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When a Billionaire’s Undemocratic Influence Doesn’t Matter

A commentary piece by Jason Hayes appearing in the Wall Street Journal last month provides an example of progressives’ not really caring about the influence of “millionaires and billionaires,” provided it’s in their favor:

Michigan’s two largest electricity companies struck a “breakthrough agreement” last month with billionaire California environmentalist Tom Steyer to boost the Wolverine State’s clean-energy requirements. Earlier this year, Mr. Steyer had funded a ballot initiative slated for August to force Michigan’s electricity providers to source 30% of their overall sales from renewable options such as wind and solar by 2030. But under the new agreement, the utilities will aim to produce a minimum 25% of their energy from renewable sources and a further 25% from energy-efficiency measures by that same year. This 50% green-energy goal will effectively govern the state’s energy policy for at least the next decade.

News of the deal between Mr. Steyer and the utilities— DTE Energy and Consumers Energy—has left many in Michigan wondering what happened to the established process for setting energy policy. The deal hasn’t been approved by state officials or voters. How is it possible that two utilities and a single special-interest group can independently agree to raise the state’s renewable energy mandate and get away with it?

Had the Koch Brothers made some arrangement with a state’s electric utilities to take up some policy that would have increased the costs of energy, progressives would have made it the subject of weeks of national outrage.  But here’s the key point:  Most conservatives would have joined them.

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Amplifying Incumbent Protection Program of Campaign Finance

Maybe it’s a trap that has just organically formed due to human nature or maybe it’s a deliberate scheme, but ever-increasing campaign finance regulations are effectively an incumbent protection program.  Consider the next notch on the ratchet, as proposed by state representative Deborah Ruggiero and state senator Louis DiPalma:

The state’s campaign finance laws need to be tightened so officeholders and candidates cannot repeatedly amend their finance reports that list all expenses and contributions in a given period, according to Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown. …

“Mandating submission of a paper bank statement is a good first step, it allows the Board of Elections to easily identify discrepancies, but we should go further and require banks to send electronic statements directly to the [Board of Elections], as is done in Massachusetts,” Ruggiero said in the statement. “Most-needed though are stiffer penalties for repeated amendments to campaign finance reports and not filing on time.”

Having spent many hours working with the Board of Elections Campaign Finance Unit, I can report that situations easily arise that aren’t absolutely clear in the law and can lead to very time-consuming revisions of reports going back months simply to adjust for a $1 discrepancy.  And having worked with local candidates for office, I can also report that even just the prospect of having to fill out these forms is a significant disincentive to run.  If the rules are made even more strict more people will simply decide that it isn’t worth the effort or risk.

The question that arises is whether it’s more important for our democracy to be able to trace every penny that is donated or spent by state and local campaigns or to avoid having more than one-third of incumbents in the General Assembly winning their campaigns simply by getting their names on the ballot, because they have no opposition.  From my point of view, that isn’t even a close competition.

We’re not going to end corruption by catching it in nickel-and-dime inspection of small-time politicians’ campaign accounts.  We need to ensure that all politicians are under constant threat of losing their seats.  The bigger-time the corruption, the more likely the politician will be to hire people to avoid accounting errors, even as the people who would like to challenge him or her out of a sense of public service are tripped up and fined for minor errors and lapses.

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A Democrat Candidate Who Can Help to Change the Political Conversation

What’s striking is that ordinary followers of culture and politics in Rhode Island could very well never hear the perspective that Providence College theologian and Democrat candidate for state representative Holly Taylor Coolman expressed so well in an interview with Charles Camosy for Crux:

I have tried to be clear about what a pro-life stance means for me. It’s rooted in this fundamental commitment to human dignity. It’s rooted in my belief that we have to fight the temptation to exercise our own freedom at the expense of others. And it is indispensably connected to larger concerns: Everything from prison reform to affordable housing to protecting water sources has to do with respecting life. As a woman, I am deeply aware of the challenges that women have faced and continue to face. I just believe that we can find options that respect both women’s dignity and freedom and also the lives of unborn children.

Coolman (running in District 5, Providence) touches on one of the more peculiar differences between the Left and Right in Western discourse these days.  Conservatives tend to emphasize leaving people free of mandates from government, with the proviso that social norms and institutions should be in place to help them “fight the temptation to exercise [their] own freedom at the expense of others,” as Coolman puts it.  Progressives, in contrast, seem to believe that people should be free of all social restraints on whatever the government gives them permission to do.

For the moment, at least, we can imagine having the pleasure of Coolman’s forcing these sorts of debates in Rhode Island politics.

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Public Funding of the Press?

Here’s an interesting item, via former Providence Journal editorial page editor Robert Whitcomb:

In a very modest effort to help save local journalism, New Jersey is enacting a law that dedicates $5 million in state money to strengthen local media outlets. They’re very important as watchdogs in America’s decaying democracy. Political and other corruption rises as journalism fades.

I’m a bit skeptical about the premise.  So, we’ve got “very important… watchdogs” protecting us against “political and other corruption,” and the solution is to increase the extent to which they’re dependent upon government for funding?

The fact that the $5 million would be handed out by a consortium of universities is no comfort.  Even if they weren’t (at a minimum) dominated by public institutions, universities are overwhelmingly left-wing, which will color the news that they support.  Maybe fears about funding a government-news system could be somewhat abated if the consortium were a clever collection of balanced political and ideological interests, but the attempt isn’t even made.

In other words, a propaganda network doesn’t cease to be one simply because the funding passes through the hands of government’s reliable allies, who are also overwhelmingly allies of a particular political party.

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How About a No-Poach Agreement with Government on Private Decisions

Here’s another example of people who have a certain philosophy seeing government as a sort of universal corporate board or universal labor union:

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is leading a coalition of Democratic state attorneys general seeking information about “no-poach” agreements meant to block employees from leaving one fast food franchise to work for another franchise in the same chain.

Healey says Monday the agreements limit the ability of low-wage workers to seek promotions and earn a better living.

The attorneys general say 80 percent of fast food franchisors have no-poach agreements.

Franchises make agreements with their lead corporations for a host of reasons, from marketing to supply purchases to business operations.  They’re simply a step removed from a more-straightforward corporate structure, in which the executives would be able to set policy for when and how employees can transfer from branch to branch.

The key point — that which makes this not a matter of corporate giants versus the little-guy employees — is that these are all ways of making decisions and balancing interests.  The big-government view breaks everything into power, rather than relationships of shared interest, and posits elected officials and bureaucrats as overseers balancing interests.

A shared-interest perspective reveals this to be oversimplified to the point of falsehood.  Good employees are valuable to corporations, which won’t impose burdensome restrictions on them.  A great register operator who wants to move up into management can always move out… to a similar company, so the chain doesn’t have incentive to shackle him or her to the front counter rather than share within the brand.

But that interest has to be balanced against other considerations, like the trust of franchisees that the corporation won’t set them up to fail in competition with each other for customers and employees.  Government isn’t in a position to (or very good at) making these decisions for people, and should stay out of them in the absence of truly egregious abuses.

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Fear of the Unknown Beyond Big Government

If you follow Rhode Island politics at all, you’ve probably heard that independent gubernatorial candidate Joe Trillo hit a rock while cruising his yacht very close to the shore in Westerly so beach-goers could see the campaign sign on its side when they looked up to see where the blaring marching band music was coming from.  In response to Trillo’s blaming of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for faulty maps, Rhode Island Ethics Commission Chairman and Brown professor Ross Cheit tweeted:

In the land of limited government, who produces the navigation charts?

I suggested in reply that Professor Cheit should ask his students about Google Maps and consider whether people who buy expensive boats would create a market for a similar product.  He pretended not to understand my meaning, but it’s pretty clear to me.  People who spend hundreds of thousands, or millions, of dollars on boats have a substantial interest in avoiding things that might damage them of leave them swimming for their lives.  Perhaps it wasn’t always true, but technology is such, now, that something like Google Maps for under the water would certainly be plausible.

It’s amazing how pervasive is this fear of the unknown, as if beyond Big Government there be dragons.

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Progressive Red Tape Around Our Destinies

In harmony with my post, this morning, about the deadly incentives of socialized medicine, Dr. Bastiat has used the experience of a trip to the hair stylist for a compelling explainer of how progressive policies can win the political day, even as they suffocate people’s economic opportunity.  The woman cutting his hair told of how she’d wanted to go into business for herself, but the red tape and the costs it imposed transformed the start-up costs into too great of a gamble; the same was true for her husband, a mechanic.  Nonetheless, their attitude is that they can’t complain; “everything is ok.”

My Uncle Fred (Frederic Bastiat) described this as the seen versus the unseen. Progressives win elections because the benefits they provide are immediate and obvious. They give people free money with taxpayer dollars, or build highways with taxpayer dollars, or start new general assistance programs with taxpayer dollars. They’re working for you, and anyone with eyes can see it. The benefits provided by progressives are seen.

But the damage they cause is mostly unseen. In 30 years, Kaitlyn and her husband could have retired to a very nice community on the Gulf Coast and played golf for the rest of their lives. But they won’t. She’ll still be cutting hair for $12 an hour plus tips, and he’ll still be fixing lawn mowers for the city. Just like they are now.

They didn’t lose a fortune, because they never had the opportunity to earn one. Nothing happened. There they sit. And there they’ll stay.

Progressives may think they’re utopians who dream of a better tomorrow. But, in reality, they are the robotic defenders of the status quo. Everything stays the same because nothing happens. And when things don’t happen, those things don’t make the evening news. They didn’t happen at all, so there’s nothing to complain about. Everything is basically ok. And that’s the way it will stay.

Until it doesn’t.

One could also apply this principle across generations, as I did a bit with my late-Saturday post.  Maybe Kaitlyn and her husband would have been less interested in decades of golf and more interested in setting up their children for a better start than they’d had.  Either way, their children would have had the valuable experience of seeing their parents take control of their destinies, rather than depending on others to build their workplaces, as if “boss” were a separate class.

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A Predictable Scandal with Socialized Medicine

Anecdotes are generally unfair as markers of an entire system, but less so when they are in line with expectations.  Such is the case with Rupert Darwall’s Wall Street Journal commentary about fatalities in the British National Health Service (NHS).  Apparently, the latest scandalous report about parts of the system reveals one hospital’s “unlawful killing” of 650 patients and ensuing cover-up.

What makes this an indictment of the entire system is how precisely in line with the incentives of socialized medicine it is:

The report explains the almost identical dismissal of relatives’ concerns as a result of the “coincidence of interests” rather than conspiracy. When the state is a monopoly provider of health care, there is a political interest in suppressing bad news. In discussing whether to prosecute, one police officer noted the “perceived plight” of the NHS ahead of the 2001 general election. At a pivotal meeting of prosecutors closer to polling day, a government lawyer attacked Dr. Livesley and sabotaged the emerging prosecution case.

Proponents of socialized medicine condemn profit in health care, but a for-profit hospital does not have a financial interest in killing its patients. In the NHS, patients are a cost and troublesome ones can be put on a syringe driver, something a nurse told the police happened at Gosport.

When our society shifts responsibility to government, it tends to focus on the possible up-sides and assume that everybody involved will make genuinely selfless decisions, but what we really ought to watch is the change in incentives. Human beings find it all too easy to determine that something in their own interest is in the interest of everybody, by way of “the system” of which they are a part, even deceiving families while killing their loved ones.

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Having to Win the Culture War to Allow Pluralism

Rod Dreher posted a great comment from one of his readers that captures something important in what I would propose as the pretty typical conservative view:

In a weird way, I’m kind of angry on behalf of liberals, if that makes any sense, because it pisses me off that such fundamental questions can be decided by presidential elections or judicial nominations. Which goes back to why I’m a conservative: I don’t think many of these issues belong in the political realm in the first place, and when they do, I’d prefer they be dealt with at the lowest, most local level of government where it’s practical to do so.

In a country as large, diverse and populous as the United States, it is INSANE for one part of the country to dictate to another, vastly different part of the country how it shall conduct its affairs. I have absolutely no interest in telling people in San Francisco how to live their lives or govern themselves, but it feels like I have no choice because if I don’t, they’ll turn around and impose THEIR will on ME, and I have NO desire to live like San Franciscans. It’s crazy.

Conservatives come to these battles reluctantly, because outside some basic constitutional guarantees, we think all of the difficult questions that the country faces should be answered at the state… if not at the local or community… level.  In the past, I’ve presented the three basic freedoms that ought to be guaranteed at the federal level as the right to speak your mind, the right to work to change the government, and the right to leave.

Progressive zealots can’t abide anything like that.  Progressive non-zealots (what we used to think of as liberals) used to be able to do so, but it seems less and less feasible.  More and more, it seems, those on the Left can’t even differentiate between believing that somebody ought to have the right to do something and believing that it ought to be done.  How do we move forward as a pluralistic society if that isn’t a possibility?  Conservatives are beginning to come to the realization that we can’t.

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Culturally Appropriating the Other’s Victim Status

The other day Republican Rhode Island Senator Elaine Morgan tweeted out the following, from her political competition for District 34:

I’m white. I have privilege. But today and for the next four years, I’m Muslim. Put me on a list.

In all honestly, I’m not inclined attack somebody for a show of solidarity.  The “I’m white. I have privilege.” thing is kind of silly, but if there is genuine persecution going on, there’s nothing wrong with an “I am Spartacus” movement.

That said, I’d like to know the rules.  Wouldn’t it be cultural appropriation for a privileged white person to usurp the victim status of a minority group, particularly in a society that places such a high value on victim status?  Evidence that the appropriator, in this case, places value on victim status arises in the thread of replies to her tweet, which includes her further explanation that she’s “never been given a hand up because [she’s] a woman.”

I’d request a clear guide on all of these matters, but I suspect not having clear rules is key to their value to progressives.  A fine appreciation of the ever-changing rules illustrates a deeper conformity than simple pronouncements of agreement and solidarity.

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Trusting Each Other to Keep the Economic Ship Right

Yesterday, the Newport Daily News ran an op-ed of mine

Lots of smart people think [about the social upheaval on the horizon when technology makes work obsolete], so I hesitate to admit that my opinion is that this really shouldn’t be such a difficult or scary topic. I’d humbly suggest that, in the excitement of prognostication, those smart people are missing a central economic principle — namely, that the free market itself is the greatest form of wealth redistribution. …

Locally, Rhode Islanders should contemplate the possibility that our location and size could make us a leading innovator in this healthy form of wealth distribution — once more a global powerhouse. All it would take is enough trust in each other to break the hold of insiders who sell the promise of economically protecting us from one another.

Always remember that it is in the interests of a lot of powerful forces to frighten us into over-correcting the ship in the direction they want us to go.

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“Real Compassion” Dispenses with Entitlement

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is right:

Carson told the story of a young woman who voiced her frustration at HUD for not finding her large family a government-subsidized apartment fast enough.

“In one group, a young lady stood up and she was very angry that it had taken the housing authority so long to find her a five-bedroom apartment because she had all these children and was even more angry because the dining room set had a scratch on the table. But as I was thinking about that, I said, this young woman probably has never known any other life. Her mother probably lived here and her grandmother probably lived here and she doesn’t even understand what is out there and what the American dream is all about,” Carson said at the recent Faith and Freedom Coalition “Road to Majority” conference.

“And that is one of the reasons that you will see from the new HUD, such an emphasis on self-sufficiency, because I think that is real compassion – getting people out of poverty and helping them to find the pathway. It is a double win because for each person you get out of that dependent situation, it is one less person you have to pay for and it’s one more taxpaying contributing member of society,” he added. “So this is the way we have to begin to think about these things.”

We’re altogether too comfortable with a sense of entitlement these days, and that’s across the board.  Yes, the woman in Carson’s anecdote was too comfortable with the notion that taxpayers should quickly supply her with whatever accommodations she might fill with children, but the social elite are too comfortable with the notion that they are entitled to whatever jobs they want and to have their worldview enacted into universal law.  Some established businesses are too comfortable with the notion that they are entitled to continue along without competition, and some entrepreneurs are too comfortable with the notion that taxpayers should help them rev up their endeavors.

Spiritually, we’re built for a world in which nothing is assured.  God told Adam that it would only be by the “sweat of your face” that he would eat,” and He told Cain that “you can be [sin’s] master,” “if you do well [and] can hold up your head.”  That gives us responsibility and possibility.

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A Local Hook for Restaurateur Discrimination

As local papers often do with national stories, the Providence Journal strove to provide local color to a growing trend in the area of Washington, D.C., of driving Trump Administration figures out of restaurants:

“I know hundreds of restaurant owners in R.I., and I can’t think of one that would turn someone away,” said Bob Bacon, owner of the Gregg’s restaurant and bakery chain and a past chairman of the R.I. Hospitality Association, an industry trade group.

“We are all thrilled to death to be given your business,” he said.

Presumably, reporter Gail Ciampa isn’t aware of Revival Brewing Company’s cancellation of an America’s Future Foundation event at the last minute for political reasons earlier this year, even though I wrote about it in her paper.

It’s very easy for restaurants to proclaim that they’d never turn people away, and it’s easy to find a group of them that would be telling the truth with that proclamation, but that doesn’t capture the reality.  AFF had a similar experience with a different establishment shortly after, but I didn’t have time to write about it, and nobody else in Rhode Island media seems to care.

“It could never happen here,” the saying goes… except when it does.  Then nobody will notice so that they can continue to believe their pleasant fiction.

Not long ago, Christian writer Rod Dreher coined the Law of Merited Impossibility, which observes a common insinuation from the American Left whenever these sorts of stories emerge:  “That will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it.”  This is human nature, and conservatives should be prepared for things to get worse before they get better, but it’d be nice if professionals who believe themselves to be objective were able to acknowledge it.

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Hints of Actual Progress in North Korea?

This seems like a pretty significant development, reported by Eileen Connelly in the New York Post (via Instapundit):

Murals, banners and posters displayed throughout the capital, Pyongyang, have for decades depicted the U.S. as a brutal, imperialist aggressor hell-bent on destroying the North Korean regime. South Korea and Japan were also frequently targeted as willing allies of the U.S.

But things started to take an Orwellian turn in the run-up to Kim’s June 12 summit with President Donald Trump, with the old posters vanishing since then.

“All the anti-American posters I usually see around Kim Il-sung Square and at shops, they’ve all just gone,” Rowan Beard, a tour manager at Young Pioneer Tours, told Reuters. “In five years working in North Korea, I’ve never seen them completely disappear before.”

Inheriting a repressive regime during a global revolution in communications technology put Kim Jong-un in a difficult spot.  Keeping the people who live in his country entirely isolated could only last so much longer, yet loosening controls means letting in the truth to the masses whom his family has brutally repressed for generations while creating an opportunity for some lesser dictator to execute a coup and claim credit for a minor improvement in living standards.

The combined wealth of the United States, China, and South Korea, however, could provide quite a period of rapid improvement to ease the peninsula back toward some sort of reunification, with enough of a boost maybe (maybe) to rocket people’s gratitude and relief past their resentment and enough protection to keep ambitious underlings from seeing an opportunity.  This is all speculation, of course, but it actually isn’t that hard to believe that a dictator would be willing to exchange total (but precarious) control of a hellhole for untold wealth and perhaps credit as a national savior if foreign money and cooperation can manage the flip.

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The Conditions Under Which Progressives Will Lease Us to Businesses

One last minute bill in the Rhode Island General Assembly, H8324, may or may not be going anywhere, but it’s worth a look as an educational exercise.

Very simply, it would require any “hosting platform” (e.g., AirBnB) that allows people to “offer any property for tourist or transient use” to be responsible for making sure that the rentals are in compliance with state and local laws and regulations.  It would also require the platform operators to take a more active role in the collection and transfer of all relevant taxes.

This little change in law, affecting a narrow portion of a single industry in the state, carries some important questions of the sort that we don’t consider thoroughly enough.  What is the nature of commerce?  Who works for whom?  Who has responsibility for whom?

From a free-market perspective that starts with the individual as the origin of all economic activity, the property owners are responsible for the product that they are offering, and the hosting platforms work for them.  Because they are the constituents of state and local government, they have a say in that government and can arguably be said to have consented to granting it some authority to regulate their activities.

The progressive perspective that has long been insinuating itself into Rhode Island government and encroaching on Rhode Islanders’ rights is very different.  That view doesn’t begin with individuals as autonomous sources of responsibility and power.  The Rhode Islanders seeking to rent their property don’t truly have ownership of themselves.  Rather state and local government has claims on their activities, and the hosting platforms own their rental businesses.  It is therefore reasonable for the government to require platforms to make sure that their workers comply with its requirements.

From a free-market perspective, a government that imposes requirements on people might create incentive for them to hire a contractor to do tasks for them — for AirBnB to provide inspections for regulatory compliance, for example, with an extra fee.  But from a progressive perspective, the government has a right to tell companies that intend to draw profits from its people what conditions they must impose, or else they cannot do business here.

In other words, progressives implicitly believe that the government is renting us out to the companies.

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Learning Lessons from Our Neighboring States

Here’s the Yankee Institute of Connecticut highlighting a Pioneer Institute study out of Massachusetts:

Pioneer Institute’s study “Back to Taxachusetts” tracks ten years of Connecticut data from 2008 to 2017 and is rife with sections entitled “Corporate exodus,” “Stagnant economy,” and “Voting with their feet,” to show Connecticut’s tax policies have left the state failing, whereas Massachusetts has become an economic powerhouse.

“Connecticut provides a real-world, sobering example of how a seemingly attractive tax-the-rich scheme can backfire badly on a state, turning rosy projections of revenue gains to real-life losses, and damaging business confidence in the process,” wrote Gregory W. Sullivan, research director for Pioneer Institute.

The study was authored in response to a “coalition of labor unions, community groups, and social advocacy organizations,” trying impose a 4 percent tax surcharge on individuals in Massachusetts earning over $1 million per year through a “Fair Share Amendment” to the state constitution. The amendment was placed on the voter ballot, but was challenged in court.

Union-aligned progressives are pushing for the same sorts of things in Rhode Island.  So far, the firewall of sanity has held in the Ocean State, but one can only hope Rhode Islanders are paying enough attention to learn the lessons when other states fall for the far-left pitch.

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Fun-Sized Depends on the Comparison

Have you seen the “Fun-Sized” promotional videos that the state Commerce Corp. is crediting with an up-tick in tourism?  You can watch all 14 videos, here, pretty quickly, because each is only 10 seconds long or so.

Each one starts close in on people doing something fun and then quickly zooms out so the viewer can see that it’s all happening in close proximity to other things.  The idea is clever, and the idea of being able to enjoy a variety of activities across a small state is compelling, for some kinds of vacationers.  Still, the cumulative effect gives the sense that Rhode Island isn’t so much a small state as a large, loosely coordinated resort.

I’m not saying that’s necessarily bad.  I’m not sure how I feel about it, when it comes to promoting tourism.

As a cynical small-government conservative in the Ocean State, though, I’m inclined to dislike the impression on grounds of political philosophy, though.  A resort, after all, tends to be more-tightly coordinated, run by a central authority.  To the extent that the “resort area” is part of the appeal, they’re explicitly catering to customers of the resort.  If Rhode Island is a resort, then the central powers are the driving force.

And of course, there’s the point I’ve made before.  A key reason Rhode Island has such diversity of aesthetics around the state is the independence individuals used to have to define their neighborhoods.  The more we centralize power and concern ourselves with the minute affairs of people who live in other towns and attempt to redistribute wealth from one area to others, the less that diversity will characterize our state.

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The Market Improves Decision Making (For People and Government)

Whether for individuals in a job market or nations dealing with trade, the competition of the market leads us to make better decisions.  The cause is not only the motivation that competition creates, but also the ability to learn from each other.  Such was Richard McKenzie’s argument in a Wall Street Journal op-ed this weekend:

… While some behaviorists support government “nudges” to improve human decision making, politicians and bureaucrats often are no better at making rational decisions than ordinary citizens. Markets are a more effective mechanism for rewarding rational thinking. Persistently irrational decision makers in a competitive marketplace can be expected to misjudge costs and overlook profitable trading opportunities—and, consequently, lose access to resources. They can also be pressed to move from highly competitive markets to low-pressure venues (for example, university and government bureaucracies), leaving markets to more (though not perfectly) rational decision makers.

The more rational decision makers can, by their market decisions, show their irrational counterparts how they can be more prosperous by altering their working heuristics. This means competitive processes can make remaining participants more inclined to consider opportunity costs, ignore sunk costs, and discount future opportunities more accurately.

McKenzie is an emeritus professor, so presumably he wouldn’t argue that “low-pressure venues” do not have value, but his point is an important one.  The dynamics of a collective entity, like a nation, are similar to those of individuals.  People can make irrational decisions, and because government is made up of people, we err if we rely too heavily on them to make decisions for everybody.

And just as individuals thrive when they have to compete and have examples around them of those who are competing better, so too can states or nations advance through rational competition.  If only Rhode Island’s politicians would come to understand competition in this true sense, rather than irrationally focusing on competing on subsidies for major companies and movie producers.

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Bowling Subsidies Now!

Appearing on Rhode Island Public Radio’s “Political Roundtable” show, recently, Rhode Island House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, who is running for governor as a Republican, had an exchange with political analyst Scott MacKay:

MacKay: It sounds, in a way, like you don’t really care whether the PawSox go or not.  Do you realize this is a part of Rhode Island culture and family entertainment that hundreds of thousands of people go to every year?

Morgan: I do understand, and I have taken my children, as well, to the PawSox stadium, but I still believe it’s a private company at this point.  We can’t build a facility for every private company.  I mean, why don’t we build bowling allies; a lot of families like to go bowling.  Why don’t we build miniature golf entertainment areas?  At some point, we really have to keep taxpayer monies for the things that actually are economic development, will actually build good jobs in Rhode Island.

Morgan should have concluded that thought by saying we have to keep taxpayer monies for things that are actually government responsibilities, but her point is otherwise right on.  The problem, however, is that conservatives can’t win this sort of reductio ad absurdum argument with progressives, because the latter will happily say, “Go ahead.”

Perhaps progressives won’t generally have the personal affection for bowling or mini-golf that they have for baseball, but nobody should doubt that they’d be happy to use government resources for family entertainment if somebody were to credibly propose doing so.  After all, family time is very important.  Why shouldn’t government build facilities to foster it?  Isn’t government supposed to do everything important for us?

Of course, the conservative reply might be that the lack of a private market for a bolling alley in a particular area is simply evidence that people aren’t interested in that activity in sufficient numbers to make it worthwhile.  But however inexpensive the activity is, there might be some families that would jump at the chance if the price came down a little and who, without that opportunity, instead spend their time doing unhealthy things isolated from each other.  And hundreds of thousands of Rhode Islanders have fond memories of bowling with their families.

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