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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.

Lessons and Perspective on Economic Growth

I’ll provide more depth with my usual employment post and Jobs & Opportunity Index (JOI) write-up after all the data becomes available tomorrow, but at first glance, it looks like the national recovery might be stalling out in Rhode Island:

The number of employed RI residents was 539,800, an increase of 200 from the August figure of 539,600. …

The RI labor force totaled 561,900 in September 2018, down 300 from August 2018 but up 6,000 from September 2017 (555,900).

… In September, the number of Rhode Island-based jobs was unchanged from the August revised employment level of 502,100. Overall, Rhode Island’s job count is up 7,000 from September 2017.

Keep in mind that these numbers are all seasonally adjusted, so one can’t cite the end of our summer season as the reason that RI-based jobs have stagnated, employment growth has slowed, and the trend of fewer people looking for work has resumed.  If this is a slowdown, then maybe Rhode Island is a leading indicator for the rest of the country, or maybe our approach to policy has become so different from that of the federal government and other states that the Ocean State is now unable to capitalize on economic growth, period.

Tangential to this topic, I’ve seen murmurs here and there blaming the Republican tax cuts for current deficit problems at the national level.  Yeah, well, I kind of wonder about that:

The Treasury Department reported this week that individual income tax collections for FY 2018 totaled $1.7 trillion. That’s up $14 billion from fiscal 2017, and an all-time high. And that’s despite the fact that individual income tax rates got a significant cut this year as part of President Donald Trump’s tax reform plan. …

Other major sources of revenue climbed as well, as the overall economy revived. FICA tax collections rose by more than 3%. Excise taxes jumped 13%.

The only category that was down? Corporate income taxes, which dropped by 31%.

Overall, federal revenues came in slightly higher in FY 2018 — up 0.5%.

Spending, on the other hand, was $127 billion higher in fiscal 2018. As a result, deficits for 2018 climbed $113 billion.

See also:

The U.S. economy sits atop of the World Economic Forum’s annual global competitiveness survey for the first time since the 2007-2009 financial crisis, benefiting from a new ranking methodology this year, the Swiss body said on Tuesday.

We are the economy — you and me.  Our activity is the economy.  The progressive approach to economic development that Rhode Island pursues is to control what we do in a way that powerful people believe is best, which includes taxing us so the government can redistribute the wealth.  Stop doing that, and our economy will soar; government revenue should be secondary.

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Tempering the Terror of a Climate Doom Report

WPRI reporter Tim White tweeted that this New York Times article about the United Nations’ accelerated doom-saying about climate change is “truly terrifying.”  My response was to ask if this section (emphasis added) doesn’t set off his alarm bells:

Avoiding the most serious damage requires transforming the world economy within just a few years, said the authors, who estimate that the damage would come at a cost of $54 trillion. But while they conclude that it is technically possible to achieve the rapid changes required to avoid 2.7 degrees of warming, they concede that it may be politically unlikely.

Look, one needn’t be a climate change skeptic to acknowledge the layers of assumptions that go into these scary warnings.  First, one must ignore the lack of warming over the last two decades and assume that the models will be more accurate going forward.  Then, one must assume that the change really does derive from human activity and that it’s possible to avert the worst.  Then, another wave assumptions comes with predictions about the effect on weather, creating soaking rains where that will be harmful and droughts where that would be harmful, all coming together in a way that doesn’t equalize the effects (by, for example, simply moving where farming must be done).  Add in the effect of technology and changes in energy production that have made the United States a leader in CO2 reduction.  And don’t forget that one must balance the estimated $54 trillion in costs from warming against whatever the cost would be to rework our economy — including an assessment of the people who bear those costs.

Put that all on a scale that pivots on the promise that giving more power to the people who brought the warning, and a tempered reaction to the terror is justified.

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Who Profits from Deepwater Cronyism

Is a Danish company’s purchase of Rhode Island–based Deepwater Wind relevant to a discussion about corporate cronyism in our government?

Providence-based Deepwater Wind announced Monday that Orsted has entered into an agreement to buy it. Orsted says it’s paying $510 million. …

Deepwater Wind says it’ll expand in the coming years, making Providence and Boston the two major hubs of the company’s U.S. offshore wind activities.

The time line goes like this:  To his shame, Republican Governor Donald Carcieri guaranteed long-term profits for a green energy company run by his former chief of staff.  Earlier this year, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo surprised Rhode Island by announcing a secret deal to guarantee the company more profits (and then immediately began fundraising off it).

Now the company’s owners have sold it off to ∅rsted, no doubt at tremendous personal profit.  There’s a reason CEO Jeffrey Grybowski hands out about $4,000 per year to key decision-makers in government, with Gina Raimondo taking the lead since 2010, at $6,300 total.  So far this year, Grybowski has given the max to Raimondo, Democrat Aaron Regunberg, Republican Allan Fung, and Republican Patricia Morgan — hedging his bets, it would seem.

Rhode Islanders should push back against these gambles.  If companies from anywhere in the world can make make a profit in Rhode Island while offering its people something for which they are willing to pay, then we should welcome them for that mutually beneficial exchange.  But when our political overlords force us to guarantee profits, the benefits are always imbalanced toward connected insiders.

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The Second Punch of Amazon’s Minimum Wage Boost

The response from various conservatives that I’ve seen to this news from Amazon is the correct first reaction:

Amazon is boosting its minimum wage for all U.S. workers to $15 per hour starting next month.

The company said Tuesday that the wage hike will benefit more than 350,000 workers, which includes full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal positions. It includes Whole Foods employees. Amazon’s hourly operations and customer service employees, some who already make $15 per hour, will also see a wage increase, the Seattle-based company said.

To this, many conservatives might say, sarcastically:  Wait… what?  Doesn’t this sort of thing require politicians to go out and fight the greedy corporations, forcing them to dig up the money they’ve buried in the corporate courtyard?  No, of course not.  This is how it ought to happen, with companies competing for employees and making such decisions in light of their own, very specific, circumstances.

The second response, though, should be to question whether this is part of a bare-knuckle attempt to knock out competition.  Step 1 is to raise the company’s pay beyond what competitors can afford.  Step 2:

Amazon said its public policy team will start pushing for an increase in the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

Amazon isn’t just saying that it is willing to do this for employees, but that everybody should have to.  The company may not be content to compete for workers, because after all, there are plenty of people out there willing to work for less if a job otherwise fits their skill sets and particular needs and interests.  Rather, this may be an attempt to put competitors out of business altogether, or at least hinder their ability to sneak up on the retail giant.

While Amazon puts on a pro-worker face, it is working to ensure that workers have fewer employment options.

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Overtime Rules and Progressives’ Vision of a Fallow Field of Money

Here’s a reminder, from the site Uprise RI, that progressives really do think this way.  The topic is the federal rule that allows companies not to pay overtime rates to managers who make over a certain limit.  The Obama Administration wanted to increase the limit from $23,660 to $47,476 annually, but the courts put a hold on the move, so the Department of Labor is spending some time doing research and listening to advocates.  This is from Steve Ahlquist’s coverage of the Rhode Island leg of the tour:

Each month, since the abandonment of the Obama-era threshold, Rhode Islanders have lost about $400,000 in wages, estimated the Center for American Progress and the Economic Policy Institute.

“This is money that could be helping those families,” said [Economic Progress Institute economic and fiscal policy director Douglas] Hall. “They would spend that money locally in our economy, helping the Rhode Island economy to thrive and helping global businesses to prosper.”

Progressives really do imagine that businesses have some field of uncultivated money laying fallow in the economy from which they can pluck more pay.  To the contrary, if this threshold is increased, businesses will have to reduce either productivity or investment.  Fewer new hires will happen and the demands on workers will increase, losing them benefits and flexibility.

Just let the market be.  The government shouldn’t be an uber labor union imposing blanket rules on our economy.  Money always has to come from somewhere, and as a general proposition, the burden will fall most firmly on those who have the least leverage.

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August 2018 Employment: Cooling Already?

The number of Rhode Islanders who say they are employed is still going up, but a one-month job loss and slowing of the rate at which new people enter the job market raise concerns that the boom is already cooling.

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The Cost of Barber Licensing

Apparently, Brown University has at least one student, Austin Rose, who is skeptical of occupational licensing:

As dubious as the costs of freedom are, the costs of licensing are pretty staggering. Licensing of barbers reduces the probability of a black individual working as a barber by 17.3 percent, according to a study published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Every 100 hours of training required adds $2.15 to the price of beauty salon visits. Licensing, by making it more difficult for job-seekers to enter new lines of business and employment, harms social mobility. And, as an Obama White House report notes, low-income entrepreneurship activity takes a hit as well.

Of course, our institutions of higher education layer on much more economic miseducation than one op-ed can correct.

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The Missing Point of Teacher Complaints

Former Republican state representative Bobby Nardolillo promoted on Facebook a hand-made poster that reads as follows:

OK, Fine. You don’t want to pay teachers like a college educated professional? Then give them the glorified babysitter rate.

$10/kid x 8hrs./day = $80

$80 x 25 kids/class = $2k

$2k x 180 school days =

$360,000

Let’s put aside the haggling over the math (actual hours per day, value of benefits, days off, and so on).  What’s striking is the economic illiteracy of this poster, undermines the premises of the people promoting it.  You pay a babysitter a premium because you are seeking a limited, unpredictable engagement during non-business hours watching just a few children (with no economies of scale).  Make the babysitter a full-time nanny or a day-care center, and the price goes down.

Also remarkable is the lack of gratitude.  With reference to the likelihood of our moving into another house, one of my children and I got into a discussion about retirement age.  I said that it’s generally thought to be about 65, although that should probably adjust up as we live longer, and that I don’t expect ever to retire, really, for both economic reasons and my hope to be doing work I don’t feel the need to stop at that point.  I did not mention that it is not uncommon for public-school teachers to retire in their 50s.

Yet, I don’t think I’ve ever picked up a whiff of gratitude to the public for this remarkable career path.  Instead, we hear about how it ought to be even better, how expressing reservations about the cost and the quality of the resulting services is disrespectful.

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No Clear Vision with Government Regulations

Linda Langlois expresses a relatively minor and easily overcome problem that she’s experiencing courtesy of the state’s regulatory regime:

Every few years, I go online to Readers.com to order my reading glasses. For several years now, I have needed the 4.00 strength and have received my eyeglasses within a few days. So imagine my shock when my online order this week elicited this pop-up: We’re sorry, but Rhode Island restricts the sale of the following: Reading glasses with powers over +3.25.I have emailed the governor’s office but have had no reply. I searched online for Rhode Island restrictions, statutes, laws, etc., to find

Wondering what changed, I contacted Reading.com, and the company’s spokesperson directed me to the relevant statute, which forbids the sale of corrective eyeglasses or lenses “unless a licensed optometrist, physician, or optician under the laws of this state is in charge and in personal attendance at the booth, counter, or place where those articles are sold.”  The exception is for “simple reading magnifying glasses,” defined as those with “over plus 3.25 diopters or equivalent magnification.”  However, this statute is not new, so nothing should have changed for Ms. Langlois’s recent order.

I asked Reading.com for further explanation but have received no response.  Perhaps the company only recently discovered the statute.  One might reasonably wonder whether the new requirement to collect sales taxes from Rhode Island residents made the risk of unlawful sales greater than the cost of adding protections against them.

Whatever the case, this is another of the countless ways Rhode Island’s government makes life more difficult and more expensive for residents and those who want to do business with us — reducing the ability for our own businesses to innovate.  It is also a fine example of the frustration that people feel.  Think of the process by which this law might be changed.  Consumers or out-of-state retailers would have to lobby the General Assembly and overcome the entrenched interest of licensed optometrists, physicians, and opticians.  If it became a fight, politicians would have to run on campaigns to change this tiny law and then expend political capital to make it happen.

After a few experiences like this, residents can conclude that the only solution is to leave.  We would all benefit, however, from the election of politicians who operate under the general principle that government oughtn’t meddle so much.

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Gaspee on 10 and Robber Barons in the Government

If you haven’t caught Gaspee Project Clay Johnson’s conversation with Bill Rappleye on 10 News Conference, be sure to check it out (in three parts).

Rappleye seemed baffled by some of Clay’s views, but he articulated them very well — better than is often the case.

One interesting point that I would have taken in a somewhat different direction than Clay was Rappleye’s characterization of “unfettered capitalism” as the playground of robber barons.  Clay’s answer was that a “free market” isn’t only free from excessive government interference, but also from other institutions or forces that seek to restrain competitive activity.  That includes monopolies or cartels that effectively control markets based on their own power, without reference to the tax-and-police powers of the state.

A classic example of this was Cornelius Vanderbilt’s ownership of the Albany Bridge, the only way to get trains from west of the Hudson River to New York City in the mid-1800s, and his closure of that bridge to manipulate the markets and buy off his competitors.  This example is also helpful in that it illustrates why one might reasonably propose that government get involved to regulate use of a private bridge, if not take it over completely, or to create public bridges to compete.

Such questions can become tricky quickly, but the key point in 2018 is that those conditions exist in a much more limited way.  Technology has empowered so much innovation that the problem has flipped.  Metaphorically, thousands of entrepreneurs around the country are deciding that relying on the Albany Bridge makes them vulnerable or is simply irrelevant, and so they’re building new bridges or figuring out how to avoid the use of bridges altogether.  And here comes Mr. Vanderbilt, looking for government to stop that innovation so this antiquated structure remains viable.

As I mentioned back in 2016, the robber barons created a market for progressive politics to use government against the powerful industrialists.  Now we have an even more-powerful monopoly — government — that has much more total authority over us than mere economics, and it has been working to bring other powerful forces, like industrialists, to heel.

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Whom the Wavemakers Wash Out with the Tide

How typical of the Rhode Island Way is Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s Wavemaker program?

A total of 240 college graduates working in science, technology, engineering, math and design occupations have been awarded Wavemaker Fellowships to help pay their student loans, the R.I. Commerce Corporation announced Thursday.

The average award in this, the third year of the program, is about $3,600. The tax credits are intended to keep recent college graduates working in Rhode Island, rather than become part of a “brain drain” to other states.

Put aside chuckles at the notion that keeping 240 Rhode Islanders each year does much to help the brain drain problem and the question of whether that $3,600 is actually persuading most of them to stay here despite options elsewhere.  Who pays for this program?

The answer is that we all do.  The money is skimmed from all of the various taxes and fees that we all pay, and as small as the $864,000 price tag may be, it ultimately becomes concentrated on the most active participants in the state’s economy, who must find ways to pass the burden on.  One can’t trace such things, dollar for dollar, but it’s a relatively safe bet that the burden ultimately comes to rest on those with the least economic leverage.

Of course, we know it’s not only $864,000 per year.  For the Wavemaker program to seem so ordinary, there must be many other programs that follow a similar philosophy.  For such a seemingly inconsequential program to be proposed, enacted, and implemented, it must accord with Rhode Island’s political and economic strategy, which we can summarize as getting somebody else to pay for politically convenient favors… preferably somebody whose face we will never have to see.

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Does Regunberg Want Rhode Island to Confiscate the PawSox?

If anybody should not be skipping debates, it’s Democrat Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee.  Apart from his status as incumbent, he’s an experienced manager running against a far-left young guy who has just about no real-world experience.  He ought to seek out opportunities to illustrate the contrast.

The example that brought this advice to mind was the RIPR interview/debate that I mentioned the other day.  At one point, Regunberg responds to a question about the emigration of the PawSox to Worcester with this:

First of all, I just want to say that this is a really sad moment for our state.  It’s a sad moment for Pawtucket.  It’s a sad moment for families across Rhode Island to lose this icon from our state.  I think there’s blame to go around at the state level.  As you know, I supported the Senate proposal, which I think would have had a shot of keeping the team here, and the speaker did not.  What I get the most frustrated with, however, is this idea of a small group of millionaires and billionaires who are making that choice to take this treasure out of our state for their own profit maximization.  I don’t think that’s right.

Interviewers Ian Donnis and Scott MacKay didn’t follow up on this stunning statement, but McKee should have been there to do so.  Sure, progressives can declare that the decisions of people who act in their own interests with their own property are “not right,” but when those progressives are trying to win government offices, the matter cannot stop there.

What exactly would Regunberg propose to do about?  Effectively socialize the baseball team, with government taking it over?  Increase the corporate welfare that the state might have offered the team to stay… helping those “millionaires and billionaires” even more?

I contacted the candidate for a response to these questions, but he has not replied.  It’d be nice if journalists would pose such questions directly to young progressives while the microphone is already on, but in the absence of that, the duty falls to the opposing candidate.

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Giving a Little Balanced Economic Thinking to Climate Change and the Poor

One needn’t agree with everything a climate change skeptic says to observe something conspicuous from the alarmist side.  They rarely treat the question of climate change as an issue with unfortunate trade-offs, as Byorn Lomborg does in an essay for the New York Post:

Activist organizations like Worldwatch argue that higher temperatures will make more people hungry, so drastic carbon cuts are needed. But a comprehensive new study published in Nature Climate Change led by researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis has found that strong global climate action would cause far more hunger and food insecurity than climate change itself.

The scientists used eight global-agricultural models to analyze various scenarios between now and 2050. These models suggest, on average, that climate change could put an extra 24 million people at risk of hunger. But a global carbon tax would increase food prices and push 78 million more people into risk of hunger. The areas expected to be most vulnerable are sub-Saharan Africa and India.

Indeed, the attitude of alarmists is pretty good evidence that their solutions come before their reason for them, because the depth of analysis is lacking.  A promotional interview of progressive candidate for lieutenant governor Aaron Regunberg that Rhode Island Public Radio (RIPR) misleadingly presents as a “debate” contains a good example.

Regunberg pitches the move to reduce the flow of traditional energy into the state as a good economic trade-off.  Imported fuel sends our energy dollars out of state, he says, while home-grown green energy production keeps energy dollars here.  Even without going into the ways in which modern companies are constructed (with supply lines crossing many borders), we can observe Regunberg’s lack of economic depth.

If imported traditional energy is (let’s just say) half the cost of local green energy, it is a cold comfort to local residents that they’re spending twice as much on energy, but with the extra going people who happen to share their state.  On the commercial side, local businesses could reinvest that money in themselves.  In both cases, all of the extra money going into the local green machine is coming out of the local economy anyway.

As with Regunberg’s claims about single-payer health care, progressives insist that their policies are 100% upside and the only reason to disagree is some sort of hatred or greed. On its face, that’s foolish.

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Matt Brown Gets the Problems Right but the Solutions Dead Wrong

See, here’s the thing.  I don’t think anybody outside of Matt Brown’s progressive base believes that his socialist policy suggestions will fix the problems he describes:

“How did we end up in the situation where the roads are broken, the hospitals are closing, the schools aren’t providing a good education for our kids, we’re 50th out of the 50 states for education of Latino children, the school buildings are falling down,” he said. “That’s a pretty extreme situation to be in. And that’s going to take some bold ideas and some real changes.”

How did we end up in this situation?  Because big-government progressivism has redirected the money that we were taxed and feed from infrastructure maintenance to insider deals, interest-group buy-offs, and bureaucratic proliferation.  Because the progressive urge to take control of everything has squeezed opportunity out of our state, leading to the exit of productive Rhode Islanders and a lack of paying demand for services such as hospitals (while lowering the availability and quality of those services and driving up the costs).  And because co-opting public schools as a means of indoctrination and a funding mechanism for left-wing teachers unions has undermined the incentives for a healthy system.

If you agree with Matt Brown about the problems, you have to disagree with him about the solutions.

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The Balance of Freedoms in Rhode Island

A thousand discussions could be sparked by the Cato Institute’s Freedom in the 50 States ranking and Rhode’s Island’s 42nd place ranking.

The datapoints that go into the index cover a wide range of issues and are subjective.  For example, Rhode Island is number 1 in “marriage freedom,” largely on the strength of its same-sex partnership laws, but some might suggest that the use of government to redefine a cultural institution is hardly a marker of freedom.  Some might also note that same-sex marriage accounts for 2% of a state’s overall score while religious freedom accounts for only 0.01%.

On the other end of the spectrum, the only area in which Rhode Island is dead last is asset forfeiture. However, another low rank for the state could arguably be considered its defining problem: labor market freedom.  Here, our 49th place ranking results from laws on:

  • General right-to-work law
  • Short-term disability insurance
  • Noncompete agreements permitted
  • Minimum wage
  • Workers’ compensation funding regulations
  • Workers’ compensation coverage regulations
  • Employer verification of legal status
  • Employee anti-discrimination law
  • Paid family leave

The total effect of these policies has been that Rhode Island hasn’t budged from 49th since the first year measured: 2000.

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Rhode Island has a great deal going for it, but if people can’t find work here, they won’t live here.  The Ocean State is roughly in the middle fifth for fiscal and personal freedom — although dropping from 18th to 27th in fiscal freedom from 2000 to 2016 and from 12th to 31st in personal freedom.  If we take Cato’s weightings as our guide, that decline has been making life less free.  But those changes pale in comparison to our languishing at the edge of the bottom fifth in regulatory freedom throughout, and that’s an area in which we need great resolve and quick action to improve.

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Raimondo’s Debt and the Strong Economy

In early July, we reported that the first RhodeWorks tolls were performing as projected, which the state Department of Transportation (RIDOT) promoted as a positive sign.  However, this may be another area in which Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo is indebted to Republican President Donald Trump:

The transportation sector is a reflection of the goods-based economy in the US. Demand has been blistering across all modes of transportation. Freight shipment volume (not pricing… we’ll get to pricing in a moment) by truck, rail, air, and barge, according to the Cass Freight Index jumped 10.6% in July compared to a year earlier. This pushed the index, which is not seasonally adjusted, to its highest level for July since 2007.

The dynamics in the transportation sector are “clearly signaling that the US economy, at least for now, is ignoring all of the angst coming out of Washington D.C. about the trade wars,” the report by Cass said.

Things are just easier when the economy is strong… even bad government.

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Another Angle (or Silver Lining) in the Loss of the PawSox

There’s another aspect of the Worcester’s PawSox gain that Rhode Islanders haven’t spent much time discussing, and it is visible in the reporting of Ethan Epstein in The Weekly Standard (emphasis added):

But the PawSox owners announced that the next two years they play at McCoy will be their last. Roughly three years ago, they announced their plans to vacate McCoy. Pawtucket, Providence, and Worcester jockeyed for position. The owners played the competitors against each other masterfully, and in the end, Worcester evidently made the team an offer it couldn’t refuse: It will build a new $90 million stadium and apartment complex. The state of Massachusetts is fronting $35 million; and “the city of Worcester is expected to borrow $100 million, some of which would be repaid by the team,” the Providence CBS affiliate reported. The deal required no input from the state legislature, and was put together in secret. The only apparent cost to the PawSox is that they will now known by the unfortunate moniker “WooSox.”

Somehow, the City of Worcester was able to pledge $100 million with no public awareness whatsoever.  John DePetro and I disagreed, on WNRI earlier today, about the significance of this angle, but I don’t think it should be dismissed.  I certainly want a governing system that allowed municipal leaders to do such a thing.

Yes, Massachusetts has been doing much better than Rhode Island in recent decades, with some solid reforms, and has therefore built up more trust equity with the voting public.  By contrast, Rhode Island is still suffering a loss of confidence from 38 Studios which (importantly) has been further strained by Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s preferred economic development method of making special deals with powerful insiders and wealthy out-of-state interests.

That doesn’t mean Massachusetts’s luck will continue, or that Rhode Island won’t reevaluate its government.  On the first count, I’ve long been noting that Massachusetts’s lead in education has been flagging ever since concessions to the labor unions under Deval Patrick, and we’ll have to wait a while to see whether the WooSox gamble pays off.  On the second count, we can only hope that the nationally visible face plant with the erstwhile PawSox will cause insiders and the voting public alike to conclude that we just can’t continue on in the way that we’ve been governing ourselves.

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Panhandling Through an App

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A World in Which Only the Inexperienced Can Manage Big Programs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dickinson Gets Attention, but Offers Little

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Acknowledging the Beacon Our Ship of State Should Follow

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

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

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

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