Against Incentivizing Cooperative Strategic Workarounds with Comprehensive Market-Driven Measurables

At the risk of repeating myself, I have to opine that one of Rhode Island’s core economic challenges is the frequency of sentences like this:

To position Rhode Island to compete successfully for jobs and investments, a new public/private economic-development partnership should be designed to implement an integrated economic-development strategy that focuses on business retention and expansion, cultivates new business startups, supports a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, develops market-driven workforce solutions to help grow the middle class, creates a robust research capability to help make better investment and policy decisions, develops a comprehensive manufacturing strategy, aligns state capital programs with economic-development strategies, develops best-in-class business information and knowledge exchanges, provides the highest level of customer service, builds on its regional economic-development assets and actively manages Rhode Island’s image and reputation in the marketplace.

Admittedly, I’ve been known to write a Melvillian paragraph from time to time, but I always try (at least) to make my endless sentences go somewhere.  At a minimum, there should be some humor in there, or a rest-stop of wordplay to persuade the reader that it’s worthwhile traveling on — perhaps rereading with justified suspicion that something worth catching might have been missed.  But that’s 109 words, a full four inches of Saturday Providence Journal column space, of the sort of technocratic jargon that leaves working self-starters rightly convinced that the underlying message is: “You’re not included.”

(Yes, I measured.)

Unfortunately, the surrounding text of Marcel Valois and Gary Sasse’s op-ed does nothing to dispel that impression.  Consider:

The current economic-development system, led by the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, should be changed from a government-dominated, reactionary model to one that operates within a strategic network of committed, innovative, collaborative and agile stakeholders from all sectors. Changing the existing institutional culture will not be easy; it will require aggressive and informed leadership from both the public and private sectors.

Leadership that focuses on results by establishing transparent and measurable outcomes, organizes disparate interests to address challenges, builds a professional management and policy team, and thinks and acts like a system.

The obvious question is what exactly a “strategic network” with the power to “organize disparate interests” as “a system” might actually be if not “government dominated.” By what lever do those leaders take control if not through a tax-funded slush fund and regulations?

To be sure, there are shades and angles, but if all Valois and Sasse are proposing is some sort of private-sector chamber or trade organization, what’s needed is a sales pitch and action, not policy rhetoric.  The only policy prescription for such an organization should be, “Hey, government! Get out of the way!”

It seems more than likely that this network would not be “government dominated” in the same way that the mafia can be said not to be dominated by its enforcers.  The made men and consiglieres may call the shots, but without the muscle, they’re just street hawkers pushing services that nobody needs or feels safe engaging.

The writers are correct, in a general way, that an “economic rebirth is achievable if Rhode Island transforms the way it thinks and acts about its economic future.”  But the “transformational change” that is needed is for Rhode Islanders to stop thinking of themselves as an it and start trusting each other to make their own leaderless paths.

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