Celebrating Taxes and Economic Development

OK, I’m going to continue my modest proposal/rant from yesterday about getting everyone on board if we want to truly achieve our vision for a prosperous metropolitan region. I was at the Leadership Tomorrow Economy Day today, where the 80 young leaders spend a day learning about our region’s economy, and it was fascinating to listen in on the conversation.

There seemed to be more – how do I put this – “ideological diversity” in the group this year than my class last year, with some serious back and forth on the role of government and taxes among other things. And don’t get me wrong; I think a healthy debate with participants from all sides of an issue is great, and frankly something we don’t get enough in this region. But I get the impression sometimes that the reason that a lot of people are “anti-tax” and “anti-big government” is that they feel like the return on investment simply isn’t there…that they’re not getting a dollar in public services back for every dollar they pay. Now we could have a long debate about what it means to “get a dollar back” (if there are less homeless people in my community, do I value that the same as more police or less traffic?) and how much one should expect back (there has to be some transactional cost, so is it reasonable to expect $.90?), but the point is that there’s a really interesting opportunity for someone to design an awesome website that shows exactly what you’re spending and what the government is doing in a cool, interactive, transparent way. It might make shift the majority of public opinion more toward government and taxes because you would at least be able to actually see one way or another how much of your tax dollars are going to the ubiquitous boogeymen (boogeypersons?) of “fraud, waste and abuse.”

Even then, you’re going to have that values debate. If I hate arts, then even if I see that I’m getting $.50 back in accessible public art and free performances, I’m still mad. So it would be incumbent on the government to explain – dare I say “market” – why those investments are important to a community and how it makes sense for the public sector to be involved in ensuring their delivery to all citizens. So, as part of my big idea for marketing regionalism, there might have to be some marketing of government services too.

But let’s talk about really celebrating regional economic development. Forget all my ideas about blogs and billboards. Mobile, Alabama had planned a parade to celebrate EADS winning the Air Force tanker contract. A parade! And when the contract decision was rescinded by the GAO? They had the parade anyway, and I quote: “the parade is a celebration of Mobile’s economic success such as the expansion of Austal, the Thyssenkrupp steel plant, and the new Airbus engineering center.”

When our region throws a parade in honor of the second line of the 787 or a big new office in South Lake Union or just our general success in having Boeing, Microsoft, REI, Amazon, Starbucks, CostCo, et al., my work will be done and I’ll open up that kosher butcher shop I’ve always wanted to.

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