There is an important distinction between skepticism and pessimism and I’m concerned that too many of my fellow legislators fail to appreciate its significance. While a skeptic is inclined to question the truth of so-called “conventional wisdom” and analyzes information critically, a pessimist expects the worst outcome and takes the worst view of conditions and situations.
In my four months as a legislator—in floor debates, committee hearings, and discussions in the hallways and over lunch—I’m struck by the frequency and volume of criticism directed at Oregon’s economy.
I often hear my colleagues asserting that: “Oregon has a lousy business climate,” “Oregon is losing jobs and people to other states,” and that “Oregon just isn’t business-friendly.”
The constant chorus of criticism is factually inaccurate, counterproductive, and damaging to the economic well-being of our state.
Yes, Oregon’s economy faces significant challenges: rising regional energy prices, a possible housing bubble, a need for greater industrial diversity, and comparatively high unemployment. Nevertheless, Oregon’s economic record of the past fifteen years belies claims such as one uttered recently on the House floor asserting that “Oregon has the worst economy in the nation.”
Although it’s no secret that politicians are prone to exaggeration, this type of economic pessimism concerning Oregon simply isn’t based on fact. More importantly, such economic hopelessness perpetuates this myth, thereby making Oregon less attractive to venture capitalists and business leaders considering locating here.
Our most recent forecast by the Office of Economic Analysis found Oregon’s job growth ahead of most states and up by 4% in the first quarter of 2005. Despite the oft-heard mantra that Oregon is somehow unfriendly to business, our economy grew faster than nearly every other state in the 1990’s with 30,000 new businesses and 415,000 new jobs created. Similarly, between 1995 and 2000, Oregon had the fastest growing Gross State Product in the nation. Finally, while the pessimists claim that people are leaving Oregon in droves. In the 1990’s, Oregon’s population grew by 650,000, a 23% increase and eleventh fastest in the US.
People are certainly free to choose their respective outlook on life. However, the perspectives and rhetoric of elected officials should meet a higher standard. Our words affect more than a small circle of friends and acquaintances. As public officials, we have a responsibility to support our claims with evidence, and to temper ideology with research and data.
Oregon legislators needn’t view Oregon’s economy through rose-colored glasses. We should, however, remove the dark tint of pessimism and view Oregon’s economy through objective research and historical analysis. Equally important, we should recognize our economic strengths and promote them vigorously at home and abroad.
Excellent post. You are absolutely correct. The pro-business Republicans are in fact damaging Oregon's business climate by constantly complaining about it. The statistics I've seen put Oregon's business friendliness anywhere from 10th to 4th in the nation, depending on what's being measured and how it's weighted.
It's good to see someone call the Republicans on their constant whining and complaining. Maybe they'll start working on solutions to Oregon's real problems.
Posted by: Bert Lowry | May 27, 2005 5:55:05 AM
Larry - thanks for recognizing the "surplus" in the unemployment fund and pushing through a bill to reduce the tax to business owners. As a small business owner here in Tigard, I can tell you I really appreciate it. It's this kind of thinking that repudiates the Republicans false rhetoric about Democrats being "anti-business".
Posted by: Mark Padgett | May 27, 2005 3:49:23 PM
So true Larry. Oregon undoubtedly has challenges, particularly around our race to the bottom on wages and the outsourcing of manufacturing and other living-wage jobs to low-wage countries and the replacement of those jobs with Wal-Mart jobs here, but there are great things happening here nonetheless.
Just look at this study by the National Federation of Independent Business, which contains evidence that Oregon's small business climate is much better than our neighboring states to the north and south.
It's title: Oregon Economy Shooting Ahead of Washington's and Northern California's, According to New Survey
Posted by: Chip Shields | May 30, 2005 8:57:59 AM
Great article and good points! I will forward article to others.
Posted by: Small Business | Mar 8, 2010 8:19:57 AM
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