“Mercantilism” Revived in the Ocean State?

It continues to puzzle me why so many Rhode Islanders and Americans place their trust in a government that continually bites the hands that feed it. The recent revelations from the court documents in the 38 Studios scandal … about how crooked leaders of one branch of government conspired with corrupt leaders in other branches of government in order to secure a sweetheart deal for a third-party special interest … all with the goal of expanding the power of the state and its crony friends … oh, and damn the taxpayers. Yet not only do we taxpayers keep re-electing the same players, but we keep giving the government more and more of our money so the state can do more and more of what’s in its own interests … rather than ours.

It seems to me that for decades our Rhode Island government, and continued under the current administration, has revived a form of a centuries-old practice called mercantilism. Mercantalism was an economic system whose purpose was to build a wealthy and powerful nation state. This system dominated Western Europe from the sixteenth to the late eighteenth centuries. Its goal was, supposedly, to maintain domestic employment. However, in reality, the mercantile system served the interests of the state and of the special interest merchants, whose activities were protected or encouraged by the state’s rulers; the state in turn was interested in blocking competition from other countries. Such protections, that would benefit preferred insiders by limiting competition, of course, came at the expense of the everyday guy.

Rhode Island style mercantilism also sees our own government acting to protect itself — and its friends — only in our case, from private sector competition from our own in-state businesses. This governmental corruption and overreach crowds out the private sector, while building more and more economic and political power within the state government itself. Precisely 180 degrees opposite from how government should work.

Making the situation in Rhode Island even more disturbing, is the growing trend of the state unilaterally implementing major public policy mandates, largely benefiting itself and its mercantile friends and other special interest agendas, without due democratic process. The “I know a guy” stigma that has made Rhode Island infamous has systematically evolved into a well-oiled, corrupt engine of government.

Some have suggested to me that this backward form of government should be called special interest politics, crony capitalism, tyranny, despotism, socialism, or even fascism. Perhaps it could also be called mercantilism? Whatever it’s called, there are few who would disagree that, like mercantilism itself, this corrupt form of insider politics in Rhode Island should be re-deposited onto history’s pile of failed economic systems.

The era of government acting to grow its own power as its primary goal must come to end. But it will never happen until voters learn to take back power for themselves.

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