Rhode Island’s economic crisis

Just finished reading Aaron Renn’s takedown of Rhode Island’s ambitions at his Urbanophile site. He argues that Rhode Island needs to develop its own policies to deal with its reduced circumstances; there is no fortress industry in Little Rhody any more, since the building of the Erie Canal, so the state is stuck like an older relative, living with inflated expectations.

First, for any polity, a policy of reducing expectations is unlikely to win any votes.

Second, there is a cost to policy generation of the kind that Aaron is looking to foster. Assume it costs at least $80k including benefits for an analyst to sit in a Providence office for 40 hours a week and come up with new policies to implement. I would hope that the policies generated would save at least $160k, but who knows? It’s a lot easier to amortize policy generation across a raft of clients.

Third, the Federal government is an equal opportunity supporter, and state activity mostly goes on at the margins. The business environment is largely the same no matter where you are.

Fourth, the dollar is everywhere. You could recast your state as a low-wage state, but those wages are being paid for in dollars. It would be great if you could pay wages and pensions in “R.I.yals” and then maintain a currency exchange so that imports from the rest of the U.S. were made more expensive. That would help support local industry.

Fifth, the pensions are still out there and need to be paid. It’s hard to reduce costs when the big costs to government are already incurred. If Aaron could fix this, the world will beat a path to his door.

Why Dutch women cycle more

In this Guardian blog post by Herbie Huff and Kelcie Ralph the authors find perhaps the least persuasive justification for establishing family friendly policies in our polity: it will encourage more women to bike!

Women in Holland, researchers have learned, are able to bicycle more because they have fewer chores. The three reasons why: childcare responsibilities are more evenly shared, work weeks are shorter, and children and elderly don’t need as much chauffeuring around.

So they use this extra free time to bicycle. Yes, the authors contend, “Reducing total work hours and encouraging more flexible schedules for men and women alike could free up the time necessary to get around by bike.” Or, cynics say, it could free up the time necessary to watch more television.

Yes, Holland has a bicycle culture that makes it easy and accepted for everyone to bicycle. But even if the U.S. enacted all those family-friendly policies, we would still be a different country with a different transportation culture.

To this point, read the Motherlode blog post from today, about a woman traveling to Omaha, Nebraska from Washington, DC, a road journey of 1200 miles, with her husband and two children, in order to give birth. The writer talks about how she prefers the outcomes at the Nebraska hospital, but she curiously omits the risk and ennui of driving for three or four days each way, once while nine months pregnant, once with a newborn (can’t nurse in a moving car). I believe Americans have a cultural blind spot where motor vehicle transport is concerned, with the effect that these kinds of behavioral contortions pass without comment.

Americans perceive time in the car as time to ourselves, in our own personal bubble of control. The trip to Nebraska is not a 24-hour endurance test, with all passengers strapped down tightly for their own safety, unable to move, and the pilot solely responsible for the life and death of his family. It is transformed into an unforgettable four days of family time, with songs and banter, bracketing a joyous life event in the family’s collective timeline.