Rhode Island economic summit response November 2014

Inside the November 26 Providence Journal is a headline “Raimondo to hold “summit’ on the economy”. The article goes on to report on the Rhode Island jobs crisis and how convening the same people who got us into this mess will provide the solution. Sorry, but if you have seen one press release on an economic summit, you have seen them all.

The “leaders” Governor elect Raimondo will convene have been convened before and will offer up the same old tired solutions. The will tell us to reduce taxes, loosen regulations, and support meds, eds, real estate speculation, and entrepreneurship. We have heard this before, and it has not worked yet.

The reason it has not worked is not that we do not follow the prescription despite what the “leaders will tell us. Rather it is does not work because it is the wrong reading of the economy and where it will go on the trip to prosperity for Rhode Islanders. Making it easier to build in wetlands simply floods the towns downstream.

In order to bring prosperity to Rhode Island communities development must be focused on ecological healing and economic justice. You can not separate these concepts, but for clarity, lets start with economic justice. Economic development is not a top down process. It is a bottom up process that must be done in ways that communities are comfortable with. Communities have the right to say no to inappropriate projects, and we must remember how many boondoggles have been foisted upon Rhode Islanders when they are not consulted, and how often we have saved the state’s bacon when we have risen up and demanded to be consulted.

The second part of justice is that inequality in the economy is one of the things that weighs us down. It is only when the bottom 50% are doing well that the community thrives. The World Bank has found that in low income communities, the removal of community assets by the rich contributes to impoverishment. Gentrification does not help our communities, it is just another form of deportation.

As for ecological healing, climate change is changing everything. Clean energy is on everyone’s agenda, and it should be, but we need to focus even more attention on food security. Even the Pentagon knows that droughts in key agricultural areas are sending upheavals around the planet. The Arab Spring was sparked when grain shortages due to drought and fires in Russia sent prices through the roof. We may think police murdering youth gets people out in the streets, but when people can not feed their children, governments fall.

The California drought is going to mean food insecurity for many Rhode Islanders and real hunger for some. A way to combine ecological healing, climate mitigation, and economic justice is to help Rhode Island grow 20 times as much food as it does now. Build soil carbon, create jobs, feed the hungry, build our resilience.

Governor elect Raimondo ought to listen to someone other than the same old voices telling her things that do not work. Instead of the usual crowd, leave half of them home and fill the other half of the room with people focused on ecological healing, climate change, organic agriculture and food security. That discussion would be a lot more interesting and much more likely to find solutions.

Greg Gerritt

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