In Bethlehem, A Casino Rises

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In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a stalled hotel. Kim Shively hide caption

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Kim Shively writes from Kutztown, Pennsylvania:

I am attaching three photos I took this morning, which seem to epitomize the history of the American economy over the last century. One picture features a photo of a half-finished hotel set against the backdrop of the old Bethlehem Steel Factory in Bethlehem, PA. Of course, Bethlehem Steel represents the manufacturing might of the United States for much of the 20th century. It was the second largest steel producer in the U.S. before its final closing in 1995, brought to its knees largely by cheaper steel imported from places like Russia and China. Still, much of the steel in the buildings in Manhattan, for example, was manufactured here, and of course, it was a major employer for the entire Lehigh Valley region.

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But the casino's opening. Kim Shively hide caption

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The hotel was under construction until September 2008, when the economic fiasco that struck the world brought the hotel construction to a halt. The developer is waiting for funds from the new Sands Casino that is opening this Friday here in Bethlehem in order to complete the hotel. The casino complex — with shopping, restaurants and of course gambling — is a much anticipated business that many have seen as the economic salvation of Bethlehem after the steel plant shut-down and the ensuing economic decline of the area. To me, though, this represents the great economic shift in recent American history — from manufacturing useful material to extracting money from a service that produces nothing of value to anyone except profits to the corporate owners of the casinos and tax revenues for the city. Is this the 21st-century economic model for our country? I find it rather sad.

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An economy built on coal. Kim Shively hide caption

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I included a third photo, of a train running in front of the rusting blast furnaces of the old mill. The train is hauling car after car of coal, which is, of course, the other great dying economic foundation of the Pennsylvania economy. These images capture an economic shift that I find both breathtaking and heartbreaking.

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