Do Institutions Matter?

An anonymous comment below made the following argument:
Universities grow the region.
Foundations drive change.
The Conference facilitates dialog.

At times, some do their job better than others.

Where's the problem?

So many things that I disagree with! I'll pick just one: The idea that institutional change doesn't matter.

Universities don't grow the region. Private enterprise grows the region. Foundations don't drive change. A wide variety of organizations (public, private, blended, small, large) and people (individual, and group) drive change. The Conference facilitates dialog. (Sorry -- had to stop laughing and get up off the floor!) Really, no, it doesn't. (There's another post on this that I've been holding, but maybe I'll toss it in soon.)

Institutions do matter to economic and cultural growth. Pittsburgh has a lot of them, most of them holdovers from earlier eras when people accepted being told what to do by other people who were wealthier than they were. Fortunately, we don't -- or shouldn't -- accept that any more. I blog observations about what the region needs, but I have no money or power and no ability to coerce anyone or anything. If Pittsburgh continues to rely foundations and the ACCD to tell people what to do, Pittsburgh will get what it has now. Pittsburgh's universities need to step up, but not because the universities drive economic growth (they don't), but because the universities are among the handful of institutions locally that have an asset base that should give them a stake in political and economic decisionmaking. And as the last couple of posts make clear, there are lots of other, diverse institutions that need to become bigger voices here.

More, maybe, later.


1 Response to "Do Institutions Matter?"

Anonymous said... 11/29/2006 1:12 PM

I couldn't agree more with your observations that the Pittsburgh region needs a new institutional structure, and that some existing institutions are being used in ways that are not appropriate.

The most disapointing have been the philanthropies, the press, and the public sector. All of these institutions have the responsibility of accountability in economic development investments, which are in turn supposed to benefit society at large. Part of this responsibility is facilitating the debate about competing ideas, because without competition there are no choices. Instead these civic institutions have taken the view that the status quo needs to be defended at all costs.

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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