In 2009, conservative political commentator Charles Krauthammer penned a column hinged on a phrase that instantly came to sound like some far-sighted aphorism from the past (emphasis added):
The question of whether America is in decline cannot be answered yes or no. There is no yes or no. Both answers are wrong, because the assumption that somehow there exists some predetermined inevitable trajectory, the result of uncontrollable external forces, is wrong. Nothing is inevitable. Nothing is written. For America today, decline is not a condition. Decline is a choice. Two decades into the unipolar world that came about with the fall of the Soviet Union, America is in the position of deciding whether to abdicate or retain its dominance. Decline–or continued ascendancy–is in our hands.
In the next paragraph, Krauthammer modifies the statement to clarify that it is not always a choice, but the example of Europe’s inevitable loss of status after two world wars only changes the point at which the choice was made and by whom. Somewhere, in every set of political, social, and cultural decisions is a path of choices toward continued prosperity. We can debate how obvious the options are, at any given point in the flow of history, but that does not change the fact that they are, indeed, options.
An analysis that I’ve written for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity finds that Rhode Island’s General Assembly is choosing decline for the state that its members were elected to govern. The analysis reviews the fiscal year 2013 budget in the context of the Center’s “Report Card on Competitiveness.” Looking at new policy in the light of a prior list of ratings has a clarifying effect.
The plain reality is that Rhode Island is on the bad side of so many lists that it really doesn’t have areas of strength to compromise for the benefit of areas of weakness. Increasing debt for education might make sense if our debt were low, but it is not. Implementing tolls to maintain infrastructure would be reasonable if residents weren’t already taxed and feed in so many burdensome ways already. The only room for play is in reductions size and appetite of state and local governments.
What the budget did was to maintain the status quo in spending and government growth at the expense of the very people whom the state needs in order to break its decline. There is hardly even a pretense of concern for Rhode Islanders striving to build lives here.
There is nothing inevitable about the direction in which Rhode Island is headed. However, turning around will require the deliberate choice to do so.