By: Mark Glennon*
If you remember the five-year plans under which the Soviet Union ran its economy, you had to pity the plan authors. They never really knew the true cost of anything because, in a planned economy, all prices were artificial.
But at least they tried.
Today, the Quinn administration released a five-year plan for Illinois’ economy, linked here. It’s not all bragging about supposed achievements and feel-good platitudes with the standard bullshit terms like leverage, enhance, facilitate, streamline, collaborate, incentivize, and promote — though that’s at least half of its 78 pages. It includes plenty of specifics that mean real money, like doubling the earned income tax credit, a year-round job training program for youth, high speed rail, broadband expansion, the Peotone airport, a jobs training tax credit, and “large scale, next-generation infrastructure projects” (what they are isn’t specified).
But there’s almost nothing about the cost of any of this.
What little there is on cost starts on page 64. Most items are small and state a range under $1 million. Many are so small they should be seen as gimmicks, not serious programs, like a “technology transfer fund” that would get between $500k and $1 million, which is not much of a fund.
But the big ones like those mentioned above are shown only as costing more than $1 million, or the cost is left entirely blank. Some of these may well be worthwhile things to do, like lowering very high filing fees for LLCs. But what would that cost? That’s left blank. Others costs left blank include doubling the earned income tax credit, the job training tax credit and “building the infrastructure for innovation,” whatever that is. No estimate for the grand total, either.
Maybe worse, there’s no indication how the state could pay for this.
Finally, the plan shares the same flaw as most central planning or industrial policy. It artificially picks potential winning sectors. This plan anoints tech, tourism, exports and green initiatives as primary recipients of state attention. I love the tech sector, too, but how much history do we need to prove it’s a huge mistake to let the likes of the Quinn administration, or any other administration, try to pick the sectors that can flourish?
Springfield isn’t doing the basic blocking and tackling of government that we should all agree on — good schools, roads, airports, and the like; a legal system that’s fair and fast; and a reliable safety net for the poor. Delivering those things while keeping taxes down would be an ambitious enough plan for five years.
Instead, we get 78 pages of other programs with cost treated almost as irrelevant. Cost-benefit thinking be damned. Indifference to cost is one hallmark of quack populism — a feel-good substitute for answering the hard questions about how limited resources can best be spent. That indifference is on full display in this plan.
*Mark Glennon is founder of WirePoints and Managing Director of Ninth Street Advisors.