Writings and observations

A part of the economy

otter
Butch Otter

When politicians talk about governments benefiting business, they almost always talk too generically. Very few governmental actions can help, or hurt, all businesses equally. Walmart and Ridenbaugh Press are unlikely to be equal recipients of benefits of any single government policy. (Well, health care reform comes to mind, but not many others.)

This comes to mind with today’s Idaho Statesman story about Governor C.L. “Butch Otter and his take on the economy.

Otter is famously down on government and a cheerleader for the private marketplace. But not, it turns out, all of the private marketplace in anything resembling an equal way. Otter grew up in a rural area. He attends and participates in rodeos and similar events. He worked in his formative professional years for a large agricultural processing company (J.R. Simplot). His background wouldn’t necessarily have pushed his view and perspective hard toward the traditional, and mostly vanished, rural farm/ranch sense of what the world is about. But it seems to have done. (Look at the pictures on the governor’s web site front page.)

What practical effect does this have?

That’s where the story today, by Rocky Barker, picks up. He starts with a description of the governor’s recent trade mission to Asia, and described solid work in helping bridge international trade – for some businesses, not exclusively but mainly the agricultural-based and the well-connected (such as Melaleuca). From the story:

In China, Otter repeated the economic vision he has held for Idaho for decades.

“You’ve got to dig it out of the ground, you’ve got to grow it or you’ve got to cut it out of the forest,” Otter said in meetings aimed at bringing Chinese investors to Idaho. Even computers, Otter said, are built with natural resources like silicon.

And there was this: “This vision leaves out those companies who are not aimed at farming, mining and logging, said Mark Rivers, a Downtown Boise developer who opened the innovative business incubator the Water Cooler. It discourages the very creative people who are the raw material of the next economic boom. ‘You can’t say you are a new economy state with an old economy mentality,’ Rivers said.”

Idaho’s considerable growth in the last generation has had nothing to do with the kind of resource businesses Otter seems to focus on. It has had to do with technology and service businesses, primarily. And Idaho’s population is less and less rural, these days; at this point, most of it suburban.

Not that the resource or older businesses aren’t important; of course they are. But Otter’s view seems to be that other businesses – which is to say the great majority of businesses, even in Idaho – are valuable in large part to the extent that help or support those he sees as central.

It’s a narrow view of the economy, and becoming narrower.

Share on Facebook