How Monroe County and Saudi Arabia Compare

If you’ve not had a chance to read it, I highly recommend the book The J-Curve for all of you interested in international politics. The book is a great primer on international politics as a function of state stability, and state stability as a curve tracing from totalitarian stability to democratic stability. The book also details a number of case studies including Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia, the education of the populace is the job of the Wahabist religious sects. This is why people living in the heart of the land that gave us modern mathematics and a goodly portion of our alphabet can recite whole passages of the Koran but not read or perform basic algebra.

All of this is to say that, in the absence of government works projects, very few in Saudi Arabia are capable of holding down jobs on their own. Unemployment is rampant and so the government is constantly building new soccer stadiums and monuments to themselves as a means to keep the inevitable revolution of millions of starving, uneducated citizens at bay. These public works serve no useful function and generate no revenue of their own, but merely serve as make-busy jobs until the next useless project can be funded.

Here in Monroe County, we have no Wahabist imams forcing religion down our throats. We have no problem with education, in fact our schools are the envy of a majority of the United States. But when Monroe County insists that the Renaissance Square project is a good “shovel ready” project with which to spend our Federal Stimulus dollars, the only reasonable benefit I see is precisely this make-busy idea that keeps Saudi citizens working.

Because while generating jobs to stimulate the economy is a good thing – and I would submit that blue collar jobs are especially important on this point – focusing on the construction industry for economic growth is ultimately self-defeating. Construction jobs are only really useful to the economy as a whole where those jobs are backed up by genuine economic activity. If we worked to build our manufacturing base in Monroe County, the employees of those manufacturing companies would have permanent jobs and the companies would need construction workers to build or repair facilities. But when we focus on construction jobs, once the project is built, what happens next?

Nothing. Which exactly the problem with every monument built in Saudi Arabia and exactly what’s wrong with Renn Square as an economic project. What new jobs will be created by Renn Square after it’s built? I can only think of minimum wage jobs working in stores and restaurants inside the new terminal. . . and not even that if Bob Duffy gets his scaled-down project. What new revenue will Renn Square generate? Nada, which makes it about as useful as a statue of the Prince of Saud.

Better that we should focus on building a new terminal at the site of the current Amtrak station, if we are to build any new bus terminal at all. We can get more bang for the buck if we create a terminal that both serves the Rochester public and advocates for Rochester to the people who travel through here on rail. Better still that we should use the Stimulus money to pave our streets and fix our roads. These things generate revenue and have intrinsic value. Renn Square’s only intrinsic value is as a campaign fund project.