In Chicago, like most other big cities in America, manufacturing was once the core of the urban economy -- until recent decades, when most of it moved out to suburban areas and beyond. But while much smaller today, manufacturing still makes a vital contribution that cities should work hard to maintain.
It's "urban renaissance" time in the City of Big Shoulders. Suburban families are coming back to the city, yuppies are moving into renovated factories, and "empty-nesters" are buying weekend luxury homes in the Loop. Rising high-tech employment in Illinois has caused some to dub the region "Silicon Prairie," and gritty industrial neighborhoods -- Nelson Algren's playground -- are giving way to restaurants and galleries. Chicago's biggest daily, the Tribune, urges development of "luxury high-rises and townhouses" on the grave of South Works, U.S. Steel's old Chicago plant.
In 1925 the publishing world was rocked by an up-and-coming advertising executive named Bruce Barton, who'd written a book called The Man Nobody Knows. The man in question was Jesus Christ, the "most popular dinner guest in Jerusalem," who had "picked up twelve humble men and created an organization that won the world."
Ever since the McClellan Committee investigations of racketeering in
the 1950s, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) has occupied
a lurid place in the American imagination. From Jimmy Hoffa to "Tony
Pro," from "Red" Dorfman to Jackie Presser, the Teamsters have been
known as the id of the labor movement--a seething hotbed of greed,
violence, and corruption. Recent Teamsters President Ron Carey and his
aides were accused of laundering money from the union treasury for use
in Carey's 1996 re-election campaign. The election was overturned, and
Carey was banned from the union. This January he was indicted for lying
to a grand jury about his role in the scandal. And when Hoffa's son,
Gary and Virginia have lived at Berkeley Place in lower Park Slope, Brooklyn, for the past 29 years, almost since moving to the United States from Trinidad in the late 1960s. It's a peaceful neighborhood of oak trees and brownstones, a neighborhood of middle-class homeowners near the park and immigrant renters farther west, families who shop together at the local food co-op and pride themselves on being a comfortably diverse and socially aware community. It's not the kind of place you'd expect to see old people and little kids being put out onto the street.
Ben Franklin might seem, at first glance, to have little in common with Karl Marx. But when the German philosopher wrote in the Grundrisse that "the individual carries ... his bond with society in his pocket," the author of Poor Richard's Almanack might well have agreed. One of our most enduring American faiths is that how people spend money tells us something about their moral character. Thrift is a sign of virtue, profligacy one of sin, and filing for bankruptcy calls not only for a financial accounting but a spiritual one.
About 1.4 million Americans wound up in bankruptcy court in 1998; the standard narrative explains the phenomenon in updated fall-from-Eden terms, with the Visa card playing the role of the snake.