A Political Litmus Test for RI Economic Development


When people criticize government-centric approaches to economic development, making reference to officials’ picking “winners and losers,” they’re usually thinking in economic terms.  People elected or appointed to government office shouldn’t be expected to be clairvoyant investors of the public’s money, able to spot opportunities with an unfailing eye that would win them fortunes in the private sector.

Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s response to the in thing for left-wing governors and mayors — banning official travel to North Carolina as punishment for that state’s different conclusions on social issues — suggests that there’s another danger of government-centric economic development about which we haven’t been sufficiently concerned, so far:

… Raimondo, a Democrat, on Wednesday said she would call PayPal and other progressive-leaning businesses about expanding in Rhode Island after the California-based internet payment company canceled a planned operations center in Charlotte over the North Carolina law.

“I am calling all of them,” Raimondo said about businesses upset with the North Carolina law, which would prohibit local anti-discrimination protections and force transgender people to use bathrooms in public buildings that match the gender of their birth. “I am saying to them we are a place of openness and tolerance in Rhode Island and it is a progressive place to start a business.”

As the quasi-public Commerce Corporation disperses its multi-million-dollar economic development slush fund, how much weight will it put on the degree to which applicants are “progressive-leaning businesses”?  Perhaps more importantly, when did “a progressive place to start a business” become an official part of the state’s brand?

I suppose one can’t blame the governor for trying to turn Rhode Island’s huge tax burden, invasive regulations, and thorough corruption — that is, its progressivism — into a positive, where possible, but Rhode Islanders should give due consideration to the danger of using money taken from taxpayers to push the economy in a direction that privileges companies of a particular political view.  There’s an “f” ism for that form of society.