Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town (2017) by Brian Alexander is written in much the same vein as Hillbilly Elegy and Our Kids.  The book examines the unravelling of Lancaster, Ohio, headquarters to the Anchor Hocking Glass Company.

What was once a stable town replete with a strong middle- and upper-class has now devolved into a drug-addled and poverty-stricken small town.  Due to leveraged buyouts and private equity firms, the once-mighty glass company (i.e. the manufacturing jobs we’ve been hearing so much about) has shed jobs and the town has suffered.

Have you ever wondered how hedge funds and private equity firms make money?  How bankruptcy can work to support these firms even as firms lose money?  This is the book for you.  When a private equity firm sells a company’s land to a subsidiary, books the sale as profit (thus giving itself a dividend) and then charges the company a lease, it would seem to make little sense for the company.  But the firm is trying to make as much money as possible and trying to prepare the company to be flipped to another buyer.

As the company reneged on its compact with its workers (by cutting jobs, benefits, and repeatedly breaking promises) it also reneged on its compact with the city.  Alexander links this violation of trust to the breakdown of trust and social cohesion.  Drug abuse is a symptom of this problem and its impact on the lives of Lancaster residents is heartbreaking.  And this impact will be felt for many years.  3 of 5 pregnant women tested positive for cocaine, opiates, meth, or Xanax.

Glass House should be read to understand what is happening in our small towns.  As people rail against free-trade agreements, the loss of manufacturing jobs, and the government’s responsibility to care for citizens, this book examines the impact of all three movements.

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