Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Who writes this stuff?

I love it when our newspaper editors try to talk about the business climate. They usually end up proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have no idea what they are talking about.

Today's example is found in the Portland Tribune on the editorial page. The headline says:
"Whole Portland area needs competitive economic strategy."

OK, fair enough I guess. But I do get a little nervous by this kind of statement. The word "strategy" implies some kind of controlling authority that devises and implements it. Businesses don't develop area-wide "strategies" as part of some kind of collective effort.

The opinion piece goes on to dish out some of the fuzziest and ill-defined gobbledygook that I have ever seen offered by a major newspaper as serious economic thinking. Here's a sample of what they call "immediate, needed initiatives:"

• The business community must develop, lead and invest in measurable economic outcomes that are strategically planned and consistently executed.

What the hell does this mean? "Economic outcomes" such as profit? So they are recommending that businesses develop, lead and invest in being profitable? Thanks for that ... I'm sure Nike will be offering them a spot on their board of directors for that nugget.

Or do they have some other kind of economic outcome in mind? What would that be? They never bother to define it of course, enamored as they seem to be with such lofty sounding but empty rhetoric. Newpaper editors love to talk about things being done "strategically." As opposed to what? Are they are obviously worried that businesses will pursue profits "haphazardly?"

• The business community routinely and relevantly communicate with local residents to convey why the economy matters to them.

"Hello, Mr. Smith? This is Pendleton Woolen Mills calling. We would like you to know that the economy really matters to us. Have you found this communication relevant?"

• Government must actively foster a climate in which businesses and employment can thrive by enacting policies, programs and tax structures that support the economy and the retention and creation of jobs.

This sounds really great. But the vague language is a cover for their reluctance to take a stand on specific issues. Portland and Multco has a horribly uncompetitive Business License Fee and Business Income Tax that has chased many businesses out of the area.

Is that "fostering" a bad climate? If so, they sure don't mention it. Rather than directly taking on policies that everybody knows are destructive, they hide behind tough-sounding but meaningless platitudes that substitute for actually taking a stand.

(As a side note, The Tribune itself has escaped Multnomah County, moving its offices from Portland to Clackamas County a year ago or so.)

As a general rule, anytime you hear any supposed experts say or write the words "foster a climate," you can just dismiss whatever they say about anything, because they aren't serious adults.

• Links and investments must be made between the economy, transportation, education, land use, recreation and quality of life. This chance exists right now as the state and the region plan the future of land use, education and transportation

In other words, more central planning. Pabulum like this is fun to dissect because they throw all sorts of smart sounding words without realizing that a grammatical analysis usually shows it is meaningless. For instance:

Toss out the first two words of the conjunctive phrase, which leaves "Investmetns must be made between...."

How do you make an investment "between" things? You don't. You invest IN things.

The last sentence should send chills down the spine of any business that still clings to the hope that it can be profitable in this city. The Tribune's answer for the failed planning policies of the last 30 years is apparently to keep planning. Our big chance is that we are right now in the process of planning "the future of land use, education and transportation."

Oh, yippee. They weren't doing any planning of these things before now?

The fact is, the planning is the problem, because the planning subculture has an agenda that has created the mess we are now in. More planning - more empowerment to the people who brought us here -- is not going to do anything other than make us circle the drain faster than we already are.

The Tribune doesn't see it, because their mindset is firmly inside the planning box. And that makes it very amusing when they try to pretend they understand business and economics.

That is why I call the op-ed pages the "funny pages."


Anonymous said...

Rob, it's even worse when you read the pullout section that has about a dozen articles explaining all the wonderful planning they need to do to get the economy going.

All part of the "Rethinking Portland" initiative they've been yammering about.

What a bunch of dopes.

gus miller said...

I give the Trib credit for trying. They put forth a "statement of beliefs" introducing a "Rethinking Portland" insert similar to one they did some months ago concerning public schools.

As they also said in the editorial:
"The Portland area’s future depends on a sustained and balanced regional economy – one that private and public interests invest in strategically and consistently. Such an economy must benefit the livelihood of businesses and local residents and help pay for needed public services.

Does Portland have the necessary regional strategy to maintain this type of economy?

The answer, unfortunately, is no.

The region does have a variety of private- and public-sector economic plans. Many are largely volunteer driven and are the product of a collection of local business associations, such as the Portland Business Alliance, the Regional Partners and the Westside Economic Alliance. These plans are showing uneven results even as the economy recovers. They are further hampered by a reliance on busy volunteers and limited staff funding.

Along the way, the importance of these strategic economic plans has been poorly communicated to average citizens, who pollsters will tell you are most concerned about their own personal economic future and their children’s future.

These inconsistent efforts toward economic development are insufficient. The Portland region is in an economic race with regions across the United States and the world. It is a race that the Portland area will lose without making significant changes. And if it’s lost, people – not just businesses – will suffer.

In today’s Portland Tribune, we publish Rethinking Portland, an examination of the regional economy through the eyes of business people, government officials and average citizens. We look at what is working and what isn’t. We find that some U.S. communities are surpassing Portland by investing in forward-thinking economic and community outcomes."

The question now is whether there are any interested parties willing to reach consensus on adopting belief or beliefs and engaging in the project financing, planning and management to achieve fruition.