Saturday, July 16, 2011


Some have been critical of the This American Life story about economic development that aired a few weeks back. NPR addresses much of the criticism in this blog post, click here. I personally know economic developers, and others around the business, who were not impressed. For their part, as the blog post above points out, the Planet Money and This American Life team have apologized for the "negative tone" of their story.

I was thinking about that broadcast, and the criticism, this morning as I watched the 'Hot Coffee' documentary on HBO - click here for the movie's website

I would suggest to the writer's/directors of the NPR show (and their critics) - the worst thing that could happen would be that they join the list of news agencies that start pulling punches. Personally, I think it's hard not to be cynical of the industry when some regional economic developers are are pulling down $300K plus a year yet their impact is difficult to measure. When the economy is booming they are successful, but when it's not they blame the economy, how many new jobs has your economic developer created in the past 12 months? Personally, I've seen many economic development presentations to industry which sold the low wages, anti-union climate, low taxes, and the lax regulations available in poor regions of the South. These came to mind as I watched Hot Coffee this morning, because another piece of the E.D. sales pitch is often the "great" tort reform legislation they've passed.

The vast majority of the economic developers I've known believe deep in their bones that what's good for business and industry is good for the country. They believe that all growth is good growth, and they believe the purpose of the educational system is to provide cheap labor for business and industry.

We see in the Hot Coffee movie how industries, and their PR firms, can absolutely change any debate to benefit them... working people can't. It's a rare economic developer who will take the working man's side versus business and industry, thus I think it's important that we have media that keeps a skeptics eye on industry and their facilitators. But instead, we have NPR crawfishing for being cynical of an industry that moves more than it creates, and does so at the expense of many.

NPR, you're apologizing to a group that the late great Joe Bageant brilliantly called "Pickle Vendors". Frankly, you would be hard pressed to find a better example of Joe's Pickle Vendors than some of those in economic development.

Here's a piece of Joe's description -

"Now I'm not talking about the barber or three-chair beauty shop or the deli owner up the street. I am talking about the realtors, lawyers and middlemen willing to cooperate in whatever it takes to destroy land use and zoning codes, bust unions and keep wages low, rents high, the liberals down and the "cullids" out. This group of second tier conservative professionals and semi-pros are dead set on being real players someday. On their way up the ladder they will screw you blind and make you beg for your change.

America's small and medium sized towns are run entirely by their business class, those countless little sparkplugs of the American capitalist corporate machinery. They are where the institutionalized rip-off by the rich corporations finds its footing and support. Serving on every local governmental body, this mob of Kiwanis and Rotarians have connections, and collectively can get that 200 acres rezoned for Wal-Mart or a sewer line to that 2000-unit housing development at taxpayer expense. When it comes to getting things done locally for the big guys, these folks can heal the sick, raise the dead and give eyesight to the blind. They are God's gift to the big non-union companies and the chip plants looking for a fresh river to piss cadmium into -- the Rotarian, Lions, Kiwanis Club can-do boys."

Sound like any economic developers you know?

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