The “Go Virginia” program has a price tag of $35M that doles out funds to 10 regional councils comprised of up to 11 to 21 members. The councils would be created by a board of appointed “business leaders”, lawmakers, and members of the Governor’s cabinets. The councils would then receive $500 thousand dollars each for their region’s needs and could receive more funding based on their populations. This sounds a lot like the Politburo construct that died out in the 1990’s in Soviet Russia, but seems to have been revived here in Richmond.
Placing the Constitutionality of this whole scheme aside, on its surface, “Go Virginia” may seem like a good plan to someone who may not consider if this program is even a core function of government, which it is not, or actually meddles with the free-market, which it certainly does. Only five members of the Virginia Senate voted against this legislation, the "Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board and Fund"; they were four Republicans and one Democrat.
This issue is timed well with a conversation that I had recently with my 13-year-old son who told me about what he learned in his 7th grade civics class at William Monroe Middle School. “So, tell me about what you learned today”, I asked him. “We learned about different types of economies around the world”, he replied. He explained concepts such as demand, command, and mixed types of economic systems very well. He continued, “North Korea is a command economy since they are Communist and control everything for their people, and we (the US) are mixed”. I was hoping he’d explain how he learned about Adam Smith’s concept of the invisible hand that guides demand economies through unintended social benefits from our freedom and choices as human beings. But, nonetheless, I was proud of him for sharing what he learned and the context with which he explained it. I still firmly believe in that statement in Republican Creed that says, "the free enterprise system is the most productive supplier of human needs and economic justice".
I must admit, I became concerned that he described our United States of America as a “mixed economy”, one that is, according to Wikipedia, "variously defined as an economic system consisting of a mixture of either markets and economic planning, public ownership and private ownership, or free markets and economic interventionism". But, my son is absolutely right. We’ve shifted away from being a demand style economy where freedom of choices and the risk of capital, without a government enticement to succeed or fail, form the economic fabric of our community’s economy.
Call me old school, but this government-economic-planning thing really bothers me. When did we start conceding that it’s the role of government to plan our economic affairs and who gets to decide what’s best for me, my progeny, or for you? At what point do we slide further down the scale to a regional, state, or federal command and control of our economy? Have we now accepted that the state decides who wins and loses? They’re not playing with Parker Brothers Monopoly money, this is real money, OUR money; the state does not own anything, we do!
Relating all of this locally is not at all difficult. Cities and Counties across the Commonwealth have placed their economic development future in the hands of “Go Virginia”, including our very own Greene County, as reported to us in the March, 2017 County Administrators Report. Our County’s economic development wagon was hitched to “Go Virginia”.
What gives any level of government the right to use money, collected from us, to take to the casino and bet on who will be the next regional winner in the game of “Go Virginia”? The answer is, we did. We gave consent, slowly over time, to the idea that these kinds of plug-n-play programs will stimulate economic growth. We did, without any consideration to locality competition or to those businesses willing to risk their capital on locations with the lowest and stable cost of living, the best labor force, sound infrastructure, a community commitment, and a long-term strategic plan designed to be the red carpet for the next business or industry to move into town.
Economic stimulus programs designed by masterminds who decide how to allocate resources have all failed over time and are still smoldering on history’s ash heap. And, what have we learned, besides that they don’t work, is that nobody knows our circumstances well enough, nor can they champion our attributes and strengths better than we can at the local level.
Hopefully we’ve not lost touch with the fact that the answer to correcting government-caused problems in our economy is not another government program, even with the best intentions at its core.
Oh, and I’d like to sincerely thank my son’s 7th grade Civics teacher on a job well done!
-- Bob Young