I see the eminent domain argument against the Enhanced Economic Zone (EEZ) blight designation of most of Columbia, Missouri Enhanced Economic Zone as an important facet of the opposition to this plan, but here I want to flesh out what I see as a fundamental principle driving the vigorous opposition to this plan. It simply isn’t fair in the way it allocates economic opportunity and public investment to the rich and politically connected, and it is that failure that must be recognized first and foremost because it is the inequity and unfairness of government policy that underlies most of the deep divisions in our polity. Indeed, I cannot remember a time when America was more sharply divided against itself.
We are a diverse polity. In some ways that gives America unique strength. But it also means that there is much difference between people: Religion, culture, sometimes language. History tells us of the old conflicts that still cast their specter over our mutual association. I think sometimes we forget how deeply the scars of war, slavery, and other oppressions have marked our society.
The prime virtue of America was that it offered equal opportunity. Equal opportunity before the law, the freedom to pursue happiness. For those escaping the shackles of a particular bondage, this freedom is like air to a drowning man.
But we must not forget these principles that are the foundation of our mutual association. The effort to carve up our public weal, to submit it to the appropriations of the powerful and connected, is an anarchic project. To prioritize one person or group’s needs and desires above the rest inspires resentment, destroys trust between individuals and groups, and foments disrespect for the law itself.
Let us quit this proposal of carving out economic benefits to companies and individuals who seek personal profit at the expense of the average citizen. I propose instead the City of Columbia instead focus on the provision of its core public services to citizens. Certainly our police department is a prime example of how poorly provided public services can alienate citizens and tarnish our city’s reputation. Our schools face chronic problems of underachievement, and many of our citizens have immediate needs that might be appropriately provided through refinements and investment in the basic city infrastructure. Let us focus our public policy in areas where we can provide immediate service to the citizens of Columbia.
And I want to suggest that it is not such a bad thing to stop competing with other cities to offer companies tax breaks for relocation and promises of “jobs”. Indeed, by breaking from this race to the bottom, Columbia has a chance to show national leadership on this issue. Wouldn’t that be something?