The rippling water staircase has, for now, dried up in downtown Chattanooga. (Photo Chattanooga Visitors Bureau)
The rippling water staircase has, for now, dried up in downtown Chattanooga. (Photo Chattanooga Visitors Bureau)

By David Tulis

The marketplace is that great mass of men and women who interact in commerce for the benefit of their customers and in their own self-interest. Its power to produce wealth rests in the fact that it is not organized by any one or dozen players, but by thousands — even millions.

The market is, as Adam Smith writes in his 1776 book Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, subject to an invisible and vastly divisible power.

The idea of the marketplace in the Chattanooga area is under quiet siege by people who have a better idea about human nature. The siege mounds have been raised by professionals and business people gathering under the banner Thrive 2055 to bring Chattanooga and 16 area counties under a vision of “economic development” and continuing domestication of the human will by clearly superior people.

“The Consortium’s ultimate goal *** is to bring the region together under a common vision and prioritized action agenda,” says Clarion Associates, the consultant, on its website, “supported by decision-making tools, strategic transformative project ideas and metrics that will assist stakeholders at the local and regional level to make more informed decisions that will lead to the long-term economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being of their locality and the region.”

As opposed to this slumber-inducing slab of type, Smith argues for the benefits of local economy and domestic transactions. Self-interest and the profit motive serve prosperity more than those who assign themselves the business of noisily boosting the public good.

By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, [the individual in commerce] intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain; and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest, he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.

Lobbying for a visible hand

Smith conceives of a spontaneous market in which unorganized and self-interested parties serve their customers and obtain a profit.

Thrive 2055 contradicts Smith’s free market by affectation. It shows itself in best light by playing on native local feelings of pride and appreciation. It exploits targeted groups by identifying with their members’ domestic happiness in their hometowns and home counties.

Media coverage is generally disarming and favorable of the F$3.2 million civil government-funded program. Surveyed residents see “spurring the area’s economy” as important, needing a “40-year planning effort” and “strategic blueprints” to “help push” the region ahead through 2055,” a Times Free Press story says. Change agents such as Daniel Carter, a University of the South professor, downplay the uninvited idea of Thrive 2055: That of the visible hand.

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