequalities of places like Genesee County, Michigan (where Flint is located) are in fact historically structured by the decisions of major industrial employers like General Motors to locate production outside the city limits, the efforts of white suburban residents to resist annexing industrial areas to the city, and public administrators who engineered segregated schools and communities as a matter of policy. Andrew Highsmith’s book Demolition Means Progress covers this ground compellingly (I reviewed it here). […]

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