By Howard J. Grossman, AICP
There is a 338-page book titled “Naked Economics,” written by Charles Wheelan, who describes the profession of economics by example, humor and other means quite different than what the typical economist happens to write.
It is a classic treatise that has many ramifications for the Pocono-Northeast. For example, his description of the disappearance of earmarks is something that should be rebooted again as what is waste to some is economic development to others. This is true in this region and perhaps more true than many other regions of the nation as witnessed by what Congressmen Flood and McDade brought into the region in their decades of public service that enabled the region to make a startling economic comeback and diversify its economy greatly.
This writer had the honor and privilege of working with these two leaders and providing opportunities to write or supervise the writing of applications to bring significant funding to projects that led to many industrial parks and other activities for the benefit of past, present and future regional generations.
The book should be required reading for any development person working on economic improvement across regional boundary lines as well as others who work in this exciting profession. Earmarks were destroyed when it was found that projects like “the Alaska bridge to nowhere” were made art of that system, yet, for many other locations, they have meant the ability to compete for economic growth that otherwise could not have happened. Another factor mentioned is the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) which measured Gross National Product (GDP) but added other elements such as life expectancy, literacy, educational attainment and others as part of the measurement system. In a 2009 report, the United States was ninth worldwide, with Norway rated first, followed by Australia and Iceland. This may have changed in later years, but imagine if this region had the ability to be rated accordingly and compared to other regions of the nation. It would be a helpful tool to develop this idea further and add other attributes that make up an economic picture for many years.
Discovering and utilizing happiness as a measurement factor may be something that would change the capacity to define economic elements that relate to a region’s components, beyond traditional facts such as GNP. As pointed out in the book, art and leisure may be included as some of the measurements that benefit an economy. The likelihood is that there are many ways to define an economy beyond the most thought of elements such as jobs, income and others. Think this through and generate ways to measure growth, the arts, environment and other components that can focus attention on the true nature of a regional economy. These factors are around us in many ways and can be a totality that changes how we think about he economy as well as economic development. In fact, if the region had enough time to truly measure what makes people happy, the many opportunities for looking at a true economy would construe a different approach to the definition of the naked truth of what an economy is.
Will the difficult Great Recession of 2008-09 ever repeat itself? The book seems to suggest that it is not an impossible situation and that we should be prepared to handle the astonishing recession since this particular region has had to deal with lesser recessions many times over. There may be a need to plan accordingly and have a written document that spells out what to do when bad times again occur. This would be preparation that has strong meaning and becomes a standard by which downtimes can be shaped to be minimal, rather than deep troubling years. There was a time when about every 10 years, there seemed to be a regional recession that adversely affected the region so that steps had to be taken nationally and in the Commonwealth to recover. There is a need to recover quickly, and therefore a plan would be a helpful guide of prevention to cure a recession that surely will happen at some point in time.
The book points out that while there is much complaint about the size of government, compared to GNP, this system actually is among the smaller levels percentage-wise than is the case of most developed nations. And, the demographics show an aging population that will be worse in coming years as the burgeoning baby boomers become older and more attention needs to be placed upon this trend. The opportunity exists to have social security become solvent but that will take perhaps a new approach in coming years.
The book closes with questions for those living in the year 2050, something which this region should begin to wrestle with as quickly as possible. One deep question relates to will we use the market in imaginative ways to solve social problems. Another difficult question relates to the issue stated as can America get its fiscal house back in order? These long-term issues are those facing this region as well and require much thought and evaluation in coming years.
Here are some ideas.
■ Have all the economic specialists in colleges and elsewhere in the region join together to tackle these and other matters as soon as possible.
■ Develop a list of regional questions which need attention that deal with naked economics.
■ Create a new entity that can relate to the current questions of the 21st century and perhaps the 22nd century.
■ Organize a series of focus groups of citizens and officials throughout the region and use the results as a tool for involving community people in thinking about ways that the results of the book can be brought to regional life.
In these ways, what has been studied by Wheelan can become a standard by which the future economy of the Pocono-Northeast can be enhanced.