Under Sgouros’s Tapestry
I recently managed to work my to-read pile of books down to Rhode Island 101, and I’ll have more to say about it when I manage to work my to-write pile down that far. For the moment, though, it’s relevant to note that the two commentary boxes offered in the “Economy” chapter are provided by two of the state’s most active and extreme left-wingers, Josh Miller and Tom Sgouros. For his part, Sgouros takes the opportunity to push a “Top Five Myths About the Rhode Island Political Economy,” the first of which is as follows:
1. Rhode Island’s fiscal troubles stem from overindulgence towards unions and poor people. While personnel costs can’t be ignored, the real culprit for our fiscal troubles is the 40-year building spree that suburbanized our state. Growing towns could finance services from the growth, which is fine, but only until the growth stops, which it has. Moreover, shrinking older cities saw their property tax bases decline, and when people fled Providence, Woonsocket, Westerly and even Newport, many of the suburbs they found were in another state.
The general response that I would make is that, while population is an inevitable occurance, it isn’t exculpatory. It’s a factor that public policy must manage, and indeed, the failure of the state’s leadership to force adjustment among public sector workers and to address the role that welfare policies have played in affecting who migrates where are the key contributors to fiscal difficulties from a public-policy perspective.
But I bring up this first point of five that are eminently arguable because it relates to a response to Sgouros’s recent op-ed that C. Kevin McCarthy submitted as a letter to the editor:
[Sgouros] trots out the tired old chestnut that the Blackstone Valley was a wealthy place in the 1950s based on its “taxable property per student in its schools.”
That is true only if pertinent details are willfully omitted. Taxable property per student ignores the many being educated by Bishop McVinney in the parochial-school system, at no cost to the taxpayer. Central Falls probably did have a high expenditure per “public”-school student in the 1950s.
When I was a student there in the 1960s, Notre Dame, Sacred Heart Academy, Holy Trinity and St. Matthew educated more children than the public schools. This pattern repeated itself all over the Blackstone Valley. There were some pockets of wealth in the North End of Woonsocket, in Oak Hill and Pinecrest in Pawtucket, and in rural areas of Lincoln and Cumberland, but the vast majority of Valleyites were middle class at best. Tom’s misleading use of statistics won’t fool anyone who lived there.
The irony of Sgouros’s general argument is that he blames government mismanagement for urban problems but concludes that the solution is more government management. The reason is that he wants to blame the government for the free movement of Americans out of cities so that he can push policies that will force them back — the better to manage and manipulate them.
In other words, he disagrees with the view that the government’s job is to manage the society in which people actually want to live — adjusting its social and personnel policies accordingly — so that his friends in the unions and welfare industry can maintain the ground that they’ve claimed.