Chris Benner is an environmental and urban economist researching regional development and employment in America. He is a Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the Executive Director of the Everett Program. Chris’s recent work with Manuel Pastor suggests the somewhat counterintuitive result that geographic regions with the most equitable distributions of wealth and influence also tend to have the highest growth.
We explore here some of the case studies that he uses to explain the processes, policies and institutional arrangements that have allowed certain regions around the country to consistently link prosperity and inclusion. The case studies range from that of the highly conservative Oklahoma City, where citizens actually voted to increase taxes three times in the last twenty years to invest in major public sector investment programs as they realized the need to tap into their own resources to build their community, to the case of Salt Lake City, where the Mormon Church, a private faith based institution, worked with the non-profit organization Envision Utah to develop a long term participatory approach to growth. One size doesn’t fit all, and each regional metropolitan area that Chris studies has developed its own approach. But underlying the different approaches Chris finds a unifying theme: that knowledge is power, and those places that have a more diverse knowledge base will be more equitable and will more likely grow faster in the coming years.
Chris also discusses the changing nature of employment in America in the face of our “jobless recovery” and the ways in which we may therefore need to rethink the structure of our labor markets. With the average time an American spends in any job now at just four and a half years, search and transition costs of employment have changed significantly, necessitating considerations of new solutions. One such idea is to institute a basic income, something that it is being considered more seriously than ever before especially in the high turnover industries such as the technology sector in Silicon Valley.