Sunday, July 10, 2016

Monessen And Le Monde

Monessen is a small town south of Pittsburgh.
Source: Google Maps.
Over the past week, I've been reading and hearing about Monessen—a rusty former steel town in the Pittsburgh area—everywhere. The story not only went viral, it went global.

Through Google, I counted more than 1,700 references to the city in the English-language media worldwide, from The Guardian in London to the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. In France, I saw reports on French television and in Libération and Le Monde.

What was it about Monessen, home now to just 7,720 people and 300 blighted homes, that attracted the world’s attention?

The answer is Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s nominee for U.S. president. The mayor of Monessen, a Democrat, invited him to come—and how could Mr. Trump refuse such a breakdown in party discipline?

On his visit on June 28, Mr. Trump spoke about his policy on world trade, which he said would bring steel production back to the U.S. and save towns like Monessen. But wait a minute—bring steel production back to the U.S.?
Trump speaking in Monessen

Since I was born in Pittsburgh, I too long believed that since steel production left the area, it left the country. But that's not right. About 71 percent of the steel used last year in the U.S. was made in the U.S., according to the American Iron and Steel Institute, in an article submitted by Tim Worstall to Forbes magazine, “Donald Trump's Monessen Steel Plant Wasn't Killed By China.”

Mr. Worstall explains that when Monessen was booming, the steel industry in the U.S. focused on making virgin steel from raw materials, using blast furnaces. Then along came innovation in the form of the company Nucor, which found it was much cheaper (and thus more profitable) to recycle old steel into new using arc furnace technology. That put blast furnaces, like the one in Monessen, out of business.

Scott Beveridge/Observer-Reporter
Blighted houses in Monesesen.
Now some will say the problem was more complex than that. Even then, am I the only one who has a hard time seeing how a change in world trade agreements will resurrect Monessen?

I have to give it to Mr. Trump for one thing. He accepted the mayor’s invitation and visited the town, which President Obama did not. Who knows if the Republican candidate actually cares about the people of Monessen, but for one week in decades, a lot of people filled Main Street. Like the good old days.

Monessen started out having grand, global designs. The town, which sits on the bend of the Monongahela River, gets it name from the first three letters of the river's name and the German city of Essen, famous around the world as a producer of iron and steel.