Get Pat Powers talking about government investment in economic development, and you're in for several good laughs.

This morning Powers glances at the news that a third of South Dakota counties are losing population. (I run the Census data myself and find, based on population estimates, that 23 of our 66 counties lost population between 2011 and 2012; 19 counties lost population between 2010 and 2012. I can show you 38 South Dakota counties that had fewer people in 2011 than they did in 1980.)

Powers takes these population figures as his cue for this thorough and penetrating analysis of South Dakota's economic development policies, which analysis is only slightly longer than his headline:

That’s why economic development is so critical to this state. If you want to keep people here, you’ve got to give them things to come back to [Pat Powers, "Duh. That's Why We Have Economic Development," Dakota War College, 2013.04.01].

First, we must continue to chuckle at Powers's stubbornly blind endorsement of socialism. Powers and his Republican sponsors style themselves as devotees of the free market. But when the free market determines that great swaths of South Dakota aren't the best places in which to do business, Powers shouts Damn the free market! Let's redistribute some wealth and intrude on the workings of the economy with corporate welfare!

...which is fine, I guess, since plenty of my Democratic friends support this year's big economic development law.

Further chuckles come when you see Powers touting government economic development incentives even though evidence says they don't work. (Don't laugh too hard, fellow Dems: plenty of our Democratic friends in the Legislature support this kind of policy as well.)

But the biggest laugh of the day comes in Powers's sheer non sequitur. He looks at county population trends as justification for state economic development policy. Right. But how much proportional effort does the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) make to bring projects to the counties that the market and the population are abandoning? $5 million for Bel Brands in growing Brookings County, similar big investment in bringing Eagle Creek Software to growing Clay County (including free USD tuition for prospective employees), support for Can-Irish Glanbia to move a flaxseed plant to successful Sioux Falls… those economic development efforts may be a net plus for the state (though in the spirit of this year’s SB 235, I’d still like to see the evidence that these businesses would not have expanded in South Dakota without our corporate socialism), but they aren’t addressing the population drain in rural counties that motivates Powers to write his post on economic development in the first place.

Our state-level economic development efforts don't seem focused on reversing the population drain that many South Dakota counties are suffering. GOED seems to be helping the rich get richer, creating more opportunities that will only accelerate our already growing towns' predation of shrinking rural towns.

Update 12:07 MDT: If urban politics played the way it should, driving more population to our urban centers (and in South Dakota, we really ought to put "urban" in quotation marks) would improve Dems' chances of overcoming what LK calls their historical malpractice and boosting their win rate in South Dakota. But maybe Governor Daugaard's devious plan is to drive more economic development dollars to those urban areas, make more workers and CEOs beholden to GOP-GOED largesse, and thus capture a sufficient portion of the urban electorate.