It’s worth noting that the idealized Main Street is not a myth in some parts of America today. It exists, but only as a luxury consumer experience. Main Streets of small, independent boutiques and nonfranchised restaurants can be found in affluent college towns, in gentrified neighborhoods in Brooklyn and San Francisco, in tony suburbs — in any place where people have ample disposable income. Main Street requires shoppers who don’t really care about low prices. The dream of Main Street may be populist, but the reality is elitist. “Keep it local” campaigns are possible only when people are willing and able to pay to do so.
In hard-pressed rural communities and small towns, that isn’t an option. This is why the nostalgia for Main Street is so harmful: It raises false hopes, which when dashed fuel anger and despair. President Trump’s promises notwithstanding, there is no going back to an economic arrangement whose foundations were so shaky. In the long run, American capitalism cannot remain isolated from the global economy. To do so would be not only stultifying for Americans, but also perilous for the rest of the world’s economic growth, with all the attendant political dangers. The only choice is turning to the future.
Also harmful, however, is the complacent and naïve expectation, often found among well-meaning liberals, that everyone, to have a good job, needs to go to college, preferably to learn computer programming (or some other skill in manipulating information) and ideally to move to New York City or San Francisco. If the answer to rural downward mobility is to turn everyone into software engineers, there is no hope. The idea that every truck driver or coal miner can, or should, become a member of the modern professional class is closely related to the belief that unless you have those particular skills, you have no value — which isn’t the case.
Louis Hyman, “The Myth Of Main Street”, The New York Times (9 April 2017), SR4.