Renn, writing in City Journal, calls RI ‘the nation’s basket case’

City Journal Spring 2014 RIAaron Renn, the one-time Rhode Island resident and author of the Urbanophile blog, is out with a big new piece about Rhode Island’s intractable economic problems in City Journal, an urban affairs quarterly published by The Manhattan Institute, a right-leaning think tank. The article is called “The Bluest State,” and it’s a bracing read.

Here’s a sample:

Blue-state defenders say that progressive policies work. After all, liberal-leaning states boast some of the nation’s wealthiest and best-educated populations. But many are also reeling from problems ranging from high costs of living and widening income inequality to chronic fiscal crises. And leading blue states such as California, Massachusetts, and New York possess unique assets — respectively, favorable climate, educational hubs, fortress industries — that shelter them, at least for a time, from the full economic consequences of their public policies. What happens when you go blue in a more average, workaday place? Rhode Island — a blue state in its purest form — provides an answer. …

[E]ven as Rhode Island’s industrial base steadily eroded, the state’s political leaders didn’t seem to understand that they no longer had any marketplace leverage. This myopia continues to the present day. The state’s leaders act as if they’re selling a unique luxury product — à la Michael Bloomberg’s notorious quip about New York City — when they’re selling a commodity, at best. They feel justified in adopting the same arrangements as Massachusetts and Connecticut without the compensating economic advantages that would help pay for such policies, at least for a while. As [Robert] Atkinson put it: “For a long time, Rhode Island could essentially afford to be inefficient and quasi-corrupt … because things just sort of needed to be there. That was gone a long time ago.” Someone forgot to tell the state’s political leaders.

The article is worth reading in full even if you’re inclined to disagree with Renn, both to see the sheer number of outlier policies Rhode Island has enacted and to get a sense of one smart observer’s critique. One part of his thesis that’s sure to be debated is whether it’s accurate to say that Rhode Island’s overall policy thrust is liberal; as RIPR’s Ian Donnis quickly pointed out, the state has had primarily Republican governors since the 1980s, and its Democratic legislative leaders are often criticized by progressives.

Renn’s article also isn’t just about left/right divides. The question of whether Rhode Island gets value for money in its government spending, for instance, should concern Democrats as much if not more than Republicans. The imbalance in the state’s unemployment program raises serious questions about fairness. The state’s pension burden looks set to take resources from other priorities for decades. And the high cost of housing here acts like an indirect tax on the middle and working classes.

For more from Renn – who addressed Rhode Island House lawmakers to provide economic advice earlier this year – check out his 2013 interview on Executive Suite.

22 thoughts on “Renn, writing in City Journal, calls RI ‘the nation’s basket case’

  1. Conservative political ethic is enherently destructive and it’s economic policies based in pure hubris – so going “right” for RI is NOT the right answer (in fact it’s a destructive decision in any context – – all it takes is a tiny bit of objective research to prove this.) Regardless, the essence of the problem with RI is pathetic leadership and an ignorant electorate. This state could have easily solved it’s problems long ago if it had – – 1) legalized gambling over 20 years ago and used the Nevada Gaming Commission as it’s model – – or 2) if it adopted a taxation policy similar to Delaware’s where business is welcomed and encouraged to come to the state. Rather our GOP Governors have favored higher and higher taxation and ridiculous schemes to make money (Studio 38 was a JOKE from the outset and only an idiot thought otherwise – – now the state is stuck with yet another bill) – – The state needs visionary leaders and the electorate needs to stop listening to self-serving information sources.

    • Are you kidding me? Liberalism is not the problem and conservative policies are a destructive decision in any context? What a close-minded point of view. Maybe if you got out of this dump of a state you would realize that. Rhode Island is losing population, as is all of New England except for New Hampshire, the only state in NE that is conservative. The states doing the best in this nation are led by conservatives. You said it: an ignorant electorate that keeps voting Demorat.

      • ” keep voting democrat”

        Every time I hear that tired old cliche, you know the person behind it has nothing but a sound bite brain.

  2. J B ??? Are you serious? GOP governors favor higher taxes? You do know the Governor has NO say in how this state is run, correct? The Dems in both houses have put RI where it is today, the trash. YOur Dems and ex-house leader are responsible. Just keep voting Dem, I guess you think Obama was the correct choice?, and try blaming the other party. You are what’s wrong with RI!

    • ah the expected response from another non-thinking gop conservative – – your party is destroying our nation and our state – – and so proud of being so willfully clueless too – – astounding hubris, as usual – nothing new and nothing of value – – pathetic waste of intellect too,.

      • 17 TRILLION in debt. Twice as many pewople on food stamps. Unemployment at or near 15% when you count the people who gave up. RI, Detroit all DEMS!! Yes, keep putting your hand out looking for your “entitlements” and vote Dem it’s been working so far! WHAT A DOPE!! You are the problem, intellect?? You Dems??? AHAHHAAH thank you I needed that.

  3. There is a soon to be majority of ri voters that are
    Voting themselves money.

    We aren’t completely there yet but it’s getting close.

    Cicilini, Langevin, reed, whitehouse, probably
    Half of the ri house and just about all of the ri senate are reelected by
    Folks that don’t want change in ri. They don’t want
    Or care about prosperity in ri.

    As long as the government checks are there , who needs
    Progress. It’s now generational in ri. Entitlements are
    A permanent way of life and what’s the point in giving them up.

    Stick that in your left wing cigar and smoke it.

  4. both responses are WAY OFF – – the problem is voter ignorance and pathetic leadership from ALL SIDES – –

  5. libtard central. what do you expect.the dems are raising car inspection fees and gas tax because apparently $8.7 billion just isn’t enough.
    Primarily republican NH runs for 2 years on $10.5 billion. If they had our budget ,they would be able to line every road in the state with a thin layer of gold and have some left over.

  6. Renn should stick to urban planning because politics is beyond his comprehension. Rhode Island is a “blue” state in terms of presidential, senate and congressional elections. At the state level, it certainly votes for candidates with a “D” after their name–but that often does not equate to liberal or progressive policymaking. The General Assembly is far more in line with moderate, centrist or even right-leaning policies. Renn erroneously equates Democratic electoral strength with progressive governance. That simply isn’t the case. Nor does he account for the fact that the last Democratic governor was Bruce Sundlun (Massachusetts, California and Conn. have all had a string of Democratic governors and more progressive state legislatures.) The economic challenges this state faces cannot be attributed to a failure of progressive government (because we haven’t had it.)

  7. Nothing will ever change in r.i. because the same people are elected/re-elected/or appointed.The smartest thing to do is retire and move to another state.

  8. I had on the Buddy show on at 5:30ish tonight listening to the half hour news when he interviewed this guy Aaron Renn. Cianci wiped the floor with him saying how wonderful Prov is…it is the movie district- you can see plays at Trinity or go to PPAC and then Cianci started slamming him on the Federal Hill restaurants being awesome with wonderful higher education universities like Brown and RISD- he was raving about RISD and how Johnston & Wales is one of the best culinary universities in the country..The guy when he could get a word in edgewise since Cianci monopolized the one sided conversation said financially the state sucks with high taxes and no jobs and Cianci called them minor …that we don’t want people here. We want to keep it a secret. Cianci is a piece of ****** If you’re going to have a guest, let the guy speak…Cianci just could not hear anything bad said….said it beats some horse town in Texas or Idaho or some hole in the wall city where there is nothing…he truly went ballistic on this guy..

    • cianci had in in for the guy before he started.

      cianci has his big $$ gig on the radio and tv. he is older and doesnt need a job or money.

      but if providence is so great, why is it that people are not flocking to live in ri….

      its a great place for a vacation……

  9. Listen to you all with your political catchphrases!!!!!!!!! Right/Left Progressive.Red /Blue Conservative etc.Cant you see it simply for what it is.CORRUPT (controlled by unions and greedy egotistacil politicians)INCOMPETENCE(Political appointees,Chafee,say no more).

    • BINGO! BOTH PARTIES STINK. And let’s not forget how Don the dope Carcieri blew OUR wad. Just as bad as Linc Mr Magoo Chafee!! CORRUPT GA. STOOPID ELECTORATE!

  10. Actually, much to the dismay of those who dislike facts because they require an education to understand, RI corruption is lower than most states. Virginia, New Jersey, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana and New York (where a Congressman threatened to throw a reporter of a balcony) have higher levels of corruption. Population may be remaining stagnant. However, top tax bracket earners are not fleeing the state. They are simply taking advantage of corporate welfare, averaging $387 million annually, without creating any more jobs. They just hold the state hostage by threatening to move even more jobs to states that have sold out their people to subsudized poverty wages in an interstate competition to see who can reach the bottom first. So called “red states” actually consume far more in federally subsidized entitlements than “blue” states. The only reason any decent paying jobs at all are left in RI is because the unions fight to keep them from being outsourced or cut to poverty wages. The most prevalent corruption lies in the fiscal and social conservatives who wear the costumes of Democrats but consistently prioritize profits over people.

    • “The only reason any decent paying jobs at all are left in RI is because the unions fight to keep them from being outsourced or cut to poverty wages.”

      umm. what union jobs are those. the only union jobs in ri are state and municipal.

  11. The people that believe RI doesn’t have a serious financial problem must work for the state or a local government, when the crash comes they will be the ones that suffer everyone else will have moved on.

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