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Web Letter

I loved the part about the switchgrass growing up from the floors and roofs of "modernist buildings...left deserted to return to nature." Greg Grandin hooked me right there.

Brilliant transition from 1950s and 1960s migration out of the city to 1989 migration. By the time 2008 rolls around, you can almost see the "constitution of the fields" becoming overgrown with Louise Glück's witchgrass.

Extraordinary writing. Clever how Grandin worked the Berlin wall in there. Oh, and the Clint Eastwood film putting "the iconic white auto worker to rest."

Wow. A moment of silence is in order. It may be the last time we see those outsized tailfins. Does that not epitomize the passing of a brief point in history? There it goes, emphasized by a flash of taillights, fading over a distant hill.

Chris Bruer

Amarillo, TX

Jun 28 2009 - 9:43am

Web Letter

Grandin effortlessly captures the myriad of issues encapsulated by the Fordlandia experiment: a misguided attempt to build one of America's first real overseas "company towns," the detritus left by failed dreams and the relevance of the Fordlandia project today. Fordlandia was even stranger and wilder than his article suggests--to get the full story you should read his book.

I spent a number of years researching Fordlandia, most of it drawn from local accounts and Brazilian scholarly work. A few little details that are left out of this article: after Fordlandia failed, Edsel Ford built another town called Belterra, further down the river Tapajos river. No one knows why or how Ford was convinced to do this. This town also failed.

The workers were forced to eat on the run, which perplexed Brazilians, and they smuggled alcohol in watermelons. Ford was attempting to recreate the rubber boom of the Amazon that had enriched the region in the late 1800s before the rubber seeds were "stolen" by the English and transplanted to Ceylon and Sumatra. That is why Ford could buy the 25,000-square-kilometer plot at a bargain basement price.

There is yet another strange episode in the Amazon that remains to this day: the hunting of perfumed woods by giant fragrance companies.

I could have benefitted from Grandin's work. But if you are interested in a fictionalized account of Fordlandia, check out my book Everyone Comes from Belterra: when America Owned the Amazon.

Deji Olukotun

Brooklyn, NY

Jun 26 2009 - 8:38am

Web Letter

Ford ran into a brick wall with his social engineering projects, but his major contributions to world prosperity were the assembly-line process and paying ordinary workers a living wage so that they could purchase the cars and products they produced. Ford and GM bought native car companies in the British Isles and Europe that employed local workers who supported their own economies. They did not "trade" with these countries, they built industries in those countries that employed thousands of people. They created a separate consumer class in the countries in which they operated. Ford built and operated plants in the British Isles and Germany. Though he didn't like Communism, he also built one in the Soviet Union. His plant in Germany was nationalized to support war production in WWII. While the plants were not nationalized in the US and Great Britain they also were used to produce airplanes and other war materials. The Soviet Union did a very good job producing war materials supporting their efforts in WWII. I think Ford's ideas may have helped them.

Consumer spending supports from 60 percent to 70 percent of Western economies. However, when you outsource industries and jobs overseas, you outsource the disposable income to support consumer spending. You destroy markets! You build markets by creating industries, along with the jobs that create the disposalble income to support markets for your goods and services.

Ford and GM now have plants in China. The Chinese love Buicks! If these companies produce for the China market, they will build that market. They had better make that market a success. The Western markets are being destroyed.

Pervis James Casey

Riverside, CA

Jun 24 2009 - 5:10pm

Web Letter

And on their collective tombstone, ye shall inscribe, for the coming ages to marvel at: "There's no substitute for staying compertitive, stupid!"

John D. Froelich

Upper Darby, PA

Jun 23 2009 - 4:42pm