posted by King Minos in Money / Career

Athens' Future Economy?

December 12, 2012

Well, first off, the King is thankful he is not charged with planning and carrying out spending and policy-making that is designed to "make things better" in Athens! Lord knows, it is a blessing that no one, really, is designated as the local Economy Czar!

But a couple of recent articles from Nick Coltrain offers some suggestions for what is to come: More retail space, and housing, particularly, in downtown Athens!

These investments, totaling somewhere in the vicinity of $200 million, are likely to have significant impacts on the local economy.

Of course, as a half-hearted critic of some would-be Athens promoters, and the actual reality of the Athens I know, I thought I'd think aloud a few ideas about news of these new investments.

Athens' biggest deficit in terms of building the local community remains a lack of adequate transportation infrastructure; specifically, Athens' lack of a limited access highway connecting to an interstate highway has been, and remains, the single biggest obstacle to local economic growth. Of course, this keeps Athens a small pond, and very attractive to wealthy professional "big fish!" In a few ways, Athens resembles a resort destination where people go for fun and to get away with doing things they can't do at home; I am reminded of the irony of the Methodists holding their annual meetings in Athens (one imagines some of them come here to be wicked and not good!)

I would think the downtown developments will further tax the retail sector out towards the mall; that may be good news, there, for tenants who might get cheaper rents. But too much of such a thing could cause foreclosure and abandonment of then non-paying retail space. This, in turn, might lower government property tax revenues even if development downtown may offset this.

Of course, in my own Athens' version of SIM-CITY, the King would first construct a basis for living in Athens! To do this is no small matter and many, many folks have tried and failed here! EVEN TODAY, there are many more living in Athens than are supported by the local private economy. How could the private economy be made to expand even faster than the supply of labor so as to drive-up compensation rates?

WELL, building more housing and filling it with more would-be job seekers ought to tamp down wage pressures and ensure service sector jobs continue to pay far below the so-called "living wage." Of course, masses of low wage labor would remain attractive to potential large manufacturers like Caterpillar. THEN AGAIN, in terms of siting manufacturing and production facilities -- large scale plants like what General Time* used to be -- interstate access remains a critical issue. Athens currently has no link even though 316 is on the slow-track towards limited access; after years of carnage and iffy commutes! (Of course, another significant point is the dearth of political juice among Athens' leaders; they may have wanted access to an interstate but they didn't have the political pull to get it! Even the 10 loop in Athens was something of a local miracle and still took many years to construct in a step-by-step construction model. And, today, it is a substandard design and symbol -- as is the double-barreled cannon -- of local political incompetence and impotence.)

But what of the future of Athens?

Well, it depends on whose version of the future wins out!

AS IS, there are plenty of folks against change in the Classic City; a lot of these folks are liberals ensconced in tiny little local economic niches; but most of them are probably conservatives in local business monopolies looking, really, to KEEP OUT competition; and, indirectly, to stop or thwart Athens' growth potential. Neither hospital, for instance, would welcome more competition! And neither would local car dealers, convenience stores, or liquor and gasoline distributors!

Of course, the King doesn't oppose the successful in Athens, even if their work to protect their own "good thing" may actually tend to shut-out new comers and keep wages low for the littler minnows in the small pond. THEY are what they are, and totally predictable!

In fact, the local outsourcing of jobs in manufacturing, particularly in textiles, did not have local advocates or proponents; much of the export of our industry has been accomplished through failed state and federal leadership on trade (Clinton and NAFTA), financial and labor policy; it is leaders, there, who have benefited mostly from bargaining away Americans standard of living and potential standard of living; in a nutshell, they promised to salute the czars of finance as long as they'd support them politically. Again, "we the people" are the ones who had our lives and earning power traded-in so our modern globe trotting leaders could come off so high and mighty! (What a success it was for THEM, and all paid for by us, and our children!)

THEN, most of the factors causing economic decline in Athens and across America have been wrought by federal and state actors. How could locals in Athens do anything about THAT?

For one thing, as the American economy has faltered it has ALSO through contracted revenues and spending, threatened a lot of other institutions. Take higher education: As GA budgets have slid and been increasingly taken-up with bailing out medical care budgets, higher education has become more privatized and seen slower revenue growth.

I don't deny a little cynical pleasure at the lot higher ed officials, now, face! It exposes for all their biggest lie: That highly funded institutions of higher education would improve everyone's standard of living! THE WAY, the Regents run things, it has mostly benefited folks who work in that system! Similarly, in corporate America, leaders have lied about their own compensation and benefits saying they more they make, the better is the company and its employees and share holders! Of course, the King imagines himself saying the same self-serving thing if he were in a position to do so!

Politically, it seems unlikely citizens can unite and punish and reward leaders according to the real outcomes of their policy-making; we have today almost an imperial system, perfectly protected by a prostrate, disinterested, and hocked media; we have a surging liberal monster, as well, mostly among retirees and others no longer working in the real economy; and of course, pushed along by some classic liberals who've gotten by on meager rations and reduced opportunity for so long that they think anyone can do it; or raise a family on THEIR incomes! Ha!

In these new developments I see a lot of the old: Athens has a reputation as a town "open for business" if not plunder; the extensive service economy, in some ways, is designed to get at student's wealth and appropriate it elsewhere; perhaps the new investments will create a lot of living-wage jobs. More likely, they represent a humorous, to me, stab at taking away assets (property rights of local and other landlords) from some who have them, today! THIS FREE MONEY, now, from Ben Bernanke, is leverage to take-down local ownership and monopoly. Of course, whether or not the proceeds remain and enrich Athens remains to be seen; generally-speaking, for instance, most of the money spent at Wal-Mart heads home to Arkansas, not Athens! And, judging from what has reported thus far, these outside investors are looking like others before, and looking to "cash in" on Athens! We make money or scrape it up, and they figure a way to come in and get it from us! (Anyone ever wonder why gas prices in Athens have always been higher than anywhere else in GA?)

AREN'T OUTSIDE investors interested in helping Athenians by spending a couple of hundred million, here? NO! THEY ARE interested mostly in helping themselves, and urged on by our fake, hocked media types!

Well ...... no! And now I am coming frighteningly close to sounding like that old, tired politically-correct liberal of Flagpole!

IN FACT, I do feel Athens' economic future may be brighter especially if that of the larger U.S. improves; still, we have some hard times and transitions to make! MOSTLY, the people are going to have to become more active, politically; now I am not talking about being a Republican or a Democrat. I am talking about becoming a "safe" mob which firmly but politely rewards and/or punishes political leaders who cop deals that hurt most everyone else, but themselves! In may respects what ails Athenians and Americans is the long legacy of political incompetence and self-serving deal making on behalf of our so-called elected and political leaders!

*Does the fact that General Time located in an Athens without an interstate countermand the broader argument? To an extent it does, and there are nuances to the interstate arguments; but broadly speaking the more active and successful economies ALL have such access.

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