Economic Development for Whom? The Chicago Model


The City of Chicago’s strategy for economic development represents diverse and sometimes conflicting municipal development perspectives. In abroad intellectual framework, these perspectives often beg the question of whether government can and should effectively intervene in a market economy on behalf of minorities, women, the poor, and the working class. Moral and legal issues must be examined, as well as issues of political economy, to adequately answer this question. Those on the far left argue that government intervention serves only to pacify or dampen the natural tendencies of the underrepresented to struggle against the state and capital. Those on the far right argue that government intervention creates a dependency that destroys initiative and economic growth. In addition, some advocate the less radical institutional welfare perspective, which calls on the government to provide safety net protections as well as certain entitlements. In this paper, we propose an alternative perspective, namely that government not only can, but should take significant action on behalf of the oppressed by altering the balance of power and the distribution of resources. Furthermore, this action must be undertaken at a local government level to ultimately achieve the political conditions necessary for meaningful change at the national level.

We do not pursue further the question of whether government “should” intervene in economic activity. Rather, we address the “can” and “how” of government intervention, that is, the extent of government’s ability to intervene, and the best ways in which such ability can be put to use. More precisely, we examine the “how” of the Chicago experience with government intervention to draw some tentative conclusions about “can.” While the jury is still out on Chicago and other municipalities and states that are taking up this effort, there is a strong indication that government intervention can be successfully effected.

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