Missing the big picture

Posted: Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Sunday's Juneau Empire contained a hysterical column by Dave Fremming purporting to explain why everything in Alaska has gone bad. Mr. Fremming's essential point is that Alaska has become hugely dependent on federal largesse. He then went on to explain the basic problem in Alaska is due to some sort of left-wing conspiracy perpetrated by a vast environmental cabal.

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Mr. Fremming's point regarding government dependency is true enough. In our own ruggedly independent way, we Alaskans have become capacious consumers of government welfare. We love handouts and have quietly in the last score of years become the most socialistic state in the union.

Mr. Fremming's reflexive response blaming environmental activists for the woes of our little state misses the larger picture. In our democracy, a large and growing cadre of elected politicians actively pander to the various factions seeking more and larger handouts. Take a look at the squealing coming from all sectors in response to the long-postponed need to chop bloated state government. That's not the sound of the greenies wailing Mr. Fremming, it's the sound of individuals, organizations and other special interest groups whining that their favorite subsidy is getting reduced. In all too many instances, the complaints are coming from folks who dine together at Chamber of Commerce luncheons.

Let's be honest here, Mr. Fremming. You can grumble all you want about the greenies and blame them for all the problems in your world. The truth is, corporate decisions and market conditions croaked most of the big, heavily subsidized programs and projects you nostalgically recall. The greenies may have nibbled on LPK's ankles, bit Alaska Pulp in the tail and kicked some of the mining companies in the shins over the years, but the greens have yet to kill a truly viable development project.

Alaska has enough problems worthy of addressing without resorting to silly demonization of the greenies. If you really want to get to the core of the problems, how about taking on the culture of welfare dependency we've perpetuated in the last two decades? Or how about addressing the chronic shortage of genuinely talented management in our little state? For too long we've been running Alaska like some sort of wacky club where a 574 Social Security number or a pal in government is enough to get someone a range 26 job or government grant.

As long as Alaskans continue to use hackneyed arguments as an excuse for why we are not progressing, we'll get more of what we have in abundance, which isn't all that great when we're talking about the economy. When Alaska gets serious about development based on practical, functional criteria instead of the personality-based factors favored by Mr. Fremming, we might actually make some progress.

Joe Geldhof


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