Statements from promoters at Thrive 2055
By David Tulis
Please read my encapsulation of the “public input” portion of the Thrive 2055 program in an earlier essay, “Chattanoogans invited to parley with planning elites for Thrive 2055 plan” and “Forums help create buzz around idea that 16-county 2055 district exists, II.” Two more interviews provide insight into the good faith effort of local participants to create a 40-year plan that everyone is supposed to share ideas for, and under which everyone may eventually be governed. The program intends to create the impression that it is creating a fresh, vibrant form of representative government, or representation in an abstract form. What you get later in government results from what you put in now by way of opinion statements.
David. We’re here talking with J.Ed Marston of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce. Jed, what is your other role tonight?
J.Ed Marston. Well, I’m here really as a community volunteer as well as a representative of the Chamber of Commerce. We’re one of several dozen organizations that have come together across the three-state, 16-county region. And we’re looking to engage people in charting a course for the future of our community.
David. And what is the purpose tonight with these wall markings and drawings?
J.Ed Marston. Well, our goal really is to create an open forum where every citizen can come and share their ideas about some of the big issues that face our community. We’ve created spaces for prosperity, pathways, people and something else. And the idea is basically to learn a little bit of information about those topics — some hard, statistical information — and then to share your thoughts about those challenges, or about solutions, what matters in the community — all those things. And then we’re hoping to take everybody’s feedback, eventually we’re going to have process of getting this feedback, and roll it up into some kind of strategic plan for the 40 years that are coming.
Pressure mounts on area from competition, globalization, tax dollar scarcity
David. Why do we need a plan?
J.Ed Marston. Well, from a Chamber perspective, businesses that don’t have a plan are going to fail. And as a community, we know that things are a lot more competitive than they have ever been. Public dollars are scarcer. Private competition among companies is a lot fiercer than it’s ever been. And it isn’t just with our neighbors or people across the United States. It’s global. So this is an opportunity for all of us to come together, identify things where we agree, you know common ground issues where we agree to work on together, and to try to position that as a competitive advantage, to preserve what we love about Chattanooga and the whole region already, and hopefully to identify opportunities to improve it.
Plan organizes sectors, is ‘not a master plan in a municipal sense’
David. Well, has not the era of the master plan passed with the Soviet Union?
J.Ed Marston. Well, this is not a master plan in a municipal sense. One thing we’re very consciously doing is engaging the private sector, the nonprofit sector and the government sector in equal parts, and the private sector is playing a major lead role in this. So, one of the things that we’ve done is create a coordinating committee. When I say we, I don’t mean the Chamber, I mean the dozen organizations that are working on this together, and the predominance of the people represented on that committee are captains of private sector companies, leaders. It also includes people in the other sectors as well.
David. So the idea of their being a plan created should not alarm people who are jealous of the prerogatives of the free market.
J.Ed Marston. Absolutely not. This is an opportunity for the free market. What we’re really looking to do is to identify those things that we’re willing to work on together. We all know that very often governments plan, or they budget, in very short cycles, year to year. We also know, looking at it, there are infrastructure needs that very predictable, over a very long period of time.
So one of the things we want to do is look over that longer event horizon and say, “We know we’re going to have these infrastructure needs. How can we, when we have an extra good year, save that extra money for when we’re going to have those infrastructure needs rather than just doing it on a year-by-year basis?” That is just one example of the kinds of tools we want to work to develop to aid the public sector and supporting the public sector and creating jobs.
‘Not designed to supersede’ government
David. So what you’re doing here as a group is not filling in a gap for market failure.
J.Ed Marston. No, it really isn’t. And nothing we’re doing supersedes, you know, elected officials or any government prerogative. Any ideas that bubble up through this process will be either implemented through public-private partnership if it’s something in that realm, or if it’s policy or something government related, it will have to be enacted by elected officials of the appropriate body. This is not designed to supersede any elected authority or any governing body. It is meant to support the system that is already in place for determining what policies and procedures we should follow as a community.
David. Thank you, Jed.
A comment. Mr. Marston implies the area will fail, as might a business, if it doesn’t have a plan. But he also says this isn’t a plan “in a municipal sense.” So — what gives? The plan doesn’t address a market failure, he says, nor steal the authority of any elected official. But it seeks to create a context that the free market would not of itself create (in service to others, rising from self-interest and the profit motive). Mr. Marston admits civil engineering and public planning exists in a “predictable” field that moves in terms of years and decades, but he implies that without the 2055 plan myriad actors in government service might make mistakes if left to their own good sense in the existing paradigm. The peril of somehow going astray is made to seem greater in considering his claim of urgency — global competition, regional competition and “scarcer” public dollars.
Polk County lawyer, businessman favors persuasion
Thrive 2055 takes no account of the global trend of decentralization, led by the Internet, which breaks monopolistic industries such as the media. Thrive 2055 is a plan for an economy of scale, a plan that favors bigness. It is not a reform, but a consolidation of long-in-progress trends of commercial government. It is not averse to state ownership of business, and avers no principle of a free market. It assumes continuing control of the economy by government, has no interest in any reformation or restructuring that would return the economy to the people (private sector). Thrive 2055 favors business and government, not free enterprise or free markets. It assumes the continuing perpetuity and solvency of the federal leviathan, continuing public confidence in Federal Reserve banknotes as a medium of exchange and continuing toleration of civil government per se.
My interview with Denny Mobbs, a well-spoken attorney, suggests several of these points. Denny Mobbs was Polk County attorney for more than 25 years and has practiced civil trial law in Cleveland for 45 years. He is on the managing committee of the Thrive 3055 program.
He makes note in our conversation about why a regional effort seems necessary. Finding natural gas near Dalton could affect the area for 40 year plan. That might affect where energy lines need to go. Olin Chemical is responsible for 27 percent of freight going through Chickamauga Lock. Barge traffic is important, may get more important. Global warming could alter the loads of barges going through the dam from industrial to agricultural. Mr. Mobbs is kind enough to give me this interview in the stairwell outside the fourth-floor gathering meeting of the event at the Chattanooga public library.
Denny Mobbs. The object of Thrive 2055 is to over a three-year period to compile forces and trends in our community the first year, looking at different aspects of infrastructure, industrial development, workforce development, quality of life issues, workforce, education, leading to a comprehensive report leading that hopefully will be published by 2015, the end of the three-year project. The report will be advisory only, with of course no authority to implement any of it, that it will be turned over to those that hold political office for their consideration.
David. So it would go to county commissioners, city councilmen, city commissioners, congressmen — who else?
Denny Mobbs. It would be available to anyone who is in charge of a community’s future with regard to those issues — those who are in authority, all levels.
David. Is it submitted to them with the hope they will do something?
Denny Mobbs. No, I think when the work is finished, if the recommendations are not acted upon, might be a bit frustrated. But I think everyone on the committee realizes that’s not theirs or our decision. It’s just an advisory report to be considered by those in authority.
David. But, Denny, what’s happening here is not just a poll or a survey.
Population expected to rise
Denny Mobbs. No, there will be an advisory report. ****
David. We are in an underpopulated part of the world; we don’t have enough people. We don’t have enough productive hands; we don’t have enough units genius among us. Does the 2055 theory suppose a large increase in our population, or a decrease?
Denny Mobbs. The 16 counties that make up the area, the best prognostication [is] that approximately 1 million people presently in the area will become 1,400,000 over the next 40 years, which is about a natural increase, which is nothing high, and it’s nothing low, to the average.
David. *** Does [Thrive 2055] presuppose market failure of some kind — the free market cannot do its work in providing services and goods for the people in our area?
Denny Mobbs. No I don’t think so. My partner Steve Jordan and I, we own an industrial manufacturing company. This is he and I speaking now, not Thrive 2055: There is a real role for the public sector to play in the commercial life of a community and I would call it facilitator rather than an adversarial situation. That’s my personal belief, and my partner and my business.
Mixed economy paradigm; no free market in view
David. So you and your partner don’t have a free market view that says government should never be in business, government should not be a commercial actor. You don’t hold that view at all.
Denny Mobbs. No, I do not subscribe to that. I do not. I think one of the remarkable things, for instance, of the Volkswagen situation, I think the second-largest shareholder in Volkswagen is the lower state of Saxony in Germany, which holds 20 percent of the shares. And it would be very similar to if the Tennessee government owned 20 percent of the shares of Volkswagen and the Tennessee state legislator had a seat on the board of directors and could veto anything that is done. I mean, the Volkswagen company is praised all over our region for being a forward, very progressive very successful automobile company. But I think it is an example of a facilitation situation between a government and a large private industrial company.
David. There is reason to think decentralization is the wave of the future. Countries are breaking up, the marketplace with, for example, 3-D printers, and other developments such as the Internet allow decentralized [commerce] and manufacturing. Is this an effort that doesn’t account for decentralization economically and politically?
Denny Mobbs. I don’t think decentralization has really entered into the equation yet. We are in a process right now, in the first year of our study, establishing forces and trends in our area. And if that is an area that is developed and we need to look into it further, I believe that we will and we will have the resources to do that.
Eliminating localism as a limiting life view
David. Is 2055 an effort toward centralization of some kind?
Denny Mobbs. No I do not believe so. I think that there are many things that can be done regionally in a partnership both have cost savings and benefits. I think regions now compete with regions economically rather than counties within regions competing with counties. Certainly, transportation grids, energy, production, lots of things are done better on an economy of scale on a regional basis, but I don’t think it’s going to lead to centralization, say, the situation, where one governmental authority is in charge of everything. I think that is the furthest thing from people’s minds as can be.
David. Do you believe in local economy?
Denny Mobbs. There is a local economy, but the economy for my industrial firm is probably a 150-mile radius from Cleveland, Tenn. Ninety percent of what we build and sell goes within 150 miles. But we would be hurting if everything that we sold was within Bradley County, city of Cleveland. Our market is really a regional market. ***
Coercion in no way conceivable
Denny Mobbs. I hope the people of Polk County have some appreciation for the effort that goes into this. It’s like we may have mentioned earlier, [Russian novelist Fyodor] Dostoevsky wrote the argument against the enlightenment, the idea of imposing a social program upon other people without them freely choosing it for themselves. And the Polk County people live it. But, that doesn’t mean that, of their own skills, their own fierce independence, better education, that they will not come to a position that some the things that may be proposed they will willingly and consensually agree. Because if they don’t, it won’t happen in Polk County. They will have to come to the conclusion of their own volition.
David. So your effort is persuasive, not coercive.
Denny Mobbs. Yes, absolutely, if it was coercive I wouldn’t even be a member of the Thrive project. There is no way that the right to choose can be taken away from anybody.
David. Well, the people you’re talking about are not likely to read a longwinded, civic engineering-languaged report even though it may have a lot of graphics, because it is going to number in the two hundred pages. Who is going to want to bother to read such a windbag paper?
Denny Mobbs. I don’t know how long it will be. I hope it is more concise that you indicated it might be, more precise that it might be. But I think that government leaders three years from now, both the county mayor and the county commissioners, the legislative delegation, will give some weight to it and familiarize themselves with it. Right now the county that I live in cannot even afford to pay a county planner. We don’t have one. We don’t have any zoning. *** The Southeast Tennessee Development District is a regional planning organization, and it is the one our county utilizes to do planning — things like sewers, water systems, grants for funding for those things. We don’t have the funding or the facilities in the county to do that. And if they were to make a suggestion, our county commission and our county mayor would listen, and I think if the Thrive 2055 project makes some suggestions, they will pay some attention to that as well. I’m hopeful they will. If I didn’t think they would, this would be a useless exercise from Polk County’s standpoint, and I would be chasing calves instead of working on this project.
David. Will this union of counties not create a situation such as in the European Union where the poor countries that have double books and overspend weigh on the purses of the rich and more provident nations such as Germany?
Denny Mobbs. I can’t speak to that. I wouldn’t draw a conclusion on that.