'Art is the New Steel'? Perhaps

Wonder of wonders, National Geographic has written a piece about my own fair city.  The article focuses on the James St. North area, a small section of the downtown core that's become quite a successful little arts district.  With the monthly Art Crawl to draw attention and a plethora of galleries both small and less-than-big, along with a pleasant little hodgepodge of internationally-flavoured restaurants and curio shops, the area attracts enough attention to get by, but not so much that there seems any particular reason to fear imminent gentrification.

The discussion of James St. North, and Hamilton as a whole, carries a more interesting undertone as far as this blog is concerned.  Hamilton, after all, isn't known as 'Steeltown' for nothing; for decades, the city's economic engine ran on the good, high-paying, unionized jobs to be found in the steel mills down by the bay.  When those mills fell on hard times, however, along with pretty much all the other steel mills in the 'Rust Belt' around the Great Lakes, Hamilton found itself faced with something of a problem.  

It's not that advancement is a bad thing.  I would no more have us go back to the days before robots built cars than I would to the days when clothing was bespoke or hand-made, and food was something you didn't just make, but grew, harvested or slaughtered yourself.  I'm an unabashed techno-utopian, and I really do believe that, so long as we can refrain from stuffing it all up, advancements in technology will solve those fundamental problems that have plagued our species for as long as there's been a human species.  But advancement causes dislocation, and as the rate of advance has increased over the last several decades the resulting dislocation has in turn become more severe.  It's wonderful that you can now get a laptop for three hundred dollars that you can make your own feature-length film on, but if everyone is making minimum wage at a  part-time service industry job, that three hundred dollars can be just as out of reach as high-end luxury items have always been.  Too many of the jobs that sustain the Canadian and American middle classes are based on services that are in various stages of being rendered at best most superfluous, and at worst completely obsolete, by technological and socio-political advancements world wide.  And you can't have a viable advanced Western democracy without a middle class; ask any political theorist, and they'll tell you the same.  I know, I've been associating with them for entirely too long already.

So the question is, what do we do about it?  And it's not a minor issue, either; this will be the issue of the generation.  The Boomers are setting out to retire, and it looks like they're going to take most of their jobs with them.  My own generation is looking at a pretty grim picture, and the one to follow is probably in just as much trouble.  Technologically advanced capitalist societies are going to have to grapple with some fundamental changes to the way they operate, because it doesn't appear that business as usual is going to be an option.  Like my own fair Hamilton, the nations of the West are suddenly finding all those good blue collar jobs just aren't there anymore, and that's a problem because the model for societal success is rather heavily based on them.  States can't tax the poor, and don't seem to want to tax the rich, but if the middle class disappears there's not really anyone to tax left.  And all you have to do is look at Greece to see why that won't work.

I don't know what the answer is, myself.  Economists swear up and down that you can't just pay people more money, and there doesn't appear to be an antonym to 'downsizing' in the business lexicon.  We're going to have to change, but there aren't any options some entrenched group or another won't claim will bring nothing but ruin and recession down on our heads.
But who knows?  If James St North, and Hamilton, can manage a change, maybe the rest of the Western world can, too?

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