Letter: What to do if we care about the city’s future

Graphic by Lori Deaton

American English is such an impoverished language that any use of a passive construction is an obvious tell. Thanks to the Nixon administration, everyone now gets that “mistakes were made” means “I messed up, but I’m too scared to accept responsibility.”

Passivity has spread far beyond attempts to evade the consequences of our actions. It turns up in what the misreading of Adam Smith’s throwaway invisible-hand comment has wrought. That gave us a religious cult whose adherents proudly evangelize their submission to infallible, omnipotent market forces. Except that markets are social, not natural, constructs. They operate according to rules that we either choose or allow to be imposed on us. And they change over time — in The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare shows us a world where capital is only available to those who accept real personal risks. Nowadays? Not so much.

This submissiveness empowers bad actors — Wall Street leading up to the crisis of 2006-07; a grifter looking to live off our tax money in exchange for some vacuous spiel about educating kids; Purdue Pharma, with tens of thousands of deaths and millions of ruined lives on their conscience; Amazon, laying waste to South Tunnel Road and its jobs without even noticing.

Centuries of history teach us that there have always been bad actors: that however efficient or responsive the markets we were taught about in Econ 101 might be, there will always be people working to subvert them because, as anyone who stayed awake during class knows, a free and open market is one in which no one makes a lasting profit.

Over the last 30 years, the share of our economy claimed by corporate profits has tripled. So there can be no doubt — we do not live in an economy characterized by free and open markets, and the discipline they supposedly provide is absent. Instead, our mixture of oligopolies and monopolies empowers grifters looking only for their next free lunch.

Yet any economy beyond subsistence agriculture is built on skills that have to be learned over the long term. Those skills can be found in three ways: We could import finished products containing the fruits of other people’s skills. We could welcome immigrants who bring their skills with them. Or we could work on strengthening our public libraries, schools and out-of-school programs as investments in our kids’ — and our own — futures.

It seems like much of the country, the state and our neighbors are passively choosing “none of the above” and drifting toward a future of Pythonesque mud-farming. They’re perfectly entitled to do so. But if we care about our city’s future, we need to ignore them and plow ahead on our own. After all, when we succeed, the leeches will be back.

— Geoff Kemmish


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4 thoughts on “Letter: What to do if we care about the city’s future

  1. Lisa

    This is more of a overly articulated rant impossible to palette than a letter stating what to do if we care about Asheville. C’mon Xpress.

  2. Enlightened Enigma

    Geoff, the inherent ignorance of the WNC population is our problem when it comes to learning job skills. Just look at all the unskilled labor walking the streets begging.

    • Jay Reese

      It would seem you are out of your league on this conversation. Your assumption that a few “beggars” walking the streets of Asheville are indicative of the population shows your ignorance and obvious bias.

  3. Stan Hawkins

    Perhaps a review of the economic decline of the country of Venezuela will provide some enlightenment on what not to do. While investment in education in Venezuela is said to have increased substantially leaving the country with a well educated populace during the 70’s through the 80’s, real wages declined by nearly 70% during this same period and have stagnated.

    How does a country that sits prominently geographically, is well educated, has abundant natural resources, and has some of the world’s riches oil reserves evolve in to the economic collapse that we see today?

    Could it be that an economy with little diversification (think oil – think tourism) has played a role? Could it be that wages and earning potential statistics called their best and brightest to seek other locations to live and prosper ( think Asheville Buncombe wage lagging )? Could it be the debt burden placed on the educated young people diminishes their ambition and opportunities.? Or, could it be that crumbling infrastructure ( think traffic backed up in both directions to I-240 to Fletcher south to Weaverville north) “bottle necking in the big curve “ has people re-thinking the wisdom of the Asheville visionaries?

    Yes, Asheville could go ahead on their own. That seems just a tad arrogant though, and we have plenty of examples of that.

    On the otherhand, Asheville could listen to business leaders – yes capitalist from this area and other areas to gain the benefit of the best business job producing, wage producing ideas that are available. Not to say that government and educators should not play a role, but when the lines of private enterprise and public enterprise are so blurred as in the Asheville-Buncombe area, we should answer the question; what is really standing in the way of unleashing a vibrant wage producing economy?

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