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How Accountability Works in Government

Former WPRI employee Stephanie Chalfant describes the accountability faced by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency who inadvertently put an entire city into panic by hitting the “incoming missile” button rather than the “this is a test button”… twice:

The employee who hit the button has since been reassigned, according to state officials.

“I’m sure he feels horrible,” Chalfant added. “I can’t even imagine being in this person’s shoes who had done this. He must feel awful.”

Well, as long as he feels bad, then the public can rest assured that these sorts of mistakes — with the very real potential to put people in harm’s way — will not happen again.  (That’s sarcasm, by the way.)

In the private sector, the consequences to an ordinary employee — somebody who isn’t connected or mission critical — would almost certainly be much more substantial, not the least because the entire company could go out of business.

Once again, the impression is that they (government workers) don’t work for us.  We’re just lucky that they deign to provide us services.


Can the Right Push Back?


If the Process Is Open, Why Are They on a Side?


Real Diversity Needed on Licensing Boards

According to Heidi Hall, of Vanderbilt University, states are facing increased risk of lawsuits following a Supreme Court case, North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission:

Allensworth compiled a list of 1,790 state boards. Eighty-five percent of the boards have rules that result in most of the board members selected to serve being active in the same profession the board regulates.

“The dark side of occupational licensing – its tendency to raise prices to consumers with dubious effects on service quality, its enormous payout to licensees and its ability to shut many willing workers out of the workforce – has begun to receive significant attention,” Allensworth said.

Basically, if licensing boards consist overwhelmingly of members from within the profession, they’ll be subject to lawsuit based on their self-interest in controlling the flow of competition.  In the case of the North Carolina dentists, six of the eight members were required to be dentists, themselves.  Rhode Island’s Board of Barbering and Hairdressing, for another example, requires six of the seven members to be barbers or hairdressers.  That leaves only one vote on the board with no immediate financial interest and, therefore, no incentive to make the rules challenging for potential competition.


Licensing as Legalized Racketeering

Writing in the American Spectator, Jon Cassidy likens government’s occupational licensing regimes to racketeering:

Racketeering is a multifarious concept, but when the word was coined in 1927 by the Employers Association of Chicago, it referred specifically to tradesmen who had banded together to artificially drive up the cost of their services. The employers group wanted the authorities to crack down on crooked laundry and building trades, among others, but in the long run, the trades won by subverting and perverting the power of the government. It’s easy enough to picture the old noir films with cops on the take, doing the mob’s bidding, but this corruption was of a less glamorous, more insidious sort.

That lead-up reminds me of my response when people attempt to quantify government corruption in order to claim that Rhode Island isn’t that much of an outlier.  The problem is that we’ve essentially made corruption legal, and with deteriorated social norms around inside dealing, the word “corruption” is useless if it must involve something illegal.


The Government Plantation Dragging Down California

Trying to understand why wealthy California would have the highest Supplemental Poverty Measure, which includes cost of living, Kerry Jackson describes what I’ve been calling the “government plantation“:

Self-interest in the social-services community may be at fault. As economist William A. Niskanen explained back in 1971, public agencies seek to maximize their budgets, through which they acquire increased power, status, comfort and security. To keep growing its budget, and hence its power, a welfare bureaucracy has an incentive to expand its “customer” base. With 883,000 full-time-equivalent state and local employees in 2014, California has an enormous bureaucracy. Many work in social services, and many would lose their jobs if the typical welfare client were to move off the welfare rolls.

The change, since 1971, is that this tendency of social welfare bureaucracies has metastasized to the entire government.  The leverage isn’t just one agency as opposed to others, but government itself, as a sector in society.  Whether elected or appointed, government officials’ incentive is to create new services to provide and to increase the number of people receiving them.  This expands their base of support while ratcheting up the amount of money they can extract from others.

The well-advertised benefits available attract people interested in collecting them, even as the increased costs and restrictions on private-sector life drive away the people whose work is supposed to grow the economy that pays for it all.  California started from an enviable position, which put in place some massive wealth centers, but even so, a growing tumor will eventually kill even the healthiest animal.


Politically Correct Anti-Tobacco Regs: How Many People Might Die Because They Were Denied a Less Harmful Choice?

Better something that is less harmful than more harmful. But to some, innovative new products that reduce health risks – should be banned. In the tobacco and nicotine industry, the politically-correct anti-tobacco movement is advocating for the suppression of individual rights and elimination of less harmful choices, via restrictions and outright bans on products that could improve public health.


Corporate Decisions in Two Different Worlds


Pluses and a Minus to Interstate Licensure Compact

My first reaction to this information in a Wall Street Journal editorial is that Rhode Island should rush to get on board:

This week South Dakota will introduce legislation to establish a Compact for the Temporary Licensure of Professionals—a multistate agreement that would change the presumption of occupational licensing from a roadblock to an open door. The compact would allow individuals who have been licensed in any profession or occupation in other participating states to receive, upon request within 30 days, an in-state temporary license. That would allow professionals from compacting states to start working immediately.

In fact, I’d go one step farther:  If the rationale for occupational licensing is to ensure the safety of consumers, there’s no reason state government couldn’t review the requirements of other states and simply affirm that their requirements are adequate.  Then Rhode Island could simply accept out-of-state licenses as a matter of course.  We want it to be as easy as possible for people to work, for their own sake and for the sake of consumers.

The downside of the compact idea — particularly with states that actually have jobs on offer — is that it will make it easier for Rhode Island’s professionals to leave.  The key to an open door policy is giving people reasons to come into your space.  That’s the area in which Rhode Island needs the most work.


The Left’s Vision Versus the Right’s Philosophy

This argument, from a Des Moines Register editorial betrays an intellectual tic one catches from time to time among those who tend to support the growth of government:

Cutting taxes and reducing the size of government is not a vision for the future. It is a philosophy, and one that has devastated other Republican-controlled states like Kansas and Louisiana. Instead of economic growth, those states realized canceled college graduations, abused children sleeping in government offices, depleted trust funds and abrupt tax increases to rescue the state from total fiscal disaster.

Interestingly, one doesn’t get the sense that the editorial writers are dogmatically in support of bigger, more-expansive government for its own sake.  Although they complain that state government in Iowa is giving up too much potential revenue, they also want to reform occupational licensing, for example.

But the implications of the quotation above are telling, and it brings to mind a dispute I’ve had in Tiverton.  Those on the Left will ask for “the vision” of those on the Right, but they won’t accept as visionary a community that isn’t guided by a central plan.  Vision, to them, implicitly means describing what you want your town or state to look like in the future and therefore excludes a preference for an undesigned future in which neighborhoods develop according to the unique interests and personalities of the people who live in them.

That goes hand in hand with progressives’ favored presumption that growing government is just a practical conclusion from the facts.  The editorial writers proclaim a “vision,” which leaves only practical discussions about how to achieve the desired future (somebody’s desired future, anyway).  In that view, philosophy is only important insofar as it might inform acceptable routes; it never supersedes vision by declaring some future beyond the legitimate scope of the visionaries.

But if one’s philosophy is that it is inappropriate to impose a vision, well, then, that’s just adherence to irrational abstractions, proving that one can’t possibly care about goodness and justice in the world.  In this distinction, one can see how the seeds of totalitarianism are present in even moderate expressions of a left-wing philosophy.


Regunberg’s Drug Innovation Disincentive Act

Barely out of the gate in the new legislative session, progressive Democrat Representative Aaron Regunberg of Providence is proving exactly how dangerous he is to the health and well-being of Rhode Islanders:

The bill (2018-H 7042), which Representative Regunberg introduced Jan. 3, would establish a board of pharmacy to examine how prescription drug manufactures set the price for certain prescriptions, and give it the authority to set a maximum allowable price to protect the Rhode Island consumers.

The price-fixing scheme would give nine unelected board members, most of them pharmacists with a financial interest in the industry, deep access to the private information of drug companies and the power to set prices for drugs — particularly those that are among the most innovative and life changing — below the level that companies believe necessary to make it worthwhile to develop more.

There is no reason to expect pharmacists to understand every aspect of drugs’ production and sale generally, let alone the internal operations of a particular company.  If companies are forced to justify pricing decisions to Rhode Island’s socialist-nine board members and beg their indulgence, the potential for corruption is immense.  If the members are cycled out every three-year term, then they’ll lack a long-term perspective, but if they’re kept on the board for much longer, they’ll become less accountable.

The minimum price for a drug in the state will always be zero… in the sense of being unavailable.

Given the critical nature of its products, our health care market does need controls against price gouging, but we should go the route of reform and competition, not the philosophy that has brought Venezuelans into the gutter.  Reform patent laws, giving generic drug manufacturers more opportunity.  Take the thumb off of insurance companies so they’ll have more leverage against drug companies.  Take the restrictions off of health care providers and consumers so they’ll have leverage to shop around for drugs, insurers, and types of treatments.

Above all, Regunberg’s bill illustrates how close we are to the end game of government control, and that’s an extremely unhealthy place to be.