Sunday, November 28, 2010

Economic Development is the new Common Good

HARBESON: Bad can come from the common good

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Do you know what the Ohio River Bridges Project and Jeffersonville’s Vissing Park controversies have in common? They are helping citizens see, on the local level anyway, that common ownership through government force doesn’t always work out so well for the individual.

Common ownership by way of government is based on the idea of the common good, a term that could have merit in the voluntary realm but not when used to legitimize government action.

The phrase common good is not used nearly as much as it used to be by government proponents. They have discovered a better term to co-opt: economic development. This language change makes sense once you start noticing the cozy relationship between business and government that exists today.

While your Thanksgiving dinner is cooking, let’s chew on these two local examples and study the damage caused when a decent and morally neutral idea like economic development is taken over by those who think it’s proper to use government to get things done at the expense of individual rights.

The Ohio River Bridges project has been simmering for decades and the one item that has finally gotten many to lift up the pot lid is the idea of tolling all bridges to pay for it. Some are willing to accept this and others are not.

Why? Well, it’s all a matter of winners and losers.

However, this issue does not come down to the clichéd battles of rich vs. poor, or big business vs. independent small business. The tolling of all bridges puts the conflict into a slightly different grouping: those who could benefit from a huge long-term construction project vs. those who are more directly affected by the tolling itself.

Those who will directly benefit from the bridges project include the lower-paid laborer and administrative workers of any company, big or small, that has a part in the project. These people could be employed for a very long time if the entire project gets the go-ahead and tolls would be a minor issue next to the possibility of long term steady employment in jobs that are often susceptible to layoffs.

But others, like local retail businesses who want to draw Louisville customers, will no doubt be harmed by the same action. So will businesses that transport their product over the river. And of course all those who cross a bridge to get to work will lose if they have to pay tolls on existing bridges.

These conflicts and problems are a result of past actions built on the idea of common ownership and the common good. As a matter of fact, Spaghetti Junction mess itself is a testament to the ideas of the common good, government ownership and central planning.

Next, in Jeffersonville, we see that certain residents are angry because government officials decided to clear wooded park land to make way for ball fields. This is partly due to the planned removal of another park because of the canal project.

Of course, those who will use the ball fields like the idea but those who enjoyed the park in its more natural state do not. This is typical of problems that occur when parcels of land are supposedly held in common ownership for the common good because in the end only a select few actually make the decisions.

I’ve never heard of such conflicts and issues happening with the privately owned Perrin Park. As a matter of fact, all those who are concerned about the effects the bulldozing at Vissing Park had on bird habitat can thank the Perrin Family they didn’t just hand their land over to the government. Perhaps any birds needing new homes will find this wonderful private space and be protected from the invasive species known as overly controlling politicians.

I know this park problem has further solidified a desire for a change in mayors for some residents, so I want to issue a warning for the next election. Mike Moore is on record as saying one of the things he’d like to do in the future is to create a park for the newly annexed area. This would of course mean putting yet more land under Jeffersonville government control.

Just something to think about as you talk with this mayoral candidate about his plans.

It’s time to start thinking about what government is doing in the name of economic development and to understand that individual cases of direct harm have little weight. In the name of economic development, officials will add new taxes on existing roads. In the name of economic development, officials will grab the nearest bulldozer and start knocking stuff down. In the name of economic development, government will harm some businesses that owners spent a lifetime growing. In the name of economic development, government officials are even willing to kick people out of their homes.

The next time you listen to anyone who has an idea that requires the use of government force, pay attention to what they say when defending their plan against those who object. Do they talk about the common good and/or use the term economic development?

If so, then they’ve just told you all you need to know about their respect for the individual. Maybe this knowledge will make a difference and maybe it won’t, but at least you’ll understand the truth. And that’s a start.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson is working on a spray that will halt the growth of the harmful invasive species known as overly controlling politicians.


  1. A great read.

    Yes, plenty of harm is done in the name of economic development, although of course there are some good economic development projects as well.

    But I think we agree that returning to a discussion of the "common good" rather than "the good of a few" would be a good thing. Let's work on making that a trend. Goodness knows, the politicians probably won't, as those who benefit from "economic development" are usually their main campaign contributors.

  2. I control invasive species for a living and I can attest to the fact that there has not yet been produced an effective control for controllers. The market demand is there. Good luck getting the necessary EPA labeling!