Monday, July 25, 2011

Business logic: to bury, forget and ignore in order to promote growth

Reading this piece from Mississippi on opposition from Bay St. Louis business leaders to commemoration of the town's 2005 Katrina flood tragedy left me considering a couple of things. First, business growth evangelists will stoop to snuff out historical landmarks that people choose to commemorate in the name of a buck. The Gulf coast giants of industry want some simple state highway markers that show the high-water mark removed for fear that they discourage businesses from relocating to undeveloped properties near the markers.

Let's think this logic through for a moment. They are concerned that prospective entrepreneurs are going to make informed decisions to relocate to other areas in Bay St. Louis that would not be under the 2005 high water mark should another Katrina-like hurricane visit Mississippi. They are concerned that relocating companies may not want to take the irrational risk of catastrophic flood damage if they do not have to. They are willing to deny flood survivors the catharsis of pilgrimages to historic landmarks in the name of placing unknowing businesses in jeopardy. So, why aren't these titans of commerce relocating to the flood-prone areas themselves?

Whenever I hear this kind of logic from special business interests all of those arguments they pitch that economic development is a "natural" process that should grow free from "artificial" constraints are obliterated. The snake oil of hiding or camouflaging historical facts in order to attract more investment opportunities could not be more counterfeit and contrived; it is phony manipulation of honest-to-goodness self-interest. At that point what rational person would not punch the artificial polemic of "natural  vs. artificial" in its proverbial neck?

But there is a second point here that hits closer to home. The idea of selling economic growth seems to forever require a lack of transparency, a habit of deception, and a commitment to half-truth that denies citizens other priorities and commitments. Take the current Music City Center construction project in Downtown Nashville. An advocate for the new convention center at least had enough candor to confess that Nashvillians would not buy into the Music City Center if they were given enough facts to count all the costs during a debate with CM Emily Evans:

Evans: And where are we going to get that money [if convention center construction runs overbudget]?

Samuels: From the general fund [which pays for sidewalks, police, parks, brush clean-up, etc].

Evans: OK, and where do we get the money (to put back) in the general fund?

Samuels: I agree that's the downside of this. But it's not the thing you go out there and tell people.

You cannot rely on people to take undue risk, so the logic goes, therefore, instead of sharing all the facts you tell them only what you think they need to know. This is what passes for a "naturally occurring, unconstrained marketplace."

We found out late last Friday that the convention center is officially overbudget. The Convention Center Authority is set to convene to talk about dealing with it. Given the logic of economic development it is worth asking: how will our own giants of industry on the authority be spinning the half-truths to keep us in the dark about predictable, unnecessary risks to our Metro services?


  1. If Nashville had more informed and knowledgable members on the council like Emily Evans, Nashville wouldn't be in such terrible shape financially with the Convention Center. If Rich Riebeling had a background in finance and a little common sense we would be better off too.

    Glasgow will be nothing more than a rubber stamp for the mayor and another council member to push the gay agenda.

    Burkley Allen is a very good choice for Metro Council. We need indepedent thinkers who represent their constituents, not rubber stamps for the business community and the mayor.

  2. Bay St Louis is doing the very same thing as Nashville with their harbor/marina/waste-of-taxpayer-money. It will destroy BSL financially, and has already divided the former close knit town, in the name of BUSINESS, screw the people.