Things We Read Today (17), Weekend


Returning Civilization to Nature Before the End of the World

Mark Patinkin doesn’t give the impression that he noticed just how profound the key sentence of his column today really is. The essay is titled “Rocky Point’s journey back to its natural beauty,” and it’s about government’s buying up the waterfront acres of land that were long host to an amusement park mainly for use as an open-space “shoreline jewel open to the public.”  I’ve emphasized the key sentence in the following blockquote:

There’s an excellent documentary about Rocky Point by local filmmaker Dave Bettencourt. The film mentions that the land there began its journey toward development in 1865 when it was sold to a visionary named Bryan Sprague. He began putting amusements there and by the late 1800s, it was indeed the Universal Studios of its era, drawing folks from around the country.

Granted, by the end of its run in 1995, the park was well past its tourist-attraction heyday, but the transformation of a jewel “drawing folks from around the country” into a park likely to be enjoyed by a relatively small segment of the local population is indicative of Rhode Island’s continuing economic problems.  I wouldn’t go so far as to oppose open space, but it should at least be a subject of public discussion — by the state’s top columnists and at Make It Happen RI-type events — whether the state can afford to use public funds to take so much prime real estate out of the picture.

It says something about the state’s mentality that, when one of its economic icons collapses, its solution is to do to the land what nature will do to all of civilization in the centuries after its collapse.

RI’s Haves, Have-Nots, and See-Yas

The tale of Rocky Point has echoes in the front-page above-the-fold story in today’s Providence Journal about the capital city’s disproportionately lucrative arts scene:

 Statistics published by the advocacy group Americans for the Arts confirm that impression. The group’s fourth Arts and Economic Prosperity report, a study of 182 cities, states and regions, released in June, stated that the economic impact of nonprofit arts and culture in Providence alone totals $190 million a year. That was more than the entire states of Delaware, Hawaii, South Dakota or New Hampshire — all with more people than Providence. (New Hampshire and Hawaii, for example, each have about 1.3 million residents.)

That’s wonderful, but like open space at Rocky Point, this aspect of Rhode Island’s “quality of life” is mainly of value to those who aren’t struggling to find work and build families in the state with the nation’s worst employment circumstances.  Add this to the list of factors that the Rhode Island establishment is conspicuously not interested in discussing when doing its rain-dance performance for a better economy.  The ways we handle the aspects of our state that we all like can tell us as much about our problems as our failure to address the aspects that we all recognize as problematic.

Punching above our weight class in arts and culture is certainly a feather in Rhode Island’s cap, but it’s not a sufficient basis for the state’s economy.  And to the extent that such successes distract attention from analysis of the things that we need to change, as a state, to turn things around, they harm the majority of Rhode Islanders.

One characterization that I’ve heard about Rhode Island with relative frequency is that it’s a fading playground for the rich.  By that term, I include those who are able to make special deals for themselves within the insider system, even if they aren’t “rich” by a bank-account measure.  Again, those who can’t afford the time or money to partake of the state’s publicly subsidized cultural offerings derive no real value from them at all, which might help to explain why so many people are leaving.

Playing with Money Can’t Save the Economy

These comments on the Federal Reserve’s continued quantitative easing, by Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President and CEO Richard Fisher, are more relevant to the first two items of this column than at first may appear to be the case.  Here’s what I take to be the critical bit:

One of the most important lessons learned during the economic recovery is that there is a limit to what monetary policy alone can achieve. The responsibility for stimulating economic growth must be shared with fiscal policy. Ironically, and sadly, Congress is doing nothing to incent job creators to use the copious liquidity the Federal Reserve has provided. Indeed, it is doing everything to discourage job creation. Small wonder that the respondents to my own inquires and the NFIB and Duke University surveys are in “stall” or “Velcro” mode.

To some degree, our continuing economic hardship can be seen as a problem of faulty metaphors and too-pat economic theory.  Increasing the amount of cash in the system, even though it ultimately lowers the value of each dollar, is meant to increase “liquidity” so as to increase the “velocity” with which dollars move.  If nobody is dispensing their wine, pouring water in it can make them feel like their vessels are full and can stand some emptying, and the fluid in the flue must flow faster.

But these are all just metaphors loosely representing economic decisions.  Digitally created money doesn’t take up any space, so there’s no motivation to disperse it with any greater zeal than was economically desirable previously.

Meanwhile, pouring borrowed money into the economy to get spending flowing by increasing “aggregate demand” is akin to pouring the watered-down wine on the ground.  It does no good unless the soil is fertile and seeded; there has to be something in the economy to grow.

The impression that the ruling class has given is that they thought they had the economy all figured out.  Increase the volume of dollars and jump-start the economy by rolling it down a government-created hill of spending.  That’ll do it; on to imposing our policies on the nation.

But the car is busted, and the passengers can’t think of anywhere to go, anyway.

The Cost-Increasing Money Saver

Remember, during the summer of health care town halls, when digital medical records were presented as one cost-saving measure to offset the burden of ObamaCare?  Here’s a blurb from my liveblog of the town hall held by RI’s U.S. Senators Reed and Whitehouse in 2009:

Whitehouse expressed that the reform is intended to make the system better, more efficient, and even more super duper. When asked how Congress will pay for it, he brought up digital medical records. First of all, can’t that be done on its own? Second of all, is that really the big plan for saving money to pay for a public option et al.

Well, about that:

… in reality, the move to electronic health records may be contributing to billions of dollars in higher costs for Medicare, private insurers and patients by making it easier for hospitals and physicians to bill more for their services, whether or not they provide additional care.

As I suggested in the comments to Marc Comtois’s related Anchor Rising post, this isn’t all necessarily fraud.  Digitizing makes it possible for doctors and technicians to remind themselves to perform certain tasks in similar cases, and there’s also the fact that easier recording and billing eliminates a psychological hurdle for charging for services that professionals may have been performing without noting them down.

Whatever the case, it still appears that nothing beats actual reform that reworks incentives.  As with quantitative easing, gimmicks and schemes don’t seem to be a workaround for human nature.

Making Fossils Through Doom

Just had to note some commentary on the possible effects of the Environmental Protection Agency’s “war on coal”:

Look, folks, I am in this field. I have been for more than 30 years. Losing 36,000 MWs of the most cost-efficient generation capacity in the US is a disaster. You have no idea how bad the increases are going to be. They will be disastrous to the individual energy consumers and apocalyptic to large users – those who create jobs.

I shudder to think of what this is going to do to grid reliability as well.

Brace yourselves.

What’s the Fact, Here?

So, apparently, PolitiFact RI’s standard has now become that “Mostly False” means “entirely true, but we disagree with the insinuation” — at least when the speaker is a conservative Republican and the insinuation is against a favored Democrat.