Thrive 2055 — Ominous Continuity

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 - by David Tulis

A marketing program paid for by Hamilton County and other taxpayers plays on a theory of local economy so diluted it is effectively an argument for national economy and social planning. 

Thrive 2055, using the Delphi technique developed by Rand Corp. during the Cold War, seeks to create a public consensus to satisfy several policy agendas dismissive of your interest in local economy. The bright gems inside local economy are self-determination, liberty under law, the free market and “loving your neighbor by buying local.” To educated elites and high corporate executives, localists tend to be uncivil and bigoted paysans who simply don’t understand that we live in a world economy, whose intelligence and interests they represent. 

The Thrive 2055 program pretends a communality of interests among 16 counties in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, chief among them Hamilton County in which sits the municipal corporation, Chattanooga. You care for the distinctives among states because you favor the older American order of decentralization and states’ rights. Thrive 2055 favors a practical abolishment of state borders, recognizing instead the centrality of Washington. Caring little about historic distinctions demarked by borders, the program plays upon local interest and the inevitable geocentrism built into the human soul — “my hometown is the center of the world because God put me here; let’s do all we can in it.” 

The 2055 seeks to create a more efficient lobbying mechanism vis a vis the national government in Washington, as that power is understood to be the source of credit, grants, permissions and authority. The program seeks to accustom people to at least five major ideas: Regionalism, regional planning, the danger of the free market, nonlocal zoning authority and soft law. 


The Chattanooga Times Free Press in its Lord’s Day editions May 11, 2014, reopens Clarion Group’s discourse with members of the public. The argument for regional planning is population growth. Demographic projections serve to create demand for a more muscular planning regime in tune with the interests of global and national businesses such as Volkswagen, Wacker and Amazon. 

The report should be read as reflecting what reporter Tim Omarzu perceives as the current established paradigm, or “way of looking at things.” Despite the objectivity of the journalist, the argument for trans-state government and faux localism project strongly from the piece with no “other side” quoted. No critics of centralization and increased dependence on Washington are cited, because that’s not what the story is about, as if the story is too important to have two sides. 

Clarion “projects” Hamilton County will grow by 98,000 souls from 337,000 to 435,000, a 29 percent increase. “Overall, the 16-county region should grow by about 400,000 residents, from about 1 million to 1.4 million.” The 2055 program is called “a private-public effort aimed at helping area officials deal with growth by raising awareness and getting officials and residents to talk about issues across county and state lines.” 

These demographic projections are a picture of blessing. Children are a gift of God. Populations shift to areas of greater liberty, freedom and prosperity, fleeing areas with less. Every man has a mouth, but also two hands. The report does not cite authority for its optimistic projections. But Thrive 2055 does not consider the marketplace sufficient to deal with new business, new families, new neighborhoods. It posits that population growth is a threat and a danger for which a sort of militant planning organization needs to be created to advise, assist, cajole and advance. By myriad customs, forms, procedures, notices, permissions and other administrative hurdles, this sort of government within government subdues the free market. The people are made to constitute a regulated market, an obedient market. The genius, quirks, ambitions, excesses, novelties, independent movement and “anarchism” that make up the best of the people are transmuted into servility. 

Passion is drained; cooperation and groupthink rise to the fore.

Elements in the media narrative

The newspaper story rehearses Thrive 2055’s presuppositions and works as a form of marketing for the group, though Mr. Omarzu is no way to blame. The group’s local cadres “just hope to create a consensus about the direction the region should take.” In the free market, self-interest, the profit motive and the vast concept of “service to the other” allow it to roar ahead on millions of fronts every hour. No consensus is needed, no plan. Architect Stroud Watson’s wife, Cynthia, is quoted as saying she prefers “in-fill” development of vacant city lots vs. expansion outward, walking vs. using cars. Good idea in seeking to have people be more neighbor- and community-minded, as the auto has helped in disintegration of neighborhoods and alienation from neighbors (in America, few know their neighbors). But is centralization of human purpose in a planning administration the way to go? Is limiting the rights of property owners pursuant to United Nation’s population control programs the best thing? 

Is it the most local thing? The coverage, with four photos on Page 1, makes me think we face a big surge. One photo shows a mass excavator at work of a shopping center in Fort Oglethorpe, next to the Wal-Mart. Another shot shows traffic on a bridge. Another, bulldozers with a Costco sign in the foreground. Photos, the newsman’s tool in trade, serve the reader in establishing the concept of growth — in population, traffic, shopping, townhall. “The growth won’t be without growing pains,” the story says. Then, five paragraphs later, “But growth comes at a price.” This latter paragraph leads into a detail about a developer receiving nearly $7 million from city and county governments to build sites for national corporations. 

Growing pains and price convey the idea that “the region” can reduce growing pains and pay the price if its officials band together with other officials, united by the efforts of volunteers and chambers of commerce. The goal is to get past the narrow, nearly sectarian insularity of local politics (think Fred Rees Skillern, who recently lost election on the County Commission). He represents, as it were, inbreeding, unresponsiveness and backwardness. The effort targets narrowness, the bigotry of localism. Not directly, but by appealing to a larger vision — by “engaging people in the 16-county region to make the most of our economic opportunities while preserving what we love about our home communities.” Thrive 2055 relies on its democratic polling and engagement process to give its organizers’ goals a context of public consensus.

Prying into secret counsels of private sector

The creation of the Thrive 2055 process lets government stand on both sides of a very important line. The line is that which is drawn whenever a party’s secret counsels break into the open in a public act. That could be the drawing of a building permit, a zoning change request for a new factory, a permitting process for a new dump, a board’s vote to build an elementary school. On one side of the line are plans. On the other, their execution. 

With planning, the civil authority, wielding its swords, taxes and administration, stands on both sides of line. It wants to not just react to the public appearance of people’s moves, new businesses and private choices. It wants to reach into secret counsels and influence or control those decisions and the people who make them. Yes, it seeks to accomplish this intervention while avoiding any open entanglement with their property rights and constitutional protections. But Thrive 2055 is not fundamentally friendly to a free market and an open local economy, and under democratic guises continues a long tradition of commercial government.

— David Tulis hosts at Chattanooga’s CBS Radio News affiliate, Hot News Talk Radio 1240 910 and 1150 AM from 1 to 3 p.m. weekdays, covering local economy and free markets in Chattanooga and beyond.

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