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How to revive the American Heartland

“Every unemployed American is a failure of entrepreneurial imagination.” -Edward Glaeser

At the end of September, economist Edward Glaeser returned to the Manhattan Institute to deliver the 2017 James Q. Wilson Lecture. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may remember that he was there in 2016 and delivered a presentation called “The End of Work.” 

This year’s talk continues that theme, but focuses on joblessness and economic stagnation in the US Heartland. 

The solutions he puts forward are based on a very simple economic model for growth that he refers to as “rules and schools.” Simply put: The rules of a place need to support business and entrepreneurship and the people need to be educated.

One example he gives is of a woman in Detroit who was trying to start a food truck business but had to wait 18 months for a permit. There’s no reason that should happen. He blames the insider restaurant lobby for working to keep competition at bay. The rules are bad. We have similar problems here in Toronto with our food trucks. I think it’s wrong.

He also pokes fun at the Bilbao effect. Yes, Frank Gehry created a beautiful piece of architecture. But did it lower the unemployment rate?

The last thing I’ll mention are his comments regarding Amazon HQ2 because I like how he frames it. 

Firstly, Amazon is going select a city that doesn’t need Amazon. It’s going to go where there’s already abundant human capital. 

Secondly, “smokestack chasing” is not the right economic development strategy. The key questions should be: How will this benefit our human capital and how many new firms could it create?

If you have an hour, check out Ed Glaeser’s talk. If you can’t see it below, click here.

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