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Maine Tourism: Jobs Americans Will Do When Immigrants Aren’t Available

A few days ago, I noted that Maine’s waiters and waitresses had actually organized to fight against a minimum wage increase.  Now Jazz Shaw has spotted a story out of Maine that messes with another mainstream narrative.  Apparently, when the number of available immigrants for low-end work hits a ceiling, employers will find ways to make the positions into jobs that Americans will do:

The article describes some of the “creative ways to attract local labor” and they include things such as offering flexible hours and even… (gasp) higher wages. If your business is booming all summer to the degree that you can’t hire enough workers to meet the demand, then in a normal capitalist system the demand for labor would drive up the cost. Higher wages attract more and better workers… it’s really that simple. And if that enhanced compensation package is attracting more employees locally, why are you relying on the H-2B program to begin with?

The economic questions with immigration are not simplistic.  Fluid immigration is arguably a subsidy to employers; rigid immigration is arguably a subsidy to workers.  (Although, of course, a sense of fairness does seem to make the former argument more natural than the latter.)

As we work through these policies, though, deceptive rhetoric is kind of like a subsidy to those who dominate the media.  Ultimately, there’s no such thing as a “job Americans won’t do.”  There are just jobs that Americans won’t do for the compensation that employers want to pay.  Immigration policy, in this regard, should balance the needs of employers who can add to the economy if they have lower labor prices with an appropriate aversion to allowing global poverty to drive down salaries in the United States.

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Raimondo Ushers in Her Own Nightmare

Alright, it’s Saturday afternoon, and the sun has made an appearance, and I spent the day moving furniture, and I have to spend the evening helping out with a Bingo night, so cut me a little slack, here.  I couldn’t help but chuckle (Chortle?  Guffaw?) at this Ted Nesi tweet:

@GinaRaimondo said after Musk talk she’s less concerned on AI as civilizational threat + more on how many more jobs will soon be automated.

Well, gee, governor, you’d better get right on ushering in minimum wage increases and progressives’ mandatory paid time off legislation!  That’ll hold back the tide of automation for sure!

N.B.: If you didn’t catch the sarcasm in the previous paragraph, watch this:

And that’s before we get to the fact that one of Governor Raimondo’s corporate-crony taxpayer giveaways was to GE Digital, which forces Rhode Islanders to subsidize efforts to automate their jobs.

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Maine Waitstaff Reject Minimum Wage Increase

Caitlin Dewey recently reported in the Washington Post on an interesting turn of events in Maine.  A referendum increased the minimum wage for waitstaff, but then waiters and waitresses rallied to undo it:

James Dill, a college professor and the Democratic state senator from Maine’s 5th District, received hundreds of emails and phone calls from unhappy servers, he said. He initially voted for the ballot referendum because he supports a higher minimum wage. After the outcry, he signed onto a Republican measure to lower the tipped wage down again.

That measure passed the Senate by a vote of 23 to 12 on June 7, and the House on June 13. Governor LePage signed the bill into law last week, a spokesman for his office said, though the signing was not publicly announced for several days. It’s expected to go into effect in January 2018.

“I realize not everyone is in the same boat,” said Dill. “But the ones who called me were saying, ‘I make $20 to $25 per hour, I’ve bought a house with that income, I support my kids — it’s really important that you don’t mess with my tips.’”

Even with a subject as apparently narrow as the minimum wage for tipped restaurant worker, legislators can’t possibly know all of the consequences of changing policy.  Maybe the law works well for some and not for others; who ultimately has the right to decide between them?

The problem, I think, is that people too often rely on general impressions and anecdotes or, at best, broad statistical averages that don’t give a real sense of the lives people lead.  This is one area in which the market sets prices better than the government can, and in which legislators should accept reality and seek other ways to resolve circumstances they see as problems.

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Taxing the Rich Across the Country

Reading an Oklahoma editorial that cites public policy in Maine while I sit here in Rhode Island can’t help but make me wonder how it is we fail to learn with the entire nation — the entire world — as a real-time generator of examples and case studies:

Last year, voters in Maine approved a ballot measure that increased by 3 percentage points the income tax rate for those earning more than $200,000. This set Maine’s top income tax rate at 10.15 percent, second-highest in the country.

The tax increase, promoted by teachers unions, was a classic “soak the rich” proposal. The 41 percent rate increase was expected to impact only around 7,000 filers in Maine, and was expected to generate $157 million per year, which would be earmarked for schools.

Pause and think about a pair of aspects, here.  First, you’ve got the teachers unions using government literally to confiscate money from a targeted group of people and give it to themselves.  (The one step of separation that sends the money to the school districts makes no difference.)  To progressives, that’s called “representative democracy.”  If one side can manipulate political processes, their “representatives” will give it things taken from another side.

Second, following on that idea of taking from others, do a little quick math.  Taking $157 million from 7,000 people means taking $22,429 from each.  How is that not plain plunder?  Sure, maybe wealthy people can afford that hit, but robbing from rich people is still theft.  And what would make people think families wouldn’t seek some way to adjust their finances in order to prevent the taking of so much money?

It isn’t at all surprising that the Maine Revenue Services office reported no evidence of increased revenue a month ago.

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What It Means to Be 45th

In all the years I’ve been following Rhode Island’s standing on various national rankings, about the only substantive comeback from the forces of the status quo has been that we do okay when it comes to “quality of life.”  As I’ve pointed out, “quality of life” is only much use to those who can afford to enjoy it, and Rhode Island fails by that standard.  Great restaurants may impress an organization ranking states, but they’re utterly irrelevant to the family that can barely put food on the table.

So, now the buzz is that Rhode Island finally moved from dead last on CNBC’s “Top States for Business” ranking.  Here’s Ted Nesi on WPRI:

“Just one year ago the Ocean State finished dead last,” Cohn wrote. “The improvement is no accident. Every time we rank Rhode Island at or near the bottom, state officials take it to heart.”

The CNBC list and its methodology have plenty of critics, particularly on the left. But Rhode Island’s elected leaders have made clear over the years that they care a great deal about the state’s perennially poor showings on this list and other national business-climate rankings.

Exactly.  It’s been clear for years that state officials in Rhode Island are very concerned about the ranking, but not so much about what the ranking is actually telling us.  Consequently, they’ve sought policies to game the methodology, not to address the underlying problems — policies such as income and corporate income tax “reforms” that lowered rates on paper but wound up increasing the amount of tax collected.  Folks, you’re missing the point.

This is how Rhode Island produces an unemployment rate drop, but only because it’s driving people out of the labor force.

It’s also how we get a change that nobody’s talking about.  Our “quality of life,” according to CNBC, fell from 24th best in the country to 31st.  And observe that our state experienced this drop despite the fact that it includes such measures as health insurance coverage, at which we supposedly excel.

Our politicians may be improving our statistics, but they’re making our lives worse.

By capitulating to progressive-union pressure, and despite disingenuous claims that no broad-based taxes were imposed, Ocean Staters will once again bear increased burdens to pay for new taxes and regulations, more spending, and more union giveaways. Lawmakers chose to appease, rather than resist, the progressives’ job-killing, big-spending agenda.

Progressive Values Devalue Human Work

Message to General Assembly leadership: #JustStayHome! By kowtowing to pressure from the progressive-left, the provisions in the proposed 2018 budget, along with other crippling legislation, send a disturbing, but clear message to Rhode Islanders: hard work is valued less than unearned worker privileges. Rhode Islanders’ natural drive to engage in gainful and honest work and to invest in new ventures is corrupted by false promises that they can become part of a new “I got mine” special-interest crowd.

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Indirect Moral Corruption Driving Catholics Out of the North

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

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

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

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

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

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Whether Seattle or Denmark… or Rhode Island… Minimum Wage Kills Jobs

Noah DaPonte-Smith highlights another minimum wage study, this out of Europe, in Denmark:

The country ties the minimum wage to age: When individuals turn 18, their hourly wage increases by a dramatic 40 percent. Researchers can use this structure as a natural experiment, exploring how a dramatic and rapid increase in the minimum wage affects employment on both sides of the increase.

In this case, the results are predictable, at least for those approaching the issue from a conservative perspective. Employers cut jobs to save on wage payments.

By almost one-third.

Folks need to understand that employers don’t do this out of spite.  More workers means more production for them, which should mean more profit.  If the production costs too much, there’s no profit, so there’s no reason to keep operating.

Everybody in the entire employment/business chain is making decisions out of self interest (which can also include intangible considerations, like self-fulfillment).  The boss has determined that a certain income makes it worthwhile to operate a particular organization as opposed to doing something else.  Investors have determined that a particular business is worthy of their investment as opposed to some other investment (or other use of money).

Because employers want people working, if the cost of employment jumps up, other interests in the business will adjust upward as much as their willing, meaning that investors may tolerate a smaller return, owners may tolerate a smaller profit, and customers/clients may tolerate a higher price.  But viewed across an entire economy, a competitive, free market is pretty efficient at squeezing out what excesses are already there, so higher cost of production will mean somebody in the chain will move on, which could mean employees, against their will.

A key piece to this puzzle is that the employees had generally already determined that a particular job was the best use of their time, and they were willing to work for what it paid.  Pricing them out of a job may make activists feel good, and it may benefit the people who keep their jobs, but the laid-off employees obviously suffer, as do we all, from the inefficiency.

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Going from Crime to Illness Means Big Growth for the Government Plantation

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

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

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

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

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Huge Generator: RIDOT Recommended The Engineering Firm That Missed Five Bridges

You may have seen the huge, yellow tarp-covered generator that has been parked on the side of Route 95 north just past Route 4. It’s been the cause of lots of rubber-necking. Then came the news a couple of days ago that it had been pulled over by RIDOT while traveling and ordered not to advance because it is very heavy – 560,000 pounds.

John Tassoni, speaking for the company that is moving the generator, was on the WPRO Morning News with Gene Valicenti this morning. And he shared some eye-opening information about how the generator came to be side-lined.

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Rhode Island’s “Overpriced” Public Colleges and University

Preston Cooper, of AEI, has an interesting short study up that could enable one to argue on both sides of the “free tuition” debate in Rhode Island. Basically, he adjusted the advertised in-state tuition at public four-year colleges and universities for regional cost of living. Doing so, he finds that many New England states overprice their public higher education even when taking into account the high cost of living. Rhode Island, by this measure, has the ninth-most-overpriced system. (Vermont and New Hampshire are highest and second-highest, respectively)

This is a quick analysis, as Cooper acknowledges, not even adjusting for state-government subsidies and such. He appears to have done some digging in that area but for some reason doesn’t present the information. I’d note, though, that Rhode Island spends a large percentage of its budget, relative to other New England states, on higher education.

And of course, there are deeper, more-subtle market factors that might play a role. In a high-cost area, the value of a degree is arguably greater, because one needs more income to get by. It may also be the case that an area with a large number of high-prestige, high-cost colleges allows more-standard schools to adjust prices up based on comparison. Vermont and New Hampshire may be high (I’m guessing) in part because they are low cost, relative to the area, but institutions of higher education compete regionally on price.

For the interesting question, put aside these critiques and ask: If we take the data at face value, what does that mean for the governor’s “free tuition” proposal? She would probably say that it shows the need to provide young adults with more assistance, to cover the costs. I’d argue that it is further evidence that the governor isn’t solving the real problem. Making it easier to afford college makes it easier for colleges to charge more, which makes no sense if they’re already overcharging. That money is going somewhere that it doesn’t have to, and we need to figure out where. Naturally, those who agree with me suspect that an unwillingness to do that drives much of the motivation of the other side.

It’s fascinating, though, how a data point can serve opposing sides of an argument.

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Budget Season: Opportunity for Articulating a Vision for Rhode Island

Every year, this time of year, the budget for the State of Rhode Island comes out and, accompanied with surrounding legislation (much of it premised, one can infer, on quid pro quo for budget votes) shows the vision of the insiders who run our state.  Every year, life in Rhode Island becomes more restrictive, business becomes harder, government budgets go up.

Earlier in this legislative season, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity put out a pair of “Hey, Dude!” radio ads illustrating the point from the perspective of somebody who wants more freebies and somebody who sees the opportunities inherent in a society out from under government’s thumb.

For a little fun, here’s a pair that I’ve put together.

Open post for audio.

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Legislation Holds Mobility Over the Heads of the Poor for Municipal Bucks

I’ve been very critical of Mike Araujo and his rhetoric on this site, but he is absolutely correct to object to this bill:

Tuesday night, the House Finance Committee passed a bill (H-6213A) that seeks to expand the denial of vehicle registration to individuals who may have outstanding unpaid interest or penalties on fines owed to a city or town, rather than only revoking it for the amount of the fines themselves owed to the municipality.

Legislation like this, making it easier for people to lose their licenses or registration based on financial debts, has been criticized all over the country for its problematic and counterproductive effects on poor Americans. Driving without a registered vehicle leads to substantial penalties or even a revoked license, which simply worsens the person’s financial issues and hardships. This in itself is challenging since the restrictions would deny the person the ability to drive to work, school, or any other related activity making them less able to meet their monetary obligations.

As an indication of how thoroughly aggressive the legislation is, even in the small details, consider this:  Right now, the legislation requires the city or town to pay the DMV $5 in order to request a registration denial, and that fee “may” be added to the total due from the driver.  This bill waives the up-front payment and says that the $5 “shall” be added to the total.

Where is the public interest in all of this, beyond wanting more money for profligate government?  People need to be mobile to have a shot in the modern world and making it more difficult for them to get right with the regulations for mobility undeniably makes it more likely that they will continue struggling and probably remain dependent on government.

The legislation’s primary sponsor is progressive Democrat Christopher Blazejewski of Providence, who apparently submitted it at the request of the city, but who, in doing so, proved that government always comes first for people in government.  Keeping others dependent on government isn’t exactly contrary to that goal.

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Legislation “Mutually Acceptable” to Whom?

I’ve long objected to the Rhode Island General Assembly’s seeing itself as a sort of corporate board for the lives of all Rhode Islanders.  In a related way, I’ve argued that groups like chambers of commerce are no longer acting as advocacy groups for the interests of private people or organizations, but rather are satellites of government that maintain their relevance to the extent that they can act as government’s liaisons to businesses.

Something in Patrick Anderson’s Providence Journal article about legislation to forbid all Rhode Island businesses from automatically reducing employee pay for just about any reason — from in-company fines to compensation for broken merchandise — sets off alarm bells.  The legislation is objectionable enough; it isn’t government’s role to set narrow, specific terms under which people can interact for business purposes.  (Labor unions back the bill, naturally, because it makes it harder for non-union organizations to compete.)

But meddling in Rhode Islanders’ lives is simply par for the course for our politicians.  This is the part that really caught my attention:

Gov. Gina Raimondo’s state Department of Labor and Training supports the bill and worked to find language acceptable to workers, the Rhode Island Hospital Association and Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, according to a letter from DLT Assistant Director Matthew Weldon.

Weldon said the current bill language, tweaked from prior year versions, was “mutually acceptable and delivers what we believe to be a clear and enforceable amendment.”

“Mutually acceptable” to whom?  Are we now to behave as if the Rhode Island Hospital Association and Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce are satisfactory stand-ins for every business in the state?  And are we supposed to believe that the fact that nobody showed up to testify for the legislation proves that there’s no opposition?  Think of the implications of that.  

Taxes and regulations already make Rhode Island a difficult place in which to operate a company or make a living (unless you’re tied in with government, somehow).  Does every business owner, of companies large and small, have to devote resources to constant vigilance and influence-buying lest our supposed political representatives “negotiate” their rights away?

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In Large Part, the Deep State Self Dug

Glenn Reynolds’s weekly USA Today column for this week is worth some consideration:

[Columbia Law Professor Philip] Hamburger explains that the prerogative powers once exercised by English kings, until they were circumscribed after a resulting civil war, have now been reinvented and lodged in administrative agencies, even though the United States Constitution was drafted specifically to prevent just such abuses. But today, the laws that actually affect people and businesses are seldom written by Congress; instead they are created by administrative agencies through a process of “informal rulemaking,” a process whose chief virtue is that it’s easy for the rulers to engage in, and hard for the ruled to observe or influence. Non-judicial administrative courts decide cases, and impose penalties, without a jury or an actual judge. And the protections in the Constitution and Bill of Rights (like the requirement for a judge-issued search warrant before a search) are often inapplicable.

At some point, “consent of the governed” becomes more like a veneer that gives the governing class license to do whatever they want. L’état c’est nous.

Combine this Deep State with the budding feudalism in California, as described by Joel Kotkin:

Unlike its failed predecessor, this new, greener socialism seeks not to weaken, but rather to preserve, the emerging class structure. Brown and his acolytes have slowed upward mobility by environment restrictions that have cramped home production of all kinds, particularly the building of moderate-cost single-family homes on the periphery. All of this, at a time when millennials nationwide, contrary to the assertion of Brown’s “smart growth” allies, are beginning to buy cars, homes and move to the suburbs.

People whose policy preferences conveniently protect their own wealth seek to use government set basic policy preferences that are conveniently in line with bureaucrats who seek to protect their power.  One way or another, this alliance will be broken; the question is whether it happens through reform or revolution.

Think carefully, progressives — and even more-reasonable liberals.  As much as you hate him (perhaps because of how much you hate him), President Trump may be your last chance to allow the reform path.

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Rhode Islanders Are Voting With Their Feet

Perhaps nothing is more telling about whether Americans see a state as providing sufficient opportunities for prosperity and a better quality of life than whether or not they are flocking to or fleeing from its borders. No other measure paints a more realistic picture of whether or not a particular state is an ideal place to raise a family or build a career than how people “vote with their feet.”

At the Center, we know that that the high levels of taxation and over-regulation imposed in the ever-growing state budget is the main culprit in causing Rhode Island’s stagnant performance.

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Enter the Era of Vampires

You could interpret my lethargy, this afternoon, in one of two ways.  I’ve had a busy and productive week, so perhaps it’s the waning stamina of an older man that keeps me from wanting to write much of anything.  Or maybe it’s that I’m still young enough not to have lost that student’s sense that a June Friday ought to draw your eyes out the window in a search for summer.

Whatever the case, I’ve been holding on to this link, looking for an opening:

It might sound like science fiction, or a recent episode of “Silicon Valley,” but a start-up called Ambrosia is charging $8,000 for blood transfusions from young people.

About 100 people have signed up to receive an infusion, founder Dr. Jesse Karmazin said Wednesday at the Code Conference.

And here we go.  On the one hand, my libertarian leanings lead me to ask, “So what?”  The kids have blood, and people are willing to pay for it.  On the other hand… well… this is wealthy people buying the blood of less-wealthy people for speculative rejuvenating purposes.  You don’t have to be a novelist to see how this could go wrong.

On first consideration, too, there’s no good way to go about this.  The nightmare scenario involves rich people creating a market for the blood of the poor, which creates either opportunity for blood theft or a likelihood of exploitation.  As it is at the moment, the donors don’t know their blood is being used for this purpose, which means they may be undervaluing it on the false expectation that they’re helping people in emergency situations.

Oh, yeah, and what about all those people who need blood for immediate reasons?  Market forces will devalue their use, or drive their price up.

By its extremity, this matter brings us back to first principles.  I’d be disinclined to interfere with the market and people’s liberty, in general, but that would require a stronger culture — one capable of shaming those who might exploit this particular freedom like vampires.

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