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The Practical Distance Between America and Venezuela

A post on by Daniel Greenfield got me to thinking why the United States couldn’t suffer a similar fate to Venezuela’s:

After the fun of electronics stores forced to discount televisions at gunpoint, there were no more televisions. And no more cars. Then no more toilet paper, milk and other basic necessities.

The Socialist government tried to solve its money problem by printing more money. But it wasn’t able to pay for the money it wanted to print because of the inflation which officially did not exist.

Greenfield goes on to note that some American politicians propound policies of a similar mindset, making one wonder whether there’s something in the American character that will eventually stop the process or it’s just a matter of luck and the erosion of principle.

The first argument of distinction between our country and the one that Hugo Chavez ruined is that we’re wealthier, and in a broader way. But that just means we have farther to fall, which could mean more time or it could only necessitate a bigger mess up… say a decade of quantitative easing and massive federal debt combined with a regulatory state that makes it more difficult for people to work off the extra burdens and a welfare state that promises to buy them off if dependence on government is an option they’re willing to entertain.

A second argument, related to the fact that we have more wealth and room to fall, is that we have a culture of self-reliance and rebelliousness. Well, we’re arguably engaged in an experiment to discover how few generations it takes to get out of the habit of self-reliance. And as for rebelliousness, that’s well and good to talk about and believe in, but the proof is in the doing.

Ultimately, if it can’t happen here, we better get to proving it soon.

 

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Who Paid Whom for Notable Activity in RI?

A headline that just hit the Providence Journal Web site may (unwittingly) capture with perfection the progressive, Brookings, CommerceRI, Gina Raimondo approach to economic development:

Makers of “The Polka King” paid $3,000 to use R.I. State House

You have to read the article to find out who paid whom, because while one would expect a for-profit enterprise to pay for the use of some public resource, under the progressive, Brookings, CommerceRI, Gina Raimondo approach to economic development, the public very often pays for-profit enterprises to do something that makes it look like the government is actually fostering a healthy economy.

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Jobs in RI: Even a Drip Will Eventually Fill the Sink

Another jobs report, another opportunity to brace yourself for government spin.  I’ll put up my regular employment post tomorrow and a new Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) post on RIFreedom on Monday, but with tweets like this those from Patrick Anderson and Ted Nesi, a separate point is worth making.  Here’s Nesi’s tweet:

RI payrolls are now above 490,000 for the first time since 2007, per DLT. Unemployment rate steady at 5.5%.

For the record, payrolls were over 490,000 in March, which may seem like being nitpickety, but not if anybody’s making a point worth making.  If the idea that crossing 490,000 is some kind of milestone, then we should admit that it’s taken a long, long time to get there.  And to pre-address spin that we might see from Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s office, she deserves almost no credit… maybe the opposite of credit.  Growth has slowed.

Jobs based in Rhode Island hit bottom in July 2009, at 455,900.  The seven years to this July’s 490,900 puts the compound annual growth rate (CAGR; the average annual increase) at 1.06%.  That’s not anything to write home about.

Making matters worse, if we look at just the year for which our current governor might credit her policies, the growth rate appears to be slowing.  It was 1.03% from July 2015 to last month.

So, yes, any growth at all will eventually hit any particular height.  We should remember, too, that 490,000 is arbitrary.  If we should pick the peak number of jobs that Rhode Island had in December 2006, 495,700, we still have a year or so to go.  It’s a good thing we’re not overdue for another recession.

Oh, wait…

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A Culture Of Silence In The Ocean State

In America, we must all remain free to voice our opinions without fear of state-sponsored persecution. It is reprehensible for any political elitists to collude to prosecute those who disagree with them on policy. For this reason, the Center is assisting a national nonprofit organization in a lawsuit demanding that the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General release documents they have refused to make public. We believe that General Kilmartin, and his fellow enemies of debate, are seeking to maintain a cloak of invisibility over the national AG group’s attempt to crush dissent by those who disagree with their radical climate change agenda.

In June, the Center published an energy report that demonstrated how oppressive state renewable energy mandates, as part of the national climate change agenda, will cost taxpayers and ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars. These mandates will cause job losses in the thousands, and artificially raise local electricity rates. It is research and advocacy such as this that Kilmartin and his AG group are seeking to muzzle and potentially prosecute as criminal. No matter where you stand in the climate change debate, citizens must have the right to speak freely.

This culture of silence in the Ocean State is chilling. Why do so many elected officials and prominent people want you to be quiet? The rigged system protects the corrupt insiders. As we saw in the recent 38 Studios political whitewash, the machine will do what it takes to keep you from knowing the truth. Rhode Islanders want a government that works for everyone not just the chosen few. Things do not have to be this way in our state. We can have an open state government that serves the real needs of our families, and protects our freedom to achieve our dreams.

Elected officials saying things are getting better in Rhode Island is not enough, they must take action. We need action. Unless the Ocean State adopts the proven free market reforms that can transform our state, we will continue to see the negative trends continue. You can change the status quo. You must not allow anyone to silence you. By speaking out on the issues that affect your family, you can make a powerful statement to the insiders that you have had enough. Now is the time to be bold, and have our public policy culture make a complete turnaround.

[Mike Stenhouse is the CEO of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity.]

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Bike Paths, Lights, Sustainability – RhodeWorks Tolls Turn into Huge Bait-And-Switch

Am I going crazy? (Don’t answer that!) Didn’t Governor Gina Raimondo sell us on her unnecessary and highly destructive RhodeWorks toll plan by saying that the money would go to repair our very unsafe (oh so unsafe; most unsafe in this quadrant of the galaxy) bridges? But look at this RhodeWorks Quarterly Report!

Bike paths, lights, guardrails, road re-paving, something called “I-95 Sustainability” – RhodeWorks is being spent on all kinds of projects, not just bridge repair. Remarkably, there is even a RIDOT sign that CONFIRMS money from the RhodeWorks/Toll Project is being spent on a bike path!

What the heck??? Tolls were supposed to go to our unsafe bridges! Where did all of these other projects come from?

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ME vs. RI: A State Works by Making Work Work

In The Daily Signal, Rachel Sheffield highlights some states that have taken the lead in reconnecting welfare programs (notably SNAP, or “food stamps”), with the inclusion of New England’s own Maine:

The decline in food stamp rolls between March and April of this year follows the re-establishment of work requirements in a number of states. On Jan. 1, 22 states had to reinstate the federal work requirement for areas of the state or the entire state because their waivers expired.

Some states did not wait until their waiver to end, however. Instead, they took a proactive approach to ensure that able-bodied adults were encouraged toward work.

Maine, one of the most proactive states in reinstating work requirements for food stamps, saw its caseload of able-bodied adults without dependents decrease by 80 percent within just a few months after re-establishing the work requirement.

Readers who’ve paid attention to the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) won’t find Maine’s inclusion surprising.  From 2012 to the latest report, Maine has climbed from 32nd in the country on the index (for which SNAP enrollment is one of 13 indicators), and second-to-last in New England, to 17th in the country, which is second best in New England.  Overall, Maine’s SNAP enrollment dropped 24% over that period (60,441 people), compared with a 5% (8,592 people) reduction in Rhode Island.

Starting with the year of Maine’s SNAP policy change (2014), Mainers have benefited from a 16% reduction in state and local taxes, while Rhode Islanders have endured a 10% increase, according to U.S. Census data.

These differences are starting to make a real difference to the people of the respective states.  Per the underlying data for JOI, the first six months of this year have brought Maine a nine-times-larger increase in employment, compared with Rhode Island, while jobs in the state have increased there, while decreasing here.  Personal income in Maine is up 2.36%, compared with only 1.85% in Rhode Island.

Whether these comparisons — like comparisons with states that have implemented right-to-work policies — will show an expanding disparity between a state that is making positive, small-government, free-market reforms and one that is not, those of us who live in Rhode Island should begin demanding that we no longer be the control group for these tests of economic policy.

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Perspective on Advanced Industry Growth

The Providence Journal headline proclaims the positive news that “R.I. ranks high in advanced industries job growth,” and it’s only a matter of time before Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo declares that her failing, big-spending, government-picks-the-winners strategy for moving the state’s economy “faux-wood” is working.  Even granting the entirety of the Brookings Institution’s methodology and the importance of these so-called “advanced industries,”some perspective on Rhode Island’s results is important.

The key is that this ranking is for growth, not relative size:

When comparing states, the researchers found Rhode Island ranked 17th in the nation for its rate of job growth in its advanced industries — better than all other New England states and the national rate of 2.46 percent. The Ocean State’s annual average growth rate for 2013-2015 was 2.7 percent, on a compounded basis, up from 0.7 percent for 2010-2013, based on Brookings’ analysis of Moody’s Analytics data.

To be precise, based on Brookings’s numbers, Rhode Islands compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over the two years (using 2013 as the baseline) was 2.70%, which is all of 0.24 percentage points above the national average.  One factor that has to be considered is that Rhode Island’s baseline was relatively low, with 38,008 such jobs in 2013.  Massachusetts, for comparison, had 386,837 (or 10 times) more.

Thus, Massachusetts added 18,560 and came in below the national average percentage increase, at 2.4%, while Rhode Island’s 2,083 is cast as a “high” rate of growth.  Just 190 fewer jobs (1,893 total), and Rhode Island would have been at the national average.

That brings up the fact that Rhode Island lags the average in the percentage of these jobs in its economy.  Brookings says 8.1% of all RI jobs count in this category, which is 27th in the nation.  Massachusetts’s share is 11.5%, or 4th in the nation.

So, while increasing numbers of jobs in any area (particularly one with relatively high pay) is a good thing, proper context is important.  The Projo’s positive story requires us to talk about the growth rate of a narrow collection of jobs determined by an organization with which the state has been working as a consultant, and the absolute size of the good news amounted to fewer than 100 jobs per year for two years — low enough that massive amounts of new government spending to subsidize specially targeted industries (that Brookings recommended) could have had an overly significant effect.

Whether that’s unadulterated good news or an example of gaming the system, I leave to readers to decide for themselves.

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The Question of What They Do

As is typically the case, Kevin Williamson’s musings on society and economics are worth a read, although I think he’d have done well to spend a little more time exploring his main theme, which is the question of what “they,” the rich, actually do for their money:

Often, the answer is: They work in finance. The Left, and some of the Right, talks about “financialization of the economy,” or the “FIRE” — finance, insurance, real estate — economy, as though it were somehow necessarily unsavory. (It often is unnecessarily unsavory.) You can kind of see why that might be. I know peanut farmers, and a guy who makes peanut butter, and another guy who sells expensive peanut butter in his chain of grocery stores, but none of them probably makes as good a return on the smushed-peanut trade as does the guy who finances their smooth operations and insures their chunky assets. Money is the one good that’s always in demand (give or take a few hundred trillion Zimbabwe dollars), and so one sort of expects the money business to be pretty lucrative.

What really seems to drive people bats about finance — and what’s behind a great deal of our resentment-driven “inequality” politics — is that same question: “What do they do?” It’s the mysteriousness that vexes people, the sense that there exists in these United States a class apart whose ways and means are alien and incomprehensible.

I don’t know that it’s the mysteriousness per se that raises suspicions, but rather the fact that something mysterious can contain a scam.  If people don’t understand somebody else’s path to riches, it very well may be that the road was paved with unfairness.  The United States has a remarkable level of turnover, whereby families ride up and down the wealth escalators, but there is still a degree to which the system seems rigged such that the economy’s structure ensures more wealth for the wealthy.

My entire life, I’ve heard jokes about somebody’s being the VP of pencil sharpening.  If the answer to “What do you do?” is “I make sure all of the company’s pencils are ready for use,” then a six figure salary seems like a handout.

Unfortunately, the popular misconception is that people in private industry manage the rigging all on their own, without thought to the ability of competition to squeeze those perks of aristocracy out of the system.  If the explanation of a finance job, say, is that the person has a real talent for performing a great deal of research and takes substantial personal risk to ensure that people who invest money actually make a healthy return, then the mystery disappears.

But especially in our post-crisis, post-government-bailout world, that doesn’t feel like the way it works.  Rather, it seems as if the right connections puts privileged people in a position to sip riches from channels created by a corrupt restriction of money’s flow.

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Minimizing Personnel Savings from Expensive Automation

Look, we all know how government works — why it’s so inefficient and never shrinks.  Nonetheless, it’s still sometimes hard to believe when it’s expressed as clearly as this:

The new $364-million system known as the Unified Health Information System (UHIP) is scheduled to launch in mid-September. Dubbed RIBridges, the new software system will replace one that is three decades old. …

“Discussions with the affected unions are ongoing. Out of respect to those potentially impacted employees, we cannot provide any more specific information at this time,” [Department of Administration spokeswoman Brenna] McCabe said. “We will work with the unions to ensure the impact is as minimal as possible, and we are optimistic that a majority of the employees who are impacted will be provided the opportunity to bid into employment, training, and other positions that will directly serve children, families and other Rhode Islanders.”

On its surface (that is, at the level of analysis that progressives prefer), this seems like a matter of compassion.  Employees who’d thought their jobs had all the security that government in Rhode Island provides now face the prospect of being obsolete.  The technology threatens to cast them out into the dreaded private sector, so the unions and bureaucrats are working together to reduce the number of lives that are upended.

At the next level of analysis, one might observe that this is just about money for unions and power for politicians.  Council 94, for example, has a number of healthy salaries to support, as well as a good chunk of money to spend on “political activities and lobbying.”  What’s the point of owning the state government if it’s just going to implement technology that costs you membership dues?

The deeper reason to believe that finding ways to maintain personnel after automating is not compassionate at all comes from basic economics.  If our community is finding previously unneeded work for well-remunerated public employees after having spent hundreds of millions of dollars on technology that makes their prior jobs unnecessary, then somebody, somewhere is being prevented from doing something more valuable for the community because the resources are tied up with the make-work.  Of course, we can’t see those losses right in front of us, so there’s no way of knowing how they would have cycled money back into politicians’ coffers, or even if their activities would have been disruptive to the status quo… and we definitely don’t want that.

Of course, I think this is all talk.  UHIP is designed to rope people into dependence on government.  When it’s fully operational, the increased caseloads will require more personnel, even if the amount of work for each “client” is reduced.

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In Rhode Island, the Government Is Taking Away Our JOI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Putting Americans in the Business of Manipulating Government

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

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

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

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

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

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The Party of Trump, Which I Cannot Support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That Which Is Not Raimondo’s Highest Priority

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

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

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

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

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The Pension Disaster Will Be Addressed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Support for Families More Effective than Government Co-parenting

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

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Whitehurst suggests:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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National Popular Vote and the Company State

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

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

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

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

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

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The Status Quo’s Boasts – And Rhode Islanders’ Complacency?

Rhode Island has the worst business climate in the nation. It ranks 48th on both the Family Prosperity Index of the American Conservative Union and the Jobs and Opportunity Index of our Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity. It has virtually zero population growth, and it has suffered the ignominy of dozens of other near-bottom rankings. Despite all this, our Rhode Island political class appears content not to rock the boat. The question remains why are they satisfied with being in the bottom of the pack?

When we hear boasts that there were no broad-based tax increases in the recently passed state budget, we hear an attitude of complacency that is typical of the political elite, whose main goal is to perpetuate the status quo, as opposed to making the hard decisions that will improve the quality of lives of its residents. The irony, of course, is that our political leaders seem to genuinely believe that they have made major positive reforms. Maybe, relatively speaking, they just don’t understand what major reform looks like.

If Rhode Island’s complacency continues – both by our political class and by voters who re-elect it year after year – we will soon see Rhode Island lose one of its two congressional seats and shamefully slip to last place when it comes to renewing hope and opportunity for our families. Rhode Island needs to dare to disrupt the status quo and boldly evolve itself into a regional outlier so that we can become a magnet – on our own – for businesses, jobs and families.

In this wild and unpredictable year of national politics, the big question is whether or not the tsunami of public discontent will reach our Ocean State shores and compel voters to send a necessary jolt to our political class. Rhode Island politicians will not have the chance to change their act until next year. However, voters can lead the way by acting this year to deliver a clear message at November’s ballot box. I encourage you to continue to speak out against the status quo public policy culture in Rhode Island. Your voice is powerful, and things can change.

[Mike Stenhouse is the CEO of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity.]