In the course of providing us with a glimpse of the gleaming future for River City's nascent "life sciences" corridor, Dr. Luis Tomatis, the original president of one of the anchors of that corridor, the Van Andel Institute, announced: "The industrial era is finished." I know Dr. Tomatis and have a great of deal respect for him, but I must say that in this instance the good doctor is dead wrong.
Nevertheless, he shares good company in his opinion that industry is passe. In its lead editorial yesterday, the Grand Rapids Press concluded: "Manufacturing will certainly be a part of that future, but just as obviously, Michigan must find ways to move in other directions." [My emphasis.] Like Dr. Tomatis, the Press also hyped the glorious future of life sciences with the dubious notion that investing taxpayer funds into the business development of sciences unproven as technologies isn't risky.
What seems to elude everyone who claims to be in the know about where the future beckons for River City is what pays our way there. Where does all the money come from to pay for the scientists, doctors, teachers, lawyers, bankers, accountants, restauranteurs, actors, singers, journalists, pundits, politicians, and bureaucrats of the post-industrial era of the life sciences bonanza? Money doesn't grow on trees.
Well, in a sense it does. Agriculture is one of the great sources of wealth that pay for all the nice things we enjoy in the modern world. Mining and manufacturing are the other sources of wealth fundamental to the economy. Everything else rests upon these foundations of wealth creation. Without agriculture, mining, and manufacturing -- in a word, industry -- pumping out the vast quantities of food, materials, and goods -- i.e., those things we can truly hold and consume and value -- we would soon run out of the money to pay those scientists and accountants and actors to do their work.
So we pay for things, like the grand future of life sciences promised by Dr. Tomatis and the Press, only by growing, digging up, and making things. We are fortunate in River City that all these foundations of wealth make up the backbone of our local economy. Unfortunately, the movers and shakers among us have a bad habit of ignoring the secret of our success and longing for the big city trappings of research centers, theaters, arenas, and all the other baubles industry ultimately pays for.
Of course, industry will chug along whether or not we explicitly appreciate the need for it. We still have to eat, need a roof over our heads, and want a car to drive to that job at the research center or theater. Farmers, miners, and manufacturers will keep doing what they do to sate our demands. The only question is whether we pass tax and regulatory policies that keep them in our backyard contributing to our local economy or drive them off to distant places.
If we want the former rather than the latter, it might be good if the leading lights of River City understood that the era of industry is finished only when the human race is.