Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town
Glass House is “more than another elegy for good times in Middle America,” said Justin Fox in Bloomberg Businessweek. The story of one small town—Lancaster, Ohio—and how it has shed jobs and accumulated troubles since its midcentury heyday, the book blames not amorphous economic forces but a particular intrusion of Wall Street sharks, whose pillaging of Lancaster’s largest manufacturing firm has been repeated many times, in slightly different forms, in many other small American towns. You want to know why Middle America is suffering? In journalist Brian Alexander’s telling, the answer is “pirate capitalists” like Carl Icahn and Stephen Feinberg, interlopers who slowly squeezed the life out of Lancaster glassmaker Anchor Hocking—all to enrich themselves.
Alexander is a Lancaster native, and “the case he makes is damning,” said Laura Miller in Slate.com. For many decades, the town was a model, home to glass-industry executives who drank beer with their line workers and sent their children to the same schools. Then Icahn bought up a chunk of Anchor shares, and “what followed was a long, complicated, and sickening ballet of financial sleight of hand.” One firm after another bought Anchor with borrowed money, slashing the workforce or compensation each time a quick sale was required. The new out-of-town execs demanded huge tax concessions, sapping revenues for schools and other services. And none of this activity prevented two bankruptcy filings.
“There is an underlying irony to Alexander’s narrative,” said Len Boselovic in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Lancaster, like many Midwestern towns, fell victim to a form of vulture capitalism unleashed by Reagan-era deregulation. But among the opiate addicts, harried politicians, and brokenhearted cops we meet, far too few have turned away from free-market ideology. In November, the county voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, who hopes to make both Icahn and Feinberg presidential advisers. A mood of despair and anger, it seems, is “not the basis of sound decisions.” ■