Give A Hand To Thrive 2055 For 'Regional Vision' Over Free Markets - And Response

Monday, January 5, 2015 - by David Tulis
Kayakers speed along on the Tennessee River near Market Street bridge.
Kayakers speed along on the Tennessee River near Market Street bridge.
- photo by Chattanooga Visitors Bureau

The marketplace is that great mass of men and women who interact in commerce for the benefit of their customers and in their own self-interest. Its power to produce wealth rests in the fact that it is not organized by any one or dozen players, but by thousands — even millions.

The market is, as Adam Smith writes in his 1776 book Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, subject to an invisible and vastly divisible power.

The idea of the marketplace in the Chattanooga area is under quiet siege by people who have a better idea about human nature.

The siege mounds have been raised by professionals and business people gathering under the banner Thrive 2055 to bring Chattanooga and 16 area counties under a vision of “economic development” and continuing domestication of the human will by clearly superior people.

“The Consortium's ultimate goal *** is to bring the region together under a common vision and prioritized action agenda,” says Clarion Associates, the consultant, on its website, “supported by decision-making tools, strategic transformative project ideas and metrics that will assist stakeholders at the local and regional level to make more informed decisions that will lead to the long-term economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being of their locality and the region.”

As opposed to this slumber-inducing slab of type, Smith argues for the benefits of local economy and domestic transactions. Self-interest and the profit motive serve prosperity more than those who assign themselves the business of noisily boosting the public good.

By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, [the individual in commerce] intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain; and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest, he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.

Lobbying for a visible hand

Smith conceives of a spontaneous market in which unorganized and self-interested parties serve their customers and obtain a profit.

Thrive 2055 contradicts Smith’s free market by affectation. It shows itself in best light by playing on native local feelings of pride and appreciation. It exploits targeted groups by identifying with their members’ domestic happiness in their hometowns and home counties.

Media coverage is generally disarming and favorable of the F$3.2 million civil government-funded program. Surveyed residents see “spurring the area’s economy” as important, needing a “40-year planning effort” and “strategic blueprints” to “help push” the region ahead through 2055,” a Times Free Press story says. Change agents such as Daniel Carter, a University of the South professor, downplay the uninvited idea of Thrive 2055: That of the visible hand.

The visible hand implied in the project is that of management by superior people. Increasing regulation, zoning, new controls on property owners, new taxes and assessments, less free exercise of property rights. “We don’t want to get into a discussion about zoning regulations,” a defensive Mr. Carter tells the newspaper.

A hand visible, but not a fist clenched, in other words. Thrive 2055 to all appearances is the light hand of persuasion, of consensus, of gaining critics over by inviting them to share in the future prosperity, of inducements to be a player. Gary Farlow of the Bradley County and Cleveland Chamber of Commerce proposes what the newspaper report calls “a central entity” that markets the 16 disparate counties “for economic development purposes.” He proposes a web of agreements among these counties to bind officials to a regional and corporate view of the future that will discourage genuine lococentrism of Smith’s selfish kind. 

Artificial unity for 16 counties

Thrive ignores the distinctives of the three states in which the 16 counties are found. It pretends the counties on the fringe of the area, DeKalb in Alabama and Murray in Georgia, for example, have a vague connection with Chattanooga. They may. But with each other? Rural Rhea or Polk counties cannot compete with big-city Hamilton in landing a VW, and take part to be pulled along by their richer and bigger neighbor. Political and big-business interests in Hamilton care nothing for Rhea and Polk, except that presenting them as part of a regional lobbying and political entity may bring more federal dollars (to build a bypass). In treating with lesser Polk, the greater Hamilton operates in self-interest.

Thrive sees problems that cry for transjurisdictional solutions. “Regional issues such as air quality, stormwater management, preservation of scenic assets, and water resource management transcend local political boundaries, but there is currently no regional vision in place to address these challenges.”

The coding in Thrive 2055’s text obscures the political and grant-baiting agenda whose gaze is Washington, D.C. “ This project presents opportunities for the local communities to work together to find fiscally responsible solutions to shared challenges and reach beyond today to create a thriving region.”

“Fiscally responsible solutions” involving “more public/private partnerships” that make the region “more fiscally efficient” tell of a keen interest in free money from Uncle, made more compelling in light of Thrive’s prediction of “a future with less federal funding.” It proposes centralization at the local and regional level to counter the growing sickness and dysfunction of national centralization in the U.S. government.

Thrive 2055 uses a variant of the Delphi technique developed by Rand Corp. in the 1950s and ’60s to help academicians as a forecasting technique using group think. It is a type of manipulation of members of the public to bring about an erstwhile consensus that ratifies planners’ goals to win support of well-guided and well-informed elected officials. Delphi was aggressively used in public school reforms in the 1990s to gain acceptance of school-to-work, sex education and other plans given to public debate. Chattanooga “leaders” used it for Vision 2000 and downtown development.

The oversight of strong over weak

Thrive 2055 favors not the invisible hand of the free market and people exercising property rights at liberty for the profit of their customers and themselves. It favors the hand visible.

Visible, organized, managerial, funded by civil authority, pretending to democratic impulse, seeking centralized organization in dread of the chaos, indeterminativeness and doubt of the marketplace. Thrive 2055 claims it is needed to be able to anticipate changes and moves by the marketplace. And how better to anticipate growth needs and have government render aid and assistance than to have civil authority intimately involved in planning for the changes to which it will charge itself with responding?

Commissioner Jim Fields strongly suggests how confused elected officials are in a 2012 interview. Mr. Fields insists residents’ property rights are not going to be burdened by a 40-year plan that improves government’s response to the marketplace. But he admits to the ambiguity of public-private partnerships.‡‡ He admits (more or less) that in that conceit, government crosses the line between the state and the family business and seats itself at the dinner table where plans are laid for coming industry and commerce.

What’s easy to overlook is that the interposer upon private counsels has his elbows on the table, bangs his glas for more drink, laughs too loudly, boorishly commandeers certain parts of the conversation, pries into family secrets and winks at the heir apparent who, indeed, plans to make him partner.

— David Tulis hosts 1 to 3 p.m. weekdays at Hot News Talk Radio 1240 910 and 1190 AM, covering local economy and free markets in Chattanooga and beyond.

Sources and notes:

Mike Pare, “Thrive 2055: Survey shows we want both economic development and open spaces that preserve region's natural treasures," Chattanooga Times Free Press (web), Dec. 28 2014

‡ Your sense of deja vu with Thrive 2055 is based on your recollections of Chattanooga Venture and “2,500 ideas” generated in the early 1980s among 2,000 people in the city. For a summary, peek into revitalization working papers in Gwinnett County, Ga., pp A-23 - A28, with Carl Moore as the authority and recordkeeper.

‡‡  Two graphs from Commissioner Jim Fields story: “No, there’s no theory that the market is controlled by Hamilton County, the city of Chattanooga, or anybody, except for the market forces. *** What will occur is that we will be given information about where the anticipated growth is going to be, and what we need to do to plan for the anticipated growth, and how much it is going to cost us to plan for the anticipated growth. So, as far as the regional planning committee having any control over market forces, as far as I know I don’t see that.” So regional planning, then, is not planning, I proposed. It is simply observing what the marketplace is doing and reporting to elected officials? “No, it is an attempt by government to respond to anticipated needs over the next 40 years and which I think is a very prudent way of handling the responsibilities of government.” 

* * * 

Dear Mr. Tulis, 

Thank you for this fine piece of investigative journalism. You are a true patriot. 

I do not want to live in Russia, and this Thrive 2055 is nothing more than creeping communism - the exact same kind of communism I fought against in Korea. 

By the way, yesterday, I noticed two black helicopters flying over my house, and not two miles from where I live someone is clearing a large parcel of land of about five acres. This is, no doubt, predevelopment activity for one of Obama's FEMA  concentration camps. I hope you or some other member of your crackerjack staff will take the opportunity to investigate this as well. 

Lonnie Hatmaker

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