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When the Elite’s Political Equation Breaks Down

Donald Devine makes some interesting points about Donald Trump and political science, following Aaron Wildavsky in his theory about “four fundamental political types”: egalitarians, individualists, social conservatives, and fatalists.  That last group, he says, don’t often vote, partly because they see the world as a chaotic mess, so what’s the point?  They will vote, though, for an autocratic hero whom they believe will be able to grab the reins.

The key paragraph in Devine’s essay, though, is this one:

Pollster Frank Luntz came reeling out of one of his distinctive focus groups the other day crying “my legs are shaking” from seeing the depth of commitment of the Trump supporters he interviewed at the session. “I want to put the Republican leadership behind this mirror and let them see. They need to wake up. They don’t realize how the grassroots have abandoned them. Donald Trump is punishment to a Republican elite that wasn’t listening to their grassroots.” He even showed the audience unflattering images of and statements by Trump meant to turn them off. It did not work. At the end they were more committed than at the beginning.

I wonder if this is the fatal flaw of elite technocrats who think they’ve got everything all figured out and locked up.  If so, it can apply to much more than just politics (such as the economic gear spinning of the Fed).  At a certain level of analysis, people stop being people and become data points.  Actions stop being taken because of their effect on people, and people’s responses to them, but because the formulas and the analysis suggest that they will bring advantage at a particular time.

Making a statement of a particular sort will produce a desirable reaction from group X and an undesirable reaction from group Y.  At this political moment, the value of the positive reaction is (a) and the detriment of the negative reaction is (b), so if (a)X > (b)Y, you make the statement.  Considerations such as the etiquette of the political system and the truth of the statement don’t get any more value than what the equation suggests that they should.

The problem is that people aren’t automatons; we have emotions as part of a nature that helps us learn and adapt, and we exist along a spectrum.  At some point, when tossing aside the etiquette of the system and a culture that prioritizes truth, the elite reaches a point at which somebody who is even more shameless than they are steps in, and the folks along the spectrum who would normally be able to sniff out the falsehood have learned that truth can’t be expected, anyway.

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Are Children a Lifestyle Choice or a Social Necessity?

In a conversation about government-run schools’ use of taxpayer dollars to out-compete private schools, Mike678 asks:

Are not children these days a choice and a lifestyle? Why do taxpayers w/o children have to pay for other peoples choices?

Those questions rely on a pretty progressive premise that people are burdens to manage, not ends in themselves.  The implied point of view also skips over the fact that having children is pretty much the social and biological default for human beings (yes, still).  That is, for most couples, not having children is the more deliberate choice.

And it’s a choice with severe ramifications for the rest of us.  Very directly, for example, one might ask why somebody else’s children, as taxpayers, should have to carry a heavier burden to pay the Social Security of a childless senior’s choices.  Even without entitlement programs, though, the fact is that a society needs children.  Look to Japan:

… in the long run the fortunes of nations are determined by population trends. Japan is not only the world’s fastest-aging major economy (already every fourth person is older than 65, and by 2050 that share will be nearly 40 percent), its population is also declining. Today’s 127 million will shrink to 97 million by 2050, and forecasts show shortages of the young labor force needed in construction and health care. Who will maintain Japan’s extensive and admirably efficient transportation infrastructures? Who will take care of millions of old people? By 2050 people above the age of 80 will outnumber the children.

I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest new child tax credits or a directly paid government child allowance, as some do.  Social engineering is, after all, social engineering, and the government tends to plod along in a march of unintended consequences.  (It matters, for one thing, for whom in our society we create incentives to birth more children.)  However, when children are born, it behooves us to ensure that education is a priority, and alleviating that burden becomes quite a different thing than subsidizing the procreation.

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Building Cities for Urban Planners

Aaron Renn makes the point that urban planners should give some thought to the type of area that a particular city should be, given its unique geography, history, and competitive advantages, rather than prioritizing their vision of the ideal city:

Where Ashland Ave. BRT fails is not in its attempt to improve transit service or to accommodate those who choose not to have cars. Rather, the problem is that it is rooted in a vision, propounded mostly by coastal urbanites, that believes car use should be deliberately discouraged and minimized – ideally eliminated entirely – in the city. Thus the project is not just about making transit better, but also about actively making things worse for drivers. That might work in New York, San Francisco, or Boston, where the car is more dubious, but in Chicago this philosophy would erode one of the greatest competitive advantages the city enjoys. In Chicago, the car free strategy only works along the north lakefront and downtown, not the Ashland Ave corridor or most of the rest of the city.

The no-car philosophy as the norm, not just an option, would undermine one of the greatest strategic advantages of Chicago. Why would you want to do that? Particularly when it would also make family life in the city more difficult for many. There is where urbanists need to start putting on their strategic thinking hat. Otherwise they may end up undermining the very places they seek to improve.

Renn seems to think this is a Midwest versus Coast dynamic, but Rhode Islanders should put on their strategic thinking hats, too.  One of the great advantages of the whole state is the ability to move around.  On a whim, when a business associate was staying in Providence, we zipped down to a restaurant near First Beach in Newport for breakfast.  Sports leagues regularly direct my family around the state.  Based on my experiences and positive things that are generally said about Rhode Island, progressives’ war on cars — like just about every progressive policy — would only hurt Rhode Islanders.

This point has a much broader application.  With RhodeMap and every other central-planning project undertaken by the state government, the fatal flaw is the conceit that planners can and should figure out what the state needs and push it in that direction.  The people of Rhode Island have a much better sense of the attractions and advantages of their state than any small group of planners, and they aren’t going to give over their information at public meetings, even if the planners could correctly interpret what they were saying, because only a narrow subset of Rhode Islanders ever knows about such meetings, let alone bothering to attend.

The solution is freedom, with money as the measurement of what people are doing.  With freedom and capitalism, businesses can identify opportunities at a very small, local level, and the people will tend to get more of what they want, and in an improved way.

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Commerce RI as Raimondo PAC

How is this even remotely appropriate, from the news page of the Web site for the state’s quasi-public economic development agency, Commerce RI?

Raimondo Poised to Fix Rhode Island

In just eight months as the first female governor of Rhode Island, Governor Gina M. Raimondo passed an economic development and jobs focused budget through the General Assembly in record time, giving the state an unprecedented toolkit to reboot the economy.

Contrary to what Rhode Island insiders may believe, it is not the role of government agencies to promote the particular politicians who happen to be in charge at the time.  It would be questionable enough for elected officials to use their own government offices to promote their activities in a nakedly political way, but when other offices do so, it’s way out of bounds.

For one thing, it implies that interaction with that agency is related to approval of the politician’s agenda.  Suppose a business is considering a move to Rhode Island and initiates contact with Commerce RI.  The executives might justifiably get the impression that fealty to the governor is a must, if they expect help from the quasi-public (let alone fully government agencies).

For another thing, this sort of behavior gives incumbents access to a multi-billion dollar organization’s exception for unregistered and unregulated in-kind contributions for their political races, to the point of electioneering.

I’ve already been tracing the way in which the rule of law is falling apart in Rhode Island and the country, creating arbitrary rules based on who has power rather than who has rights.  If government agencies are becoming unabashed promoters of elected officials (and attackers of their political opponents), we’re crossing into a new type of government altogether.

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Progressives’ Old Fashioned View of the World

The mobility of human beings has advanced to the point that technology allows us to accomplish many of the things we used to have to move around to do without leaving our homes.  Meetings.  Research.  Shopping.  Collaboration.

With the growing trend of a dispersed workforce, what’s the progressive solution for saving Providence government financials? Well, if Sam Bell, leader of the state branch of the Progressive Democrats of America, is representative:

“If Providence were able to tax the income of wealthy commuters who live in the suburbs, we could eliminate or drastically reduce property taxes and solve Providence’s fiscal nightmare overnight. This is the policy solution many other states take to this challenge, but the General Assembly will not allow Providence to implement it. And so our central city crumbles—plagued by poverty, a shrunken police and fire force, struggling schools, brutally high taxes, and fundamentally impossible math,” Bell added.

The first thing to note is that Bell should really be required to substantiate his “many other states” assertion.  A quick online search mainly brings up articles about cities that are seeking this particular golden goose, but their success seems limited mainly to Pennsylvania (Philadelphia and Scranton… stop laughing).  New York City let its commuter tax expire with the last century.

More important, though, is the sheer economic illiteracy, matched with historical anachronism.  Cities’ main problem is that people no longer have to interact with them.  When transportation was limited to feet and horses, it made life a lot easier to live close to work and to the services that other people provided.  Those days are gone.  Not only can we drive and telecommute, but individuals and businesses alike can order products from around the world and have them shipped quickly and cheaply.  Increasingly, we can order products and services that can be delivered instantly via the Internet.

Now that necessity is moving out of the picture, the challenge for cities is that people have to want to go there — for work, convenience, or entertainment.  Taxing them to work there while living somewhere else makes working there less desirable.  (It’s a complicated equation, I know.)

At bottom, the progressive view on such policies winds around two poles: being able to tell people how to live and distributing government services (while collecting votes in exchange).  That’s a very old-fashioned model, and it’s the one that cities still serve best, as proven by the strength of Democrats in cities even within Republican-dominated states like Texas.

This simple truth is easily forgotten, but our society shouldn’t be structured entirely around government services.  That’s not what life is supposed to be about, and people should be suspicious of anybody who seems to believe otherwise.

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To Whom Is Central Planning Useful?

Ted Nesi is striving to keep the forthcoming Brookings Institution report about Rhode Island as an open question.  That’s an understandable — responsible — approach, considering that the fact of the study was just announced and it’ll be the better part of a year before there are results to report.

That said, I’d encourage Rhode Islanders to push their assumptions one more step and question those, too.  Here’s Nesi:

Hopefully the $1.3 million being spent on the report – paid for by foundations and a few wealthy Gina Raimondo supporters – will at least buy some robust new data about the state’s present economic condition.  Beyond that, the onus will be on Brookings to show why this report’s recommendations will be more useful than those in all the reports that came before it. … They could provide a useful service if they tell it like it is.

The question is:  A useful service to whom?  Somehow, I don’t think the people funding the report are planning to offload some of the market research expenses from private businesses and individuals.  That means the report will mainly be useful to the wealthy, powerful interests who are taking it upon themselves to contrive a detailed direction for the whole state.

And it’s not even just the state.  Consider another item from Nesi’s Saturday column:

Also on the topic of economic development, Congressman Joe Kennedygave a noteworthy speech last month that called for local leaders to start thinking beyond the borders of their two states. … His idea, he said, is “about starting to rethink the way we pursue economic development on the South Coast. Leveraging the assets and strengths of this region in a comprehensive, collective way. Treating Fall River, New Bedford, Attleboro, Taunton, Tiverton and Providence not as isolated silos, but as a combined economic force.”

Who will make decisions for this “combined economic force”?  In Tiverton, for example, residents just blocked a major development along Route 24 next to the Sakonnet River Bridge; a year ago, they played a large role in reversing the push for tolls on that bridge.  Next year, they’ll likely decide yea or nay on a casino on the border (with early indications giving the better odds to yea). One can disagree with any of these results, but the opinions of local residents ought to have more sway than the state government’s, let alone the demands of some regional coalition or authority.

Yeah, maybe lightning could strike for Southern New England, and (despite its historical record of corruption) the machinations of influential people could create a global dynamo.  If that’s the vision, though, how could a few hundred people in a high school auditorium be permitted to wield a veto?

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Economic Laws Will Assert Themselves in China and the U.S.A.

We really are living in an era intent on testing whether the laws of economics and “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” actually exist.  We’d do well to heed Kevin Williamson, here. The essay’s too cohesive to pluck out a satisfactory quotation, but this gives the sense:

That Chinese industrial contraction is a short-term problem and a long-term problem. The short-term problem is obvious. But the long-term problem is more difficult to see: Sure, if you’re sitting on a bunch of warehouses full of plate glass and the price is at rock-bottom, you’re in trouble. But if your country’s glass factories are organized (labor, machines, transportation, logistics, storage, etc.) to produce x amount of glass each month when the market wants a good deal less than x, what do you do? You can’t just wave a magic wand and turn those glass factories into BMW factories. (And no, Mr. President, you can’t just break the windows.) And, don’t forget, you’ve built roads to connect those superfluous factories to customers who no longer exist, and you’ve built water-lines and electricity connections for them. The malinvestment goes all the way through the economy, distorting public and private sector alike.

Although we can delude ourselves in proportion to our society’s wealth and the government’s willingness to oppress, we can’t pretend economics and common sense don’t exist.  Every attempt to do so adds weight on top of the shaky foundation of the prior delusion, and we’re all clinging to the structure at one level or another.

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The Brookings Activity Guide for the RhodeMap

Among those who don’t tend to think that the state government of Rhode Island should be tasked with completely ordering the lives of the people who live within its borders, the conversation about the relationship of the recently announced Brookings Institution study and RhodeMap RI has already begun.  Some think that RhodeMap was the framework to which Brookings will add specifics.  I don’t think that’s quite right.

Consider these two disconcerting paragraphs from Ted Nesi’s WPRI article, yesterday, drawing out some details of the intentions:

“This is an opportunity that you don’t get that often, to take a shot at putting the state on a different trajectory,” [Mark Muro, director of policy for Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program] added. “It’s been a rough decade.” …

“I think in most parts of the U.S. it’s still, the government does this, the corporations do that, the universities are somewhere else,” [Bruce Katz, the nationally-known head of the Metropolitan Policy Program] said. “In the successful places around the world there’s a seamless interaction between all these different sectors, and if they’re all on the same page – then that’s when you get the bigger returns. So it’s not just the policy … it’s this foundation of collaboration.”

This study will be part of the same ideological program as RhodeMap, but they’re distinct pieces.  RhodeMap is concerned with controlling where people live and how they structure their lives.  Brookings is going to instruct the state government about what professional activities Rhode Islanders should be engaged in while they live here and how to bring the private sector into alignment with the central plan.  (Whether they’ll go into detail about what laws to pass to force compliance, or just make friendly-sounding suggestions about how to create incentives to benefit special interests that are aligned with the program or are willing to adjust, we’ll have to wait and see.)

Consider this carefully, Rhode Island.  Even in a small state of about one million people, you can’t have “seamless interaction.”  Our entire government system is (or was) set up so that we can interact in a way to ensure the maximum freedom while allowing us to work together peacefully.  That’s the central challenge of a free society; progressives can’t just ignore it away.

When they skip over that challenge, what they’re really assuming is that they will be able to pick people in non-government sectors — in business, in academia, and in cultural institutions — who will stand in as if they speak for their whole sector and who will agree to follow the plan.  You may be able to live your life your own way, but it will become progressively more difficult to the extent that you want to do something of which the pointy heads at Brookings and the control fanatics who invited them in disapprove… or even that they don’t quite understand.

If what you want to do conflicts with the powerful people, well then, you’ll have to be banned.

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Inappropriate Attitude Toward Government Dictats

As one analyzes Rhode Island government, it becomes clearer and clearer that the basic problem is ultimately one of political philosophy.  Granted, the political philosophy of Rhode Island conveniently serves those who have a personal interest in government power, but what I’m suggesting is that special deals and tyranny aren’t entirely imposed on an unwilling public.  The corruption has filtered into the culture.

One particular strain of this corruption is visible in the controversy over the Department of Health’s unilateral bureaucratic mandate that all children going into the seventh grade (boys or girls; public or private school) must be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted disease.  Consider this, from Linda Borg in the Providence Journal:

In the first of several public information forums, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Department of Health, emphasized that no one wants children to miss school and said her office wants to work with parents who have “strong feelings” about the vaccine. She said the vaccine is mandatory because the state wants to reach as many students as possible, noting that Rhode Island already has the highest rate in the country for vaccinating youths against HPV.

Forcing people to put drugs into their children’s bodies just because the “state wants to reach” them is entirely inappropriate.  This begins to approach Brave New World levels of inappropriateness, wherein there are no parents, really, and school is just the government’s way of molding people into the kind of citizens whom the government wants them to be.

Most importantly, note the complete inversion of the appropriate relation of families to the government:  The government has no strong feelings about the vaccine — as evidenced by the fact that it didn’t bother to go through a rigorous process of persuading the people’s representatives — but for parents to push back on it, they must have strong feelings.  The default is what the government wants.

Jane Dennison, a Barrington pediatrician (who no doubt offers vaccines as a profitable product to her patients), sides with the government, saying, “The health department is not trying to cram this down your throats,” but it clearly is.  They’re coming at us with a fist full of it, and only those who push back avoid having it thrust upon them.

My family may or may not go forward with HPV vaccines, but I’ve already filled out the exemption forms.  We have to push back on these infringements on our rights.

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Voting Rights Along the Border

Some issues fall so closely along fault lines of one’s philosophy that it doesn’t matter how local or insignificant they are; when once one hears of them, it becomes necessary to work out one’s beliefs about them.  I’ve been deeply distracted for the past day by the curious case of Jonathan Cottrell in Tiverton, and I’ve posted a detailed summary on Tiverton Fact Check.

He’s been a Tiverton resident for decades and currently serves on the town’s Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee.  Now, he’s applying to join the town’s Planning Committee, too, which puts him within firing range of the sides in the Tiverton Glen development controversy.  Among people who disagree with his previous votes on the CPAC (about which I know nothing), it has now become an active attack that he doesn’t actually live in town and shouldn’t be eligible to vote.  The issue has gone so far as to lead the Tiverton Board of Canvassers to schedule a hearing in September to review evidence about Cottrell’s circumstances and rights.

In a nutshell, it looks to me as if Rhode Island law holds somebody to be an elector, once he or she has legitimately registered, until such time as he or she declares a different “domicile” or registers to vote elsewhere.  And that seems appropriate, to me.

Cottrell’s living situation is very unique.  Even his address in Tiverton falls in a gray area, because it’s a multi-use property listed as a range of street numbers, and he picked the number that’s used on the commercial building as the most convenient address for the lot.  Moreover, it appears that, as the decades have rolled along, his family has purchased property a short distance over the border, in Swansea, and has used that address for a few non-official purposes.

I wouldn’t be surprised, for example, if they drifted toward making Swansea their “domicile” when their son reached full adulthood and their daughter went off to boarding school and then drifted back to homely feelings toward Tiverton some years later, having never made the decision to switch official.  A variance request to put more rentals on their Tiverton property was denied in February, and they put their main Swansea house on the market last month.

But the options their considering for their future are not really anybody’s business.  In a free society, people shouldn’t have to submit their every life decision and feeling for government scrutiny.

It’s one thing for the government to have rules about its own right to collect tax money from a person, calling them full-year residents if they’re in the state for a certain number of days.  It’s another to wrap people up in what I’ve called a political Twister game in which the government can take away their basic right to vote if they cross some gray area of the law.

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Obama’s Latest Step Toward Killing Representative Democracy

It’s difficult to say which is more astonishing: President Obama’s willingness to skip Congress and adjust the crown that he imagines himself to wear or the news media’s lack of interest in calling him on it.

That’s from a general point of view; from a pragmatic point of view, neither is very astonishing, considering that they both see themselves as left-wing activists.  The president wouldn’t attempt such things as creating new energy law without bothering with our elected legislature if he didn’t expect the news media to cover for him, and the news media wouldn’t ignore it if the partisans and ideologues who compose it didn’t support the Democrat party or disagreed the policy.

But any American with even a passing education in civics should read the following and ask, “Umm, where does he get the authority to do that?”

Touting the plan at a White House ceremony, Obama described his unprecedented carbon dioxide limits as the biggest step ever taken by the United States on climate change. On that point, at least, his opponents agreed. They denounced his proposal as egregious federal overreach that would send power prices surging, and vowed lawsuits and legislation to try to stop it.

The federal overreach isn’t even half of the problem.  Even if the federal government had the Constitutional authority to impose such a policy on the states, how in the world does the president, acting unilaterally through a regulatory agency, have the authority to make “the biggest step ever taken by the United States on climate change”?  This ought to be the stuff of impeachment and revolution, because it means we simply do not have a federalist, Constitutional, representative democracy.

We still get to elect the president… for now and discounting the realities of media bias, voter fraud, and immigration policy designed to counteract the American electorate… but this is not how our system is supposed to operate.

One suspects, frankly, that the move (indeed, the entire climate change hysteria) is primarily intended as a ruse to eliminate the rights of the people to control their own government and, therefore, their own lives.  As Betsy McCaughey notes in The American Spectator, the amount of actual improvement in climate change results (even assuming the questionable models are correct) is minuscule.

If the American people don’t wake up and see through this very soon, we deserve the next step in this takeover of our country.

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The Big Apple’s Progressive Lesson

Let’s be honest, New York City has not been a bastion of conservative policies, at least in my lifetime, and its previous mayor, Michael Bloomberg, was progressive even as a Republican.  News of the Big Apple’s rapid deterioration under overtly progressive mayor Bill de Blasio, however, has been coming in from all directions.

The latest is from Myron Magnet, in City Journal, which ends with the following advice that Rhode Islanders should take to heart for their own government:

Listen, Mayor: the first job of government is to keep the people safe in their homes and in the streets. If you can’t do that as a municipal chief executive, you are a flop. Equality is not the job of government, unless you are a Communist, in which case equality usually comes at the barrel of a gun or the end of a noose. And voters of New York, please learn this lesson too, despite your attachment to FDR and the New Deal or your seductive professor of race-class-and-gender studies at Brown or Wesleyan. New York needs a realistic mayor. We don’t have one.

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The Decoding Key for Progressive Policies

Glenn Reynolds built Instapundit.com on two things: his relentless ability to supply a constant stream of links to interesting things on the Internet, and his talent for encapsulating concepts in brief phrases.  One of his best, on the latter count, is to say that this or that common sense policy is undesirable to the elite because it presents “insufficient opportunities for graft.”

This week, he’s elaborated on the point for his USA Today column:

… why are so many politicians coming out against innovative new services such as Uber or Airbnb?  The answer, I think, is simple: Those new services offer insufficient opportunities for graft.  The old services they compete with — hotels or taxi companies — offer politicians a better deal, even if the deal they offer for consumers often isn’t as good.  And politicians back the companies because — and be clear about this — politicians don’t care about you, they care about using their positions to accumulate money, power and prestige.

… politicians don’t care, except to the extent that we make them care.  Whatever they say when they’re running for office, their top priority once elected is to build a coalition that will keep them in power, and accumulating money and influence, regardless of whether the interests of that coalition coincide with the public’s.

There’s a lot of explanatory power in Reynolds’s short phrase, and readers can surely think of examples at all levels of government to prove its truth.  At the state or local levels, there is certainly a closer link between politicians and their constituents, so the urge toward graft will be balanced in some degree by a closer interest in the community.  But self-interest still exists, and a certain amount of back scratching is the price of gaining and keeping office.

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Allowing Representative Democracy at Outdoor Restaurants

Reviewers of legislation for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s annual Freedom Index had some mild disagreement about H6210, which passed the Rhode Island House but didn’t make it over to the state Senate before the end of the session.  Basically, the bill would have given restaurants with outdoor tables some flexibility to allow patrons to have leashed dogs with them.

The negative view of the bill begins with the (appropriate) belief that it is ludicrous for the government to be getting involved with this question at all.  On the other hand, the positive reviewers assumed that this was a legislative attempt to return some freedom to Rhode Islanders, providing relief from rules already on the books.

It turns out that the assumption is correct.  Regulation 6-501.115(A) of the state Dept. of Health’s “Food Code” is the culprit:

Except as specified in (B) and (C) of this section, live animals may not be allowed on the PREMISES of a FOOD ESTABLISHMENT.

The exceptions are edible or decorative fish, patrol dogs, security dogs in outside fenced areas, service animals, and pets in institutional care facilities.  Arguably, the additional relief that the House bill sponsors sought to provide was so narrow and minimal that it didn’t justify inclusion on the index at all, but lovers of freedom in Rhode Island have to take whatever hints of light they can get.

Upon consideration, the bill actually raises an indictment of the depths to which we’ve allowed our government to sink.  Apparently, the process for law is for regulators to issue decrees, and people can appeal to the legislature for relief on specific grievances.  That’s more like a parliamentary monarchy, or something, whereby the emperor pronounces rules, but people can go to the parliament (or senate) to argue for mild relief.  That is, the representative aspect is effectively secondary.

In June, I noted a similar encroachment when it comes to the bureaucracy-decreed mandate for all seventh graders to be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted HPV disease.  In that case, it appears that Rhode Island is one of only two states to mandate the vaccine, and the other, Virginia, did so by legislation, not by bureaucratic fiat.

What legislators ought to begin doing — and what Rhode Islanders ought to begin demanding that they do — is going through the Rhode Island General Laws and tightening whatever language it is that allows unelected agencies to assume the authority to issue such edicts.  The basic assumption is that experts in the government have a need, and the right, to comb through our society searching for anything that might cause harm to anybody and implementing rules to protect us from ourselves.

If we don’t demand that such a bureaucracy be pulled back, then we can’t claim to be a society that values independence and freedom.

 

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Money Management Requires Acknowledgement of Reality

Many of us free-market types have watched Greece with a sort of morbid fascination.  What can one say of a country whose people apparently believes that they can vote to suspend reality?

One thing you could say is that such people aren’t only in Greece.  Inasmuch as progressives have an ideology built on denial of human nature and reality, wherever they dominate, one is likely to see, first, inadvisable fiscal risks followed by, second, a refusal to accept reality when things come to a head.  There’s a lot that an increasingly controlling government can do to fudge numbers and put off the day of reckoning — including moving power up to higher levels of government that can redistribute from other areas that have been better managed — but with each postponement it gets worse, and the people become more incredulous that reality could actually exist.  (Not for no reason have conservative gadflies called progressivism/liberalism a “mental disorder.”)

I’m thinking, at the moment, of the Mercatus Center’s new ranking of states by their fiscal condition, on which I’ll have an article on WatchDog.org sometime this week and about which Investor’s Business Daily observes:

There’s only one factor these fiscal winners and losers share in common. And that’s their political leanings. Of the top 10 states in the Mercatus ranking, just two — Florida and Ohio — voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in the past four elections, and just one — Montana — has a Democratic governor. Even if you look at the 25 best-performing states, only three could be considered reliably liberal.

At the other end of the list, just two of the 10 lowest-ranked states — Kentucky and West Virginia — have voted for the Republican in the past four presidential elections. And while four of them have Republican governors, they all are in solid blue states and all were elected to clean up messes left by their Democratic predecessors.

The editorial ends by crediting conservative policies, like low taxes and limited government, but I’d submit that there is a more basic distinction.  Conservatives tend to look at the way in which people actually behave, balance their observations with the wisdom of the ages (call it “tradition”), and strive to give individuals maximum autonomy to move things forward while attempting to educate them about said wisdom through the culture.  Progressives, in contrast, start from ideological and emotional premises, determine from them how the world must be, and then strive to use power in order to force people to fit the mold.  (I’m being charitable; many would say that the lust for power comes first.)

Unfortunately for those who find themselves under progressive control, reality isn’t as malleable as it would need to be for the progressive remaking to work.

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Charters in Public-Private Limbo

I’m in the minority among my ideological peers, on this, but my thinking on charter schools has changed quite a bit in recent years.

Many conservatives, I believe, see them as a sly way to insert wedges into public education’s cracks in order to bring about wider-scale reform of the system.  If we create this alternate system of schools, literally entered with the luck of the draw, that is free of the restrictions that (for some reason) we continue to tolerate in district schools, then parents will demand that district schools be made free of the restrictions, too.

To advance this stratagem, we’ve been willing to overlook basic descriptive facts about charters that would normally concern us a great deal.  In order to work around the damage that the democratic nature of our government has wrought in education (thanks, largely, to the self-interested activism of teacher unions), we’re creating institutions over which the public has less control.  On the one hand, charter advocates insist that they are “public schools of choice,” so they should fall within the range of inside-government benefits, but on the other hand, they are demanding that the people paying the bills should not have immediate, democratic control over them.

In any other context, conservatives would recoil against that just as surely as they ought to recoil against crony capitalist deals giving connected insiders taxpayer cash for their private business dealings.  Principle should not be something to be weighed against practicality.  Rather, we should hold to our principles because they produce the outcome that we desire; it is in determining our goals that we should weigh morality and practicality.

My concern, in treading off our principled path, is that we’re more likely to get lost than to return to our firm ground.  Instead of breaking the rigid grip of special interests on public schools, charters will kill off private schools — at least all of them that are accessible to anybody who’s less than rich.  Then special interests will successfully tighten the vice, making government education a true monopoly rather than the near-monopoly that it currently is.