In my last post I discussed the issues I have with the Shared Values of Transform Rockford. The leadership of Transform Rockford was very responsive to these concerns and when I get back from Mises University, we will be meeting so that they can better answer these questions. I’ll definitely be writing another post to update you on that situation. However, that post was really just a lead-in to my response about the Vision Rally itself. I have three primary aspects of concern with the vision statement and related statements announced at the Vision Rally.
I think it is easy for those who have been in Rockford for some years to become cynical about the possibility of change. But while cynicism will not contribute anything meaningful to the discussion, there is the need for rational and objective consideration. When I step back from the Vision Statement and look at it more critically, I see a series of statements that basically describe a utopia. Simply writing down what our dream city would look like doesn’t seem compelling. And as I commented after participating in a visioning session, the unique perspectives of the individuals are lost when all the ideas are merged. For example, my own statement had to do with promoting basic individual rights. I don’t see that idea reflected anywhere in this finished vision statement. Considering that the concept of libertarianism was drowned out by the end of the visioning session, I had no expectation it would somehow show up at the end of the process, but it was still a bit disappointing. The vision statements were so broad and generic that I was left wondering why it was necessary to get so much community input. If the vision statement and the rally itself was simply a diplomatic move to get people engaged, then it worked. But if the intention was to create a thoughtful platform for moving forward, I found the vision statements sadly lacking.
I am not saying that I was cynically watching the Vision Rally—I did get excited about it, but mostly because it was good to see so many people gathered together being excited about something. I mean, how often does that happen in Rockford? If we get together, isn’t it usually to protest or complain? But I honestly didn’t get any kind of thrill from the whole vision idea. It didn’t shake my world, it didn’t challenge my preconceptions, it didn’t necessarily inspire me onwards. It was simply the saying out loud of everything we have all thought before. The act of announcing these statements in a public context was interesting, but the content itself wasn’t overly impressive.
My next concern has to do with causation. It does very little good to say we want to get on the top 25 cities list without identifying why we got on the worst 25 cities list. What went wrong? What caused the situation we know now? Why did this happen? What are the factors involved with the high crime rate, high unemployment, and general depression of the region? What failed to work and to cause these things, and what measures possibly contributed to the decline? Hope for the future is meaningless without a deep understanding how we found ourselves in this situation.
I do recognize that identifying causation would be controversial and problematic. There are many different interpretations of the mess we’re in right now, and everyone has their own opinion on it. It would not be an easy issue for Transform Rockford to tackle, and I honestly don’t even know where one would begin with trying to align the community on the why of our situation. But aside from the practical questions, I think that this discussion would be necessary to a solid plan for the future. I don’t know how it would happen, but I do think it is essential to successfully improving our community.
This last objection is the one that troubles me the most. In the discussions from and about Transform Rockford, there seems to be an implicit assumption that a better future for Rockford can simply be engineered. It is as if we get enough people to attend the rally, if there are enough people planning and coordinating, if there are enough willing volunteers, then we can reach the ideal set forth. It reminds me of the Keynesian economists using metaphors of engines to describe the economy…if there are enough knowledgable technicians to “tweak” and “adjust” the engine, then we make it run beautifully. Speaking of the Keynesian and Chicago schools of economics, Christopher Westley writes,
“To both schools, the human person is a cog in an economic machine that must be coerced to act in ways that make their systems work.” (Mises Daily)
And talking about John Maynard Keynes himself, Shawn Ritenour explains,
“Keynes took the human out of “human action” and reduced the economic system to a machine. Man became a mere social unit, merely reacting to changed conditions according to economic instincts. Keynes’s focus on the management of economic aggregates fed the hubris of modern economists by justifying their role as the keepers of the keys to the economic kingdom.” (Mises Institute)
But the economy, and society itself, isn’t a machine to be maintained, it is a complex ecosystem that cannot be controlled by any person or group. Lew Rockwell writes,
“It is the conviction of the liberal intellectual tradition dating back to the Middle Ages that society contains within itself the capacity for internal self-management.” (Mises Institute)
We do not need the government to get itself cleaned up so that it can solve all of our city’s problems. We do not need to weed out corruption and implement a more efficient way for the government to work in Rockford. I offer Lew Rockwell’s words again,
“As lovers of liberty, it is essential that we constantly warn about the dangers presented by the state. But it is also our job to constantly say, in as many ways as we can, that it does not have to be this way. The state is not the foundation of society, it is not the source of our security, it does not bring about prosperity, and it does not protect us.” (Mises Institute)
Society will run itself, as we’ve seen through the ages. In the example of money, a government simply did not decree a common medium of exchange one day because they saw the inefficiency of barter. Money—a common medium of exchange—developed spontaneously in the market. The government wasn’t needed to create, control, or regulate the currency. In fact, the government’s intervention in the money supply has only led to harm over the centuries.
So, moving from the abstract back to Transform Rockford, I am concerned with the implied need for anyone to “do” something in order to improve our community. It isn’t a matter of doing more—it is a matter of doing less, and simply letting society create spontaneous and free order.
I realize it could be argued that Transform Rockford has said nothing about using the government to achieve these ends. But I think it is implied in much of the material. For example, one of the impact statements on Funding and Alignment states, “our local government and non-profits are impactful, properly supported and aligned with the community vision.” This definitely suggests that government will be used as part of the solution. And since the government is such an intrinsic part of society now that unless someone explicitly states that something will be done outside the purview of the state, you can assume that government will be involved. If a community wanted to explore non-government options, or wanted to remove the government from controlling it, this would take intention and purpose. I have seen nothing from Transform Rockford to make me think that voluntary solutions will be explored. Lastly, Transform Rockford would probably not hesitate to use government in order to enforce its changes. But the moment Transform Rockford uses “legal” force to make a person or a group of people do what they want, they have become an apparatus of the state.
In conclusion, I agree that there is a desperate need for change in the Rockford area. But Transform Rockford seems to lack the philosophical grounding to make a coherent and substantial difference. We are thinking beings with a worldview that drives our actions—whether we recognize it or not. Without intentionally developing and stating a position on the role of the government and the role of the individual, I am afraid Transform Rockford is in a position to be used for further state intervention—rather than encouraging the freedom necessary for true prosperity and growth.