Sunday, January 25, 2015

Does greater Minnesota need more more or more better?

I think I've mentioned already that, back when I was in college, taking a course on fundamentals of sociology, the professor said something I've never forgotten when he announced that "there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." I found myself remembering that this morning as I was reading the Star Tribune's story about greater Minnesota's perception that they are falling behind. I'm only too willing to concede that, in much of politics, perception is reality. That's one of the underlying problems with politics. If we can have Reality TV, why can't we have Reality Politics?

There's a fairly recent analysis done by Minnesota experts that reports that many of greater Minnesota's urban centers are growing (page 10, graphic above). Maybe greater Minnesotans are suffering from that widespread malaise that, not matter what we have, we always want more. We depend on more. I think that's called addiction in various forms, such as former President Bush's reference to America being addicted to oil. That's the way our whole economy is structured, because we fail to distinguish between growth and development. Unlimited growth is an indication of cancer. It isn't feasible on a planet with finite resources. Development is something that can, if done well, continue in perpetuity. We need to think about and act on what we want and what we need to get it. Former Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz was noted for his advice to farmers "Get big or get out." According to Wikipedia, "His policies favored large-scale corporate farming and an end to New Deal programs...." Now it shouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that 4 160 acre family farms are much more likely to support local trade center businesses than will one 640 acre corporate farm managed by one family. (That's an oversimplification, but it makes the point.) That approach leads to things like recent proposals to subsidize "workforce housing" to help greater Minnesota communities and businesses grow. A diversified economy that supports the kind of jobs that enable families to buy new homes is a more strategic approach it seems to me. Aaron Brown has noted time and again the need for the Iron Range to diversify its economy. He's correct. The most promising strategy I encountered in more than a decade of working at economic development is know as Economic Gardening. (As an aside, I have a strong preference for earlier versions, before the focus shifted to identifying and supporting "gazelles.")

not all of the Twin Cities is under industrial cranes
Photo by J. Harrington

There are increasing numbers of studies that support the idea that, once humans have a certain level of income, more money doesn't lead to greater happiness. I suspect that may be true of communities as well as individuals. Other than wanting "more," can greater Minnesota's newly elected representatives, or those who have been in office for awhile, tell the rest of us what is needed and wanted? New copper mines to risk polluting some of our greatest natural resources? A state highway moved to permit taconite mining to continue in the face of dropping global demand? More funding to foreign mining entities that promise jobs that don't materialize? Price supports and public policies that help fund the growth of corporate agriculture so we can continue a cheap food policy with fewer families living in farm country? Maybe those in greater Minnesota who believe they should have more might want to spend some time reading the story of King Midas. He got what he wished for.

Work Song

By Joshua Mehigan 

This fastening, unfastening, and heaving—
this is our life. Whose life is it improving?
It topples some. Some others it will toughen.
Work is the safest way to fail, and often
the simplest way to love a son or daughter.
We come. We carp. We’re fired. We worry later.

That man is strange. His calipers are shiny.
His hands are black. For lunch he brings baloney,
and, offered coffee, answers, “Thank you, no.”
That man, with nothing evil left to do
and two small skills to stir some interest up,
fits in the curtained corner of a shop.

The best part of our life is disappearing
into the john to sneak a smoke, or staring
at screaming non-stop mills, our eyes unfocused,
or standing judging whose sick joke is sickest.
Yet nothing you could do could break our silence.
We are a check. Do not expect a balance.

That is a wrathful man becoming older,
a nobody like us, turned mortgage holder.
We stay until the bell. That man will stay
ten minutes more, so no one can complain.
Each day, by then, he’s done exactly ten.
Ten what, exactly, no one here can say.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.