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May 29, 2015 - What Do You Mean Economic Development Limits My Child?


“Economic development” initiatives are everywhere these days. They sound great. Who wouldn’t want the opportunities and growth that these entities claim to be working to achieve? Unfortunately, such economic development entities are not what they generally appear to be. However, this reality is little understood. Consequently, most people remain unaware that economic development schemes ultimately work to limit the futures of their children.

What the Heck Are You Talking About?

A simple yet accurate way of conceptualizing economic development is as a partnership between government and business. That partnership is usually formalized via some sort of legally established entity, whether a government appointed board, a quasi-private corporation, a regional organization, or some other framework. Numerous interested parties are invited to participate—always encompassing elected or appointed representatives of government and businesspeople. Representatives from non-profit organizations, labor, education, and other special interests are also frequently included. Indispensible to the mix is the inclusion of an “average citizen” or two. On close inspection, these average citizens generally turn out not to be so average at all; but is through this representation of various interests, and by ostensible inclusion of the voice of the common man, that the public have largely been led to believe that economic development entities are benevolent and beneficial.

We would, in fact, argue that economic development schemes always pose a danger to the average citizen’s resources and rights. Yet, it should be noted that many of the people involved in these initiatives truly believe that they are doing a valuable service for their municipality, county, region, state, or even their nation (depending upon the level at which the initiative is established). Not everyone involved is corrupt. There’s even the remote possibility that everyone initially goes into an initiative of this type with good intentions. But the very nature of the public-private partnership at the root of these entities makes corruption inevitable. Corruption is not accidental but rather endemic to such arrangements. In fact, the ability to milk public resources is frequently the sole reason for the implementation of economic development initiatives.

Yeah, Yeah, But What Does This Have to Do with My Kids?

Hang on. We’re getting there. We promise.

First, it’s important to grasp how economic development is sold to the public and to their elected officials. Almost always at the top of the list are items such as the attraction of new business and industry, increased job growth, a strengthened workforce, increased property values and tax base, and higher commercial and tax revenues. Also frequently mentioned these days are improved educational opportunities, better services, and a range of other items that seem attractive to citizens and public servants alike.

But how do economic development initiatives typically go about achieving these ends? Almost without fail, government force is leveraged to ensure that a variety of resources are diverted to government and business.

What sorts of resources? 

There are a number, but let’s break it down to four basic categories:

  1. Favorable policies
  2. Property
  3. Money
  4. People

Favorable policy is the gift that just keeps giving. “Friendly” legislation and regulation is also what ensures that the other three resource categories can continue to flow in the direction that the partnership between government and business has determined will benefit them—with the public good really only serving as cover for these more private or intrusive interests. 

The acquisition of property by government or business—frequently at rates far below normal market value—is one of the better known chips in the economic development game.

Redevelopment policies have been particularly helpful in allowing government, for example, to declare private properties “blighted,” rendering them valueless so that they can be confiscated at low or no cost and sold to preferred owners.

Eminent domain is another helpful tool in this regard. Almost everyone knows about the famous Kelo case in which a woman’s home was confiscated for the “public good,” which was defined as a redevelopment plan that would create jobs in the community. Ultimately the developer was unable to obtain financing for the project. However, Susette Kelo’s home had already been taken and demolished against her will.

Financial incentives are frequently offered to businesses that the economic development entity wants to retain or entice. Such incentives may come in the form of tax breaks or packages that result in unfairly treating businesses differently under tax laws. They can also come in the form of taxpayer subsidized grants or taxpayer backed loans, both of which irresponsibly place the public on the hook for private interests.

Are We There Yet? What about My Kids?! 

Yup, we’re finally there. Though we're only just going to begin this portion of the discussion, because there's a lot to cover.

Again, all of the above-mentioned items place the public, very much including the needs and rights of children, at risk in various ways. But there’s more. 

Of the various resource categories that economic development initiatives work to supply, people, or “human capital,” is perhaps the least understood. Increasingly, molding and pipelining that resource is coming in the form of preparing—perhaps better phrased as pre-shaping—your children for the kinds of jobs the public-private partners at the root of the given economic development entity believe appropriate, based on a number of factors, self-interest not least among them. What we're talking about here is a component of economic development commonly referred to as “workforce development.” 

We wrote last week about how cutting math off at Algebra II actually makes sense in light of the unfolding vision of education reform offered by Marc Tucker and others like him. We also explained that, as part of this unfolding vision, federal legislation rooted in Tucker’s ideas has facilitated increasingly close ties between departments of education and labor both at the federal and state levels. A career-tracking scheme is clearly being brought to fruition; it's happening largely without the full knowledge or understanding of the public; and it doesn’t involve your child having the free will to choose his own path in life. Rather your child becomes part of a managed economy, directed by public-private partners who believe they can make excellent use of your child…provided he or she has the right attitudes and  only the training suitable to the career level deemed appropriate. 

Local and regional economic development entities essentially now need only tap into and expand the policy and organizational tools that their state and federal counterparts have already forged and provided. Again, we’re going to have a lot more to say on this in upcoming posts to demonstrate our point.

Can You at Least Give Us an Example Before You End This Post?

Sure.

Here’s one very clearly articulated instance of how this workforce piece of the pipeline is playing out at the state level right now. In this example, taxpayer moneys and the force of policy are being leveraged to create/reinforce precisely the kind of workforce development pipeline we’re talking about here.

The following video dates from the summer of 2013, just after Wisconsin’s 2013-2015 Biennial Budget had been passed and signed into law. In the video, Governor Scott Walker clearly articulates for the editorial board of the Wausau Herald (correction: Green Bay Press-Gazette) three goals and, better yet, how they interrelate. He’s giving us the basic formula. Let’s watch…

 

What were those three related goals Governor Walker cited, again? Ah yes...

  1. Creation of environment for job growth
  2. Development of the workforce
  3. Transformation of education

He is very careful, as viewers/readers will note, to insist that government doesn’t create jobs, that it only creates the environment in which jobs can be created/grow. However, it’s clear he doesn’t really believe what he says.

How do we know?

Because his pursuit of workforce development means he absolutely does believe government has a role in creating jobs. Moreover, his description of specific actions that will transform education make it clear that education, in particular, is what he views as government’s contribution to job creation and workforce development. It's managed economy via a public-private model. We're pretty sure Governor Walker would never call it managed economy. That would be damaging to his political career. But we’re not afraid to call it that, because that’s exactly what it is.

And what is the proud accomplishment Governor Walker prominently mentions, here, in the service of transforming education? He’s ensured plenty of taxpayer dollars ($1.1 million per annum, also proposed in the governor’s proposed 2015-2017 Biennial Budget) to ensure that children as young as the sixth grade are provided in-school assistance with writing academic and career plans.

What sixth-grader do you know that has the maturity and life-experience to start making career plans that will stick? At Resounding Books, we sure as heck didn't end up doing what we thought we would when we were that age. We doubt most of our readers have done so.

It is precisely this sort of initiative, leveraging the force of government and taxpayer dollars, that we were talking about when we wrote last Thursday that career-tracking will, earlier and earlier, determine what a child’s path will be and what opportunities will even be open to him, not only as he goes through the education system but, finally, in adulthood. Is this sort of thing the hallmark of a free society?  Does it ensure that children are free to choose?  Free to make their own opportunities based on who they actually are and the kinds of lives that they decide for themselves that they would want to live?

Though it's not covered in this video, Governor Walker has also embraced ACT WorkKeys assessment of highschool students...more career-tracking, line-itemed again in his currently proposed budget.

Don't get us wrong. Walker's far from alone. There are plenty of other governors, legislators, etc—Republican and Democrat alike—doing what he's doing, embracing the economic development/managed economy model. It's just that Governor Walker has connected the dots so nicely for us.

Stay tuned. More coming soon…

NOTE: Subsequent articles on Resounding Books blog are taking this discussion further. Please see the post for June 3rd, which provides the full transcript of public testimony on how career-tracking in the classroom is being achieved without the knowledge or consent of parents, taxpayers, or other concerned citizens.