Qualifications have ended and it’s now a sprint to election day. So what top issues should the candidates for governor and the legislature talk about in the coming weeks? There is an abyss of a state with massive fiscal problems, an educational system that is dysfunctional, a healthcare system that needs a major overhauling, a highway system that has been neglected for years…get the picture?
So where to begin? Maybe these candidates who want to lead our state ought to take a deep breath, clear their heads, and curl up with several books. What you say? The Bayou State is going to hell in a hand basket, and the best you can come up with is to begin a reading list? OK. Just calm down a bit and read on.
A responsible new governor or legislator needs to first address the biggest single failure by the state’s leadership at many levels, and that’s the fiasco of not having a well thought-out master plan. The brushfires will continue to burn, so a short period of “getting a handle” on what to do in the long run will be critical for actually finding some workable solutions, rather than just plunging financial holes year after year.
First on the reading list is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. A New York Times best seller for years, Gladwell talks about how one can “catch up” when they are far behind in any given area. If a state lags in educational attainment and needs to make a huge leap, as does Louisiana, it’s not just important to adopt what other progressive states are doing. Louisiana is at the back of the pack in many areas, so there has to be a quantum leap forward. The Bayou State is to far behind the curve to merely try to catch up.
Gladwell follows the same reasoning put forth in Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat. A kid in a small mountainous village in China has access to the same information as the student at a major American university, and thus has quickly closed the learning gap. Say “computers.” Basic laptops are being given to students in a number of states. Less than $100. And both local businesses and foundations are donating large numbers. Louisiana is not in this mix. Why not?
Next, Greg Leroy’s The Great American Jobs Scam. His premise, simply put, is to quit buying jobs from other states. It’s a giant waste of money. Louisiana has paid out billions of dollars in recent years to bring new jobs into the state. Leroy argues convincingly that these inducements do not work, and are never a major reason for a company moving for one state to another. He cites numerous examples or CEOs saying, “of course we will take your money, but these state programs are never a significant reason for our company to move.” These businesses were coming anyway. They just play the state for all it was worth and bilk taxpayer dollars.
And finally, Start -Up Nation, by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. It’s a story of Israel’s economic miracle, but there are a number of good lessons for Louisiana. Israel has no natural resources. They are abundant in Louisiana. Israel produces more start-up companies than do most of the world’s major industrialize countries. Louisiana has few start-up companies. Israel has more companies on the NASDAQ than those from all of Europe, Korea, Japan, Singapore, China and India combined. Louisiana has one listed company.
The key, Senor argues, is how universities are brought into the mix. Private-public think tanks have been formed, and the state has encouraged venture capital with tax breaks taking an aggressive pro new business attitude. No outright effort to “buy” companies as does state government in Louisiana, but a business-state partnership that has produced bountiful new higher paying jobs.
There is a critical need for a concentrated review of what direction Louisiana will take in the years to come. A long-range master plan filled with ideas taken from the best and brightest concepts in place all over the world. Such a roadmap should have been developed years ago. Will such ides be discussed in the weeks to come during campaign season? And will the next governor and new legislators heed the call?
Jim Brown is a former Commissioner of Insurance, Secretary of State and state senator from Ferriday. His past columns can be read at www.jimbrownusa.com. Brown’s nationally syndicated radio show airs each Sunday morning from 9 a.m.-11 a.m. on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at www.jimbrownusa.com.