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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.

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When the Government’s Thugs Want Your Property

From time to time, I’ve pointed out that the state’s economic development efforts resemble cliché villains in a movie when it comes to setting aside certain areas for special “districts” planned out by people who think they have a right to design our entire society.  The difference is that Hollywood tends make business moguls the villains.

Time is running short for Americans to realize who the real bad guys are.  Take, for example, the story of Hinga Mbogo:

… thanks to a little-known zoning tactic known as “amortization,” the Dallas City Council is trying to remove Hinga from his own property. Back in 2005, the council re-zoned Hinga’s neighborhood for a “planned development district.” Any properties that were “nonconforming” with the new zoning designation had a limited amount of time to comply. For Hinga, that would mean closing down his business. …

… Hinga is the only pre-existing property owner left in his neighborhood who continues to operate amid redevelopment. As Hinga put it, the city is “cloaking” its actions. “They’re putting me out of business.”

Instead of sending in gang members to rough Mbogo up and send him a message, the government sends lawyers and, ultimately, police officers because they’re operating within the law, albeit unjust law.

Another item in the news (via Instapundit) shows that it isn’t unfair to think of these development-related government agencies as criminal organizations:

The oversight panel, in 2012, was uncovering the fact that then-Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez made a secret deal to make a potentially damaging lawsuit go away. He reportedly told the litigant that in exchange for dropping the suit, the government would look the other way on fraud the litigant was doing in an unrelated matter, which was being investigated by HUD….

HUD …. refused to allow Congress to speak to the regional director six months later, despite repeated requests, so the committee issued a subpoena.

The non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) has ruled that two officials from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) must return some of their salaries as “improper payments,” a penalty that HUD is so far declining to impose.

From the federal government down, agencies are acting like organized crime syndicates, and at the local level, municipal enforcers are clearing entire neighborhoods of business owners out of their property in the name government-preferred economic development.  The fact that they’ve corrupted our system of government in order to make the theft and thuggery legal doesn’t change its nature.

One suspects “follow the money” still applies, and that there are plenty of special deals to be uncovered, but if not, if the government is acting this way for no other reasons than ideology and petty power fixes, I’m not sure that’s any better.

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A Political Litmus Test for RI Economic Development

When people criticize government-centric approaches to economic development, making reference to officials’ picking “winners and losers,” they’re usually thinking in economic terms.  People elected or appointed to government office shouldn’t be expected to be clairvoyant investors of the public’s money, able to spot opportunities with an unfailing eye that would win them fortunes in the private sector.

Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s response to the in thing for left-wing governors and mayors — banning official travel to North Carolina as punishment for that state’s different conclusions on social issues — suggests that there’s another danger of government-centric economic development about which we haven’t been sufficiently concerned, so far:

… Raimondo, a Democrat, on Wednesday said she would call PayPal and other progressive-leaning businesses about expanding in Rhode Island after the California-based internet payment company canceled a planned operations center in Charlotte over the North Carolina law.

“I am calling all of them,” Raimondo said about businesses upset with the North Carolina law, which would prohibit local anti-discrimination protections and force transgender people to use bathrooms in public buildings that match the gender of their birth. “I am saying to them we are a place of openness and tolerance in Rhode Island and it is a progressive place to start a business.”

As the quasi-public Commerce Corporation disperses its multi-million-dollar economic development slush fund, how much weight will it put on the degree to which applicants are “progressive-leaning businesses”?  Perhaps more importantly, when did “a progressive place to start a business” become an official part of the state’s brand?

I suppose one can’t blame the governor for trying to turn Rhode Island’s huge tax burden, invasive regulations, and thorough corruption — that is, its progressivism — into a positive, where possible, but Rhode Islanders should give due consideration to the danger of using money taken from taxpayers to push the economy in a direction that privileges companies of a particular political view.  There’s an “f” ism for that form of society.

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Marketing and the Scam of Rhode Island Governance

Want some evidence that the style of top-down governance by the self-affirming smaht class is really just a hodge-podge scam for money and power?  Look no farther than Kate Bramson’s Providence Journal article about RI Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor’s “taking responsibility” for the Cooler & Warmer fiasco:

It’s time to learn from the mistakes, he said: “I’m leading the effort.”

But the people of Rhode Island should lead development of the new slogan, which won’t be merely one phrase, Pryor continued.

“So in the end, there’ll be many taglines, as many as people produce,” he said.

Seriously?  What is this?  We need an army of six-figure insiders to turn around and let the people produce their own taglines?

Last spring, when URI business professor Edward Mazze was applauding Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s push for consolidated tourism activities, I pointed out the conceptual problems with such an effort, concluding:

…who’s to say that Rhode Islanders should want a unified image.  Let Newport be Newport; let Providence be Providence; let South County be South County.  That’s the real charm of Rhode Island.  Contrary to the frequent assertion of consolidation-and-centralization types, the advantage of being small is the proximity of so much diversity, not the ability to give central authorities the ability to experiment with all of our lives and livelihoods.  If state offices can’t market that, then they don’t get Rhode Island and shouldn’t presume to lead it.

Commenters to Bramson’s article have already noted that Pryor’s acceptance of responsibility is flimsy and cheap if saying he accepts it is the extent of the consequences, with most suggesting he should quit or be fired.  The reality, however, is that if these highly paid state functionaries really were to learn from their mistakes, they’d all be out of a job.

The current government in Rhode Island is not what our founders thought they’d designed, it’s not a system that serves our state well, and if they could see past the smoke and the scams, Rhode Islanders would quickly conclude that it’s not the system of governance that they want.

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Minimum Wage and the Left’s Willingness to Change Its Story

Noah Rothman has noticed that progressives in and around government are perfectly happy to switch their claims about what a policy will do depending on the circumstances:

Covert was hardly alone. The CBO’s assessment of the negative impact on employment was “fuzzy and unreliable,” while it probably underestimated the positive impacts of the minimum wage, declared National Memo’s Joe Conason. Even the president and the government he leads got in on the act. “There’s no solid evidence that a higher minimum wage costs jobs,” Barack Obama declared. Over at the Department of Labor, a web page dedicated to serving as a minimum wage “myth buster” soon appeared, which echoed the president’s sentiments. “Myth: Increasing the minimum wage will cause people to lose their jobs,” the Labor Department truth-seekers averred. “Not true.” They cited a letter to the president signed by 600 economists who insisted that a minimum wage hike had “little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers.”

It was perhaps with these appeals to authority in mind that the nation’s most liberally governed states embarked on a brave journey into the unknown. This week, New York and California’s legislatures both approved minimum wage increases, not to the $10.10 per hour, for which President Barack Obama advocated and approved for federal contractors, but to $15 per hour. Despite both states having higher unemployment rates than the national average, their respective governors are expected to sign those measures. Their advocacy campaign successful and complete, the left is now shifting from denying that there will be any adverse effects on employment as a result of the minimum wage hike to admitting that those effects will materialize and lead to a kind of desirable economic Darwinism.

For well-meaning progressives, a public policy isn’t about its likely effects.  It’s about faith in the intention.  For whatever reason, they believe it’s the right thing to do to force employers to find a way to pay their employees more than the market suggests their labor is worth.  Satisfying this mandate for justice outweighs determining whether it will result in an overall happier population.

For the self-serving progressives who manipulate the others, neither the intention nor the likely effect is very important.  They’re looking for means of buying votes and gathering unto themselves power.  This is a likely effect — actually, an inevitable one — of adopting a political philosophy built on empowering a small group of politicians to take control of the economy and all of society.  Unfortunately, the faith in the intention of making the world fair and friendly is powerful, having been inflated with fluff for a century.

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Left-Wing Policies Hurt the People They’re (Ostensibly) Meant to Help

It’s astonishing that this simple proposition could be so ignored to the detriment of the West’s civic society: Consolidating power will tend to help the powerful.  Maybe… just maybe… in theory… the central hub of power will have somebody decent calling the shots for a time, but the incentives of such a society ensure that the, well, less decent have more incentive to make their way there.  Centralized power does not betoken an evolved system, but a regressing one.

Even without a conscious conspiracy, one can expect that powerful people will prefer policies that help them.  What works for them just feels like it must work better, and even more, it’s always possible to rationalize policies that work in one’s own favor.  As The American Interest puts it:

All these blue [i.e., liberal or progressive] regulatory ideas are intended to address real concerns—access to a living wage, to quality professional services, or to retirement security—at a time of economic transition and dislocation. The question is: How do we weather this period in a humane and sustainable way? In almost all cases, the blue approach will have the opposite of its intended effect, favoring privileged insiders at the expense of those it is intended to help.

Glenn Reynolds is more cynical, suggesting that, “they’re supposed to look like they’re addressing those concerns, while actually enriching Democratic political figures.”  For my part, I fall in the middle, ultimately concluding that it doesn’t matter whether it’s intentional or not, but suspecting that it’s intentional for some, convenient for others, and an error for still others.  There’s just too much benefit to buying off constituencies while also siphoning off them for one’s own benefit.

The challenge is that it’s going to fall to the public to realize that the simple aphorism with which I began this post and to resist policies that are like raffle contests promising something unearned but luring the target into a hard sales pitch and a scam.

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A Question of Leadership in the Governor’s Office

Is it me, or does it seem as if Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo and her collection of well-paid communications and public relations personnel have been sticking with the “stay positive and move forward” line a bit too much?  Whether the subject of controversy is tolls or a botched marketing campaign roll-out, it seems the line is, “We’re excited to be doing what our talking points say we’re doing, and we’re not going to hold back the state by responding to people with legitimate concerns now that we’ve won the political fight.”  In this case, spokeswoman Marie Aberger put it this way:

The Governor is excited we are moving forward with a coordinated, statewide, marketing effort to get our state in the game, drive tourism, attract business, and grow our economy.

She then goes on to suggest that all of the attention the mess-ups have brought to Rhode Island is a “bright side.”  After a year of having this face turned to it, the Rhode Island public would be justified in feeling as if the governor doesn’t quite subscribe to the “the people are the bosses” philosophy of representative democracy.

In fact, the public’s impression should go a bit farther.  Addressing the marketing controversy with Dan Jaehnig, Raimondo’s response about the outright error of using Icelandic video in the Rhode Island advertisement was inadvertently telling:

Look, [the production firm] made a mistake.  People make mistakes.  We’re going to hold them accountable.  It was a local firm.

As if it would be unreasonable to expect a local Rhode Island firm to do its job.  That’s the sort of redirection of blame one would give to investment bigwigs outside of the state, who might be sympathetic that the governor had to use some small local businesses for political reasons, and that some sacrifice of quality was to be expected.

That’s not leadership.  Leadership is not blaming the firm for failing to follow “explicit instructions.”  Leadership would be stating that mistakes happen and acknowledging that the bigger responsibility falls on the managers within the governor’s administration who didn’t check that their “explicit instructions” were followed by requiring the production company to explain from where in the state each and every clip originated.

But that sort of leadership might draw even more attention to Raimondo’s out-of-state hires, and it’s beginning to appear that Rhode Island’s governor is more invested in the competence of the national and international elite that puts her on a top-50 world leaders list than the competence of the people of her state.

This perspective permeates not only her public relations approach, but also her attitude toward policy.  The economic development vision of the Brookings Institution/RhodeMap central planners, for example, is for state, national, and international “experts” to design our communities for us and then push us toward careers that suit their peers in the private sector.  It starts with them, their beliefs, and their visions, forcing us to fit as best we can rather than starting with our dreams and capabilities.

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Kilmartin’s Padded Social Media Room Bill and What People Hear About RI

Oh, wonderful.  Legislation that Attorney General Peter Kilmartin has proposed to (in the description of the Freedom Index) “restrict freedom of speech by making it a crime to post an online message to somebody if doing so might make another person feel frightened or harassed or lead other people to do things that cause those feelings” has attracted national attention.  As the Breitbart headline puts it, “Dangerous Online ‘Harassment’ Bill Being Pushed by Rhode Island Attorney General“:

“In the new age of the Internet and social media, once a harassing statement, image or video is posted online it can be there forever,” said Kilmartin, blissfully ambiguous as to what he counts as ‘harassing’. “In addition, other persons may respond to or repost the harassing statement, image or video, which would continue to harass and seriously harm the victim. Unfortunately, the current law provides no protection to victims of this type of harassment as such behavior is not be considered a ‘course of conduct.’” …

“Someone could be arrested for re-tweeting a photo sent to them,” claims Hillary Davis, a policy associate at the American Civil Liberties Union. “The problem is you can’t always be responsible for the actions of other people and shouldn’t go to jail for their actions. If someone takes something and twists it around, should you be responsible?”

Rhode Islanders really need to begin asking themselves if they want elected officials to treat them like children who need helicopter-parent government, because that’s exactly the political mentality that has infected this place.

The bill’s numbers, just so you know, are H7763 and S2630, and the House Judiciary Committee will be hearing its version on Wednesday.

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Citizens Financial Group Shows an Inevitable Outcome for RhodeMap Central Planning

Frank Carini makes points in his ecoRI editorial, today, with which conservatives will find it difficult to disagree.

Last December, at a Grow Smart Rhode Island transit conference, Gov. Gina Raimondo talked about the importance of developing around dense, transit-accessible hubs. Less than four months later, the governor is celebrating a project that will do just the opposite.

Last week, the Citizens Financial Group announced plans to build a corporate campus on open space in Johnston, off Greenville Avenue and outside Route 295. The proposed 420,000-square-foot facility is expected to house 3,200 current employees. The campus will reportedly feature an on-site cafeteria, fitness center and walking paths.

Yes, developing Rhode Island’s extensive and intrusive state guide plan was “a waste of time” (and worse than that).  Yes, the amount of taxpayer resources that politicians have promised (and will continue to promise) to Citizens for its new Johnston compound is offensive.

The step that Carini does not appear willing to make, however, is to come to broad conclusions about the very nature of central planning.  Consolidating power in order to prevent people from doing things you don’t want them to do will mean that only people with enhanced leverage will be able to do those things.

Citizens can promise politicians a good talking point and labor unions a bunch of jobs, so manacles like the state guide plan won’t apply to the company.  Meanwhile, smaller, more-localized homeowners and companies will be limited to the restraints that the bank found too restrictive, ultimately giving the finance giant market leverage in addition to all of the exceptions and handouts.  Meanwhile, land that has no value to those who lack the political pull to get around the government plans is less expensive for entities that do have such pull.

This is what happens when planners don’t look at incentives, acknowledge their legitimacy, and seek to accommodate them in a way that works best all around, but rather seek to slip restrictive rules into place below the awareness of most of the people who will be affected.

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National Politics Vs. RI: When People Can Leave

In USA Today, Glenn Reynolds gets it correct, I’d say, when he responds to king of center-right MSM smarm David Brooks as follows:

Brooks is, of course, horrified at Trump and his supporters, whom he finds childish, thuggish and contemptuous of the things that David Brooks likes about today’s America. It’s clear that he’d like a social/political revolution that was more refined, better-mannered, more focused on the Constitution and, well, more bourgeois as opposed to in-your-face and working class. …

Yet the tea party movement was smeared as racist, denounced as fascist, harassed with impunity by the IRS and generally treated with contempt by the political establishment — and by pundits like Brooks, who declared “I’m not a fan of this movement.” After handing the GOP big legislative victories in 2010 and 2014, it was largely betrayed by the Republicans in Congress, who broke their promises to shrink government and block Obama’s initiatives.

Reynolds isn’t saying that the Tea Partiers became the Trumpkins, although of course some of them have, but that it’s a predictable sequence.  If the tyrannists in the establishment see fit to dismiss a well-behaved populist movement — exploiting then ignoring them, on the Republican side, and actively mocking and persecuting them on the Democrat side — they’ll get a less-well-behaved populist movement.  Just as Trump’s rhetoric and behavior expanded the margin for the bad behavior of those protesting him, contemptuous treatment of the Tea Party undermined the leverage of the populist Right’s better angels.

For those who continue to watch as Rhode Island sinks with no plausible correction in sight, one obvious question that arises is why this dynamic has not occurred here.  The answer may be a lesson for both those hoping to predict the future for the U.S. and those looking to apply national lessons to Rhode Island (although I wouldn’t presume to articulate it, yet).

Simply put, people can leave Rhode Island.  If the establishment can maintain a strong enough wall — we can plainly see that they spend enough of our money maintaining it — those who would change the state conclude that the cost of leaving is lower than the cost of breaching it.  At the national level, escaping the abuse is less of an option, so when the more-moderate people give up and/or radicalize, they open a path for those with less concern for process and civil society.

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Theories of Trump

Theories about Donald Trump’s political success abound, raising the question of how much the man actually matters when it comes to the phenomenon, a dangerous circumstance if we forget that we’re electing the man, not the brand.

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Dexter Liu’s All-Too-Common Story

An op-ed in today’s Providence Journal by Portsmouth resident Dexter Liu is a story I’ve heard time and again in my years writing in Rhode Island:

Rhode Island has been home for 30 years. I’ve enjoyed working in Newport, raising a family in Portsmouth and being part of the Aquidneck Island community. Our roots run deep here, so the decision to move is terribly bittersweet. We’ll miss friends and favorite haunts, but alas, it’s farewell, Rhode Island.

The early comments to the post are all-too-common, as well.  One sentiment is that people who find it too difficult to live or do business here should just take off.  (One hears similar sentiments when some business objects to new regulations that are supposedly “for the worker,” as if the state has such a healthy economy that it can dismiss any business that can’t thrive in the worst business climate in the country.)  Another sentiment is that there must be some bigger reason for the move.  As Mike Berry puts it: “No one leaves just because they don’t think the state government is running efficiently.”

This is the problem, though.  People don’t leave only because of taxes or regulations.  They generally leave (or don’t come in the first place) at times of transition or decision.  So, yes, a son graduating high school and heading off to college is a time of transition, but deciding what to do during that transition is an open question.  And it explains quite a bit about Rhode Island if people see life changes as an opportunity to escape the state.

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Colleges Suffering for Their Campus Lunacy Remind of Rhode Island

Over the past… what?… six months, America has watched its campuses taking the next step in their descent toward madness.  One can’t help but get the sense that they may no longer be places where learning is the top priority, but rather that they have moved on even from indoctrination to the stage of training shock troops for ideological war.  We may now be beginning to see what happens when students who do not wish to invest so much in that sort of training (and their parents) look for institutions that won’t make them the background bit-players on which the apprentices of outrage can practice.

In Missouri, for example, enrollment is down at the state’s flagship campus, and Mizzou is facing an unexpected deficit of $32 million.  Locally, the Brown Daily Herald may be reporting hints of a similar reaction among non-donating alumni of Brown University:

Students at the call center who chose to remain anonymous cited multiple instances in which alums have chosen not to donate as a result of student activism in recent years.

The Herald article adds an interesting wrinkle that ought to raise doubts about the university’s — about universities’ — ability to respond to the feedback they’re getting from those outside of their towers:

Another staff member pointed out that though older alums may be worried about the direction Brown is moving in and refusing to donate, these may be the same alums who are upset that Brown started accepting students of color or became co-educational.

True to the progressive formula, which prevents substantive communication and reconsideration through its control of language and handbook of knee-jerk explanations, this staff member doesn’t seem to understand why people might be uncomfortable with scenes like this, this, and this,  with the complementary indications that real free speech has been driven underground in a way against which we’d all thought Dead Poets Society and decades of similar themes had provided immunization:

Another staff member pointed out that though older alums may be worried about the direction Brown is moving in and refusing to donate, these may be the same alums who are upset that Brown started accepting students of color or became co-educational.

No need to consider the outrageous behavior of social justice warriors on campus; those non-donating alums are probably just racist misogynists.

Rhode Islanders, especially, ought to pay attention to these developments, because the campuses are providing a miniature of our state’s experience.  Give in to special interests and force people to live in a bizarre, contrived environment that doesn’t provide for their needs and interests, and they’ll go elsewhere.  Just as colleges and universities appear to to be turning away from education as a first priority, so too Rhode Island has turned away from its people.

In the long run, nothing is too big to fail, not even a state.

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Rich, Poor, and the Nature of Politics

Basketball star Charles Barkley has hit the news now and then recently with some unexpectedly common-sensible statement or other, and he hits close to the mark when he says:

“All politics is rich people screwing poor people,” he said during the NCAA basketball tournament media day, according to The Guardian.

However, when he elaborates, he slips back into the received wisdom of people who, like him, have “always voted Democratic — always” and emphasizes that Republicans are especially good at “dividing and conquering.”  I think he’s got that exactly backwards, with Democrats’ being especially good at pushing divisive policies and ideas to the point that Republicans look to be dividing the wave by standing firm.

But be that as it may, Glenn Reynolds contributes two key points:

  • When people suggest, as Barkley does, that the poor ought to “band together,” politically, they’re very often rich people hoping to use poor people for their own political purposes.
  • The inevitable use of government to disadvantage the poor is a central reason conservatives argue for keeping as much of society outside of government-related politics as possible.

The second point merits detail.  For one thing, other institutions in society are less prone to total capture by an elite and, in any event, aren’t empowered to force people to do things or to confiscate money from them as government is.  For another thing, when the inherent power of society is divided up across a variety of institutions, even to the extent that they’re all captured by “the rich,” they’re directed by different rich people whose interests might conflict and create a friction that gives the middle class and poor leverage.

The basic principle underlying all this is so simple and obvious as to be axiomatic: Consolidating power helps the powerful.  The more people consent to be ruled by their leaders, and the smaller the group of leaders whom they consent to follow, the more likely the poor will be screwed.