May 26, 2008

Palatable Decline

Justin Katz

It's a small thing, to be sure, but a comment that Ian Donnis made to his own recent post on economic development in Rhode Island points to an increasingly sore spot:

... hopefully the effort to promote "green jobs," which I've written about previously in the Phoenix, will also yield dividends.

It is not my intention to single out Ian — who is among the more reasonable of his ideological species — but here's a radical thought: How about we just try to create jobs, in general? Isn't the horrible state of our state such that we'd be well advised to avoid burdening its economic health with adjectives?

With the fad of "green jobs," echoed in Ian's reference to the Greenhouse Compact from the '80s, it seems that those on the left are less concerned with job creation than making the ideological most of an opportunity to promise any economic development at all — in this case, to leverage the thirst for work in order to promote the Kool Aid of environmentalism. The reason, it seems clear to me, even if it isn't of conscious origin for Leftists, is that they are opposed to taking those steps that would promote a generally business-friendly environment, so they cast their hopes on "inventing" or (more often) "reinventing" the market to suit their preferences.

They do not want to tell the unionists that the state can no longer afford to pay more for their work than it's worth, in market terms, neither do they wish to admit to civic dependents that, well, sorry, but the state of Rhode Island really isn't in the best position to sustain them, just now. So, to make the necessary investments — and allow the necessary reality of "high-paying jobs" — palatable, they insert that immunizing adjective: "green." They allow themselves to believe that, with just the right mix of incentives, a government-driven industry will materialize that provides high-paying union jobs, while filling the government's coffers with redistributable revenue, all with the ecological boon of saving Mother Nature from the ravages of mankind's selfishness.

I hate to go all capitalist populist on y'all, but it seems to me that anybody who's currently struggling to stay working in a state and at a time of shrinking employment probably doesn't care much for any green but the hue of cash. High paying, low paying, most of them probably agree with me that the time to embark upon "a strategic repositioning of the local economy," in Ian's words, is when things are going well. Not when people are watching as the local economy drains their lives of everything that they've worked so hard to build.

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Apparently the contagion that is 'Global Warming' is spreading once again. We have give Jupiter Global Warming Disease. Since we all know it's Man-made and there aren't any men (that we know of) on Jupiter, it MUST be our fault.

Posted by: Greg at May 26, 2008 9:07 AM

Instead of "Green Development" in RI we need "Wal-Mart Developmnet," i.e., "everyday low prices" and "falling prices" for government (taxes).

Then employers of all sizes and industries can establish themselves here, and have a fighting chance of flourishing.

Of course, the lefties hate Wal-Mart, particularly the unions ... and they'll hate "Wal-Mart Development" because they are loathe to cut the size and scope of government.

To them, better that RI ends up resembling Detroit than the Carolinas.

I was near Research Triangle Park / Raleigh-Durham last week, as a matter of fact. SMOOTH roads, lots of economic vibrancy even in a downward national economy.

The sheeple that inhabit the General Assembly, indeed every Rhode Islander, should take a "field trip" there. Part of the problem in this state is that we're so acclimated to poor conditions that it seems normal. Traveling to RTP or Atlanta is a real revelation - for once one witnesses a vibrant economy and good infrastructure, one realizes that it is not normal and does not have to be this way.

BTW, someone there told me that public sector unions aren't allowed in North Carolina. I submit that there's a correlation between their lower taxes, vibrant economy and smooth roads and the lack of unions.

The Rustbelt and Northeast with high union densities have been in economic decline for some time, while the hardly unionized Sunbelt has been growing.

Posted by: Tom W at May 26, 2008 10:49 AM

>>Traveling to RTP or Atlanta is a real revelation - for once one witnesses a vibrant economy and good infrastructure, one realizes that it is not normal and does not have to be this way.

I should have said:

"Traveling to RTP or Atlanta is a real revelation - for once one witnesses a vibrant economy and good infrastructure, one realizes that Rhode Island's condition is not normal and it does not have to be this way."

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Posted by: Tom W at May 26, 2008 10:53 AM


Your commentary is spot on. The term "green jobs" is the latest leftist talking points 'punch line' for economists like Ian Donnis. lol
Was amusing to read the Monday morning Democratic party controlled gossip column known as the Projo's Political Scene. Seems the big priority of those charged with 'a strategic repositioning of our local economy' is how to get out of Dodge by June 20th.
What vision! lol

Posted by: Tim at May 26, 2008 11:22 AM

I guess green jobs don't count as real jobs. But hey, they give us another opportunity to take a cheapie at unions.
Tim, beg to differ. Getting these guys out of Dodge by June 20 may not be such a bad idea...before they can do any further damage. Do you really want this crew making mischief through the summer?

Posted by: rhody at May 26, 2008 11:40 AM

All green jobs are jobs but not all jobs need be GREEN jobs. Right now beggars can't be choosers.

Posted by: Greg at May 26, 2008 12:11 PM

Justin, it seems like cherry-picking in the extreme to call me out for a comment that relates to a much larger piece -- about RI's struggle, over decades, for economic development -- that inspired the comment. Sure, this can inspire a little shooting-fish-in-the-barrel brio for such members of the chorus as Tim, but it conveniently overlooks how the longer piece talks about the tax-cost climate, among other factors, in examining tha why the state is where it is.

Posted by: Ian at May 26, 2008 5:09 PM

Now hold on a second there, Ian.

First of all, I was explicit about the limited scope and applicability of my commentary.

Second of all, your "much larger piece" wasn't an opinion piece. Therein, you did an admirable job summing up different points of view, but when you began to express your own opinions in the comment to your blog post, you didn't say: "Well, I'm hopeful that my unionist friends will find a way to decrease their demands and that our necessary cuts to public services will inspire people to look for work, whether here or elsewhere." You said, "hopefully the effort to promote 'green jobs,' ... will also yield dividends."

So, I don't see the relevance of your complaint... unless you wish to explain why your piece shouldn't be taken as reportage, but as commentary.

Posted by: Justin Katz at May 26, 2008 5:49 PM

To suggest that "green jobs" are one potentially fruitful avenue for economic development in RI, to me, does not seem like a wholehearted embrace of the union agenda.

Posted by: Ian at May 27, 2008 11:46 AM

Actually unions across the nation are pushing "green jobs" - presumably as a front for public works projects with project labor agreements / prevailing wage - which means that unions get the work and taxpayers foot the higher cost.

In any case, why would any private sector "green" company locate in Rhode Island?

As with non-green companies, they'd still confront one of the worst business climates in the nation:

1) corrupt legislature (with a national reputation for same);

2) high taxes (an well paid executive or owner would be nuts to have their taxable income generated in RI);

3) unskilled workforce (result of poor public education system - which also means that their skilled employees who want a good education for their own children will have to foot the bill for private tuition);

4) general animosity against business (RI is still living in the 1930's industrial mindset of "labor vs. capital") coupled with union control and welfare industry of the legislature;

5) fiscal time bomb of billions of dollars in unfunded public sector pension and other retirement benefits, meaning an ever-escalating tax burden.

Posted by: Tom W at May 27, 2008 1:33 PM


"Hope" is the state motto.

Yet most of the disincentives to which you refer are cited in my "Why can't anyone here play this game?" article -- the same one that helped kick off this discussion.

The circle is complete.

Posted by: Ian at May 27, 2008 3:26 PM


Your piece was well written and reasonably balanced (high praise indeed from this vast right-wing conspiracy guy).

Ultimately the proof is in the pudding. The Northeast overall has been in decline for decades (other than the tech bubble around Rt. 128, doesn't most of NE resemble Springfield / Hartford / New Bedford etc.)? Rhode Island, other than some pretty facades, has been among the leaders in decline.

Note the article by Arthur Laffer that appeared in the Wall Street Journal last fall called "The Tax War Between the States" (or something to that effect).

As described in that article, the Sunbelt has been burgeoning over this same period. Institutions, businesses and individuals all act in their economic self-interest, and today that means locating in the Sunbelt, if possible.

Bob Walsh was quoted in your article as saying that RI could never compete with the low taxes of the South. To which I reply: why not? Heck, the Northeast state of NH does fine without a sales or income tax.

There is no inherent reason why RI cannot be competitive with other parts of the United States. (BTW, you should look at the graph tracking the RI state budget that is archived under the "Rhode Island Red" section of the Ocean State Republican web site - it is a real eye-opener!!!)

But to become competitive would require the kind of steps that Bob Walsh and his union peers, along with the ever-expanding welfare industry, would not like.

Therein lies the rub. We either continue as we have, and continue our relative decline (with occasional counter-trend spurts of growth) ... or make the major structural changes necessary to shed decades of accumulated (bad) political and policy decisions.

Rhode Island has tremendous potential. Notwithstanding that, I remain profoundly pessimistic regarding this State and its future. Why? Because for the foreseeable future the necessary change can only be accomplished IF the leadership of the RI Democratic Party supports it.

Yet I don't see any sign that they are prepared to end their traditional fealty (indeed subservience) to the special interests that bankroll them (the public sector unions which recycle tax receipts into public payrolls into union dues and then into campaign contributions) ... or that special interest with which it feels intellectual kinship (the welfare industry that consumes ever-increasing amounts of money, yet only seems capable of growing ranks of "the needy").

Posted by: Tom W at May 27, 2008 6:06 PM

Thanks for the kind words, Tom. We can agree that more urgency and new efforts are sorely needed to drive forward economic development in RI.

Posted by: Ian at May 27, 2008 9:58 PM
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