Justin and Bob Plain discuss economic development and whether Rhode Islanders should be made to fit a government-driven top-down mold.
Justin and Bob Plain discuss economic development and whether Rhode Islanders should be made to fit a government-driven top-down mold.
How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I-it” relationship for an “I-thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.
As Byron York points out, a U.S. president who’s beginning the launch of a (breathtakingly cynical) “inequality agenda” probably doesn’t want the fact that he turned his wife’s 50th birthday party at the White House into a lavish Hollywood-style gala for 500 A-listers to get much play in the news:
… the White House apparently did not want to see photos of the First Lady’s glittery gala circulating around the Internet. So it imposed a strict rule: No cell phones. “Guests were told not to bring cellphones with them, and there was a cellphone check-in area for those who did,” reported the Chicago Tribune. “Signs at the party told guests: No cellphones, no social media.” People magazine added: “Guests had been greeted by a ‘cell phone check’ table where they deposited their camera phones on arrival and it was understood that this was not an occasion for Tweeting party photos or Facebooking details.” The publications cited sources who insisted on anonymity for fear of White House reprisal.
This is the sort of thing that ought to turn Americans’ minds back to the reasons for the founding of their country, if not the French Revolution. It’s the sort of thing that ought to drive home the reality that one can have integrity or support Obama, but not both.
But the party is just an emblem of the Obama administration’s approach to ruling. Quite a bit more serious, for example, is Greta Van Susteren’s claim that the White House initiated a broad, subversive campaign to stop Fox News from reporting on Benghazi. (This was after, of course, it targeted one of Fox’s reporters as if he were a spy… for the American people, I guess.)
If the American electorate doesn’t force a change of direction, future presidents are only going to get worse, and there aren’t that many steps between where we are and where we ought all to dread to go.
The government’s constant drum beat that it needs more resources and authority to shape the lives of its people is nakedly offensive.
I wasn’t there the day the mafia collection agent came into the record store at which I worked to chat with the assistant manager whom we all knew to have an unhealthy relationship with organized crime. My coworker and friend, though, said that there was just a chill that came off the man.
Nowadays, when I hear about that kind of chill, the experience is most often an interaction with a government tax agent, and it’s becoming an increasingly rational response. Here’s the latest anecdote I’ve seen published, coming from Sarah Palin’s brother:
My father, who worked multiple jobs and faithfully and honestly paid his taxes for fifty years, had never heard a word from the IRS. In 2008, his daughter was tapped to run for vice president of the United States. Since that time, he has been, in his words “horribly harassed” six times by the agency. They’ve tried to dig up something on him but he’s always operated above board.
Yeah, I know. It’s a Sarah Palin-related anecdote, and she’s a contentious national figure and all. The reality is that, given the nature of my work, I’ve been hearing more and more of this sort of story at the state level in Rhode Island, and the victims aren’t necessarily more politically active than having testified at a legislative committee hearing.
The worst part is that they are forced to sign agreements saying that they won’t publicize their experience with the government tax agent, especially though the media. That’s a red flag, right there, that ought to concern all of us.
I’m with Glenn Reynolds. I’ll be liveblogging any interaction I have with the government that strikes me as suspicious, complete with the pay histories and profiles of the relevant department from top to bottom.
And the bottom line: It is disingenuous for the current Governor to open his state of the state address by boasting of “no broad based tax increases”, while speaking only with disdain for the budgeting in the “recent past” that made a no-tax increase plan not containing major disruptions feasible.
The flow of money through the State of Rhode Island’s budget illustrates the perpetual scam that is government budgeting and should inspire Rhode Islanders to realize that they are allowed to make the machine run the other way.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama Era has dragged the United States out of the top 10 list of countries that are economically free, and that ought to be unacceptable to Americans. As Terry Miller writes:
For 20 years, the index has measured a nation’s commitment to free enterprise on a scale of 0 to 100 by evaluating 10 categories, including fiscal soundness, government size and property rights. These commitments have powerful effects: Countries achieving higher levels of economic freedom consistently and measurably outperform others in economic growth, long-term prosperity and social progress. Botswana, for example, has made gains through low tax rates and political stability.
Those losing freedom, on the other hand, risk economic stagnation, high unemployment and deteriorating social conditions. For instance, heavy-handed government intervention in Brazil’s economy continues to limit mobility and fuel a sense of injustice.
Specifically what has changed in the United States is important to consider, and for that purpose, see the interactive chart from Heritage that allows you to visualize up to three countries versus the average, overall and by category of freedom. (I found it useful to compare the United States with Canada and Mexico.)
For the cronyism file, note that the United States has not slipped much when it comes to business freedom or trade freedom. Where we’re losing ground are areas of taxes and government spending, as well as financial, monetary, and investment freedom. Most disturbing, though, might be the decline in the two freedoms in the category of “rule of law”: property rights and corruption.
Coming across this index the day that the Obama-administration FBI lets it be known that (surprise! surprise!) it doesn’t foresee criminal charges in the case of the Obama-administration IRS’s targeting of conservatives is almost too appropriate.
The index is a view from high up, but it appears that we’re losing ground in the very areas that make it possible for families to forge their own futures and to advance, bringing the economy with them.
No sooner had I written about an anecdote from RI General Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Gina Raimondo that made me think in terms of battles of Good versus Evil than Ted Nesi tweeted:
One of @GinaForRI’s big policy ideas today is using “social impact bonds” in RI.
Ted linked to a Harvard Magazine article that provides a helpful chart of how the concept works. Basically, the government earmarks some money for a social cause and hires an intermediary to find investors and contractors to do the work. When another layer, the “evaluator,” determines that the social good has been accomplished, the government releases the funds, with interest.
Naturally, my mind turned to Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man. As I described last April, the idea is that a conman (implied to be the Devil) takes a trip on a steamboat to ply his trade among the passengers. To a philanthropist, he speaks of a “world’s charity,” with one feature being that:
In brief, the conversion of the heathen, so far, at least, as depending on human effort, would, by the world’s charity, be let out on contract. So much by bid for converting India, so much for Borneo, so much for Africa. Competition allowed, stimulus would be given. There would be no lethargy of monopoly. … But the main point is the Archimedean money-power that would be brought to bear.
I guess there really is no progressive idea that a Nineteenth Century satirist couldn’t have imagined decades or centuries before.
The lesson of the “world’s charity” scheme was that the conman nominated himself as the “provisional treasurer.” I’m not sure whether the villains’ preferred role in the “social impact bond” plan would be the government, the intermediary, or the evaluator or if, perhaps, its true innovation is to create three times the “provisional treasurers.”
Travis Rowley’s weekend column takes up the topic of Swipely CEO Angus Davis versus a proposed downtown parole office. Travis focuses on the identity-politics response from progressives.
I take a somewhat different view.
Let me stipulate that I’m absolutely certain there are reasons to be cynical and disapproving of this particular choice of location. But a rich guy not wanting those people near his business is not one of them.
Not putting a stop-in center for convicted rapists next to a women-only gym, or for car thieves next to the airport parking lot, would be one thing. But simply not wanting people who are marginally attached to the criminal justice system anywhere near a general business-to-business company is less easily justified.
Travis quotes Davis from Dan Yorke’s State of Mind program:
The statistics say that somewhere between 19 and 27 percent of the folks that are served by this office that are on parole or probation are there for a violent offense. And statistics say that 61 percent of those folks are going to commit another offense.
Conspicuously, Davis didn’t offer any more specificity. How much onsite activity does the parole office have, and for whom? More directly, what do “the statistics say” about crime in the vicinity of a parole office? I’d be tempted to guess that ex-cons tend to be in a less-recidivist frame of mind while running the errands that keep them out of prison.
But nobody has raised the most important point: People are parolees because they’re presumably not to be an active threat to society, at least to the extent that they are trusted among the large numbers of people waiting for buses even closer to Davis’s office. If that’s not the case, then fighting over where they check in for a reminder to be on their best behavior is just a test of who has the political clout to keep them at arm’s length.
Maybe I’ve just become so jaded that I can’t get into inside-deal scandals like the the state Probation and Parole Office lease. We all know it goes on; we all know that it’s one of the problems holding RI back. But it never manages to get a rise out of the people in Rhode Island. That’s the problem that nobody ever wants to attack; the corruption is a symptom, and nobody wants to attack the disease.
The underlying reason may be that we’re governed by technocratic statists. “Look! Scandal! All of the on-paper protections that we’ve put in place, like open meetings laws, are failing to stop people from acting on the obvious and tremendous incentives created by big-government programs and spending! Quick, get more paper!”
So, gubernatorial candidate Ken Block pledges to extend the deadline for posting about public meetings from 48 hours to 96 hours before they occur, as if the problem is that Rhode Islanders just can’t rearrange their schedules to attend a State Properties Committee meeting with only two days’ notice.
With solutions like that (used here as a small sample of the whole moving-the-needle, now-that-we’re-done-with-same-sex-marriage-we-can-spend-time-on-the-fact-that-people-can’t-find-jobs, and we’re-boycotting-talk-radio mentality), the corruption looks like a problem that can’t be fixed, and the structural things that make it difficult to limit or shrink big government never come into question.
A noticed just received from the kids’ school:
Due to new state regulations we will no longer be selling snacks after school in the extended day program.
I’m sure this didn’t amount to a huge stream of revenue, but it’s another paper cut, bathed in the salt of pretzels that can’t be sold.
To second and amplify everything Justin has said: for seventeen years, there has been no global warming trend, despite an inexorable rise of man-generated CO2. This is a development that was not predicted by global warming scientists, whose mantra has been: man-generated greenhouse gases will cause the planet to warm. This seventeen year pause has […]
I didn’t want to let this Felice Freyer article slip through the cracks. It’s about the wave of new Medicare Advantage clients that Blue Cross & Blue Shield is picking up, owing to changes at United-Healthcare, reducing doctor choices dramatically. I’ve rearranged some sentences from the article in order better to follow the bouncing ball:
Under the Affordable Care Act, payments to Medicare Advantage plans are gradually being reduced … Faced with these cuts, United is trying to save money by working with smaller networks…
A federal judge in Connecticut granted a temporary restraining order barring United from implementing a reduced network in two counties in Connecticut. United has appealed.
United confirmed that, in a special agreement negotiated earlier this year, some 4,900 retired state employees and their families have been exempted from the network changes. Although they remain in United’s Medicare Advantage plan, they will continue to have access to the same providers as previously.
Insurers build plans and networks that make sense within the constraints of government programs and their own business models. When the government changes a program and large parts of those models no longer work, companies adjust them.
In response to something best described as political pressure, a judge steps in and insists that a private company cannot legally change its model, at least yet. The state government (which regulates and sets laws affecting the company) gets its retirees a special deal not available to the ordinary resident.
In both of these cases, the costs that the government forces United to accept have to go somewhere. Inevitably, that somewhere will be on the backs of the least politically powerful group.
The farther we go along the path of government control of healthcare, the more we’ll see government insisting that people behave under a contrived reality that ultimately serves its own needs.
As we approach 2014, two signs of the times in the United States of America are worth keeping in mind:
How about we make this the year of enough is enough?
The most important article in today’s Providence Journal is John Kostrzewa’s column about the slogging effort to allow Rhode Island businesses to pay their employees every two weeks. It’s actually a laughably minor reform on which to hang the banners of “economic development” and “moving the needle,” but that’s part of what makes Kostrzewa’s column so important.
This is a major battle, in Rhode Island? Just that fact, alone, does incalculable harm to the state’s economy. Just that fact alone illustrates how strong the special interests are, here, and how difficult it is to change anything in the direction of economic freedom.
And then you get into the details of the regulations:
… the regulators included that businesses had to certify that they were in compliance with the law and then recertify every two years…
Business owners howled. … So the regulators, in their wisdom, rewrote the final rules … [to require] recertification every four years … [to] assure that companies met the law’s requirements, including that only businesses that pay average wages of more than twice the minimum wage can pay biweekly.
The rules also require employers… to pay workers on a designated date and provide proof of a surety bond in the amount of the highest biweekly payroll. Also, companies with employees subject to collective-bargaining units must provide written consent by the collective-bargaining representative.
Go read the rest. The regulators took a law meant to give some flexibility to businesses and made it a bear for all but those that need flexibility the least (i.e., bigger companies able to jump through hoops).
The people who govern Rhode Island — elected officials and career bureaucrats — believe they run the state as their own organization. It isn’t as important that you can build a business and make a living as that they can “assure” that you’re doing what they want.
Combining two serious matters playing out in Rhode Island at the present time…
…does anyone seriously believe that Rhode Island would be better off right now, if Cranston Mayor Allan Fung was refusing to discuss his city’s highly questionable parking ticket surge with Dan Yorke or Buddy Cianci on live radio, because of things John DePetro said?
Thanks to Kathy Gregg for illustrating the point I was trying to make yesterday on Twitter about how the local media is covering the unions’ push to get John DePetro off the WPRO airwaves.
In her Providence Journal article, today, she reports on the politicians who have pledged to boycott all WPRO shows until DePetro is fired, but the one she singles out for additional questioning is Cranston Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung… who was the only one (to his credit) to limit his boycott to just the host whom he finds objectionable.
That is the position that the local media finds to be in need of additional defense.
Based on commentary and private emails, yesterday, it’s clear to me that members of Rhode Island’s governing class do not understand the gravity of their positions. Their personal dislike of DePetro overwhelms their sense of responsibility to the people of Rhode Island — for many of whom WPRO is an important medium to learn the news, gain insight into government, and interact with politicians. Avoiding a single host is a comment on him and his show; boycotting an entire media outlet is a guilt-by-association effort to limit the ability of an organization to perform its function in our community, holding it hostage to political demands.
The local media should be outraged by that, and the lack of outrage raises questions about how well they fill their own roles. It shows an accedence to the principle that the news media must stay within government’s good graces.
Incidentally, Gregg notes the prominence of the AFL-CIO labor union behind the group that’s stoking this controversy, but without disclosing that she and her fellow Providence Journal reporters are members of the Providence Newspaper Guild, which falls under the umbrella of the AFL-CIO.
Frankly, the John DePetro v. Union Front Groups, with elected officials pledging to boycott an entire media outlet if one host is not removed from the air has mainly been an indication of how unserious government is, in Rhode Island. For people in office, as candidates or otherwise, to shirk their responsibility to let their constituents hear from them as part of a political spat is irresponsible posturing.
Still, when Monique asked whether it was appropriate for the sitting governor to join that list, it’s hard not to just shake one’s head and say, “Well, that’s Rhode Island for you.” And as I commented to the post, there’s much from which Rhode Island politicians and progressives generally want to distract the public.
But this, I think, is plainly not right, and in a healthy polity, it would be seen as such across the political spectrum:
On Thursday, Chafee spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger confirmed the governor’s decision not to go on any WPRO radio show as long as DePetro works for the station.
She also confirmed that Chafee had signed the group’s petition urging Rhode Island-based jewelry company Alex and Ani to withhold its advertising dollars from the station.
It’s highly suspect for Chafee to deprive WPRO’s audience of his participation because he’s made the decision that one on-air personality “has to go.” But the governor of the State of Rhode Island should not be urging one private entity to sever its business relationship with another private entity based on a single product that the latter produces.
By doing this Governor Chafee pushes Rhode Island one step farther into the realm of Banana Republics and Lord of the FliesFlies — not to mention giving business owners one more reason to think that Rhode Island might not be the business environment for them.
I’m a bookish sort who’s frequently leaped and been thrown into subordinance to people who were less adept at filling in circles on test sheets, giving me a humbling appreciation for the raw difference between and parity of human skillsets. A fish salesman better knew the dignity and power of hard work; a finish carpenter better understood the value of each step in a process… to organize, to clean, to prepare.
These experiences came to mind upon reading George Will’s column, yesterday, about President Obama’s losing his progressive fantasies about government:
Obama, startled that components of government behave as interest groups, seems utterly unfamiliar with public choice theory. It demystifies and de-romanticizes politics by applying economic analysis — how incentives influence behavior … how elected officials and bureaucrats pursue personal aggrandizement as much as people do in the private sector. …
… He [still] thinks [big government] serves equality. Actually, big government inevitably drives an upward distribution of wealth to those whose wealth, confidence and sophistication enable them to manipulate government.
It’s not implausible to believe that the machinations of government are critical to society, but from the point of view of my former co-workers, the tasks involved look a lot like make-work. And yet, the government’s powers to tax and arrest tend to prioritize them, not only as people strive to build their lives, but also as an area of focus for businesses and other organizations. There’s a reason Washington is a puddle of prosperity in a nation of unemployment.
The task of making sure things are done according to rules ought to be subordinate to the task of getting them done. This is a matter not only of economic necessity, but also of human equality. Being able to manipulate politics and a bureaucracy should not be the sine qua non of individual worth.
The Daily Show takes a look at gerrymandering and talks to the best at it, Kimball Brace, the same guy who drew up RI’s Congressional and State House districts.
An Anchor Rising commenter used to proclaim that collegiate right-wingers had it easy. All they had to do was mouth the right ideas, and the giant udder of the conservative cash cow would descend upon them.
The notion is laughable. Rhetoric consistent with a mainstream New England liberalism is the ticket to the front of the line around here.
Consider Felice Freyer’s column on the front page of the Sunday Rhode Island section, about an idea to pay for HealthSource RI, the state’s ObamaCare site.
Ted Almon “concedes he hasn’t done the math,” but he thinks if government claims a monopoly on medical billing, then all problems will be solved. Of course, government control would be better for this or that stakeholder, but the question is whether it’s better systemwide… for customers, taxpayers, the people who ultimately have to live with and pay for it.
You can’t ignore the cost to them. Handling some financial tasks doesn’t make it free for HealthSource to scale activities to process all healthcare transactions.
And people already have jobs in medical billing. Some work for providers; some are independent contractors. All of the medical-billing contractors I’ve met have been middle-aged women doing the work from home for supplemental income.
Are state workers likely to be more cost-effective? If the whole idea is to pay for HealthSource, they’d have to be tens of millions of dollars more cost-effective per year.
In short, the math is the idea.
But Almon is an advocate for a single-payer (i.e., totally government run) healthcare system. He says he used to prefer free-market solutions, but he “figured out that none of them would work.”
I wonder if he did the math on that. I wonder if anybody at the Providence Journal has… or even wants to find somebody who has.
In voting for the March 11 resolution to remove firearms permitting authority from the town of Exeter, the Town Council majority chose the path that comes all too easily to Rhode Island officials: passing serious decisions to someone else. But just because many Rhode Island politicians accept this as normal doesn’t mean the citizens of Exeter have to — and it is healthy that they haven’t.
A central concept in need of exploration within Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium is that of autonomy, and the responsibilities that it imposes and allows on all people, regardless of position.
Yesterday on WPRO‘s John Depetro Show, John Loughlin, filling in, interviewed gov candidate Ken Block. A caller asked Block to release the waste and fraud report that his company had prepared for the state earlier this year. Quick background. Governor Chafee did not release the whole report, only what amounted to a tantalizing summary. The […]
Add parodists to the list of professionals being put out of work by the federal government under the Watchful Eye of the Obama administration, because it would simply be impossible to exaggerate this in order to make an insightful joke of it:
In March of this year, a small nonprofit in Cincinnati—the Music Teachers National Association—received a letter from the FTC. The agency was investigating whether the association was engaged in, uh, anticompetitive practices. …
This was bizarre, given that the MTNA has existed since 1876 solely to advance the cause of music study and support music teachers. The 501(c)(3) has about 22,000 members, nearly 90% of them piano teachers, including many women who earn a modest living giving lessons in their homes.
It looks like the group and the government have come to an agreement, but it involves two decades of arduous compliance and invasive scrutiny… or at least vulnerability, depending on bureaucratic motivation.
Why this group fell into the government floodlight is unknown. The most conspiratorial theory would be that some executive in the non-profit was found to have donated to a candidate or cause the administration doesn’t like; perhaps the least conspiratorial theory would be that the government paper pushers just find it easier to fill their schedules going after benign organizations rather than actual malefactors with big budgets and lots of incentive to fight back.
My money (given experience analyzing child-care providers in Rhode Island) is that the reason has more to do with labor unions. Maybe some union sees a hook to organize piano teachers for dues and political leverage, and the professional association is competition. Maybe the teachers unions want to increase pressure for lessons to be given (and funded) through government-run schools.
Whatever the case, musicians should come home to libertarianism on matters of government bureaucracy.
URI economics professor Len Lardaro went on Dan Yorke’s WPRO show, yesterday, to dismiss the model that the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity uses to project the effects of eliminating the state sales tax.
Lardaro insisted that RI-STAMP, developed by the Beacon Hill Institute, somehow leaves factors out, undercutting its results, and as he tweeted in October, the state has a “better model.” A bunch of us met with experts on both models, last week, and although others should offer more-official assessments before I unleash mine, I will say this: Both take roughly the same approach. Assumptions, not inputs, are at issue. It would be helpful to know what information Lardaro has that the score of people around that table for three hours missed.
Lardaro also suggested that the government should have in-house modeling and research staff sufficient to review policy proposals in order to avoid leaving so much open space of credibility for “special interests,” like the Center. The naive cliché that government tends toward selfless, objective inquiry really needs to drift out to sea in the Ocean State.
Nobody at the Center has any unusual financial interest in the elimination of the sales tax. Moreover, it serves none of us professionally, much less as people who live in Rhode Island, to have reality prove us disastrously wrong on the benefits.
By contrast, the state government (which employs Lardaro) has a clear and immediate interest in not risking hundreds of millions of dollars that it currently takes out of the pockets of Rhode Islanders. “Moving the needle” becomes a series of little tweaks because the state government is Rhode Island’s largest special interest.
It flies in the face of common sense simply to assume that the latter group is inherently better intentioned and more credible than the former.
Capitalism (aka “the market”) is not adequate for setting a society’s rules and direction, but neither is government, which is why the American Founders sought to make broad use of government for that purpose illegal.
Obamacare is shaping up as the most visible domestic policy disaster in our lifetimes and Democrats/progressives will suffer a setback as a result, but conservatives would be mistaken to think that public backlash against Obamacare represents a durable realignment in public sentiment against big-government liberalism or that Democrats will suffer more than a temporary, shallow setback from the debacle.
…though not necessarily with every detail that follows (though they are definitely worth reading).
What do others think; too pessimistic or just right?