'They' Way of Thinking Neglects Needs of 'Us'

This document is available courtesy of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Sunday, April 23, 1995
Section: OPINION AND IDEAS
Page: E1
Bill Bishop, Herald-Leader columnist

I'm looking for a governor who will be more than the leader of a Third World protectorate.

How will I know when I've found the right guy? He'll be the suit who doesn't talk about "they."

I've heard a lot about "they" during the Republican and Democratic debates on Kentucky Educational Television. "They" are the people who are going to "bring" a bunch of jobs to Kentucky -- good jobs, high-tech jobs, high-pay jobs, jobs in your hometown that will hire your ma, your pa and your cousin, Jimmy.

Every candidate has had his own way to get "they" to pay attention to
Kentucky. Paul Patton forgives their taxes. Bob Babbage and John "Eck" Rose think a well-educated "us" will attract the "they" with the jobs. The Republicans say if we cut taxes, "they" will flood the state with employment.

To think that some out-of-state "they" is going to save our economic backsides is Third-World thinking. And it's a Kentucky specialty. (There must have been a sale a while back and we filled the cellar.) That's why we mine other people's coal. We grow other people's tobacco. We sew other people's underwear and blue jeans. We build other people's cars. Now, Lexington engineer Lee Todd notes, we are giving tax breaks to out-of-state companies so we can "pluck other people's chickens."

None of the candidates has shown a way out of this colonial existence. Their strategies for prosperity all depend on others. And if you depend on someone to bring you a future, you're waiting for a bus that's already full.

Lt. Gov. Paul Patton still touts his 1988 legislation that allows the state to forgive taxes of companies that move to Kentucky. It was nothing new. Kentucky has paid various forms of ransom to out-of-state companies for the past three generations. (In the early 1960s, Kentucky ranked among the top seven states in giveaways.) If this technique worked, you'd expect to see a difference by now.

(And you would expect to find somebody who thinks it's a good idea. The line of economists and institutions that will tell you this plan won't build an economy is a mile long, stretching from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis to the Heritage Foundation. I have found no independent economist who has published an article to the contrary. Not one.)

Patton softens his billion-dollar giveaway scheme with a heartfelt commitment to public education. The other candidates are equally committed (although Rose is the only one who has actually voted more money for schools).

But they think about education in a Third-World way. "If we had the best-educated work force in America, they'd beat our doors down to employ our people," said Babbage. This is typical. Instead of tax breaks as bait, the candidates would adorn the hook with educated workers. Educating people is better than buying them low-pay jobs, that's for sure. But it's still "they" thinking.

The candidate I'm waiting for will be an "us" kind of guy. He'll talk—as Lee Todd talked at a forum in Lexington—of "creating our own jobs" by building centers of development around the state's universities and community colleges. The Ford Foundation in New York City sees that possibility in Kentucky and has put several million dollars into a project that includes Southeast and Hazard community colleges. Why can't a Kentucky governor have the same vision?

An "us" governor would be talking about ways to organize Kentucky businesses to make them more productive and innovative. He would be promising to help communities better plan their own futures. He would be devising ways students can be assured of leaving high school with marketable skills. He would be putting local businesses in charge of the state's Heinz 57 variety of training programs.

Instead, we have candidates look for salvation out of state—men who, like poor, deluded Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, "have always depended on the kindness of strangers."

Copyright © 1995, Lexington Herald-Leader, all rights reserved.

 
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