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Panhandling Through an App

My first impulse is to recoil from the image of homeless people carrying bar codes so people can easily scan them to purchase their daily hit of good feeling:

A new social innovation project, called Greater Change, hands homeless people a QR code, similar to the kind issued for online tickets.

Passersby who wish to give money – but who may not have any change in their pocket – can scan the code using their smart phone, and make an online payment to the person.

The donation goes into an account which is managed by a case worker who ensures that the money is spent on agreed targets, such as saving for a rental deposit or a new passport.

The program also raises the specter of human-tracking, if the app grabs information about the location of each donation.

But these negative reactions probably miss the unique circumstances of the homeless, who are typically in their predicament because they have some problem that has moved beyond their control, be it addiction or mental illness.  Having donations go to some account that is allocated for purposes that will help them reduces the concern that they’ll use the money to feed their problems.  This is essentially a more flexible version of my practice of carrying around supermarket gift cards.

Of course, money is fungible, so whether it’s a gift card or a credit to a welfare account, nothing prevents the recipient from using that money to free up cash for the purchase of drugs, or whatever.  Still, incremental improvements remain improvements.

These cards would also help donors determine which panhandlers are truly needy.  Not long ago, I spotted a young guy who didn’t look especially destitute energetically soliciting funds on the street, and for some reason, I got the strong impression that he was just trying to raise enough money to buy something at the liquor store on the corner.  Such people wouldn’t have the donation cards.

To improve the program further, we should consider the extent to which government really needs to be involved.  I think, for example, of affiliate programs from banks and other organizations that have negotiated discounts for members.  Banks, for example, could have special accounts that come with these cards and restrict the use of the money.  Opening the process up in that way would help alleviate the human-tracking concern, too.

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The Little League Lesson on Legislative Grants

Legislative grants have been an issue as long as I have been paying attention to Rhode Island politics.  They are so obviously a vote-buying scheme that legislative leaders use to reward representatives and senators who help to keep the insider game going.  They are therefore an excellent symbol for everything that is wrong with Rhode Island politics.

The Providence Journal Political Scene today emphasizes the increase in grants going to groups in the name of Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, who had a too-close-for-comfort campaign result last time around and has clearly wanted to avoid a second roll of the dice:

The Cranston Police Department ($65,000), Western Cranston Garden Club ($1,000) and Cranston Western Little League ($15,000) were among the groups on which Mattiello bestowed 32 grants under the General Assembly’s legislative grant program this year.

No state lawmaker sponsored more grants individually than Mattiello or more total cash than the $205,048 in those grants, nearly 30 percent more than the $158,500 Mattiello sponsored the previous year, according to a Political Scene review of legislative grants for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

If legislative grants stand as an archetype of Rhode Island corruption, the Little League grants are especially revealing about the unfairness of the granting system.  Twenty-eight grants totaling $84,000 went to organizations with “Little League” in their names this legislative session.  Mattiello’s gift was the biggest, but that wasn’t it.  Cranston, as a municipality, received by far the most Little League grants in Rhode Island:  $32,500.  The second-place municipality was Warwick, receiving only $11,500.

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Those grants go to 19 Little League organizations in 14 cities and towns (out of 39) and are the work of 25 legislators (out of 113).  Democrat Senator Felag managed to spread his wealth to all three towns that he represents: Bristol, Warren, and Tiverton.  A few more legislators requested Little League donations in their names that don’t appear to have been granted.

There is no justification for a government program that picks and chooses which children’s baseball clubs deserve taxpayer dollars based on the political fidelity of their representatives and senators.  But the clear purpose is to keep our elected officials in line and to send a message to voters that the price of replacing their representation at the State House could be access to millions of dollars in cash for their kids and their pet projects.

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Reporting by OSC: Veteran Struck With Bike Lock By Antifa Rally Attendee

I want to share with you an outstanding piece of reporting done by our Ocean State Current on a violent politically-motivated assault of a veteran by an alleged member of Antifa last Saturday. The Current broke this important story, and brought Rhode Islanders the real message of what was happening.

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A World in Which Only the Inexperienced Can Manage Big Programs

As we enter the thick of election season, Brian Riedl’s reminder on Vox should be firm in our minds:

… the democratic socialist agenda will face resistance not only from other lawmakers but from basic math. Their promises, which include free college, a single-payer health care system, guaranteed jobs, and more, would require astonishingly high expenditures that would cause the federal deficit to skyrocket. Once the costs become clear, most mainstream politicians and voters will surely balk. Making big promises is one thing; paying for them is another.

Riedl tallies $42.5 trillion (with a “t”) in new taxpayer spending over the first decade of the progressive program.  And, as Stephen Green further notes, “that’s before the ripple effects create the need for even more spending, which creates even more ripple effects, etc., until a once-wealthy country is ruined.”

Fortunately, if a conservative cabal were choosing the representatives of democratic socialism with an eye toward making it easy for the public to see the problem, they couldn’t have done better.  Bernie Sanders, for example, is an old rich guy whose wife’s questionable leadership of a Vermont college may have contributed to its closure.  Recent socialist upstart Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been a veritable gift to conservative meme-makers and humorists.  In Rhode Island, the standard bearer for the far left is Aaron Regunberg, an Ivy League transplant from another state who, as far as anybody knows, has never held a real job in his life.

Unfortunately, it’s a powerful ploy to promise people that the government can give them everything they need and want… and don’t worry, the people in control will always be on your cultural and ideological side.  Promise!  As for those who propose that we govern our society under the restrictions of reality, well, they’re demons, all of them.

Those of us demons in that reality-based camp have our work cut out for us.  The country’s education system has softened up a couple generations for the sort of mushy thinking that leads one to believe that politicians with dubious experience actually running things will be able to manage a number as big as $42,500,000,000,000, which is, like, a really big number.

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Who’ll Pay for an Underwater Pension Mortgage?

Although some Internet sifting didn’t reveal their state-by-state list, leaving Rhode Island’s standing as an unknown, Rob Arnott and Lisa Meulbroek’s warning in the Wall Street Journal is worth consideration:

Most cities, counties and states have committed taxpayers to significant future unfunded spending. This mostly takes the form of pension and postretirement health-care obligations for public employees, a burden that averages $75,000 per household but exceeds $100,000 per household in some states. Many states protect public pensions in their constitutions, meaning they cannot be renegotiated. Future pension obligations simply must be paid, either through higher taxes or cuts to public services.

As I’ve noted repeatedly, government investment boards get away with unrealistic investment assumptions because their financial advisors and actuaries accept that the ability to increase taxes allows for higher risk, and Arnott and Meulbroek note that this power ultimately flows to one tax in particular:

State taxes are collected on four economic activities: consumption (sales tax), labor and investment (income tax) and real-estate ownership (property tax). The affluent can escape sales and income taxes by moving to a new state—but real estate stays behind. Property values must ultimately support the obligations that politicians have promised, even if those obligations aren’t properly funded, because real estate is the only source of state and local revenue that can’t pick up and move elsewhere. Whether or not unfunded obligations are paid with property taxes, it’s the property that backs the obligations in the end.

Thus, the authors say, the pension debt is like another mortgage on our homes.  (For Millennials with big education debt, it’s arguably a third mortgage.)

In some states, perhaps the resolution will weigh more in the direction of justice — hitting the honey pots of the politicians and labor unions that inflated this suffocating balloon.  In states like Rhode Island, though, we’d best come to grips with the reality that, more and more, we’re working for the benefit of the government, not the other way around.  What we owe on our government bill already far exceeds the value we derive, and that’s only going to get worse.

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Rhode Island Cities’ Immigration Lawsuit

Maybe I’m just getting tired of political drama, but I can’t get wrapped up in the political argument implicit in the lawsuit that the cities of Providence and Central Falls have brought against the Trump administration.  It’s really just… I guess cloying is the word.

First of all, nobody should actually believe that the progressive mayors of these two cities have a principled objection to the federal government’s use of grants to apply pressure on policy goals — even barely related policy goals.  We’ve just recently come off an eight-year lesson that, when the federal government is in progressive hands, the Left is happy to leverage whatever method of pen, phone, and policy will advance their ideological imperatives.  Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza is therefore not credible when he says the following:

“We unequivocally reject this false choice,” he said. “We will not allow the federal government to weaponize federal grant funding in an effort to advance this administration’s agenda.”

Actually, the mayor included a sly wiggle:  “this administration’s agenda.”  Weaponizing federal grant funding would presumably be fine in order to advance another administration’s agenda.

Second of all, the amounts in question are arguably not in keeping with claims about “critical” funding:

Friday is the deadline to accept the funds that were awarded with the new conditions, they said. Providence was awarded more than $200,000 for fiscal year 2017. Central Falls was awarded nearly $30,000.

Providence has used the funding awarded in past years to pay for a bilingual liaison to work with families and pay for overtime for enforcement patrols. Central Falls has paid for technology upgrades. Police chiefs from both cities said these conditions shouldn’t be attached to grants that are crucial to police operations.

For Providence, that grant amount is just 0.03% of its total budget.  It’s 0.12% of its public safety budget.  If these programs are so important, the mayors can find (or raise) the money for them.

In short, this is just a couple of mayors using taxpayers’ legal resources to posture.  Worse, they are doing so in order to grandstand against a requirement that American municipalities make modest concessions to the federal government’s effort to enforce federal law.

We could have a variety of debates about the wisdom of every policy involved — from federal immigration law to local reliance on federal grants — but debate would require getting past these mayors’ tiresome political rhetoric.

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Government Involvement in the Internet Isn’t About Freedom

Here’s something I don’t get:  Not that long ago the word went out that retracting net neutrality rules would end the open Internet as we know it, bringing it all the way back to the distant, dark days of January 2015.  So one would expect new proposals reportedly leaked from Senate Democrats to rev up the outrage machine again.  The plan is extremely broad, but a major plank is requirements for verification of users’ identities (at least for non-hackers), as well as…

Other proposals include more disclosure requirements for online political speech, more spending to counter supposed cybersecurity threats, more funding for the Federal Trade Commission, a requirement that companies’ algorithms can be audited by the feds (and this data shared with universities and others), and a requirement of “interoperability between dominant platforms.”

The paper also suggests making it a rule that tech platforms above a certain size must turn over internal data and processes to “independent public interest researchers” so they can identify potential “public health/addiction effects, anticompetitive behavior, radicalization,” scams, “user propagated misinformation,” and harassment—data that could be used to “inform actions by regulators or Congress.”

Of course, this proposal and net neutrality are only at odds if the people pushing either attempt to use the rhetoric of freedom.  If the goal is government control of the Internet, then they’re both perfectly in line, in which case net neutrality supporters were either deceived or have an unjustifiable faith that government overlords will always favor the content they desire.

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When Patients Become Costs in a Socialized System

While we should keep in mind that we’re getting one person’s understandably self-interested perspective on an ongoing series of interactions, Roger Foley’s experience is not exactly out of keeping with other anecdotes or the incentives of socialized medicine:

A Canadian man suffering from an incurable disease claims that despite asking for home care, the medical team at an Ontario hospital would offer him only medically assisted suicide.

Roger Foley, a 42-year-old from Ontario, has cerebellar ataxia, a rare disorder that limits his neurological abilities, restricting mobility in his arms, legs, as well as the performance of other daily tasks.

Dissatisfied with being bedridden in a hospital for two years, Foley asked for another option, and according to some recordings that he has released, people in the hospital system offered him an exit to the graveyard.

We don’t know whether these conversations were just two out of many, the rest of which were much more life-affirming, but without the home-care solution that Foley wanted.  We also don’t know what explanations were given for denial of that service.

Still, when government takes over the health care for an entire society, relationships and the standing of patients change.  We cease to be customers and become costs.  Even in a system in which government provides health care for just a segment of the population — the poor, the elderly, veterans — the patients are still customers, but with somebody else paying.

It is mystifying that so many people assume benevolence and competence within a system that is able to take its resources by force of law.  When such a system hits the ceiling for what taxpayers and central planners are willing to pay, it still has massive power over the recipients of its services, even if that power consists mainly of offering a choice between staring at a hospital ceiling and death.

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Dickinson Gets Attention, but Offers Little

By way of a follow-up to yesterday’s post about Spencer Dickinson’s play for some press coverage, I note that the Providence Journal did send a reporter outside its door to cover his press conference.  However, I can’t say the reported substance of his presentation is very encouraging:

“The topic is this: National rankings by respected financial publications. They’re bad. And year after year, they don’t get better. They probably discourage some good businesses from coming here. What would you do about it?

“We need a program to deal with it,” Dickinson said.

If Rhode Island wants better grades in the rankings, he said, someone needs to go consult the professors and figure out how to improve performance.

The thing is, Rhode Island politicians have already tried analyzing the the rankings, when the state Senate investigated “moving the needle,” and it didn’t fix anything.  Elected officials attempted to game the rankings, rather than unleash the economy, and they tweaked some tax rates while increasing overall taxation.

We don’t “need a program.”  We need a statement of principle and the willingness to pursue it, and that statement of principle needs to be that government should get out of the way.  Dickinson’s campaign Web site doesn’t provide any additional details about how he proposes to move the economic needle, but based on the issues that he does emphasize, his approach would be entirely wrong, amounting to more government in the way.

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Acknowledging the Beacon Our Ship of State Should Follow

My op-ed in the Providence Journal is ruffling some feathers around the state:

No one who seeks to captain our state’s ship seems capable or courageous enough to speak out about the destructive and unjust principles of the progressive agenda. Socialism inevitably leads to economic depression. And the confiscation of private property from some — in order for politicians to give it to their supporters — is inherently immoral. Openly violating one’s private space or property rights cannot possibly be the direction most Rhode Islanders want our government to steer towards.

Ironically, the way to avoid shipwreck is shining like a beacon in the night. Recent federal policies to reduce tax, trade and regulatory burdens, and to increase energy production, have led dramatically to prosperity. The second-quarter national gross domestic product increase of 4.1 percent is the latest in an impressive string of positive indicators, including historic lows in unemployment rates across many demographics, rising personal incomes, the return of manufacturing jobs once considered extinct, increasing labor participation rates and declining food stamps rolls.

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Fluke or Tip of the Iceberg of Teachers’ Political Bias?

Here’s one of those stories, this time by Ilya Feokitstov on The Federalist, that makes one wonder whether it just so happened that an email coming to public light expressed outrageous ideas or that scratching the surface of the institution would reveal the same thing all over the place:

Shortly after President Trump’s inauguration, a group of public school history teachers in the posh Boston suburb of Newton pledged to reject the “call for objectivity” in the classroom, bully conservative students for their beliefs, and serve as “liberal propagandist[s]” for the cause of social justice.

This informal pact was made in an exchange of emails among history teachers at Newton North High School, part of a very rich but academically mediocre public school district with an annual budget of $200 million, a median home price of almost half a million, and a median household income of more than $120,000. Read the entire email exchange here.

I obtained the emails under a Massachusetts public records law after one of those teachers arranged, earlier this year, for an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel organization to show Palestinian propaganda films at Newton North.

Actually, one doesn’t wonder much whether these emails are relegated to the fringe or representative.  The proof is in the product, and the teachers’ perspectives are entirely in line with the philosophy that governs American pedagogy these days.  Further evidence can be found in those attributes of the most recent generations of graduates about which we hear so many complaints.

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Ending Another Union Money Transfer

The characterization is perhaps too tidy, but many policy decisions in Rhode Island can be explained under the premise that politicians are striving to funnel money to labor unions in an effort of mutual assistance.  The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity offers an example in its public comment in support of a proposed Trump administration rule removing the ability of states to send federally backed provider payments to third parties:

It is also morally unjust that federal dollars, earmarked for home care services, could have dues automatically siphoned-off by state government unions from workers’ paychecks, then transferred to the unions, with some of the funds ending-up in the political campaign coffers of SEIU. If the proposed rule is enacted, it would be just and proper that 100% of the allocated federal funding for home care services should first go to the workers; and it would then be up to the unions to collect dues – on their own – from those who freely choose to join.Earlier this summer, after a major push by SEIU and other progressive activists, legislation that had been on the back burner was rammed through Rhode Island’s General Assembly and signed by the Governor. This new law could transfer control of the home care services industry from the private sector to the government and its union allies. This proposed rule, by removing the government as its potential partner, would create less of an incentive for SEIU to attempt to unionize this industry.

At the same time, the burden on state taxpayers would rise, as the government would surely provide frivolous and unnecessary benefits to allow unions to offer a more compelling reason to unionize.

The new law in Rhode Island seeks to lure home care workers, most of whom are now employed under a successfully operating private ‘agency’ system, to register with the government, becoming quasi-public employees, with their names and other personal information then to be turned over to SEIU labor bosses for the purposes of unionization efforts.

Policymakers in Rhode Island strove to make this look like some sort of system innovation to provide better services, but it’s just an opening for labor unions to collect a cut of federal money.

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The Value of Restrictive Welfare

I agree with much of what Paul Winfree writes in the Washington Times related to Ontario’s abandoned experiment with a universal basic income, but he misses something essential:

There are some benefits to a basic income, especially when used to replace the current welfare system. For instance, a UBI leaves recipients free to decide how to spend their benefits. Many existing welfare programs use incentives, “nudges,” and other requirements to micromanage how the poor use their benefits. The assumption is that poor people lack certain virtues or fall victim to vices to which the rest of us are immune, and the expert managers of the welfare system know better.

I’m with the economist Lionel Robbins, who called this assumption, as applied to political calculations, “morally revolting.”

What Winfree misses is the value of restrictions on welfare to the recipients.   Sure, from an economic standpoint, leaving recipients free to use the cash however they want is more efficient for the economy, including the household economy of the recipient.  However, that efficiency reduces the disincentive to rely on the government, increasing the short-term value of welfare payments versus earned income.

If I tell you I’ll give you $100 for spending the day shoveling sewage in August, you might do it if you really need the money.  But if I also give you the option of doing nothing and collecting $50, you’ll evaluate the choice based on whether an extra $50 is worth the toil.

From the community’s point of view, the weighting is the opposite.  If we have $50 just lying around doing nothing for the economy, giving it to you may have some minor benefits by putting it in circulation.  But if you’re working, the community gets not only productive labor, but also the value of you becoming independent and better adapted to the economy.

Placing restrictions on the money we give you increases its value to the community while decreasing its value to you in a way that is relatively beneficial for the community.  This would be true even if the restrictions were entirely arbitrary, but if we manage to stumble into a worthy moral principle, it’s even more so.

Unfortunately, in our public debate, economists often lose sight of less-tangible values, while advocates ignore economics.

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Dickinson Tries to Get the Projo’s Attention

A continual question for people who need to raise public awareness of their activities is whether what they’re doing is too insignificant to attract media attention or the media’s lack of attention makes their activities insignificant.  When my blogging first started to land me invitations to cover events, a Rhode Island media personality commented to me that if nobody covers it, it’s as if the event didn’t happen.

That principle has a limit.  If the media doesn’t cover events that actually are significant for a large number of people, entire undercurrents can weave through society and shoot up like geysers through the mainstream ignorance.  On the other hand, a geyser is easier to achieve if the media is digging.

Spencer Dickinson, a challenger to Governor Gina Raimondo in her Democrat primary, is trying to spur that sort of digging after a front-page Providence Journal story about business rankings over the weekend quoted only the other two candidates from his party.  From his press release:

Dickinson, who has a reputation as an innovative problem-solver, having designed and built the first solar panel and the first solar house in Rhode Island, will do more than comment on the national business rankings. He will present a brief framework of new approaches to economic development in response to Rhode Island’s national business rankings.

To make covering the full story easier for the Providence Journal reporters, the press conference will be held in front of the Journal offices at 75 Fountain Street in Providence.

A cynic might wonder whether the Providence Journal is trying to play the king-maker game, keeping Rhode Island’s First Female Governor™ in her aura of inevitability while leveraging Matt Brown to pull her to the Left.  It might be more fair, though, to observe that the Projo featured the two leading candidates from each party plus the only independent candidate who has any traction whatsoever.

Media attention and buzz feed into each other, so what will be most important for Dickinson is to find a way to leverage any coverage he can for greater gains in the public.  Trillo and Brown have buzz almost entirely because they might draw on newly prominent constituencies to disrupt their parties’ front runners, and Morgan has been campaigning strongly and prominently.  Dickinson and the rest of the Unquoteds need to build their undercurrents.

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The Demagogue Cycle of Energy

This Providence Journal editorial makes an important point:

Some politicians have been critical of National Grid for a proposed 19 percent increase in the electric bill for the typical residential user starting Oct. 1. It’s a frightening number, to be sure. The irony is, politicians have a greater influence over that number than the energy distribution company.

The proposed 19 percent — painful to Rhode Islanders and their economy, if approved by the state — is not a profit center for National Grid. It is the pass-through cost of energy. It gains the company nothing other than angry customers.

Of course, the utility doesn’t have to worry but so much about angering customers, given that it is a monopolistic utility.  But the key point is spot on:  Every year, politicians layer on new regulations that make energy more expensive and cave to activists who wish to prevent the development of any traditional energy sources.  As they drive up the price, it is that much easier to whip up anger at the messenger.

If one is inclined to ponder cui bono, this is an excellent topic.  And as the editorial notes, if one is inclined to ponder who doesn’t benefit, the answer is all of us.

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A Loss with the Deterioration of the Humanities

I’m not just puffing up my own degree when I say that I found my study of literature to be much more broadly relevant training than mere communication and empathy.

Done correctly, literary analysis can be practice for understanding the universe: Given a limited amount of information, one must determine the appropriate criteria for understanding the creation and separate evidence from noise, making the case for each step along the way.  Of course, a literary critic must go on to master any technical knowledge required to apply this skill set to some other subject, be it theology, physics, or politics, but a specialist in other subjects must do the same in reverse (and often won’t recognize that need).

I’m therefore sorry, but not surprised, to read Alex Berezow’s report on dramatic declines in study of the humanities:

The humanities are in big trouble. That’s the conclusion drawn by Benjamin Schmidt, an Assistant Professor of History at Northeastern University. He has the data to back it up.

In his analysis, Dr. Schmidt depicts several graphs, all of which show a fairly striking trend: Students are rejecting the humanities. The most striking graph, which includes data for English, Languages, History, and Philosophy, shows that the number of college degrees in these fields awarded as a percentage of all college degrees fell from roughly 7.5% in the 2000s to under 5% today.

Reviewing the included charts, it appears that the only two exceptions are communications and cultural, ethnic, and gender studies.  The first is broad, but with the feel of practicality (especially in a world of information technology driven to manipulate people).  The second is really more the development of an ideology and reinforcement of emotion.

Berezow offers three interrelated explanations, which I’d rephrase as follows:

  1. Our society has a general sense that the humanities are not serious disciplines.
  2. The research coming from the humanities reads like a species of parody.
  3. The humanities have been absorbed almost entirely by a particular proselytizing ideology associated with a single political party.

And so, students who are interested in learning and being tested on knowledge and analysis, rather than affirmed in their beliefs and emotions, are leaving the humanities.  That’s a problem because, even with declining numbers, we’re training vast numbers of young adults to feel emotionally entitled and to manipulate others, even as everybody else has less experience framing their responses in the way I described at the outset of this post.

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Fun-Sized Observations on UHIP and Out-of-State Donations

Rhode Island tourism appears to be having some success with its “fun-sized” series of ads, and the branding idea also provides opportunity for political commentary — as with Mike Riley’s quip about “fun-sized taxes.”

Surprisingly, though, I haven’t yet seen the adjective applied to the Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP).  As has been widely reported, the state government is planning to spend another $156 million on the project, bringing the total up to $648 million:

In a request to the U.S. government for federal money to pay the bulk of finishing the computer system, the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services this week said its new Unified Health Infrastructure Project budget “reflects the necessary personnel and contracted staff to support enterprise-wide efforts to move the system towards compliance and to address mission-critical operational concerns.”

In other words, despite two years of emergency troubleshooting since the biggest piece of the project went live, the technology still isn’t working as designed, and Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration is planning for another year of development work, plus ongoing maintenance and operations.

So what is “fun-sized,” here — the budget or the lines of people that we’ve seen waiting for government services?  One could envision videos for both possibilities:  In one, the camera starts zoomed in on a pile of money and then zooms out to the entire cost for this non-functional software; in the other, it zooms in on a couple of people talking and then zooms out to the entire line of people wasting their day trying to correct problems with payments from the government.

Neither of those videos will be produced, though.  In contrast, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has a big, big campaign budget and is producing lots of targeted videosOut-of-state donations have long donated the governor’s funding stream, with non-Rhode Island donors contributing 66% of the money she raised during the second quarter of this year.

We’ll see if out-of-state interest in our governor is enough to buy her another term despite her presiding over this massive debacle (among others).

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Unions: Doing to Our Hospitals What They Did to Our Schools

One of the advantages of living on the East Bay is our easier access to Massachusetts for things like hospitals.  In a pinch, a while back, my family went to Rhode Island Hospital/Hasbro, and it turned out to be one of the most terrible decisions we’ve ever made, with lifelong consequences.  In the years since, we’ve heard from others with similar stories.

I don’t want to be unfair, though.  It’s all too easy for a bad employee or unfortunate circumstances to create a uniquely bad experience.  Especially in our time of social media, these isolated instances can come together to create a misleading impression.  Some people will swear by Apple versus PC or Verizon versus AT&T and vice versa and so on.  I don’t think this caveat applies to my take on Providence hospitals, but it might.

Let’s just say that the recent public theatrics of the nurses’ labor union in Providence don’t contradict my feelings:

Unionized nurses and other health care professionals at Rhode Island Hospital and Hasbro Children’s Hospital on Thursday voted no confidence in Lifespan’s CEO, Tim Babineau, and Rhode Island Island Hospital’s president, Margaret Van Bree, and called on Lifespan’s board “to take immediate, corrective action to restore the public’s trust in Rhode Island’s only Level One Trauma Hospital.”

Ray Sullivan, a spokesman for United Nurses and Allied Professionals Local 5098, which represents 2,400 nurses, technologists, therapists and health professionals at the two hospitals, said members also authorized union leaders to issue a 10-day strike notice if negotiations break down.

Obviously, I can’t speak for “the public,” but my lack of trust in this system has to do with people who work (or worked) there, not the management… except to the extent that management is to blame for the employees.  The union organizers from United Nurses and Allied Professionals Local 5098 definitely are to blame for enabling employees who’ve made devastating mistakes.

The unions are doing for our hospitals what they’ve done for the public school system.  That Bishop Hendricken alum Ray Sullivan is the union lead for the nurses as well as an organizer with the National Education Association of Rhode Island only drives home the point.  Among the incidents that made labor unions so distasteful to me was a plan by Tiverton teachers to picket a hospital where a school committee member worked.  Picketing a hospital — where people are suffering, grieving, and panicking — is no more acceptable when the union represents its workers than when it doesn’t.

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Blue Cross Executive Compensation and Social Lunacy

For some reason, WPRI’s Ted Nesi tacked a political ad for far-left progressive Democrat Aaron Regunberg to the end of an article about a massive parting gift from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island to its departing CEO:

Aaron Regunberg, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, quickly criticized Blue Cross over the pay packages, and argued it shows the state needs to move to a single-payer health system.

“Every day I meet Rhode Islanders who are struggling to pay outrageous health care bills,” he said. “It feels like each year, insurance costs more and covers less. So why is Blue Cross seeking 10% rate hikes while handing their top executives immoral payouts of millions of dollars?”

It’s always strange for a news article to end with a question, which is more appropriate to commentary pieces, so let’s take a stab at an answer:  Blue Cross is seeking 10% rate hikes while handing its top executives payouts of millions of dollars because it can.  Thanks to government regulations, consumers’ options for health insurance are very limited, meaning that competitors can’t take advantage of indulgences like massive payouts to executives, and thanks to ObamaCare, the product that this limited number of providers are selling is mandatory for all Americans.

I realize that Regunberg was in high school in a distant state when Blue Cross was among the leading lights of Rhode Island corruption a decade ago.  Still, it shouldn’t take direct experience for him to understand that creating monopolies and intimate relationships between major corporations and government can lead to corruption.

That the story of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island’s corporate pay structure could be turned into a pitch for a single-payer health system shows how far into lunacy our public discourse has drifted.  Consolidating power helps the powerful, who will quickly find that they have more incentive to work together than to enthusiastically fulfill their roles as representatives for battling factions.

Rhode Island has built this truism into the organizing principle of our entire government.  One suspects that Regunberg is not ignorant of this reality but, rather, is looking for his path to the narrow end of its funnel.

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The Best Worker Leverage Is a Strong Economy

And here comes the news that workers’ pay is on the rise; from the Wall Street Journal:

U.S. workers received their biggest pay increases in nearly a decade over the 12 months through June, a sign the strong labor market is boosting wages as employers compete for scarcer workers.

The Labor Department’s employment-cost index rose 2.8% in the year to June compared, the government said Tuesday. Wages and salaries, which account for about 70% of all employment costs, also rose 2.8% from a year earlier, the strongest gain for both measures since September 2008.

Since the end of the most recent recession, U.S. unemployment has fallen to 4% in June from nearly 10% nine years earlier. Wage growth, stubbornly sluggish for years following the 2007-2009 downturn, has picked up as the labor market has tightened and employers have raised pay to attract and retain workers.

The government can increase minimum wages and spend taxpayer dollars on training programs and the like, but such strategies don’t address underlying causes, so they have consequences.  Job training makes more workers qualified for better jobs, but even if the training is in perfect alignment with the needs of employers, it just gives employers more options, which will suppress wages.  Minimum wages stand between employers and employees who are willing to agree to a lower wage and suppresses jobs.

A strong economy, with a free market allowing plenty of room for exploration, gives employees leverage.  The employer’s incentive to hire comes from the ability to make a profit, so employees can negotiate for more of the rewards of responding to that incentive.

This lesson applies even in less-robust times, in that the economy is almost always strong in some sector.  If prices (including wages) are permitted to work, the strong sectors will draw workers to them, increasing workers’ leverage in every sector and increasing the wealth of the overall society.

Why do we find this so difficult to understand?

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