Planning According to the Speaker’s Interests

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In my Watchdog essay, yesterday, I mentioned the support that Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston) has expressed for moving the minor-league Pawsox baseball team to Providence as an example of attempted “quality of life” economic development.  Today, I see in a Kate Nagle interview that Mattiello is confident that he’s negotiating such a great deal that the stadium, of itself, will be a profitable venture for taxpayers.

The primary question that comes to mind is:  Why do the team’s owners need public backing, then?  If this is such a sure thing, why aren’t investors lining up to get a piece of the action?

The next question is why this should be the government’s business even if the stadium and any spillover economic activity create a profit for the state government.  This gets back to central planners’ preferred notion of economic development.

The central planners’ reasoning goes something like this: The economy and businesses require people, and people don’t work and advance the economy for the sake of money, per se.  They want money in order to do things and live full lives.  So, if the government can figure out how to provide those attractions, then the economy will grow, and the area will be a better place to live for everybody.

Of course, people differ greatly in their lives and in their interests, sometimes in conflicting ways.  Writing about cities, Joel Kotkin suggests that hip young professionals in flashy industries need “good restaurants, shops and festivals,” not family-oriented stores and kiddie museums.  They won’t, therefore, be much help pushing back against powerful interests like teachers’ unions, which can undermine the interests of not-as-hip older professionals with children.  Balancing so many interests is impossibly complex.

Rhode Islanders should be very skeptical about promises that the government has found a profitable new venture — think everything from 38 Studios to HealthSource RI.  More generally, we should insist that the government stop trying to be the guiding force for our state.



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