I agree with the Providence Journal editorial board that:
Rhode Island needs a dramatic, game-changing, long-term plan to raise the bar in its public schools if the state is going to be in a position to supply the talent that 21st century businesses are looking for.
I’d say that means full school choice through education savings accounts (ESAs), while the editors likely mean another attempt at “fix the system” reforms, which have proven to be mildly effective and to have a political ceiling. But let’s put that difference of opinion aside for a more relevant, and probably deeper, one. The editorial is most useful in the direct way in which it approaches the idea of economic development from exactly the wrong angle:
There was a time when businesses chose locations for their proximity to raw materials such as lumber or copper. But “today, people are the natural resources,” Meredith Amdur, an analytics expert at the advisory firm CEB, told the newspaper. Indeed, finding the right labor pool can be the most important factor in choosing a location. Not surprisingly, regions “with fewer degree holders could struggle to attract big corporations,” the report warned.
The Projo’s approach is one in which human beings are a stationary resource akin to the natural qualities of an area and, worse, one in which it is appropriate for state government to use public schools and other programs to reshape the population to fit the interests of corporate executives.
As is usually the case, inaccurate and immoral conceptualization leads to practical difficulties. To wit, even if we train young Rhode Islanders to fit the bill of the aforesaid executives, employees remain more mobile than companies, especially young employees. For the company to move, the cost of moving to or starting up in Rhode Island would have to be less than the premium necessary to draw an expert Rhode Island workforce away.
And that’s assuming technology doesn’t shift ever so slightly in a way that makes all of that taxpayer-funded technical instruction obsolete. In other words, the assumption must be that the state’s public education system can be nimble enough and the state’s leaders sufficiently prognosticative to predict the future of the marketplace.
The basic problem is that Rhode Island’s elite, which includes the Providence Journal editorial board, doesn’t want to give up the heavy hand it has in determining what the state and its people should be like. If we’d just lower the cost and difficulty of doing business here, and if we’d just give our neighbors maximum flexibility to make decisions for themselves, including in education, then businesses for which Rhode Island makes sense for other reasons will set up shop within our borders, and those of our neighbors attracted to those industries will rush for the opportunity.
Freedom and economic health go hand in hand, and the opposing option is aristocracy and stagnation. One can only conclude that those who insist on aristocracy are actually just fine with the stagnation.