THE BLOG

Another Stadium Scam; Dog-Human Co-Evolution

04/27/2015 02:55 pm ET | Updated Jun 26, 2015

Do we go with baseball-stadium scams or jobs? Let's watch what's happening in Rhode Island.

There, Gov. Gina Raimondo is right to focus a lot on job training. You repeatedly hear from business executives that there aren't enough people in the state with adequate literacy and numeracy. That's a major reason why Massachusetts is so much richer than the Ocean State.

What's needed are not just college graduates but high-school graduates with some post-secondary-school vocational training who can prosper in work environments using high technology, such as assembly-line robotics, and who can understand, and explain to each other and the outside world, an enterprise's needs.

Greater Boston has many thousands of such people. We can lure more of them, but the Ocean State desperately needs to start producing more of its own.

The governor's $1.3 million grant program via the state Workforce Board will help. It will provide grants of up to $25,000 to help partnerships convene, determine employers' needs and create plans to meet those needs. The remaining money would fund the approved training partnerships.

Ms. Raimondo announced the program at the Cranston facility of Yushin America Inc., a global robotics maker. Yushin wants to expand and has 14 open positions but is having trouble finding trained workers in Rhode Island to fill even that small number of jobs.

The governor's plan is too modest.

Contrast it with the plan to help some rich guys build a baseball stadium in downtown Providence to host a successor to the Pawtucket Red Sox with the aid of state and city government subsidies of $4 million a year. The stadium would employ a few people mostly paid near minimum wage - in season. Off-season, I suppose they'd go on state-funded unemployment insurance. And what happens to the stadium when the team decamps to another venue offering more public money? Then it might be empty 12 months a year instead of 5.

Even Major League stadiums usually don't make macro-economic-sense for their regions, let alone ones for Minor League teams.

This project would be on land where otherwise facilities could be built with hundreds of well-paying jobs, many connected with the medical, design and academic complexes in the very same neighborhood. Of course, that might require importing trained people from outside Rhode Island. (See above.)

But the stadium will probably get built because of the powers behind it and such short-term allures as short-term construction jobs, for which organized labor pines. While only a minority of the population cares a lot about baseball teams, those who do include powerful people in business and government who see themselves hyper-validated by association with the government-protected, heavily tax-subsidized macho monopolies known as professional sports teams.

A few consultants will say how wonderful (at least psychologically) stadiums can be for their localities. Then you discover that they have earned buckets of money as consultants for teams.

These teams are welfare for the rich and opium for them and the dwindling percentage of the masses who can afford $11 hot dogs. Still, the teams aren't boring, unlike job training and fixing roads.

***

A line (probably erroneously) attributed to Harry Truman goes: "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.''

Recent research shows us more about how humans and dogs evolved together. As spinoffs of wolves or wolf-like canids, dogs developed over millennia as pack animals whose packs came to include people. We selected them to help us hunt and generally favored those who were the least aggressive. They hung around for free meals from carnivores even better at killing than they were (us).

In doing so, they developed social skills for dealing with humans - e.g., reading our gazes - that no other animals have. Indeed, they read us better than do such close human relatives as chimpanzees.

And, no, dogs don't just pretend to like us to get free room and board. Scientific studies of such factors as the hormone oxytocin show true affection on both sides of the human-dog duet.

Even their diets are changing, with more dogs (like us) mostly eating vegetable-based food. Now on what might be my last dog, I wish I had known all this with my first, in the Truman administration. I would have been nicer to him.

Robert Whitcomb (rwhitcomb51@gmail.com), a former Providence Journal editorial-page editor, is a Providence-based writer and editor, a partner in Cambridge Management Group (cmg625.com) a healthcare-sector consultancy, and a Fellow at the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy.