The Economic Base: Distracting
Vision, Distorting Reality
In the previous chapters we have examined the dominant role that the pursuit of quality plays in almost all economic activities. We have shown that almost all economic actors -- consumers, producers, migrants, workers, employers, and so on -- are guided by subjective, qualitative objectives. Quality is not a vague, aesthetic notion foreign to normal economic activity.
Most of the discussion has focused on individual, private decisions: the expenditure of income on a variety of consumer goods, migration, the purchase of a home, the hiring of new workers, the development of new technology. But we do not pursue economic well-being only through private activities. Even in our private-enterprise economy, we also pursue economic well-being collectively, through a variety of public economic-development policies. These public policies seek to enhance our economic well-being by influencing the type of economic changes that take place in the communities where we live.
This chapter and the following chapters seek to deal with the degree to which these policies accurately take into account the noncommercial, qualitative nature of many of the determinants of our economic well-being. We do that individually, but does the public policy carried out in our names?
In this chapter and Chapters Eight and Nine, we will document the ways in which a crude, quantitative emphasis has come to dominate and pervert local economic-development policy. We begin in this chapter with a critique of the dominant way in which the local economy is conceptualized: the concept of the economic base. In Chapters Eight and Nine we discuss the quantitative objectives and policies that tend to make up almost all economic-development programs. Finally, in Chapter Ten, we discuss appropriate development strategies that take into account the noncommercial and qualitative aspects of our economic objectives.