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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Yer OUT!

Here’s an economic analysis that is both true and misleading at the same time: former Boston Red Sox players are bad for non-baseball related business in Rhode Island. It’s true, I’ve analyzed it and the facts prove it.

The most famous example is Big Schill’s failed foray into video games. But who remembers the equally-short lived Roger Clemens Wood-Roasted Chicken on Bald Hill Road in Warwick? Probably only me and Liam Tierney, Dave Shaw and Brian Quattrucci. We waited in a line, consisting only of us, to be the Rocket’s first-ever fast food customers; He was supposed to be there but, as was so often the case in the early 90′s, he just didn’t show up…

Despite the preponderance of evidence, ex-Red Sox Mike Stenhouse, journeyman outfielder and career .190 hitter, thinks Rhode Island should trust his abilities as an economist. His latest analysis, in today’s ProJo, concludes that slashing almost a $1 billion in revenue would be good for the state’s struggling economy. It’s true, he’s analyzed it and the facts prove it.
Bad pitch

Of course, Stenhouse’s pseudo-study of sales tax policy is no more valid than my examination of former Red Sox players in Rhode Island. I could have included baseball-related businesses in my study and Sam Horn’s successful hitting school in North Kingstown would have bumped the average up to .333 – that’s MVP-type numbers. And if one includes all ex-Red Sox employees, well then Saul Kaplan would make it a coin-toss – a 50 percent swing, just by crunching the numbers differently!

This is the kind of voodoo economics that Stenhouse’s conservative policy shop, the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, specializes in. It purports to offer economic analysis but it’s far more accurate to call it far right wing propaganda, specifically trafficking in policy that serves to shrink the size of government. (By the way, this is not a scoop – everyone involved in state politics knows this and any contrived outrage from the right is just all part of the kabuki theater.)

But here’s what I think is the really important part: traditional mainstream media doesn’t really have a lot of tools to present this truism to its audience, and the tool that does exist is virtually non-existent in Rhode Island. For a state that is overwhelmingly liberal, the vast majority of mainstream media op/ed voices are conservative. The Journal editorial page is highly unlikely to run a reasonable counter-opinion to this piece.

They're idiots when it comes to economics
Policy shops like Stenhouse’s are designed to look like think tanks specifically so that they will be misinterpreted as such by the mainstream media. And locally it works like a charm: 

The Providence Journal will always label everything Ocean State Action does as being labor-backed because they are transparent about their funding, while Stenhouse will never be labeled a corporate pawn because he isn’t transparent.

This is great politics for fiscal conservatives. 

I’d say Stenhouse’s Center for Freedom and Prosperity has been really successful at keeping the conversation away from reasonable tax increases on the rich and focused instead on the unreasonable elimination of the sales tax.

But don’t blame Stenhouse. He’s just doing what he went into business to do: use pseudo-economics to rally support for right wing policy. Blame the ProJo op/ed page editors. They are the ones not doing their jobs, which is to inform and educate Rhode Islanders about their community. I’m not saying the newspaper of record ought to join RI Future on the far left, but it ought to be fair and balanced enough to host the occasional counter-balance to the conservative dogma it ascribes to.

In the meantime, I’m going to see if Bill Lee wants to leave his farm in Craftbury, Vermont start a think tank here in Rhode Island…

Bob Plain is the editor/publisher of Rhode Island's Future. Previously, he's worked as a reporter for several different news organizations both in Rhode Island and across the country.