Central Planners’ Latest Buzzphrase: Promise Zones

The White House is touting something called “Promise Zones” as a model to spur economic growth. These areas feature federal spending with the usual strings attached, attempting to spur economic growth and civic renewal. What the country needs is not set of federally micromanaged zones, but to restore the original American promise for all of the us: here we can be free.

It’s Deja Vu All Over Again

The Promise Zone Initiative is a spin-off of Enterprise Zones, hailed in the 1990s as a means to turn around deteriorating communities. Enterprise Zones didn’t work very well.

As mentioned on the Cato Daily Podcast, others saw that Enterprise Zones failed because there is more to a failing city or region than a failed economy. A LEAP Zone is a special legal, economic, administrative, political jurisdiction, designed to remove obstacles to progress.  A Promise Zone is a LEAP Zone turned on its back. 

On the positive side, the Promise Zone Initiative is more than just economics. On the other hand, the solutions offer more of the same governmental solutions that caused the problems.

The five points of the Promise Zone Initiative — what makes a Promise Zone promise-y — are:

  • Accountability for Clear Goals
    There are regulatory strings attached to these promises. Along with with all of these benefits will come the obligation to abide by all of the rules the bureaucrats make as they go along. 
  • Intensive Federal Partnership
    The federal government will throw money at the problems it has largely caused, at least as long as the “Promise Zone” remains in effect. If federal priorities change, the money will go away. 
  • Help Accessing Resources
    The politically-designated Promise Zones will get priority accessing federal resources, in a direct violation of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law. 
  • National Service
    For some reason, the presence of full-time VISTA volunteer coordinators is expected to help.  
  • Investing in What Works
    The first five (of 20 planned) Promise Zones are in San Antonio, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. In order to show success in the program, they have avoided the most devastated areas, such as South Los Angeles, Detroit, and the entire state of Illinois.

Strings Attached

According to the Promise Zone application guide (pdf) (emphasis added)

All lead organizations of designated Promise Zones, implementation partners in the Promise Zone strategies and any federal grantees whose federally funded work contributes to Promise Zone strategies will be required to participate in evaluations of Promise Zone and related federal grant activities that may be conducted from time to time. Lead organizations, implementation partners and federal grantees contributing to Promise Zones must agree to work with evaluators designated by federal agencies, including providing access to program personnel and all relevant programmatic and administrative data as specified by the evaluator(s) under the direction of a federal agency, during and after the term of the Promise Zone designation and/or grant agreement

In other words, rather than freeing these places of the regulations that have bound the country into economic knots, the Promise Zone initiative will add a layer of regulation on top of what’s already there.  

Several affected federal departments and agencies got involved promoting the effort with blog posts and web pages, including: 

Each of the agencies and departments echoed the White House talking points, sometimes copying and pasting the points — just as the Promise Zone Initiative copies and pastes the same, tired governmental solutions.

HUD says, “A child’s zip (sic) code should never determine her destiny,” but the Promise Zone is another attempt to let ZIP code determine destiny. 

In a free society, people who want to advance their lot in life can change their location — in search of work or simply of a better neighborhood in which to raise their children. 

The benefits bestowed upon residents in the Promise Zone don’t follow them if they move away. The programs give incentives to stay put, and not to advance.

At OMB, they get into the act, too, giving a long list of leftist agenda items, such as access to early childhood education, a minimum wage increase, and so on. Each of the items careens into a difficult problem: none of these initiatives has ever been shown to improve economic conditions.

Targeting certain communities with solutions that don’t work will not have the effect the backers of Promise Zones desire. At most the benefits will be superficial, with a coat of paint for a community center or flower plantings along the same gray avenues devoid of the bustle of commerce.

Instead of Promise Zones, the nation needs not the addition of government programs, but their subtraction. Free the people from the rules choking the economic life from the country, stand back, and watch America roar to life again.


Photo credit: Businessweek