An Upside-Down Reform
I’ve got a piece in the current Providence Business news that takes issue with some well-intentioned strategies for reforming Rhode Island (ignore the title given to the essay; it’ll only confuse):
The citizenry — the bought and paid, the apathetic, the ideologically blinkered — is ultimately the problem, and changing its civic habits must be the focus of long-lasting reforms.
Every component of the top-down reformers’ strategy is antithetical to the cause of an engaged populace and an innovative marketplace. Consolidated government functions move decision-making farther from individual voters and diminish the authority of local officials, leaving a gap for those who might consider a transition into public service. Tax code gimmicks heighten the financial learning curve, rather than simplifying the back-office demands of business, and might actually increase the cost of opening a shop and keeping it going.
As for unprecedented big-dollar hires, as exemplified by Ms. Morfessis and Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, the risks are manifold. At the outset, one must take into account the demoralization of struggling residents as they watch a budget-busting government actually increase its high-end pay scales. Disregarding the impression caused by such news hardly alleviates apathy and cynicism, even as it erroneously declares the importance of saviors over foot soldiers.
Centralization may look attractive, but there are compelling reasons to resist the urge. The theme related to my essay in the current Rhode Island Catholic. I can’t help but see something sinister in the continual lure to consolidate power, such that only a few need to be corrupted for it to be misused dreadfully.