FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson, President
In recent weeks, we have heard several calls to slow economic development and advancement in our community. Many of these calls are accompanied by concerns of gentrification, income inequality and economic fairness. These calls have manifested themselves in vocal opposition to pro-business policies. The Free Enterprise Forum believes a flourishing business sector is mission critical to creating a vibrant community; beyond the financial benefit a diverse, successful business community generates a positive, accepting, thriving community.
The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce recently released the 2017 Sales tax data. This empirical data does not capture all local economic activity but provides an objective metric to the overall health of the economy.
The reality is, using a ten year lens, all of our localities have increased their sales tax base. The percent increase is largest in those areas which previously had very little retail but all localities see growth in the last decade.
It is into this context, that I read this morning’s Washington Post opinion piece by economic writer Robert Samuelson “The political consequences of slower growth”. In his piece, Samuelson defines the import of economic growth:
The role of economic growth in advanced democracies is not mainly the accumulation of more material goods. By any historical norm, even today’s poor are staggeringly wealthy. Economic growth plays a more subtle role. It gives people a sense that they are getting ahead and are in control of their lives. It serves as the social glue that holds us together and counteracts — to some extent — the influences of race, class, religion, ethnicity and geography, which drive us apart. emphasis added-nw
The Free Enterprise Forum believes the same socioeconomic theory works on the local level and has a correlated counter theory. The higher the citizen confidence in their local economy regarding opportunity as well as job growth, tensions between often competing factions are reduced.
If however, the political environment highlights the divisions between groups and accentuates an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, then despite economic positives, citizen confidence generally drops and a drop in economic vitality soon follows.
“Some would say you have made a lot of money in this city and because you have already made so much, maybe you could give one back to us,” Bellamy said.
Later in the month, in a presentation to the Charlottesville’s Housing Summit City Principal Planner Brian Haluska provided an inadvertent counter to Bellamy’s Anti-Profit position:
A developer that does not make a profit is a developer that won’t be around for long
Profit has a place in our economic growth engine. Absent the opportunity to add value, why would investors put their resources at risk. Absent cooperation from the localities, market demanded projects (residential and commercial) will be financed and developed ‘by right’ making the well funded vision of localities comprehensive plans nothing but a mirage.
Samuelson’s piece concluded by projecting the influence a declining rate of economic growth has on society:
We should also remember the larger role played by the economy in shaping the nation’s political and social climate. Unless we are able to raise the rate of economic growth — a task whose inherent difficulty ought to be obvious by now — we face an increasingly contentious and politically strained future.
We can expect intensifying competition among Americans (the rich and the poor, the young and the old, cities and states, businesses and governments) for ever-larger shares of the nation’s slow-growing income. We’ll also miss the muffling effect that higher economic growth has on the nation’s other conflicts and grievances.
While I may differ regarding the verbiage “muffling effect”, the sentiment is clear; a community that has economic growth tends to be more cohesive, collaborative, congenial, and accepting. The community that lacks such economic vitality tends to be more combative, restrictive and protectionist.
The question for our communities is do we want to spend resources fighting for “our” slice of the pie or should we work together to increase the size of the community pie?
Neil Williamson, President
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson County.
Photo Credit: housedems.ct.gov