December 23, 2009

What the EDC Can't Do

Justin Katz

Yesterday, shortly before the 5:00 hour, Dan Yorke referenced my post about the elimination of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, suggesting (in a very friendly manner) that I've lost my mind. As readily as I'll admit to my own insanity, my point is worth defending.

The critical question is what, exactly, the EDC would have to do to be successful in its mission, and Dan suggested the example of coming up with a more economically productive tax code and putting the General Assembly on the spot to enact it. There are certainly a variety of other actions that the EDC can and will take, but this one stands as an excellent test case. Putting aside private organizations, such as think tanks, that undertake such missions of their own volition, from the government's perspective, it's a political task. It belongs under the auspices of elected officials, such that the governor (say) will propose and promote a change and the General Assembly will pass or obstruct it, allowing the voters to decide whom to support.

Adding a powerless quasi-governmental agency into the mix accomplishes nothing. The politicians — who actually have the power to enact new policies — can put their fingers to the wind, enact select provisions from the proposal, and then scapegoat the EDC if things don't work out, as would surely be the case once entrenched interests distort the original, coherent plan. An even worse outcome would be if the EDC somehow managed to collect the power to enact changes over the heads of elected officials, because special interests would then have an unelected target on which to focus for lobbying and manipulation.

Apart from the EDC, Dan mentioned ending welfare-state programs as a necessary component of reform, and while I agree with that suggestion, I'd emphasize the broader necessity of eliminating the mentality that we need to be taken care of. That sort of cultural shift must start with the voters and their representatives; there is no shortcut. Setting up the EDC as a potential savior organization is at best dilatory and at worst apt to exacerbate apathy and reinforce habits of dependency.