Monday, July 11, 2011

St. Louis has dodged a bullet

The St. Louis economy received some excellent news last week when the Brookings Institution announced that it will not use our economy as a guinea pig. Instead, Brookings will try out its experimental Metropolitan Business Plans on four other unwitting and unfortunate economies. Although the Post-Dispatch editorial board is predictably dismayed that we will not be subject to this ridiculous statist experiment, the rest of us should breathe a huge sigh of relief.

According to Brookings, "Metropolitan business planning adapts the discipline of private-sector business planning to the task of revitalizing regional development. Such planning provides a framework through which regional business, civic, and government leaders can rigorously analyze the market position of their region; identify strategies by which to capitalize on their unique assets; specify catalytic products, policies, and interventions; and establish detailed operational and financial plans. These plans can then, in turn, be used to restructure federal, state, and philanthropic engagement in ways that invert the current top-down, highly siloed, and often ineffective approach to cities and metropolitan areas while bringing new efficiency to development activity." Yech!!!

Cutting through the gobbledygook, this says that, rather than having businesses decide for themselves what and where to invest, committees of local worthies will take on the task and devise an overall economic plan for the entire region. Although Brookings calls this a new approach, it is simply the same fatal conceit that befalls so many politicians: "All we need is to replace those terribly inconvenient individual decisions and market interactions with pronouncements from committees of people like us who know what's right." 

They could not be more wrong. The last thing we need is for our self-appointed best and brightest to "identify a regional job-creating 'niche' in what Brookings calls an 'increasingly export-oriented, lower-carbon, and innovation-driven' global economy."  What we do need, however, are politicians who understand that the local economy is best served by government leaders who know how ill-suited they are to decide what the private sector should do. Such leaders would focus government activity where it belongs: on providing the basic education, infrastructure, and legal framework for the private sector to flourish.