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Isn’t Taxation Supposed to Be Consensual… At Least in Theory?

This point in the Sakonnet Times editorial I mentioned earlier is worth a little more mental energy:

Voters, of course, flock to the bargain rate — a 3.5 percent tax hike faces long odds against a 0.9 percent alternative.

Specifically, it’s the “of course” that stands out, because it seems to imply that the job of government is to trick or otherwise coerce people into paying more in taxes than they would voluntarily pay for the services that government is delivering.  This way of thinking fascinates me, because I have to believe that if the people who say and write such things were to think them through carefully, they’d be forced to confront clichés that allow them to support certain comfortable positions that have no justification.

Thinking in terms of economics, the more-accurate statement is that Tiverton voters are not willing to pay the price demanded for the services actually offered.  Having spoken with many of them, I can attest that some significant portion, at least, is willing to risk deterioration of the services they do utilize on the chance that they can push back against corrupt waste sucked up by special interests.

The town library provided a good example of how the corruption works by pushing its supporters to approve of $1.3 million more in taxes so that their special interest could receive another $16,500.  On the day of the vote, one angry library supporter acted as if I was being ridiculous for complaining about the $16,500, when the reality is that simply paying that amount wasn’t on offer.

A more didactic example may be garbage pickup, which Town Council member Joe Sousa threatened might go away if the budget I proposed were to win.  The rationale for town-provided trash pickup is that the economies of scale make it less expensive than individual contracts, but that ceases to be true if the town government uses the threat of eliminating trash pickup to pour money into other things for which people do not wish to pay.  You don’t get the discounted trash pickup unless you also support everything else that goes with bloated government.

Throughout Rhode Island, taxpayers are realizing that the cost of the services that they do receive from government (often very poorly) have been made inextricable from things for which they would never willingly pay, like absurd job security and benefits for union members and handouts for favored groups, whether in human services or corporate welfare.  That’s why productive residents leave, and it’s a major part of the toxic formula that has pushed Rhode Island into its current death spiral.

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Our Basic Choice: Slavery or Freedom

For a bit of Friday morning political philosophy, here’s Richard Fernandez, saying, “Greetings, Slaves“:

The issue which dogs Hillary and which no cosmetic distancing from Sanders will solve is that the middle class is losing faith in the platform. The political turmoil threatening to break apart the EU and the American Blue Model is rooted in the fact that both are broke and have no prospect of meeting obligations as manifested in the stagnation of wages in the West and also in the collapse of the “security” safety nets for which the present-day slaves have traded away their freedom. The progressive campaign is essentially predicated on the assumption that a sufficiently resolute government can defy the laws of financial gravity. There is now some doubt on that point.

Basically, the thesis is that our current political moment brings evidence that there is no tweaking of corporatism that will work.  In attempting to strike a deal between the central planners and the corporate types who seek profit and love a monopoly, the self-interest is too strong and reality too uncompromising.  In no time at all, people realize that they’re slaves, and they either revolt or lose their motivation to work.

Reality refuses to be what the planners need it to be for political reasons.  People will trade their freedom for some price, but it’s always a higher price than central planning can ensure, mostly because freedom and human nature — both antithetical to the planned state — are necessary for both human fulfillment and economic progress.  As the Judeo-Christian scripture and history prove, we were designed to seek God, not pitiful material substitutes, whether they be graven images, filthy lucre, or a secular state bent on conformity.

As Fernandez wraps up: “We’ve tried being slaves. Let’s try being free.”

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The Left Doesn’t Believe in Agreeing to Disagree

It seems that no school is too small to draw the attention of the conformity police in the new American progressive totalitarianism, as Holly Scheer highlights on The Federalist:

… The Obama administration is investigating a school in Wisconsin for sending home letters telling parents and students that they expect students to live within Christian values while at school. This is a private Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod school that serves a tiny group of students—from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade they have 147 students and 10 teachers.

In February the school instituted some new policies that sparked a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. These policies include having parents provide a birth certificate (with the child’s sex on it) and signing a handbook that gives the school the right to discipline students for exhibiting sinful behavior.

Christians thought they could carve out enclaves for their beliefs if they gave up the tax dollars that they’ve already paid for public school and paid again for private school.  Now, progressives claim Christians can avoid persecution if they just give up their right to equal access to government funds for educational services.

We know that to be a temporary position, though, allowing the Left to keep its mask on for just a while longer, because we’ve already seen Christian bakers persecuted for declining to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies.  The clear reality is that if you go out in public — if you do anything that can have any effect on other people in any way (see Senator Whitehouse’s desired climate change inquisition) — progressives believe government should force you to conform to their worldview.

Whatever these people believe in, it isn’t freedom.  They are the heirs to the ideological oppressors against whom our history lessons were supposed to inoculate us.  They’ve just created a new church for themselves, and it will be all the more difficult to correct for the fact that it’s Godless.

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Budgets, Hometowns, and Community

Another budget vote at Tiverton’s financial town referendum (FTR) has come and gone, and another elector petition with a tax increase with a zero in front of the decimal point has won.  Counting the second, lower-tax elector petition on the ballot, this year, the split is more or less the same as in prior years, indicating that, at the current level of taxation, not more than 40% of voters are willing to go up much more.

But election analysis, like holding people accountable for their behavior during the campaign, can wait for a bit.  This morning, my mind’s lingering on a higher-level, more-philosophical point.

Just before the vote, a friend commented on the melancholy sense that driving into town after work gave him.  Looking at the beautiful place in which we get to live, he thought about how pleasant it would be not constantly to be watching out for the intrusions of a manipulated government into our lives — that is, if government undertook limited activities, the effort to patrol its actions were widely dispersed, and people with authority generally agreed on their boundaries.  I hear similar statements, but reversed, from friends who move to more-conservative states about how nice it is to live under a government that is properly ordered.

I’ve long intended to write an essay using two one-town islands as an analogy.  New Shoreham is a municipal entity in Rhode Island, but most people are more familiar with the land that it governs: Block Island.  Another large island in the state is Conanicut Island, but people are generally more familiar with its own municipal entity, Jamestown.

How people refer colloquially to geographic areas is typically a matter of historical accident, but the contrast in this case has always struck me.  What my friend was saying, basically, is that he would prefer if we thought of ourselves as living in Sakonnet, an area in which some basic services are partially handled by the municipal entity of Tiverton.

The people who oppose my friends’ activities in town no doubt have a similar feeling that the lack of harmony diminishes their sense of the town, and ultimately, a town of 15,000-16,000 people can accommodate divergent worldviews… except for one complication.  The irreconcilable problem is that one faction in town sees no meaningful distinction between the town government and their concept of “the community.”

Going through the budget, I see expenditures for things to which I would gladly donate more money, if asked, than whatever portion of my taxes goes to them, but some people in town think the community’s responsibility isn’t just to find a way to support such charities, but to force everybody to pay for them.  It isn’t a community activity, in this view, unless everybody is made to participate in some way, usually by funding it.

Such a view can’t help but transform our beautiful space on the bay into either a perpetual battleground or a fiefdom in which only a few are satisfied.

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Overtime Rule Affects Freedom and Innovation

Multiple posts on Instapundit, today, expand on the harm of the Obama administration’s mandating expanded requirements for overtime, which I mentioned yesterday.  Walter Olson hits on a key point:

Perhaps most significant, it would force millions of workers into time-clock or hour-tracking arrangements even if they themselves prefer the freedom and perks of salaried status. … Many workers will also lose the option of “comp time” arrangements, often valued as family-friendly, by which extra hours worked one week are offset by a paid day off in the next.

James Sherk fills in more similar details:

The rule will change how employees work. Overtime-eligible salaried employees must carefully log their hours. Each time they respond to a work e-mail, take a work phone call, or do any other work from home, their employer must track and pay them for it. If they do not, they risk getting sued. Trial lawyers filed 8,800 Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuits in 2015, many of them for employers who did not compensate overtime-eligible employees for work done remotely.

In order to avoid lawsuits, many employers deny flexible work arrangements to overtime-eligible employees. Virtually all employers who permit remote work and flexible work arrangements allow overtime-exempt employees to use them.

Apart from the economics that I discussed, yesterday, the act of enforcing such regulations and the necessary calculations that businesses must make have an effect, too.  Even if both the employer and the employee wish to experiment with some new arrangement, the employer has to carefully consider the possibility that they’ll accidentally run afoul of the rules and create vulnerability for a lawsuit.

Ultimately, all innovation is related.  Innovative ways of working create new markets and may open up the possibility of innovative new methods, services, or products, while also freeing up costs in the economy that can be put toward something more desirable.  If you commute to work, would you rather spend your money on gas and your time on traveling, or would something else be of higher value?  The answer is obvious.

One unspoken rule of big government, though, is that society can never be permitted to advance more quickly than unimaginative politicians and insiders can figure out ways to profit from innovations and further entrench their power.

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OO Is for Food Czar, Cooler & Warmer, and Brookings

News that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has moved forward with the economy-rescuing hire of a “Director of Food Strategy” brings to mind the recent Brookings Institution report that is now the basis for Rhode Island’s economic development schemes.  There’s this, for example, on page 7:

Design, Food, and Custom Manufacturing: Industrial design provides significant competitive advantages for companies. Driven by rapid technological developments, falling costs, and 3D printing technology, industrial design is an increasingly important part of product and service development. Meanwhile, a burgeoning maker movement is lowering the barriers to designing and manufacturing goods. Particular opportunities for Rhode Island include rising demand for industrial design and growing interest in food manufacturing that stands at the nexus of food and health.

And that’s not all. Page 9:

The state’s quality of place is alluring and increasingly wellknown, and includes not just the shoreline and historic charm but distinctive cities and towns, vibrant food and art scenes, and an increasing “coolness factor.” However, the innovation community remains atomized and lacks the focal points, collaboration spaces, and state-of-the-art “innovation districts” and neighborhoods that are needed to retain and attract talent.

Oh, hey, there’s that “coolness” thing.  I wonder how much Brookings’s fondness for all things “cool” influenced the governor’s failed Cooler & Warmer tag line.

The real significance of these few overlapping words is the early indication that:  This is what the top-down, experiment-with-Rhode-Island, Brookings approach entails.  The public is only as involved as it has to be for PR purposes (because the experts know better… all about “the nexus of food and health”), and food czars and marketing czars gorge on our tax dollars.

More broadly, this is what central planning looks like.  We’ve got a report.  We’ve got people with our money and collective power who need to implement the plan in that report.  And so we get people who can’t possibly have all of the relevant information about our people, our economy, and our interests who have to make decisions because they were told to do so by the planners.

It won’t work, but boy will a handful of insiders, cronies, and politicians get rich and powerful as they fail.

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A Big Lesson We Shouldn’t Learn the Hard Way

I get the feeling that the world is preparing to teach us a very big lesson, and we’re insisting on learning it the hard way.

In the years before the Soviet Union collapsed, celebrities began slipping through the Iron Curtain for performances.  One product of that pop invasion was Billy Crystal’s “Joke-nost” special in 1989.  In one comedic sketch from the show, Crystal buys his way into a fancy restaurant by slipping the maitre d a roll of toilet paper.  The Soviet system — communism or socialism, as you like — couldn’t allocate resources well enough in a modern world to ensure the production and/or import of simple basics.  We’re seeing the same thing in Venezuela, now.

Those of us who enjoy the huge benefits of the modern world should think about the implications.  With the outbreak of yellow fever in Africa, health experts are worried there will be a shortage of the vaccine.  A nation’s having to find some alternative means of cleaning itself after using the toilet may be funny; a nation’s having to find a way to deal with people who have blood coming out of their eyes, not so much.

The losses of socialism aren’t just things that we know exist and can’t seem to get, of course.  As Glenn Reynolds writes, we can only guess at the cures and innovations that we might currently have were it not for government’s insistence that it should act as a corporate board for all economic and social activity:

I think it’s mostly true that things are stagnating compared to the century, or quarter-century before 1970. Some of that is simply because we’ve snagged the low-hanging fruit: You can only invent radio once. But I think there’s more to it than that.

In the United States, which drove most of the “golden quarter’s” progress, 1970 marks what scholars of administrative law (like me) call the “regulatory explosion.” Although government expanded a lot during the New Deal under FDR, it wasn’t until 1970, under Richard Nixon, that we saw an explosion of new-type regulations that directly burdened people and progress: The Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, the founding of Occupation Safety and Health Administration, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, etc. — all things that would have made the most hard-boiled New Dealer blanch.

As Reynolds goes on to point out, this focus of power made people in and near government very wealthy.  Now, they’ve locked in their positions to make the new regime nearly impossible for the people to challenge.

But nature can challenge it, and the biggest thing that the aristocrats will have socialized isn’t production or benefits, but the pain for their folly.  It would be better to learn the lesson through observation and reason.  Unfortunately, from the Rhode Island General Assembly to the 2016 presidential race, we’re probably learning that that isn’t going to happen.

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A Status Quo of Elitism


In this short video, I sit down for State of the State with John Carlevale to discuss the elitist attitude of the status quo in Rhode Island. When will the political class listen to the people of our state? For too long, the public policy debate has been one sided, and denied Rhode Islanders opportunity. The insiders want to keep increasing their big government policy, and refuse to hear other ideas. During the RhodeMap RI battle, the insiders refused to listen to citizens and put our homes at risk. Policy should be decided with many voices giving their input into the process. When many opinions are considered, we are able to craft more effective public policy. Rhode Island will have to change if our state is ever to become a place where people are free to achieve their dreams.

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Lack of Higher Ed Diversity an Existential Threat

Multiple folks around the Internet have highlighted a remarkable column from progressive writer Nicholas Kristof.  After observing on Facebook a conspicuous difficulty for would-be academics who are conservative, and being surprised by the viciousness of his “friends,” Kristof writes:

To me, the conversation illuminated primarily liberal arrogance — the implication that conservatives don’t have anything significant to add to the discussion.  My Facebook followers have incredible compassion for war victims in South Sudan, for kids who have been trafficked, even for abused chickens, but no obvious empathy for conservative scholars facing discrimination.

The stakes involve not just fairness to conservatives or evangelical Christians, not just whether progressives will be true to their own values, not just the benefits that come from diversity (and diversity of thought is arguably among the most important kinds), but also the quality of education itself.  When perspectives are unrepresented in discussions, when some kinds of thinkers aren’t at the table, classrooms become echo chambers rather than sounding boards — and we all lose.

Well, yes.  Anybody who was a vocal conservative in a college classroom any time within at least the last quarter century knows what that echo chamber sounds like.  Anecdotally, though, it seems as if things have gotten far worse; at least when I was a college upstart, the professors seemed to appreciate having a foil, and although some would notch down grades or demure from the writing of grad school recommendations, they at least gave the impression of mutual respect.

Those unwritten recommendations appear to have worked their magic, though, and all but emptied campuses of conservative professors precisely in areas in which having a diversity of worldviews is most important.

Kristof cites a study that seems to suggest that conservatives/Republicans engage in similarly biased behavior when it’s available, but such a finding should raise questions.  After all, it’s entirely possible that liberals exclude conservatives in academic settings for malicious reasons while conservatives would (at least in an experimental setting) exclude liberals because they know their fellow conservatives need all the help they can get.

Until evidence suggests otherwise, I’m inclined to return, for an explanation, to the ideological insecurity I mentioned earlier today and add in the deliberate (if often subconscious) “march through the institutions.”  This is how the Left has undermined a strong, culturally confident civilization: by infecting and overwhelming the institutions that allowed it to transmit its confidence and to build upon the virtues that gave it something to be confident about.

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Malevolence in Manipulation of the Insecure

Reflecting on the recurring question of whether Barrack Obama is “incompetent or malevolent,” in reaction to national security advisor Ben Rhodes’s admission that his administration worked to scam America into the Iran deal (among other things), Richard Fernandez suggests that incompetence may be the more dangerous possibility:

For all his persuasiveness, incompetence is Satan’s principle problem. The devil always sets out to construct heaven and winds up with hell because he uses the wrong principles.  Castro, Kim, Stalin, Chavez, Mao — who all would have ruled the universe if they could have, yet finished up ruling trash heaps — probably were surprised at the turn of events. Yet why should it be surprising? Mordor in The Lord of the Rings was the shabbiest place on Middle Earth just as Pandemonium, Milton’s capital of hell in Paradise Lost, is the most frightful place in the universe because these turkeys were going about it the wrong way and were too proud to admit error.

Of course, a blend is generally at work, inasmuch as Satan is malevolent but sells the wrong principles to his followers, the failure of which then reinforces their grievance against the world.  In that line, Fernandez suggests that “society is stupid” and inclined toward being groupies for the “madman on stage.”

Perhaps “unthinking” would be a better term for the masses, but it’s difficult not to see malevolence in the manipulation of them.  And malevolence finds a convenient tool in human beings’ insecurity.  In particular, look to the federal Dept. of Justice’s insistence that it has the authority to interpret federal law newly to invalidate North Carolina’s recently passed law on bathroom assignments.  To progressives in the federal government, this is a transparent power play, but the tyrants’ power lust dovetails with more submissive emotions among their supporters.

For progressives, it isn’t tolerable for people to behave according to disagreement on anything that matters.  To the extent that it is not merely an admission of one’s powerlessness (accepting difference because one has no choice), allowing alternative views is either an indication of ideological confidence (that one will be proven correct) or an admission that one’s own views might be incorrect.  Being neither confident in their own understanding of the world nor willing to admit that their leading lights might have something wrong, they support the destruction of our entire system of government in order to impose their views on the country by whatever undemocratic means are available.

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How a Free People Comes to Want a Strongman

David French’s kick-off point has to do with a clear-cut case of the federal administration’s creating new law in an unconstitutional way — even skirting the rules for implementing regulations — by simply interpreting statutes to mean whatever it wants via memo.  Specifically, he mentions the finding that somehow existing law forbids school districts from separating boys and girls in the bathroom.

However, his conclusion applies much more expansively:

This is how you start to lose a democracy. When an unprincipled elite exploits public ignorance to trample the rights of those out of power, it builds resentment. But unless the resentful are informed and aware, they’re vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation by their side’s own “elites” and its demagogues. Thus, here we are, facing the most miserable presidential choice in generations, with two major-party candidates competing for the right to desecrate the Constitution to their own ends.

So don’t roll your eyes at the “bathroom wars” or any of the other countless brush fires stirred up by post-constitutional, lawless leaders left and right. We can’t always choose our battles or our issues, but we must choose whether to resist.

We have the civic structures that we do precisely so that we can disagree in substantial, fundamental ways and still work together as much as possible.  I’ve written before that this boils down to a requirement for three basic freedoms:  the right to speak your mind, the right to work to change the government, and the right to leave.

The problem is that for a variety of reasons — notably a fundamentalist conviction that they are correct, a lust for power, and a political strategy of buying off constituencies — the modern Left will not allow disagreement.  Within our country, they want homogeny.  They want to be able to go anywhere within the nation’s borders and know that their worldview is enforced as law.  And they believe that no rules should hamper their ability to implement Objective Moral Truth.

Obviously, a society cannot long remain free when that view gains ascendancy; slightly less obviously, it cannot remain peaceful.  At some point they tyrants either have to crack down with violence or they are resisted with violence, and the walls that they’ve knocked down in order to get to everybody else can no longer protect against even more-objectionable intrusion.

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Gender Gap as Excuse to Take Over Private Companies

Another example of legislation that proves legislators’ abhorrent understanding of government’s role in our lives is the deceptively named “Fair Pay Act.”  In the Senate, it’s S2635, and in the House, it’s H7694, which is (it’s depressing to note) cosponsored by Republican Doreen Costa (Exeter, North Kingstown).

Not satisfied with the law already on the books to forbid discrimination in employees’ pay based on sex, the legislation attempts to make the factors by which an employer can explain differences between individuals’ pay more rigid when appearing before government officials concerning a complaint.  In essence, every business in the state would practically be forced to have a detailed catalog of adjustments for employees’ pay.

So, whereas before an employer could argue that a particular man had an edge in “seniority, experience, training, skill, or ability” over a female colleague, the law would require the company to have “a seniority system.”  Other systems that employers would have to have in place are “a merit system,” “a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production,” and some way to demonstrate that some other “bona fide factor” exists.

Somehow, employers would have to be able to define every difference in the qualities that their employees have according to some sort of “system.”  That things just seem to go better when John (or Jane, for that matter) is doing them would be insufficient.

The “bona fide factor” exemption is where things become truly objectionable, with this:

This defense shall not apply if the employee demonstrates that an alternative business practice exists that would serve the same business purpose without producing the wage differential.

Think about what this means.  Based on the nature of the business, the company’s business model, and just the way that the people who own, work for, and patronize the company operate, the organization does something in a particular way.  If this particular way of doing business happens to favor the unique qualities of a man in the organization over a particular woman, the woman can go to a faux judge in the Department of Labor and Training and get him or her to force the company to change the way it does business.

Companies could no longer just experiment and find ways to do things that seem to work in the most efficient way possible for that company.  Rather, at the urging of a disgruntled employee, a bureaucrat in a state agency could insist that the business must try some other possible approach.  The only burden to prove that it might work is the subjective judgment of the bureaucrat, and the process to undo the change would, it appears, be for the employer to do a careful study to prove that the second option is not working as well and to return to the bureaucracy to make that case.

Who really owns the business? This is completely out of keeping with the principles of our country.  Indeed, it’s the sort of thinking that drains economies and pushes civilizations to collapse.

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Why Freedom & Prosperity? CEO Stenhouse on State of the State

The people of Rhode Island want a government that works for every citizen of our state, not just the insiders and the special interests. With the recent challenges faced by RI’s political class, it is important to remember that there are real alternatives than the culture of big government here in Rhode Island. Recently, I appeared on the State of the State and discussed the work being done by the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity.

The mission of the Center is to return government to you, the people, by opposing special interest public policy and advancing proven free-market solutions that can transform lives through economic competitiveness, educational opportunity and individual freedom. Your family deserves more than the worn out ideas of ever increasing state revenue and big spending.

Our vision is to see Rhode Island as a destination of choice to raise a family and build a career, with a thriving business climate, abundant jobs, and a world-class education system. The Ocean State will only achieve this mission by changing the status quo. You can be a part of that by speaking out often on the issues that effect your family. Please watch the new three minute video now.

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The End Is Not the End

Sometimes, comfort has to come in strange ways, and today, it comes from this paragraph in Glenn Reynolds’s most recent USA Today essay:

Of course, collapse isn’t, as Tainter notes, always so bad. When the Western Roman Empire collapsed, ordinary people were often better off because they were freed from the empire’s oppressive taxes and regulations (like the rules that sons of soldiers, civil servants and workers in government factories, among others, must enter the trades of their fathers). Many people in the provinces welcomed the barbarians. The new governments were actually better at what governments are for, as Tainter writes: “The smaller Germanic kingdoms that succeeded Roman rule in the West were more successful at resisting foreign incursions (e.g., Huns and Arabs). … The economic prosperity of North Africa actually rose under the Vandals, but declined again under Justinian’s reconquest when Imperial taxes were reimposed.” Likewise, Venezuelans will probably be better off when they eventually get a new government. They could hardly be worse.

I will say that I think we’re vulnerable on this count, in the United States.  Nations founded on a particular heritage or ethnic makeup don’t lose their identity during regime change, but we’re founded on a governing idea.  When that idea goes away (or when it went away) the identity, and the nation it defined, is (or was) gone, too.

But life goes on.  Some of the choices change, of course.  Those who grew up expecting to make decisions about vacations and what kind of cars to buy must instead make decisions about how much to stand up for their rights and freedom.  When a nation is, at its core, an idea, anybody can keep that idea alive — even as a memorial candle kept burning in some dim basement — until the world is ready for it again.  That too is a decision.

The long threads of human society, leading through our ancestors and us, then into the murky future, continue.  We just refine our understanding of our priorities and adjust our plans.  Our current circumstances are really nothing new in our society’s experience; we’re just living through a period of madness and decline.

As the song goes, “When the cities are on fire with the burning flesh of men, just remember that death is not the end.”

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Shouldn’t a Business Editor Be Pro-Business?

When it comes to mainstream newspaper editors and columnists with targeted subject assignments, like the business section of a newspaper, one can often detect a point of view that isn’t necessarily in perfect accord with the subject’s primary consumers, but Providence Journal business editor John Kostrzewa’s column in today’s paper — titled “Minimum wage hike is only the start” — is really stunning.

Writing about the annual meeting of Rhode Island’s far-left pro-redistribution think tank, the Economic Progress Institute (formerly the Poverty Institute), Kostrzewa approvingly moves through some of the additional burdens that progressive activists wish to place on our already-struggling economy, such as this:

Many of those proposals come with a cost, to either employers or taxpayers, and a conference attendee asked where the revenue would come from to pay for the benefits or services.

Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice, a national organization, answered that it would take partnerships and creative ideas to raise revenue. She pointed to a proposal being studied in Connecticut to fine employers with 500 or more workers in the state $1 for each hour of work by an employee who earns less than $15 an hour. By some estimates, the proposal could raise from $189 million to $305 million a year.

How could a newspaper’s business guy convey that horrible, business-killing, big-government idea as simply, “Hey, here’s a thought”?  It boggles the mind almost as much as his tone-deaf chiding of business owners for not attending an event geared toward those who want to take their money and tell them how to operate:

But Raimondo and Paiva Weed were among only a few public officials in the crowd. There were not many business owners there, either.

That’s a missed opportunity, because the election showed it’s time for a wider discussion among public and private leaders about the anxieties of working people, and the government’s role in providing relief.

If anybody needs more indication of why Rhode Island is struggling as it is, Kostrzewa provides a doozy.  The one brief nod toward the damage that these policies could do to businesses and the economy reads as if some copyeditor questioned publishing a business column without some mention of policies’ possible effects on businesses.

With the business pages now a collection of outside content and standard reports, one wonders why the Projo bothers to publish another left-wing redistributionist columnist in that space.  It’s certainly not to provide any ideological balance to the paper’s overwhelmingly progressive bias.

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A Lesson of Venezuela and the U.S. Primary Race

For a good, long while, I’ve offered the optimistic view about Rhode Island: that at some point of collapse prior to the adjective, “utter,” the people would awaken and insist that the corrupt games have to stop, aided by those in leadership positions whose consciences would no longer allow them to look the other way.  Any level of collapse is painful, of course, but reality and solutions are close enough to the surface, throughout the United States, that a reparable slash or broken bone should be a sufficient lesson to change behavior.

News out of Venezuela and reflections on the presidential primary are leading me to question my optimism.  On the former, Kevin Williamson gives a concise summary of the condition:

If you truly believe that Venezuela is suffering from electricity shortages because its economy is so successful, you should ask yourself why it is suffering from a toilet-paper shortage, too. And a shortage of rice, milk, cooking oil, and other basic foods. And water.

To which I’d add this from Richard Fernandez:

The lights didn’t go out in Caracas all at once.  The wiring was stolen bit by bit; the turbines had been neglected year by year; the engineers had departed plane by plane until Earth Day came down like a shroud and without apparent end.  Rioting and looting is now reported to be spreading as only 15 days of food are said to remain.

Read both essays and ponder that blithe assertion that “it can’t happen here.”  We’re watching it happen here.  Fernandez suggests Venezuela fell prey to the “curse of plenty,” wherein “easy money attracts the wrong kind of leaders and incentivizes the wrong kind of public behavior.”  A region can have easy money by sitting on a cornucopia of natural resources, or it can be a small state in a wealthy region of an economically dynamic country.

The reality is that most people just want things to continue as they are and perhaps improve incrementally, which makes them susceptible to herding in bad directions that serve special interests.  Head this way, and a loud, scary noise urges us back to the herd; meanwhile, the corral and slaughterhouse aren’t quite visible up ahead.

As the wrong leaders and wrong behavior make things more difficult, fewer people are willing to step forward in opposition, and fewer good people want the role of leadership even if they can get it.  Potential heroes are vilified, and the public’s confusion is exploited.

In this mix of diminished choice and distortion, politicians have no competition or too much, leading to uncontested seats or split votes that allow victory with relatively small pluralities of support.  Both special interests and cults of personality can therefore amass winning numbers.  Rhode Island elects a Chafee and then a Raimondo, while backing a Bernie and a Trump for president.

The outcomes are always predictable, and yet it seems impossible to correct course.  Small improvements require so much personal sacrifice of effort, while the status quo rumbles on effortlessly.

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How Do People React When They Reach the Progressive End?

Richard Fernandez asks and answers an interesting question on which Rhode Islanders’ opinions should be valued across the country:

How might people react if the land promised by modern cultural Pied Pipers turned out to be a hell?  We now know the answer is: surprised. The significance of Peggy Noonan’s 2016 moment is not only that it so perfectly coincides with the end point of seven years of progress towards Hope and Change, but it marks the moment when the penny finally dropped for the American upper middle class.  After a long and arduous march through the institutions, the progressive bus has finally arrived at its long promised paradise hotel and found it desolate, dangerous and full of roaches.

Fernandez limits himself too much by allowing for only one answer.  The reality is that one gets the full negative rainbow of reactions.  The other day, one of my local friends touched base with a reliable local ally with regard to the budget petition I put in for Tiverton.  Gone.  Rhode Island wasn’t palatable anymore, so he skipped to Florida.  This happens constantly.

One might say that our friend reacted by getting on a departing bus for elsewhere.  Some portion of people who do the same probably never have his awareness of what the problem is; they just know Rhode Island isn’t doing it for them, so they leave.

Others respond with anger.  This emotion cuts across the political spectrum, but I have in mind particularly, today, the large number of Trump enthusiasts in Rhode Island.  Such folks have gotten so used to having their views not matter that they almost don’t care what kind of a president he would be.  The idea is to tear down the system.

And then there are those who imagine away the problems.  For them, the progressive bus never reaches its destination, as evidenced by the fact that the world is not perfect, yet.  The answer is always more of what ails us.  Drive deeper… or walk on, if the bus won’t move.

Others just do their best to ignore the problems, mostly because they’ve got some special deal built into the status quo.

And others (a certain editorial board comes to mind) insist on trying to operate the bus even though it’s stopped and out of gas.  Inasmuch as the battery isn’t dead yet, the vehicle seems like it might respond.  The civic system kinda-sorta does the things civic systems are supposed to do, so (they insist) the safest plan is to stay in our seats and keep pushing on the gas pedal and the brakes, putting on the turn signals, and playing with the climate controls.

Standing in Rhode Island, I’d suggest that the important question isn’t what happens upon arrival.  Rather, it’s what those of us who recognize our location do to help those who haven’t yet done so.

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Socialism Can Only Make Us All Poorer

As he usually does, Jonah Goldberg makes several worthy points in his most recent breezy G-File column, including some thoughts on socialism:

… “socialism” was an answer to what 19th-century intellectuals and religious leaders called “the social question.” As traditional societies succumbed to the creative destruction of the market, people started asking, “How shall we live now?” Socialism was one such answer (National Socialism, another, very similar answer), but it was only partly and not even mostly, an economic answer. It was a cultural one.

That is, “socialism” isn’t an economic system.  It’s more like a godless religion whose rituals are economic in nature.  What that means is that its entire way of thinking is unnatural.  It’s divorced from necessary concessions to human nature, from acceptance of physical reality, and from any roots in supernatural truth.  Instead, socialism is a purely man-made intellectual construct that finds its power in corrupting human tendencies, both unhealthy (envy) and healthy (charity).

Consequently, a society that takes socialism too seriously for too long winds up depriving its people of fulfillment and advancement, for reasons that branch off from this subsequent paragraph from Goldberg:

Gracchus Babeuf, arguably the first “socialist” to earn the label, wanted a “conspiracy of equals,” which would “remove from every individual the hope of ever becoming richer, or more powerful, or more distinguished by his intelligence.” In his Manifesto of the Equals, he called for the “disappearance of boundary-marks, hedges, walls, door locks, disputes, trials, thefts, murders, all crimes . . . courts, prisons, gallows, penalties . . . envy, jealousy, insatiability, pride, deception, duplicity, in short, all vices.” To fill that void, “the great principle of equality, or universal fraternity, would become the sole religion of the peoples.”

Disallowing individuals from “becoming richer, or more powerful, or more distinguished by [their] intelligence” is utter ignorant nonsense that winds up harming everybody.  Take the specifics in reverse order:

  • Preventing people who are especially intelligent from realizing their potential leaves us all less benefit from their unique abilities.
  • Artificially depriving people of power — understood broadly as the ability to have others follow one’s instructions — leaves us all less benefit from strong leadership.
  • And yes, confiscating wealth from people simply because they have more of it leaves us all poorer by the prevention of whatever their talents would have had them do with that money… or whatever talents others would have developed in order to collect it in the first place.

Playing the envy card, a socialist might insist that if we stray from a hard, unnatural, tyrannical conformity that leaves us indistinguishable from each other opens the problems of vanity, pride, and abuse, but so does the imposition of the socialistic worldview in the first place.

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RI Elite Approaches Jobs and Education from the Wrong Angle

I agree with the Providence Journal editorial board that:

Rhode Island needs a dramatic, game-changing, long-term plan to raise the bar in its public schools if the state is going to be in a position to supply the talent that 21st century businesses are looking for.

I’d say that means full school choice through education savings accounts (ESAs), while the editors likely mean another attempt at “fix the system” reforms, which have proven to be mildly effective and to have a political ceiling.  But let’s put that difference of opinion aside for a more relevant, and probably deeper, one.  The editorial is most useful in the direct way in which it approaches the idea of economic development from exactly the wrong angle:

There was a time when businesses chose locations for their proximity to raw materials such as lumber or copper. But “today, people are the natural resources,” Meredith Amdur, an analytics expert at the advisory firm CEB, told the newspaper. Indeed, finding the right labor pool can be the most important factor in choosing a location. Not surprisingly, regions “with fewer degree holders could struggle to attract big corporations,” the report warned.

The Projo’s approach is one in which human beings are a stationary resource akin to the natural qualities of an area and, worse, one in which it is appropriate for state government to use public schools and other programs to reshape the population to fit the interests of corporate executives.

As is usually the case, inaccurate and immoral conceptualization leads to practical difficulties.  To wit, even if we train young Rhode Islanders to fit the bill of the aforesaid executives,  employees remain more mobile than companies, especially young employees.  For the company to move, the cost of moving to or starting up in Rhode Island would have to be less than the premium necessary to draw an expert Rhode Island workforce away.

And that’s assuming technology doesn’t shift ever so slightly in a way that makes all of that taxpayer-funded technical instruction obsolete.  In other words, the assumption must be that the state’s public education system can be nimble enough and the state’s leaders sufficiently prognosticative to predict the future of the marketplace.

The basic problem is that Rhode Island’s elite, which includes the Providence Journal editorial board, doesn’t want to give up the heavy hand it has in determining what the state and its people should be like.  If we’d just lower the cost and difficulty of doing business here, and if we’d just give our neighbors maximum flexibility to make decisions for themselves, including in education, then businesses for which Rhode Island makes sense for other reasons will set up shop within our borders, and those of our neighbors attracted to those industries will rush for the opportunity.

Freedom and economic health go hand in hand, and the opposing option is aristocracy and stagnation.  One can only conclude that those who insist on aristocracy are actually just fine with the stagnation.

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What’s Really In Your Best Interest — Cooler or Warmer?

This week on “What’s Really In Your Best Interest? ” I discuss Rhode Island’s Cooler & Warmer fiasco. This rollout is yet another instance of government incompetence in the Ocean State. The arrogant response by Governor Gina Raimondo’s administration was perhaps even more telling; oozing contempt for those of us who honestly felt little connection with their marketing scheme. For years, our Center has been promoting family-friendly policies that directly benefit all Rhode Islanders, while opposing government-centric special interest deals for corporations, unions, and other insider groups. Rhode Island families deserve better than their elitist schemes.

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Whitehouse’s Focus as RI’s Senator

Back when Rhode Island’s Junior Democrat U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse led the charge to mandate the audio of television commercials, I suggested that “government regulation of television volume is not likely to signal the end of the republic, but the oppression of ‘there ought to be a law’ is a patchwork, encouraging voters to acclimate to the big government mentality and investing them in its exercise of power.”

Having gone some years without another such coup, Whitehouse is apparently at it again, as Shaun Towne reports:

“There’s a big, it appears, emerging scam of selling people cheap, lousy products that have been misdescribed for purposes of getting their business,” said Whitehouse.

Rhode Island’s junior senator is pushing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to crack down on fraudulent clothing websites. In a letter to the agency, Whitehouse said the websites “…use stolen photographs and deep discounts to lure consumers into buying products that are indeed “too good to be true.”

One suspects laws against stolen photographs and false advertising are already in place, so it isn’t clear what a “crack down” would entail, but is this really the sort of stuff-of-life priority that a U.S. senator should have?

It’s not coincidental that Whitehouse is also arguably the nation’s leading advocate for using innovative legal maneuvers to intimidate and “crack down” on organizations that disagree with his conclusions about climate change.  Building on what I wrote in 2011, a public that gets used to having government go after every little inconvenience or example of advantage-taking will produce a weakened backlash when that same government begins taking advantage of the new practice in order to punish political enemies and help political allies (while enriching politicians).

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Don’t Break Down Institutional Limitations

Speaking of concepts in political theory that simply make sense, this paragraph from a Richard Fernandez essay, in which he suggests that the global order may break down before it succeeds in undermining all of human society, captures a crucial point:

The Narrative may be breaking down.  That would come none too soon.  One of the unappreciated risks of globalization is it destroyed the barriers to corruption formerly imposed by limitations in institutions.  The marvels of the modern age have made possible not only to spread organizations like Medicins sans Frontieres but also to proliferate crooks without borders.

The only way to ensure that insurmountable power stays out of the wrong hands is to keep it out of any hands.  The only way to keep the forces of corruption from engulfing society is to pit them against each other.

One of the stranger peculiarities of our current political landscape is that the very same people who wish to make a safe, padded room of daily life have little appreciation for the value of barriers between institutions for the safety of our civic system.  The simplest explanation is that they’re really striving to make themselves feel safe, which means forbidding contrary actions and ideas.  That only works, however, until the people in whom they entrust so much power find their own comfort to require something not quite as safe and secure for the rest of us.

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The Lesson of Cooler & Warmer

The administration of Rhode Island’s Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo was in for a shock on Thursday, March 28, when it unveiled a new logo and slogan for the Ocean State. The state’s quasi-public Commerce Corporation had been planning the release for months; the ridicule began on social media within minutes of the unveiling.

Mockery of the ambiguous “Cooler and Warmer” tagline and Photoshopped satire with the logo were still sweeping across the local internet when other components of the campaign hit the ground with a thud. Similar mockery of a promotional video scarcely had time to begin before somebody noticed that one clip actually showed a skateboarder in front of a landmark in Iceland. A related website was riddled with errors, including promotion of restaurants across the border in Massachusetts and a well-known chef who had died some time ago.

The administration’s response compounded the marketing failure. The governor initially defended the campaign, chastising Rhode Islanders for being so negative, but the next day she changed her tone to be more receptive to the criticism.

The shift may have been too little too late, because the incident — relatively minor of itself — too well reflected both Raimondo’s style of leadership and the broader political philosophy that sees government as a sort of corporate board for the region. Put simply, hiring outsiders on the strength of their connections and Ivy League credentials, maneuvering around rules to avoid or subvert local political opposition, and following guidance from supposed experts in New York City and Washington, D.C., might seem to be a savvy strategy for economic development and public policy, generally, but only to the extent that it works … or continues to seem as if it might work.

Continue reading on NewBostonPost.

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What If Progressives’ Cure Is the Disease for the Working Class?

Bouncing off a Washington Post series on the current plight of the white working class, David French suggests that America’s problem isn’t primarily one of lost jobs and inadequate safety nets, but of spiritual destitution:

Life has always been hard for the poor, but it has not always been quite so lonely. Part of this is the legacy of the welfare state, which allows and even encourages lives of quiet desperation, cut off from the communities that used to sustain the less fortunate in their struggles. Part of this is the legacy of the sexual revolution, which devalued marriage and irreversibly cast off the “shackles” of self-denial. And, yes, part of it is economics. Losing a job is among the most stressful of all human experiences.

The complex nature of the crisis should not be a license to avoid facing its ultimate truth head on: America’s working class is in the grips of a malady far more spiritual than material. We can spend trillions more, but safety nets won’t save the human soul.

Happiness, not a government metric for “poverty” or “well being,” should be the guide and goal for public policy, and improving it will mainly entail forcing government to withdraw its heavy hand and allow Americans to do what humans being do:  interact, develop relationships, and help each other.

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Why Are Social Conservatives Being Boxed Out?

One key strategy for those seeking to grow tyranny is to make people feel as if they are isolated in challenging the government or, more generally, the tyrannical minority.  One suspects, for example, that this is why China is forcibly removing thousands of crosses from the rooftops of churches; religious symbols on the landscape are powerful reminders that people believe things that they are instructed not to believe.

The United States is not quite there, yet, but the past decade has brought valuable experience as to the process of getting there.  Basically, the strategy entails seizing power in one area of society — with government being the linchpin — and then breaking down the social barriers that allow multiple centers of power to develop and maintain their independence in a free, stable society (government, business, religion, information, etc.).

Maggie Gallagher’s recent National Review essay describing the disadvantage that social conservatives have on today’s political landscape offers, among other notions worth considering, this explanation for the entry of businesses into the political fray in recent years, under the bullet point, “crony capitalism is fueling sexual liberalism”:

Many of the 100 corporations speaking out about the issue — an issue that does not affect most of their core business interests — are, no doubt, expressing their own values. But it is striking that these firms do not mind running roughshod over so many of their customers’ values. Why? Why are corporations, historically averse to public controversy, wading directly into the culture wars? Part of the reason is that by engaging on this issue, they can cheaply please the regulators in Washington (and the Obama administration). The massive expansion of vague regulations under the Obama administration means that virtually every major corporation in America has some interest in keeping Washington off of their backs: Trouncing gay-marriage dissenters is a cheap strategy to curry favor.

It’s no coincidence that we’ve been seeing this great lunge not only to advance progressive social views, but to make it unacceptable to disagree during the Obama administration, which has proven lawless in its operation.  Coming into power with a demagogue’s flair, Obama has joined great gobs of largess given to ideological allies with the abuse of regulatory and administrative power to suppress ideological opponents.

The more decisions government gets to make, the more it will add ideological strings for those who receive benefits or simply wish to avoid persecution.  Progressives have been using that leverage to build the illusion that everybody agrees with progressives on fundamental questions about life, reality, and rights.  The next step, already underway, is to isolate and exclude anybody who visibly disagrees.

Now and in the near future, it will be critical for those who disagree to do so visibly and confidently, making dissent permissible and perhaps forcing the tyrants to move too soon in their oppression.

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Making Life Difficult so Relief Is Cronyism

The American Interest notes a curious, telling, and predictable development in the national hub of progressive lunacy, San Francisco.  In the city, employees of public schools will enjoy special protections against eviction for non-payment of rent:

… the same Board of Supervisors that refuses to amend zoning rules to bring down prices is instead handing out eviction exemptions to favored political constituencies. And of course, these new rules will drive up rents even higher by making landlords wary of signing leases with public employees.

Just as Chicago is the poster-child for the destruction wrought by blue city budgeting brought to its logical extreme, San Francisco is a case study in what happens when pie-in-the-sky progressives are allowed to set housing policy. The Golden Gate City is a idyllic haven for the tech and financial elite, who enjoy access to luxurious apartments without a high-rise in sight, a Whole Foods on every corner, and as much high-end shopping and dining as their hearts desire. Meanwhile, working class people—including, ironically, many of the progressive artists and activists who historically backed San Francisco’s exclusionary zoning laws—are being forced across the bay to places like Oakland and San Leandro, and the city’s homeless population is so large that the city is installing outdoor urinals in its public parks.

As always, an interesting question is whether this is just the natural progression of the habits of progressivism or a deliberate strategy.  The progressive habit of piling on new rules and exceptions as prior rules and requirements create hardship (especially hardship for friends and allies) is bound to lead to special privileges for those who are connected to powerful people.  How aware progressives are of this natural tendency probably varies from person to person.