A deconstruction of the Brookings Institute January 2016 Davos brochure
Greg Gerritt 2/14/16
In January 2016 with great fanfare Governor Gina Raimondo unveiled the report
Rhode Island Innovates: A competative strategy for the Ocean State
produced by the Battelle Technology Partnership Practice and The Brookings Institute. It is primarily referred to as the Brookings report.
The executive summary of my essay is that the Brookings Report does not offer anything other than an apology for the policies of the rich that are harming the economic security of our communities. It is based on a faulty understanding and misleading explanation of what is happening in the economy. The basic pretense is that the financialization of everything and globalization are capable of creating economies that actually improve the lives of people in old industrial communities. Another pretense is that in old industrial places that there is really any economic growth. We are told that there is growth, but after what is vacuumed up by the 1%, there is nothing left.
Everyone else is already getting poorer. And there is nothing in this report that is going to change that. Rather it is a report that kicks the 99% to the curb and offers more money for the rich, more political power for the rich, the dismantling of our health, safety, and environmental protections, and more people living without housing.
It deserves some serious deconstruction, and i will offer that, but some of it just deserves one liners and I might need to oblige.
How the report begins
After discussing the decline of the RI economy due to globalization in the first few paragraphs of the executive summary the Brookings report then says NOW is the time for rebirth, and then tells us a phony story about how the US and world economies are growing faster (In the US growth in the 4th quarter was an annualized 0.7% and annual growth has been around 2.4% for years) but even more important according to this report, Governor Raimondo has taken great strides towards making Rhode Island friendlier for business.
Governor Raimondo was the person who commissioned the report. Any report that begins by praising the person who paid for it has to be truly suspect. This one is no exception. Even more interesting is the timing of the report, it was released just before the Governor’s aborted (due to a snowstorm and financing controversy) trip to Davos where she wanted to use it as a sales brochure for the Rhode Island she wants us to be as she hobnobbed with the world’s biggest corporate criminals.
Beyond the obvious marks of a public relations and sales brochure with very limited real information, anyone who has read these kind of reports before, and I have been reading them for about 25 years, recognizes that the report is just a rehash of old reports despite the .”new” data and analysis. It brays loudly about its new fangled cluster analysis but these are the same clusters that reports in RI have been touting since 1996, and despite many of these industry clusters reducing employment since the last round of reports, telling us that if we only did what the the Koch Brothers want good things would happen to us. In other words bet on the losers because if we bet on them they will do better this time round. Oh sure… Or maybe this time Rhode Island will use tax payer money to bet on clusters rather than individual businesses as clusters are the new key and when we bet on companies like 38 Studios or the clowns who wanted to build a mega container port at Quonset it did not go so well. Oh yes, and clean water is an obstacle for my profits so no money for enforcement give me a tax break instead.
I do want to draw your attention back to the fact that this was created for the governor’s trip to the World Economic Forum at Davos. Here are a few words from Robert Savio founder of Inter Press Service about his trip to Davos, the economy, and politicians. http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/the-lesson-from-davos-no-connection-to-reality/
“The Swiss Bank UBS released in the conference a study in which it reports that the Fourth Revolution will “benefit those holding more.” In other words, the rich will become richer…it is important for the uninitiated to know that the money that goes to the superrich, is not printed for them. In other words, it is money that is sucked from the pockets of people.
Those reports (referring to the reports Oxfam releases at Davos on inequality and the economy) have been documenting how fast the concentration of wealth at an obscene level is creating a world of inequality not known since the First Industrial Revolution. In 2010, 388 individuals owned the same wealth as 3.6 billion people, half of humankind. In 2014, just 80 people owned as much as 3.8 billion people. And in 2015, the number came down to 62 individuals. And the concentration of wealth is accelerating. In its report of 2015, Oxfam predicted that the wealth of the top 1 per cent would overtake the rest of the population by 2016: in fact, that was reached within ten months. Twenty years ago, the superrich 1 per cent had the equivalent of 62 per cent of the world population.
It would have been logical to expect that those who run the world, looking at the unprecedented phenomena of a fast growing inequality, would have connected the Oxfam report with that of UBS, and consider the new and immense challenge that the present economic and political system is facing. Also because the Fourth Revolution foresees the phasing out of workers from whatever function can be taken by machines. According to Schwab, the use of robots in production will go from the present 12 per cent to 55 per cent in 2050. This will cause obviously a dramatic unemployment, in a society where the social safety net is already in a steep decline.
Here Savio quotes Alicia Barcena
It is a sign of the times that the financial institutions, like IMF and the World Bank, are way ahead of political institutions, releasing a number of studies on how inequality is a drag on economic development, and how its social impact has a very negative impact on the central issue of democracy and participation. …… Alicia Barcena, the Executive secretary of CEPAL, the Regional Center for Latin America, has also published in time for Davos a very worrying report on the stagnation in which the region is entering, and indicating the issue of inequality as an urgent problem.”
I would very much like to see the World Bank or IMF analyze the Brookings Report and tell us what they think. The Brookings report is simply a flowery presentation of the Fourth Revolution and what it means for the wealthy in Rhode island as it downplays alternatives for bottom up development rather than top down.
So our governor wanted to go to Davos with a public relations and sales document full of phony and outdated assumptions about the economy that contained a plan guaranteed to harm Rhode Islanders. A report that is completely out of step with what everyone except the politicians and the corporate elites are saying about what it takes to create prosperous communities. It is a report that offers us a world that makes the 1% very happy, while offering a model of development that is failing our communities. And so much of it is based on a faith in growth that is very much at odds with the reality.
The Growth Machine is teetering
On January 31 2016, about 10 days after the release of the Brookings report with its happy happy let the rich rule patter about global growth, the Sunday New York Times Book Review had its front page devoted completely to books about the unlikely prospects for the global growth machine. The most interesting author among the three economics books being reviewed was The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War by Robert J Gordon from Northwestern University, who has been writing about the slow down in the growth machine for a while, expanding a 2012 paper for the Federal Reserve into his current book. Gordon strongly believes, and backs up, that the growth machine is just going to run slower these days. He does not see current technologies changing the world the way electricity and powered transportation did between 1870 and 1970. This work is reflected in the obsessive focus on productivity in the Brookings report. My critique of Gordon is that while I agree with his analysis of the limited potential for technology to boost the economy of the common man, he mostly misses on the role of ecological collapse, the loss of biodiversity, forests, and soils, in slowing the economy. You just can not build cities without massive supplies of wood and after China’s rampage through southern Asia, there is little left to fuel Chinese growth. Then throw in the smog, water, and climate issues as well as extreme energy and low grade ores. The global growth machine is not humming very well, with rapid growth being restricted to fewer places in the developing world as the booms run dry.
So the happy talk about the growing economy is just that, happy talk by the only group of people in the west benefiting from the current economy. When what passes for growth ends up in only 1% of the population’s hands, then we have to at least seriously consider that growth is phony. And that we might need an economic plan that creates more prosperous communities in a low growth environment. What we have are currency manipulations and financialization, not growth that builds communities. The way the rich get by is to take an ever larger share of the income and ask for subsidies for everything. Its all about real estate churning and attracting venture capital to a few industries while ignoring how poorly that works in an old industrial crowded place like Rhode Island.
One thing to note. There will continue to be economic growth on planet Earth for quite some time. But all of it will be in countries that are not advanced western economies. In other words the places that have to grow to lift millions out of poverty, where millions of people are actually seeing their standard of living rise. Though even there the growth machine is slowing. But due to planetary limits, with resources flowing to the global south before ending up in the hands of the 1%, places like Rhode Island are going to see a slow contraction of the economy, at least 99% of us will, and it is an honest and straightforward embrace of use less, share more, the linking of ecological healing, justice, and the ending of poverty that will foster community prosperity in ways the plan offered by Brookings does not, both here and around the world.
Essentially the whole report is about how to make the economy work for the very educated and those with investment capital. Even John Kostrewza of the Providence Journal noted that it really never talks about how we are going to create jobs for the people who live in RI who really need one that pays a living wage. Its about creating jobs for maybe 25% of the population. It seems like it is still stuck on the economic model that allows them to pee on your leg and have it trickle down into your boots. As Piketty points out, inequality that is enforced by ever more wealth flowing to capital, grinds down an economy. If you really want to ignore 50 to 60% of the population in your plans for economic development, with the sole exception of saying we shall transform them as we eliminate all their jobs and remove the vestiges of the safety net since we can not afford it, you have not said anything that will actually help the people of Rhode Island. It offers nothing for our survival in the the Fourth Industrial Revolution mentioned above in which robots have all the jobs. The only industry that seems like it will create jobs is the one that builds prisons.
Diving into the report
The report being 150 pages, can not cover everything,and neither can I So lets focuses on just a few key sections of the report. These include:
What to do to make RI more business friendly, in other words can we make the business climate good.
Business clusters and how to maximize growth in a few favored clusters.
What things the rich want Rhode Island to subsidize even though they should be spending their own money on it and are not.
Can the CEO’s of the biggest corporations in Rhode Island come together to form an old boys club so they can tell us what to do more effectively.
Rhode Island’s Business Climate
The report goes on and on about the bad business climate in RI and what Governor Raimondo is doing to change it. Spare me. Politicians have been moaning about the business climate for a generation. And rarely does anything happen in any state to change the perceived business climate much. Politicians promise much, pass laws, and the climate stays the same. The corporados have owned the development levers and the politicians forever. They have the system they want. All power to real estate speculation. Lots of room for graft. And what good could happen if we let corporate America do what ever it wants and run roughshod over us even more than before? The authors of the report, and by extension their political and corporate masters, want to give the people ’s money to the richest global corporations and wealthy local real estate speculators. Excuse me, they want to give our money to people who are constantly telling us to get government out of the way, yet demand subsidies to locate in a community. I guess that is just about as rational as everything else happening in the good old USA.
We do have to remember that any government dependent upon the property tax for the biggest share of its revenues (essentially every local community in the eastern United States) is going to feel it has no choice to do do everything possible to drive up real estate prices, even when that means that the cost of housing and homelessness become big drains on the economy and community resources. States are not dependent upon property taxes and ought to know better than to support property churning development patterns that creates bubbles in the economy, encourages landlords to leave buildings vacant, and creates opportunities for all of the financial shenanigans that created the Great Recession, but they do not. Politicians still seem to have to tell us subsidies to the rich are crucial for our survival so they can finance their campaigns.
If these clown capitalists need a subsidy, they ought to give up the penthouses and private jet and admit that we have a mixed economy. GE has gotten a Billion dollars subsidy in the last 10 years to move offices from town to town. Its just a scam. A very lucrative scam, transfer wealth from the poor and middle class to the rich so they can pretend there is economic growth and that things would be better if we handed over the rest of the economy and government to them.
Business climate indexes are complete crap. Check out the literature some time. This paper has lots of links https://prosperityforri.com/business-climate-mania-in-rhode-island/ There is no correlation between the health of the economy and the business climate rankings. Lots of places with bad rankings like California, have thriving urban economies, while places with good business climates can have lousy economies, like Mississippi. Another thing is that the different ranking systems are all based on different criteria and contradict each other frequently. If business climates made a difference the South would have long since risen, whereas the lack of equality is what is continuing to make it an economic backwater as the industries that moved from RI to the South have now gone to the global south for cheaper labor. And the politicians did not invest enough in schools or communities when they had the chance to create good places to live. Ask the folks in Kansas what it is like to see taxes cut so much the schools had to close two months early when they ran out of money. And why is the economy in Vermont as good as it is in New Hampshire, and why is Minnesota’s better than Wisconsin’s when they have such different approaches to governance and worse business climate scores?
The one part of the rankings that seems to actually correlate with an increase in the economic growth rate, the data says by less than 5% a year, is tax rates. In RI that means a lower corporate tax rate might change the rate of growth from 1.7% a year to 1.8% which no one on the street would even notice. For most businesses local and state taxes like the corporate income tax are a minuscule proportion of revenues, less than 2% and play a tiny part in location decisions. This is especially true of new businesses and entrepreneurial start ups.
We know that businesses love to complain about this stuff, but that is just greed talking and much of that is fueled by a long term ideological war on the poor and the planet. The Chamber of Commerce decided to try to overturn the Clean Water Act and the Civil Rights Act back in 1974, and the reverberations are still fueling stupidity in the halls of government. The Chamber hired the same people who told us smoking cigarettes does not cause lung cancer and now tell us that the climate is just fine. The Rhode Island Foundation surveyed RI business owners a few years ago and the results contradicted much of what the business climate reports tell us is important.
Besides tax rates the business climate reports tell us that regulations are restrictions on business and really bad for us. Before going on to analyze this I want to remind folks to ponder what i said at the beginning of the essay. After several generations of politicians in RI talking about this you have to believe the corporados have already got exactly what they want except in the few instances where the community has been able to vigorously defend itself from the depredations. States where the people can be run over must be one of the criteria of a good business climate. The politicians are all bought so democracy and public hearings must be bad for business, except that the people are smarter than the politicians, with the downtown baseball stadium, 38 Studios, and the Quonset Megaport prime examples of what would happen to RI if we let the politicians do the bidding of the rich.
The record is also pretty clear that strong protections for the environment and public health are good for the economy. Everyone wants less red tape, but we all want honest scales. And safe beaches. So let me repeat myself. Strong health, safety, and environmental regulations have NEVER been shown to harm the economy. The race to the bottom obsession with reducing regulations and eliminating proper enforcement threatens our communities, with the costs of problems caused by pollution being much greater than the savings to business if regulations disappeared. But we privatize profits and make the public pay to solve the problems and carry the burdens. Capitalists love to externalize their costs and politicians fall all over themselves to help them. Just once I would like to hear these crazy deregulators say clearly and out loud that as we make the forms easier to use and simpler to fill out, we also shall protect our wetlands, public health, and communities MORE than previously from the harms caused by pollution and destruction by corporations and businesses so that our communities are more livable and healthier. The simplest way to protect the public in regulations is to practice precaution and to put that in the rules. It shall be proven safe and effective before it is unleashed on the public and the environment. A penny saved adds up.
And so do industries that are able to function better with regulations in place. Compost is an example of an industry that needed regulations in order to develop properly in Rhode Island and it took us 3 years of work to get them. A good regulatory process would have expedited the creation of rules, but it was so underfunded that no one had the time to finish them and pass them along to the next step. Must be time to cut the budget again.
The Business Clusters
The heart of the report is the analysis of business clusters that could benefit from large subsidies and that might pay off big for a few folks. It is not like any of these things are going to create the 100,000 + jobs for folks that live here and get us to full employment.
The clusters, listed below can be shortened to Defense, High tech, Design, Software, Medicine, Finance, Tourism, Food. The same ones they talked about in the last report and the one before that. At least the report does admit that many of these clusters lost jobs in RI since the last time they were so highly touted.
Here is the listing of clusters from the document page 55
Five advanced industry growth areas and two opportunity industry growth areas offer Rhode Island the best chance for strengthening its economy and cultivating widely shared prosperity
Five high-value advanced industry growth areas surfaced as Rhode Island’s best opportunities for expanding its advanced industry base in the coming years. These growth areas are:
• Biomedical Innovation
• IT-Software, Cyber-Physical Systems, and Data Analytics
• Defense Shipbuilding and Maritime
• Advanced Business Services
• Design, Food, and Custom Manufacturing
A review of earlier economic planning documents in the report produced this statement. (page 34)
In all eight clusters, Bureau of Labor Statistics projects substantially lower employment growth than output growth, which indicates that high productivity gains are expected. For three of the clusters, employment is expected to decline despite rising economic output. The implication is that Rhode Island must seek to drive innovation and deployment of advanced technologies to maintain its position and increase its competitiveness in order to outpace projected national trends.
So from one report to the next the analysis produced 5 clusters instead of 8. But it is merely slicing and dicing. Essentially it is covering the same sectors of the economy. And it is sectors of the economy that are VERY unlikely to produce a lot of jobs. In fact they will produce fewer jobs per output then ever.
Rhode Island’s economy has lost growth capacity and is now a middling performer.
• Rhode Island’s advanced industries base shrunk”
Glad they acknowledged the obvious. One of the things we need to understand and admit when we think about economic development today is that RI has NONE of the things going on that would lead to rapid growth. RI and nearly every similar community on the planet has the same problem. Old Industrial communities are not growing. What little growth there is in the world economy is going to the tropics and Asia, and even there the growth machine is slowing down except where the next resource boom or mass migration to the cities is happening.
In other words the Rhode Island economy is performing how one would expect an economy that has been looted by the rich to perform as long as it relies on the strategies that fill the pockets of the rich to be its economic development strategy. A place with none of the building blocks of rapid growth such as open land, natural resources, a rapidly expanding population of people moving to the city for the first time, and an expanding availability of wood is not going to have rapid growth no matter what strategy is foisted upon us or how many things we give to the rich.
An economy that has lost its advanced industries is almost always the result of deliberate policies by the very same people that are now pretending to offer hope to save us from the ills they visited upon us like toxic rivers and a climate going off the rails as well as off shoring and the looting of pension funds.. But we still get offered a vision for an economy that only works for the 1%. I know that is so 2012, but it is still true, and we are still suffering from the growing inequality that is driven partly by politics and partly by there being few things to invest in. If there were good things to invest in corporations would not be buying back their stock or sitting on huge piles of cash. If the economy worked the way Brookings seems to think it does, that money would be invested in something making money instead of being squandered and sat on.
“• Without distinctive new growth drivers the state’s economy will remain adrift
Together these findings depict a state in need of a new growth strategy.”
Maybe a growth strategy is the wrong thing given the circumstances. Maybe we need a strategy for prosperity in a shrinking economy since that is much more likely to be our fate than a rapidly expanding economy. For the 99% the economy is already shrinking. How do you help us become more self reliant and prosperous under those conditions? What will make our communities more resilient as the global economy undergoes spasms? How does our economy become more equal? As global food producers suffer droughts what will we eat? Brookings is just a bit more corporatized version of RhodeMap where RI paid lip service to equality, but the results would be the same. The rich get richer, everyone else gets screwed,.
Lets look at the clusters.
Cluster 1 • Biomedical Innovation
We have been offered this sector of the economy with one name or another for years, but by whatever name the medical industrial complex goes by in its current phase, this industry has been the behemoth eating the American economy for a long time. In fact for a number of years it was producing 60% of the growth in the economy while growing to just 18% of the economy. While offering us the 37th best care in the world. From a business perspective this is great, a huge profit center even as care deteriorated relative to all the places in the world with national health care. From a societal perspective it has been an albatross around our necks. Except when the financial wizards and real estate scum cause another crash, the medical industrial complex, while producing medical wonders that still do not rank with sewers and clean drinking water for increasing life expectancy, is the leading cause of bankruptcies. In simple language you can not use health care as a growth industry and have affordable healthcare for all. It is just plain impossible,. But in the age of business climate mania, to think of the consequences of policy in this way is verboten.
Only in America are we sheepish enough to have a Congress that protects an industry that gouges customers, delivers lousy service and kills people. And then the rich folks tell us that we should encourage and subsidize this industry, especially the most expensive parts, while we ignore primary care as not profitable enough.
CLUSTER 2 • IT-Software, Cyber-Physical Systems, and Data Analytics
Yes, we want more kids to code, we want smarter more efficient systems, but we do not need more big brother and control by the rich. Personalized internet ads are just plain creepy. Big brotherism and the war on terror becomes the war on everyone who resists the empire. Besides, this is the industry most devoted to robotizing your job. The excuse that someone else will get those jobs instead of us does not cut it. Big Data means Big Brother. Means it is easier for the rich to steal. If they want to grow, they can build their own facilities as we should not subsidize the destruction of jobs in the community.
Cluster 3 • Defense Shipbuilding and Maritime
If this was about sailboats and navigational gear, it would just be another plaything for the rich who pay for the fancy boats. Relatively harmless. I like Sailors for the Sea. Clean regattas and all that.
But lets be real,. The real money here is in killing people and perpetuating the war on terror /war on islam / war on the forest people/ war on the poor/ war on everyone who is not rich. So they can hold onto power and steal the oil.
The military can win every battle, but it is losing every war because wars no longer make sense as an instrument of policy. Wars only make sense to the crazy religious fanatics who want armageddon and caliphates. It is an industry that could be tossed to the scrap heap and immediately a billion people would be better off and governments would not be broke all the time. We could fix our infrastructure and schools.
For RI this industry will always be a loser. We will always send more money to Washington to support killing and creating enemies than will come back here. And then we give it preferences in ways that distort our society and we praise it in ways that prevent honest debate about the role of violence and the military in our society. And we never put the real cost in the budget. Clearly this and the medical industries profits are a big part of what is killing America and its economy. Why encourage killing? Country Joe told the truth.
Cluster 4 Advanced Business Services
Remember the Great Recession and how/why it started? The rich stole everything. And it was not enough. Essentially the rich have pulled off their best trick yet, the financialization of the economy. More than ever before no matter what else happens, the bankers get a cut. All value to capital it is called in some parts of economics. For the last 500 years growth has been fueled by debt, interest bearing debt. In order to pay off debt there has to be more of an increase in business than rate of the interest on the debt. I suppose in an economy that did not have any interaction with ecosystems one could do that forever, the economy of evermore, but on planet Earth, eventually ecosystems intermediate, and if they collapse, not much else works. You can not eat gold. To me, if your rate of interest, if the percentage being repaid exceeds the natural increase in your ecosystem, you are borrowing from your children, and we know how that works out. In New England the forests grow about 3% a year. Interest rates greater than 2% mean you are eating your seed capital. Economies based on debt have to eat more each year just to stay even. And when the government borrows money, or rather allows the rich to control the money supply and charge the government for it then the government must be blind to good policy and only create policy that makes the lenders happy.
Anyways despite all the dangers, lobbyists for Wall St continue to prevail and Congress and state legislatures keep opening up the economy to looting by Wall Street’s most deft and fantastically creative. Hence Leveraged Debt Obligations. Based on the ever rising price of real estate and a very high churn rate. In an economy that is stuck can the price of housing go up forever? Only with easy credit. And eventually the party poops out.
Last time round they called this cluster the FIRE cluster Finance, Insurance, Real Estate. Last time around the FIRE industries burned down the whole economy. Yes, you need a few big data crunchers, but the whole idea is you then only need a very few computer programmers do all the work. Another one of the fantasies that contribute to inequality and produce so few jobs as to be a lie, but they look fabulous as a player in real estate speculation on the 195 land, so must be the cluster to tout.
When a report tells us to bet on and subsidize the industry that destroyed the economy you have to question the common sense of the people responsible for the report, including those who paid for it.
Cluster 5 Design, Food , and Custom Manufacturing
This may be the only cluster that actually boosts the economy in the neighborhoods in RI that need boosting. But we need to rethink the food part of this cluster. Design, custom manufacturing. Who can be against that? Things that are manufactured still need to be designed. And only humans can do that. But it will employ only a few people proportionally. No complaints, but given the overall picture of the economy, these are not the sectors of the cluster that will pull many folks out of poverty.
The food sector may be the most intriguing possibility, but not how it is imagined by Battelle/Brookings/ and the policy folks. Yes, there will be an expansion of specialty foods from Rhode Island, but the real growth will be in basics. Rhode Island is going to have to increase food production for local consumption by approximately 2000% (yes I mean grow/produce 20 times more food than we do now) as global agriculture struggles with climate change and depleted soils. And that means thousands of jobs, most of which can be taken by people already in Rhode island.
Crunching the numbers??
As an overall picture, employment in the “Advanced Industries” touted in this report has dropped by around 50% as a percentage of overall employment over the last decade. But their share of the economy has grown. The business folks love this, it says you are doing more in globally traded products and that is the key to success. I beg to differ as playing that game only increases inequality, puts ever more pressure on resources, and expands through genocide as more and more forests are stolen from the inhabitants to feed the demand for wood in the cities. Another thing about playing the global game is the pressure to reduce employment. This means no matter what there will be fewer jobs available in these industries over time, I know, the report says to increase these jobs faster than they are increasing elsewhere in the country, but there is no realistic plan. Every other community is trying to do the exact same thing, often with a plan written by the same experts who wrote ours. If we are lucky we shall end up with is more money for fewer people. So if inequality makes it harder to keep the economy working, why tout industries that contribute to inequality?
What the rich want from us
The report goes on to run down lots of things in RI. We do not get enough venture fund capital. We do not have enough land for big developments (well duh?) We protect wetlands. There are actually still a few unions active in Rhode Island, we subsidize the wrong businesses, and the rich do not synergize enough together. If the public would chip in big bucks we could create wetlabs that businesses could rent for a song while we give big tax breaks to the speculators who will build on the 195 land. Sounds more like a wet dream. If wetlabs generate profits, someone will build them. If they only generate profits with subsidies, they should not get built.
The belief that redevelopment of the 195 land will be the biggest thing since sliced bread in terms of economic development in RI may be true. After all RI has been in relative decline since the 1890’s when mills no longer needed to be next to rivers and sliced bread was invented in the 1930’s. So almost anything that happens will be blown up to look huge. But the belief that this will really help us bring prosperity to the whole community is pure hype. This is just big bucks to the favored few, nothing for the people currently left out. We would create more value where it is needed if we grew food there instead off being ever more reliant upon imports.
The rich want us to do more to bundle industrial lands and make it pad ready for them at our expense. The example they offer is Tennessee which created 39 sites for business in three years, at a cost of $millions. I checked, Tennessee has 39 times as much land area as Rhode Island and a much lower population density. It is MUCH easier to assemble land in Tennessee. So based on this, we could safely project that a RI agency to do this would assemble one parcel every 3 years if no one was taking bribes. Is it worth it? NO. Especially when what RI really needs is more places to grow food as the climate deteriorates.
The report goes on to complain that no one in RI talks to each other beyond the silos, We need some great cross cutting institutions. With big budgets. Excuse me, but are they kidding? Can you tell me that people do not know each other in RI? There are only so many folks doing things. There are only 2 degrees of separation. You will meet them. Go have coffee. Go to a neighborhood association meeting. Go to the Social Enterprise Greenhouse or Girls Code or any of a 50 organizations like that in town. Coach little league. Take a walk in the park. You will meet someone who can help. The rich and businesses do not need our money to do something that should be in their own self interest already.
The corporations do not collaborate enough with Brown or URI? You want my money to facilitate that? Are you crazy? Those that think they can profit from the association already do.
The report also notes that Venture Capital is weak in RI. So we should do something about it. But they report plenty of examples of businesses that attracted capital and NONE that died for lack of an opportunity to meet investors. With telephones and computers and a little networking if you want to find the people with money to play with who you want to bet on you, you can find them. It is also a losing game for communities as the few own ever more and everyone else is getting pissed off. Finally an economy dependent upon this type of financing to keep going is in serious trouble and it puts democracy at risk.
This leads us towards the final key point of the report.
Providence should have an old boys club to call the shots.
Boston has a CEO Old Boys Club. New York has a CEO Old Boys Club. If Providence could just have a CEO Old Boys Club to tell us what to do it would solve all of our problems.
We already know the results of an economy that dances to the corporate tune. Offshoring, robots, food deserts and swamps, low income neighborhoods with toxic neighbors, the school to prison to prison industrial complex pipeline, climate change, poisoned foods, greater inequality the privatizing of schools, the destruction of parks, the gutting of the safety net, the pursuit of empire, war crimes, torture, and total surveillance as they make enemies around the world and undermine communities at home. We all live in Flint. We all live in Ferguson. We all live in Afghanistan.
That Governor Raimondo could tell us in good faith that giving ourselves over fully to the rich, letting them set all the rules for their benefit, undermining democracy and the right of the public to defend itself from polluters is good for us, tells us just how much the resistance is needed.
I may be the only old fool attacking the Brookings Report directly. But the resistance is everywhere. The devotees of Davos want us to allow more gas pipelines and power plants. Rigging the game, rigging the courts, exempting themselves from the Clean Water Act, lying in their applications. Avoiding the public where ever possible to do deals in back rooms. We stopped Keystone, NY banned fracking, and even Texas had to pass laws to stop towns from banning fracking. Black Lives Matter. Code Pink, people chaining themselves to fences in Burrillville. The fantasy is falling apart.
Big bucks for the favored few, construction jobs for 3 years, pollution and payments forever even after solar and wind have displaced all fossil fuels. Climate change barely makes it on to their radar screens despite the fact that it changes everything. And what about stranded assets? When we shut down the fracking fields to save the water supply and cork the methane the rest of the gas business goes the way of the dinosaurs. Which is only reasonable as the carbon they sell was produced under oceans and in peat swamps when the dinosaurs ruled the world. Why the hell should we be paying for something we already knew was a waste of money when it was proposed. Even the ISO said the power from clear River Energy is not needed and will not save us money. But it is good for business??? Spare me.
The Brookings report makes no mention of the resistance, of low income communities demanding justice, of everyone demanding climate justice, of the resistance to banks controlling communities and the war machine eating our youth while making us poorer and creating more enemies. It does not take into account the drought in California, the resistance to deforestation in Asia, the resistance to empire in the Americas that continues to build 500 years after conquest, or the knowledge that keeping community assets, including Brownfields, in the hands of low income communities instead of letting them be stolen by the rich creates much greater prosperity for our communities than letting developers siphon it off. Any report without acknowledging that the community will fight back has done a disservice to the people who paid for it, and will leave us with fewer tools for prosperity going forward in the brave new world.
The clowns of Smith Hill got just the report they wanted. It told them to keep bulldozing the people of Rhode Island. It told them to keep giving more and more to the rich. It told them how to keep the rich happy so they can pretend everyone is happy. It told them to ignore climate change and local self reliance and solar energy and harness ourselves even further to the fantasies of the rich and the tea party and the climate deniers.
The only thing that makes me hopefully about this study is that the track record for these kind of things are abysmal. They continue to rig the system for the rich, but it blows up in their faces when we resist. Trickle down continues to be a fraud and the asthma epidemic explodes. This failure will be another nail in their coffin, though the monster continues to thrash and slaughter.