Underlying the Brookings Economic Development Philosophy

One paragraph, in particular, is worth examination in an op-ed that Brookings Institution scholars Mark Muro and Bruce Katz published in the Sunday Providence Journal, yesterday:

[Rhode Island] needs to improve its ability to act. Currently, Rhode Island frequently undercuts itself with self-destructive turf squabbles and fragmentation. One response: Rhode Island leaders should create a formal Partnership for Rhode Island. Composed of top business and civic leaders, it would rebuild a collaborative ethos and channel private and civic capital and expertise into critical initiatives. State governments do not rebuild economies — people, as part of networks of public, private, civic and university institutions, do.

As my own recent Providence Journal op-ed suggested, the language the Brookings crew uses seems like it could dovetail nicely with the free-market view, but that’s a trickery of the language; the differences are massive and fundamental.  Note, in particular, that they don’t write that people “rebuild economies” without limiting the term to those people who are “part of networks of public, private, civic and university institutions.”  Sure, people in such networks grow the economy, but so do people out of them.  Whereas a free marketer would suggest that people should be free to experiment and find the most efficient ways to accomplish what they want to accomplish, Brookings and the state government of Rhode Island are only comfortable allowing that to happen with the oversight of an established “network,” which they (or at least Bruce Katz) believe ought to put government at the forefront, leading on “what matters.”

The Brookings talk about “self-destructive turf squabbles and fragmentation” might also sound similar to principles espoused by some conservatives, but when conservatives use such phrases, they typically mean to indict the inefficiencies of government.  Outside of government, in the private marketplace, “turf squabbles and fragmentation” are better known as freedom and competition.  That’s what drives the economy forward, inspiring dedication and innovation.

All that stuff about “a collaborative ethos” that “channel[s] private and civic capital and expertise into critical initiatives” sounds good, but it glosses over the implicit necessity that somebody has to decide which initiatives are critical before directing “decisive” resources to it.  (“Decisive” is the term used in the Brookings report.)  One might call that a cartel.

In this context, Rhode Island isn’t an “it.”  It’s an “us.”  Our governor and her Washington, D.C., and Wall Street pals want Rhode Island to be an it, rather than an us, because they know they’ll be at the top of an it, making decisions for all of us.

Rhode Islanders and their representatives should decline to go along.

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