Babbits, Boosterism, and Economic Development

I had a little conversation the other night when i went down to City Hall to testify on the Tax stabilization plan for the I-195 lands and why this type of tax break is likely to cause harm to the city. I went armed with IMF statistics about how income distribution and redistribution affects economies . The IMF stated that tax breaks for “job creators” in the top 20% of the income distribution slows an economy. A 1% tilting of income distribution towards the top 20% slows growth by .08% per year, while giving the 1% greater percentage of income distribution to the bottom 20% adds .38% a year. In other words economies grow on average .46% faster each year if they lean towards the poor and increase the poor’s share of the income distribution.

The person I had the conversation with is the director of one of the downtown boosterism organizations. They promote downtown development and get all of their funding from downtown businesses. The main job is cheerleading and then working out the details for how to transform Providence into an economic powerhouse. If you read Sinclair Lewis’s book “Babbitt” you know exactly what I mean. The whole idea that downtown development pushes economies and that everyone should be cheerleading for the rich to do more is exactly what the capitalists and the landlords want because it makes it easier for them to suck at the public teat despite evidence that it harms communities and creates a more unequal society. For which they should be ashamed. Either ashamed to call themselves capitalists if they require a subsidy from the public to perform their work or ashamed that their business model of development is such a failure and actually harms communities. And ashamed with just how little they are paying attention to the world around them. But they have no shame.

They may pay lip service to climate change, but they are not ready to retreat from the coast. They may want development, but when the IMF, World Bank and OECD all say their methods and practices are sub par and worsen problems, they are not going to give them up, despite a 50 year track record of mediocrity. So I was accused of being too negative, of trying to put the city at a competitive disadvantage, and of promoting sprawl. Yup. Promoting sprawl because I want the city to use the land to grow food rather than give money tothe rich to house businesses that are bleeding the poor. I speak truth to power and they do not know what to do with the truth. And I understand that in the 21st century subsidizing the rich for the building of buildings is what you do when you run out of ideas and have no vision on what is really needed to create prosperous communities under conditions of economic shrinkage due to ecological collapse, debt burdens, and growing inequality. Food security has no role in their economy, nor housing for the homeless unless that is what is needed to get them out of downtown.

If standing strong against stealing by the rich makes me unpopular with the Babbits of the world, I am proud to wear it. And the resistance is global.

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