In search of fresh beginnings …
Here in South Jersey we are winding up the most perfect summer of good weather anybody can remember. Long strings of perfect days of sunshine, temperatures in the 70′s and mid-80′s, and just enough rain to keep the grass green and the corn growing. Every weekend has been a shore businessman’s dream, with the TV weathermen and women looking for ways to spice up the delightful monotony of reports that keep repeating “sunny, warm and getting better”. Hunting up old hurricane footage is the best they can do for now.
Such perfect days breed laziness. Even the squirrels beneath my windowsill are taking their time hiding the food they’ll need next winter. Usually they scurry around, busily hiding away their supplies to be dug up in February’s snows. They’re doing it now, but are downright lackadaisical about it.
We locals can’t afford such laziness now. When these last few days of summer are gone and the kids are back in school, the casino industry will pull in its belt. Thousands and thousands of our friends and neighbors will be out of work, and no new jobs in sight. The politicians will make speeches and hold meetings, but having set the conditions leading to the coming disaster with their short-sighted policies they can’t be counted on for good answers now the chickens have come home to roost.
For years as the national economy shriveled up informed critics damned the big corporate executives for what they called “next-quarter priorities,” meaning they directed their companies toward whatever would yield immediate and short-term profits, neglecting the wiser but less sexy investments in tools, product development and worker-retraining that would insure long-term survival. One industry after another eventually paid the price for such foolishness. Detroit lost its leadership in car manufacturing to the Japanese; computer manufacturers here withered while South Korea, China and the “little dragons” of Asia flourished at America’s expense, and the telephone industry lost its lead to smart phones from Samsung and Finland’s Nokia
Now it’s our turn. I don’t blame the casino industry. They have no choice but to chase their market wherever it goes. If the slot players get tired of taking the bus, the casino industry builds casinos in Philly; if the gambling “whales” want to take their big betting bucks to more exotic ports, they build in Hong Kong or Macao. They don’t care one way or another about Atlantic City, anymore than sharks care where they swim. If you want to survive you have to follow your food supply. Simple as that.
There is no similar excuse for the politicians. Unlike casino’s the public can’t pick up and move that easily. We have homes; we have kids in school; we have families and friends and neighbors and churches and synagogues that together make up the very roots of our lives.
Protecting all that is what we pay the politicians to do. It’s their job to see the roads are kept in good repair, the Boardwalk planks are replaced, the bridges kept safe and the police and fire departments open and alert. We pay them to think ahead about stuff too big for us to handle individually, like how to encourage the kinds of businesses and activities that create and maintain that core ingredient of civilization, jobs. And this they failed to do. The Congress couldn’t muster the votes to deal right with the coming unemployment, and our state leaders got tangled up in bridge closings and mutual back-stabbing and back-scratching at our expense.
It’s fun to blame them, but it does no good to use our politicians as scapegoats. As Churchill and Kennedy both noted, “If we sit in judgment of the past, we lose the future.” What we need now is new thinking, and new thinkers. Clearly the future does not lie with newer and bigger casino’s. Does anybody think that if we build a casino twice the size of Revel our problems would be solved?
I think it’s time for the non-governmental organizations to step forward. It’s all well and good for Governor Christie to convene a “summit”, but I doubt much will come of it except more talk from politicians about saving the tourist industry because “that’s all we have.” What we need is not empty speeches founded on dead ideas, but exploration of fresh ideas. Let us imagine, for example, that Stockton decided to use its academic reach to set up an open forum based on the assumption that we put the gambling-oriented tourism industry on the back burner and see what else we can come up with. I wouldn’t downplay the importance of going after world-class conventions, like the ever-fascinating TED gatherings where new ideas find their outlook. But it’s not gambling that draws that crowd.
Maybe our future is in the world of high-tech; maybe in medicine; maybe in making drones or researching. Let’s open our minds to the world as it is and can be, rather than trudging along in the rut of old failures.
© 2014 Joseph T. Wilkins