The following has been excerpted from Land Of Promise: An Economic History Of The United States, a new book by author and New America Foundation co-founder Michael Lind.
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The history of the productive apparatus is a history of revolutions. So is the history of transportation from the mailcoach to the airplane. . . .This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism.
—Joseph A. Schumpeter, 1942
We believe that this country will not be a permanently good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in.
—Theodore Roosevelt, 1912
In the early twenty-first century, Paterson, New Jersey, is a troubled city in a troubled country. The city that traces its origins back to Alexander Hamilton’s Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures (SUM) has lost most of its manufacturing businesses to other countries. Like other cities in America’s deindustrialized Rust Belt, Paterson has been plagued for decades by poverty, crime, and urban decay. Like other northern industrial cities, Paterson became a home of black migrants from the South just as many manufacturing jobs that provided ladders to middle-class status were disappearing. National shifts in demography are reflected in Paterson, where a majority in the city now consists of Latino immigrants and their descendants. Immigration has helped to revitalize the city, to some degree. But levels of poverty, illiteracy, and illegitimacy are high.
About twenty miles south of Paterson in Elizabeth, New Jersey, is something called Foreign Trade Zone 49. FTZ 49, established in 1979, is one of hundreds of special business districts created in recent years in the United States that provide special customs treatment for companies engaged in international trade. Operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, FTZ 49 is one of the largest contiguous foreign trade zones in the country. Its 3,587 acres include 2,075 acres in the Port Newark/Elizabeth Port Authority Marine Terminal; 41-acre Global Marine Terminal and 145-acre Port Authority Auto Marine Terminal, both in Jersey City/Bayonne; 125-acre Industrial Park at Elizabeth; 53-acre Greenville Industrial Park in Jersey City; a 23-acre site in Bayonne; a 40-acre tank farm and fuel-distribution system at Newark Liberty International Airport; a 407-acre industrial site in South Kearny; 316 acres in Port Reading Business Park in Woodbridge and Carteret; 115 acres in the I-Port 12 industrial park in Carteret; 72 acres in Port Elizabeth Business Park in Elizabeth; and 176 acres in the I-Port 440 industrial park in Perth Amboy.
FTZ 49 sponsors industries involved in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, petroleum products, and special chemicals and hosts companies that include motor-vehicle importers and an importer of frozen-orange-juice concentrate. The industrial park is connected to world commerce by Newark Liberty International Airport and the ExpressRail Intermodal Rail System, with dedicated facilities at major container terminals in Elizabeth and Staten Island. Nearly ten thousand workers are directly employed at FTZ 49, while the multiplier effects of its economic activity create a far greater amount of indirect employment in the area and the nation.3
FTZ 49 is Alexander Hamilton’s SUM reborn. Power is provided by electricity rather than by water, and the products include many that did not exist when the United States was founded. Ingredients are brought in and products taken out by trucks, trains, and planes, not by boats and wagons. The purpose of American economic policy in the twenty-first century is no longer to catch up with industrial Britain, but to allow the United States to participate in high-value-added global supply chains in a world of transnational production, without sacrificing strategic industries. But the project of creative collaboration between government and private enterprise to ensure that America remains a land of promise is no different today than it was on that fateful day of July 10, 1778, when General Washington and Colonel Hamilton, enjoying a respite from war, admired the thundering falls of the Passaic and imagined what America might be.
Copyright 2012 The National Memo