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Amplifying Incumbent Protection Program of Campaign Finance

Maybe it’s a trap that has just organically formed due to human nature or maybe it’s a deliberate scheme, but ever-increasing campaign finance regulations are effectively an incumbent protection program.  Consider the next notch on the ratchet, as proposed by state representative Deborah Ruggiero and state senator Louis DiPalma:

The state’s campaign finance laws need to be tightened so officeholders and candidates cannot repeatedly amend their finance reports that list all expenses and contributions in a given period, according to Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown. …

“Mandating submission of a paper bank statement is a good first step, it allows the Board of Elections to easily identify discrepancies, but we should go further and require banks to send electronic statements directly to the [Board of Elections], as is done in Massachusetts,” Ruggiero said in the statement. “Most-needed though are stiffer penalties for repeated amendments to campaign finance reports and not filing on time.”

Having spent many hours working with the Board of Elections Campaign Finance Unit, I can report that situations easily arise that aren’t absolutely clear in the law and can lead to very time-consuming revisions of reports going back months simply to adjust for a $1 discrepancy.  And having worked with local candidates for office, I can also report that even just the prospect of having to fill out these forms is a significant disincentive to run.  If the rules are made even more strict more people will simply decide that it isn’t worth the effort or risk.

The question that arises is whether it’s more important for our democracy to be able to trace every penny that is donated or spent by state and local campaigns or to avoid having more than one-third of incumbents in the General Assembly winning their campaigns simply by getting their names on the ballot, because they have no opposition.  From my point of view, that isn’t even a close competition.

We’re not going to end corruption by catching it in nickel-and-dime inspection of small-time politicians’ campaign accounts.  We need to ensure that all politicians are under constant threat of losing their seats.  The bigger-time the corruption, the more likely the politician will be to hire people to avoid accounting errors, even as the people who would like to challenge him or her out of a sense of public service are tripped up and fined for minor errors and lapses.

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The Ride-Sharing Plot Thickens, with Scooters

Sometimes the economic lessons come in real time.  Just this morning, I posted on a new government-subsidized bicycle-sharing in Providence, and while sifting through my news feed shortly after hitting “Publish,” this story appeared on my screen:

Three New England cities are figuring out how to respond after a California company left dozens of electric rental scooters on public sidewalks without warning.

The scooters appeared Friday morning in Providence, Rhode Island, and the Massachusetts cities of Cambridge and Somerville.

The company is Bird Rides, and according to the Providence Journal, more than 50 of the scooters have been spotted around Rhode Island’s capital.  Not being subsidized by government (at least not in Providence), Bird scooters are more expensive than the JUMP bikes to which the city just gave its blessing.  Whereas the JUMP bikes are $2 per half hour, with discounts for bulk purchases and low-income, the Bird scooters are $1 plus $0.15 for every minute of use, which would be $5.50 for that half-hour ride.

On the other hand, while JUMP appears to be a destroyer of gig-economy jobs, Bird creates opportunities for people to make money:

Kristin Gaudreau said she also plans on becoming a charger, taking the scooters home at night to recharge the batteries earning up to $100 a night.

According to the company’s Web site, that task entails going out and collecting the scooters, charging them, and then leaving them where they might be in the most demand the next morning.  Bird also pledges to pay host cities $1 per day per scooter as “revenue sharing.”  The arrangement for JUMP isn’t as clear, although the company is advertising an operations manager position open in Providence, which may entail some of the same tasks in a less disaggregated way.

The City of Providence is currently “in talks” with Bird. We’ll see if $1 per scooter is sufficient palm greasing for city hall or if it uses its power to eliminate competition to its own, subsidized offering.

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Taxpayers “Share” Their Bicycles in Providence

The mayor’s office tells The Current that a $400,000 TIGER grant of federal taxpayer money from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation enabled Providence’s new bike sharing program:

JUMP, which is owned by the ride sharing company Uber, has bike-share programs in six other U.S. cities. The City of Providence, along with Lifespan, Tufts Health Plan and the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, sponsored JUMP’s Providence launch. …

Four hundred JUMP bikes will be available throughout the city in August, said Victor Morente, spokesman for Mayor Elorza’s office. Riders will be able to park and pick up bikes at 46 stations as well as at public bike racks. …

Bikes will be available for rent at $2 for every 30 minutes of riding. Memberships will also be available for $20 per month for 60 minutes of ride time a day. JUMP will offer reduced-cost memberships to people with low incomes.

As always, with such programs, the first question is why some entrepreneur didn’t find it worth the $1,000-per-bike investment to get this project off the ground.  The answer may be that, even at the highest price point ($4 per hour), every single bike will have to be ridden for more than 31 hours to pay for itself, and that’s if we assume no maintenance or replacement costs.  Moreover, the business model must require that some percentage of the bikes not be used at any given time, or else nobody would be willing to rely on their availability.

In short, the use of other people’s money (taxpayers) was probably the only way to overcome doubts about the demonstrated demand.  When the local Walmart will sell an adult bike for $100, most people who want them can find them.  With the subsidy, most of each sale can be profit for as long as the bikes last.

Those profits come at somebody else’s expense.  In San Francisco (with its better, more-predictable weather), JUMP bikes are cannibalizing Uber business.  The company claims to be happy about the exchange, but each lost Uber ride is a driver with no customer.  The subsidy could also block other innovations; an entrepreneur who was working on an app to allow people to share their own bikes (i.e., without the huge up-front investment for any one company) now has to compete with more-expensive, pedal-assisted bikes.

In the effort to make us behave as government wants us to be have, however, sacrificing the livelihoods and opportunities of a few unseen people is a small price to pay.

ADDENDUM (10:13 a.m., 7/21/18):

By the way, anybody who’s still having difficulty understanding how government involvement in the market produces income inequality should consider this to be an example.  The bicycles used for this offering are constructed in a largely automated process (presumably) and “shared” through an app that requires minimal human involvement, so customers’ money is flowing to the top of the income ladder, probably in distant states or countries.  Meanwhile, local Uber and taxi drivers lose customers, as do any small bike-rental shops or other actual Rhode Islanders who might offer some service that this tramples.

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Two Questions on Negative Results in Pre-K Study

As Gail Heriot points out two distinct questions arise from a study finding negative effects from prekindergarten programs for low-income children.

The first, obviously, is why the results would be negative.  In this case, the writers speculate that it could be statistical noise, with pre-K falsely identifying students as requiring special education, which would then affect expectations that they won’t perform as well in elementary school.  Another explanation, that we’ve addressed in this space, before, is that the free pre-K option, while attractive in the moment for families, is not necessarily better for the children than the alternative of time at home with family or a more personalized day-care option.  And yet another explanation we’ve touched on in the past is that being more advanced in an academic sense at the start of kindergarten creates boredom as the other kids catch up.

Perhaps all of these things are in play; the question then becomes whether it’s worth the expense and risk of unintended consequences to attempt to tweak the project.  The hypothesis that pre-K will only work out if it’s universal can’t be proven without making it universal, at which point we may very well exacerbate the problem for children whose parents would have been happy to stay home with them.

The second question is the one on which Heriot focuses.  Apparently, the study authors had difficulty publishing and received push-back in a way that seemed to have more to do with a policy preference than a scientific assessment.  Heriot writes:

Here’s a question worth knowing the answer to: How much of the vitriol was coming from individuals with a financial stake in the continuation of government-subsidized pre-kindergarten programs for low-income children? As always, the more that gets spent on any government program, the harder it is to turn the spigot off.

Vitriol may also come from people invested in the notion that government needs to get children away from their backwards parents as soon as possible.  Either way, anybody not on the take or ideologically invested should want policy decisions to be made on a firm basis, which means an openness to the possibility that meddling in people’s lives will have unintended consequences.

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In Government, Labor and Management Negotiate Together Against an Empty Seat

In brief, what many of us on the right find objectionable about public-sector unionization is that it turns incentives around to put employees and management (i.e., elected officials) on the same side of the negotiating table, with taxpayers on the other side without representation.  Developments in Rhode Island since the Supreme Court’s Janus ruling reinforce that impression.  The unions are in the midst of a campaign to convince non-members to join.  For example:

For the last two weeks, the president of one of the AFSCME locals at the University of Rhode Island has been on a campaign to win over potential union members who had, at some point in their work-lives, made a decision to opt-out of their union.

His target: a relatively small cluster of state workers in a professional staff unit at the university who have been paying a “fee” instead of union dues to Council 94, American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees.

And yet:

The Raimondo administration has essentially gone mum since the “Janus” decision, except for the public release of a memo in which Gov. Gina Raimondo reaffirmed the state’s ban on giving out the personal contact information of state workers.

In other words, “management” is taking steps to give the labor unions total and un-countered access to employees while denying any similar access to groups that might oppose unionization.  Of course, that access might not be necessary if the administration were doing what it ought to be doing in the oppositional design of labor negotiations and assuring the public that it is taking every step possible to let employees know what their rights are, including the benefits of being free of a labor union.

But a Democrat government in Rhode Island would never do that (and Republicans only rarely), so it falls to outside groups, like the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity.  The irony is that the government-insider types accuse the Center of being a creature of out-of-state business interests, which isn’t true, but even if it were, Rhode Islanders should take note that the only people on their side in this arrangement are the “outside groups,” which is necessary because nobody on the inside of our representative democracy actually represents them.

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Super Governor Promotes Basic Services (with Big Bucks)

What’s one advantage of having an unprecedented war chest to fund the re-election campaign of an unpopular governor?  Well, as Spencer Rickert points out from Smithfield, the candidate can buy town-specific videos naming specific road repair projects that were “fixed by” the candidate:

Gina Raimondo fixed Capron Road Bridge in Smithfield to make Rhode Islanders safer and put our construction crews back to work. Under Gina’s leadership, we have already fixed more than 75 bridges and roads, in every community in Rhode Island, as part of a 10-year, $4.7 billion investment in the state’s infrastructure.

No, the video does not provide any evidence that Rhode Island’s Democrat governor, Gina Raimondo, was at any point out in the field repairing Capron Bridge Road, but the online video does bookend her initial use of the RhodeWork signs to promote her own name.  Just so, the video claims:

In Smithfield Gina Raimondo is investing $8 million in roads and bridges

If that means the Raimondo family has taking $8 million of its own money and generously donated it to the cause, this might really be breaking news.  As Alan Gianfrancesco comments to Rickert’s post:

She did not fix anything. We did. With our high sales tax, gas tax, corporate tax, nookie tax, toothpick tax and animal waste picking up tax.

Tell the truth.

Over the months that John DePetro and I have been discussing the election, I’ve wondered how effective standard political materials could be (even when inflated with millions in campaign funds) after four years of scandalous failure on the part of state government.  Will people forget UHIP, “Cooler & Warmer,” and all the rest because the governor is claiming credit for fixing roads, or will they bristle at the notion that spending more of our money (including with tolls) to do what should be the normal operation of government is some sort of act of altruism on her part?

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Differences in Union Negotiations

Two separate instances of difference are notable in stories about labor negotiations ongoing with Lifespan and the United Nurses and Allied Professionals.  The first is a sort of hypocrisy of rhetoric.  Lifespan has spent $10 million preparing to keep its operation going in the face of a threatened strike starting July 23, and the organization has said its final offer to the union is now reduced by that amount.  In response, union organizer and former RI representative Raymond Sullivan states:

“UNAP’s dedicated nurses and caregivers have no intention of negotiating with a gun to their heads,” Sullivan said. “As of now, there are no plans to resume talks until Lifespan ceases its attacks on the union’s protected rights to collectively bargain and strike.

So when the union threatens to deprive the hospitals of the workers they need to operate, that’s just fair labor negotiations, but when management says it’ll have to hire temporary employees and make the cost up in the contract, that’s “a gun to their heads.”

The second notable difference is that between Lifespan’s actions and those of public-sector management.  Sullivan, for example, used to work for the National Education Association of Rhode Island, an industry in which a hard line from management looks quite different.  Far from facing a reduction in management’s final offer, in public schools, the union can usually expect to get multiple years of retroactive pay if it takes that long to come to an agreement.

This turn of events can leave taxpayers with the impression that school committees aren’t so much negotiating with the unions for that long as they are waiting for some turn of events to make it possible to take from taxpayers what both “sides” want.  One can hardly imagine a school committee’s taking retroactive pay off the table, let alone reducing an offer.  The union rhetoric (and media coverage) would be apocalyptic, and drag the school committee members through an agonizing time.

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Another Repetitive Verse on the Minimum Wage

This study would be more interesting if its findings weren’t so predictable:

Beginning in 2014, the state of Minnesota began a series of minimum wage increases. By contrast, Wisconsin increased its state minimum wage in 2010 to keep pace with the federal minimum wage, but has not increased it since. While the effects of minimum wages changes remains a controversial topic, comparing relative outcomes in Wisconsin and Minnesota suggests that the minimum wage increases led to employment losses in Minnesota, particularly in the restaurant industry and youth demographic most affected by the changes.

Over 60% of employees in the restaurant industry in Minnesota work for the minimum wage or less, and workers under the age of 24 account for 54% of minimum wage earners. Following the minimum wage increases limited service restaurant employment fell by 4% in Minnesota relative to Wisconsin. Further, youth employment fell by 9% in Minnesota following the minimum wage increases, while it increased by 10.6% in Wisconsin over the same time period.

By the appearances of the study, it looks like, in addition to decreasing employment, Minnesota restaurants raised prices on customers.

Yes, the results do appear to present the upside of higher earnings for those workers who keep their jobs.  Among fast food restaurants, for example, average annual salaries increased 5.5% in Minnesota.

This outcome merits more exploration, though.  The higher pay could simply be compensation for longer hours or a change in the role (more management of automation, for example).  We also don’t know what we might find if we looked at individual people; somebody who would have otherwise sought a more lucrative career might have lost motivation with the slightly higher pay, producing a short-term gain but long-term loss.

Of course, as is too often the case, we can only trace these market distortions by one or two ripples.  One speculative positive is that people at the next employment tier will see increases to maintain the relative distance, but part of the mechanism to produce that effect could be that the incentive has decreased for people at lower tiers to move up, thus decreasing the competition for the higher-tier jobs.  In other words, the average manager might be making more money, but only because fewer people are pursuing those jobs, even though they’d have been better off getting the promotion than the minimum wage increase.

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Grumbling About East Side Progressives

One hopes (but doubts) that John Walsh’s opinion is on the increase in Rhode Island:

Our elected representatives on the East Side are progressives, a misnomer if ever there was one. Their priorities are ranting at President Donald Trump, advocating for more illegal immigrants, concern over Roe v. Wade, and other “progressive” issues.

As the quality of life deteriorates here, no one seems to be concerned over the many local issues. The criminals who prey on the East Side are not worried about being caught. They immediately go shopping with the stolen credit cards.

As the elections are almost upon us, it seems all the candidates claim to be progressive. What a shame. We’re getting very little value for the taxes we pay here.

The thing is:  Progressivism doesn’t work to produce the lives that people want to live, so progressives must always be directing your eyes elsewhere.

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A Democrat Candidate Who Can Help to Change the Political Conversation

What’s striking is that ordinary followers of culture and politics in Rhode Island could very well never hear the perspective that Providence College theologian and Democrat candidate for state representative Holly Taylor Coolman expressed so well in an interview with Charles Camosy for Crux:

I have tried to be clear about what a pro-life stance means for me. It’s rooted in this fundamental commitment to human dignity. It’s rooted in my belief that we have to fight the temptation to exercise our own freedom at the expense of others. And it is indispensably connected to larger concerns: Everything from prison reform to affordable housing to protecting water sources has to do with respecting life. As a woman, I am deeply aware of the challenges that women have faced and continue to face. I just believe that we can find options that respect both women’s dignity and freedom and also the lives of unborn children.

Coolman (running in District 5, Providence) touches on one of the more peculiar differences between the Left and Right in Western discourse these days.  Conservatives tend to emphasize leaving people free of mandates from government, with the proviso that social norms and institutions should be in place to help them “fight the temptation to exercise [their] own freedom at the expense of others,” as Coolman puts it.  Progressives, in contrast, seem to believe that people should be free of all social restraints on whatever the government gives them permission to do.

For the moment, at least, we can imagine having the pleasure of Coolman’s forcing these sorts of debates in Rhode Island politics.

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When Problems Begin to Resolve Without Our Involvement

Glenn Reynolds sure does summarize the impression many of us have when we come across information like the United States’ having hit a seven-decade low, per capita, in carbon dioxide emissions, falling in absolute terms even as the rest of the world increases.  Writes Reynolds:

It doesn’t count if you get this result without expanding governmental power.

But it should.  Two problems arise, though.  The first is that, obviously, people who want to seize power through centralized government will look for reasons to do so, whether a foreign adversary, moral decay, or a changing environment.  A second is less blameworthy:  We tend to feel as if a problem has not been addressed unless somebody has addressed it.  If the problem seems to improve naturally, then that’s just the way it happened.

A challenge for conservative generally is that our proposed solutions most often have an element of letting problems fix themselves with a minimal nudge from us.

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Public Funding of the Press?

Here’s an interesting item, via former Providence Journal editorial page editor Robert Whitcomb:

In a very modest effort to help save local journalism, New Jersey is enacting a law that dedicates $5 million in state money to strengthen local media outlets. They’re very important as watchdogs in America’s decaying democracy. Political and other corruption rises as journalism fades.

I’m a bit skeptical about the premise.  So, we’ve got “very important… watchdogs” protecting us against “political and other corruption,” and the solution is to increase the extent to which they’re dependent upon government for funding?

The fact that the $5 million would be handed out by a consortium of universities is no comfort.  Even if they weren’t (at a minimum) dominated by public institutions, universities are overwhelmingly left-wing, which will color the news that they support.  Maybe fears about funding a government-news system could be somewhat abated if the consortium were a clever collection of balanced political and ideological interests, but the attempt isn’t even made.

In other words, a propaganda network doesn’t cease to be one simply because the funding passes through the hands of government’s reliable allies, who are also overwhelmingly allies of a particular political party.

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The Fruits of a Society That Decouples Marriage and Children

These findings are closely related to debates among those of us who were writing about same-sex marriage back in the early ’00s:

Calling cohabitation a socially “normative behavior,” the article noted an 82 percent increase between 1987 and 2010 of women who have cohabited at some point, as reported in a study by demographer Wendy Manning.

Cohabiting couples are also increasingly more likely to have children. There has been a 15 percent increase in cohabiting parents from 1997 to 2017, a Pew Research study found.

“Due primarily to the rising number of cohabiting parents, the share of unmarried parents who are fathers has more than doubled over the past 50 years,” Pew reported.

“Cohabitation has greatly increased in large measure because, while people are delaying marriage to ever greater ages, they are not delaying sex, living together, or childbearing,” the IFS said, noting that “almost all of the increase in non-marital births in the US since 1980 has taken place in the context of cohabiting unions.”

Nobody claimed that broadening the definition of marriage to include intimate couples that, by their nature, could not create children would produce these trends. Rather, these trends were underway, and codifying same-sex marriage in the law locks them in.

The connection is obvious. With the introduction of same-sex marriage, people simply can’t claim that the creation of children is part of marriage (and vice versa), even thematically. Marriage becomes entirely about the feelings of adults about each other, and any children they create are incidental. That approach is corrosive for both the relationships of the parents and the relationships of the parents with their children, who are no longer conceived as the embodiment of the parents’ joining.

The parents’ relationship, even if a marriage, is now purely contractual and separate from its fruits. This won’t work out well in the long run.

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The Nationalization of Campaign Funding

When you’ve got a running Internet search on your state’s name, curious items sometimes find their way into your field of vision.  Such is the case with this article about the campaign finances of Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Steve Benjamin, a Democrat:

Benjamin also received 11 donations from various attorneys and businesspeople from the state of Rhode Island. The 11 gifts from the Rhode Islanders totaled $8,300, or 36 percent of the money the mayor raised for the quarter.

The donations from the Rhode Island residents were logged on June 6.

The article mentions that Benjamin was in Boston for the next few days for a U.S. Conference of Mayors, so one can easily imagine the scene:  Partisan organizers set him up with an event here and there (maybe he knows somebody from Rhode Island), and a handful of wealthy people were able to give him enough money that it amounted to a notable third of his fundraising for the quarter.

Still, one thinks of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo and her jaunts across the country to gather up campaign funds, making up a majority of her collections.  What are these people buying?

Some of them, no doubt, hope to make a good impression for purposes of inside deals, but all of them?  Is this just a broad network of “you back my guy, and I’ll back yours,” thus multiplying campaign donations beyond legal limits?

That possibility raises a counter-cultural thought:  If these wealthy “attorneys and businesspeople” could give more of their political donations locally, there might not be a market for this national network.  Sure, that means they’d be able to give money directly to the people who can give them political favors, but one suspects the politicians know who, locally, is making connections for them in other states.

Moreover, in the case of Raimondo, her massive fundraising haul is starting to look like a lifeline for her reelection, and ultimately, the quality it rewards is little more than the ability to tap into a national funding vein.  At least with larger amounts of local contributions, the funds would be an indication of local support, which would be bound up with local concerns and our own internal political battles.

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The Lead Questions from the Other Side of America

Somehow, it seems like the sorts of questions that John Hinderaker posed the other day don’t seem to be asked very often in the course of reporting on national political scandals.  Yesterday, I summarized the two sides on the scene, and I think it’s important for people in Rhode Island to understand that there are live questions not answered by the standard Democrat-media talking points.

Here’s a marker of what many of us have no sense we don’t know:

Time was getting short for the insurance policy.

Four days later the same team was emailing about rushing to get approval for another FISA warrant for another Russia-related investigation code-named “Dragon.”

I confess that I can’t keep up with the ever-expanding FBI scandal, but do we know what “Dragon” is, and how it differs from “Crossfire Hurricane”? Whatever Dragon was, it apparently had to do with stopping the Trump campaign, as Strzok and Page were eager to get it off the ground.

Now, one can reasonably speculate about what direction all this will go, whether there is anything of substance here, and whether peculiar actions by government agents were justifiable, but one can’t reasonably dismiss these questions as a distraction.  At the very least, there is plausible evidence of an actual, honest-to-goodness conspiracy within government to affect our political process and the resulting presidency.

Frankly, I have trouble trusting anybody who encourages us to look away from that.  What do such people not want us to discover, or is their real fear that they’ll lose their ability to do such things in the future?

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Helpfully Missing an Economic Boom

One can’t help but wonder whether findings like this would be much more pervasively proclaimed among mainstream news sources if the president were of the other political party:

Trump, it turns out, has been the most consequential president in history when it comes to minority employment. In June, for instance, the unemployment rate for Hispanics and Latinos 16 years and older fell to 4.6%, its lowest level ever, from 4.9% in May. The previous all-time low was 4.8%.

African-American unemployment bounced up from its all-time low of 5.9% in May to 6.5% in June. But that 6.5% still represents the second-lowest unemployment reading ever for Black Americans.

The editorial writers for Investors Business Daily who wrote those paragraphs also suggest that increasing prosperity might indicate a change in voting habits.  And that kinda makes one wonder something else.

If a thriving economy from a regimen of tax cuts and regulatory reform can shift the political winds, the party that these trends would disfavor have incentive to keep the economy from thriving… at least in circumstances for which it can’t take credit.  Indeed, the ideal circumstance (if it works) would be for everybody to have a feeling that their fortunes depend on government — specifically, government with a particular political party in power.  So, corporate types feel as if officials’ helping hands are critical to their success, and low-end workers feel as if meddling laws prevent their devastation, and everybody in between has some reason to feel bought off.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), that approach doesn’t work.  The incentives are all wrong, and the system can’t self correct.

In the meantime, Rhode Island isn’t fully benefiting from the national upswing, which has the helpful consequence that people in Rhode Island remain more susceptible to the false narrative of the ruling party.

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Teacher Unions and Students’ Earnings

Robert Verbruggen highlights what appears to be the same study I mentioned in January, although the researchers have increased the magnitude of the effect of teacher unionization on students’ future earnings:

We find robust evidence that exposure to teacher collective bargaining laws worsens the future labor market outcomes of men: in the first 10 years after passage of a duty-to-bargain law, male earnings decline by $2,134 (or 3.93%) per year and hours worked decrease by 0.42 hours per week. The earnings estimates for men indicate that teacher collective bargaining reduces earnings by $213.8 billion in the US annually. We also find evidence of lower male employment rates, which is driven by lower labor force participation. Exposure to collective bargaining laws leads to reductions in the skill levels of the occupations into which male workers sort as well. Effects are largest among black and Hispanic men.

Verbruggen expresses skepticism, as he should for a study that has a bit of that too-good-to-be-true feel for conservatives, but I’m not sure he’s considering the mechanisms.  For instance, he emphasizes that the study focused on men because (his words) “the labor market for women changed so dramatically in this time period.”  Having this ready excuse could lead one to be too quick to dismiss an underlying mechanism or indirect cause.

For instance, from the 1987-1988 school year to the 2011-2012 school year, the percentage of public school teachers who were men dropped from 29.5% to 23.7% (or one out of every three to one out of every four).  If the same rate of decrease extends back in time, the percentage of male teachers at the beginning of the study window would have been much higher.  That could suggest that the apparent effects of teachers’ collective bargaining are actually effects of a changing workforce, or it could suggest that the demographic trend is a result of collective bargaining.

In any event, it will be interesting to see whether the ability of government school employees to avoid union membership will have an effect on the percentage of men in the classroom, the career results of students, or both.

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Transgression and Customers in Small-Venue Theaters

Need to take a break from politics?  Turn to the culture war for a moment.  Thomas Curry raises an interesting question in a recent letter to the Providence Journal.  He and his wife were “subscribers” to the recently closed 2nd Story Theatre in Warren for two decades, but then:

Over the last several years, we noticed a trend in the selection of plays that we found unsettling. We had decided not to renew our subscription for the coming season, which was a disappointing end to a long-term relationship.

Gratuitous profanity and genres that seemed to target a segment of theatergoers outside of our interests seemed to be on the increase. In some performances a few years ago, there was full frontal male nudity. Since then, I have been reluctant to invite a friend or my grandchildren to a performance, fearing embarrassment because of over-the-top flamboyance, profanity or even nudity. We also noticed that there were more and more empty seats.

Some of my most fond memories are of small-venue theater performances of classics and semi-classics — from Shakespeare to Wait Until Dark to Death Takes a Holiday to The Price, and I’ve hoped that a more stable household budget and a loosening schedule (someday) would allow for more such experiences.

I wonder, though, whether those owners, directors, and actors who gravitate toward (or get stuck in) these small venues have a greater inclination to be transgressive.  Strong social standards once put some restraints on that inclination; even beyond the question of direct marketability, one just didn’t push the envelope too far.  For my money, that tension made for better art.  Subtle transgression is necessarily smarter and more profound, if only because of the ambiguity it requires.

But standards have long been deteriorating and have been wiped away entirely in recent years.  Some precincts have a strong standard to always attack the old standards, and we’re reaching the point that clever, subtle transgression can only be accomplished in support of traditional values.

This context creates some intriguing opportunities.  Perhaps a small-venue theater that explicitly stuck to the vast library of classics and semi-classics could fill their seats with the likes of Mr. Curry and me.  And perhaps it could periodically sneak in a play with some subversive cultural conservatism.

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Memo to Brown Politics Experts: Distrust of Government Is Not New

Reading Kevin Andrade’s Providence Journal article on a poll just released by Brown University’s Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy, one might get the impression that Americans are newly distrustful of the federal government:

Democrats hold a nine-point lead heading into the midterm elections and one in five people distrust the federal government, a poll from Brown University found.

“I think so much is in play with the House race that it’s too soon to tell,” said Susan Moffitt, director of the A. Alfred Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy at Brown University, which conducted the poll.

“A lot could happen,” she said. “What’s more interesting to me is the distrust question. That’s going to be with us for a long time.”

Actually, the distrust has already been with us for a pretty long time.  According to Pew polls, one could accurately say that only one-in-five Americans has trusted the government consistently since 2009.  Taubman’s finding that trust in local government is much higher is also nothing new.

We’ll see where these numbers go over the next couple of years, but they seem to follow the economy to some degree, which suggests they might be on the upswing.  On the other hand, one could reasonably theorize that constant media attacks on Republican administrations have contributed to the two periods that trust has fallen this low — and everything we’re hearing about the FBI, lately, should suppress trust, too — so there will be downward pressure, as well.

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Incentive for a Disability

News of a former employee of the Rhode Island House Minority office who has filed a disability discrimination lawsuit claiming that Minority Leader (and gubernatorial candidate) Patricia Morgan discriminated against her raises a topic to which our society has perhaps not devoted sufficient debate:

Masciarelli says in her complaint that she suffers from depression, and she alleges Morgan told multiple people she needed to be fired before she was covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Morgan says Masciarelli was fired due to her poor work ethic and she never knew of the woman’s disability. Morgan says she was cleared by the state Commission for Human Rights.

If emotional conditions are going to start carrying the same protections as physical conditions, we’re entering a legal thicket.  When a disability is physical, one can more-easily differentiate between employment decisions that have directly to do with an ability to accomplish necessary tasks and discrimination.  With emotional conditions, where does a “poor work ethic” end and a protected disability begin?

Indeed, the availability of such protections creates incentive for employees to seek diagnoses, and because psychology is more subjective than physicality, fraud would be more difficult to prove.  Even without bringing fraud into the picture, though, doesn’t anything that creates incentive to have a mental health problem make it less likely that the person will overcome it?

How long, one wonders, until people begin to claim that the stresses of their jobs created the hazardous (i.e., stressful) condition circumstances that led to emotional disabilities?

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Chutzpa and Beach-Front Sign Questions Around Trillo

The latest fight for independent gubernatorial candidate Joe Trillo is against the Town of Narragansett, which has been trying to get him to remove a giant political sign from a family-owned beach-front property that his sister currently occupies.  The story has a number of angles that might pull a political theorist in conflicting directions.  On one hand, doesn’t a town have a right to set some restrictions on signs in residential zones?

Even if the Trillo property on Ocean Road wasn’t in a “public” zoning district, Manni said, the sign would be too large. In residential districts the maximum size for a yard sign is 6 square feet, he said.

On the other hand, how could a town (or state) possibly have the Constitutional ability to ban specific kinds of speech?

… since political signs are banned anywhere in town until 60 days before voters head to the polls, Trillo would have to wait September before he could advertise for the November general election.

On this count, the law will surely fall the very first time anybody challenges it, and it would be interesting for that anybody to be Joe Trillo.  Of course, that doesn’t mean the sign should stay.  It’s difficult to have sympathy for the property owners on small-government grounds after reading this:

Trillo acknowledged that the private residential property, occupied by his sister, sits in a zoning district designed for public land that does not allow the use of any private signs.  But he says the town should be working with him to remedy the situation, a result of his family decades ago having sold the state the beachfront land.

Without digging into the details, one can infer that the Trillos availed themselves of one of those schemes that allows a property owner to sell property (or development rights) to the government while maintaining ownership of the structure, or some similar arrangement, thus getting out from under taxes and, in some circumstances, blocking others from developing land that might otherwise be sold in subdivisions.

So, yeah, when you manipulate the law to get special treatment for your property, demanding to be able to use that property for your own political advertising takes a bit of chutzpa.

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