Changing embedded notions

This is an excerpt from a letter to the editor in the TJ today. I think in many ways she is reflecting what many people have said to me over the years. Have a read:

In particular, I strongly disagree with Reality #5, which states, “Export growth must drive overall economic growth.” This will create prosperity.? This “reality” is in direct contradiction to the definition of self-sufficiency. By increasingly relying on external markets for our prosperity, we are willingly putting the fate of New Brunswickers in the hands of forces beyond our control.

In my view, an assessment of self-sufficiency in New Brunswick should start by looking at our extensive natural and human resources, and all recommendations should build on these resources.

The government of a self-sufficient New Brunswick has a mandate to manage our natural resources in a way that benefits as many New Brunswickers as possible. After all, these resources belong to the citizens of New Brunswick.

This does not mean giving control of our natural resources to large corporations, whose goal is to extract them for their own profit, but rather it means fostering small, locally-owned and operated, community-level businesses that are able to harness human resources and manage natural resources in ways that benefit the entire community, both now and into the future.

The reality is this. You could tell this woman that the most successful economies in the world are the ones that are highly interdependent on the global economy with large amounts of investment and trade flowing in and out – but it wouldn’t matter. You could further tell her that the only examples we have of economies such as New Brunswick revitalizing themselves do so by gaining access to more business investment and trade – but it wouldn’t matter. You could tell this woman that the provincial and federal governments in New Brunswick have been biased* towards small business for 30 years and things have only gotten worse – but it wouldn’t matter.

It just sounds too darn good. ‘Local control’, ‘community-level’, ‘evil global corporations’. You get chills just thinking about it, admit it.

But the truth is actually quite simple. If this lady wants local business to thrive, we will have to ramp up both business investment attraction and value-added exports.

That, my friends, is the paradox. The riddle that we can’t get our heads around. We need to give up some control to get some control.

In other words, if the Miramichi had 10 large employers in diverse industries, the closure of one pulp mill would hurt but would not be devastating. Building economies with one or two large multinational firms employing thousands and supporting hundreds of small businesses is, in fact, a recipe for disaster. We need the 10 or 20 multinational firms, and the resulting hundreds of small, local businesses that support those industries.

*I still remember Francis McGuire’s powerpoint presentation showing that 75% of all economic development funding went into small businesses when he was trying to defend himself against calls that ED&T was too externally focused.