Incubate This

September 26, 2013

Inside Insight

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ariail incubate thisA Cluster Indeed

By Ashley Landess

In August of 2008, South Carolina legislative leaders held a press conference to unveil a plan to “fix” the economy and “create jobs.” The big reveal consisted of a bunch of charts – including my favorite, apyramid with 30+ government agencies listed in it – and the announcement of a new group called the Knowledge Sector Council. What was this council supposed to be? “The original high-level concept for the Knowledge Sector Council,” explained S.C. Research Authority President Bill Mahoney, “is to increase teamwork and outcomes between organizations involved in Knowledge Economy development through expanded awareness and communications.”

What does that mean? Five years later, it’s still not clear. In fact, we have no idea what the Knowledge Sector Council was created to do or whether it is doing anything now. What we do know is that South Carolinians’ quality of life and levels of income are not substantially better and higher than they were when the pyramid scheme was announced.

But the lack of actual success hasn’t stopped politicians and bureaucrats from creating more agencies and “public-private partnerships” (read: public for purposes of funding but private for purposes of transparency) to fix everything from the economy to education to the environment. They have bubbly sounding names such as EngenuitySC, SCLaunch, Innovista, RecyclonomicsSC and the recently announced TransformSC – this latest for the purpose of transforming education.

Their missions all sound pretty much the same – stacked with words such as “collaborate,” “partnership” and “innovation.” The umbrella organization for many of these projects seems to be New Carolina, which is billed as a “public-private partnership of business, government and academia” formed to “activate and upgrade clusters” and “enhance education and workforce training,” not to mention “launch internal and external marketing campaigns.”

The websites and publications of all these entities are loaded with language that might, on the surface, sound productive: enhancing and collaborating and activating and innovating. But beyond that, there’s not much more to glean about what any of these entities actually do, much less accomplish. One thing is certain: this machine has cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, but there’s no glossing over the lack of measurable results. It’s the classic “The Emperor’s New Clothes” story – lots of pomp and parade with everyone pretending it’s a “great day.” But the emperor is naked and our politicians’ schemes to fix education and the economy and the environment have been unsuccessful at best, and likely made the problems worse.

The language that has sprung up around this activity isn’t just deliberately vague; it’s weak and empty. For all the glitz of the presentation, none of these entities can say they’ve made South Carolina freer, with the most opportunity to prosper and the most choice available for goods and services. The flat-sounding goals of these “collaborative enterprises” can’t possibly compare to the goals of individual Americans who are free to pursue excellence and greatness, to create artistic masterpieces and cure diseases, and to explore the universe and improve the quality of life for all of God’s creatures.

Our nation was founded with the mission of protecting human freedom to pursue happiness. South Carolinians deserve elected officials who measure their own success by that of their citizen employers, and whose highest goal is to ensure that those they serve are able to pursue all the opportunities possible in the freest state in America.