How The Casual Fascism Of Public/Private Partnerships Reaches Its Tentacles Into A Missoula Affordable Housing Project

by Travis Mateer

I like thinking BIG PICTURE when it comes to the trends impacting our little Zoom Town.

One of the BIGGEST trends is how the ownership class is desperately trying to rebrand its crony capitalist system into a kinder, gentler form of Capitalism called STAKEHOLDER Capitalism. What does this mean for Missoula, you ask?

An affordable housing project (that has our illuminated braintrust proudly posing for the cameras) features a combination of funding methods to make the “affordable” part work. There’s the Trump Opportunity Zone piece (private money) and the Tax Increment Financing piece (public money) joining forces to make that totally NOT fascist marriage known as the PUBLIC/PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP. From the link (my emphasis):

But it’s the public-private partnership behind the Scott Street project that could provide the momentum the city’s economic leaders have been looking for over the past several years.

“It really showcases how to leverage public-private partnerships,” said Julie Lacey, the economic development director at MEP. “We’re excited to see where that goes and what that means for other projects in the area. How do we take what we’ve learned and how do we engage outside partners and folks in Missoula and apply that to other sites?”

Kier said interest in Missoula remains strong, even if the city represents a relatively small market and isn’t widely known to large-scale investors. That makes it hard to attract the national capital needed to fund larger project, such as 9 acres of housing.

But the organization’s networking paid off, and the city’s ownership of the Scott Street property added some security to investors. The parcel, along with most others in the opportunity zone, also sits in one of Missoula’s urban renewal districts, meaning public funding can be used to build the public infrastructure needed to accommodate the development.

“We do feel that if this goes well, it will open the eyes of a new pool of potential investors into the kinds of projects we want to see in Missoula,” Kier said. “We’re hoping this will be an opportunity to build momentum and replicate this as a way of partnering with the city or county and the private sector to move the needle on some of our bigger goals, rather than waiting for the private sector to just come along and take it on.”

Let me provide a rough translation of this excerpt: wealth doesn’t give a shit about a town like Missoula unless there are layered incentives (also known as bribes) to get their attention, like avoiding taxes (opportunity zone) and cost mitigation (public money handouts).

I wanted to know more about IMPACT INVESTING, so I looked online and found something from the Harvard Business Review about impact investing NOT saving Capitalism. The article is from July, 2020 and uses the pandemic to explain why this kind of investing (private money) is going to need government (public money) to RESET the rules for how we are governed. From the link:

Next month will be the anniversary of the U.S. Business Roundtable’s 2019 call for a shift from “shareholder capitalism” toward “stakeholder capitalism.” Business leaders asked us to imagine a transformed world, but a bat virus in Wuhan had its own ambitious plans — and has, for the time being, transformed the world in quite another way. It has thrust government to the center, pushing business, whatever its approach to capitalism, to the sidelines.

Nobody could reasonably expect business alone to fix the pandemic. Nonetheless, some investors under the banner of “impact investing” argue that business alone will be able to fix the other big problems ailing the global economy, such as climate change or global female literacy, without sacrificing commercial returns. This view has garnered interest from major banks, consultancies, business lobby groups, and even former prime ministers. One of impact investing’s leading champions, Sir Ronald Cohen, believes that it could be the “revolution” that will save capitalism and solve many of the world’s greatest problems.

It is an enticing vision of an enlightened post-pandemic economy, and, as an impact investor and economist, we support its ambitions. However, if we really want to reform capitalism, then impact investing as it is traditionally conceived will not be enough. The pandemic is not a mere anomaly; there are profound limits to what business can do profitably in normal times too. We need to reform the rules that govern how our economy works — and impact investors have a critical role to play.

When it comes to Montana impact investing, I discovered Goodworks Ventures and its tagalong foundation, the High Stakes Foundation. The person who started these ventures is Mary Stranahan, described thusly:

Mary Stranahan is the founder of Goodworks Ventures and the High Stakes Foundation. As a result of attending a Play Big Session about a decade ago, she made the decision to leverage her resources to support the people making a positive change in Montana. Her focus is on triple bottom line investments in the for profit arena and rural economic development, leadership development and environmental policy issues in the nonprofit arena.

There are so many interesting players, organizations and programs in our humble little Zoom Town that I’m starting to get a bit overwhelmed. To help keep things straight, I’ve begun mapping all these moving parts.

Mary Stranahan is one of those moving parts now, so any context I can find might be helpful in understanding what’s motivating her, like this article from 2012 about the consequences of Citizens United. Notice another familiar player in the following excerpt:

University of Montana professor Vicki Watson thanked the council for bringing the referendum forward and said she wanted the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an official message it erred. She said extending civil rights to corporations “makes a mockery of our sacred human rights.”

“Corporations do not bleed or feel pain. They can’t die in an unsafe workplace,” Watson said.

Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula, said she pitched a similar piece of legislation in Helena, and she heard support from Democrats and Republicans all across the state. Hill noted Montana history is laced with stories of big money, such as the Copper Kings, buying influence.

“This is a question of whether American democracy itself can beat back a corporate takeover,” Hill said.

Mary Stranahan, who doesn’t live in Missoula but enjoys many of its amenities, said putting power back into the hands of the people is a huge matter. She encouraged people to seek more information about the national movement from The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund,

“I think this is one of the most important issues we as a country face in trying to preserve what democracy we have,” Stranahan said.

That was 2012, when people like Ellie Hill (not yet Smith) had a BIG problem with BIG money defining corporations as people. Seven years later, this player was singing a different tune (my emphasis):

Hill said language in I-182, the 2016 referendum that resurrected Montana’s medical marijuana program, and 2017’s Senate Bill 333, a bill further regulating the program, allows providers to hire corporations as employees.

Isn’t that just wonderful?

On Monday I’m going to continue taking a look at Mary Stranahan because I found a fascinating interview, done by Diane Sands in 2004, that discusses feminism and George Bush’s foreign policy.

Since Joe Biden declared AMERICA IS BACK, and troops are already on the move in places like Syria, this 2004 article will be a pretty interesting time capsule to another world where liberals were capable of being anti-war because the wars were being waged by a Republican named Bush.

So stay tuned…

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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3 Responses to How The Casual Fascism Of Public/Private Partnerships Reaches Its Tentacles Into A Missoula Affordable Housing Project

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