HEADLINES

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In Rhode Island, the Government Is Taking Away Our JOI

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity today released its Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) report covering the month of June, and even with nine of the 13 underlying datapoints being updated, Rhode Island couldn’t budget out of 48th place.  Indeed, if more states than two trailed the Ocean State, we probably would have sunk a bit.

For this post, though, I’ll focus on a finding from within the calculations of the index.  The following charts show the ratio of personal income to local, state, and federal taxes for Rhode Island, New England, and the United States, first from 2005 to the latest-available month and then zooming in with a starting point of 2012.

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The first takeaway from these charts, of course, is how much more Rhode Island takes from its people in taxes.  The Rhode Islanders’ income is around 10 times the total tax take.  For our region and our nation, however, the average is more like 13.5 times.  In the Ocean State, in other words, personal income is about 26% lower than it would be to support the same tax burden in the average state.  From the other direction, the state simply taxes its people too much given their income.

The second takeaway is that Rhode Island moves to increase its tax take as quickly or more quickly than people increase their income.  There’s no reason the government at any level must grow to reflect the income of the people.  Government provides a limited set of services, and they aren’t entirely income dependent.  Indeed, the wealthier a society is, the less it should need or want government to do.

After the income-to-tax ratio grew steadily from 2007/2008 to 2012, it dropped nationwide.  In the first six months of this year, anyway, the United States and, even more, New England have seen an uptick, while Rhode Island remains mired at its 10x.

We hear a great deal about fixing Rhode Island’s economy by giving money to government that it can give away to favored private interests.  The charts above illustrate one reason many of us believe that is exactly the wrong approach.

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Projo Plays It (Relatively) Straight for Day 4

Following up yesterday’s post about the Providence Journal’s (ahem) different approaches to constructing its front-page coverage of the two presidential conventions, I have to say that I’m pleasantly surprised to see the paper offer comparable presentations of the final days.

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Sure, “HILLARY” is a little higher on the page than “TRUMP:” (with the lack of a colon arguably making the insinuation of the subheads less indicative of “she said this.”  Yes, Clinton gets another subhead promoting the fact that she’s a woman woman (as opposed those types of women for whom gender is entirely a social construct), and she also gets a boost from another negative-for-Trump story connecting him to Putin.  Meanwhile, the pro-Trump talking point for his coverage came not in a sub-head but in a picture from a goofy-looking supporter, and a secondary story is another negative-for-Trump story about Republican division.

And, of course, one could do a closer analysis of the three main sub-heads at the top of the page.  Still, the candidates do set their own tones, and one could argue whether each of the three Trump and three Clinton talking points favor them or not, depending on one’s perspective.

I’m sure these comparable covers were largely the plan all along for the final day of convention coverage, but I find it amusing to imagine that there is, somewhere, a design for a celebratory day-four front page of Clinton now defunct in a folder on a computer on Fountain Street.

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Putting Americans in the Business of Manipulating Government

Over the past year, I’ve been describing the concept of a “company state” in which Rhode Island’s economy becomes increasingly premised on the expansion of government services (in part by creating or importing new clients for existing services) as leverage to take money from other industries and other states.  That’s not the full extent of the model, though.  After all, private companies in those other industries have to react to changes in the economic landscape.

Boston University School of Law economist James Bessen has done some research finding that, throughout the country, corporations’ profits are increasingly premised on their ability to manipulate government.  Investment in “regulation and lobbying,” he calculates, accounts for around 1.2% of corporations’ increase in profitability, compared with around 1.4% deriving from investment in new capital assets and around 0.25% attributable to research and development.

This development has potential to be disastrous.  For one thing, it changes the nature of businesses.  Beyond having to devote resources to artificial activities that have nothing to do with their core products or services, they must also become adept at intertwining themselves with the government, making that a core activity common across the economy.  The nation’s major industry, in other words, becomes political manipulation.  As this progresses, less and less other stuff that actually grows the economy and improves lives will get done.

For another thing, this sort of institutional cronyism locks out competition.  Smaller companies that must remain nimble can’t afford to be greasing government palms and dodging fabricated obstacles.  Without that competition both for customers and employees, the average American has less leverage as a consumer and as a worker.  Progressives who think they can use government as the people’s voice in these transaction are delusional.

People don’t need elected and appointed nannies to make sure we don’t treat each other unfairly, and it’s simply too obvious to ignore that pretending we do concentrates a great deal of money and power in the hands of a select class.

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For Electoral Trust, Keep the Paper

I’ll admit that in darker moments I wonder whether the General Assembly agreed to get rid of the Master Lever (which allows a voter to pick everybody in a party with one mark the ballot) — delaying implementation for one election — because leadership knew that digital electoral equipment would be coming online with its own advantages for insiders.

To be sure, the changes actually planned for the election in November aren’t as bad as they might be.  We’ll still be voting on paper, but the machine will transmit the data wirelessly rather than through dial-up.  (Dial what?)  On the other hand, people will now be able to register to vote online, and the state will be testing out an “e-poll book” system that will handle check-in through tablets and (presumably) the Internet, rather than using an actual book that voters have to sign.

The process is important here.  A cynic might wonder whether somebody in state government will be able to keep an eye on votes in real time (with the new ballot scanners) and also watch the list of who has voted across the state, enabling them to drop hints to political friends who needs to be prodded to the polls where.

In the long run, though, I’m still with Glenn Reynolds on the value of paper:

Voting systems rely on trust. Voters have to trust that their own vote is recorded and counted accurately; they also have to trust that the overall count is accurate, and that only eligible voters are allowed to vote. …

The problem is that electronic systems — much less the Internet-based systems that some people are talking about moving to — can’t possibly provide that degree of reliability. They’re too easy to hack, and alterations are too easy to conceal. If the powers-that-be can’t protect confidential emails, or government employees’ security information, then they can’t guarantee the sanctity of voting systems.

Yeah, folks in the news media and those really invested in the out come of elections (like me) are addicted to watching results in as near-real-time as possible, but we shouldn’t be the top priority on election day.  If it takes a whole day, week, or more to produce an election outcome around which everybody is absolutely confident that the process of voting (at least) was fair, accurate, and traceable, then we’ve got the time.

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When Government Secretly Coordinate, That’s a Conspiracy

There’s a certain irony, here.  Rhode Island’s far-left Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is leading the charge to criminalize research and expression of views that don’t fit his extreme ideological and political view and a gang of thuggish attorney generals have been coordinating legal attacks on fossil-fuel companies and conservative think tanks on the claim that they’re engaged in an anti-environmentalist conspiracy, and yet the attorneys general are hiding their coordination from the public.

A press release from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity (for which I work) notes its participation in an effort to ensure a little bit of transparency into this actual conspiracy:

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity (Center) announced that it assisted a national nonprofit organization in a lawsuit, filed today, demanding that the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General (OAG) release documents they have refused to make public. The legal complaint calls for the release of documents related to AG’s United for Clean Power, a group comprised of politically-motivated AGs from about a dozen states, including Rhode Island, who have secretly teamed up with anti-fossil fuel activists to investigate dozens of organizations that have exercised their free speech by challenging the global warming policy agenda. …

In a series of April emails obtained by E & E Legal, the RI OAG consented to sign-on to an “agreement” among the larger AG cabal that is colluding to investigate if RICO statutes may have been violated. However, the Rhode Island AG now refuses to make public the group’s ‘Secrecy Pact’ documents related to that taxpayer funded activity.

That is, the attorney general will not release the terms of his office’s agreement or even the text of the documents pledging to keep that agreement hidden.

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​How Does the Governor Reconcile Her Support for Lower Electric Costs with Her Push for Renewable Energy?

All eyes on Philadelpha and the Democrat convention, of course. Thanks to Wikileaks, by the way, for furnishing an interesting Rhode Island connection for us all to speculate on.

Meanwhile, it’s important not to totally lose sight of stuff going on back in Rhode Island. The debate about a natural-gas powered electric plant proposed for Burrillville, for example, moved into the arena of the PUC this week.

The hearings are set to run Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and will differ markedly from the public hearings that have been held so far on the application, which gave Burrillville residents and others the opportunity to air their opinions and concerns about the power plant but didn’t allow for any back and forth.

On Thursday, Governor Raimondo called into the WHJJ Morning News with Ron St. Pierre to defend her support of the plant. (Podcast.) In doing so, she said

Well, I support natural gas because I support lower energy costs and lower electricity costs for Rhode Island.

That’s a pretty categorical statement. Yet only seven months ago, the Governor signed an Executive Order

… committing state agencies to get 100 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025

Further, in February,

A bipartisan group of 17 governors, including Governor Raimondo, have signed a pact agreeing to work together to build modern, sophisticated transmission grids and to advance clean energy and transportation technologies. Called the Governors Accord for New Energy, the agreement includes commitments to diversify energy generation and expand clean energy sources

All of these actions by Governor Raimondo are a big problem for everyone’s electric bill and a huge conflict with what she said on WHJJ. Because the dirty little not-so-secret about renewable energy is that it is far more expensive than conventional energy. Further and worse, as an important new report by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity demonstrates, the state’s continued pursuit of renewable energy would come at a high cost to ratepayers and taxpayers while providing an extremely poor return on greenhouse gases abated BY THE EPA’S OWN STANDARDS. In fact, the cost of renewable energy to Rhode Islanders could be as much as five times higher than the EPA recommends.

The Governor seems to want to manage her stance on energy in silos. “I’ll support the gas powered energy plant and say that I support lower electric rates and that will cover me with a lot of Rhode Islanders. Meanwhile, I’ll aggressively push renewable energy mandates onto ratepayers and taxpayers and that will satisfy the environmentalists.”

But it does not work that way, on any level. Firstly, the walls of the silos are not opaque. So everyone, whether inside a silo or outside of it, can see what she is doing in all of them. Far more importantly, the effect of her actions in one silo do not remain contained therein: what she does in one – the renewable energy silo, in this case – will most definitely have the effect – higher electric rates – that she claims to deplore as she’s standing in another.

Her words, to phrase it more plainly, do not match her actions. And that’s a real problem for the ratepayers (let’s remember, this category includes businesses) of a state that has some of the highest electric rates in the country. They very much need her actions – a wholesale repeal, not an expansion, of very expensive renewable energy mandates – to match her words when they open their electric bills every month.

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The Party of Trump, Which I Cannot Support

Maggie Gallagher succinctly describes the Trump policy platform, inasmuch as it is possible to discern and predict:

Here is the new Party of Trump that we saw in this convention: liberal in expanding entitlements, pro-business in terms of tax and regulations, non-interventionist in foreign policy, socially center-left (with the possible, but only possible, exception of abortion).

Americans who pay attention to politics and policy tend to err, I think, in allowing themselves to be drawn toward the exchange of discrete, independent policies as a form of compromise.  I give you this social policy; you give me that regulatory reform.  That’s how we end up with a worst-of-all-possibilities mix of policies that, for example, encourages dependency while socializing the losses of major corporations, all to the benefit of the inside players who are well positioned to manipulate the system to serve their interests.

Broadly speaking, policies are components of a machine that have to work together, with a basic operating principle.  As the most-charitable interpretation, the machine that Gallagher describes is designed to drive corporations forward in order to generate enough wealth for government to redistribute as a means of providing comfort and accommodating the consequences of an anything-goes society, with the world blocked out at the borders and not engaged in socio-political terms so as to avoid bleeding of the wealth.  (The only difference between that vision and a fully progressive one is that progressives don’t want the machine to be independent, but to be plugged in as a component of a bigger, international machine.)

Put that way (again, most charitably), Trumpian nationalism doesn’t sound too bad.  Unfortunately, the lesson of the past few decades (at least) is that the machine doesn’t work.  The corporations recalculate to the reality that the politicians’ plan makes them (not the people) the engine of the whole machine, while the value of promising entitlements leads politicians to over-promise and the people to over-demand, particularly in response to the consequences of loose culture, while the world outside the borders erodes the supports of our society and allows implacable enemies to rally.

Now add in the stated intention of Donald Trump to actively agitate against members of his own political party because they show insufficient fealty, and the policy mix points toward disaster.  The aphorism that “success is the best revenge” is apparently not good enough for Trump.  More than that, though, from his late-night tweets about the pope to this planned attack on Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and some unnamed foe, Trump shows no realization that these leaders have supporters.  Trump is free not to respect Pope Francis, but his behavior shows that he has little concern for the vast world of Roman Catholics.  His own supporters Trump loves, and he’s happy to condescend to them; those who aren’t his supporters are either enemies or inconsequential.

Nobody should have any trust that they’ll continue to have Trump’s support starting the moment their interests conflict with his, and that has implications for the instructions he’ll attempt to give the machine.

Yes, one of the very few arguments in favor of a Trump presidency is that he may remind certain sectors of American civic society about the importance of the checks and balances designed into our system.  However, Trump’s behavior has also proven that we should not assume he’ll moderate or react well to the reinstated rules of the game.

This isn’t to say that our electoral alternative is any better.  As I’ve written before, more than any I’ve ever seen, this election hinges on the timing of oscillating disgust with the two major candidates.  The wise move may very well be not to invest much wealth, energy, or emotion in the outcome, devoting personal resources instead to battening down the hatches.

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That Which Is Not Raimondo’s Highest Priority

I simply don’t believe this statement from Progressive Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo in a Kate Bramson article about the ballooning staff and salary total for the state government’s economic development hydra agency:

“Rhode Island’s economy is my top priority,” Raimondo said Monday. “In order to be able to deliver on that for the people of Rhode Island, we need to have the right team on the field.”

Improving our state’s economy obviously ranks lower for our state government, including the governor, than maintaining the status quo and advancing a progressive agenda (not necessarily in that order).  Sure, it would be reasonable to argue that this or that progressive policy is completely independent of the state’s economy and to point out that a politician who didn’t show some respect for the state’s insider elite wouldn’t manage to accomplish much.  But looking at the trends since she took office (and I’m not just talking about the completely stagnant employment results), is it conceivable to claim that Raimondo has much interest in breaking up insiderdom or putting aside progressivism when it comes with an economic cost?

From welfare programs to green programs to government-picks-the-winners economic development, I’d say, “no.”

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When the High-Tax Advocates Feel Free to Speak Their Minds

If the Town Council follows through with the Budget Committee’s threat to end trash pickup in Tiverton (or charge extra for it), it will be because elected officials and their supporters want to teach taxpayers not to attempt to control their taxes.  But the real lesson will be that we must be more careful about whom we elect to office.

At the May 21 financial town referendum (FTR), 1,224 voters out of 2,210 approved Budget #2, for a 0.9% tax increase, resulting in zero increase in the property tax rate.  That made supporters of a much-bigger tax increase angry; here are some examples of things that they wrote on the Facebook page of the local activist group Tiverton 1st:

  • May 21. Budget Committee member Deborah Scanlon Janick: “Make sure you all personally thank Justin Katz when you lose the services you are used to.” (Somebody even printed up business cards at this time, telling people to call my cell phone and complain.)
  • May 22. Former Town Council Vice President Joanne Arruda: “First thing… snow plowing… I know this is awful, but those people who put in this budget out there and had their minions vote for it will have to be affected.”
  • May 22. Tiverton 1st organizer Mike Silvia: “… in this town, the uninformed and greedy followers who outnumber the community-minded aren’t smart enough to know they’re being played.”
  • May 26: Tiverton 1st activist, school department employee, and school committee candidate Linda Larsen: “Unfortunately, [voters] won’t care until they feel pain. … It won’t make a difference unless it becomes personal.”
  • May 26: Tiverton 1st organizer Kelly Anne Levesque: “I would like to see trash pickup removed which will require you to schlep your maroon bags to the dump or hire a private company.”
  • June 7: Deborah Scanlon Janick: “The residents of Tiverton will pay the price for voting for Budget 2 or for not voting at all.”

Continue reading on Tiverton Fact Check.

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News Media as Political Booster

From time to time, I’ll recommend a news article for English teachers to use in their classrooms as an example of how language can be used to advance some impression or other.  An AP article by Lynne O’Donnell appearing in yesterday’s Providence Journal is a fine one.  Consider (emphasis added):

After two years of heavy casualties, the Afghan military is trying to retake the initiative in the war against militants with a new offensive next week against Islamic State group loyalists, an assault that will see American troops back on the battlefield working more closely with Afghan soldiers. …

The inexperienced Afghan forces have largely stalled in the fight against Islamic militants ever since most international combat troops withdrew in 2014. American forces that remained shifted to a supporting role and U.S. airstrikes diminished, letting the Afghan military take the lead in carrying out the war. …

In an acknowledgment of the deteriorating security situation, President Barack Obama last month gave a green light to a more assertive role for U.S. troops, though still short of direct combat. With that boost, Afghans are shifting back on the offensive. …

Obama’s directives, issued in June, enable the U.S. military to work alongside Afghan forces in the field on offensive missions against insurgents, though still in a non-combat role. Since 2014, their role was confined to battles in which the Taliban directly threatened U.S. and NATO forces. They also allow U.S. involvement when Afghan forces face “strategic defeat,” …

In between those quotations are details designed to justify the increased activities, such as the nature of terrorist attacks and the critical importance of the objective.  The language betrays the article as boosterism.  After President Obama led the “international combat troops” in allowing the Afghan military to “take the lead,” the situation deteriorated, so now he’s given the “green light” for a “boost” that will “retake the initiative” and shift the good guys “back on the offensive.”

It’s baloney.  Obama announced a time line to the enemy for political reasons and made the disastrous decision to remove troops prematurely, saddling an under-prepared local force with the responsibility of the complex war against dug-in zealots.  Since then 5,000 to 6,000 of those under-prepared soldiers have been killed each year, and the situation is reaching the point that even Obama can’t ignore it.

But the news media is on Obama’s side, as well as that of his chosen successor, so Americans will just have to read between the lines.

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What’s Really In Your Best Interests? Aimee Gardiner On The No HPV Mandate Movement

On this episode of “What’s Really In Your Best Interest?” I interview Aimee Gardiner, director of Rhode Islanders Against Mandated HPV Vaccinations, on the movement against the HPV Mandate in the Ocean State. Rhode Island parents deserve the freedom to make private family choices without government involvement. The mandate on the HPV vaccine for Rhode Island students is an important and symbolic violation of our rights.

Recently, the RI DOH undertook a marketing campaign directed at the children of our state. Do you think this is a proper use of taxpayer dollars? The government should include parents in the discussion when dealing with minors, not bypassing our families! This is a very disturbing trend. The #NOHPVmandateRI movement stands to reverse the HPV vaccine mandate in RI. Please watch the new videos of our interview now.

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OPEB: Another Hole and a Proof of Problem

This Patrick Anderson article about Rhode Island’s liability for other post-employment benefits (OPEB) for employees shouldn’t slip by without notice for two reasons.  First, OPEB is another drain on the budget, which already limps along from year to year in structural deficit:

Rhode Island needs to contribute $60.7 million toward non-pension retiree benefits, primarily health insurance, in the budget year starting in July 2017, the state’s actuary said Friday.

That FY2018 contribution was approved Friday by the Other Post Employment Benefit Board, the panel that oversees health insurance liabilities for retired state employees, teachers, judges and state police officers.

Perhaps more significant, though, is the teachable moment arising from the math involved:

The OPEB trust fund assumes a 5-percent annual investment rate of return and made 9.2 percent in 2014, then 7.8 percent in 2015, the report said.

Why should the OPEB trust fund assume a 5% return when the pension fund assumes 7.5%?  To be more clear-eyed than cynical, the reason seems likely to be that 5% is more realistic (although still at least one percentage point too high for an assumption that’s supposed to be a sure thing), but the state’s politicians and other insiders simply couldn’t withstand the reality of a more responsible investment plan.

Then-Treasurer Gina Raimondo kicked off her pension reform initiative with the “crisis” created by lowering the return assumption by just half a percentage point.  Lowering it another 2.5 percentage points (let alone 3.5) would make it absolutely plain that the state government has been hoodwinking the public (and its employees) and faces either a huge tax increase, a huge benefit reduction, or a huge elimination of other services.

We shouldn’t delude ourselves.  The bill is coming due, and the longer we allow the state government to put off acknowledging it and addressing it, the more painful it’s going to be.  Unfortunately, the people whose elected or appointed jobs are to keep the state running smoothly are almost certain to let the irresponsibility drag on in the hopes of either a miracle or a path to quietly impose higher taxes on us, either through our state taxes or our federal taxes.

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The Pension Disaster Will Be Addressed

Springboarding from the woes of California’s public-sector pension problems, The American Interest suggests that it might be too late to avoid some sort of crisis with such pensions across the country:

This long-running failure of governance may be irreversible. All that’s left for state governments to do now is reform pension systems for new employees, phasing out defined-benefit systems for 401(k)-style plans, and, where possible, trim benefits or raise contribution requirements for current workers. In the meantime, federal policymakers should start thinking about a reform-for-relief framework that will enable states and localities to honor their obligations to retirees while getting their finances back under control for the long haul.

We should consider it evidence of the extent of the problem that the generally wise American Interest falls back to the irresponsible cop-out that the federal government ought to step in and make the problem go away — as if the feds aren’t already headed toward dozens of trillions of dollars in debt absorbing every other bad policy decision made throughout the country over the past century.  That is, pensioners relying on the writer’s solution would have to hope that none of the other myriad problems and looming crises comes to a head and absorbs the nation’s very last tolerance for debt before the pension problem.  (My wager is that the multiple crises will cascade into one uber crisis.)

If the idea of the government takething away the pensions that it gavethed is inconceivable, peruse the ruling issued this week by Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter (internal citations removed):

It was clear that to avert disaster the City had to act. (p. 11)…

Notwithstanding a finding of substantial impairment, a contract modification remains constitutionally valid if the City produces sufficient credible evidence that the modification was done to further a significant and legitimate public purpose and if doing so was reasonable and necessary. (p. 30)…

… the Court is satisfied that the City has produced sufficient credible evidence through the testimony of Mayor Fung, Mr. Strom, and Mr. Sherman that the Great Recession, the decline in state aid, and RIRSA’s requirements created an unprecedented fiscal emergency neither created nor anticipated by the City. (p. 34)

Taft-Carter affirmed that cities cannot be expected to raise taxes indefinitely, and unless I missed it, she didn’t so much as speculate that the state could be forced to intervene.  The same will prove true up the scale, all the way to our giant national blob of debt.  At the state level, one could imagine a judge considering something like my argument about the flight of the “productive class” as evidence that higher taxes would accelerate a death spiral already underway.

For those who think the same couldn’t happen at the federal level, one can only suggest that they not take the risk of finding out.

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Support for Families More Effective than Government Co-parenting

Grover Whitehurst of Brookings has made an attempt to compare research findings concerning the effects of different programs on the test scores of young students, and the findings conflict with the progressive preference for increasingly moving responsibility away from people and toward government:

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Whitehurst suggests:

The results illustrated in the graph suggest that family support in the form of putting more money in the pockets of low-income parents produces substantially larger gains in children’s school achievement per dollar of expenditure than a year of preschool, participation in Head Start, or class size reduction in the early grades. The finding that family financial support enhances academic achievement in the form of test scores is consistent with other research on the impact of the EITC showing impacts on later outcomes such as college enrollment.

The most important takeaway from this is that it reinforces conservatives’ contention that government should not seek to displace parents, relieving them of responsibility for raising their children.  Government policy should seek to strengthen families.

Of course, the fact that this would tend to reduce the influence of government and (therefore) progressives leads me to expect Whitehurst’s research not to have a significant effect on progressive policies.  Indeed, in his subsequent discussion, Whitehurst endeavors to speculate that imposing restrictions on families’ use of the funding would be even more effective than simply improving their financial standing. However, if giving parents money is so much more effective than public funding of pre-school programs, one might question Whitehurst’s belief that letting the public funding stop in the parents’ accounts for a moment would be better than both approaches.

Note, too, the limits of Whitehurst’s consideration.  The first and irreducible assumption is that government must do something to bring about specific social outcomes.  If supporting families through broad welfare that is largely free of strings is so much more effective than building government programs, one might expect even greater rewards from getting government out of the way of families.  Let people act in the economy without the weight of high taxes and oppressive regulations; allow communities and states to determine their own economic and social policies; allow the society, broadly, to follow cultural traditions that have proven, over time, to be the healthiest for human society (such as the traditional institution of marriage).

Unfortunately, it’s much more difficult to test for and make charts of the effects of progressive redistribution on the whole society.  Researchers can’t know (to simplify) that taking EITC money out of the economy wound up hurting other families, resulting in worse test scores.  Still, taking in all of the evidence, the weight of it suggests that leaving people free is not only the most moral approach, respecting civil rights, but is also likely to prove to be the most effective system by any standard apart from the wealth and power of government.

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Now for Something Completely Different: Quantum Biology

This interesting article by Martha Henriques on the possibility that quantum physics might play a role in the ways in which living organisms interact with their environment is of the scientific genre wherein everybody seems surprised at something that shouldn’t be surprising at all.

Whether one believes that reality was designed in a matter of days by a purposeful God, with humanity as its focus, or that a some fundamental physical rules set in motion a universal evolution of which living organisms are the most developed (and known) part, there’s no surprise, here.  If God implemented quantum physics, one would expect it to serve the rest of his creation.  If life developed through a long process of evolution, one might reasonably expect organisms that could take advantage of quantum interactions to have an evolutionary advantage.

The one saving grace is that these truly bizarre quantum behaviours don’t seem to have much of an impact on the macroscopic world as we know it, where “classical” physics rules the roost. …

Now that reassuring wisdom is starting to fall apart. Quantum processes may occur not quite so far from our ordinary world as we once thought. Quite the opposite: they might be at work behind some very familiar processes, from the photosynthesis that powers plants – and ultimately feeds us all – to the familiar sight of birds on their seasonal migrations. Quantum physics might even play a role in our sense of smell.

In fact, quantum effects could be something that nature has recruited into its battery of tools to make life work better, and to make our bodies into smoother machines. It’s even possible that we can do more with help from the strange quantum world than we could without it.

To the extent that scientists (as distinct from those who just write about science) really do find these things surprising rather than just exciting and intriguing as a matter of new discovery, it may be an indication that they’re approaching physics with a faulty framework — what I’d actually say is most accurately described as a faulty metaphor.  From my perspective, the basic missing piece is an allowance for a spiritual dimension, by which I mean a plane in which intentionality and perspective exist apart from the materials on which they act, but pursuing that suggestion would bring me to depths beyond my intentions for this post when I set it in motion.

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Cruz Shows the Contrast, in More Ways Than One

You’ve heard the hype.  Now, if you haven’t already done so, take 25 minutes and watch Ted Cruz’s Republican convention speech.

Actually watching the video, I’d say by far the most disturbing aspect is the booing — the inability of the assembled Republicans to muster some grace.  The new GOP apparently cannot accept somebody who articulates a beautiful vision of the party’s perhaps-erstwhile values if he doesn’t at the same time utter a magic phrase of endorsement.  In that regard, it truly is now Trump’s GOP.  Me, I agree with Jonah Goldberg:

This is part of the corruption of Trump. He called Ted Cruz a liar every day and in every way for months (it used to be considered a breach in decorum to straight up call an opponent a liar, never mind use it as a nickname). The insults against his wife, the cavalier birtherism, the disgusting JFK assassination theories about his Dad: These things are known. And yet the big conversation of the day is Ted Cruz’s un-sportsmanlike behavior? For real? But forget Cruz for a moment. For over a year, Trump has degraded politics in some of the most vile ways. His respect for the Republican Party as the home of conservatism is on par with Napoleon’s respect for churches when he converted them into stables.

Read the whole thing.  Goldberg, like Cruz, is intent on exiting the Trump era (whenever that may be) with his courage, integrity, and well-formed political philosophy intact.  People who claim to share at least some significant share of that philosophy and yet who can boo its articulation if it does not mix in Trump’s cult of personality bring home just how much this election may hinge on a seesaw of alternating disgust.

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Rhode Island… Not the Place to Be for Economics or a Zombie Apocalypse

I’ve long found the notion of a zombie apocalypse to be a useful metaphor when discussing the condition of Rhode Island. In 2013, for example, I suggested the following:

The American economy is not being kept alive by unnatural forces (stimulus and quantitative easing); that’s the talking-point dogma of Obama zealots in whose view the president can never fail because it will always be possible to close their eyes and believe that things would have been worse without him.

Rather, it is being held back by those unnatural forces and others (most notably over regulation). Look to Rhode Island for the test case — with a General Assembly that has now concluded its session proud to have made it more difficult to live and do business in their state. In light of Woodhill’s analogy, I’m inclined to see the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ map showing New England unemployment as a sort of infection map for the zombie apocalypse.

So, of course I clicked on the link when RIPR’s Ian Donnis tweeted out that Rhode Island has been judged the 49th best (i.e., 2nd worst) state in which to live in order to survive a zombie pandemic.  As usual with such rankings, it takes bad performance by most measures to land at the end of the list.

Rhode Islanders are about average when it comes to being physically active, so we’ve got an OK chance of running away from individual zombies when necessary, and we’re out of the bottom quarter when it comes to leaving our dead uncremated, reducing the ranks of the monsters from among the already dead.  But our state is the second most densely populated by the living and has the fourth lowest gun ownership.  We’re also in the bottom 10 when it comes to the preparation of watching zombie movies.

Perhaps the worst news for Rhode Island, though, isn’t captured by this list.  Judging by our apathetic response to the destruction of our state and the impositions on our lives perpetrated regularly by politicians and bureaucrats, one might reasonably expect Rhode Islanders to be slower to react to the obvious signs of a civilization-ending catastrophe.

On the other hand, the number of former Rhode Islanders proves the willingness and ability of our population to flee to healthier environs.

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Testing and Accountability in Public School

Linda Borg’s article in today’s Providence Journal gives a small taste of an argument that would be much more prominent if Rhode Islanders really cared about education as much as we say that we do.  At issue is Education Commissioner Ken Wagner’s decision to end standardized testing at the high-school level.  Tim Duffy, of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, gets it right:

“If you aspire to be Massachusetts, then high school graduation requirements are going to have to have some consequences,” he said. “If there are no consequences for students, teachers or the system, we end up with improved graduation rates but we haven’t measured whether they are living up to the standards.”

One superintendent adds to that:

Chariho School Supt. Barry Ricci applauds any reduction in testing, but he doesn’t want the state to abandon tying a standardized test to graduation. Without that incentive, he said, high school students will not have any reason to take the test seriously. “I don’t want to give kids the message that we’re lowering the bar,” Ricci said.

In a word, what Wagner has diluted is accountability.  There has to be some way to hold not just students, but teachers and our entire public education system accountable.  What has happened (as I keep repeating) is that Rhode Island’s “fix the system” approach to education reform hit a political ceiling.  The adult special interests that infect our education system feared the prospect of having their failures laid bare in undeniable fashion, so they used our political system as a defensive weapon.  The repercussions of that explosion are reflected in standardized scores, with disadvantaged students (predictably) suffering the most harm.

I happen to agree with those who express concerns about high-stakes testing, but the public needs some means of measuring performance and imposing accountability.  Our children would be much better off, though, and our education system tremendously improved, if accountability derived from market mechanisms.  Let Rhode Islanders determine their own priorities for themselves and their own children and send students to the schools — public, charter, private, home — that best reflect those priorities.  Schools that cannot maintain viable student populations will have to improve or go out of business.

That scares our state’s politicians and insiders because no political ceiling would be possible once Rhode Island families got a taste of real reform.

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Insider Reps Under Fire; Will Anybody Care?

Questions, questions, questions.

Why would a state representative (Democrat John Carnevale [Providence, Johnston]) under fire for doubts about his residency request that the Providence police ticket his car for illegal parking?

Embattled state Rep. John Carnevale asked a police officer to intentionally write him parking tickets at his Barbara Street home in recent days, Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare confirmed Tuesday.

What was a former state representative (Democrat Raymond Gallison [Bristol, Portsmouth]) under federal investigation doing with a deceased client’s possibly valuable coin and stamp collection, which may not have been valued into the man’s estate under the rep’s executorship?

The NBC 10 I-Team spoke with the new attorney handling the Medley estate. Thomas “Tucker” Wright said he suspected something was array when Medley’s personal property from inside his house only amounted to $750 on an inventory list. He knew Medley to have an extensive coin and stamp collection, he said, but was unsure of the value. Those items were not listed on the inventory. Also missing was the total of Medley’s stocks and bonds. That value is also unclear. However, the new lawyer for Medley’s estate told the NBC 10 I-Team that Gallison returned the coin and stamp collection last week.

Is anybody picking up an overwhelming anger in the electorate about these matters — on top of new tolls, last-place rankings, botched marketing moves, corporate welfare, and a completely stagnant employment situation?

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Trees in Warren and Government from a Distance

The man-made conflict between trees and federal disability law is a fine example of why most government should be done locally (to the extent it has to be done at all):

Town officials say they are facing a painful dilemma: They can’t make the sidewalks accessible to the handicapped and save the trees.

]Nearly 80 years after the Works Progress Administration installed the curbing and sidewalks during the Great Depression, the thick trunks and roots of the trees planted along the road are blocking and buckling the pedestrian way.

The situation came to a head recently when the town began reconstructing King Street, a quiet road one block east of Main Street and just south of the downtown. Once the town undertook substantial repairs to the road, it triggered federal requirements that the sidewalks comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Public Works Director John Massed.

For a before-and-after picture, click the link above and watch the related video.  The camera shot at the 20-second marker shows the street with one side de-treed and the other not.

As communities, we do have a responsibility to accommodate those with the misfortune of being disabled, but dictating minute policies from Washington, D.C., is lunacy bordering on tyranny.  If the responsibility were local, neighbors could figure out solutions that work best for everybody involved, answering questions like, “What are the odds that a disabled person is going to go down this street so often that both sides have to be cleared of trees?”

We’ve reached the point of the absurd.  When the Tiverton Yacht Club reopened this year (after a fire and years of legal battles), members could not use the second floor.   Hefty barriers blocked the stairs, not because the upstairs was unfinished or otherwise unsafe, but because there had been a delay in installing the elevator required for people with disabilities.  A private club, using the property mainly for a children’s camp, a swimming pool, and the occasional social gathering, could not let members upstairs because some hypothetical disabled person wouldn’t be able to get up there for a couple of months.

Now apply this observation to the thousands and thousands of pages of laws and regulations passed at the national level that affect our lives in ways we can’t so obviously see.

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Getting Credit for Identity Requires a Creditor

Ed Driscoll rounds up a few links to construct the argument that progressivism and, specifically, identity politics are no substitute for finding real meaning in life:

In this era of nihilism, in which traits substitute for accomplishments, a former POW running for the White House in 2008 is mocked for being too old and infirm, and an ultra-successful businessman four years later is mocked for giving his employees cancer. Meanwhile, a failed community organizer is compared to God by magazine editors who should know better (and actually do, somewhere deep down in their hearts). And we wonder why ISIS appeals to far too many disaffected youth, as a macho religious alternative to becoming Nietzsche’s dread “Last Man,” as personified by a sniveling figure such as Footie Pajamas Obamacare Boy.

One piece of this puzzle that hasn’t been adequately explored, that I’ve seen, is why Leftists would foster this fatal dynamic in the first place.  Yesterday, I came across somebody (I think Jonah Goldberg, talking to Bill Kristol in the middle of a lengthy interview) suggesting that progressivism is essentially a suicide cult.  That may explain the motivation of some key figures, but for most of those who constitute progressivism’s ranks, I’d argue that the explanation is more a mix of blindness and fashionable views, reliant on the subconscious belief that the safety and comfort of the world exists naturally.

But what of the leaders of the movement who aren’t suicide cultists?  Drisoll’s points on identity politics direct us toward an answer.  After all, in order for people to get credit simply for their identities — with a relative advantage over others who actually do something worthy of recognition — there has to be a creditor.  That is, somebody has to hold the legal and social power to recognize the identity claims and suppress those who reject their asserted value.  That is: progressive elites.

As one investigates the various angles of modern socio-politics, that theme arises again and again.  Progressivism is a thuggish route to power built on the model not of empowering the powerless, but of draining the intrinsic individual worth of each human being as a means to social dominance.  They claim to bestow advantages, but the real benefit goes to them.

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National Popular Vote and the Company State

Yesterday, Dan Yorke had Providence College Political Science Professor Joseph Cammarano on his 630AM/99.7FM WPRO show, discussing a variety of topics.  When I first tuned in, a caller was growing angry that the professor wouldn’t say for whom he intended to vote, and over the next hour or so of sporadic listening, I came to see how Cammarano might have inspired that response.  His bias came through, most notably in his drive for equivalence with Republicans whenever a caller brought up Democrats’ malfeasance.

One question that came out of nowhere was the professor’s opinion of the electoral college, and he clearly supports the efforts of states, including Rhode Island, to work around the Constitution with the national-popular vote movement.  In not so many words, he that it makes no sense — given our increasingly national culture — to have a system in which we think of states as states, regardless of their population.  That is, he thinks it’s obvious that states don’t have an equal standing of themselves, as political entities, necessitating that the votes of people in low-population states are weighted to give them greater balance against the national votes of people in high-population states.

When this topic came up a few years ago, I mainly thought of it in terms of politics and the calculation for Rhode Island.  After all, Democrats tend to do better in urban areas, so the General Assembly’s signing on to the national popular vote compact was a partisan act, not a representative one (as in advocating for the people whom one actually represents).  The reason Rhode Island gets no attention in national politics isn’t that we’re small; it’s that we’re one-sided.  Republicans have no chance, and Democrats don’t have to work for our electoral votes.  But the reality is that the national popular vote scheme would cut Rhode Islanders’ electoral sway in half.  Why would our representatives agree to do that?

Cammarano’s short statement was the first time I’ve considered this question since stumbling upon the idea of the “company state.”  I’ve been noting that certain cities and the whole state of Rhode Island are moving toward a civic business model in which government becomes the major industry, with incentive to import or create new clients for its services as justification for taking money away from other people in order to finance them.  As Rhode Island has long been learning, the flaw in this model is that the payers can simply leave, and the state is under constant risk that, due to recession or otherwise, people in other states will push back on the federal government’s subsidization of the scheme.

The electoral college, in other words, is one protection against having this “company state” model become truly national, such that municipal and state governments that rely on the compulsory transfer of wealth will be able to reach any wealth from sea to shining sea.

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Missing the Point of Conservatism and Western Culture

Pamela Constable’s Washington Post reflection on her conservative Connecticut WASP parents has been making the rounds on the right-wing Internet.  Her personal connection with her parents is just that (personal), but the Baby Boomer journalist appears mainly to have become more comfortable with her parents’ somewhat moderate political conservatism mainly because she can now see it in contrast with movements that she finds more distasteful, like the Tea Party and Trumpism.

What’s most clear, though, is how much she’s missing the essential point.  Feeling stifled and separated by the cool, hip movements during her youth, she set out to become a “crusading journalist” (telling phrase, that).  As a foreign correspondent, she traveled the world and witnessed some of the worst hardships that human beings face, even today.  Then:

Visiting home between assignments, I found myself noticing and appreciating things I had always taken for granted — the tamed greenery and smooth streets, the absence of fear and abundance of choice, the code of good manners and civilized discussion. I also began to learn things about my parents I had never known and to realize that I had judged them unfairly. I had confused their social discomfort with condescension and their conservatism with callousness.

Notably, Constable learned that her parents had actually developed their habits in reaction to the hardships and terrors of the early 20th Century:  “Eventually, I saw how loss and sacrifice had shaped both my parents, creating lifelong habits of thrift, loyalty, perseverance and empathy for those who suffered.”

I recall a lesson in elementary school concerning the layers of need that an individual has in order to achieve higher planes of action.  One must have bodily necessities.  One must feel relatively safe; intellectual pursuits don’t quite fit into the schedule while fleeing for one’s life.  Civilization needs a safe place to cultivate those willing to change the world for the better, in part because they’ve seen a better world.

The problem is that Constable took that place for granted, and she didn’t bother observing as the world changed around her, in large part because of the actions of her ideological peers and their consequences.  Too late is she discovering that the traditions and culture handed down to her have been learned over millennia of a magnificent civilization’s development mainly in order to address the changes that we can’t see happening and lack the capacity to predict.

Progressives like Constable don’t see that the voices they don’t like — the Tea Party and the Trumpists — are becoming more forceful because progressives are marching along, intent on trampling them and their continued sense of the wisdom in our culture.  Like a religious cult, progressives are blind to much that is essential, not only why the culture they loathe is so well evolved, but also how much damage their heroes, like Barack Obama, are doing, and how much they are ensuring conflict and a descent into increasing hostilities.

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