Idiocracy and Economic Development in Rhode Island


Perhaps it’s a little unfair, but having finally gotten around to watching Idiocracy, I couldn’t help but find a parallel when I turned to the Internet and found this editorial in the Providence Business News:

Rhode Island will not be able to grow its economy if it does not grow its working-age population, which is a strong argument for Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s college-tuition plan as opposed to House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello’s plan to eliminate the car tax. One of these two is far more likely to supply the state with more young, smart, engaged workers than the other, and it’s not the one that will make the state pay more to municipalities that will be collecting less tax revenue.

Idiocracy tells the story of an exactly average man from modern times who is frozen as part of a military experiment and accidentally forgotten for 500 years, during which time the human race devolves to a state of chronic stupidity.  It isn’t much of a spoiler (of a ten-year-old movie) to divulge that the plot hinges around the average man’s ability to observe that watering crops with a Gatorade-type drink — out of slavish credulity toward the company’s slogan about electrolytes’ being what plants crave — might not make them grow.

Solving Rhode Island’s economic difficulties by giving away college degrees won’t work for a number of reasons:

  1. The specific education problem lies with Rhode Island public schools, which are failing to teach students to grade level, as made poignantly clear in the fact that Raimondo has been pitching free college to student audiences that have a 4-15% proficiency rate in math.
  2. Students who truly understand the value of their education (and will work accordingly) will find a way to afford it.  (Put differently, the question isn’t whether students are finding college “affordable”; it’s whether the degrees are worth the price being charged.)
  3. Lowering the threshold at which students find college to be worth the money will only increase colleges’ ability to increase tuition rates.
  4. Those students who (A) would not have attended college without the handout and (B) graduate as “young, smart, engaged workers,” will be highly mobile when they have incentive, and Rhode Island’s business environment is so horrible that, without even more government handouts on both sides of the employment equation, it will make more sense for businesses to operate elsewhere and lure our star students away.

That last point is critical.  Even a passing familiarity with history shows that nations or states that produce raw materials are not necessarily those that turn those raw materials into usable products, let alone those that specialize in developing new usable products.  The only question is whether the cost of doing business elsewhere is more or less expensive than the cost of transporting the raw materials.

In this regard, Rhode Island should have an advantage, given its excellent geography, making it a place that people want to live and to which it is easy to bring raw materials.  Unfortunately, the state has been run for decades with a toxic mix of selfish interest and ideological delusion and won’t be fixed until people who ought to know better stop playing along.

  • John Loughlin

    One of my favorite moves BECAUSE it has electrolytes!