There are a number of people that I admire – writers, pundits, professors, thinkers – folks that I take what they say very seriously. I don’t always agree with them but I appreciate their world view and how they frame and communicate issues.
In recent years, I have come to realize that in my core area of interest – what is the best way to foster economic growth in relatively weak and peripheral jurisdictions within advanced economies, there are very few big brains working to solve the challenge.
Donald Savoie is one exception of course. He is a big brain and he has tackled this subject but he is an intellectual packrat – delving into areas that pique his interest. He has only written 2-3 books that were serious attempts at addressing mycore area of interest.
Part of the problem is one of scope. The problems of Wyoming or New Brunswick are small potatoes compared to the big issues of urban growth.
The second issue is that most people hear the topic “foster economic growth in relatively weak and peripheral jurisdictions” and automatically think “big government intervention”. In fact, my work is fundamentally premised on sustainable, private sector-led economic growth. Of course there are things that governments can do to help foster a positive investment environment but to think that economic development in a place like New Brunswick must involve government distorting markets makes no sense.
The other issue that concerns me is that I don’t have any intellectual giants in my circle that push my thought to new frontiers. This is not a small thing. I read 10-15 biographies per year and all of the really interesting people that I read about had personal mentors or people of influence in their lives pushing them.
In summary, I’m an intellectual orphan. There are few big brains nationally or internationally looking at the thing that absorbs my thinking on a daily basis and there are few people directly in my network that are challenging my view of the world.
I’m not even sure why I wrote this blog. It’s a bit off the beaten track. I have built some expertise and have a pretty good consulting practice around the subject of regional economic development. The topic has served me will but I still come back to that chart showing New Brunswick’s stagnation really started about the time I came back to New Brunswick in 1992 (at least that is the timeframe for the start of the population stagnation).
I’m not suggesting I had anything to do with that stagnation. In fact, I have one immigrant and three kids added to the total. But it is a simple truth that I have written over 3,000 blogs, over 1,200 columns and articles and hundreds of reports over 20+ years and you could easily make the case that not much has fundamentally changed in those two decades. Sure, we have made some gains in household income levels and the employment rate is up fairly strongly in that timeframe. But Canada added 7.2 million people from 1992 to 2013. New Brunswick added a few thousand.
Now we are faced with some big challenges but there isn’t much public appetite for change. The politician who went door-to-door in rural New Brunswick and was told “we just want to be left alone” is a pretty apt metaphor.
So, calling all intellectual giants. Bring a little of your thinking to our little neck of the woods.