Route to Recovery

A trip through the epicenters of the recession

“Tour de Depression” of Buffalo’s slow-moving Katrina

November 23, 2009

BUFFALO, New York – Pulling up in front of a derelict home in the Broadway-Fillmore district of this post-industrial Rust Belt city, Anthony Armstrong points out what he describes as “Katrinaesque” yellow and red markings spray painted on the front wall.

“A yellow square means that the house is vacant, as if that isn’t obvious from the condition it’s in,” said Armstrong, a program officer at the Local Initiatives Support Coalition, where he provides technical assistance, planning and support to local community development corporations. “A yellow cross in the square means ‘do not enter.’”

“The red markings mean that the property has been designated for demolition,” he added.


Other red markings denote specific structural problems. A “C” on a building, for instance, indicates that the chimney is unsound. Visually, the markings recall the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 where homes were marked by authorities to show where the bodies of people killed when the city flooded were discovered.

Armstrong gave us his “Tour de Depression” of this area to show us the problems this city faces and what local community groups are doing to stop the blight from spreading to other areas.

Buffalo has lost 300,000 residents — more than half of its population — since 1950. There are between 14,000 to 25,000 vacant homes in the former industrial powerhouse.

Neighborhoods like this have been devastated. On one block alone we count seven homes that are slated to be torn down. There are many empty lots where homes once stood. The homes that are still occupied are in varying stages of decay and a school nearby by the corner of Clark Street and Kent Street – referred to as Superman Corner – has closed down.

Armstrong said that perhaps 20 percent of the homes that once made up this district are now occupied.


A telling statistic from the U.S. Census Bureau is the number of “other vacancies” which have essentially have been abandoned for long time. Buffalo’s 12.3 percent ranks fourth nationwide behind Flint and Detroit in Michigan, plus St Louis. New Orleans was in sixth place with 11.5 percent.

“For a long time I resisted comparisons of what we see to what happened to New Orleans because of the enormity of the tragedy there,” Armstrong said. “But the parallels are unavoidable.”

“It’s just that this happened over 30 years here instead of three days<” he added. “This is our very own slow moving Katrina.”


Photos by Brian Snyder

Click here for more Route to Recovery


When the country comes back from this Depression it will not be the same ever again, as it was. The escellent acrticle and pictures of Buffalo prove that.

Posted by A J Franks | Report as abusive

I’m a Buffalo native, and moved 15(+) years ago after college in search of a more stable economy, with more empolyers, more choices. Its sickening what’s happening to Buffalo, a city with bontiful natural resources, beautiful architecture, history, and most importantly a population willing to work.

Posted by JosH | Report as abusive

The winds of change are far more powerful than the winds of a hurricane.

Posted by Ken T. | Report as abusive

Alot the same in our Area of N.E. Iowa, but we are lucky because it really seems to be comming back for us. We have a great workforce and a education system that really helps our youth, as well as advantages for businesses to do business here. Everything thing is cheaper here in the midwest. Our traffic is less and urban congestion is less as well as properties and wages. This all helps us to compete in business. And states as well as communities have to compete. Many of our retired are moving overseas for the tax advantages and warmer weather.


This isn’t exactly journalism. Any resident from Buffalo will tell you that the City has been slow going to demolish its dilapidated houses and fix the “brain drain” problem as a result of its despondent economy due to excessively high taxes. Nick Carey should have interviewed more people starting with Mayor Brown, to investigate why the City continues to drag its feet, also, Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation to get answers on why business development is impossible, and the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority, to ask if Buffalo’s finances have improved at all since 2003. Actually, throw in the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau and ask where all the tourists are. Thank you Canada for shopping with us! Answers to those questions will lead Nick downstate to Albany, where persistently high state, county and local school and property taxes thwart efforts to repair thirty years of a struggling economy in Western New York and incentivize new industries and people to come invest and live in this area. Nothing gets done here. The waterfront still isn’t developed, Niagara Falls looks like a war zone compared to its counterpart across the border, promise after broken promise to bring employment to this area seems to make the six o’clock news daily, and revitalization is just a pipe dream. On a positive note, the citizens of Buffalo (and Western NY) have scrupulously worked hard to maintain Buffalo’s rich heritage, arts, and cultural treasures and opened them up to the public as any “City of Good Neighbors” would do.

Posted by Matt D. | Report as abusive

I’m starting to get scared at what we are becoming in our nation. How long before the complete collapse and meltdown? This is no joke.

Posted by Rick | Report as abusive

Too bad most of the manufacturing jobs in the US are now in China. This is what happens when manufacturing is allowed to move to a country with very low wages and limited to no environmental responsibility. Keep buying Chinese good and srevices and more cities will fall apart just like Buffalo.

Posted by HK | Report as abusive

The story is not much different in Binghamton NY. Another town with a great university, but the locals refuse to utilize that resource to revitalize the economy. I lived in Binghamton for 5 years (was also a homeowner their) and witnessed first hand how the residents blocked every effort to integrate the University with the community. Guess what the results were? No jobs, economic decline, blight, did I mention no jobs? While it is easy to blame these problems with high taxes, it is simply not the simple. Wal-Mart moved into this community, receiving tax breaks and promising jobs. Instead what the residents got was a higher tax bill because Wal mart did not provide adequate wages or health insurance and actually ENCOURAGED their workers to go on public assistance. This type of behavior by corporations is one reason many of these towns are dying. I don’t blame the workers at stores like Wal-Mart, they are trying to do the right thing. It is time that we as a society started to hold multi national corporations responsible. We, the taxpayers, have been subsidizing their profits since the 80′s, it is their turn to experience TRUE capitalism. One without subsidies and a lack of responsibility for the communities where they do business. Enough with the socialism for corporations, it is time they had a healthy dose of capitalism like us little folk.

Posted by BB | Report as abusive

In 1974, I worked on the Governor campaign of Don Manes, the Queens Borough President who ultimately committed suicide. I advanced a campaign trip for him to Buffalo.
I stayed in a beautiful new downtown hotel. The only problem was that the prostitutes who cruised the downtown late at night were teenaged boys. I knew then that Buffalo was in trouble.


Here we see the results of 35 years of incompetent USG trade policy together with that swindle known as “Free Trade”. “Free Trade”; that race to the economic bottom pushed by the business colleges since the mid-70s. And the means by which Corporate America has destroyed the middle class and American labor.

Jobs? There won’t be enough jobs created and economic growth over the next 50 years to repair this damage. How many areas of the USA have suffered similarly?

This, the results of “Free Trade” and de-regulation. Thank you corporate America! 100 years ago we had The Robber Barons. Today we have “Free Trade”. What’s the difference?

Posted by Mugged | Report as abusive

Your article fails to mention that Buffalo has one of the highest tax-rates in the entire country. Do you think that may have something to do with the population shrinkage?

Posted by F. M. Caiazza | Report as abusive

As a Canadian living in Ontario, it seems to me the problem with Buffalo is cultural. In Canada we do not like high taxes, but we often see taxes as an investment if spent wisely on education, infrastructure and social development. In Canada we realize that government intervention is sometimes necessary to create a more stable and productive society. In the USA, many people feel that the government is the enemy and almost always feel that taxes are a burden. The present health care debate in the USA illustrates this mentality only too well (we’ve had government run health insurance in Canada for decades). American cultural attitudes have led to the problems of places like Buffalo. An even better example of how policy choices can affect a city is Niagara Falls. Compare Niagara Falls, New York, with Niagara Falls, Ontario, and the contrast is remarkable. Most of the tourists go to the Ontario side, including many of the American tourists because the American side looks ugly.


Oh, quit your griping. Didn’t Reagan declare back in 1980 that it was now ‘Morning In America?’ And we all know that Ronnie was never wrong about anything. No problem was ever too big that a tax cut wouldn’t solve it. Buffalo just needs to cut the taxes on the rich some more and let the drops of gravy trickle down their chins to feed the hungry masses. And now there’s Pureheart Palin waiting in the wings to do for the rest of us what she did to Alaska. You know, cut and run and refresh her bank account with the proceeds of a badly written book. Wasn’t everything in Rome for sale in its last years? I’m glad I’m getting up in years. I don’t think I could stand to live through another thirty years like the last thirty.

Posted by Bob Foster | Report as abusive

“I don’t think I could stand to live through another thirty years like the last thirty.”

How right you are! The younger generation is going to have one helluvatime finding decent paying jobs – even with college educations. They could all move to Communist China. Afterall, that’s where trickle down economics and “Free Trade” shipped their jobs.

Posted by Mugged | Report as abusive

We have to re-adjust the idea of who we are as a nation. Jobs and prosperity will not reach every corner of the country any longer. Developing countries have people who will work harder for a lot less money than us. Our only hope is innovate.

Places like western New York are “big empties.” Their time has come and gone. They prospered on cheap and plentiful natural resources that moved along the Erie Canal to NYC and the rest of the world.


So a few questions, “What can the business colleges today do for cities like Buffallo?” “Where is the creative entrepreneurial spirit?” Okay next generation, your work is cut out for you! We should be seeing opportunities in here somewhere!

Posted by Dave | Report as abusive

Like any one-sided agenda article, there is not balance on what occurs in a city like Buffalo. 50 years of urban flight, post-industrial meltdown, and historically bad local government and ensuing poor economic decisions have left portions of Buffalo looking like some wards in New Orleans. But there is also much positive occurring in Buffalo – a return of a monied population to the downtown and connected areas as architectural gems are being rehabbed into loft apartments,condos, offices and retail space; medical and science related investment creating zones of economic influence; a push for waterfront development that has actually seen movement after years of hollow planning; and most important, a realization by surrounding communities and powerful real estate and investment business leaders that a strong downtown core is the key to a vibrant community. Many who leave Buffalo and Western NY are proud of our area, and look for any chance to return permanently…and they should look closer.


Looks a lot like Canton, Ohio. Can’t tear down the blight fast enough.

Posted by Clyde | Report as abusive

This is a good article but I would be interested to know more about the reasons and the demographics of the city. No insult to the citizens of Buffalo but I think it’s just a matter of it being a poor alternative for a place to live. Not necessarily an altogether poor place to live but instead relative to a vibrant coast city or Florida. The weather is relatively lousy (unless you love SNOW), it’s stuck out in the middle of nowhere and due to it’s decline, it’s just plain ugly. You can fight the flow but eventually nature is going to take it’s course.

Posted by MysteryRoche | Report as abusive

A vibrant coast city of Florida? The only thing i see when I visit Florida cities are ancient retirees whose arthritis tends to subside a bit there. And most recently I’ve noticed the swarm to Florida not as quick, and that’s not the bugs, they are already there. Housing prices have plummeted in Florida and most can’t afford to stay in their homes. The previous inflated real estate market has now dealt a large blow to the sunshine state. Real estate in the Buffalo metro area has increased positively and remains very steady and affordable. People are not being forced from their homes here. Sunshine? Check with NOAA, Buffalo has more sunny days per year on average than Orlando. Enough trying to protect a beautiful historical city, Buffalo natives know what they have here, a gem that is struggling to shine as it once did and is not far from it once again. I recently spoke to a physicians assistant who is being recruited by a southern hospital, they told him they look for “brains” in the north.


Apparently Buffalo’s city fathers have been sleeping like Rip Van Winkle. There seems to be a total lack of the city government to attempt to attract business. Government money is available to stimulate the local economy and I am sure there would be no shortage of volunteer effort by the locals to help clean up the area and make investment attractive. The lack of leadershop more than anything else is the major issue.


I guess because I grew up in a small industrial town in eastern Ohio, and lived briefly near Buffalo in Dunkirk, NY for part of 1st grade (1971-72) – I still have an affection for this area. But let’s distinguish between the frenzied, speculative greed of a “fluff” economy in some areas of the Sun Belt vs. the eastern and midwestern cities that actually MADE things and gave this country substance. Like many, I was forced to leave the area to be able to find viable employment, but interestingly some of these cities aren’t doing as badly now as their high-gloss southern and western counterparts. In this depression, even my beloved Cleveland has bottomed out before this overpriced metro Boston that I live in now. And hello, I’m moving to Pittsburgh sometime next year. It’s beautiful country, land to grow crops, and generally down to earth people.

Posted by mb | Report as abusive

HK says “Too bad most of the manufacturing jobs in the US are now in China. This is what happens when manufacturing is allowed to move to a country with very low wages and limited to no environmental responsibility. Keep buying Chinese good and services and more cities will fall apart just like Buffalo.”

“Manufacturing ALLOWED to move”? This happened because people buy the cheapest not the most expensive and that means imports replace local overpriced goods. China is simply doing what the US used to do, only better.

“no environmental responsibility” is a laugh coming from the largest polluter around. Each US citizen gets through around 12 times the energy and waste of a Chinese.

In short the US got fat and lazy and stopped being a net export earner decades ago and has been running on credit ever since. Do you all not know how much you owe the rest of the world? China lends you money to buy their goods because they are more productive than you are.

For what its worth my opinion is that US insistence on “free democracy” has been soundly beaten by Chinese “centrally directed capitalism”.


I wonder if the NBC and CNN bragging mouthpieces of Jack Welch’s General Electric will highlight this story about the debris GE has left here and in the toxic Hudson River ?? He was some wonderful Manager and human being.

Posted by Ray Ryan | Report as abusive

I love Buffalo and it is sad to see its decline. I wonder if maybe more young creative-class families will be inspired to take a chance on the lower housing costs and “fresh slate” that rust belt cities can provide–IF enough professionals are willing to give them a chance. We left Toronto for Hamilton Ontario a few years ago, and are wowed by our new lifestyle in this Canadian city that shares many similarities with Buffalo and is about 2 hours away by car. Hamilton’s core steel industry has been in decline for some time and unemployment is high. The city’s Rip Van Winkle-ish city council has no idea what to do the staunch the dying inner city, yet an influx of young families and artistic types from Toronto are giving new blood to the city. Likewise, young Hamiltonians who left The Hammer for other cities (like Toronto) are returning for our liveable housing prices, proximity to nature trails and conservation areas, vibrant new arts community and local food movement. I hold out hope that for the middle class, particularly the new-economy creative class, these “cities in decline” may offer havens where we can start new–and so can these once-grand cities.

We are in Buffalo every few months and love it, particularly the Albright Knox Gallery, Elmwood Village and, yes, even Target (which we don’t have in Canada!).

Posted by Yuki | Report as abusive

I grew up in a town about 18 miles from Buffalo; close enough that I recall Christmas shopping there as a child. On my last trip “home,” I re-visited the area with a childhood friend.

I was shocked and disappointed to see the once-vibrant Buffalo and other area cities in the condition they now are.

Departure of jobs, often for good reason, had a great deal to do with the present condition of the “Niagara Frontier.”

I believe that the industry, which once occupied the region and provided employment (and income) to many area residents, tired of being treated, among other things, as a bottomless money pit for local politicians and municipalities. Labor also became fairly business unfriendly and voila, Buffalo became “post-industrial.”

I’m not giving business a free pass from contributing to the current conditions.

In the mid-to-late sixties, Western New York’s air quality was so “lacking” that it was not even published in statewide ratings!

It was thought by industry as “too expensive” to install anti-pollution equipment for treating waste water and protecting air to “clean up their acts.”

A balance must be found in which business, labor and government can all thrive symbiotically and not parasitically.

This is as true for New Delhi,India, and Detroit as it is for Beijing, China, and Buffalo.

China and India as current “factory floors to the world” must decide what social and industrial behaviors will insure their economic prosperity and cultural survivals. Buffalo and Detroit in the United States must go through similar processes to re-find their lost prominence.

Posted by Bruce Burton | Report as abusive

Wow. They have the DERT marks on the door. The Box with an X means : Damaged and dangerous. So sad.

Well the only thing that stands the test of time…is time.

Posted by Doc | Report as abusive

I’ve been taking pictures like the ones featured in this article (though, perhaps, with less skill) for nearly a year now. As I drive around the western portion New York, I get the distinct impression that the region’s decline is neither slowing down nor easily reversible. With industry long gone, few people seem or organizations seem willing to invest the time and money necessary to recuperate. To be sure, cities like Binghamton, Syracuse, and Rochester continue to be large population centers and, thanks to a few universities and resilient industries, draw a few people to the region but — and this may be the biggest obstacle to rebuilding efforts — the region is losing its young people who, understandably, often leave for warmer, sunnier climes and more affluent areas. Fixing an area like this will take more than a large-scale economic effort; it requires a complete overhaul of the culture.


The politicians active in this city since the 1970′s are directly responsible. What have the Lenihans done to prevent the decay? They’re not the only ones! just an example. Sorry I just had to get that off my chest.

Posted by WCD | Report as abusive

I hate seeing houses go to waste, so many, all over the country. Can’t they be fixed up and offered to low income families, homeless vets, etc ? It just seems like such a waste when some elbow grease, materials and construction expertise can redo a house and make a home instead of a blighted lot.

Posted by pnut | Report as abusive

Truly hilarious to read the comments here, especially the bitter partisan hatred spewed by both Democrats AND Republicans. A word for the Democrats; Why are you so afraid of a former Republican governor who wrote a book? If what you say is true, she is an idiot. Why continue to give her the attention she loves so much? Why do you help her sell more books by continuing to keep her in the news? You continue ad nauseum on the same crap. BTW, Reagan has been dead & out of office for years too, why beat a dead horse? Republicans; You screwed up when you had it in the palm of your hands, case closed. Thats why we have the “leadership” we have now. Our two-party political system is putrid, rancid, disgusting and run amock. It is the whore of corporate America and BOTH PARTIES ARE TO BLAME. WAKE UP AMERICA!!!!!!

Posted by Raymond Belanger | Report as abusive

The whole state is like this, done in by its government

Posted by Jim VanDamme | Report as abusive

It’s embarassing to read some of my fellow Canadians’ comments about Buffalo. Yeah, that’s what Buffalo really needed was higher taxes and higher costs to look more like Toronto. So ignorant.

Toronto would look exactly like Buffalo, Detroit, Youngstown, Gary, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and every other city in the Rust Belt EXCEPT for specific advantages:

-Ontario’s low cost electricity for most of the later half of the 20th century and The Auto Pact preserved manufacturing jobs up until the 90-91 recesssion
-Then Canada let our dollar decline from 93 US cents to 62 US cents. This further postponed our Rust Belt reckoning.
-Toronto is the world’s resource financing capital. All of Canada’s and a lot of the world’s copper, gold, forestry, & other resource companies get financed in Toronto. Additionally, as the provincial capital, all of Ontario’s government jobs are here. In other words, rural Canada’s resource wealth finances Toronto’s wealth. The old cartoon of the rest of the country being the cow and Toronto being the cow’s udder getting the milk is still true.
-From the early 70′s until now Toronto is the number 1 destination for every immigrant to Canada. We have had a prosperity & real estate bubble built on ever increasing numbers of new Canadians to the GTA.

Buffalo has no chance of ever having those advantages. Toronto could certainly lose them. Just like NYC has turned the entire state into a high tax, high regulation, high cost state scaring away people and jobs, so too Toronto is doing the same thing to Ontario. Just look at Northern Ontario. High taxes, high costs & high regulation have killed the economy there for the social benefit of Toronto. The same thing is now happening in Southwestern Ontario in the manufacturing sector. No amount of high taxes are going to prevent Hamilton and Windsor from turning into mini-Buffalos.

Posted by Tim | Report as abusive

Richard Florida in his book about the new class of cultural creatives has pointed to my home town of Seattle as a new winner in this awful national city “survival show”. However, even here with several fine universities, we have been hemorrhaging good jobs for many years to Mexico, then China, Vietnam and now South Carolina! Boeing found non-union workers in Carolina willing to work for $14/hour — less than half the average Aerospace Machinist Union wage in Washington State. We have decades of experience building fine airplanes here, but it counts for nothing when cheaper is king and Boeing executive stock options vest in just a few years time.

The business section of our last remaining local daily newspaper reports that India and China are soaking up Boeing engineering contracts putting Seattle engineers and support staff on the unemployment lines in droves. My Microsoft stock is up 36% after they laid off 4,500 employees this past year with more to come (1,400 local M$FT jobs lost) while pushing even more software development work overseas to Microsoft-India in a high-tech race to the bottom. My short term gain is not worth the long term risk to the city I love.

What can we do as America falls like a big tree in our Northwest evergreen forests? It has taken a long time, but we are crashing thru the underbrush and accelerating toward the forest floor, so any ideas for fixing the mess we are in had better come soon. No criticism of Richard Florida he’s just the messenger, but what are we to do when manufacturing AND his “new creative economy” high-tech jobs are both migrating offshore?

Today’s politics insures that finance sector profits are held harmless, straining the social contract to the point of abrogation and pushing society itself closer to the edge of upheaval. In my opinion this class driven one sided zeitgeist is a consequence of the change in America from a predominately small town rural, agrarian society where a respectable percentage of citizens participated in civic life, to a majority urban population disconnected from any influence in affairs of real consequence. A vacuum filled by concentrated minority special interests. This historical view is not just romantic and anecdotal. Small town New England still operates in a more constructive civic manner than big cities like mine, though forces outside small communities limit the scope of positive action. Evidence for this opinion and I contend it’s application to our shared problem is presented with copious footnotes in Mancur Olsons fine book “The Logic of Collective Action”.

*** From the book’s wikipedia entry ***

“The book also noted that large groups will face relatively high costs when attempting to organize for collective action while small groups will face relatively low costs. Furthermore, individuals in large groups will gain less per capita of successful collective action; individuals in small groups will gain more per capita through successful collective action. Hence, in the absence of collective incentives, the incentive for group action diminishes as group size increases, so that large groups are less able to act in their common interest than small ones.

The book concludes that, not only will collective action by large groups be difficult to achieve even when they have interests in common, but situations could also occur where the minority (bound together by concentrated selective incentives) can dominate the majority.”

**** end of wikipedia entry ***

So, my current efforts at a solution to our common problem of urban disengagement and disenfranchisement; — let new information technology and the need to re-engage as citizens drive politics and government decisions down to the lowest most local level practicable.

In the case of Seattle, consider a citizens initiative to revamp the city charter with the effect of distributing the functions of many (though not all) city government departments down to the individual neighborhood level. In Seattle that would be about 14 districts with their own small professional citizen councils making local zoning, traffic engineering, social services, park maintenance, economic development, (…etc) decisions. Police, fire and public utilities that benefit most directly from a larger scope and scale would remain under the control of a city wide government council composed of representatives from each of the 14 districts. Popular business management books sing the praises of smaller more nimble departments with less middle management overhead, facilitated by recent Internet and information technologies. Why can’t government bureaucracies benefit from the same dynamic? There are hurdles of course; tax base issues, bond financing and the like, but I contend these are solvable technical problems.

Big urban cities started out as small towns once. Along the way they though big was better. It was…for some, but not for all. We have tools available now that empower small departments to address complex tasks. Why not use them to bring more of society’s problems within the scope of local control, at a scale that history has shown can support citizen involvement and opportunities for volunteerism to flourish. Creating a space for difficult decisions that nonetheless promote the common welfare in the long run and let entrepreneurial capitalism bring benefits both; to the individuals who enfuse companies with the passion of new ideas and products, and also to the society as a whole, fulfilling the social contract.

Sorry for the overly long missive. I have been trying to think creatively about these issues for some time as have my betters. I have never been to Buffalo, however I refuse to believe that the citizens of such a fine city with a great history will just let the current trajectory of small town -to- big working city, eventually to old age and decay progress into the final stages as prescribed by an economic and political system in service to the elite few. Our current system has always had a plan for cities like Buffalo, we need to rethink and remake the future from that which a greater number of us believes is possible, beneficial and sustainable!


Chinese workers are not more productive than U.S. workers, Paul. Don’t confuse cheap with productive. And, it’s no surprise that people who live in a developed society use more resources than those who live in the third world, which is what most of China still is. In fact, manufacturing WAS “allowed” to move through the magic of so-called free trade, eliminating tariffs which made offshore manufacturing cost prohibitive. It’s not like we’re buying Chinese-branded good from Chinese-owned stores yet. China merely provides the cheapest sweatshops.

Posted by Jason | Report as abusive

In pondering the decline of Buffalo, some postings here have cited the industriousness and lower cost structure of Chinese manufacturers (by virtue of the low wages of workers in China) as a reason for the decline of manufacturing jobs in Buffalo and hence it’s sad but inevitable slide into the rust belt abyss. By inference I take them to conclude either; “what do you expect?” American workers “had it coming” because they naively expected to receive a living wage in Buffalo in the face of growing low wage competition overseas, first from Japan, Mexico, then China, India etc. Or, in a somewhat similar vein; “why are you surprised when high taxes and business unfriendly local government policies drive companies to relocate to more profitable areas away from Buffalo – either in America or eventually offshore?”.

One does not have to deny the fact that; under the current system of “free trade” lower wages in “XYZ developing country” has resulted in a transfer of manufacturing work and the income derived from those jobs out of many American cities, overseas into much lower cost societies, or just across the state line into somewhat lower cost mostly non-union cities and towns. Not raised in this thread yet, as an issue driving wages lower within the Buffalo city limits; illegal immigration, but I digress.

I have a different set of assumptions. To me an economy can be seen only to operate properly in it’s totality. One part; the market of buyers it provides to sellers of stuff, can not be divorced from the costs over time that a society’s economy invested to create the infrastructure necessary for that valuable collection of buyers. Societal costs like; roads and transportation infrastructure to transport the goods, an electrical grid needed to power the cash registers reliably and run the inventory system. Governments, a monetary system, law courts and a legal system to enforce contracts and ensure sellers get paid and buyers get what they reasonably paid for.

Driving the point home; in 2009 how profitable would it have been for Chinese export companies to sell their broad range of less expensive stuff to the numerous citizens of Zimbabwe who very much wanted to purchase these items? In such a case as the Chinese might work to solve one element of the “market of buyers” problem in a country like Zimbabwe other parts of the puzzle keep success and any hope of profits out of reach. Breaking the problem down, imagine the Chinese government persuades a United Nations agency or the IMF to give that troubled African country’s citizens a development gift equal to $10,000 hard currency for each of 200,000 persons (a paltry total of $2 billion, or about 2 weeks of US army activity in Afghanistan).

Without a responsive effective local government (tax system, educated civil service) most of the $2 billion dollars ends up in a dozen Swiss bank accounts and English boarding school tuition payments. Assuming with the wave of a magic wand a responsive, reasonably effective government was in charge there, the country’s roads are still in the main impassable during various times of the year, big screen tv’s need reliable electricity, ditto for most Chinese consumer goods exports. Solve those physical infrastructure problems and the sellers still need a robust and effective legal system in place, the courts, police, contract law judicial precedent to insure they get paid eventually by local in-country wholesalers, distributors and retail customers. So by this example, what happens to the equation; cheap goods for sale if each seller has to provide the normal “business externality” represented by in-country full distribution channels and the societal infrastructure it demands?

Our parents, grandparents, great-great-grandparents, generations of hardworking, bill paying citizens, conscripted and volunteers, fought for, paid for and built up over a very long time all the myriad of things in our society you and I have just come to take for granted. Forget Hoover Dam the nation’s collective sewer system is a colossal, enormously expensive, awe inspiring work of hard won genius. My brother spent 4 months as a young doctor with Save the Children in rural Tibet. He knows from experience overseas what the impressive bedrock infrastructure accomplishments for a society are.

Chinese businesses today employing near slave labor to manufacture their “competitive goods” for the American market, have contributed not one yuan over the 233+ years of America’s infrastructure investment (Chinese railroad workers not-withstanding). And now pundits here and our own bought and paid for politicians have the utter gall to insist we let them sell into our market without reciprocal access in kind to theirs.

The French make very nice wine, great cheeses and industrial electronics. The Germans,… ok, make just about everything very well. Name a developed country and there is almost always a niche in which their businesses excel and win in a fair competition with American firms. We compete across features, quality, and price within a range. “Within a range” is the operative phrase. American workers and our society benefits when we, our economic system, competes with similarly infrastructure invested societies. Each society has productive strengths and weaknesses, but in the main we have similar societal costs for our physical infrastructures, legal, governmental, medical obligations (kinda?) and general obligations to citizens in a civilized society. We buy some German cars, they buy French cheese and everybody buys American Intel microprocessors and a M$FT operating system to crash their Taiwanese computers. It is not perfect, but it works of a fashion as long as the total amount of goods and services stays in an upwardly moving balance within each society and the larger competitive economic system as a whole. Each economic partner’s infrastructure allows roughly equal access to a market of consumers of various financial means and classes. American workers who choose to purchase goods from other developed countries have a reasonably fair chance to create a similar quantity of products for sale which workers in those countries or the companies that employ them, can purchase.

Chinese export businesses are burdened with none of this market reciprocity selling into our American market. My wife and I have traveled through China. The local Chinese will tell you the vast majority of Chinese citizens are living… starving really, on squalid farms for which the communist government and elite export business billionaires care not a whit. American workers produce very little that sells to the small fraction of the Chinese population which is middleclass by our definition. Starbucks China from my home town Seattle, except for a little cash to Juan Valdez and his family, buys local Chinese goods and services, employees local workers to sells a nice cup of joe, all of which adds to a Starbucks stockholders bottom line, but represents nada Chinese societal purchasing power reciprocity for American workers buying Chinese DVD players.

A one way street in the main is not “Free Trade”. Let Chinese businesses and the government there invest in raising the living standard of peasant farmers. This would grow a larger middleclass able to purchase American worker’s goods and services. No reciprocity? Well then let them chew on tariffs and trade barriers. World history and specifically American history did very well under a system of tariffs to equalize the market imbalances of economic and societal systems out of phase with each other, until such time as each country’s economy more closely matched those of competitor nations. Again it wasn’t perfect and historically America often gamed the system to it’s own advantage. I can’t go back in time and change that. Heck, American multi-nationals STILL game the political, economic and investment systems to suit exclusively their own interests at the expense of the American society which still volunteers to fight wars in defense of corporate profits and individual wealth accumulation.

Yes, I very much believe wealth and entrepreneurship is a good thing, but it should not be so shortsighted as to ignore our common longterm interests – their customer’s, shareholders and protectors interests.

Posted by Mark Early | Report as abusive

Free Trade, Globalization, Internet, and new technologies have smashed the global knowledge pool to compete for jobs. This is an irrefutable truth of our times. The most qualified that are willing to most diligently apply their skills for the most competitive wage, get the jobs. This is a universal reality. Shame on the US unions and leaders, political and corporate, to not have proactively prepared a globally competitive American work force for today. They took the easy path of maximizing short term profits by outsourcing. They displayed business savvy, but not good stewardship of employees or communities.

There are pockets of all towns across our land where we will have the Detroits, Sacramentos, and Buffalos of boarded-up homes, dangerous neighborhoods, and sadly unemployable good people.

The mix of change needs fuel: can-do attitude, willingness to learn and take initiative, innovative thinking, global perspective, and humility.

Decline Reversal Team: Stage I: Led by the Mayor – City Council, City Planners, Development Agencies, Universities and School Districts, Citizens Groups, Volunteers – to develop viable options; Stage II: Led by the Governor – Senators and Congressmen, local corporate leaders to seek sponsorship.

Today, the youngsters are flying off to other US cities. If we don’t act now, our sons and daughters will indeed be working in China, India, Brazil, Russia, Ireland, and Israel – or wherever they can find a job. Not that there is something wrong in working elsewhere, but as their parents, mentors, well wishers, and guides, we should see that they are not compelled to do so to live a decent life.

Incidentally, the rightly qualified professionals are in short supply! Just speak with a venture capitalist in the Silicon Valley. Fact – they can’t find a sufficient number of the right skills here. There is room at the top even today, even in the USA.

There is never a substitute for hard work. The decay of cities will advance if we don’t act – not just in Buffalo, but across the USA. We need to rise as individuals and groups to help reverse the decline and rebuild our lives.

Ask your congress person’s office, which group you can join to share your talent? If they don’t a group, ask them to start one. Insist! Persist!


the bush administration was the biggest terrorist in the wolrd, he join to republicans are a threat for the human peace, now i hope that Obama fix that situation.

Posted by Jager Blirds | Report as abusive

Not to diminish the plight of Buffalo or other cities affected; why in god’s green earth did Reuters not visit Detroit, or Flint, or Saginaw. Michigan is not included in the economic down-turn. We in turn are in a full blown depression. Unemployment figures nationally have been shocking at 10%. We are currently hovering around 15%. Our job market is not expected to totally recover until 2030. Thanx Reuters!

Posted by rprrt | Report as abusive

Some may view this as a byproduct of there being little or no oppurtunity in Buffalo, while others view it as the best time to capitalize on an oppurtunity to buy property at a deep discount. Buy it for one and sell it for two.

Posted by R. Gill | Report as abusive

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see