I know, I know. It is difficult to propose any new form of discretionary spending in these times in Albany and D.C. when the checkbook is overdrawn.
Of course, this new-found fiscal conservatism is a natural outgrowth of threatened times. We simply cannot spend our way to prosperity under the false economic theory that the generation or maintenance of unproductive jobs will be our salvation.
Many now agree that it is time to reinvent government. Some might even argue it's time to rid ourselves of government. However, all thoughtful people must agree that some government is necessary. The issue is to define, promote and insist upon good government.
How do we define good government? We need government to do some of those things for us that we cannot easily do for ourselves. Government can allow us to pool our resources and reach a consensus on such things as education, transportation networks, police and national defense that we cannot do for ourselves. We should also appreciate the way a responsible government can maintain the rule of law and create the environment in which we can work hard for life, liberty and happiness. These are not our rights — they are opportunities we create to succeed by the sweat of our brow.
The next level of government expansion is in its mechanisms to distribute the fruits of our efforts in a fair manner we can all accept. There are legitimate differences of opinion on this point.
Government can also expand to do those things the private sector can do. If government can unambiguously do these things more efficiently, at lower cost and with less labor diverted from the private sector, many would also accept some such expansion.
Finally, an intelligent government can do things that stimulate the economy and promote long-term economic growth in a way in which benefits well exceed costs.
This final view of government as an active participant in fine tuning and directing our economy is met with well-deserved skepticism these days. We all know that Washington wanted to deliver us all from a terrible recession, at least when we were far away from a presidential election year. And, many share my disappointment that, for all the hoopla, the best we could manage was to arrest an even deeper recession, without creating a soft landing.
In this political environment, Gov. Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Duffy are trying to get government working again. They have formed a Regional Economic Development Council that allows ours and nine other regions across the state to determine what things we need to create a sustainable community. Leaders in each region work with staff, facilitators and the public to forge paths that work uniquely well for each region.
The most novel aspect, though, is that the regions will then compete with each other, not based on the political strength of their delegations, but on the brilliance of their ideas. I envision ideas flowing from the North Country that are so sensible and so good for our region and the state that we receive a share of available economic-development funds that is larger than our relative population. In the words of Garry Douglas, we may well be able to punch above our weight.
It will be difficult to avoid and forget the culture of politics that has defined New York decision making. However, I welcome a process that is not based on personalities and egos, but on value. I believe the communities that can perform the analyses and formulate the plans that offer the greater measurable value of benefits over costs are the communities that will succeed.
I also believe the North Country has a good chance in succeeding overall. We are small, but we know how to generate value. We have shown a capability to work in a much bigger playing field than do rural areas elsewhere. And, this community shows a remarkable pragmatism to put politics aside for the greater interest.
For these reasons, I think the North Country is the perfect place to reinvent how and what government does for us. I just hope such a process of regional cooperation and economic self-determination is so successful that this state no longer goes back to its old ways. If we can do that, and the other regions in this state can adopt such sensible economy-building as well, then maybe we can recapture the spirit that made this the Empire State.
Colin Read chairs the Economics and Finance Department at SUNY Plattsburgh. Continue the conversation at www.pressrepublican.com/0216_read.