This week I want to simply share one of my favorite This American Life podcasts – “How to Create a Job” – because I think it identifies a critical vulnerability in the field of economic development as it is practiced today.
Stealing jobs from another place is not economic development.
Lowering taxes or stimulating spending is not economic development.
Economic development is an art: the cultivation both of our human talents and the land in a responsible way. The economy is about making these gifts useful, sharing them, and becoming better people in the process. To reduce all of this – economics and politics – to mere “job creation” is simply incorrect. Wendell Berry said it best in his smack down of our job creation mindset in his essay “Money Versus Goods.”
“Of course people need to work. Everybody does. And in a money-using economy people need to earn money by their work. Even so, to speak of “a job” as if it were the only economic need a person has, as if it doesn’t matter what the job is or where a person must go in order to have it, is brutally reductive. To speak so is to leave out virtually everything that is humanly important: family and community ties, connection to a home place, the questions of vocation and good work. If you have “a job,” presumably, you won’t mind being a stranger among strangers in a strange place, doing work that is demeaning or unethical or work for which you are unsuited by talent or calling.”
Within each of our local communities, we have an opportunity to approach economic development in a new way, one that goes deeper than simply “creating jobs.” It is an opportunity with far-reaching effects and the potential to form the foundation of truly great places.