Clarke Ryder: RhodeMap RI: Déjà Vu All Over Again

RI Millennials may have never heard of Yogi Berra, the iconic NY Yankee manager.  Besides his storied baseball career, Yogi was a wordsmith. He’s best known for “it’s déjà vu all over again,” and I thought of Yogi when I read about RI’s RhodeMap RI initiative. 

In 1984, a similar plan burst upon the scene, authored by brilliant Brown University graduate and Rhodes Scholar Ira Magaziner.  Columnist Jonah Goldberg described Ira in his 2007 book Liberal Fascism, outlining the origins of Progressivism in America.

In the ’80s Japan could do no wrong and was on the verge of world economic dominance.  This became clear when real property in Tokyo became worth more than California.

Goldberg notes that “in the 1980s envy for corporatist ‘Japan Inc.’ reached delirious proportions.  The intellectual descendants of those who worshipped Bismarck’s Prussia and Mussolini’s Ministry of Corporations now fell under the spell of Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry … these included Ira Magaziner and Robert Reich.”

Goldberg describes Magaziner’s meteoric career, including advising an early ’90s attempt by President Bill and Hillary “to control one-seventh of the US economy … Hillary tapped her old friend  — and Bill’s Rhodes scholar pal — Ira Magaziner to head up her Health Reform Task Force … it became inevitable that a large, government-run, corporatist product would come out of the sausage maker. Why? Because that’s what Magaziner does. The scorpion must sting the frog, and Magaziner must propose sweeping new public-private partnerships where experts make all the big decisions.”

In 1983, the so-called RI Strategic Development Commission, with Ira Magaziner at the helm, put together “the most exhaustive analysis ever undertaken by a state to examine its economic future.”

Ignoring as always the age-old aphorism that “brevity is the soul of wit,” Ira produced a two-volume, 900-page report titled “The Greenhouse Compact,” which called for government-private partnerships to improve RI’s “greater prosperity.”  It was a top-down, government-by-experts, corporatist, industrial policy approach to support some industries, attract new ones, and let the deadwood drop by the wayside.

In early 1984, the report became legislation involving a June 4 statewide referendum.  It included a bond issue.  One of Brown’s economics professors figured the plan would cost the state $233,000,000 in principal and interest.  Few of the state legislators ever read the 900-page report or calculated the eventual cost.  But dazzled by Magaziner and Fleet Chairman Terry Murray, they voted for it. 

When the compact was first introduced, a few of us small business guys smelled a rat.  We saw a top-down scheme to get RI taxpayers to fund an unproven, utopian scheme to shape government by experts who would pick winners and losers, a plan somehow related to Japan’s corporatist industrial policy. 

We knew the General Assembly had failed over the years to create a sound economic environment for our state.  Handing them a quarter of a billion 1984 dollars was insane.  The plan was also suspiciously political, in that a June 4 referendum, traditionally held in November, was only 30 days before the 1984 Democratic National Convention. 

Our opposition drew some unlikely allies into a political action effort called Common Sense.  It was backed by the Journal’s financial page editor, Brown University economists, future Tea Party folks, and many small businessmen.  We voiced our dogged opposition to the scheme from January to June.  The pro-Contract statewide referendum failed by nearly 4:1. Terry Murray, the tough-as-nails former hockey player, said afterward he had never been beaten so badly in his life.

Enter RhodeMap RI, another top-down plan originating at the United Nations as Agenda 21.  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) adopted the approach as a way to promote “sustainable development.”  RhodeMap RI calls itself an economic development plan, a housing plan, and a plan to create “growth centers” in Rhode Island. 

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity says that “RhodeMap RI is an unproven, high-risk, one-size-fits-all, nationalized agenda that is being forced upon RI-ers.  The sustainable development — or ‘smart growth’ — principles that create the foundation for this plan are nothing but idealistic social-engineering theories … In fact it is a core foundation of sustainable development that private land ownership is a major factor contributing to social injustice.”

Own your own home?  You’re probably a racist.

The 1984 Greenhouse Compact and today’s RhodeMap RI have some things in common:

  1. Both were created by outside “experts.”  The plans have been proven failures where attempted.
  2. Both are utopian, political, and involve social engineering and ignore sound economic principles.  Both are fundamentally crackpot ideas. 
  3. Both are taxpayer-funded.  Three quarters of a billion in current dollars for the Greenhouse.  The cost of RhodeMap RI is unknown.  
  4. Neither is authorized by the U.S. or RI Constitutions, and both infringe upon the rights of free people.

With respect to RhodeMap RI, Yogi Berra did not say “when in doubt, don’t,” but he might have.


Clarke Ryder, a 1961 Brown graduate, was for many years a Rhode Island boatbuilder and was the organizer of Common Sense, a 1984 political action group to successfully oppose the Greenhouse Compact.

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