Tom Sgouros's recently published Ten Things You Don't Know about Rhode Island (Light Publications, $14) is subtitled "A Skeptical Look at Government, Economics, and Recent History in One Lively Little State." The operational word is skeptical — a constitutional aversion to sheepishness prevents wool being pulled over the author's eyes.
What we don't know is placed in the context of something we know all too well, which is bannered in a mock-scare headline on the back cover: "Rhode Island is in CRISIS!!" So there is sort of a Jaws dum-dum-dum-dum soundtrack to the 10 chapters that begin with "The Budget Follies," proceed through such subjects and questions as "Fleeing the Cities" and "Is Grass Greener in Other States?" and conclude with "What to Do?" Serious matters.
Yet there's not a sky-is-falling tone to the concerns. Sober analysis is the preference. Sgouros is a numbers guy who takes pride in demystifying state budgets and clarifying government explanations of the state's finances. He likes to poke holes in economic and statistical "jiggery-pokery," in his expression, that you could drive truckloads of irate citizens through.
For example, in the "Fun With Statistics" chapter he cites a "bizarre misreading" of IRS migration data that led the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce to claim this year that the state is losing millions of dollars in income due to residents moving out of state. A newsletter column of his the year before anticipated the confusion, pointing out that a young worker moving away to find work does not represent the same monetary loss as someone who retires to Florida, taking away pension and investment income, so general migration stats are inaccurate indicators. In addition, "wealth is mostly staying put," with the mean income of those who have left in recent years remaining much lower than those who have stayed put.
Sgouros is a public policy wonk who founded and edits the Rhode Island Policy Reporter, an informative and invaluable tool over the past six years for those who have by now scratched their heads bald figuring out the strange state of this strange state. That explains the existence of this book, which has been compiled from his writings in the newsletter. But in addition to being a freelance researcher and technical writer, for such clients as political candidates and Fortune 500 companies, respectively, Sgouros has also been a videographer, a clown, a fire eater, and the mouthpiece for a robot named Judy who has given performances/lectures before cognitive scientists across the country. So it's understandable that he thinks outside the box, a habit of mind that results in frequently original and cogent observations in this volume.
: This Just In
, Internal Revenue Service, Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, More