Progressives Push “Strong Link” Economics on a “Weak Link” Reality


I’m not going to lie to you.  Malcom Gladwell’s leftism is thick on the ground in his sixth “Revisionist History” podcast, but it centers around an idea that might get to the heart of why progressivism is killing Rhode Island.  The leftism comes with the purpose to which Gladwell devotes the episode — namely, haranguing big-money college donors to give to lower-end institutions — but the idea itself is the contrast of “weak link” and “strong link” sports.

Basketball, says Gladwell, following a thesis articulated by Chris Anderson and David Sally, is a “strong link” sport.  That is, a team is better off investing in an unstoppable all star or two.  Soccer, by contrast, is a “weak link” sport, because the nature of the game forces players to rely on each other such that opportunity never materializes for the all star if the merely good-enough players don’t connect their passes.  Therefore, a soccer team that really wants to increase its number of victories should forgo the big-money superstar and split the savings to hire a handful of somewhat-better mid-level players.

Coming across this notion as Rhode Island’s progressive Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo is touting a major deal to give $32 million to a company (plus free prime land) as incentive to open up in Rhode Island, the connection was obvious.  Raimondo, Wexford Science & Technology, the Brookings Institution, the Rhode Island Foundation, and all the rest of the would-be central planners believe in a “strong link” approach.  Get the super-powered brains to develop a strategy and make deals to secure “well-paying jobs,” and all will be well.  Sure, they talk about educating working-class Rhode Islanders for the “jobs of the future,” but even in that, they’re emphasizing the ability of the central planners to design the future and to teach the masses accordingly.

But the economy is a “weak link” affair.  That doesn’t mean you dump all your resources and hopes on the people at the very bottom of the economic ladder; a pro soccer team has to have a baseline for skills, after all.*  What it means is that enough of those who make the economic team have to connect their passes to create the environment in which world-changing moves can be made.  And in the economy, connecting a pass can mean getting the right education and doing your job well, but it can also mean experimenting with ways of doing things (innovating) that fit the local environment at the moment, which is something that those on the ground in the state (and staking their livelihoods on success at a basic level) are best positioned to do.

We should focus on those people, and what they need is to be allowed to keep more of their money and be free of a meddling government.


* Of course, progressives tend to see themselves as supporters of the underdogs, the “weak links,” but as I’ve been arguing, that generally means patronizing them as clients for their services and subjects of their planning.