Opinion

Local Ownership and Hamilton's Economy

Ultimately, only locally-based businesses with roots in the community will provide the benefits we wish to see from commerce and trade.

By Undustrial
Published February 10, 2011

Hamilton's vanishing employers are no secret. The trend has been noted nearly everywhere and blamed on anything and everyone. The consequences are clear and devastating: unemployment, poverty, derelict buildings and toxic brownfields, a shrinking tax base and shift to low-wage service sector or public sector employment.

As a town once renowned as a leader in industry, we spend far too much time trying to avoid an image as the new Canadian rust belt.

This trend stretches back at least as far as the establishment of NAFTA. Some plants have been bought out and seen production move to foreign nations where production is cheaper. Others have simply seen local relocations to nearby highway-side office parks.

Some have buckled under intense competition, and others simply lived under years of threats that the plant will "move to Mexico".

There is nothing healthy about this arrangement economically, and simply chasing more business, development or investment isn't going to turn it around. These problems require a basic reevaluation of our business strategies as a city.

Globalization touches every aspect of economic life in Hamilton. While our manufacturers have left town under fierce competition from low wages and absent regulations, our retailers too have been struggling to compete with their products.

Big-box stores at suburban shopping centres like Meadowlands have been devastating inner-city small businesses for years, and both of these factors need to be seen as prime drivers of the "decay" of inner-city Hamilton.

The poverty, unemployment and underemployment endemic in these same communities also isn't helping our "image" or economy.

Stelco

A few decades ago, the thought of Stelco closing would have seemed apocalyptic. Today, it seems almost inevitable. After underfunding pensions as well as a number of poor market choices, Stelco filed for bankruptcy in 2004, leading several years later to their buyout by US Steel.

Created in the 'Robber Baron' days of American capitalism from a merger between Andrew Carnegie and JP Morgan, US steel is now one of the world's largest steel corporations. Since they purchased Stelco in 2007, they first laid off 700 workers, then idled the Hamilton works for a large chunk of 2009.

At their Lake Erie facilities, US Steel locked out workers over contract negotiations - particularly the issue of pensions, and have now idled the Hamilton works once again in a very similar lockout.

We, as a city, need to face the fact that many of the corporations who claim a desire to invest in Hamilton are really far more interested in eliminating competition and consolidating control over regional markets.

Whether it's big retail chains like Wal-Mart or Chapters with a track record of over-saturating markets to drive small businesses out, or large media and production chains, this is not producing more options for us in any real way - not as consumers, workers, entrepreneurs or involved citizens.

Lakeport

Facing bankruptcy at the end of the 1990s, Lakeport Brewing turned to Teresa Cascioli, and under her watch saw one of the most dramatic turnarounds in recent Canadian beer history. Their "buck-a-beer" campaign was vastly successful. Going from around 1% of the Ontario beer market in 2002 to having two of the province's top-selling beers in 2006, they quickly attracted attention from major beer corporations.

In 2007, Cascioli sold the breweries to Labatt, owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest beer corporation, and last year shuttered the plant, laying off 143 union workers.

The closure of Lakeport's Burlington Street brewery marks the end of commercial brewing in Hamilton, and the company has stripped essential equipment from the plant so that the location cannot again be used for brewing, despite offers.

Different Molds

The companies responsible for this don't all fit the same mold. Many are the typical multinational conglomerates we so often hear about, but Canadian corporations (especially in fields like media) play a large role too.

Given the history of poor choices and mismanagement at many of these plants by relatively local ownership (i.e. Stelco), it's clear that having a Hamiltonian in the driver's seat doesn't equate to a broader responsibility to Hamiltonians.

Still, as much as we all love to hate local businesspeople like Bob Young, he's not located in Pittsburgh. While this crisis could not have happened without the vacuum left by many poor local decisions - embracing distant centres of power will not gain us any of the input we have so far sorely lacked.

Conglomerate Media

CHCH, a one time a CBC affiliate, has changed ownership many times over the years, but was most recently known for major changes under the recent tenure of communications giant Canwest communications.

After years of repeated attempts at re-branding and an exodus of familiar personalities like Connie Smith and Dan McLean, Canwest recently sold the station to independent Channel Zero after fears that it would shut down.

The Spectator was the first paper of William Southam's newspaper chain, founded over a century ago. In 1998, though, it was bought out by Conrad Black (original publisher of the National Post), sold to Sun Media and then to Torstar within a year.

Today it is still owned by Metroland, a Torstar subsidiary that publishes over a hundred newspapers across Southern Ontario. Like CH, the Spec has recently witnessed an exodus of veteran reporters and editors.

Branch Plant Economics

Far too many of our city's economic hopes and dreams rest on old-school branch-plant economics. We need to look honestly at 21st century conditions and admit that big corporate industry isn't interested in locating anywhere which could be described as "first world" and "inner city".

Pinning hopes for urban revitalization on companies who are willing, at best, to locate on nearby greenfields at enormous public expense (i.e. Aerotropolis), is lunacy.

At the same time, abandoning production in favour of only construction and service-sector employment will only ensure us a place as yet another bedroom community in the GTA.

'Chasing Business Away'

A few years ago, plans to build a new Maple Leaf Pork plant out in Glanbrook were halted by concerns from neighbours, amidst a storm of controversy. At the time, many decried the move claiming it amounted to "chasing business away from Hamilton".

In more recent years, though, after a nation-wide tainted meat scandal, Maple Leaf has pulled out of nearby Burlington.

"Ownership", in a legal sense, conveys exclusive control. Allowing it to be commodified and traded in this way subjects every other aspect of these businesses to the financial interests of a very small group. It imposes incredible pressures on everyone else - consumers, workers and community members, to bow before rich and powerful institutions they can never hope to gain a fair deal from or win against in court.

The constant threat of an owner packing up shop and leaving town is a powerful bargaining chip - just ask anyone who works in a factory today. The very fact that our town can't even negotiate for a new stadium with the owner of its CFL team without public threats of this sort says a lot.

Unpredictable Whims

Subjecting the ownership of local businesses to the unpredictable whims of large venture capitalists and monopolistic conglomerates clearly isn't working. Hamilton cannot stop "Globalization", but we don't have to bow down before it, either.

Embracing the ideology of foreign investment - whether coming from Ancaster, Toronto, or some big-named corporate behemoth - is not safe, sustainable or wise. If we embrace a branch-plant economy, as we have in the past, we will always be subject to petty threats and demands from the parent corporations.

Economies and cities do not simply need commerce. The fact that money is changing hands or ground is being developed says very little. How those decisions are made, how that money flows, and who ends up in control matter just as much.

Franchise restaurants and chain stores may line our streets, but what creative control does that grant to those who work there (or even those "in charge")? Centralizing this control means that everwhere else managerial tasks must be shifted simply to implementing the designs and decisions created 'at corporate headquarters'.

That leaves our town with few if any avenues for local creativity or entrepreneurship.

Local Ownership

The single best decision we as a city could make is to turn, instead, toward local ownership. Whether that means traditional small businesses, home-based enterprises or co-operatively run machine shops, decisions must be left in the hands of people who understand and care about our city and communities.

Hamilton represents an enormous mass of skilled labourers, entrepreneurs, artists and others. The departure of the former industrial leaders creates a vacuum that opens the door to some really interesting creative potential.

Neither I nor anyone else can provide a blueprint - this is something which must grow in its own way in each area of our city.

By focusing on the needs of a few "key players" or boondoggle projects, we've neglected everyone else. Innovation parks and aerotropoli cannot be "integrated into existing neighbourhoods" - but small firms can.

Small firms already provide the vast bulk of new jobs, as well as innovation. When small firms are locally owned, profits and control remain in the community.

Ultimately, only locally-based businesses with roots in the community will provide the benefits we wish to see from commerce and trade. And only a local based economy will allow us to whether the storms of more unpredictable and chaotic world markets.

Undustrial is a writer, tinkerer, activist and father who lives in Hamilton's North End. He chooses to remain pseudonymous as he frequently works with much of Hamilton's Development industry.

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By Truth (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 08:05:08

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By FTLOG (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 15:47:43 in reply to Comment 59481

insult spam deleted

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By MattM (registered) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 09:17:41

Wonderful article, all truth. It's high time that people begin to educate themselves on the issues, instead of being ignorant followers.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 09:24:36

Great piece. Sad look at the too big to fail industries. The last bit about micro business is brilliant. I wonder what the percentage of people would be inboard with a coop based steel mill?

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted February 10, 2011 at 11:45:49 in reply to Comment 59486

I would love to be involved in coop based anything. Until I started to hang around the Skydragon, I have to admit I really didn't know a lot about coops.

I look at the new Centre on Barton and on one side it looks so much better than the state it was aloud to get to, and then on the other it's big box and you worry about Ottawa St and whether a rejuvination of Barton St as a shopping district could really happen with big box there?

Perhaps the coop route is the only way we can 'bring in business' with all these big conglomerates eating up our industry?

I would ceratainly love to be involved with something like what TnT has eluded to. Perhaps not steel for me (or maybe?), but filling the business void with some more coops ... my ears are open.

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By PseudonymousCoward (registered) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 09:31:59

Labatt closing the Lakeport brewery was nasty but unsurprising corporate calculus; eliminating the beer-making equipment was borderline criminal. It actually lost them money directly, but its real objective was transparently anti-competitive.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted February 10, 2011 at 11:47:28 in reply to Comment 59488

I work for a company that helped planhe vat move. It was dissheartening to be even remotely involved with it. It did seem very criminal to me too Pseudo.

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By Andrea (registered) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 11:22:59 in reply to Comment 59488

It's been a tough one, but I have continued my boycott of Labatt products.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 10, 2011 at 10:52:46 in reply to Comment 59488

Doesn't Canada have some kind of competition bureau that is supposed to go after companies that do such blatantly anti-competitive actions?

Then again, they slept through the fact that every major TV-providing telco enacted UBB policies within a month or two of Netflix entering Canada.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 09:35:22

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By FTLOG (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 15:50:12 in reply to Comment 59489

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 09:39:14 in reply to Comment 59489

Enough trolling, small local business is not communist dictatorship.

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By myrcurial (registered) - website | Posted February 10, 2011 at 10:50:30

Here's a couple of items left off of the list of good ideas above (although there are a few crushing oversimplifications):

  • Increase efforts to attract intentional Hamiltonians -- my family moved here on purpose and frankly, we're sick of the self-defeatism which is the marque of a lifer Hamiltonian. Hamilton is pretty freaking awesome and has a lot to offer if you only open your eyes a little bit.

  • Don't completely discount the positive benefits of GTA commuters under the perjorative 'bedroom community' terminology. I'm one of those people who has to choose between working in Toronto and leaving Canada -- my job specialty is shockingly rare outside of Toronto. I make my money elsewhere and spend it locally -- I bring dollars into our community from outside instead of recycling the dollars that are already here.

  • Invest in the little things. Hamilton's "look" suffers not so much from the unreal eyesore of the post-heavy-industry mess viewed from the Skyway as much as it does from the generally dilapidated and unmaintained underutilized/incorrectly-utilized buildings along the main thoroughfares. Spend some money on a "clean team" pressure washing the fronts of the buildings along the major streets -- they're covered in that fine black particulate that the steel plants occassionally shit down all over the city and the Ministry of the Environment fails to notice. While you're doing that, they can act as by-law enforcers and do something about the "a sheet of 70s basement panelling is a reasonable front facade on a commercial property" problem.

  • Supporting the "clean team" - make a simple change which fixes the economic disincentive we've built in that promotes empty commercial sites -- it should be that if it's empty, you pay taxes, if it's rented, you get a break on taxes. In my experience, rent rates on first-floor commercial streetwall are unreasonably high because it's easier for the landlord to not rent and avoid taxes than it is to be a landlord. Of course, this requires that there be enforcement of use -- first floor commercial streetwall is not residential, and the obviously permit-free conversions that happen should be dealt with. If it was possible to rent a first-floor commercial streetwall with a relatively fresh sheetrock with white paint interior and a functioning bath and mini-kitchen for a reasonable price - ~$500 or so, you've got the makings of a surge in 'professionals who need office space and want to get out of their house/coffeeshop' which tends to spawn supporting small service businesses and can happen in any of the effectively abandoned streetwall chunks which are (possibly) the most awesome part of this city.

  • Term limits on city councillors. Enough already. I don't know who keeps voting that bunch of churlish febrile 4 year olds back into office, but the abject-fail / dark-comedy that is city council needs to end. Fixating on the mega-project rather than the actual city building is killing Hamilton and needs to stop.

  • Promoting civility and manners needs to start with the adults and be enforced/taught to the children. It may sound "Pleasantville-ish" but Hamilton often is the kind of place where walking down the street and tipping your hat / nodding your head with a smile and "Have a great day!" is the norm. We need to take that from often to always while at the same time, requiring a level of politeness and manners (regardless of how Victorian it may seem) as part of the normal course at our schools. This stuff matters FAR more than almost everyone realises.

Lastly and almost the most important -- if you're responding to this article, you should be out there doing some of this stuff -- you can change a place by throwing dollars at it from afar or by moving in and making it your home. Hamilton is my home. Hamilton north of Barton is my home. My home has its problems, but I'm doing everything I can everyday to make it more awesome than it was yesterday.

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By Ian (registered) | Posted February 22, 2011 at 07:22:12 in reply to Comment 59492

Main and King Street buildings are dirty from the particulate that comes from the cars, not the steel plants. The cars running through the heart of Hamilton is the biggest problem that Hamilton needs to address before all others.

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By GoGo (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 13:38:10 in reply to Comment 59492

MyCurial...you I think I love you!

But seriously...

We moved to the Barton/Wentworth area 5 years ago and noticed the defeatist attitude immediately, and not just from people around us... but City Council! All you hear is We CANT, Hamilton isn't (place any city here), yada yada yada.

No wonder it's citizens have the same views. Very sad. And no I'm not saying ALL the citizens, but a vast majority.

Ward 3 Morelli, doesn't have a defeatist attitude, he has NO attitude at all. You would get more results from a "pet rock". How he got voted back in again is beyond me... maybe it was the seniors that he "promised" the seniors centre to. Just thinking about him makes me sick!

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 16:48:37 in reply to Comment 59516

In fairness, the last five years have been virtually all upswing compared to what the average "lifer" Hamiltonian would have witnessed – and perhaps fought to change – over the preceding 25, 35 or 45 years (imagine the low points of the last year and then envision them as historic high points, perpetuated under same-as-the-old-boss regimes of largely inert political ineptitude). That doesn't discount the "great things found here" aspect, but the perspective does explain much of why some born-and-bred locals have an innate suspicion of rose-coloured glasses. Even if this relatively pleasant status quo were perpetuated over the coming decades, you might find your soul slouching a bit too.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted February 10, 2011 at 12:54:41 in reply to Comment 59492

Some great points, mycurial.

I love the clean team idea. I have the ability to work from home but I don't have the best setup for it. It can be distracting with the kids and dog and cat, etc. as well. When you are there, you are accessible. I love it, but it's not always the most productive situation.

If I could pay say $50 a month to have a small space for a desk in a storefront on Barton St, I'd be all for that. When you talk about renting a storefront for $500, all you need is 10 people to go in on it together, and surely there would be enough real estate to fit 10 desks? I could use it as a 'work from home' space, a simple bus ride or even a walk away, or even as a spot to go and write instead of a busy coffee shop. We could even put art on the wall and have showings from time to time to support the local arts seen, or use the storefront window even as a space artists of all ages could use to showcase their art, but inside it is just an office space?

I am all onboard the Pleasantville image as well. Time for a 'positive' change all around.

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 13:53:18 in reply to Comment 59510

I believe what you're describing is called "co-working." I've looking into it before, but was unable to find anything.

Honestly, I'd be willing to look into starting one, if I had someone to help fund the start-up costs 50/50 with me... Hint-Hint to anyone interested?!

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By BizzyBee (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 11:04:49

Agreed - When the people come back to their senses they will realize that the only business that survives is something that your neighbours want and will pay you to do from the earnings of their own work.

The old story goes that we need a cave and a piece of meat. Fire is also nice, but not necessary. Everything after that is luxury. Start with shelter and food - homebuilders, steelmakers, brickmakers, farmers, etc - and then our city will truly be producing something. But don't stop - go on to provide service, technology, research. Use it to improve our lifestyle, and trade it with "outsiders" for a profit. Then the net household in Hamilton will truly be wealthy.

That said, look back a hundred years or so at the tax structure. If we build a factory, we can tax it to pay for our city - as a proxy for the citizens paying for what they need (roads, schools, libraries, arenas, etc). That only works when factories and cities are tightly bound. With todays economy and transportation, factories can exist anywhere - and do. It is the people living in the city (consuming the benefits) that need to pay the taxes - which they could afford to pay if factories could afford to locate here.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted February 10, 2011 at 13:57:07 in reply to Comment 59496

Agreed - When the people come back to their senses they will realize that the only business that survives is something that your neighbours want and will pay you to do from the earnings of their own work.

Comments like this are why I love this site.

What if every 'block' had a snow remover (those little sidewalk sit-in jobbies), as well as a pick-up with a plow on the front. One person in that community is paid per snowfall, to remove all road and sidewalk snow and the big piles on the streets currently left as obstacles for us street parkers.

Each area in that area pays this person say $10 or $20 per snow fall (or whatever seems appropriate). They don't pay, you don't clear their sidewalks. Also let it be known to the neighborhood, those are not involved in the 'community'.

Snow removal as just one example, can be taken off this communities taxes and their money now goes directly to that businessman. Perhaps that same guy cuts lawns and hedges, leaf removal and such, during the summer months.

Maybe each neighborhood has their own cable hub. One guy in each block does the repairs in these little mini headends, replaces the cable feeds into the homes, replaces set-top boxes and maybe even does internal wiring, etc.

These blocks could cover say an area comprising for example, of Ottawa and Barton to Gage, to Main, and back to Ottawa St again.

Each block could have localized entrepeneurs that service just their local community. Some would need to be jack of a few trades to be sustainable all year round, but if my money could go into a real persons pocket, I think we would all feel so much better about that.

The list could go on. I used to think of this sort of thing so much when I lived on St. Clair Ave. The area is so beautiful but ruined by the eye sores along King and Main, and it is also missing that 'subdivision' feel that exists on the mountain. Downtown, so many streets are open from Barton to Main, used as thoroughways for cabs and other such traffic. If you closed every other side street off and closed off these big city blocks more, you create quieter, safer communities, instead of mini-speedways for people trying to avoid stop lights on major routes like Gage or Ottawa, etc.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 10, 2011 at 16:16:25 in reply to Comment 59521

I really like the idea of community-based service organizing. Even if it's done for little or no cash, it still gets things done. Some goods and services, like snow clearance, are more important than money. That is to say, even if there's no money changing hands, the job still needs to be done.

There's a good chunk of Hamilton where there really isn't much, if any, money to pay for this kind of thing. There are many other ways to repay favours between neighbours, and all of them can contribute to building stronger communities.

And for the record, some kid down the block keeps shoveling my walkway and won't take money for it. I really can't complain.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 11:09:14

Then again, they slept through the fact that every major TV-providing telco enacted UBB policies within a month or two of Netflix entering Canada.

I wouldn't say they slept through it. They were well aware.

Bell, Rogers, et al have friends in high places.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 11:26:35

You're probably nearly alone. I still see tons of people drinking Lakeport. Didn't take much time for those wounds to heal. Just another casualty.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 10, 2011 at 13:57:47 in reply to Comment 59500

Not completely alone. I pretty much stick to Brick products now, although I have a Rickard's mix-pack for guests.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 10, 2011 at 11:30:53

Funny how an article about locally run economics gets accused of North Korea style nationally planned economics.

North Korea, and most communist states, are based on the same "model" as large corporations - the old Prussian Military military hierarchy. Ford is credited with implementing it here with his mass production techniques, Lenin in the east with his planning bureau. And that's why, in terms of decision-making structures, they both tend to look very similar. And why both of them so often fail.

What fascinates me most about the Cold War isn't how different the sides were, it's how fundamentally similar. The cold logic of industrialism, imperialism and power led to so many nearly identical 'innovations' on either side. Each had many brilliant counterpoints, but at the end of the day, neither one was willing to doubt whether their brilliant ideas should be imposed by force on hundreds of millions of people, and directed by a "brilliant" elite at the top.

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By hammy (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 13:51:41

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Comment edited by hammy on 2011-02-10 13:52:03

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By WentworthSt (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 13:53:28 in reply to Comment 59518

I always thought everything that comes out of you was the opposite of true, so that fits...

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By FTLOG (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 15:52:26 in reply to Comment 59520

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By hammy (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 14:18:01

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By Drivel (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 15:27:34

Drivel!

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By hammy (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 17:10:48

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By Woody10 (registered) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 17:58:06

We need to stop focusing on capitalism and start focusing on democracy. Do a little research on how some top corporations are looking into the vision of no voting, because we little non important peons don't really understand how things work in the real world. We need the CEOs of the world to run the whole planet like one big business.

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By Paul Rothman (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 20:22:14

Fairly new to this site, possibly will register soon, checked it out on reccommendation of TnT above. I am new to Hamilton, moving to Erie St a year ago from Kingston. This is a city with wild extremes. Speaking with Tim(TnT) I was shocked by his struggles and the struggles of others to create adaptive reuse of properties. There is a wonderful coffee shop and arts movement on James St N that I don't know if anyone has been made aware of? This is exactly the way it should be. Though I am informed that business owners struggled mightly with bylaws and most of Barton Street is not for sale. I hope that all of you keep up the good fight.

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By hammy (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 22:45:31

Yea right, let the busniess people run the world.. They already do woody. Why do you think guys like Mubarak don't want to give up power. He wants to keep everybody down while he continues to line his pockets..

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By TnT (registered) | Posted February 10, 2011 at 23:43:11

Hi Paul. Welcome to the site. Don't let the small amount of trolls turn you off it really is a great exchange of ideas here.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 11, 2011 at 03:14:51

We may be a victim of our own success. In 1961, business machinery and equipment comprised 2.50% of Canada's GDP. Since that time, it has risen steadily to where it now (2008) makes up 9.43% of GDP (inflation adjusted). Curiously enough, even though we have cheaper and more abundant technology in the workplace, the overall economy has slowed almost every decade since 1961...

1961-1969 5.560
1970-1980 4.050
1980-1990 2.810
1990-2000 2.910
2000-2010 1.850


Perhaps a way to bring back middle class career jobs is to start taxing machinery/equipment at higher rates and using that money to reduce payroll taxes. This would not eliminate new technologies from workplaces, but it would make hiring a human more cost effective than it is today. It may even bring back some of those jobs that people got out of high school. The ones that people could raise a family on.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 11, 2011 at 12:43:20 in reply to Comment 59552

Technology has long been a competitor of workers for jobs. It was a huge focus of the labour struggles for the first half of the last century, and much of the time before.

The problem with technology is that it enters the workplace in the position of resources and capital. Since workers don't own the machines or the company - they're put in a position where the machines directly 'threaten their jobs'. If that machine replaces the work of 10 workers, those workers are simply let go. Since most people don't really have much of a stake in the company they work for other than being paid to do a specific task, once that task is met more cheaply, they've got nothing.

A further problem arises, and I suspect this goes toward explaining the greater drop in efficiency Smith mentions - these machines are also capitalist products. Thus, like any car or appliance built after 1980, they're designed to break and cost money. Talk to anyone who runs an office about computers, printers and other such technology. We were supposed to have a "paperless society" by now, weren't we?

To see both of these factors at work, look at agriculture. The "Green Revolution" made farming far more efficient in terms of labour, but not financially, or in terms of energy and resources. The machines and chemicals which replaced farmhands came with a whole host of unmentioned side-effects, like soil degradation and pesticide resistance which led to cycles of increasing dependence. Average Canadian small farmers now make less than no money on a yearly, and the picture's no better globally.

I'd like to say that I that going back to 'a world made by hand' would solve all of this, but it wouldn't. We'd have work, but it'd be long and hard. What we need instead is a system where new technologies (where appropriate) enrich everyone in a workplace. And that can only come by decentralizing ownership and control.

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By Interesting (anonymous) | Posted February 11, 2011 at 10:25:24

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By bigguy1231 (registered) | Posted February 11, 2011 at 12:26:52

Nice theory, but the reality is local businesses for the most part only provide minimum wage jobs with no benefits. They are no different than the businesses that inhabit big box land and if anything provide less stable employment. Local business may be great socially, but economically they contribute very little to the local economy.

Multinational and national level businesses are a neccesary evil if we want a vibrant economically viable city. Going it alone will not work.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted February 11, 2011 at 13:13:09 in reply to Comment 59565

Where would you rather work, Chapters or Bryan Prince Books?

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By Chappy (anonymous) | Posted February 11, 2011 at 16:56:55 in reply to Comment 59568

Chapters. I get better than minimum wage and benefits. And a discount.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted February 11, 2011 at 16:25:49

It can't be that difficult to start a simple site/group with the purpose of concentrating and clustering investment in local areas, even multiple people on one property -- but not a skillset I possess.

Something as simple as entering your street boundaries where you're looking to set up, what you're looking to do, and the type of partnership you're looking for (renting/buying, one person to share an office with, ten people to set up a co-op) is a good start. It could catalyze live/work spaces too, or setups with separate tenants where both the upstairs residential and downstairs business tenants are invested in the space.

Then simply mapping that information for people coming in to see would also be valuable - what type of business/setup is done, what improvements have been made, what's yet to come, timeline, and what, if anything, is holding them back from further improvement and how the adjacent/proximal buildings are.

Again, not my particular skill... but I can see a few ways this could work easily/simply for the city. Even in the face of those protesting that concentrating or being intentional about investment in neighbourhoods is auto-gentrification-horriblenesss.

Comment edited by Meredith on 2011-02-11 16:28:43

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By Ezaki Glico (anonymous) | Posted February 11, 2011 at 18:04:43 in reply to Comment 59586

You're couched that machine in pretty progressive terms, but it would obviously lend itself to less enlightened speculative investment as well. You could end up building a blowback tool.

There's also the hitch of "synergistically desirable" neighbourhoods being priced out of your range: a 400-square-foot hole in the wall on a trucking route might strike you as being worth $400 a month all inclusive, but the owner might set the valuation at twice that. Real estate is not as democratic as T-ball.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 11, 2011 at 17:30:21

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 11, 2011 at 17:38:15

@A Smith - dunno about '91, but to me the '01 and '09 logic is obvious - spending on health and education didn't ramp up and cause the recession, they ramped up because both of those recessions were caused by empty-money booms. DotCom and housing boom created massive property and income tax balloons that were funnelled into education and health.

And then the invisible hand went and gave us the invisible middle finger, and all the money went away.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 11, 2011 at 18:52:14

Pxtl >> the '01 and '09 logic is obvious - spending on health and education didn't ramp up and cause the recession, they ramped up because both of those recessions were caused by empty-money booms.

M3, a broad measure of money supply hovered at very high rates during the seventies (around 10% a year)...

http://goldprice.org/bob/uploaded_images/m3b_long_term-754943.png

And yet, during this time period, after adjusting for price inflation, the U.S. economy averaged 3.2% GDP growth a year.

In contrast, the time period between 1986 and 1996 saw much slower levels of money growth (around 3% a year) and yet GDP growth averaged only 2.9% per year. In fact, in 1991, money supply was only growing at 1% a year and yet there was still a recession.

If easy money causes economic growth to slow, it doesn't show in the numbers. However, the correlation between increased spending on health and education and recessions does seem to be consistent.

If we can't have absolute proof to go on (too many variables), shouldn't we at least pick the best and most consistent correlations to guide our decisions? If that's the case, then Hamilton should start reducing our reliance on government freebies if the goal is a faster growing economy.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 12, 2011 at 10:55:21 in reply to Comment 59607

I don't think PXTL was talking about the M3 money supply when he said "easy money".

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By hammy (anonymous) | Posted February 12, 2011 at 00:20:03

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By TnT (registered) | Posted February 12, 2011 at 15:41:31

Here is an idea for major steel co op

A retailers' cooperative is a type of cooperative which employs economies of scale on behalf of its retailer members. Retailers' cooperatives use their purchasing power to acquire discounts from manufacturers and often share marketing expenses. It is common for locally owned grocery stores, hardware stores and pharmacies to participate in retailers' cooperatives. Consumers' cooperatives, sometimes referred to as retail cooperatives, should be distinguished from retailers' cooperatives. This is a list of American co ops: Ace Hardware True Value Best Western E.Leclerc Les Mousquetaires Edeka ShopRite (United States) Foodstuffs National Automotive Parts Association (

Comment edited by TnT on 2011-02-12 15:42:11

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 13, 2011 at 10:46:14 in reply to Comment 59646

Stelco is pretty ripe for a co-op. There's no bold or charismatic directorate leading the way. Management has failed consistently for at least two decades now, and has ended up in over a billion dollars worth of debt to the workers for a good chunk of that.

A co-op structure could follow the already laid-out divisions in the company - plants, furnaces, bar/rod mills etc. In each of these, workers would become shareholders - with a share of profits and equity and vote in decision - making and procedural matters. From there each of these co-ops could be federated into a larger corporate entity - "Stelco", which could handle larger issues of co-ordination and contracts. There's no exotic new corporate law concepts which would be needed - simply a transfer of ownership.

I know a lot of steelworkers - virtually every one could teach a course on steel. These are experienced skilled workers - they know how to make steel, far better than every venture capitalist I've ever met. They simply need to be allowed to do so.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 13, 2011 at 11:08:27 in reply to Comment 59685

Undustrial >> A co-op structure could follow the already laid-out divisions in the company

Thank's for stating the obvious. How will that create real jobs?

One question for you...Do you believe that Stelco can once again be profitable?

If you do, then YOU already have all you need. Now it's just a matter of following through on the path you have laid out for yourself.

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By BobInnes (registered) - website | Posted February 25, 2011 at 13:06:49

I sort of think that the future is embodied in Jason's article about shoes. The newly impoverished ex-middle class will end up making boutique stuff for the super rich, who can afford quality shoes that may take a man-day to make.

While not the whole story, i think part of the issue here is the role of our above-average taxes on driving businesses out. Merulla disagrees with me on this but his logic seems biased toward his NDP roots. This is why i am adamant that the whole stadium, PAN Am, AEGD, Red Hill/Link, LRT, incinerator spending spree is going to bite us all extremely HARD when interest rates begin to respond to bond vigilante concerns. My response is now to consider possible exit strategies. Yes, Hamilton will eventually dig itself out from under, but the question is whether it will be within my lifetime.

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