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Some Unanswered Questions on Housing

Perhaps it’s healthy every now and then to post something without implying that one knows how to fit it into a mural of opinions.  If so, I’ve found an opportunity in this news:

Rhode Island’s median house price jumped 13 percent in March, rising to $265,000, as the inventory of houses for sale plunged by 16 percent, compared to March 2017, the Rhode Island Association of Realtors reported Thursday.

Naturally, the realtors’ association suggests the problem is that they need more properties to sell.  In general, the trend would seem to count as contrary evidence to assertions that the state is losing people.

Both economic curves that bear on price come into play, here: supply and demand.  It could be that people want to buy property in Rhode Island, and that’s driving up prices.  Or it could be that regulations are too restrictive to allow sufficient expansion of supply.  And referring to “regulations,” we have to expand the term not only to mean direct zoning restrictions and the like, but also other regulations, like licensing restrictions that drive up the cost of building.

Too many threads must be unwoven, here, for a rainy Thursday, and I don’t have a quick answer.  I continue to hold that people should have a right at the local level to determine what sort of community they live in.  (Although, I’ll generally argue against using that right to hamstring your neighbors.)  I’d also suggest that we do too much to subsidize some construction while restricting different kinds of construction (say commercial versus residential), and much too much to prevent the economy from growing quickly enough for people to be able to afford housing.

My suspicion, in other words, is that all of Rhode Island’s economic meddling is doing something to focus economic value unnaturally on housing.  I also suspect the people who benefit from that state of affairs would be much better able to explain it.

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Some Obvious Observations About Population Growth

Sadly, the modern age sometimes requires us to restate blindingly obvious things, as Glenn Stanton does for The Federalist:

It’s a terribly stubborn demographic truism: Somewhere close to 100 percent of babies never born will never become customers of your business. This is true of the more than 55 million American babies who never made it past the womb since abortion was legalized in 1973. It’s true of the untold millions who were never conceived because a potential mom and dad thought they had better things to do.

Of course, there is an inestimable, inherent worth and dignity to every human life, but we cannot ignore the social significance at play here as well. These invaluable lives-never-realized are a whole lot of missing customers. Not good for business. Not good. Nor will they be paying into social security or pensions to provide your part when that time comes either. …

Many countries have been noting this with tremendous concern for more than a decade. Rather than the apocalyptic “population bomb” which was supposed to wipe out countries and lead to the starvation of millions, the exact opposite has happened. Governments across the world are working hard, and often with desperate creativity, to boost the number of new home-grown citizens in their nations.

Understanding the economic value of people, a society shouldn’t do things like make the public bill for raising children so high the public turns away from it, or use the law to deny unique status to the types of relationships that create children, or perpetuate public policy that drives productive people away.

Unfortunately — in part, but not only, because of that old “population bomb” rhetoric — a strain of belief runs through our civilization that there are simply too many people already.  That belief implicitly implicitly relates to a great many of the issues that vex our public dialogue.  People are bad and racist, so we need to impose restrictions on their free association and speech.  People are a blight on the planet, so they’re causing catastrophic climate change.  People are selfish and ignorant, so we require central planning to take decisions out of their hands.

With such beliefs, the obvious thing probably seems to not have children.

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Yes, Divorce Is Catchy, but So Should Be Good Marriages

A headline proclaiming that “Divorce is contagious” probably ought to spark the immediate reaction, “of course it is.”  As the essay suggests, all of these big life events are contagious.  I observed among my wife’s friends as well as other circles of friend clusters that marriages, child births, divorces, and other relationship events that seem mainly between a husband and wife seem conspicuously to spread around a group of female friends.

Writes Bek Day:

There is a big social component to the times at which we each decide to make major life decisions like marriage – including, research suggests, when and if those marriages end.

According to a study conducted across three US universities, you’re 75% more likely to get divorced if at least one member of your close friendship circle ends their marriage.

Yep, 75%.

Researchers arrived at this extraordinary figure using a longitudinal study which examined participants over a 32-year period. Their findings, published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information showed that divorce was something that could be passed on through ‘social contagion’.

That’s why we have to make marriage contagious.  As I wrote again and again during the same-sex marriage debate, the designation matters because it allows those of us who maintain long-term relationships with the other who is significant because we two have created children to invest the institution with meaning.  (That applies even among couples that have no children, provided their relationship does not contradict the ability to create children as a central premise… that is, provided one is a man and one is a woman.)

So, to counter the contagion of divorce, we have to have marriages that neither person wants to leave and that other people would take as a model.  That means we must take seriously our responsibility to seriously work out our differences, and in the end, that is most likely when we enter the relationship with the understanding that divorce is simply not an option. It also means those considering divorce should consider how their decisions will affect those around them.

Yes, marriage is a two-person relationship, but its effects are much broader than that.

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Some Campaign Promotion for Our Delegation

Mainly for a bit of midweek creative thinking, give a read to Linda Borg’s recent article in the Providence Journal about three members of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation and their hangout session with some local youths:

Only in a state as small as Rhode Island would you be able to corral most of your congressional delegation in the basement of a brew pub.

But there they were — U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, U.S. Rep. James Langevin and U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse — taking photographs and playing shuffleboard with some 65 millennials against the din of pop music. U.S. Sen. Jack Reed had planned on attending the meet-and-greet but got pulled away on official business.

Many of the college-age students were from organized progressive organizations; a couple had either worked for one of the congressmen or campaigned for them. The mood was relaxed, the questions mostly of the softball variety. This was friendly territory for the delegation, with hardly a Republican in sight.

Take note of the very last line of the article:  “Sunday’s event was organized by all four members of the delegation.”

The creative part comes in imagining how the story would be presented differently were our delegation made up of conservative Republicans.  First of all, the article wouldn’t lead with the misleading impression that some vague “you” had managed to “corral” the politicians together, in a sign of the warm closeness of our small state.  Rather, it would start with the fact that the politicians had organized the event.  Maybe the headline would be “Party Faithful Get Special Access,” and it would go something like this:

The promise of campaign-funded beer was not enough to fill the booths in the basement of a local brew pub, as Rhode Island’s conservative congressmen and one of two U.S. senators sought to lure young activists into their campaigns.

The absent senator had planned to attend but decided that his time was better spent elsewhere.  Those who attended managed to slip in a few softball questions between bar games and to pose for campaign-ready “candid” photos with the three white Republican men.

If you’re a Democrat with substantive questions for your elected officials, you would not have been welcome.

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No Secret Why Rhode Island Has a High Eviction Rate

This article by Christine Dunn in the Providence Journal takes a strange (if predictable) turn:

Providence’s 2016 eviction rate, 3.82 percent, was nearly triple that of Boston in that same year (1.3 percent), according to new data from the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. This group is led by sociologist Matthew Desmond, whose 2016 book, “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 2017. …

Why is Providence’s rate so much higher than Boston’s and New York’s when Desmond says a lack of affordable housing is a problem across the country?

According to Clement, less access to free legal assistance for Rhode Island tenants, and less state support for housing in general, are reasons Providence fares worse than Boston in the rankings.

Umm… perhaps the fact that Massachusetts — particularly the Boston area — has a much healthier economy has something to do with it?  Oddly, the article presents unemployment as an effect, not a cause, of eviction.  That presentation is especially odd because the article doesn’t allege wrongful evictions.  People just don’t have the money.  Why don’t they have the money?  Because there’s limited opportunity, here.

That being the case, giving people free legal help would merely shift the burden to landlords, who will either have to increase rents or get out of the business, thus reducing supply and, ultimately, driving up rents again.  Adding evictions to the long list of programs that Rhode Island attempts to address with public welfare programs would increase taxes and harm the economy, thus leading to reduced ability to afford rent.

Rhode Island has no other solution than facing down its insider, I-know-a-guy system and taking the chains off our economy.  None.  And that reality brings us back to the deepest, most-fundamental problem for renters as for every don’t-know-a-guy resident:  It just makes so much more sense to leave than to try to fix the joint.

Unless Rhode Island’s governing elite and information providers shift to promoting economic freedom as the solution to the various symptoms of our state’s decline, that decline will continue.

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Helping Low-Income Students with Choice

Rhode Island Families for School Choice is asking people to use their legislative contact tool to ask Rhode Island’s representatives and senators to support H7055 and S2655.  These bills would increase the cap on the state’s tax credit scholarship program from $1.5 million to $5 million.

In summary, this program allows corporations to donate money to organizations that provide private-school scholarships to low-income students and to receive a tax credit in return.  Every year, only a fraction of the corporations that would like to participate are able to do so; raising the cap would simply allow for existing demand to be met.

And the demand should be really high.  As is readily visible using the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s interactive tool to explore states’ scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, low-income students are not doing very well in the Ocean State.  The following chart shows not only that Rhode Island’s low-income students (those eligible for the free or reduced lunch program) are below the scores of the average state, but also that they are going down:

RI-NAEP-48-mr-schoollunch-2000-2017

 

The upswing you can see in that chart from 2003 to 2011 was the period during which a reformist state education board was increasing choice and accountability in Rhode Island’s education system.  The year 2011 brought a sort of Empire Strikes Back episode (meaning that entrenched interests like the teachers unions) and a ceiling on our improvement.  Now we’re slipping backwards.

A relatively modest increase in the money available to low-income families won’t cure this problem, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction.

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Thuggish Handling of Senate Hearings

A recent editorial in the Providence Journal comes to the defense of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse, after his shoddy treatment during a hearing in the RI Senate:

There are limits on how much time a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization can devote to lobbying, but Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller turned those limits into a virtual ban last month when he interrupted and challenged testimony from one group.

Senator Miller, a progressive Democrat, told Mike Stenhouse of the conservative Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity that the committee was “dismissing” his comments because the center should not be expressing opinions on legislation.

This happens periodically.  Mike and I received similar treatment by disgraced Rhode Island representative Raymond Gallison, who moved a bill in which we had an interest to the end and then cut our presentation and all questions short.  Really, it shouldn’t surprise anybody that thuggishness runs throughout the culture of our legislature.  Giving the thugs leverage only increases their power, which is one of the unhappy effects of tax exemption laws.

It also doesn’t help that everybody knows committee hearings are a total farce in Rhode Island, simply giving a veneer of real legislative representation to an insider game.

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Missing the Real Story of UHIP

As a UHIP skeptic from the very first time it was mentioned as a possibility, I continue to think that everybody is following the wrong storyline.  However, increased scrutiny is starting to bring people around to the right questions… the correct angle.  Consider:

As to why so many things went wrong, [Deloitte manager Deborah] Sills said: “Simply put, the system is very complex … the only eligibility system in the country that integrates more than 10 state and federal health and human services programs and a state based health insurance exchange … As the state’s comprehensive analysis last year made clear, Deloitte and the state needed ‘more time, more people and more training.'”

GoLocalProv has posted the entire 40-page, paper-and-pen application that goes along with the half-billion-dollar computer system, and what’s becoming clearer is that the state simply expected too much from software, hoping to avoid the hard work of reconceptualizing how benefits programs are done.  In this light, the fundamental error of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo was her failure to understand the nature of the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP).  It was never really intended to be a cost-savings and efficiency tool, but rather a dependency portal, drawing people into government programs and maximizing the amount of “services” that the state could hire people to provide.

Look at the application.  The complexity comes in because each program requires different information.  That’s not a terrible problem if the applicant knows which one he or she wants, but the entire point of UHIP is to give people things they aren’t applying for, so the application asks for all of the possible information.  Streamlining that would require regulatory and legislative changes, some of it at the federal level.

In order to effectuate those changes, advocates would have to make clearer the underlying objective, and that would run contrary to the plan.  The dependency portal is meant to insinuate itself into reality under the banner of efficiency, which the public would actually support.  Less popular would be a banner proclaiming, “We want to ensure that everybody gets every penny of taxpayer money possible, even without looking for it.”  Even less popular would be, “We want to track everybody’s personal and financial information so that we can adjust their benefits automatically.”

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If There’s a Divisiveness Agenda… It’s Working

I’m inclined to agree with the Boston Herald’s general interpretation of the collusion investigation, but it does make me think how utterly separate the two conceptions of reality are in the United States:

Democrats planted the Russian collusion nonsense, which mobilized intelligence services and activated the Watergate-­level press coverage. The new administration never had a chance to get off the ground. Weeks and months went by and no collusion was found, but some lives were ruined for lying to the FBI in the process. As the special counsel petered out on the matter, the spectacle of porn star Stormy Daniels and her oily attorney on CNN served as a flare to catch the eye of investigators, and the football was lateraled by Mueller to the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, who has just begun a fresh hunt.

And we’re off to the races, with the media trying to make vapor into a solid.

How do we come back from a place in which half the country thinks this is plainly true and the other half thinks it’s delusional and offers up its own “plainly true” interpretation, which the first side thinks is delusional?

In all reality, this is probably nothing all that new, but the problem we face is that we’ve allowed government to become so intrinsic to life that our differences on these things matter.  Not that long ago, Americans could have wildly divergent understandings of reality and still live their lives and even cooperate in everything else.  That’s becoming less possible.

To some extent, yes, this has to do with the Internet, the visibility of people’s opinions, and the immediacy of global communications, but on net, the technology is a positive development.  What we need is a social system that can accommodate this technological evolution, and forcing us to resolve our problems in government at high levels of centralization isn’t likely to prove a productive component of that system.

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Lifetime Employment Isn’t Ending from the Cruelty of Corporations

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Megumi Fujikawa may cut across the way people generally think of labor economics:

The Japanese practice of lifetime employment at larger companies survived more than two decades of economic stagnation. Now the system is confronting one of its biggest trials: a tight job market.

More people are switching jobs, often with the lure of a higher salary or fewer hours.

In America, at least, when one hears lamentations about the loss of lifetime employment, the complaint is most often directed against the supposedly greedy executives who want to save a few bucks rather than taking care of long-suffering employees.  That narrative has always seemed to me to be dehumanizing of employees.

Maybe people don’t want to be stuck in one company for their entire lives.  Maybe people like the idea of independently building the trajectory of their lives, not being cared for from cradle to grave.

As Japan may be showing, when a tight labor market puts power in the hands of workers, they use that power to seek opportunity rather than indulge notions of loyalty.  In a changing economy, old notions that took for granted that the corporation had all the leverage and therefore needed to be forced by law and custom to be like guardians of its employees must be reevaluated.

Apart from some guard rails to keep self-interest within bounds, just free people up, and they’ll come to the arrangement that best suits the needs of all involved at the moment that they make the arrangements.  And then they’ll adjust when things change.  That this is a preferable state of affairs is illustrated by the fact that “progress” has a much more positive connotation than “reactionary.”

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Competing Interests in Local News Media

As I told John DePetro in our segment last week, the attack on Sinclair Broadcasting and Channel 10 in Rhode Island has the feel of scapegoating, as if the mainstream media writ large wants to offload its own sins onto a creature it can banish into the desert.  That sense arose again whencombining two items from the Providence Journal.

The first is a column by Executive Editor Alan Rosenberg, who describes how the paper’s national owner, GateHouse Media, provides lots of content and support for local papers, without “must run” stories as with Sinclair.  Conspicuous, here, is that the content for which Channel 10 is currently under fire was essentially a corporate advertisement promising straightforward news, in contrast to “fake news” from elsewhere.

Well, just last week, I got identical emails at exactly the same time from the Providence Journal and Fall River Herald, both GateHouse outlets, asking me to subscribe:  “Real News, Because the truth Matters.  Truth and Honesty.  We know what matters.”  That sounds quite a bit like the Sinclair spots, which included language like, “We work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced, and factual.”  Is it really the difference between journalistic integrity and a threat to our democracy that Sinclair had its news anchors read its version of that ad?

The second relevant item in the Providence Journal is an article by Katherine Gregg about a protest of fewer than two dozen people against Channel 10.  Anybody who’s followed local labor union activities will recognize the names of Patricia Ricci and Louis Rainone, and that connection is intrinsic:

“I am here to protest Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s attempt to muzzle what we think is free speech,″ said Scott Molloy, the retired University of Rhode Island labor-studies professor who appeared to be leading the protest by the newly formed “Free Speech Coalition.”

Rainone’s group, Jobs with Justice, is heavily funded by local labor unions, such as the RI AFL-CIO, and the AFL-CIO is an umbrella union covering Katherine Gregg’s labor union at the Providence Journal.  Shouldn’t that connection be worth a parenthetical note in an article about union activists attacking a competing news outlet?

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Arthur Brooks Of AEI Inspires Audience at Center’s Leadership Luncheon

This last week, one of America’s leading conservative thinkers, Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute, inspired over sixty local leaders at our Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity leadership luncheon. One guest said: “Every once in a while I get the opportunity to experience something that will change my life in such a profound positive way, that was exactly what happened to me yesterday as I listened to Mr. Arthur Brooks’ words of wisdom. I was further empowered and assured that together we all can and should make that needed difference!”

With “life entrepreneurship” as his central theme, Brooks encouraged the lawmakers and civic leaders in the audience to advance a “start up your life” attitude among the people of Rhode Island. Brooks said that by taking the risk of investing love, time, and commitment to the important people and self-improvement opportunities in one’s life, that this “start up your life” attitude will bring happiness, prosperity, and overall returns on that investment many times over.

The feedback from the bipartisan attendees, whether liberal or conservative, was overwhelmingly positive. As only Arthur Brooks can do, he challenged us intellectually to consider the kind of moral, family, and work culture we want to have in our state. Click here now to see pictures of the event.

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Licensing’s Contribution to Inequality

Occupational licensing takes rungs off the mobility ladder for those who most need them, suggests Jared Meyer, writing in the Washington Examiner:

According to estimates by the Archbridge report’s authors, the growth of licensing corresponded with up to a 6.7 percent decline in absolute mobility, depending on the state. In other words, because of occupational licensing, children who grow up in low-income families are less likely to achieve the American Dream when they are adults. …

Researchers are still discovering just how much occupational licensing harms economic mobility, but there is no question that these barriers disproportionately harm low-income individuals. The Archbridge Institute’s new report, along with a continued focus on the problem by state and federal policymakers, offers hope that more positive policy changes are coming.

According to the report, the reduction in upward mobility for Rhode Island due to its licensing regime is 3.7%, and the increase in the Gini Coefficient (a measure of income inequality) is 8.6%.  That is, occupational licensing helps those who’ve already made it keep it and serves to block those who haven’t from doing so.

Added to tax burdens and every other drag that Rhode Island puts on economic activity, licensing is one reason the “productive class.”  We don’t need more programs, government handouts, and central control.  We need more freedom and opportunity.

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Some Pointers for Whitehouse

Retired economics professor Dennis Sheehan had some excellent advice for Democrat U.S. Senator from Rhode Island Sheldon Whitehouse in a recent Newport Daily News:

In that spirit, let me offer Sen. Whitehouse some new ideas. First, stop calling people names. Reading the senator’s speeches, it is all too easy to find people referred to as “thugs,” “liars,” “flunkies,” and “stooges.” He has said “The fossil fuel industry, on the other hand, is neither honest nor decent.” Accusations like this make for good political theater – which might be the senator’s real purpose – but they don’t make for good discussions.

Second, end the hyperbole. As an example, in the Roll Call article, Sen. Whitehouse claims that “he sees weekly full-page ads in his local paper for services to protect homes from rising seas.” If the senator’s local paper is The Daily News, I have to say that I have never seen weekly full-page ads for such services. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration prediction for Newport of a rise of 0.9 feet over 100 years might explain the lack of ads.

Third, rethink the “fossil fuel industry controls everyone” idea. …

One suspects Professor Sheehan is correct that political theater is more the Senator’s objective than actual action, which explains why he would persist with his hundreds of “Wake Up” speeches despite finding that they have little practical effect.

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Prescription for Nations: Avoid Communism (and Progressivism)

Here’s an interesting — if not at all surprising — finding, pointed out by Alain Tolhurst in the New York Post:

In the first undertaking of its kind, they analyzed the fortunes of 44 countries across Europe and Asia and looked at geography, religion, systems of government and a more intangible quality called “deep cultural ancestry.”

Writing in the journal Royal Society Open Science, they matched these factors against where they ranked on the United Nations Human Development Index, which measures per-capita income, life expectancy at birth and the number of years its citizens spend in education.

Most of the issues they looked at appeared to have little or no effect on the disparities between the countries, except for Islamic countries scoring a little worse on education.

Instead, the single strongest predictor for a country’s health, and the second-strongest for its wealth, turned out to be whether its rulers had embraced communism.

To this, Glenn Reynolds adds:  “Communism destroys social trust — communist governments do this by design — and that does longterm damage.”

Just so, observing progressive-backed legislation at the state level in Rhode Island, one notices a recurring theme of division.  Tenants should assume the worst of their landlords.  Employees should assume the worst their employers.  Families should assume the worst of anybody who has any influence on their children.  These aren’t people interacting with their neighbors toward complementary or shared goals; they’re factions attempting to get the better of other factions.

This division allows the progressives to present themselves (via government) as the people’s representation against their oppressors.  The message is that we need central planners because we cannot possibly trust each other to get along without them.

Add to that the requirement that everything must be political.  Every tweet and transaction should be a statement of the right political philosophy.

This cannot possibly be healthy for a society.

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Once Again with the Plain Rebuttal to “Equal Pay Day”

Well, as long as people are willing to repeat discredited and obvious nonsense like the “Equal Pay Day” rhetoric, I suppose we’ll have to continue to recite the obvious responses.  Mary Katharine Ham has apparently drawn the short straw this time around:

These differing priorities understandably impact pay. Women are more likely to take a job that pays less to gain flexibility and work-life balance. I’ve done it myself many times.

Yet, as AEI’s Mark Perry points out, there is no widespread recognition of “Equal Occupational Fatality Day” to highlight men’s overrepresentation in very dangerous fields (coal mining, line work, and law enforcement among them), which often pay more to compensate for risk. …

There is no big “Equal Commute Day,” to acknowledge the gender commute gap …

Male college graduates, on average, also entertain employment options further afield from their universities than do women, thereby opening up more and possibly higher-paying opportunities. They also work several hours more per week on average than women.

Maybe I’m just idealizing the past, but it seems like talking points used to go away when they were shown to be utterly without merit.  In today’s polarized society, the strategy seems more to keep pressing on because the risk of losing one’s base is so much more substantial than the risk of never being able to persuade after a loss of credibility.

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UHIP Catastrophe: Governor Once Again Blaming Deloitte as “Real” Problem (Also, Chafee)

Yesterday on NBC 10’s Connect to the Capitol, Dan Jaenig asked Governor Gina Raimondo, among other topics, how the state dropped the UHIP ball. The governor started her response by taking a swipe at former Governor Lincoln Chafee, saying he signed a terrible contract with Deloitte. She then continued,

Under my watch, we hit the go button before it was ready. But I will say the real problem here is the company sold us a product that didn’t work.

This is not to defend Deloitte, which apparently has a mixed record with regard to such systems. But let’s be clear. It was you, Governor Raimondo, who gave the catastrophic order, for your own selfish political reasons, to launch an unready system. Accordingly, DO NOT BLAME FORD MOTORS FOR DELIVERING A DEFECTIVE CAR WHEN YOU ORDERED THEM TO REMOVE IT FROM THE ASSEMBLY LINE ONLY HALF WAY DOWN. And similarly for the aspersions you cast at Governor Chafee: the contract, good, bad or indifferent, is completely irrelevant if the manager who takes over the contract inexplicably orders production to be shut down well before the product is finished.

Everyone else – taxpayers and UHIP clients – but you, Madame Governor, is paying the high price for your catastrophic action. Please at least stop casting blame for it in desperate and absurd directions.

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A Tip for the Restaurant Industry When It Gets into Politics

I’ve also got an op-ed in today’s Newport Daily News:

So here is what the Trump administration is suggesting: Employees who work for particular restaurants will be able to negotiate a tipping system that works for them. If a state finds that the balance of power favors one side or the other in those negotiations, it can regulate the matter at the state level. The only difference is that distant politicians in Washington, D.C., won’t be telling the whole country what to do.

If you find that “kind of disgusting,” I can only ask: Why do you feel so threatened by others’ freedom? Nothing in the rule change would require any change to the way restaurants handle tips. As the article illustrates with quotes from restaurant managers who support servers’ keeping their tips, the status quo – which was the status quo even before Obama’s power grab – would remain in place. Regulations could be imposed at the state level, if that’s what Rhode Island wants, and individual businesses could figure out what works for them.

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NAEP Scores: Another Unacknowledged Crisis in RI

The word “pleased” should not have appeared anywhere in the statement of Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner upon release of 2017 scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test:

“Nationwide, results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress remained relatively flat, and we saw a similar trend in Rhode Island,” said state Education Commissioner Ken Wagner. “I’m pleased to see us perform better than the national average on fourth grade reading… I hope that our work around early literacy as part of the Third Grade Reading Challenge will speed up that progress going forward.”

That’s like being happy that your child is vomiting a little bit less than half the kids in the sick ward.  Never mind that his or her fever is slightly higher, his or her bleeding out of the eyes is slightly worse, and he or she is slightly more delirious than half the children.

According to the data, Rhode Island students don’t break the 40%-proficient mark in either 4th grade or 8th grade in either math or reading (or science or writing, for that matter).

For some quick perspective take a look at the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s States on the Nation’s Report Card tool, which has been updated to include the latest data.  Rhode Island’s 4th grade reading scores may be above the average state, but we used to have a lead of three points, and that’s now only two.  Worse, the Ocean State’s 8th grade math scores have fallen off a cliff.  Since the 2013 test, RI students’ average score has dropped from 284 to 277.  That’s 2.5%.  In 2013, our children were scoring the same as the average state… no longer.

RI-NAEP-Gr8-subjects-2000-2017

More broadly, the fashionable distraction to which state bureaucrats lead, which journalists follow, is to lament that “achievement gaps between white students and students of color continue to remain stubbornly high.”  This emphasis manages to imply that the real challenge isn’t a broken educational system, but institutional racism, and to lead white parents to think the state’s problems belong to other people, but it disguises the more disturbing conclusion.

Combining 4th and 8th grade scores on reading and math, black students in Rhode Island are actually slightly outperforming their peers in the average state.  Hispanic students in Rhode Island do worse than in the average state, but they track closely with black students, which is more typical in our region.

The big drop in Rhode Island is actually among white students, who are the majority.  Managing to keep Rhode Island’s minority students relatively flat has actually helped keep up our scores.  To the extent that Rhode Island has addressed its “achievement gap,” it has been by failing white students even more.

As I wrote in 2015, the data is strongly suggestive of a change during the governorship of Democrat Lincoln Chafee that looks like a ceiling on Rhode Island’s progress in reforming education.  If anything, we can now see that the trends have worsened, rather than improving, under his successor, and the spin should no longer be tolerated.

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Statistics: Economic and Political

Click on over to my op-ed in today’s Providence Journal:

To be clear, these are massive and sometimes subtle trends, and a particular governor can only be saddled with so much blame or lauded with so much credit. Still, if Rhode Island had kept pace with other states — and with itself before Raimondo took the reins — around 10,000 more of us would be employed.

Anecdotally, that presentation of our economy more closely matches the experience of most Rhode Islanders than does the governor’s self-promotion. Promising four more years of “exactly [that] kind of progress” may therefore not be the pitch that the Raimondo camp believes it to be.

Perhaps that’s why 60 percent of Raimondo’s political donors were out of state in 2017. Opinions may differ as to whether that represents “progress” from her 40 percent out-of-state result in 2014.

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Live by the Facebook, Struggle by the Facebook

Think whatever you like about Diamond and Silk, specifically, and capitalizing on the political success of Donald Trump, generally, but their conflict with Facebook provides a very helpful lesson for one’s interaction with the Internet:

Diamond And Silk have been corresponding since September 7, 2017, with Facebook (owned by Mark Zuckerberg), about their bias censorship and discrimination against D&S brand page. Finally after several emails, chats, phone calls, appeals, beating around the bush, lies, and giving us the run around, Facebook gave us another bogus reason why Millions of people who have liked and/or followed our page no longer receives notification and why our page, post and video reach was reduced by a very large percentage. Here is the reply from Facebook. Thu, Apr 5, 2018 at 3:40 PM: “The Policy team has came to the conclusion that your content and your brand has been determined unsafe to the community.” Yep, this was FB conclusion after 6 Months, 29 days, 5 hrs, 40 minutes and 43 seconds. Oh and guess what else Facebook said: “This decision is final and it is not appeal-able in any way.” (Note: This is the exact wording that FB emailed to us.)

Obviously, this is just one side of the story, but the fact remains that anybody who builds their Internet presence primarily by using somebody else’s platform is subject to the whims of that other party.  Use Facebook to build a following, and that other party is Facebook.  Build your online presence with a heavy reliance on Google referrals, and online giant’s algorithm may subtly shift to move you down the list of every search.

And it won’t always be obvious that it’s happening.

The lesson is a back-to-basics one.  Use these platforms for self promotion, but get people interacting with a URL that you own, and build it up with your content, not the tricks that social media allow.

That’s harder, yes, but it’s a more stable strategy than building on a foundation that others can disappear with the push of a button.

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Holding On to a Fading Tax

Add the Tax Foundation‘s Morgan Scarboro to the list of people observing that state-based estate taxes are on their way out:

In addition to the federal estate tax of 40 percent, some states impose an additional estate or inheritance tax. Twelve states and the District of Columbia impose an estate tax while six states have an inheritance tax. Maryland is the only state in the country to impose both. …

Recently, states have moved away from these taxes or raised the exemption levels:

  • Indiana repealed its inheritance tax in 2013
  • Tennessee repealed its estate tax in 2016
  • New York raised its exemption level to $5.25 million this year and will match the federal exemption level by 2019
  • The District of Columbia is set to conform to the federal level this year after meeting its revenue triggers
  • New Jersey will fully phase out its estate tax by 2018
  • Delaware repealed its estate tax this year

Rhode Island is holding on to its estate tax for the time being, and it’ll probably take something like a political earthquake to shake it loose.

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Benighted in the Enlightenment

Taking recent celebration of the Enlightenment as a cue, Yoram Hazony lays out some of the flaws and consequences from an overly zealous promotion of reason as a guide and source of meaning:

For Kant, reason is universal, infallible and a priori—meaning independent of experience. As far as reason is concerned, there is one eternally valid, unassailably correct answer to every question in science, morality and politics. Man is rational only to the extent that he recognizes this and spends his time trying to arrive at that one correct answer.

This astonishing arrogance is based on a powerful idea: that mathematics can produce universal truths by beginning with self-evident premises—or, as Rene Descartes had put it, “clear and distinct ideas”—and then proceeding by means of infallible deductions to what Kant called “apodictic certainty.” Since this method worked in mathematics, Descartes had insisted, it could be applied to all other disciplines. The idea was subsequently taken up and refined by Thomas Hobbes, Baruch Spinoza, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau as well as Kant.

In the popular imagination, the Enlightenment was a sort of stage in intellectual evolution.  To the contrary, Hazony suggests that the driving theories of the Enlightenment weren’t so much unknown prior to that era, but repeatedly rejected because of the obvious dangers.  The breakdown of the family, the lonely solipsism of the modern age, the devastation of secular ideologies over the past couple centuries — these and more grew out of the essentially mystical notion that individuals could tap into some fount of reason.  Gone is the wisdom of the ages and any cultural mechanism for learning and remembering truths that the average Joe or Jane would not bother or be able to conceive after some time with hand on chin.

The “aim” of Enlightenment figures “was to create their own system of universal, certain truths, and in that pursuit they were as rigid as the most dogmatic medievals.”  Like other areas from which human beings strive to derive meaning — such as government and capitalism — reason is really just a tool.  Meaning must come from elsewhere… and will, for better or worse.

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