To Whom Is Central Planning Useful?


Ted Nesi is striving to keep the forthcoming Brookings Institution report about Rhode Island as an open question.  That’s an understandable — responsible — approach, considering that the fact of the study was just announced and it’ll be the better part of a year before there are results to report.

That said, I’d encourage Rhode Islanders to push their assumptions one more step and question those, too.  Here’s Nesi:

Hopefully the $1.3 million being spent on the report – paid for by foundations and a few wealthy Gina Raimondo supporters – will at least buy some robust new data about the state’s present economic condition.  Beyond that, the onus will be on Brookings to show why this report’s recommendations will be more useful than those in all the reports that came before it. … They could provide a useful service if they tell it like it is.

The question is:  A useful service to whom?  Somehow, I don’t think the people funding the report are planning to offload some of the market research expenses from private businesses and individuals.  That means the report will mainly be useful to the wealthy, powerful interests who are taking it upon themselves to contrive a detailed direction for the whole state.

And it’s not even just the state.  Consider another item from Nesi’s Saturday column:

Also on the topic of economic development, Congressman Joe Kennedygave a noteworthy speech last month that called for local leaders to start thinking beyond the borders of their two states. … His idea, he said, is “about starting to rethink the way we pursue economic development on the South Coast. Leveraging the assets and strengths of this region in a comprehensive, collective way. Treating Fall River, New Bedford, Attleboro, Taunton, Tiverton and Providence not as isolated silos, but as a combined economic force.”

Who will make decisions for this “combined economic force”?  In Tiverton, for example, residents just blocked a major development along Route 24 next to the Sakonnet River Bridge; a year ago, they played a large role in reversing the push for tolls on that bridge.  Next year, they’ll likely decide yea or nay on a casino on the border (with early indications giving the better odds to yea). One can disagree with any of these results, but the opinions of local residents ought to have more sway than the state government’s, let alone the demands of some regional coalition or authority.

Yeah, maybe lightning could strike for Southern New England, and (despite its historical record of corruption) the machinations of influential people could create a global dynamo.  If that’s the vision, though, how could a few hundred people in a high school auditorium be permitted to wield a veto?

  • Phil Hirons Jr

    Would answering your headline with “The Central Planners” be too sarcastic?