Search results: government plantation
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Going from Crime to Illness Means Big Growth for the Government Plantation

Marc Munroe Dion picks up on what I’ve been calling “the government plantation” in his latest “Livin’ and Dion” column about the budget consequence of recasting drug use from a crime to an illness.  Noting that a person who comes across a homeless beggar could feed him or her with a $10 sandwich, but:

If you ran a non-profit agency, you’d need an outreach worker to find the homeless guy, an intake worker to make sure the homeless guy was really hungry, a case manager to find out what kind of sandwich he likes, a nutritional expert to make to make sure he got a healthy sandwich, a coordinator to introduce the outreach worker to the case manager, a facilitator to go into the store and buy the sandwich, and a five-member board of directors to approve the $10 sandwich, which would be referred to in all documents as a “nutritional expenditure for indigent substance abuse-affected client.”

At all times, the homeless guy eating the sandwich would be referred to as a “client.” Total cost of the sandwich? $65,000, not including benefits, and pensions.

Rhode Island’s state government is deliberately working to transform our economy into one built on this very model.  Declare some benefit to be a right, find a way to collect money from the rest of the economy and other states (via the federal government), and fill out a massive bureaucracy with government-satellite non-profit agencies with plenty of well-paying jobs whose holders will tend to support the system politically and to fund the necessary political action through their labor union dues.

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The Dead End of Rhode Island’s Government Plantation Model

The entitlement mentality in this state will be palpable as the federal government rolls back the Obama Administration’s give-aways. Lynn Arditi writes about the potential cost to Rhode Island if it refuses to change its Medicaid program to reflect federal spending under the Republican health care plan:

Predicting how much it might cost the state to cover the roughly 70,000 adults in the Medicaid expansion population under the Republican plan is especially difficult, health experts say, because people move on and off the rolls. If, for example, the job market weakened and people who had left the Medicaid rolls return, the lower federal cost-sharing rate means they’d be much more expensive to re-enroll.

“While certainly we’d support the state continuing to fund the Medicaid expansion population,” [Linda] Katz [of the Economic Progress Institute (no relation)] said, “the reality is … it would be very difficult to replace with state dollars the federal dollars and keep people insured.”

Rhode Island never should have signed on to the Medicaid expansion if this was possible, and the likes of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity were ignored when we warned that it was most definitely possible.  What everybody can see clearly now is that insiders and bureaucrats padded their budgets at great cost and risk to others.

And it’s not just Medicaid.  Dan McGowan reports from Providence for WPRI:

President Donald Trump’s proposal to eliminate the $3-billion Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program would be a “devastating” blow to Rhode Island’s capital city, Mayor Jorge Elorza said Friday.

Trump’s proposed budget would do away with the 42-year-old CDBG program, which provides local governments across the country with funding for community centers, housing programs and neighborhood improvements.

None of these programs should ever be built into state government budgets or the local economy.  They should be treated as gravy on a healthy, independent economy.  Instead, we’ve allowed our elected officials to suffocate real industry and substitute a government plantation model premised on being able to bill the federal government and local taxpayers for government services for others.

Eventually, when you turn toward an obvious dead end, you reach it.

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If It’s “Unpaid Care,” It Cuts into the Government Plantation’s Market

It seems a point of personal pique for him, but Wesley Smith makes a great point when he objects to the characterization of families’ taking care of their own special needs children as “unpaid care”:

Really? What about mothers providing “unpaid care” for their babies? Or spouses for each other? Should such care also be measured in terms of the cost of having services provided by professional caregivers?

As Smith goes on to insist (emphasis in original), “the societal expectation should also be that families are the first line of care-giving.”  The first line of care-giving.  The first line of financial assistance.  The first line of loan guarantees.  The first line for education.  The first line, period.

The problem is that such activities cut in on the government plantation’s market.  Governments can’t tax other people to provide the services.  Labor unions can’t take a cut (although they do try).  And politicians can’t count on votes from people who aren’t dependent on government.

The deeper affront of the “unpaid care” attitude is how it teaches us to see caring for those we love.  The insinuation can be that families would (and maybe should) offload care if they can afford to do so, just as a homeowner may patch a wall to save the cost of a tradesman.  As a new state senator from Lincoln touchingly exemplifies, caring for loved ones can be a joyful fulfillment, and society should encourage us to see it as such.

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ObamaCare Repeal Plan Exposes Government Plantation

Even if he fails in office, President-elect Donald Trump — merely by promising to behave as if it’s possible for the people to push back against the government-expansionist march — will do much to expose the workings of the government plantation.  Consider comments from Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo in an article by Lynn Arditi of the Providence Journal:

Gov. Gina Raimondo said Tuesday during a meeting at The Providence Journal that she “loses sleep” over the prospect of a hasty unrolling of the Affordable Care Act and its Medicaid payment system. “It could be devastating for us,” she said.

Such a change would mostly be “devastating” if it portends a new pattern in which the federal government stops paying state governments to provide services. That is increasingly the business model of Rhode Island’s true major industry, government.

The Beast needs customers for its services, and it needs a mechanism to make other people pay the bill.  The federal government is critical in that transaction because it’s able to take money in so many ways and without people’s having a clear view of what it’s paying for or a straightforward way to decline the bill year after year.

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What Are City Governments’ Real Priorities?

Ted Nesi reports (if I may paraphrase) that Rhode Island cities have been crawling over each other to slurp from the sluice some money from the Boston Federal Reserve:

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President and CEO Eric Rosengren visited Rhode Island on Thursday to award $400,000 grants to three local cities through the bank’s Working Cities Challenge.

The program aims to promote collaboration between local leaders to address socioeconomic challenges. The three Rhode Island winners are Providence, Cranston and Newport. Eight other cities submitted applications but did not win grants, which are funded by public and private contributions, not the Fed. …

Appearing on this week’s Executive Suite, Rosengren said the four-year-old program grew out of research conducted by the Boston Fed that showed efforts to tackle cities’ challenges worked best when leaders from different groups worked together toward a common goal.

Readers may recall that the Boston Fed’s involvement with Lawrence, Massachusetts, under a project in the same program is what kicked off my thinking about the “company state” or “government plantation” model, whereby government services become an area’s core industry, with the revenue coming from other taxpayers or higher levels of government (such as state or federal taxpayers).

With these new grants, we should also put the matter in the context of political structures and incentives.  Here we have cities competing to charm “public and private” outside interests with their proposals.  That is, they’re competing to match the values of the Boston Fed and the people or groups funding the project.  Sure, these “community” projects have local advocates (most often ideological activists, special interests, and other insiders), but ultimately, these projects are things being done to local constituents, not for them.

It’s time we stop seeing money that our governments manage to collect from other sources as money that we’ve somehow received.  It isn’t.  That’s especially true when it’s used for projects that the government wouldn’t otherwise have bothered to do.  It’s money that goes to the sorts of people who know how to get government money and spent in order to shape our society in ways that other people want, not us.

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Don’t Want “Devastating” Cuts? Don’t Rely on Federal Government.

It seems that the special interests who rely on federal money for their income in Rhode Island (in and out of state and local government) have been working to keep stories like this in the news every week:

Potential cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration put forward by the Trump administration could have devastating effects in Rhode Island.

The Coastal Resources Management Council, the state agency that oversees development along the state’s 400 miles of coastline, would lose nearly 60 percent of its funding.

This is the problem with the government plantation/company state model.  When you’ve built your economy around the government’s ability to make other people pay for services that the government insists on providing, local taxpayers will move away and people in other states may decide to cut funding.  It’s a risky dead end of an economic development approach.

Our goal as a state (similar to our goal in our cities and towns) should be to react to news of changes at the federal level by expressing relief that we don’t rely on the federal government for much of anything.  That would be a state of both freedom and stability.

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Never Any Way to Fix Costly Government Programs, Medicaid Edition

Reporting on a study by a couple of health care experts, Ted Nesi writes on WPRI:

Using 2015 data, their projections showed Rhode Island would lose $514 million in annual federal Medicaid funding under such a formula – a huge amount of money, equal to 22% of the state’s $2.3 billion in total Medicaid spending during the 2014-15 budget year. Massachusetts would lose $3.4 billion under the scenario.

First, let’s have a little perspective, here.  The revised spending on “Medical assistance (including Medicaid)” for fiscal 2015 was $2,382,919,281.  The year before — in fiscal 2014 — it was $1,819,597,682.  If you don’t have a calculator handy, that’s a difference of $563,321,599, or about $50,000,000 more than the “huge amount of money” in the possible reduction.

According to the mainstream calculus, government spending can never go down, even just to the prior year’s level.  On the one hand, we’re told it would be a terrible thing if Congress were to block grant Medicaid based on state income because states that rely on the program as a large part of their budgets would face massive reductions.  As the study says, it “would result in a seismic redistribution of federal spending.”

On the other hand, the authors go on to say, we can’t possibly calculate block grants based on current spending, because that “would lock in large and arguably unfair variation in funding across states.”  The only solution, clearly, is to just keep giving states as much money as they need for however many Medicaid recipients they’re able to sign up.

Folks, this is the government plantation, or company state.  As I wrote when I first began tracing that economic model in Rhode Island, when the state’s major industry (government) relies on its ability to sign up people for services in order to charge other people for them, the people forced to pay the bill will eventually flee the system, if they’re local, or push their own representatives to stop the bleeding, if they’re in other states being soaked by the feds.

Rhode Island should take the opportunity of the Trump Administration to get off this track.  The chasm toward which it leads has no bridge.

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Social Dynamism in Government Policy

A Wall Street Journal editorial has gotten some attention with the headline, “School Choice Saves Money“:

Using data from a crime and graduation study by Corey DeAngelis and Patrick Wolf at the University of Arkansas, the Milwaukee study finds that through 2035 Wisconsin will receive a $473 million benefit from higher graduation rates by choice students. More education translates into higher incomes, more tax revenue and a lower likelihood of reliance on government welfare or other payments. Meanwhile, greater economic opportunity also prevents young adults from turning to crime, which the study estimates will save Wisconsin $1.7 million from fewer misdemeanors and $24 million from fewer felonies over the same 20 years.

Some years back the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity had a victory, in our view, pushing dynamic scoring into the legislative debate with our proposal to eliminate the state sales tax.  Dynamic scoring means that one considers the economic effects of a policy and subtracts the increased tax revenue from the policy’s “static” (“sticker,” or first-order) cost.  The above paragraph reminds us that there is a social dynamism, too, reducing the need for government services as well as increasing the tax take from a healthier economy.

Obviously, this has perverse relevance to Rhode Island’s “government plantation,” which might gain back some lost tax revenue but lose clients and political leverage over them.

But imagine if we had policies that kept kids engaged in good schools (through school choice) and gave them opportunities for more entry-level jobs (through a lower minimum wage and reduced licensing requirements). It might just reduce the cost of paying government to mitigate social problems, create an environment of entrepreneurship, and turn our state around.

Of course, it would require us to shift away from the government plantation, so it won’t happen.

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Drop in Manufacturing in RI Most Worrying Because of Government Solutions

Highlighting the change in the Providence area’s mix of employment, Ted Nesi reviews a study finding that the metro has seen the nation’s greatest drop in manufacturing jobs, as a percentage of all jobs, with jobs requiring a college degree increasing in the mix.

This is a percentage, not the absolute number of jobs, so all sorts of jobs could go up or down, but if they do so at different rates, the mix will change.  In that light, this metric could be indicative of Rhode Island’s government plantation approach.  As the economy shifts toward emphasis on government services, more of the available jobs require college degrees (not because, by the way, government-service jobs necessarily require degree-level skill sets, but because it suits politicians and labor unions to require degrees.)

Beyond such considerations, the response from the governor caught my eye:

In his paper, Whitaker notes concerns “that the growing industries do not provide enough work opportunities or middle-class incomes for people without college degrees.” That echoes frequent comments by Rhode Island leaders including Gov. Gina Raimondo who say the state needs to do more to encourage the creation of jobs for workers who don’t attend college.

She may have said such a thing somewhere, but the emphasis of her policies has been on “well-paying” jobs in trendy fields.  More importantly, her premise about government effort is wrong. State politicians and bureaucrats are not well positioned to create targeted jobs.  And even if they were, they haven’t the right.  When the government attempts to create specific jobs, it is either manipulating the public to match politicians’ preferences or replacing residents who don’t fit the plan with outsiders who do.  Note this:

A study earlier this year by Boston Fed economist Mary Burke reported manufacturing employment in Rhode Island plunged by 57% between 1990 and 2015, and found a growing number of the state’s skilled jobs requiring college degrees were going to out-of-state workers.

If the state government is to maintain democratic legitimacy, it has to represent the people who are here, not a marked-off place on the map or a collection of preferred industries.

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Indirect Moral Corruption Driving Catholics Out of the North

Part of the cynical wisdom, up here in the Northeast, is that the Catholic Church has to support pro-immigration policy because it needs immigrants to keep its parishes going.  To the extent that this demographic pressure has any effect on what the Church actually does, a Catholic News Agency article about the Church’s growth in the South should suggest other policy positions that the Northern Church could promote:

The growth in part reflects the number of Catholics moving south from northern dioceses. Though this results in the closures of churches and schools in former Catholic strongholds, it is driving new expansion in the U.S. South.

I’ve half-joked that I’ve remained in Rhode Island out of missionary motivation, and only the jest part is political.  A region that is driving families apart and separating people from their homes presents real moral challenges.  In that regard, the Catholic Church — all churches — should acknowledge what the government plantation policies of Rhode Island are doing and impress upon believers their moral obligation to stay and to change things.

Working against poverty and injustice can’t be limited to standing up for those who are clearly oppressed, or else good works risk falling into vanity.  Vanishingly few people in contemporary America question the righteousness of helping those who immediately need help, but if we’re serious about helping those whom we can’t so easily see, whether because their problems are not so obvious or because their problems haven’t yet manifested, we have to take a broader view.

That means a society that draws people toward fulfilling lives of familial stability and self-motivated work.  And while the constituencies who see a Democrat vote as part of their cultural inheritance won’t like it, the policies on which we’re currently focused are clearly not serving that end.  The moral corruption of the government plantation is that ignoring the structural justice that brings stability and prosperity, but that requires a resilient and sometimes unpopular maturity, produces ample opportunities to display visible righteousness on behalf of those whom our ignorance has harmed.

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The Transformation of Vermont

Take it as a warning or as an illustration of opportunity, but Rick Holmes’s history, in the Fall River Herald, of Vermont’s political transformation is a worthwhile read.

Basically, the interstate highway system brought “flatlanders” to the state for foliage viewing, skiing, and indulgence in a hippy aesthetic.  By the time the indigenous conservatives tried to push back, it was too late:

“The hippies won,” says John Gregg, a Vermont journalist whose office is a short walk from the Connecticut River. In a small enough place, the influx of new citizens, even in modest numbers, can change a state’s political trajectory.

Rhode Island is different, of course.  Our population is a bit bigger, and the particular flavor of progressivism isn’t hippy socialism as much as insider socialism.  An historically different flavor of immigration brought with it a little more cultural conservatism and a little bit less libertarianism.  Moreover, the “influx of new citizens” affecting Rhode Island isn’t the migration of relatively privileged progressives, but rather the deliberately lured clients for the company state/government plantation.

These differences bring with them unique challenges, but in both places it’s too late for an ordinary political campaign to change things.  Instead, we have to change the local culture, which is no easy task when the people who see the right way forward tend just to leave.

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A State Without Children

Way down in his weekly roundup column, Ted Nesi highlights another point from the recent RI Kids Count report:

One statistic that stood out: Rhode Island now has the fifth-lowest birth rate in the country, following a 15% slide in the number of babies born here over the last decade. What does that mean for the state’s future? It’s already having an effect on the economy, with Care New England saying the decline in births is hurting revenue at Women & Infants.

That’s an understated example of the effect of this dynamic.  Indeed, it would be difficult to overstate the effects of an increasingly sterile population.

To touch on one narrow political matter: As I’ve pointed out in Tiverton and for the state as a whole, our public schools have generally lost about two full grade-levels worth of students in the last decade.  Picture no fourth and no fifth grade students in the entire state; that’s how much enrollment has decreased.  This leaves a bureaucratic, unionized, and expensive education establishment demanding increased budgets to educate fewer children, which its partisans do against a taxpaying public that has less and less actual use of the schools.  That battle alone will be huge in Rhode Island.

But even an issue of that magnitude is as nothing to the reorientation of a society with fewer children.  The way people think and interact with the world will change on that basis.  Indeed, not having children (or not having multiple children) takes pressure off of people to become full adults, making them more susceptible to the pitch of the “government plantation” advocates to look to central planners as parents to us all.  It also makes us vulnerable to people from other cultures in which Peter Pan has been held at bay.

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The Anti-Poverty Idea That Became a Dependency Trap

Jason Riley recently wrote, in the Wall Street Journal, about Peter Cove, who once was a warrior in the “War on Poverty” but has come to the quite different conclusion that the government is now promoting dependency:

“We have edged toward a moral cliff where the shame of being dependent on government aid has been replaced by a breezy bonhomie for entitlement,” he writes in a new book, “Poor No More.” “We have moved from a commitment to serve the deserving poor to an assumption that all are deserving. And much of this rests at the feet of politicians trolling for votes by larding on the largesse.”

What Cove is talking about, in my view, is the business model of the government plantation.

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News Flash: The Law Even Applies to People Progressives Like

Over on RI Future, Steve Ahlquist complains that, under President Donald Trump, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is now detaining people for “even minor crimes.”  Here’s Ahlquist’s example:

According to sources familiar with the incident, José Eduardo Cames (the third part of his name may be misspelled) lied to immigration officials at the border when he and his wife entered the country. They carried a baby with them that was not theirs, loaned to them from another family, to make a better case for themselves to stay in the United States.

An investigation revealed the lie, but under Obama, that did not make the couple a high priority for deportation and as long as they made periodic visits to an ICE office in Warwick, they were allowed to stay in the country. At their most recent visit to the Warwick ICE offices on Friday, ICE did not let them leave and detained them, said a source familiar with the case.

In other words, the “minor crime” that the couple broke was entering the country illegally, with the added dynamic of fraud, and the agency that the federal government has created at great expense to enforce that particular area of the law is holding them, perhaps to deport them.  (Never mind that they “borrowed” a baby, as one borrows a car, perhaps with the intention that the child’s actual parents would then have an excuse to enter the country, which is arguably a form of exploitation and human trafficking.)

As I’ve written before, there are legitimately difficult cases in the immigration debate, but one gets the impression that progressives don’t actually believe that any of the cases are difficult.  Their view appears to be that we should let everybody in at the border and then let them stay (seeding the government plantation and giving progressives political leverage).

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Support for Lots of Immigration, Not Necessarily Altruistic

Funny how moral principle in politics seems so often to align with self interest.  Here’s Byron York in the Washington Examiner:

Why is Washington State mounting such a vigorous challenge to President Trump’s executive order temporarily suspending non-American entry from seven terrorism-plagued countries? Of course there are several lawsuits against the president, and there are lots of motives among the various litigants. But Washington State’s is the suit that stopped the order, at least temporarily. And a look at the state’s case suggests that, behind high-minded rhetoric about religious liberty and constitutional protections, there is a lot of money at stake.

Judging by the briefs filed by Washington State, as well as statements made by its representatives, some of the state’s top priorities in challenging Trump are: 1) To ensure an uninterrupted supply of relatively low-wage H-1B foreign workers for Microsoft and other state businesses; 2) To ensure a continuing flow of high-tuition-paying foreign student visa holders; and 3) To preserve the flow of tax revenues that results from those and other sources.

And don’t forget Medicaid, SNAP, public education, and other federally subsidized welfare programs available to legal and (probably) illegal immigrants on the government plantation.

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School Choice Makes Families Consumers, Not Commodities

A great short report for which I’ve done some research, but which I never manage to get to, would look at the effects of Vermont’s legacy school choice program.  Given the long-rural history of the state, some districts offer students actual school choice, including to private schools, and a key finding that Rhode Island homeowners should find interesting is that property values go up significantly in areas with choice.  Geoffrey Norman doesn’t offer more than a nod to that dynamic in a recent article in The Weekly Standard, but he does use the current debate in Vermont to make a key, fundamental point (emphasis added):

So, school choice is not—and could never be—supported by the education bureaucracy. It threatens not just their convictions but their livelihoods. Where parents can take their kids and the public money that is being spent on them out of one school and move them, and it, to another—well, this threatens the entire system.

Why it might even, in the dark vision of one of the prominent Vermont opponents of school choice, “turn children into commodities.”

Which of course stands the whole thing on its head. Commodities don’t make choices. They are manipulated, packaged, and bundled. As are students in the grip of the industrial-education complex.

What Norman is touching on, here, is the government plantation.  Attracting people to an area who are likely to need government assistance, binding them to their region with government dependency, and locking their children in government schools creates a captive audience with little power to affect the services their receiving.  Again, “commodities don’t make choices,” but when human beings are “manipulated, packaged, and bundled,” they lose the authority to do anything but sit on the shelf until they’re of use to some powerful consumer.

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Stop Putting Half Our Eggs in the Federal Basket

Hey, here’s a thought: Maybe the State of Rhode Island should stop acting like a subsidiary of the federal government and start acting like a sovereign state that thrives when its people thrive.  If this isn’t a wake-up call, I don’t know what could be:

While other states – including Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Montana and Kentucky – are more federal aid-heavy than Rhode Island, a newly-released analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, of 2014 census data, found Rhode Island 16th highest in the nation in terms of how much of its budget is financed by federal dollars. In that year, 34.7 percent.

Anyone worried? The answer: You betcha. But some more openly worried than others.

In large part, this is the government plantation, but it’s also indicative of the government’s crowding out the private sector as an economic competitor, too.

Any wise investor upon having a scare with a particular stock would figure out the importance of diversifying.  It’s time for Rhode Islanders to stop relying more on government as an economic driver and start relying on each other.

And don’t let fear of President Trump specifically be the end of your consideration of the matter.  Think about how vulnerable to real tyranny it makes us that our supposed leaders apparently have to make decisions about governance in order to keep the money flowing.  Everything else, from culture to global warfare, could easily take a back seat to that bottom line.

As individuals, families, and a state, being dependent makes us weak and vulnerable.

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RI Should Be Embarrassed of Federal Dependency

Morgan Scarboro of the Tax Foundation has taken a look at the states’ reliance on the federal government when it comes to taking money from other Americans and padding their own budgets:

In fiscal year 2014, over 60 percent of federal spending in the states went to benefits payments to individuals, including Social Security and Medicare. Aid is also given to states for education, transportation, housing, agriculture and more. Medicare is the largest grant program and continues to grow. Federal aid to states as a whole also grew 25 percent (adjusted for inflation) from 2005 to 2014.

Rhode Island is in the top group of states, with 34.7% of our state revenue transfered to us from the federal budget, more than any state this side of West Virginia other than Maine, which is poorer. This is the government plantation, and it ought to be an embarrassment to Rhode Islanders.

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Census Numbers and Replacement Rhode Islanders

New U.S. Census estimates of states’ populations are out, and Rhode Island just like last year, experienced a small increase in population.  And once again the details of the numbers give reason for concern.

For the second year in a row, total population increased by a smaller number.  That is, 2014’s increase was 1,447, 2015’s was 1,127, and 2016’s is 819.  The natural population increase resulting from having more births than deaths was the smallest since 2010.

Of more concern, though, is that more Rhode Islanders continue to leave for other states than to head in the other direction, but those departures are over-compensated with immigration from other countries.  This year, we lost 3,784 Rhode Islanders to other states but gained 4,203 from other countries.  (Illegal immigrants would be included in these numbers.)  According to the Census, Rhode Island lost 28,565 residents to other states but imported 25,406 residents from other countries.

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Putting aside the fact that people who arrived from other countries may have later left for other states, Rhode Island has, roughly speaking, swapped out 2.4% of its population for people from other countries.  One needn’t be xenophobic to worry that this trend might not be ideal.

As the Rhode Island Family Prosperity Index report suggests, the Ocean State’s policy decisions are pushing our neighbors to leave.  Meanwhile, the government plantation model of the state’s major industry (government) creates incentive for elected officials and bureaucrats to seek to import clients who’ll require their services (and provide them votes).

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Family Prosperity: A Needed Change for Rhode Island

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity today issued the Ocean State’s iteration of the American Conservative Union’s Family Prosperity Index report, making Rhode Island the second state explored in detail.  An associated Web site for the state is also up now.

The index incorporates a broad variety of demographic and economic data to compare how well states are performing for the families who live within their borders, and not surprisingly, Rhode Island ranks an abysmal 48th.  From the report:

… the FPI research suggests that economic hardship can often lead to adverse personal or social consequences, and vice versa. The issue of drug abuse, which has long been a concern for families and for the business community in Rhode Island, provides a clear example of this linkage. As we will discuss later, Rhode Island ranks worst in the nation in terms of illicit drug use. To its credit, in 2016, Rhode Island took action to address this disturbing trend.

With the Ocean State ranking nationally in the bottom 10 on the FPI Economics index, as well as the entrepreneurship and unemployment sub-indexes, it isn’t a surprise that the associated personal fnancial distress has an impact on its residents’ personal behavior.

An introductory report is obviously just a starting point, and the initiative’s data for the whole country is online already in interactive format.  We’ve already been making use of it, in this space, noting for example evidence that Rhode Island’s economic and civic reality is actually spurring two conflicting reactions among its people: one to retrench toward healthy behavior and one to compensate for difficulties with unhealthy behavior.  Unfortunately, our elected officials seem more inclined to implement policies that favor the unhealthy behavior and impede the healthy (arguably to fertilize the government plantation).

To help make the case that Rhode Island needs a new direction, the Rhode Island site is encouraging Rhode Islanders to tell their own stories, whether negative or positive, and is hosting a leadership forum in cooperation with the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University on January 17 (RSVP at the link).

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Using Smartphones to Access Public Welfare Benefits

Yes, it’s arguably unfair to react to the phrase I’ve italicized in the following quotation from a recent article by Christine Dunn in the Providence Journal without the context of a longer, more subtle conversation, but it did jump out at me:

More than 13,000 people applied for housing vouchers in less than a week in November, when Rhode Island Housing and the Providence Housing Authority jointly opened their waiting lists, the Rhode Island Housing Board of Commissioners was told Thursday morning.

The online application process was a success, and most people were able to apply on their mobile telephones.

It’s a truism of the welfare state that, no matter what the government is technically subsidizing, taxpayers are actually subsidizing the least-necessary goods and services the recipient purchases.

Of course, used properly, smartphones and the related data plans can be valuable tools helping people to advance in their lives.  Absent some structural incentive, though — or even just a little bit of stigma to being on the public dole — the public must wonder whether we’re subsidizing technology mainly for entertainment and so that beneficiaries can better access more public benefits.

Treating welfare recipients as consumers of packages of public products leads to the government plantation.

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Public-Options-Only School Choice Relies on Irrational Prejudice

Notice anything about the recent op-ed from RI Education Commissioner Ken Wagner?

Some claim that charters take money that is owed to district schools. In my view, the money is not “owed” to district schools or any other education provider. Local, state and national taxpayers raised this money for a specific purpose: to educate the youth of a community. We have an obligation to ensure the money serves the children rather than simply maintains the current system.

This is the core of the argument that I’ve been proffering for total school choice.  Public dollars aren’t collected and expended for the maintenance of a government-branded school system, but for the cause of educating the public.  Whatever structure or method will accomplish that goal most effectively and economically is the proper one.

Indeed, just about every argument in Wagner’s essay would apply to education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, or any other school choice vehicle and could be added to the Bright Today list of myths.

It is only through the devotion of insiders to the status quo and their control of public information that this point remains sufficiently obscure that Wagner doesn’t feel he has to address it.  The people are starting to figure it out, though, and it is yet another area in which those of us who really wish to move Rhode Island forward for the benefit of its people need only guide their natural conclusions.

Consider Dan McGowan’s WPRI article on public testimony regarding the Achievement First charter school expansion proposal before the state Council on Elementary and Secondary Education.  The article is 17 paragraphs long.  Here’s the 13th:

But the majority of individuals who testified about Achievement First Tuesday encouraged the council to back the expansion.

That is, after 12 paragraphs — three-quarters of the article — conveying the points of view of insiders, who are in the minority, McGowan finally gets to what should arguably have been the headline of the article: that people want school choice.  When all is said, the only argument to prevent the people from using public funds for their preferred public policy is maintenance of the government plantation.

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