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Does Regunberg Want Rhode Island to Confiscate the PawSox?

If anybody should not be skipping debates, it’s Democrat Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee.  Apart from his status as incumbent, he’s an experienced manager running against a far-left young guy who has just about no real-world experience.  He ought to seek out opportunities to illustrate the contrast.

The example that brought this advice to mind was the RIPR interview/debate that I mentioned the other day.  At one point, Regunberg responds to a question about the emigration of the PawSox to Worcester with this:

First of all, I just want to say that this is a really sad moment for our state.  It’s a sad moment for Pawtucket.  It’s a sad moment for families across Rhode Island to lose this icon from our state.  I think there’s blame to go around at the state level.  As you know, I supported the Senate proposal, which I think would have had a shot of keeping the team here, and the speaker did not.  What I get the most frustrated with, however, is this idea of a small group of millionaires and billionaires who are making that choice to take this treasure out of our state for their own profit maximization.  I don’t think that’s right.

Interviewers Ian Donnis and Scott MacKay didn’t follow up on this stunning statement, but McKee should have been there to do so.  Sure, progressives can declare that the decisions of people who act in their own interests with their own property are “not right,” but when those progressives are trying to win government offices, the matter cannot stop there.

What exactly would Regunberg propose to do about?  Effectively socialize the baseball team, with government taking it over?  Increase the corporate welfare that the state might have offered the team to stay… helping those “millionaires and billionaires” even more?

I contacted the candidate for a response to these questions, but he has not replied.  It’d be nice if journalists would pose such questions directly to young progressives while the microphone is already on, but in the absence of that, the duty falls to the opposing candidate.

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The Millennial Wave That Might Not Be

For years, we’ve heard how much attention must be paid to the Millennial generation, because its members would soon change the face of society and politics.  They may very well do that, as a large generation, but a tidbit from Ian Donnis’s latest Friday column reminds us that Millennials are human, too:

Which generation has the greatest increase in voter registration in Rhode Island from 2014 to 2018? Would you believe the Silent Generation (people born between 1928-45), which had a 39 percent bump, from 996 to 1,381 over the last four years, according to Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea’s office. Boomer (born 1945-64) registrations jumped 30 percent, from 4,163 to 5,423, while Xers (1965-1980) climbed 20 percent, from 5,055 to 6,060. Generation Z (1997-) is up 9 percent, 3,290 to 3,574, while Millennial (1981-1996) registrations dropped 11 percent, from 12,275 to 10,892.

So why would the number of voter registrations among Millennials drop as we head toward elections that the mainstream media has been hyping as their chance to save humanity?  An answer would take more digging than I’ve time for at the moment, but I think we can return to my old thesis about the “productive class.”

Over the last four years, the youngest Millennials have moved on from college, or whatever they were doing as they transitioned into their 20s, and the oldest Millennials moved into their late 30s and (gasp!) middle age.  As I’ve been saying since even the oldest Millennials were still in their 20s, the people who tend to leave Rhode Island are those in the “meaty, motivated segment on the cusp of the middle class” — people who want to cash in their talents and labor to build their lives.  That transaction remains much more difficult in Rhode Island than elsewhere.

The harder question may be who remains behind.  Some Millennials in their still-idealistic (read: naive) youth, probably.  However, the non-Millennial cohort could surprise us.  Will they be defined by newly wizened GenXers who have too much experience to fall for socialist promises or seniors too far removed from their careers and too reliant on other people to resist the lure of big government?

We’ll see.  In the meantime, perhaps we should take the lesson that demographics are not destiny and at least some people can change their minds… or move.

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Kilmartin Wants the Cogs to Stay on the Political Gear

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has already responded to a strange press release from Attorney General Peter Kilmartin in which the AG does little but attempt to sow doubt about information helping government employees decide whether they want to remain in their unions.  The most important observation one can make about the press release is that Kilmartin never provides an example of the supposed “misinformation,” or even names the supposed interloper; he’s simply casting shade.

However, the most eye-catching part is probably this:

“If you are contacted about disaffiliating from your public-sector union in the wake of the Janus decision, it is critical that you seek advice either from your union, or from some other reliable source. No worker should rely solely upon any outside group seeking to have the worker waive such a critical right.”

So, this public official’s advice to any employees who have doubts about their unions is to get information from… the unions.  One suspects that information would have a decidedly pro-union tilt, which is clearly what Kilmartin wants.  Take special note of his formulation about “outside groups.”  Implicitly, he’s saying that the unions are “inside groups.” Inside of what?  Well, government.  In his view, they are not essentially the privately run organizations that they actually are; they are part of a team with elected and appointed officials, helping to run government.

This is how progressives like to structure things.  Every group is represented by some hierarchy, and the leaders communicate and then issue edicts to their constituencies.  The “business community” works through whatever chamber or group government officials wish to select as their voice.  Employees are addressed not as individuals, but as members of their unions.  Even local communities aren’t so much electing representatives to go to Providence and advocate on our behalf as we are electing the people who will represent state government to us.

In this approach, employees aren’t valued individually for their work.  They’re cogs in the unionized machine that does work for government (and cycles taxpayer dollars back into political campaigns).  Those who fancy themselves not to be cogs in a machine should take a look at MyPayMySayRI.com.

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Matt Brown Gets the Problems Right but the Solutions Dead Wrong

See, here’s the thing.  I don’t think anybody outside of Matt Brown’s progressive base believes that his socialist policy suggestions will fix the problems he describes:

“How did we end up in the situation where the roads are broken, the hospitals are closing, the schools aren’t providing a good education for our kids, we’re 50th out of the 50 states for education of Latino children, the school buildings are falling down,” he said. “That’s a pretty extreme situation to be in. And that’s going to take some bold ideas and some real changes.”

How did we end up in this situation?  Because big-government progressivism has redirected the money that we were taxed and feed from infrastructure maintenance to insider deals, interest-group buy-offs, and bureaucratic proliferation.  Because the progressive urge to take control of everything has squeezed opportunity out of our state, leading to the exit of productive Rhode Islanders and a lack of paying demand for services such as hospitals (while lowering the availability and quality of those services and driving up the costs).  And because co-opting public schools as a means of indoctrination and a funding mechanism for left-wing teachers unions has undermined the incentives for a healthy system.

If you agree with Matt Brown about the problems, you have to disagree with him about the solutions.

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Young Democratic Socialists Are a Little Late in the Game

The pamphlet described in an article by Zachary Petrizzo on Campus Reform reads like a smoking gun memo from a strategy that was implemented decades ago:

The Young Democratic Socialists of America organization is urging socialists to “take jobs as teachers” in order to exploit the “political, economic, and social potential the industry holds.”

“Why Socialists Should Become Teachers,” an 11-page pamphlet crafted jointly by YDSA and the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission, contends that education is “a strategic industry to organize,” and offers prospective socialist educators “a basic roadmap for how to get a job in education.”

Socialists enter education in government schools.  They get a high-paying job that is stable to the point of being just about permanent.  And they gain access to impressionable children whom they can indoctrinate.  As a bonus, part of their pay goes to labor unions, which cycle the taxpayer money back into activism and political donations.

The synergies here are so obvious that the plan is already in effect and undermining our society.  But kids always have to feel like they’re coming up with radical ideas.

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The Balance of Freedoms in Rhode Island

A thousand discussions could be sparked by the Cato Institute’s Freedom in the 50 States ranking and Rhode’s Island’s 42nd place ranking.

The datapoints that go into the index cover a wide range of issues and are subjective.  For example, Rhode Island is number 1 in “marriage freedom,” largely on the strength of its same-sex partnership laws, but some might suggest that the use of government to redefine a cultural institution is hardly a marker of freedom.  Some might also note that same-sex marriage accounts for 2% of a state’s overall score while religious freedom accounts for only 0.01%.

On the other end of the spectrum, the only area in which Rhode Island is dead last is asset forfeiture. However, another low rank for the state could arguably be considered its defining problem: labor market freedom.  Here, our 49th place ranking results from laws on:

  • General right-to-work law
  • Short-term disability insurance
  • Noncompete agreements permitted
  • Minimum wage
  • Workers’ compensation funding regulations
  • Workers’ compensation coverage regulations
  • Employer verification of legal status
  • Employee anti-discrimination law
  • Paid family leave

The total effect of these policies has been that Rhode Island hasn’t budged from 49th since the first year measured: 2000.

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Rhode Island has a great deal going for it, but if people can’t find work here, they won’t live here.  The Ocean State is roughly in the middle fifth for fiscal and personal freedom — although dropping from 18th to 27th in fiscal freedom from 2000 to 2016 and from 12th to 31st in personal freedom.  If we take Cato’s weightings as our guide, that decline has been making life less free.  But those changes pale in comparison to our languishing at the edge of the bottom fifth in regulatory freedom throughout, and that’s an area in which we need great resolve and quick action to improve.

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Another Angle (or Silver Lining) in the Loss of the PawSox

There’s another aspect of the Worcester’s PawSox gain that Rhode Islanders haven’t spent much time discussing, and it is visible in the reporting of Ethan Epstein in The Weekly Standard (emphasis added):

But the PawSox owners announced that the next two years they play at McCoy will be their last. Roughly three years ago, they announced their plans to vacate McCoy. Pawtucket, Providence, and Worcester jockeyed for position. The owners played the competitors against each other masterfully, and in the end, Worcester evidently made the team an offer it couldn’t refuse: It will build a new $90 million stadium and apartment complex. The state of Massachusetts is fronting $35 million; and “the city of Worcester is expected to borrow $100 million, some of which would be repaid by the team,” the Providence CBS affiliate reported. The deal required no input from the state legislature, and was put together in secret. The only apparent cost to the PawSox is that they will now known by the unfortunate moniker “WooSox.”

Somehow, the City of Worcester was able to pledge $100 million with no public awareness whatsoever.  John DePetro and I disagreed, on WNRI earlier today, about the significance of this angle, but I don’t think it should be dismissed.  I certainly want a governing system that allowed municipal leaders to do such a thing.

Yes, Massachusetts has been doing much better than Rhode Island in recent decades, with some solid reforms, and has therefore built up more trust equity with the voting public.  By contrast, Rhode Island is still suffering a loss of confidence from 38 Studios which (importantly) has been further strained by Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s preferred economic development method of making special deals with powerful insiders and wealthy out-of-state interests.

That doesn’t mean Massachusetts’s luck will continue, or that Rhode Island won’t reevaluate its government.  On the first count, I’ve long been noting that Massachusetts’s lead in education has been flagging ever since concessions to the labor unions under Deval Patrick, and we’ll have to wait a while to see whether the WooSox gamble pays off.  On the second count, we can only hope that the nationally visible face plant with the erstwhile PawSox will cause insiders and the voting public alike to conclude that we just can’t continue on in the way that we’ve been governing ourselves.

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A World in Which Only the Inexperienced Can Manage Big Programs

As we enter the thick of election season, Brian Riedl’s reminder on Vox should be firm in our minds:

… the democratic socialist agenda will face resistance not only from other lawmakers but from basic math. Their promises, which include free college, a single-payer health care system, guaranteed jobs, and more, would require astonishingly high expenditures that would cause the federal deficit to skyrocket. Once the costs become clear, most mainstream politicians and voters will surely balk. Making big promises is one thing; paying for them is another.

Riedl tallies $42.5 trillion (with a “t”) in new taxpayer spending over the first decade of the progressive program.  And, as Stephen Green further notes, “that’s before the ripple effects create the need for even more spending, which creates even more ripple effects, etc., until a once-wealthy country is ruined.”

Fortunately, if a conservative cabal were choosing the representatives of democratic socialism with an eye toward making it easy for the public to see the problem, they couldn’t have done better.  Bernie Sanders, for example, is an old rich guy whose wife’s questionable leadership of a Vermont college may have contributed to its closure.  Recent socialist upstart Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been a veritable gift to conservative meme-makers and humorists.  In Rhode Island, the standard bearer for the far left is Aaron Regunberg, an Ivy League transplant from another state who, as far as anybody knows, has never held a real job in his life.

Unfortunately, it’s a powerful ploy to promise people that the government can give them everything they need and want… and don’t worry, the people in control will always be on your cultural and ideological side.  Promise!  As for those who propose that we govern our society under the restrictions of reality, well, they’re demons, all of them.

Those of us demons in that reality-based camp have our work cut out for us.  The country’s education system has softened up a couple generations for the sort of mushy thinking that leads one to believe that politicians with dubious experience actually running things will be able to manage a number as big as $42,500,000,000,000, which is, like, a really big number.

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When Patients Become Costs in a Socialized System

While we should keep in mind that we’re getting one person’s understandably self-interested perspective on an ongoing series of interactions, Roger Foley’s experience is not exactly out of keeping with other anecdotes or the incentives of socialized medicine:

A Canadian man suffering from an incurable disease claims that despite asking for home care, the medical team at an Ontario hospital would offer him only medically assisted suicide.

Roger Foley, a 42-year-old from Ontario, has cerebellar ataxia, a rare disorder that limits his neurological abilities, restricting mobility in his arms, legs, as well as the performance of other daily tasks.

Dissatisfied with being bedridden in a hospital for two years, Foley asked for another option, and according to some recordings that he has released, people in the hospital system offered him an exit to the graveyard.

We don’t know whether these conversations were just two out of many, the rest of which were much more life-affirming, but without the home-care solution that Foley wanted.  We also don’t know what explanations were given for denial of that service.

Still, when government takes over the health care for an entire society, relationships and the standing of patients change.  We cease to be customers and become costs.  Even in a system in which government provides health care for just a segment of the population — the poor, the elderly, veterans — the patients are still customers, but with somebody else paying.

It is mystifying that so many people assume benevolence and competence within a system that is able to take its resources by force of law.  When such a system hits the ceiling for what taxpayers and central planners are willing to pay, it still has massive power over the recipients of its services, even if that power consists mainly of offering a choice between staring at a hospital ceiling and death.

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Blue Cross Executive Compensation and Social Lunacy

For some reason, WPRI’s Ted Nesi tacked a political ad for far-left progressive Democrat Aaron Regunberg to the end of an article about a massive parting gift from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island to its departing CEO:

Aaron Regunberg, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, quickly criticized Blue Cross over the pay packages, and argued it shows the state needs to move to a single-payer health system.

“Every day I meet Rhode Islanders who are struggling to pay outrageous health care bills,” he said. “It feels like each year, insurance costs more and covers less. So why is Blue Cross seeking 10% rate hikes while handing their top executives immoral payouts of millions of dollars?”

It’s always strange for a news article to end with a question, which is more appropriate to commentary pieces, so let’s take a stab at an answer:  Blue Cross is seeking 10% rate hikes while handing its top executives payouts of millions of dollars because it can.  Thanks to government regulations, consumers’ options for health insurance are very limited, meaning that competitors can’t take advantage of indulgences like massive payouts to executives, and thanks to ObamaCare, the product that this limited number of providers are selling is mandatory for all Americans.

I realize that Regunberg was in high school in a distant state when Blue Cross was among the leading lights of Rhode Island corruption a decade ago.  Still, it shouldn’t take direct experience for him to understand that creating monopolies and intimate relationships between major corporations and government can lead to corruption.

That the story of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island’s corporate pay structure could be turned into a pitch for a single-payer health system shows how far into lunacy our public discourse has drifted.  Consolidating power helps the powerful, who will quickly find that they have more incentive to work together than to enthusiastically fulfill their roles as representatives for battling factions.

Rhode Island has built this truism into the organizing principle of our entire government.  One suspects that Regunberg is not ignorant of this reality but, rather, is looking for his path to the narrow end of its funnel.

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All We Need for Single-Payer Health Care: A Few Magic Beans (and an Emperor)

Far-left gubernatorial candidate Matt Brown is all in on some generic, unspecified, to-be-determined idea of a Medicare for All scheme, and if Rhode Islanders fall for this, we deserve every consequence we get.  I mean, here’s a guy putting forth a proposal that would radically alter our entire society, and…

Brown relied on his belief that savings from unnecessarily high administrative costs, sky high executive salaries — and lack of bargaining power — will help pay the tab.

Beyond that, he said: “The commission we will put together will explore ways to fund it.”

This is not serious thinking, and Matt Brown is not a serious candidate.  Like the progressive candidate for lieutenant governor, Aaron Regunberg, who has zero professional experience outside of far-left activism, Brown is merely jumping on a bandwagon and doing what politicians do: telling people what they want to hear.  Their ideas are little more than a local echo of some national icon — in this case, Bernie Sanders, whose own claims about saving money with Medicare for all Charles Cooke nicely summarizes, here:

… the Sanders “Plan” is going to save money. And all we need to do to get to that happy state of affairs is:

  • Force every doctor and hospital in America to accept Medicare reimbursement rates for all patients — these are 40 percent lower than the rates paid by private insurance — while assuming that this would have absolutely no effect on their capacity or willingness to provide services
  • Raise taxes by 10 percent of GDP — overnight
  • Explain to the 150 million people with private insurance that the rules have been changed so dramatically that (a) they can no longer keep their plans, and (b) henceforth, tens of millions among them will be paying more in taxes than they were previously paying in both premiums and out-of-pocket costs

Easy!

Here’s the bottom line: The villain in Matt Brown’s health care tale is “monopoly prices,” and his solution is to create an opposing monopoly.  As with most progressive policies, the core request is for voters to make the politician more powerful than people he or she insists are too powerful.  This will work out because progressives say so.

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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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