There is a melancholy to the musical “The Last Ship,” written and produced by musician Sting a few years back, capturing the end of the ship building era in his home town of Wallsend, England. It is a story told all over the world – industries that were once thriving, providing good wages and a stable economy, that go out of favor as consumer needs change and the product is replaced or produced elsewhere.
And so we have the last ship or the end of steel production or coal replaced with clean energy or consumer goods produced in lower wage countries or automobiles more efficiently handled by robots. And lives of the working man and woman are forever changed. The melancholy of the musical is appropriate to these mournful circumstances.
Wallsend will never be a shipbuilding capital again but it has continued as an engineering center, in the production of marine supplies and in light manufacturing. It has changed and adapted. I don’t know if this new life is better or worse, but it continues on. Life did not end with the loss of their major industry.
The response to change is to be found looking forward, not backward – for Wallsend, for the United States, for workers and their families. The simplicity of the past is no longer available; isolationism is no answer at all. Like it or not, we live in a fast-paced, complex, technological global society.
I cringe when I hear the President of the U.S. register surprise at the complexity of the health care system or the presidency itself. Almost everything about this modern world is multi-layered and complicated – diplomacy, war, finance, economics, commerce, social programs, science, even the air we breathe. We are going to all have to accept this reality if ever we are to find solutions that work.
— Jonnie Martin