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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

No joy in "I told you so"

Even the Winners are Losers in 38 Studios Fallout

With all of the financial trouble coming out of Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios, quite a number of Rhode Islanders are probably justified in saying “I told you so.” And probably another bunch aren’t justified, but are saying it anyways. 
But here’s the thing, beyond the “things worked out the way I said they would” factor, do you actually feel good?
I don’t. I can’t rejoice in this turn of events. I certainly doubted the feasibility of it, but I wanted those doubts to be proven wrong. Was anyone truly hoping that 38 Studios would fail? They shouldn’t have been. Success would’ve been sweet.

But the problem remains that this was approved in the first place. It shouldn’t have been. You can practically hear the thoughts that were running through our politicians’ heads; World of Warcraft makes gazillions of dollars. Imagine if we could get in on it. 

You can see how easily that temptation could sway people to advocate for this sort thing, especially if they’re almost entirely unfamiliar with the world of video games except that it makes a ton of money. Notice that the national press rarely plays up the gaming industry’s flops, instead focusing on the amazing successes of games like World of Warcraft and Call of Duty. Does anyone but gaming media focus on failures of titles like Sonic Unleashed?

What’s becoming increasingly apparent in all this is that large swathes of our government are suckers. It’s bad when they get swindled by the Institute for International Sport, or when a Major League Baseball pitcher comes along offering to create a World of Warcraft-killer. It’s bad not only because it costs the state tons of money, but also because it undermines the credibility of our government.

It’s surprising how much incompetence a credible government can get away with (acquisitions by the U.S. Defense Department come to mind). Rhode Island doesn’t have the luxury of having a highly-credible government. 
We’re perceived (wrongly) by even our own citizens as being exceedingly corrupt. Know-a-guyism remains a powerful tool for success. And then you see our politicians fall for prestige projects like the Institute for International Sport or 38 Studios.
What remains astounding to me is just how little of the beauty of Rhode Island our politicians see. Take our small business community. These are some of the most vibrant, interesting, and truly dynamic businesses in our state. And yet, they face a hostile business climate almost completely aimed at cutting them off at the knees. They’ve received almost none of the help that GTECH and 38 Studios got.

That’s a huge issue here. Our politicians are overly focused on luring outsiders to the state through sweetheart deals, instead of focusing on what actually attracts people to Rhode Island; its culture and people. 
People are truly enamored with Rhode Island, how much art per square mile we pack into it; how much food we create. Our quirky small businesses are the ones doing all the work to find new economic niches, and they get nothing for it; not even recognition. 
Instead of focusing on making Rhode Island function for the people who already live here, we’re attempting to forcibly graft large outside businesses onto it. We can’t compete with the lumbering bulls.
Instead of playing to our strengths; our small size, our access to the ocean, our cultural dominance, and even our agricultural production; the economic “plan” for Rhode Island seems to be find big company and lure big company to move here. 
We must work to create a better climate; some of that will mean attacking laws that stifle innovation, such as the ones that make Rhode Island one of the most hostile states towards cooperatives. And occasionally, this will mean guaranteeing loans for businesses. Some have criticized this as “picking winners and losers.” But perhaps that would be all right, if the winners weren’t always outsiders, and the losers weren’t always Rhode Islanders.
A native-born Rhode Islander, educated in Providence Public Schools, went to college in North Carolina and a political junkie and pessimistic optimist.