David Hines
October 8, 2003
Cargo cult
By David Hines

When Allied troops arrived in Pacific islands during World War II, they would build runways. Soon planes arrived, bringing all sorts of goodies.

The natives were quick on the uptake. "If it worked for them, it'll work for us." They cleared strips of jungle and built airplane-shaped decoys. This involved an enormous investment of resources for these societies.

They waited for the goodies to arrive. When it didn't happen, some of the cargo cultists were undeterred. Maybe they needed to tweak the plan. Bigger runways, more decoys.

Pretty primitive, right? Not so fast, say our civic leaders.

Pittsburgh has built a couple big decoys on the North Shore. Now let's wait for the cargo. Just in case, let's clear a bigger landing strip in the Fifth & Forbes corridor. How about a new hotel and bigger convention center for warehousing the cargo we're expecting?

These projects were sold on exactly this premise that they would create prosperity. Nationally there is similar wishful thinking. Both parties say they have plans to create jobs. Having recently filed tax returns, I feel as though I'm being drawn into a cargo cult.

If and when these jobs are created, how long can we keep them? Won't they follow other jobs to less taxed and less regulated places? If history is any indication this would be the likely outcome, were any jobs to materialize. Hot dog vending couldn't be exported, but most good jobs aren't so site-specific.

It seems to me there is a lot of work to be done here. We're just waiting for the politicians to make us jobs so it can be done. Our forefathers couldn't wait for the politicians. They did what was necessary. But then they didn't have bureaucrats looking over their shoulders every step of the way to tell them they were doing it wrong.

That led to some problems, to be sure. Impromptu coal mines followed the seams, and this still causes land subsidence in places. Clearly, there was need for some oversight. Yet perhaps we've gone a bit too far in appointing high priests to oversee public and private enterprise. I have little faith in the cargo cultists who believe they can create wealth by building landing strips through collective effort.

I keep hoping a five-pound box of money will land in my back yard and prove me wrong. I'm not counting on it, though.

© David Hines

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David Hines

Born in a mill town, David Hines has seen work as a furniture mover, computer programmer/analyst, and professional musician... (more)

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