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When the People Aren’t Represented

This Peter Hitchens essay about the reordering of politics visible in the Brexit vote is worth reading for a variety of reasons.  The crux is that Great Britain’s politics (like those of the United States) have developed such that the elites of the two major parties have more in common with each other than with sizable portions of their bases, which therefore have more in common with each other than with their own elites.  One particularly notable part comes toward the end:

Thursday’s vote shows that the House of Commons is hopelessly unrepresentative. The concerns and hopes of those who voted to leave the EU – 51.9 per cent of the highest poll since 1992 – are reliably supported by fewer than a quarter of MPs, if that. Ludicrously, neither of the big parties agrees with a proven majority of the electorate – and neither shows any sign of changing its policies as a result.

Hitchens rightly calls this a scandal.  How can a majority not be represented?  I can’t find it just now, but not long ago, I noted the strong traditionalist sentiment in a foreign country (Great Britain again, I think) when it came to marriage.  It wasn’t quite a majority, but it struck me that some sizable percentage of the electorate (around one-third or more, as I recall) was entirely without representation in the government.  That can’t go on long, particularly in societies that still have some vestige of their independent past.

It’s very easy to see how the transgender-bathroom issue is a pre-planned next step in the Left’s attack on our culture, now that the Supreme Court has amended the U.S. Constitution to impose same-sex marriage on the country, but Brexit is probably a related phenomenon, as well.  Whatever the issue, what’s stunning is that Western elites are simply refusing to adjust, as if they’re sick of having to bide their time, as if their attitude is, “We run the country, damn it, not you backwards morons.”

The American Interest makes much the same point, as quoted on Instapundit:

Failure to control immigration? Amnesty? Social benefits for non-citizens when citizens are suffering? Nation-building wars abroad instead of nation-building at home? Massive debt? Failures to confront terrorism effectively? Businesses moving jobs overseas? Recession in the countryside while the capital prospers? Rapid changes in gender politics? Bizarre contortions of politically correct speech, which shout down what many see as common sense? It has left many in the electorate angry and disenfranchised. And when those in the public who feel this way have objected or resisted, elites have doubled-down, rather than listen and adjust.

As Glenn Reynolds appends, “They see us as, at best, livestock to be managed,” which gets right back to my observation, locally, that people in government and the media seem to believe it’s their job to force us to give government more money than we want to give (see here and here for elaboration).  Brexit was a signal that the battle isn’t over.

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Great Britain Says No to Centralized Government

Nice – defying the latest poll results, Great Britain has voted to leave the European Union.

The UK has voted to leave the European Union in a historic referendum which threw Westminster politics into disarray and sent the pound tumbling on the world markets.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage declared that June 23 should “go down in history as our independence day”, while Vote Leave’s chair, the Labour MP Gisela Stuart, said it was “our opportunity to take back control of a whole area of democratic decisions”.

Excerpt below from the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity’s statement on the implications of the Brexit vote. Read their full statement here.

Symbolic of its fight against regional governance and federal intrusion into state and local affairs, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity today applauds the British people for voting to re-establish their national sovereignty and to depart the European Union.

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Brexit for All of Us

Today, as Roger Kimball writes, “perhaps for the last time in a generation, the British voters have a choice” about how they will be governed.  I have not followed the matter with sufficient attention to have anything more than hope about the outcome, and I hope our fellow Anglospherians will put the brakes on progressive internationalism before it falls to hard reality to stop it.

Last week, I noted a similarity of the “government town” concept I’ve described multiple times in this space on either side of the Atlantic.  Kimball brings forward another disconcerting echo:

A couple of years ago when an earlier chapter in this saga was unfolding, I was chatting with an Italian friend, a former Italian senator, who employed the word to describe the ascension of Mario Monti to the Italian premiership in 2012. “Super Mario” was technically appointed by the Italian president; in reality, he was foisted upon Italy by the European Union. As it happens, that same day Lucas Papademos was sworn in as Greece’s prime minister.

How did that happen? Well might you ask. That day, we received a plaintive email from a journalist friend in London:

Today, two modern European democracies installed prime ministers who had been elected by nobody. This is what we have come to. It is roughly the equivalent of the federal government stepping in to appoint an unelected governor of California when the state went broke — which is beyond inconceivable. Pray for us.

I’m not sure whether Kimball’s friend was serious or sarcastic with that “beyond inconceivable,” but it clearly is an accurate description.  We’ve seen this in Rhode Island, for example, with our quick resort to municipal dictators when communities began driving themselves off the financial road.

As states find it increasingly difficult to continue the gambit of putting people (often imported) on government-service rolls and under generous government contracts in order to demand that others pay for the government’s activities, they’ll turn to the federal government to extract more wealth from areas of the country that are still doing well.  In some state, somewhere, the strategy will not work, whether because of reckless pension promises or a demographic balance that tips the scales.  As Rhode Island municipalities have done, the ruling classes of that state will gladly hand over their people’s sovereignty for a federal bailout.

Maybe we’ll call that person a “receiver” rather than a “governor,” but it will amount to the same thing.

Human beings have always wanted the power to tell others what to do (especially when the command is to give them money and power), and a certain faction of humanity is relentlessly consolidating into a movement meant to cover the entire planet.  The sooner we shatter the movement, the less painful it will be.

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Research and Experience Agree: Socialism Stinks

At nearby University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, one professor has belatedly made the journey across ideological divide and concluded that “socialism doesn’t work”:

“I gradually became disenchanted with Marxism by visiting many of the countries that had tried to shape their societies to conform to its doctrines. I was disillusioned by the realities I saw in … socialist countries – the USSR, Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, etc,” [Jack] Stauder told The College Fix via email.

“I came to recognize that socialism doesn’t work, and that its ‘revolutionary’ imposition inevitably leads to cruelty, injustice and the loss of freedom,” the professor continued.

“I could see the same pattern in the many failed left-wing revolutions of Latin America and elsewhere. By combining actual travel with the historical study of socialism and revolution, I succeeded in disabusing myself of the utopian notions that fatally attract people to leftist ideas.”

Becoming familiar with people who work with their hands for a living in the American West also aided Stauder along, when contrasted with life immersed in left-wing academia.

Some of the first comments to the post are interesting.  Defenders of socialism appear to take two tacks:  1) the bad socialist countries aren’t socialism, but dictatorships, and 2) good countries that aren’t fully socialist are socialism.  One could take the countries listed and suggest that nations deluded into socialism can choose one of two options as socialism gets around to not working.  They can either reform away from it (as Northern European countries have been doing) or move toward dictatorship, which is the inevitable end point when a people refuses to abandon socialism’s core tenets.

Given Stauder’s illustration that it is possible, even late in life, to abandon bad ideas, it’s saddening that socialists in the United States and the internationalists are managing to spread their malignant ideology.  Let’s hope that Americans haven’t destroyed their culture too fatally to avoid the dictatorship option.

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Curious How “Revitalization” Requires “Longevity” for Officials

One thing conspicuously missing from Kate Bramson’s article today, titled, “GrowSmartRI summit: Speakers share revitalization success stories,” is any statistical evidence that the stories are, indeed, about successes.  Oh, sure, when government agents and activists push hard enough, they manage to fund projects and (eventually) bring them to completion, but when most people hear the phrase “revitalization success stories,” they are likely to expect that the areas were revitalized.  The fact that three “relatively new” restaurants open their doors each night in Attleboro doesn’t tell us much.

This lack of substantial evidence relates to another giant omission in the article — namely, further explanation of this disturbing opening:

Patterns emerged Tuesday as government leaders from three smaller, northeastern cities shared success stories about their revitalization efforts.

Longevity — of elected leaders and employees working for them — was one of several themes that arose before an audience of about 200 business and civic leaders at a summit hosted by the nonprofit GrowSmartRI.

So, “revitalization” requires that voters elect the same officials repeatedly and that the bureaucrats keep their jobs, too?  Well, how convenient.

It’s also obvious.  The entire motivating philosophy of GrowSmartRI, the Brookings Institution, the RI Foundation, the Raimondo administration, and the broader society of progressive elites is that one of government’s central functions (probably the central function) is to plan out the future and enforce that plan so the grimy masses aren’t really free to shape their communities.

When your organizational motivation is to tell other people what to do and how to live, you can’t really abide such disruptive things as individual freedom or the inevitable change inherent in representative democracy.  The goal is to take the permanence that we used to apply very narrowly in a Constitution and Bill of Rights and apply it expansively to minute details of how all we should live.

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Something UHIP This Way Comes

Rhode Island won’t forever be able to avoid the arrival of the state’s Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) monster, although the latest from Lynn Arditi is that it won’t darken our state until the leaves begin to shade and the season of evil approaches in the fall (appropriate to an election season, this time around, too).  It’s a sinister beast, too, this dependency portal, which weaves itself in sly language.  Witness (emphasis added):

The new system will allow the state to verify eligibility for programs such as Medicaid, the insurance program for low-income residents, and integrate them with other state assistance programs, officials said, to improve service and weed out fraud. …

“Rhode Island has been running the same enrollment and eligibility software since the Reagan Administration,” Roberts said. “This new system is a smart investment that will result in better customer service and significant savings for state taxpayers. As we move toward the September launch, we will continue to incorporate best practices and lessons learned from other states. We are confident that setting a launch date in September will allow the state ample time to anticipate and prepare for any issues that may develop during a transition from an aging software system to a modern, digital portal that meets our 21st century needs.”

In our traditional understanding of such concepts, one does not “verify eligibility” to receive “customer service,” and the wise reader should expect that “significant savings” will be measured against what the costs would have been to expand benefits by some less-efficient route.  That’s what UHIP is going to do.  As with the expansion of Medicaid and its implementation through the ObamaCare health benefits exchange (which was the first key piece of the portal), “verifying eligibility” will not prove to mean stopping people who apply from receiving benefits inappropriately, but rather, verifying that people who didn’t know they were eligible and who were not really seeking benefits are indeed eligible and should indeed receive taxpayer dollars.

Like some magical being, efficiency of this sort can be a positive when it is pursued in the proper spirit.  When the spirit is corrupted, though, efficiency merely accelerates the spreading of its dark shadow, particularly when the bureaucratic cult that summoned the beast has so mastered the technique of shaving its two pounds of flesh.

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Vengeance of Progressives Scorned

Faced with another budget year during which voters repeated, “Yes, we’re serious; stop raising taxes,” progressives in Tiverton are lashing out to teach us a lesson.  Unfortunately, they dominate the town’s Budget Committee, so they were able to convince themselves that the best path forward, politically, would be to virtually eliminate the town’s budget for trash pickup.

Oh, they’re claiming that the budget that I submitted (which won with 55% of the vote) forced them to eliminate that service, but as I show in a post on Tiverton Fact Check, that simply isn’t the case.  They had $2.3 million of options from which to find $783,000 without touching trash or paving, and in fact, the Budget Committee itself was 84% of the way to covering the necessary amount before deciding to reverse course and hurt the greatest number of people possible.

That’s what it’s really about.  They’re angry, and as tends to happen with angry people, their solution starts with the impulse to inflict pain.  A number of details that are probably too localized to be of interest to a statewide audience support that interpretation, but here are a few examples:

  • They (sadly including the police chief) are handing out business cards telling people to contact me if they aren’t happy about the pain; that is, the goal is to hurt people so that they’ll blame me.
  • The town administrator said ending trash pickup would save $300,000 at most, but the Budget Committee decided to pretend it would save $500,000; the point, obviously, was to eliminate the service, not actually to find areas of real savings.
  • During the budget debate, they argued against the lower budget on the grounds that 80% of town expenses are unchangeable and under contract, yet trash pickup is under contract until next year…. and they changed it.
  • Their actual hope is that the Town Council will implement a new fee — imposing the tax that voters rejected by changing its name — and actually overspend the budget that the voters and Budget Committee approved.
  • The Budget Committee didn’t even bother to balance the budget, just assuming that the Town Council will find some $150,000 in revenue.

Groups that are acting in the interest of their communities behave very differently.  For one thing, they try to position themselves so that good policy benefits them politically.  What we’re seeing in Tiverton is a group of insiders who think that bad policy will benefit them politically, and the politics are their priority, not their community.  Hopefully, their friends on the Town Council — who will actually have to make the decision for real, not pretend — will see the calculation differently.

If we can learn locally, maybe we can take the lesson to the state level, where bad policy for political benefit pretty much defines Rhode Island government.

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Will RI Be a Frontier When the Federal Empire Recedes

I’ve been warning about the “company state” dynamic whereby an area’s core industry essentially becomes the provision of government services, with the revenue pulled in from the few productive residents and other cities, towns, and states.  The goal becomes to attract and create as many dependents as possible so as to justify sending a larger bill to those who have no choice but to pay it.  Eventually, though, the productive locals will leave or decide to join the dependent club, and other cities, towns, and states will refuse or no longer be able to cover the bills.

I wonder if that sort of civic and economic structure will set Rhode Island to be akin to the frontier areas as the Roman Empire receded.  Here’s Jakub Grygiel:

In those frontier outposts, the locals have to make difficult decisions based on an assessment of how resilient their empire is, how persistent and dangerous the enemy appears, and how strong their own will is. And they experience different stages of geopolitical grief from denial and delusion to perhaps, in the best case, an attempt at indigenous security provision.

Clearly, Grygiel’s talking about security against invaders, but something similar seems likely to happen when a large class of people rely on handouts that simply cease to be handed out, whether one sees the recipients as a replacement for the invaders or you see them as the villagers failing to prepare to defend themselves against events that will damage or take their resources.  Grygiel describes the stages as follows:

  • “First, there is the gradual recognition that imperial forces were not what they used to be.”
  • “Second, after the reassuring presence of imperial might has vanished, the next stage does not include calls for defense or balancing or stronger walls. No. It is the stage of disbelief and self-delusion.”
  • “Third… the people of Comagenis … recognized that security was a creation of force, not a self-sustaining reality. But even before the technical question of how to defend themselves, the locals needed a reason to do it.”

In some ways, we may already be well into the first stage, perhaps into the second.  Government funds cannot be increased at the rate to which officials have become accustomed.  Some things (roads and pensions) are showing the pressure on the finances, and intra-progressive political battles are beginning to pit special interests against each other.  Next comes the refusal to adjust policies to the obvious future and a desperate search to find any and all sources of new revenue to keep the game going.

When that no longer works, we can expect a fatalism as some sit and stare at the financial wasteland and others refuse to let our society return to the principles of freedom, self control, and self reliance that allowed our society to be so successful in the first place.

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Parking Meters and the Purpose of Government

On GoLocalProv, Kate Nagle conveys the concern of Providence retailers that expanded parking meter usage is driving them out of business:

“When the parking meters were installed, it became a real deterrent for my customers to shop in my area. They would much rather go to University Plaza or Providence Place Mall, where they could easily find parking [than] to battle on-street parking on Thayer and Waterman,” wrote [Donald Sommers with Advanced Communications Technologies who was a Verizon Premium Retailer]. “Then, to throw salt in the wound, they made the metered parking ridiculously difficult to figure out, which ultimately led to the downfall of my business. On a daily basis we would get people poking their head in the door just to ask how and where they would be able to get the ticket for their dashboard! When we initially moved in, we were doing approximately 65-75 phones a month. In the next couple of years we grew the business to between 150-175 phones a month but today, I’m lucky to see 50 phones a month with nothing else to attribute the loss in sales but what the customers are saying about the metered parking.”

Tellingly, not only do the meters appear to be harming businesses, but the city is effectively offloading its customer service onto those same businesses.  Of course, I use the term “customer service” in a tongue-in-cheek way.  One of the comments to Nagle’s article gets to a key point, writing that the “cradle to grave demands” of “unionized workers” still “don’t grow on trees.”  Who is serving whom?

Politicians in the state like to talk about creating jobs and having a vibrant economy, but their actions and priorities don’t match their words.  Economic development, to them, is using taxpayer dollars like a special-interest payout to lure businesses that are willing to work within the state’s fundamentally corrupt civic society.  That’s because the real first priority of Rhode Island is now the maintenance of government, its welfare clients, and its employees.

Parking meters, tolls, small-scale summer rental taxes… whatever.  The objective is to find ways to take more money from you and give a growing number of government agents more power and resources.

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Designing Welfare Policy as If We’re Designing the World

In Plato’s Republic, the philosopher goes through the exercise of designing a society from the ground up.  Nowadays, that very theme defines a genre of videogame, in which the gamer must make decisions about investments, exploration, and undertakings to help a society, business, or theme park grow.  Of course, such games are subject to the same boundary as real life (although much restrained, naturally): the limits imposed by the imagination of the designer.

In the world of public policy, writers sometimes fall into a strange trap, designing policies that accord with the artificial rules of their theoretical worlds, but that do not accord with the real world.  That is, they sound plausible within careful boundaries, but they fall apart once the various “if” clauses come into contact with the outside universe.

Charles Murray provides a good example, writing in support of a universal basic income (UBI) in the Wall Street Journal:

First, my big caveat: A UBI will do the good things I claim only if it replaces all other transfer payments and the bureaucracies that oversee them. If the guaranteed income is an add-on to the existing system, it will be as destructive as its critics fear.

Well, there you go.  Upon reading that paragraph, we can put aside the discussion.  We can barely… sometimes… maybe get government bureaucracies to slow down the rate at which they increase the harm they do to our lives.  Any public policy that requires the elimination of bureaucracy for the good of the people is simply not going to happen.

Of course, UBI continues to strike me as having additional layers of unreality.  Because it would be a policy set by government, it would be subject to the incentives for politicians.  If the policy is small relative to the economy, then the incentive will be for politicians to continue growing it as a campaign pledge; by the time it gets big enough to build up constituencies for restraining it, the program would ipso facto already be having an effect on the economy.  A hidden cost, then, is that a UBI requires a centralized power sufficient to squash political incentives.

What our civilization really needs is an economy that creates a natural UBI based simply on the fact that the basics are sufficiently inexpensive to produce at prices that almost anybody can be sufficiently employed to afford, or that others will supply simply by the greater weight of their sense of moral obligation.  This economy doesn’t require big government programs.  It requires advancing technology, a baseline education (not saturated with fluff and false ideology), the proliferation of prosperity, and broad freedom to determine our own sets of values and experiment.

Any other approach is, ultimately, just a way to work around the artificial rule that we can’t expect to be able to trust in people’s goodness and good sense.

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When True Fascists Show Their Faces, Media Doesn’t Care

First the fun political-media gotcha point:  Can you imagine if even a single video anywhere close to these from anti-Trump “protests” in San Jose had been captured at a Tea Party rally a few years ago?  The news media would have assumed that every conservative and Republican was fully implicated in the “atmosphere of violence” even as they were paraded before the cameras to denounce the entire movement.  When it turns out that the fascist thugs are on the political Left, we get vague descriptions of them as “protesters,” and mealy mouthed attempts to blame the victim:

Another video captured a female Trump supporter taunting protesters before being surrounded and struck in the face with an egg and water balloons.

I haven’t seen any video of the woman “taunting protesters.”  That might just be the journalist’s interpretation from the fact that she kept up a brave front while a mob — almost all young men — surrounded her with Mexican flags, swearing at her and then throwing eggs and other things at her.  It’s disgusting, not a mere altercation.  (One might infer, naturally, that left-wing journalists believe that overt support for Trump is tantamount to a taunt.)

And don’t think for a moment there aren’t organizations behind these “protests.”  Watch the video of the woman being mobbed, and you’ll see an SEIU sign start to make an appearance before quickly disappearing, perhaps because the labor activist holding it (one assumes) spotted the camera scanning the crowd and thought better of being visible at that moment.

In some respects, this isn’t exactly a new development.  After all, powerful people in government, academia, and the media have been excusing violent “idealists” on the Left for decades.  But even if left-wing violence is getting no worse, the possibility becomes greater that it will destroy us as the progressives succeed in wearing away the foundations of our society, especially if we don’t name its practitioners for what they are.

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Pausing a Moment on “Subjectivity”

One aspect of the Warwick Beacon article on the Freedom Index that Monique didn’t mention earlier deserves the head-shaking reaction: “What?”

“They have an interesting way of ranking legislators. They’re very subjective,” [Representative Joseph Solomon, D, Warwick] accused.

Stenhouse said, “It’s completely objective. We rank the bills before anyone even votes on them.”

However, Chartier, said, “we have created the criteria…but yes, it’s subjective.”

In choosing the bills, they admit that it is what is aligned with their principles, but Chartier stressed that the bias was “not in a partisan or politics way.”

Can we pause a moment and consider how one could possibly grade legislation objectively?  Even if it were possible to chart legislation by its certain effects, one would still have to decide whether those effects are the proper goal of government… or are even desirable.  Even the most fevered central-planning progressive should have to swallow hard before claiming that legislating or assessing legislation can be done objectively.

Exchanges like the above reinforce the feeling that politicians and journalists let themselves get into hopping-from-cloud-to-cloud frames of mind without realizing that they’ve left any solid footing behind.  Here’s the bottom line with the Freedom Index:  The principles that we apply to political philosophy are ultimately subjective (although founded in objective assessment of how the world works).  We apply those principles to legislation as objectively as we can and then collect votes on legislation in an entirely objective manner.

Anybody who tells you that they approach politics and policy with complete objectivity is trying to take something from you.  Of course, if there’s anything we can objectively say about Rhode Island government, it’s that a great many people are trying to take things from you.

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Experts Are Great… Just Not If They’re Too Powerful

Economist Arnold Kling makes a case for decentralizing the political power of experts that reads almost as if it was written with Rhode Island in mind, particularly the Commerce Corp.:

The additional power that is being granted to experts under the Obama administration is indeed striking. The administration has appointed “czars” to bring expertise to bear outside of the traditional cabinet positions. Congress has enacted sweeping legislation in health care and finance, and Democratic leaders have equally ambitious agendas that envision placing greater trust in experts to manage energy and the environment, education and human capital, and transportation and communications infrastructure.

However, equally striking is the failure of such experts. They failed to prevent the financial crisis, they failed to stimulate the economy to create jobs, they have failed in Massachusetts to hold down the cost of health care, and sometimes they have failed to prevent terrorist attacks that instead had to be thwarted by ordinary civilians.

Of course, modern society requires experts, but Kling suggests that they have to be subject to the incentives and controls of a marketplace of competition and voluntary action:

Given the complexity of the world, it is tempting to combine expertise with power, by having government delegate power to experts. However, concentration of power makes our society more brittle, because the mistakes made by government experts propagate widely and are difficult to correct.

It is unlikely that we will be able to greatly improve the quality of government experts.

Instead, if we wish to reduce the knowledge-power discrepancy, we need to be willing to allow private-sector experts to grope toward solutions to problems, rather than place unwarranted faith in experts backed by the power of the state.

One tweak I’d make is to note that the market naturally combines expertise with power, only it will tend to be granted based on proven success and can be removed as swiftly as a failure or competition can make somebody else’s product or service a better deal.  Government’s role should be to prevent experts and companies using their temporary advantage to build permanent walls against innovation and competition.  Instead, regulation, corporatism, and government-business alliances have tended to be halfway steps to monopoly and protectionism.

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Fighting Poverty and Doing Everything Upside Down

On the whole (to the surprise of nobody, I’m sure), I generally agree with Gary Sasse’s thoughts, in GoLocalProv, concerning a rethinking of the way in which our country addresses poverty:

Conservatives have been advancing reforms to help needy American families achieve self-sufficiency and upward mobility. The foundation to implement these reforms must include policies encouraging two- parent households valuing personal responsibility, good schools and fiscally sound government.

Economic opportunity is a mirage if children are held captive in failing schools. An education agenda based on accountability, student performance and choice is a precondition for economic and social mobility.

Safety net programs are placed in harm’s way when government is not fiscally responsible. Wasteful spending and crony capitalism may give public officials no option but to shred the safety net. Efficient government provides a firewall to protect the social safety net.

It’s difficult to argue with any of that, but I wonder if Sasse and other conservatives of like mind accept too many of the assumptions of the Left.  Why, most of all, must we continue with the top-down, federal-to-state-to-local model of government, particularly that part of government that redistributes wealth?  Sure, doing so moves money from wealthy areas of the country to less-wealthy areas.  On the other hand, people locally are better-positioned to offer their neighbors the help that they need; additionally, the top-down approach doesn’t do well addressing the possibility that people shouldn’t continue to live in a particular place, given current opportunity.

Not only does the reliance on nationalized hand-outs give the federal government unavoidable leverage (making broader reforms impossible across a wide array of policy areas), but it creates areas in which the provision and receipt of government benefits pretty much constitute the local economy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our Basic Choice: Slavery or Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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The Left Doesn’t Believe in Agreeing to Disagree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Budgets, Hometowns, and Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Overtime Rule Affects Freedom and Innovation

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

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

James Sherk fills in more similar details:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s not all. Page 9:

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

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

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

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

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

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A Big Lesson We Shouldn’t Learn the Hard Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Status Quo of Elitism


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

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Lack of Higher Ed Diversity an Existential Threat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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