Target’s experience with a too-high minimum wage illustrates in clear lines why government policy can’t simply assert economic fantasies as reality.
Are the decisions by the governors of Rhode Island and Massachusetts to halt the sale of vaping products (which will destroy jobs and small businesses) fueled by solid research or inspired by politically-correct activism?
While we recognize that this may be a sensitive topic to some people, there are many pro-liberty arguments that can be made on why these vape bans are wrong. It is deeply concerning that Governor Raimondo used her office to unilaterally ban a class of products.
Perhaps the most clarifying statement in Rhode Island politics, recently, came from one of the candidates now involved with Matt Brown’s Political Cooperative (which, despite the name, is not an alt-country band):
“Thought I may be the epitome of the American dream I cannot sit around and watch while many of my brothers and sisters are denied a shot at that very dream,″ said Jonathan Acosta, tracing his own story from “first generation American born to undocumented migrants from Colombia″ to the Ivy League.
“I believe that we are not free until we have dismantled structural inequality, developed sustainable clean energy, enacted a $15 minimum wage that pays equal pay for equal work, extended healthcare for all, provide[d] affordable housing, ensured quality public education starting at Pre-K, undergone campaign finance reform, criminal justice reform, and implemented sensible gun control,″ said Acosta, running for the Senate seat currently held by Elizabeth Crowley, D-Central Falls.
So, to Mr. Acosta, we’re not free until we’ve taken from some categories of people to give to others, limited people’s energy options to benefit fashionable technologies, forbidden employers and employees from setting a mutually agreeable value on work to be done, taken money from some people in order to pay for others’ health care (as defined by a vote-buying government) and/or put price controls on what providers can charge, placed restrictions on who can live where and what they can build, tightened the regulation of politics with limits on the donations and privacy of those who become politically active, and reduced the rights guaranteed under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.
If that doesn’t match your understanding of “freedom,” you’re not alone. Indeed, by its mission, this “cooperative” is cooperating against anybody whose understanding of freedom differs, because it cannot possibly cooperate with anybody who disagrees. You simply can’t hold a definition of freedom that doesn’t have satisfactory outcomes for the interest groups that progressives have targeted.
No single indicator should be of more importance to lawmakers and civic leaders than whether or not our state is retaining and attracting talented and productive people.
The opportunity for prosperity is a primary factor in the migration of families from state to state. In this regard, our Ocean State is more than just losing the race. Far too many Rhode Islanders are fleeing our state, leaving a swath of empty chairs at our family dinner tables.
Today, children around the world are participating in a Global Climate Strike. I won’t criticize them for this highly misguided activity but rather the adults – including, notably and disturbingly, educators – who have foisted on them a hysteria that is almost entirely free of facts and reasoning. For example, one important data point these children are almost certainly not learning in school or anywhere: the actual extent of the greenhouse gases generated by humans and, thereby, what we can conclude about our (very limited) culpability in global warming.
It is less than 6%. ALL of man’s fossil fueled activity – all factories, all power plants, all manufacturing, all cars, all countries, all 7.5 billion people – contributes less than 6% of greenhouse gases generated on the planet. The balance is generated naturally by Earth itself.
Newport has created an artificial market for alcohol licenses that is probably valued around $35 million, and the city should find a fair way to unwind it.
Let’s stipulate that, as a general proposition, tariffs are bad. Of course, such stipulations don’t provide quick and clean answers to every particular question. As a general proposition, cutting people open is bad, too, as is punching them, but if you’re performing surgery or defending yourself, the general proposition doesn’t apply. Losing your job isn’t great, either, but it doesn’t end your life, and you can adjust and even wind up better off than you were.
None of this is meant to offer support for any specific policy or trade war, but only as an encouragement toward a more comprehensive view. Just so, the CEO of Hasbro is taking tariffs on China as an opportunity:
Hasbro shifting its business out of China has been positive for the company, according to its CEO. «It’s gone very well for us,» Brian Goldner told CNBC on Tuesday.
The toy company has been focused on diversifying its manufacturing operations since 2012 due to «enterprise risk reasons,» he said.
«We’re seeing great opportunities in Vietnam, India and other territories like Mexico. We’re doing even more in the U.S. We brought Play-Doh back to the U.S. last year,» Goldner said on «Squawk on the Street.»
Of course, that one industry giant is happy to adjust to this reality isn’t definitive proof that the tariffs are a net gain. Market leaders often don’t mind restrictions, provided they create roadblocks for smaller competitors, too, because big players can better overcome artificial hurdles.
Moreover, the fact that the cost is artificial means that it is drawing resources away from something else altogether. Writ large, the world is now paying more for toys, and those resources have to come from somewhere.
The question is: Are these costs worth the gains? Such questions will always be subject to opinion, and it’s too early to tell, anyway. Still, it’s worth remembering to ask them.
Sometimes a reader can’t help but feel like a professor watching a student come so close to an epiphany only to talk right past it. One such moment can be found in this paragraph from an essay on UpRise RI by Missak Melkonian, about the JUMP bike gang that roved Providence for a day (emphasis added):
Maybe the youths terrorizing the yuppies have a point. I would be, and hell, I AM pissed that hotels and lofts can go up in the blink of an eye but repairing public schools is tantamount to rewriting the Constitution! If those in power wanted to fix the conditions that create these “issues” amongst the youth, they could do it, but they won’t and never will because their bottom line will always be money and power. I grew up in Providence schools. I didn’t need a report from Johns Hopkins to tell me the schools are awful. Anyone with common sense could tell you that – racist teachers, dilapidated facilities, extremely punitive disciplinary policies, do-gooder white savior NGO’s – not to mention the status of the recreation centers in Providence or the various boys and girls clubs. These all make for a ripe combination of anger, resentment, and antipathy in the youth. It’s hard to care about the well-being of something like a JUMP bike when it’s so evident the world doesn’t give a sh*t about you, or even consider you a human being.
Hmmm… what quality applies to hotels and lofts that does not apply to public school? Ceding a little ideological ground, one could note that the for-profit incentives of the private sector align the drive for “money and power” with the good being sought. Moreover, the need to draw resources through the consensual commerce of customers translates into incentive to treat them as human beings, without bias or unduly “punitive disciplinary policies.”
A failure to spot this lesson will lead to one place only: a tacit desire to squash the productive private sector so that it does not outshine the under-performing public sector, thus increasing the amount of resentment in the world.
My post this morning, about the incentive for those who rely on Minnesota trees to ensure the long-term health of Minnesota forests, came right up to the edge of a much bigger topic. The most-important factor guarding humanity against the tragedy of the commons — wherein individuals use up natural resources because the incentive to preserve never outweighs the incentive to profit for any one person — is that the human beings involved think forward to the future beyond their own personal needs and desires.
As I wrote earlier, we can expect people not to poison their own well, so to speak, by destroying the resources on which they rely, but only within a certain range. If the activity (like cutting down trees) is relatively difficult and the people able or willing to do it are relatively few, it is more likely they’ll collectively recognize their long-term incentives. If something is easy to do and many people are doing it, then it is less likely that they’ll delay immediate profit for longer-term stability, because somebody else can come along and edge in.
Obviously, it also matters how far into the future the players are looking. If people are desperate to have a meal today, they’ll be more careless about the resources. The selfish, childless businessman of progressive fantasy need only preserve the resource to the extent that he can capitalize on it.
This is where the topic expands. A business owner who sees him or her self as building a multi-generational source of income will worry about critical resources indefinitely into the future.
That principle extrapolates beyond businesses, too. People who are thinking about their own children and their children’s children have a living, breathing reason to figure the future into everything they do. That is, making families and children central to personal and cultural meaning has philosophical benefits for the entire society.
This realization points an interesting light at secular progressivism, which is fundamentally anti-family in its philosophy. When progressives find it necessary to appeal to a long-term perspective for their political advocacy, as with the environment, they have to resort either to abstractions (the good of humankind) or to a religious elevation of something else (like the planet) as an object of concern in its own right.
Neither alternative can compete with the incentives that come from love of one’s children.
As part of a series called “Capitalism Is Saving the Planet,” Isaac Orr reviews the forestry industry in Minnesota for the Center of the American Experiment:
Did you know that Minnesota’s forests are flourishing? According to research from the U.S. Forest Service, forests account for 17.7 million acres of land in Minnesota out of a total of 54 million acres, meaning forest cover about 35 percent of the state. Furthermore, this number is increasing due in no small part to the fact that 51 percent of forested land in Minnesota is owned by the timber industry.
From 2012 to 2017, Minnesota’s forested land area increased by 755,000 acres, which equates to an increase of 1.7 percent. During this time, the number of live trees increased by one billion trees, increasing from 14 billion to 15 billion, which is a 7.1 percent increase in the number of trees in our state.
The image of the industrialist Once-ler denuding the world of Truffula trees for his own selfish gain does not appear to apply. The companies are trying to balance their profits with preservation, utilizing new technologies and techniques to be more efficient.
The forestry industry has incentive to preserve the resource on which it depends. So, even if we disregard people’s sense of right and wrong (which we shouldn’t do), self-interest is not divorced from reason. Just so, workers who come into your home have incentive not to steal from you because the long-term benefit of trustworthiness is more valuable than just about anything in your house.
We should recognize, however, that all of this may apply only in a limited range of economic activity. Cutting down and milling trees is a relatively difficult activity, so the barriers to entry are high, the participants relatively few, and the cutting relatively easy to track and regulate (whether through government or industrial practice). In circumstances in which the profits are high and the players many, the tragedy of the commons will be more likely.
In other words, what this case study does most effectively is to remind us of the danger of blanket analyses and categorical thinking. A moralistic children’s story can create a humanoid monster willing to destroy the planet for just a little profit, but we shouldn’t apply him for cookie cutter analysis of every business.
Trying to reduce opioid deaths in construction fields by taking the masculinity out of them could make matters worse, not better.
A new form of government appears to be taking shape in Rhode Island before our very eyes.
Yesterday, I suggested that IGT’s $150,000 donation to the Democratic Governor’s Association (DGA) looks kind of quid-pro-quo-ish, given that the organization’s chairwoman is Gina Raimondo, who was at the time preparing a long-term, no-bid contract for the country in her role as Rhode Island’s governor. WPRI’s Eli Sherman now reports that this instance was actually part of a much more pervasive culture of pay to play:
IGT and Twin River Worldwide Holdings – the state’s leading gambling companies – contributed $150,000 and $100,000 to the DGA through the first half of the year, respectively. The national organization announced Wednesday it raised a record-breaking $19 million during the same period. …
… IRS records show IGT on average has contributed $159,285 each year since 2013, including $175,000 last year and $160,000 in 2017.
For Twin River, the $100,000 it contributed this year marks the first time in at least the last five years the company has given money to the DGA, according to a company spokesperson.
This inevitable mixture of politics and profit is important to keep in mind whenever government gets involved in a line of business, as it is with gambling. The development of a pay-to-play environment becomes absolutely critical to remember when allowing a state to do as Rhode Island has been doing — involving itself deeply in economic development. The more central government is in the economy, the more campaign donations increase in importance and the less relevant business viability or the health of the economy becomes.
Not surprisingly, the state’s analysis of the affordability of its debt finds that Rhode Island is doing OK. Residents should take a broader, less sunny, view.
Right AGAIN! Did you see Speaker Mattiello on GoLocal Prov Live?
We’re glad that he echoed our Center’s long-time call that the Commerce Corp, and the state overall, must diversify its economic development program beyond just corporate handouts.
GoLocalProv recently published an essay of mine laying out the errors of the central-planning approach to economic development and suggesting an alternative:
In [Bryant University Professor of Economics Edinaldo Tebaldi’s] vision, policymakers (like the governor and legislature) advised by experts (like economics professors) stand before the complex machine of our economy and turn dials as they seek the optimum operation. …
An alternative vision would treat Rhode Island’s economy more as a landscape in which valuable fruits cannot grow because opportunistic weeds are draining the substance of the soil and blocking out the sun. The people who live here have roots and should not be forced to tear them out, but government makes it too difficult for them to flourish, so they wither instead. In this view, the Ocean State and its residents already have everything they need to innovate and advance the economy, and anything that’s missing, they can figure out and procure. They just need space and freedom.
Viewed in isolation, Rhode Island’s employment results for June were OK, but trends over time and the national context leave little reason to hope we’re looking at a turnaround.
As has been written in this space before, elected officials and bureaucrats simply aren’t well suited to taking business gambles with taxpayer money. Even putting aside questions of competence (such as: Why would somebody who can reliably and profitably invest millions of dollars not be working for him or herself?), the incentives are wrong. If a government agent makes a bad investment decision, he or she keeps working without losing a penny of income, and moreover, it’s very easy to spin the amount of success.
Along these lines, GoLocalProv reports:
The $1 million to build out Johnson & Johnson’s space at 1 Ship Street in the Jewelry District proved to be wasteful as the company used the space for less than two years.
As the Wexford Innovation Center was being developed it was agreed between Commerce RI and Johnson & Johnson that the company would move from the newly built on Ship Street to Wexford.
Johnson and Johnson was scheduled to take a full floor in Wexford — 25,000 square feet for their 75 employees and for potential future expansion.
But now Johnson & Johnson has slashed their space needs and only leased 40 percent of what they planned — just 10,000 square feet in Wexford.
With the cut back by Johnson & Johnson and Brown University moving just 85 existing jobs, the only new permanent jobs in the $88 million building are Cambridge Innovation Center employees — just 12 new hires in the Wexford complex.
In other words, the state invested tens of millions of dollars to keep labor unions busy building and to give some existing organizations an opportunity to move their offices within Rhode Island. (At least one of those organizations is a tax exempt nonprofit, to boot.) We’ll never know what opportunities our state has missed by not taking the simpler approach of freeing residents from our heavy tax burden and restrictive regulatory regime.
Given the (at best) debatable fruits of the government-centric economic development model, however, there is no principled reason not to give something else a try. Of course, having no principled reason doesn’t mean insiders don’t have self-interested reasons.
A different point of view on unions, electricians, and Utah.
Even state senators should be able to enjoy Rhode Island’s high quality of life, but when they talk about “constituent services,” they should keep in mind who their constituents actually are.
Three items in this week’s Nesi’s Notes point to the conclusion that RI’s top-down economic development approach isn’t working and can’t work here.
Here’s a telling note from Ted Nesi’s Nesi’s Notes on WPRI.com:
The CNBC list drew a lot of attention on social media, including from economic-development expert Bruce Katz, who tweeted: “I find this ranking difficult to understand given large drop in RI unemployment, investments in infrastructure, off-shore wind, innovation vouchers + innovation campuses, attraction of Infosys and other significant companies and many other smart moves.” Turns out Katz had good reason to have Rhode Island on the mind: on Wednesday night I ran into him in Providence, and discovered he was in town to interview with Commerce RI about writing its new economic development study. Katz, of course, helped put together the 2015 Brookings Institution report that provided the blueprint for the Raimondo administration on economic development. Katz has since left Brookings, and now runs a consultancy called New Localism Advisers. The other three contenders are Camoin Associates, TIP Strategies, and The Research Associates. Commerce spokesperson Matt Sheaff says there’s no timeline yet for making a pick.
How perfect is this. A guy who was at the center of RI’s failed economic development strategy is publicly praising the state’s economy four or five years later while also secretly in the running for a big contract from the state government.
The archetypal central planner would no doubt disagree with this assessment, but a skeptical observer might see in the above blockquote a reason to doubt central planning. Even by their own philosophies central planners aren’t demigods who should be expected to get every decision right from the start, which means they have to be able and willing to review their results with a cold, clinical eye. The political incentives and human nature, however, make that practice virtually impossible.
Unless you’ve been getting your news mainly from the governor’s official press release feed, you may have heard that Rhode Island has dropped back down to last place on CNBC’s top states for business:
In the previous 10 years, Rhode Island has been ranked 50th four times, 49th twice and 48th twice. For each of the last two years, the state was ranked 45th.
“Having our rating drop even lower is disappointing but not surprising,” House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “In recent months, I have repeatedly called attention to the fact that our economy is losing ground compared to other states, despite years of major investment to reverse that. Government needs to do a better job of letting new and established companies conduct their business here in a timely manner.” …
Mattiello said Rhode Island needs “fundamental changes in the way state departments and agencies interact with businesses.” He cited the Department of Labor and Training and the Department of Environmental Management and said businesses need “real regulatory relief … not more fines and bigger hassles.”
The most disappointing aspect is that Mattiello’s talk doesn’t match his actions. You just finished a legislative session. That was your opportunity to have an effect.
The subindexes of CNBC’s ranking give some indication of the state government’s flawed approach to economic development, comparing 2019 to 2018. In particular, if you’re trying to kick-start the economy in a top-down way, one of the levers you can control is access to capital, and indeed, Rhode Island improved for this iteration of the ranking, from 43rd to 39th. Nonetheless, the Ocean sank from 28th to 48th when it comes to the economy.
At the end of the article, one of the governor’s many PR flacks (Matt Sheaff, who works for the Commerce secretary) offers a list of carefully chosen economic statistics to suggest the opposite — delusional and sunny — conclusion. Sheaff’s list is suspiciously similar to one that Bryant University Economics Professor Edinaldo Tebaldi offered in a recent essay for GoLocalProv. I’ve got a response forthcoming on that site, so I won’t go into detail, here, but suffice it to say that every point is either fleeting, misleading, or not as significant as it seems.
Our state is languishing and, over the long term, losing ground within the United States, and that needs to change. The sad thing is that Rhode Island really does have so much potential, if it would just throw off the excess baggage that our elected officials continually layer on us.
For too long, the political class has failed the people of our state. At $888 per year for each of Rhode Island’s one million residents, a family of four is paying over $3,500 annually for excessive compensation deals for government workers, while the basic needs of their own families are being ignored by politicians.
With almost two-thirds of these excessive costs being heaped upon municipal taxpayers, our recent Public Union Excesses report further estimates that property taxes could be reduced by 25% if more reasonable, market-based collective bargaining agreements were negotiated.
Obviously, the more subjective the thing an index attempts to measure, the more subject it will be to interpretation, and WalletHub has made a cottage industry of cranking out subjective rankings. That said, the Web site’s “Best States to Live in” ranking from June has some interesting considerations for the Ocean State.
Notably, the Ocean State is supposedly the 29th best state in which to live… which seems OK, considering Rhode Islanders’ expectation to come in at the very bottom of all rankings. OK begins to look not so good, though, when one zooms out on the map. WalletHub claims Massachusetts is #1 and New Hampshire #3. Vermont and Maine are both in the teens, and Connecticut comes in at #20.
Looking at the subcategories, RI’s worst result was in “affordability,” which shouldn’t surprise anybody. The Ocean State was the fourth least affordable state, after New York, California, and New Jersey. But here’s the thing: No New England states are very affordable. Massachusetts, for example, is 43rd and New Hampshire is 42nd.
So what makes the difference? Massachusetts is in the top 5 for everything else: economy, education & health, quality of life, and safety. New Hampshire only misses the top 5 in quality of life. Meanwhile, Rhode Island only breaks the top 20 on the safety subcategory (at #5). The conclusion is that Rhode Island might not be able to avoid being expensive, but that only means it can’t afford to be unattractive by other measures.
Here’s where the subjectivity of the index becomes important. Quality of life includes things that Rhode Island can’t help, like the weather, and things that depend on one’s values and interests. The importance of “miles of trails for bicycling and walking” will vary from person to person.
But quality of life also includes things like the quality of the roads, which is pretty universally valued. Meanwhile, multiple criteria that the index uses center around leisure activities that cost money, which means disposable income is a factor, as is the ease with which businesses can pop up to answer the demand.
MIT’s Living Wage Calculator states that a single Rhode Islander needs to make $12.35 per hour over a 2,080-hour workyear. However, $1.86 of that goes to taxes. For comparison, in New Hampshire, only $1.50 per hour goes to taxes.
This all suggests an unsurprising solution for improving Rhode Island’s standing: lower taxes, use the money that is collected for things that are of more universal value, and decrease regulations. We’d all have more money to spend, we’d feel better about our day-to-day life, and we’d be better able to answer each other’s needs.
In Hong Kong, most people use a contactless smart card called an “Octopus card” to pay for everything from transit, to parking, and even retail purchases. It’s pretty handy: Just wave your tentacular card over the sensor and make your way to the platform.
But no one used their Octopus card to get around Hong Kong during the protests. The risk was that a government could view the central database of Octopus transactions to unmask these democratic ne’er-do-wells. Traveling downtown during the height of the protests? You could get put on a list, even if you just happened to be in the area.
So the savvy subversives turned to cash instead. Normally, the lines for the single-ticket machines that accept cash are populated only by a few confused tourists, while locals whiz through the turnstiles with their fintech wizardry.
How do I reconcile my agreement with the concerns of Reason’s Andrea O’Sullivan, who wrote the above, and my aversion to the Rhode Island government’s ban on cashless retail? Well, I ask myself an important question: Did the General Assembly pass and the governor sign that legislation in order to preserve the rights and anonymity of the people of Rhode Island?
No. By all appearances, somebody complained to a legislator or two about running into difficulty making a purchase at some point. The politicians thought the legislation would buy them some good will from desired constituencies (like young voters), and they don’t give much thought to the rights of business owners to define their own business models. That doesn’t mean that the legislators’ conclusions were wrong or right, but it does suggest that they weren’t crafted carefully in such a way as to balance the interests of various groups and all of our interest in preserving our freedom.
Yes, Hong Kong does give us preview of a dystopian future. Everybody’s accustomed to life without cash, and they’re on the dangerous edge of a communist dictatorship. In evaluating legislation in the Ocean State, we shouldn’t start by imagining how it would play if transported into a dictatorship, but rather by asking whether it brings us closer to being one.
To avoid the dystopia, we need the freedom to innovate. A society in which the government does not feel it has the authority to impose business requirements is one in which people will develop new technologies and value their freedom, competing against large conglomerates that, themselves, would one day be subject to takeover by a central government.
This is actually a pretty common scene at the marijuana store on the Massachusetts border near Tiverton, with a line of traffic back to the highway.
Odd how the notion that freedom requires a right to other people’s work product also requires that everybody consents to the socialist’s view of meaning.
Some months produce mixed results when it comes to Rhode Island’s employment report; May was not one of those months.
As the budget rolls its way through the General Assembly, it’s useful to look for reminders about the political philosophy of our legislators. In that vein, consider the legislation to ban cashless retail:
The General Assembly today passed legislation introduced by Rep. Mia Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln) and Sen. William J. Conley Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket) that would protect the rights of customers to pay for things in cash.
“More and more retailers are shifting to cashless transactions in other parts of the country for various reasons,” said Representative Ackerman. “From a consumer perspective, this could have a negative impact on working class customers, senior citizens and college students who don’t have credit cards.”
The legislation (2019-H 5116A, 2019-S 0889) would make it unlawful for any retail establishment offering goods or services for sale to discriminate against a prospective customer by requiring the use of credit for purchase of goods or services.
Once again, we see legislators — led, in this case, by a real estate title examiner and a lawyer — who presume to set minute policy for every business in Rhode Island. Even if one buys their argument that, all things being equal, it would be more just for businesses to accept cash, imposing that view as a blanket matter across the state makes it that much harder for people to find innovative ways to offer goods and services to each other.
Suppose, for example, there is a particular area prone to robbery. Being able to advertise that there is never any cash on the premises might make the difference between whether a particular business finds it worthwhile to set up shop at all. This problem is easier to understand if you think of a store that sells more-expensive products.
Or think of online sales, which the legislation exempts from the rule. In essence, this bill would make it more difficult for somebody to compete with an online business by providing some person-to-person interaction. That innovator couldn’t set up shop unless he or she is willing to go so far as to create processes for accepting and handling cash, which also includes having change to return to the customer.
One could say not only that this legislation is dumb, but also that it is dangerous and economically destructive to have a legislature that believes it’s even within the appropriate scope of its authority.