#Pittsburgh’s Futures 9/x – Pittsburgh’s Future Isn’t Local

The following was published on May 5, 2022 at Postindustrial, a Pittsburgh-based magazine.

By Michael Madison

Pittsburgh, like a lot of Postindustrial places, is banking on growth. It needs growth to fuel opportunity; it needs growth to pay for equity; and it needs growth to support the rising cost of public services, education, and health care. Pittsburgh needs population growth. Pittsburgh needs income growth. Pittsburgh needs job growth.

But Pittsburgh is not growing. Pittsburgh is shrinking — shrinking much more slowly than before, but shrinking nonetheless. The city’s 2020 population declined modestly relative to 2010 and is perilously close to falling below a key threshold of 300,000 people. Gross domestic product for the Pittsburgh region grew by a paltry 2.1 percent in 2018-19; Allegheny County’s GDP grew by only 1.8  percent.

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#Pittsburgh’s Futures: 8/x – Beyond Innovation Theater: A game plan for growth begins by ditching old paradigms

The following was published on November 24, 2021 at Postindustrial, a Pittsburgh-based magazine.

By Michael Madison

The phrase “postindustrial” Pittsburgh implies that Pittsburgh has entered a new phase, in which the key players, resources, challenges, and opportunities aren’t the ones that characterized its 20th century material past — steelmaking. Postindustrial implies a 21st century immaterial future, one that’s all about information.

The truth is that this metaphorical back-and-forth is misleading. Hidden in plain sight, in between the look back at heavy industry and giant integrated companies and the look ahead to tech startups, there’s a different phenomenon in Pittsburgh that clouds the skies of its possibly sunny future. I call it “Innovation Theater.”

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#PittsburghsFutures: 7/x – Tech for all … but who’s it really for?

The following was published on September 25, 2021 at Postindustrial, a Pittsburgh-based magazine.

By Michael Madison

This is a story of two visions of the present and future of Pittsburgh and by extension, Postindustrial America.

They’re documented in two recent reports about priorities in Western Pennsylvania, and they make for some dry reading. But behind the printed page, there’s a churn of ideas — a battle between old and new — with enormous implications.

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#PittsburghsFutures: 6/x – A New Pittsburgh Labor Movement, Part 2

The following was published on July 5, 2021 at Postindustrial, a Pittsburgh-based magazine. Part 1 was published at Postindustrial on July 1, 2021 and is reproduced here.

By Michael Madison

Where is Pittsburgh’s growth going to come from?  Partly, it may come from the ever-elusive productivity gains that arise from substituting computers for humans.

Partly, it may come from us, from our increasing and changing patterns of consumption. Like most of the U.S., Pittsburgh long ago gave up its status as a production-based economy and became a consumption-based economy. The Klavon’s story shows how this works. The store can pay its employees at least $15 per hour and remain profitable so long as customers are buying enough ice cream to keep the scoopers and owners happy. When you can, buy local.

But not all businesses will respond to local conditions as directly and voluntarily as Klavon’s did. Profits aren’t guaranteed. A services economy is a mobile economy.  Factories and mills can’t go anywhere. Companies can.  

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#PittsburghsFutures: 5/x – A New Pittsburgh Labor Movement, Part 1

The following was published on July 1, 2021 at Postindustrial, a Pittsburgh-based magazine. Part 2 was published at Postindustrial on July 5, 2021 and is reproduced here.

By Michael Madison

Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor, a favorite in Pittsburgh’s iconic Strip District, made national headlines recently when the co-owners responded to difficulty in recruiting scoopers by raising wages to $15 per hour.

As an anecdote about labor markets in a Postindustrial city, the episode offers a colorful and tasty illustration of a larger challenge. Regional unemployment in southwestern Pennsylvania has slowly fallen over the past year, but the labor force as a whole hasn’t grown. In a market capitalist economy, open jobs and fewer people to fill them mean that wages rise, other things being equal. That’s the labor story. What about the management story? Will profits fall? Klavon’s says no; its business is fine.

Beyond the economics of ice cream, the Klavon’s story highlights an even more important theme, one that extends beyond rising or falling numbers of workers and well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Pittsburgh’s future prosperity depends largely on how the regional workforce is compensated. In other words, it depends largely on how Pittsburgh’s workers negotiate for their share of the wealth.

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