I think that Mike Lofgren is onto something in his post at Washington Monthly on the detrimental effects of federal policy on the American Midwest:
Statehouses all over the Midwest have been taken over by legislators so stultified by the dominant atmosphere of social regression that they are incapable of thinking of any aspect of public policy aside from abortion restrictions. The Missouri legislature seems to have nothing better to do than dream up dozens of ever-weirder abortion laws. This from the state that sired Harry Truman, Thomas Hart Benton, and T.S. Eliot.
What has happened to the Midwest has been replicated in the regions of other developed countries with declining industries. The fading ore and steel-producing regions of northeastern France opted for the National Front in recent elections. The old industrial north of England, weakening since the shipbuilding and textile crash of the 1920s, chose UKIP and Brexit. The worn-out industrial and coal-mining region of Silesia in Poland hopes for improvement from the proto-fascist Law and Justice Party.
And that is the principal flaw of Lauck’s thesis. The topics that Lauck writes about—the cultural and intellectual trends of a region—must at some basic level be influenced by the industrial or commercial changes in the society that gave rise to those trends. That perspective is absent in Lauck’s book. A book about the decline of the Midwest in the 20th century should have given more reference to the epic industrial collapse and political transformation that has taken place. Along with these misfortunes, massive changes in the federal regulatory structure over the last several decades have severely handicapped the region’s competitiveness with the coastal centers. All these adverse trends have resulted in the almost surreal physical aspect of post-industrial Detroit, Youngstown, Gary, and other cities. They resemble the bombed-out wastelands of defeated Germany in 1945.
While I agree that policy has had a big and largely detrimental impact on the MidWest, I think he’s pointing his finger at the wrong culprits. Highway building provides subsidies disproportionately to the West. The managed trade agreements we’ve negotiated under the rubric of “free trade” over the period of the last couple of decades have disproportionately subsidized the Northeast and the West and hurt the Midwest. Look at the distribution of military bases. Base closure has hurt the Midwest much more than the West and the Southeast. The list goes on almost endlessly.