The enemy of progress

After the Star Tribune published an op-ed by me on traffic congestion in the Twin Cities, three authors, two of whom are associated with the Chamber of Commerce, wrote a response in the same newspaper. Among other things, they replied to our observation that there is far less congestion on Kansas City’s streets and highways than we have in the Twin Cities:

“The CAE wants us to be more like Kansas City, where you can drive around at high speed. There’s a reason Kansas City highways are empty: It’s not as attractive as we are, so its economy is weaker.”

So Twin Cities traffic congestion— the fact that you can’t get anywhere in a reasonable time—is actually another sign of our superiority!

Unfortunately, the reason Twin Cities highways are crowded is not that so many people are flocking to the area. On the contrary, as we showed in a report issued in 2016, every year Minnesota suffers a net exodus of residents to other states. Over the last three years, the metro area has experienced a net domestic out-migration of over 8,000 people. Meanwhile, “unattractive” Kansas City had a net positive domestic in-migration of over 6,000 residents last year.

Similarly, the Indianapolis metro area has grown twice as fast as the Twin Cities since 1990. Yet, by virtue of adding road capacity, it has gone from being more congested than the Twin Cities in 1982 to being less congested today.

Minnesotans have many wonderful qualities, but one not-so-wonderful quality is a tendency toward complacency. One might even say smugness. The conviction that Minnesota is superior to other places, and that other states would do well to follow our example, is deeply ingrained in many Minnesotans. This tendency is encouraged by local news media, which often engage in what can fairly be characterized as “happy talk” about how Minnesota is faring compared with other parts of the country.

Over the last ten months, we have traveled around the state, putting on presentations based on our August 2016 report, Minnesota’s Economy: Mediocre Performance Threatens State’s Future. That report, which consists of 37 pages of charts, graphs and data, demonstrates that during the current century, Minnesota’s economic performance has been average at best, compared with other states. Moreover, there are a number of negative leading indicators that raise serious concerns about the future.

When we review the findings of the Minnesota Economy report, most people are open-minded and respond with appropriate interest and concern. But there usually are some who seem personally affronted by the suggestion that Minnesota’s economy is not, in fact, a beacon of superiority to which other states should aspire.

It is good to be proud of your state. But pride shouldn’t lead to complacency. Minnesota is a great state, but it is far from perfect. If we want to improve our state, we need to be objective about how we are performing. If our current policies aren’t yielding the results we want, we should consider implementing new policies. But for that process to work, Minnesotans need to be objective in evaluating evidence of how our state is performing, not only economically but by other measures as well.

Minnesota can do better. But we can only do better if we are willing to take a hard look at how well our current policies are working. Helping Minnesotans to do that is one of American Experiment’s prime functions.