Mike Stenhouse: Brookings’ trickle-down socialism

(Originally published in the Providence Journal on Jan. 26, 2016)

The Brookings Institution report released by Gov. Gina Raimondo last week is just more of the same – a failed public policy approach and a continuation of the RhodeMap RI plan that advances a radical federal agenda. For years, the governor, the Rhode Island Foundation and Brookings have conspired in creating this big-government set of recommendations that Gary Sasse called the Greenhouse Compact circa 2016.

Potentially soon to be our state’s official economic development plan, the report recommends enormous handouts to targeted “advanced industries,” not only leaving the rest of us with no relief from the state’s oppressive tax and regulatory burdens, but also demanding that taxpayers should help fund these special-interest giveaways.

The tone-deaf Brookings report recommends that we can achieve better results if, instead of taking the arbitrary approach to 38 Studios-style corporate cronyism that has dominated Rhode Island public policy for decades, we take the same approach in a more targeted and strategic manner. Nonsense.

Rhode Islanders do not want more of the same special interest deals that have dragged down our economy for decades. We do not want state government controlling major industries via a complex system of socialized tax giveaways. Conversely, we need broad market-based reforms that put every family and business owner on a level and more competitive playing field, both in-state and regionally, with a better chance to improve the quality of their lives. This is the philosophical difference between a big-government and a free-enterprise approach.

What about the rest of us who don’t fit into one of Brookings preferentially-subsidized industry silos? How will the average family budget be aided? They claim a future “multiplier” effect may eventually help the common guy. Sounds like “trickle-down-economics” to me, a theory trashed decades ago, which largely ends up benefiting only those who actually receive the preferential treatment – and, to add more salt to the wound, paid for by the rest of us.

Governor Raimondo has stated that she wants equal opportunity for all, yet this plan targets specific industries in specific locales and leaves the rest of us wanting, while asking us to trust that some benefit may eventually trickle down to our pedestrian level. This is not social equity. Rhode Island should not be a petrie dish for this experiment in trickle-down socialism; we have already tried it, and it has failed us.

Also, we question the corrupt process by which the Brookings plan was developed and rapidly adopted. Where was the public debate before the same economic planning council that adopted the RhodeMap RI agenda, against the will of the people, automatically rubber-stamped the related Brookings strategy?

Both plans were funded and promoted by the Rhode Island Foundation, which appears to have bought itself a seat at the insider table, and which continues to fund a highly progressive agenda. This too-cozy relationship between our state government and a nonprofit organization should raise serious questions about who, ultimately, is funding the foundation’s – and the state’s – policy agenda.

Does anyone trust that an elite cabal of political cronies should centrally engineer our economy? Or do we place more trust in the great people of Rhode Island to be able to unleash their suppressed capacity in a fair and free-market economy, via major tax and regulatory reductions across the board?

We do not need an out-of-state think tank with its own agenda to impose planning councils, eminent domain policies, or taxpayer-funded subsidies. Instead, to stimulate organic growth that will lead to enhanced prosperity for all of us, we need common sense, family-friendly reforms that foster a more competitive overall business climate. Our center trusts in the economic power of free people in a free society; sadly, our political class does not.

With the governor and her allies fully committed to this agenda, our only hope is that General Assembly leaders will stand up for the people of Rhode Island whom they represent – not the special few.

Mike Stenhouse is CEO for the nonpartisan Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity, a public policy think tank.