RI’s Rut Is Intellectual as Well as Economic
In a general sense, the front-page, top-of-the-fold story in the Sunday Providence Journal isn’t really news at all. Rhode Island led the region in job losses, over the last decade, and its 3.85% drop compared with a national average of 2.2%. The message to readers: get used to the pain.
Of particular concern is that the economic brain trust of the state, mostly academic economists, are offering advice that is both too sweeping and too targeted. Bryant professor Raymond Fogarty laments that “we didn’t put enough money into business development,” but also (rightly) notes that our “regulatory system is out of control.” As we’re hearing in the vague proposals that legislators have been floating, money isn’t going to come without more government strings. URI professor Edward Mazze asserts (correctly) that government doesn’t create jobs, but goes on to say that government should pursue a particular type of economy — the much-cited “knowledge economy” — by (naturally) investing more money in Mazze’s employer.
Then, there’s this common argument:
[Economic Development Corp. Director Keith] Stokes said Rhode Islanders need to realize the state is part of a regional economy, and people can move seamlessly across state borders. That means Rhode Island’s workforce training and tax structure need to be competitive with neighboring states. Unless the state has a trained workforce, Stokes said, even areas of relative success for Rhode Island in the past decade — life science, defense, finance — don’t benefit the state as much as they could.
Education is a long-term matter. Even a complete turnaround, today, would take years to change the general workforce and years more to attract businesses to employ it. With teachers’ unions that would rather risk their members’ jobs and tie up districts in court than allow their members to agree to additional support for students, it will take years of draining battle just to begin to implement a turnaround. And then, if the state doesn’t have jobs on offer, the newly competent young adults will simply cross those seamless borders.
In the short-term, who cares if Rhode Island runs that scenario in reverse — attracting well-educated employees from other states? Over time, they’ll move here, invest in the state, and help (or force) its natives to figure out how to change things for the better.
As I’ve noted before, I don’t have a fancy title, and I certainly don’t receive my paycheck from the public sector, but the answer seems simple, to me: Cut taxes. Eliminate mandates. Erase regulations. No targeted sectors or industries. No additional strings. Just a major overhaul and a big sign at the border that reads, “Open for Business.”