You’ve heard of the “welfare state,” but have you ever heard of a “welfare city?” Welfare state is a phrase commonly used to describe what some people believe is our nation’s over dependence on social programs. However, there also seems to be a rise in welfare cities, cities whose employment depends on the local, state, or federal government to keep them afloat. Take Terre Haute, IN for example, the six largest employers in the area are the Vigo County School Corporation (2,352), Union Hospital (1,976), City and County (1,441), Indiana State University (1,536), Regional Hospital (854), and Federal Prison (691). Keep in mind that the vast amount of revenue flowing into Union Hospital, Regional Hospital, and Indiana State University comes from Federal, State, or Local government sources, in the forms of federal student loans and government insurance programs.
In the last mayoral election there were three competing visions for the future of our city and these three visions generally reflect three different visions for the future of our nation. The vision put forward by the Republican party and their candidate Duke Bennett had no plan to change our cities dependence on the government. Their vision was and is to make Terre Haute a midwestern vacation or leisure destination. This is reflected in the city administration’s collaboration with the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce to push the “See You in Terre Haute” initiative. This initiative will keep the city primarily dependent on government jobs to survive but also allow special interests, like the groups pushing the casino to generate tremendous profits.
The Democratic vision, cast by Karrum Nasser, was to strengthen the institutions currently serving as the city’s employment base. While this would have the short term effect of creating more jobs in those institutions it would not have brought the city any closer to financial independence. As long as cities are dependent on special interests or governmental institutions it keeps them incredibly weak when it comes to bargaining with large corporations. Over the years large corporations have taken advantage of weak cities to get better and better incentives to locate new facilities in their communities. When these tax breaks and incentives run out, corporations start looking for other cities desperate for jobs. Terre Haute finds itself in the unfortunate position of having lost a great deal of our private employment and we’re quickly running out of “incentives” to attract new companies.
The only answer for a community like ours is to invest heavily in local entrepreneurs who can create jobs in our communities that don’t require massive incentives and won’t leave when those incentives run out. Pat Goodwin, the Independent candidate, supported this vision by sharing his own story of starting a local small business. He has taken advantage of global supply chains and regional marketing to provide small scale agricultural equipment to the tri-state area. The small scale agricultural market has unlimited potential for entrepreneurs over the next few decades and could certainly be a key to our cities financial independence if the collective will is strong enough to take advantage of the opportunity.
These local visions have direct connections to our national parties. Republicans have established a rock solid platform designed and built to cater to large corporations and special interests. Democrats continue to rely on a milk-toast version of social progressivism, that will keep the people of our nation dependent on the government and will keep our government dependent on the cooperation of foreign nations. All of this is happening while China invests trillions of dollars in global infrastructure. Building ports, railways, and highways throughout Asia, Africa, and South America. If the US does not find a way to transition back to the original vision of our nation, as a peacefully isolated agricultural nation, we will inevitably crumble.
We can already see the effects of this deterioration. A lack of national vision resulting in increasing tensions between rival political parties, who are only concerned with maintaining power. Skyrocketing rates of drug addiction, depression, and suicide, which have already started to lower the average life expectancy of Americans for the first time in a hundred years. Small to medium sized cities like Terre Haute are poised to move forward into an increasingly decentralized marketplace and lead the way in this national transition. However, we must find and support local leaders with the strength to cast a unified vision and resist the temptation to get bogged down in the brutal competition of partisan politics. Thankfully, new studies are showing that more Americans identify as independents than either of the two parties. This recent shift towards political independence might be the pathway necessary for our nation to transition to economic independence, freed from the stranglehold of large corporations and governmental interference.