There’s an oft repeated falsehood told in Rhode Island that is repeated enough that those parroting it no longer feel the need to justify the logic of it. This factoid goes something like this, people are leaving the Rhode Island, which proves something is dreadfully wrong (and certainly the fault of Democrats, progressives, unions, fisher cats, whatever).
The latest iteration of this comes from the Arthur Christopher Schaper, “guest mindsetter” at GoLocal, who notes with grave concern that “more people are leaving the state than entering.”
The problem, according the Schaper, is that the Democratic Party like a coven of witches “casting hexes on the unsuspecting citizens” has “cursed the minds and the hearts of the Rhode Island citizenry, convincing them that Republicans have no power, no solutions, and no ideas beyond running against the Democratic machine.”
Yes, that’s right. It’s not Republicans lack of viable ideas. It’s only the appearance of that! Clearly someone has fooled you gullible voters. Lucky for you, smart folks like Mr. Schaper are still around to tell you about it. It’s funny, but it’s also what passes for serious political analysis on Rhode Island’s right.
But what of the idea that we should be concerned that “more people are leaving the state than entering?” This one is a bit more pernicious than the rest of the nonsense in Schaper’s anti-progressive rant because it seems a logical premise: People gravitate towards “good” places and away from “bad” ones. But just how important an indicator is population growth for prosperity? Turns out, there’s no connection between the two. Richard Florida of the Martin Prosperity Institute looked for just such an association. What he found was that:
Economists of all stripes agree that rising productivity – fueled by more efficient business practices, more highly skilled and flexible workers, new technology and higher rates of innovation – is the main driver of economic growth.
Productivity and prosperity always go together; prosperity and population not so much… there was no statistical association whatsoever between population growth and productivity growth.
This not only challenges, it definitively disproves, the conventional wisdom that a growing population equals a growing economy. Population growth, in fact, can create a false illusion of prosperity.
Florida explains, that while migration patterns may have mattered in the agricultural and industrial past, what’s import now are those things that matter in the new economy “like education, skills, innovation and creativity.” Unfortunately ideas to promote an environment supportive of those things that matter are among the very things Schaper dismisses out of hand as a focus on “inane and non-pressing matters,” for instance legislation promoting the progressives values of tolerance and equality, which have been positively linked to higher levels of economic growth. That’s not progressive voodoo. It’s simple economic fact.
Competitive Cities Care About Equality
Members of the creative class – the 40 million workers, a third of the American workforce – the scientists and engineers, innovator and entrepreneurs, researchers and academics, architects and designers, artists, entertainers and media types and professionals in business, management, healthcare and law who power economic growth – place a huge premium on diversity. In fact, they use it as a proxy to determine whether a city will provide a welcoming and stimulating environment for them.
Cities that demonstrate such attributes gain a competitive edge, as evidenced by their consistently higher levels of economic growth. As the journalist and demographer Bill Bishop put it, “Where gay households abound, geeks follow.”
I’m hopeful that analysis by economists like Florida will help to convince RI Republicans to abandon their flawed metrics of the past and to begin seriously considering ideas that will make Rhode Island competitive in the future. Hopeful, yes, but in the case of progressive witch hunters like Mr. Schaper, it may take some time.