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Economic improvement: Focus on people

Greg Mello / Executive Director, Los Alamos Study Group
PUBLISHED: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 at 12:02 am

New Mexico perennially sits in the bottom tier of most economic rankings, if not at the very bottom.

The Albuquerque metro area, home to half of our residents, has had among the poorest post-recession recoveries of any. Forbes magazine recently ranked Albuquerque dead last among 200 metro areas in expected employment growth through 2016.

At present there is no reason to expect improvement. There are neither promising new policies nor the political values that would lead to them. There is no political ferment – with the promising but narrow and sporadic exception of protests against police brutality in Albuquerque. If there is new thinking by candidates it is not being reported.

An egregious example of economically sterile thought was recently offered by Sen. Tom Udall, who told New Mexicans that he is “working to ensure a strong future for New Mexico by fighting for the national laboratories and military bases so they can continue to create thousands of well-paying jobs and drive economic development for generations to come.”

That’s ridiculous. New Mexico’s labs and bases don’t “continue to create” jobs, produce useful goods or services or build productive infrastructure. They maintain government-dependent jobs for a small fraction of the state.

Over seven decades they have not created much independent private-sector development. Historically, as lab spending rose the state’s income rank fell. States without labs did better.

If New Mexico retains its current political values it will continue to lose competitive ground. In time our increasingly third-world status would become irreversible.

We would keep our federal installations and workers but the general exodus of youth and non-military professionals we already see would continue.

The principal economic development barrier in New Mexico is our habitual acceptance of violence.

This violence includes the expansive militarism of the post-9/11 wars, aimed at seizing a hydrocarbon empire. It includes the suicide vest for humanity maintained and fetishized at our labs. It includes the structural and at times overt violence inflicted upon the poor, which has led to a 28-year difference in life expectancy between neighborhoods in Albuquerque.

By some measures New Mexico is the most unequal state in a very unequal nation.

Neglect is a form of violence. Yet as a state we neglect and endanger our children, stifling their potential and making our state nearly the worst to raise a child. Likewise we are failing to protect habitats, animal populations and endangered species.

Above all, the violence of our way of life is destroying the delicate balance of gases in our atmosphere, which regulates weather and climate and through them all life on earth.

The recipe for economic development in New Mexico is simple: reverse these forms of violence. We should listen again closely to Martin Luther King, who told us the day before he died that “[i]t is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence.”

Economic development requires replacing violence and neglect with attention, respect, and stewardship. The sole basis for pragmatic, economically fertile development policies lies in a renewed social and environmental contract based on respect for the human person in the living landscape.

For starters this means a full commitment to our children, as Finland put into place after World War II. It means a commitment to the very rapid build-out of renewable energy and low-fossil fuel mobility. Other policies follow from these values.

Advice to the governor and legislature: Enact policies that would make Tesla’s gigafactory redundant, from practical education to market-making energy policies.

We have the money but not the commitment. We need to re-enact the highly-progressive taxation that built postwar America. We can get a better return on our severance and pension funds by investing them in our state’s productive infrastructure and our children.

Remember: The object of economic development is not money, especially money for a few, but people and a living environment around them.


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