So Much Study of a Top-Down Economic Program Already Under Way

There sure are a lot of folks who want to offer Rhode Islanders helpful advice on how they should give government, non-profit, and business leaders expanded resources and authority to make decisions for all of us.  First came a group of wealthy Gina Raimondo backers and their hired think-tankers at Brookings, and now, according to Kate Bramson in the Providence Journal, the Fed wants to get in on the action:

The Boston Fed’s team will collaborate with an unspecified number of Rhode Island cities and towns to use national research it conducted to help struggling communities recover economically, said Tamar Kotelchuck, director of the Boston Fed’s Working Cities Initiatives.  The program in Massachusetts has tackled workforce development, community development and education initiatives in six cities, but it’s too soon to say exactly what the focus might be in Rhode Island. Kotelchuck said it’s likely that workforce development will be one area of focus here, but others may emerge after more study.

Funny how everybody’s got the same basic blueprint:

Working Cities research has shown several factors help cities maintain or recover their economic stability — including collaborative leadership, the role of anchor institutions, investment in infrastructure and the extension of benefits to the entire community. But “collaborative leadership” — the ability to work together across sectors over a sustained period of time with a comprehensive vision — was found to be most crucial.

That passive voice — “was found to be” — is instructive.  “Found to be” by whom?  A quick look through some of the materials on the Boston Fed’s Web site for this initiative reveals that “collaborative leadership” is actually one of the goals of the project.  It isn’t surprising, therefore, that the organization would find it to be crucial.  This report, in particular, brings around some familiar verbiage:

Most importantly, [in the comparatively few places that have succeeded in making the transition from distressed to revitalized,] public officials, private sector employers, and nonprofit institutions need to coalesce around a long-term vision and collaborate for a sustained period of time in implementing broad-based revitalization strategies.

Translation: Insiders agree on a vision for the whole community and use the levers of government, non-profits, and business to make sure the people don’t disrupt the plan.  This is precisely the vision that Brookings has articulated, and the mechanisms that the Fed suggests read like the menu of the programs that Governor Raimondo and the General Assembly have empowered the state’s new Commerce Secretary to implement, using $80 million of our money claimed through a fancy refinancing deal.

In addition to the similarity of all of these plans note something else:  Raimondo began implementing it before the all this high-profile studying had begun.  Anybody who thinks this initiative begins with the actual people of Rhode Island, our needs, and our hopes and dreams is being profoundly misled.


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