Underlying the Brookings Economic Development Philosophy

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One paragraph, in particular, is worth examination in an op-ed that Brookings Institution scholars Mark Muro and Bruce Katz published in the Sunday Providence Journal, yesterday:

[Rhode Island] needs to improve its ability to act. Currently, Rhode Island frequently undercuts itself with self-destructive turf squabbles and fragmentation. One response: Rhode Island leaders should create a formal Partnership for Rhode Island. Composed of top business and civic leaders, it would rebuild a collaborative ethos and channel private and civic capital and expertise into critical initiatives. State governments do not rebuild economies — people, as part of networks of public, private, civic and university institutions, do.

As my own recent Providence Journal op-ed suggested, the language the Brookings crew uses seems like it could dovetail nicely with the free-market view, but that’s a trickery of the language; the differences are massive and fundamental.  Note, in particular, that they don’t write that people “rebuild economies” without limiting the term to those people who are “part of networks of public, private, civic and university institutions.”  Sure, people in such networks grow the economy, but so do people out of them.  Whereas a free marketer would suggest that people should be free to experiment and find the most efficient ways to accomplish what they want to accomplish, Brookings and the state government of Rhode Island are only comfortable allowing that to happen with the oversight of an established “network,” which they (or at least Bruce Katz) believe ought to put government at the forefront, leading on “what matters.”

The Brookings talk about “self-destructive turf squabbles and fragmentation” might also sound similar to principles espoused by some conservatives, but when conservatives use such phrases, they typically mean to indict the inefficiencies of government.  Outside of government, in the private marketplace, “turf squabbles and fragmentation” are better known as freedom and competition.  That’s what drives the economy forward, inspiring dedication and innovation.

All that stuff about “a collaborative ethos” that “channel[s] private and civic capital and expertise into critical initiatives” sounds good, but it glosses over the implicit necessity that somebody has to decide which initiatives are critical before directing “decisive” resources to it.  (“Decisive” is the term used in the Brookings report.)  One might call that a cartel.

In this context, Rhode Island isn’t an “it.”  It’s an “us.”  Our governor and her Washington, D.C., and Wall Street pals want Rhode Island to be an it, rather than an us, because they know they’ll be at the top of an it, making decisions for all of us.

Rhode Islanders and their representatives should decline to go along.



  • Rhett Hardwick

    Had to put this in here. Yesterday I went to the auto show in PVD. A conversation started up over Volvos. The guy (not connected with Volvo) went into how he preferred Sanders because he was the only confirmed Socialist. He explained to me that Communism and Christianity have the same roots. It appears that Hopedale, MA was established by communal Christians and has a statue of its leader. He went to Canada to avoid Viet Nam. But wouldn’t buy several models of Volvo because they are built in China. I tried to explain to him that Volvo is now a Chinese company. Anyway, they are still with us “communism is the better system, we just have to get it right”.

    • GaryM

      The Pilgrims were originally “Communists and Christians” when they arrived here (Communist by contract which they signed forcing them into a communal/socialist living arrangement).

      After the first 3 years of near starvation, they realized the simple fix was to break the “equity for all” contract arrangement, and allow each family to farm a portion of their allotted land for their own interests to barter for more goods and services.

      Only then did the starvation end. The Brookings crowd would seem to have preferred that the Pilgrims all died “equal”.

      • Rhett Hardwick

        Yes, that was called the “Mayflower Compact”. I think the Christian precepts of “Visit the sick, clothe the naked, feed the hungry” are meant to inspire charity, not communism. Heavily Catholic South America stayed out of WWII for several reasons, one was that the Nazis were fighting “Godless Communism”.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    Justin, I couldn’t agree with your take on the Brookings report more, but isn’t it just “you get what you pay for”. The Brookings report was commissioned by the governors, not the governed. So, who would you expect it to favor?

    • OceanStateCurrent

      Yes, it’s pretty clear what the report’s attitude is. Search it for Raimondo, and you find she’s been an A+ governor in Brookings’s eyes.

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