Heed the words of Diogenes

Heed the words of Diogenes

Mark A. Thomas has been chosen as the next president of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA), effective July 15.

He’ll come to Pittsburgh from New York, where he served as senior vice president of partnerships at the New York City Economic Development Corp.

But all you really need to know about Thomas is that, according to a news release, “he played a pivotal role in Amazon’s selection of New York for HQ2 … .”

Bad publicity over a very bad deal for taxpayers — that cost pegged at anywhere from $1.53 billion to $3 billion, depending on who’s calculating it — later forced Amazon to scuttle consummating it.

The point is, if one of your touted attributes is having helped to draft a plan that gives away the proverbial taxpayer store, well, you catch our drift.

That June 11 news release from the PRA, an arm of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, further states:

“We’re excited to bring Mark aboard to lead the PRA and contribute to our shared regional vitality goals of a strong economy, thriving people and a high quality of place.

“With nearly two decades of experience driving economic growth, Mark is uniquely suited to advance the Pittsburgh region’s strategic economic development objectives – supercharging business attraction, including international marketing of the region, and doubling down on making sure that companies already located here have the best possible environment in which to grow and prosper.”

But at what public cost, Mr. Thomas?

More public subsidies for airlines that flee when the freebies end?

More poison pills to kill the more efficient private-sector delivery of public services?

More edifices to corporate wealthfare?

More policies that defy (if not defile) fundamental economics?

As the late, great economics journalist Henry Hazlitt reminded in the 1990s:

“In brief, the main problem we face today is not economic but political. Sound economists are in substantial agreement concerning what ought to be done.

“Practically all government attempts to redistribute wealth and income tend to smother productive incentives and lead toward general impoverishment.

“It is the proper sphere of government to create and enforce a framework of law that prohibits force and fraud. But it must refrain from specific economic interventions. Government’s main economic function is to encourage and preserve a free market.”

Hazlitt reminded that when Alexander the Great visited the philosopher Diogenes and asked whether he could do anything for him, Diogenes is said to have replied: “Yes, stand a little less between me and the sun.”

In both Hazlitt’s and Alexander the Great’s day and now, and with government and the myriad shadow governments such as the Allegheny Conference and the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, the sage advice of Diogenes must be heeded.

Unheeded, the proverbial new boss is going to be much the same as the old boss. And taxpayers and sound public policy cannot afford to be fooled again.

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