Two Points on the Latest Brookings Op-Ed


Just three weeks after their last offering, Mark Muro and Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution are back in the Providence Journal promoting their economic experiment in Rhode Island.  Rhode Islanders should carefully consider two points related thereto.  First, consider this paragraph:

Why are Rhode Islanders so skeptical? There are surely lots of reasons, ranging from several decades of passive leadership before Raimondo as well as the hangover from several public corruption scandals.

Such rah-rah-Raimondo statements are scattered throughout Brookings’s recent report of suggestions for the Rhode Island economy.  Inasmuch as every private donor to the $1.3 million Brookings project was also a Raimondo donor, one could see the report as a huge campaign contribution to Rhode Island’s ambitious governor.  That’s not all it is, of course, but it is that.

The second point relates to these paragraphs:

What needs to be done to improve the state’s outlook? The answer is pretty clear: The state needs to rebuild its advanced industry base by taking actions to support the expansion of new growth centers, whether in biomedical innovation, IT, defense, design and manufacturing, or the management of companies.

In our report, we have proposed a number of action steps through which the state and its private- and civic-sector partners can expand and energize Rhode Island’s existing and emerging advanced industries. Critical, in our view, are moves to increase the scale and pace of technology innovation; upgrade the tax and regulatory environment; and improve the state’s ability to act decisively. These and other actions will restore growth and improve the state’s mood.

Brookings correctly proclaims that Rhode Island needs more innovation, but its bizarre starting point is that the government must take the lead.  This is, not to be subtle, nuts.  Under none but the most delusional assessments of Rhode Island’s long decline can it be suggested that the Ocean State’s blockades to advancement come from peculiarities in the private sector.  The state’s relative tax burden doesn’t support that interpretation.  The burden of regulations and mandates doesn’t.  The competitive landscape when it comes to politics doesn’t either.

Rhode Island’s problems — the combination of existing industries’ decline and the state’s inability to chart new directions — are government made.  Yet, the answer from the Raimondo-Brookings cabal is deeper and more-comprehensive government involvement.

What’s really going on is that Rhode Island has come to the end of the road for raw central planning.  Left alone, either Rhode Island will collapse, or its people will demand the ouster of special interests.  So, those who would suffer by either of those outcomes have turned to the experts at Brookings for an approach that gives some hope that innovation might be achieved while ensuring that government makes all of the important decisions and that all of those “partners” in the private sector are wholly owned dependents of government agencies.

It won’t work.  But the lost time, the increased resources taken out of the free economy, the favorites-picking advantages that government will give some at others’ expense, and the continued exodus of the productive class as ambitious Rhode Islanders flee to other locations where they — not companies and interest groups that manage to catch the government’s eye — have more opportunity, all of these factors will make it that much more likely that we’ll experience collapse rather than freedom.

Frankly, it’s appearing that this die is cast, so we must put our hope in the possibility that, if enough of us ride out the collapse, we’ll have the opportunity for freedom and rebuilding after the pain has driven the selfish from the field.