Economics ignorance writ (too) large

Economics ignorance writ (too) large

Pittsburgh’s command economists say the darnedest things.

You might recall that when the heavily taxpayer subsidized and government-decreed Shop ‘n Save in the Hill District predictably failed, the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) paid $1.6 million to reacquire the 2.57-acre plaza in which it was situated.

One intervention failed and the URA thought it necessary to intervene yet again to, in so many words, save the site from the vagaries, if the not the supposed ravages, of the marketplace.

Now, the URA says it hopes to, by month’s end, issue a request for proposals for those who might be interested in opening a new grocery store at the site.

One can only wonder what “incentives” the agency might dangle in its follow-up attempt to yet again “command” a market that clearly could not sustain such a store.

But all that said, Diamonte Walker, the URA’s deputy director, rationalized to the Post-Gazette that one reason the authority bought the property was that it would have flexibility to help residents, as the P-G put it, “in situations like this.”

That “situation”? The plaza parking lot provides a more level location for one of 17 stops that a roving food truck makes.

Well, thank goodness the URA spent $1.6 million, in part, for that, right?

Further speaking of those addicted to saying the darnedest things, departed VisitPittsburgh boss Craig Davis (he’s now doing a similar job in Dallas) continues to shill for a new – and likely heavily taxpayer-subsidized — hotel attached to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Davis predicts such a facility would be, in effect, the greatest thing to happen to Pittsburgh since sliced bread, soft butter and mass-produced pierogies.

Never mind the plethora of privately built new hotels rooms in the city over the last few years, Davis told the Post-Gazette that a convention center hotel “is essential in the future.”

But not only would the estimated (and counting) $240 million cost of such a folly be another in a long line of taxpayer molestations in the erstwhile Steel City, it would force those privately built rooms to compete with government-built rooms.

This isn’t sound public policy. But it is astoundingly thorough in its economics ignorance.

Of course, this comes from the same person who, in the same P-G story, fondly recalls 2009’s G-20 economic summit at the convention center.

“The joke was that if we could host the top world leaders successfully, we could certainly handle your convention,” Davis said.

But there was a bigger, and worse, joke that Davis jokes past:

The G-20 turned much of downtown Pittsburgh into a secure ghost town that did one thing and one thing only – quash commerce.

Davis’ economic ignorance and revisionist history are appalling examples of public policy at its absolute worst.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).