The economist, former Harvard president and Treasury secretary always has some surprises …
[Summers] has been thinking about our state economy and spoke recently to a private gathering of business leaders to deliver this wake-up call: Even if times look good, Massachusetts should be investing more heavily in the life sciences, infrastructure, and education.
“I think the dangers are much more on the side of doing too little,” Summers said. “Ironically, sometimes not spending money is taking a much bigger risk than spending money, because it’s gambling with your preeminence.”
“The state has been squeezing the Medicaid budget very hard,” Summers said. “You can think of it as an expense, but at the margin it’s coming out of being the place where the smartest scientists want to come and work their miracles.”
Summers says some things that a progressive might say: Let’s not rest on our laurels — there’s more danger in doing nothing than something. Education and infrastructure. He says straightforwardly that Beacon Hill should probably raise taxes, particularly on the wealthy.
And yet, one can fairly question if doubling/tripling down on our high-tech industries is the right emphasis. A bond bill like the Patrick biotech bill is indeed money that doesn’t go elsewhere — infrastructure, say. Biotech mostly employs the lavishly-educated, injecting more money into a particular economic strata, attracting investment, yes — but also potentially raising real estate prices even more, and exacerbating inequality.
And the argument that we shouldn’t control medical costs because the medical industry is a big employer … Bob DeLeo makes the same case, and it sounds wrong to me. It is anti-utilitarian. Everyone pays for our outsized medical industry, and our high medical premiums squeeze out other kinds of business activity. You can go to other places in the country and see a small-business culture that increasingly, you just can’t pull off in Greater Boston because of the cost of doing business, especially real estate and health care.
Do we have to become another Silicon Valley — where everyone is made captive to high-tech funny-money — in order to compete with it?
Or maybe that’s the wrong emphasis?