RI’s Paradox of Being Great, but Still Failing

Remember when the local PolitiFact took the Ocean State Policy Research Institute (OSPRI) to task for claiming that the estate tax was driving Rhode Islanders out, especially down to America’s retirement peninsula?  One statement from that article has stuck with me, over the year and a half since:

One expert was Kail Padquitt, staff economist for The Tax Foundation, a think tank that studies federal and state tax policies, who said he hasn’t seen any proof that the prospect of paying estate taxes drives people to move.

“You can see people are leaving a state, but (determining) why they are leaving is hard,” Padquitt said. “Florida has sunshine, low taxes and warmth. Why wouldn’t people move there?”

That rhetorical question has come to mind recently for a couple of reasons.  For one thing, I’ve been working on a related bit of research for OSPRI’s successor organization, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, to be released next week.

Today, though, the quotation came to me in relation to another, separate but related, context.  As most folks who follow RI closely have already heard by now, CNBC placed the state dead last (again) on its business friendliness ranking, and very poorly in other areas.  Marc Comtois’s Anchor Rising post on the subject includes a reaction to RI Future’s Bob Plain:

He continued his foray into “making sense of the CNBC report” by comparing CNBC’s top two business friendly states (Texas and Utah) to the bottom two (Rhode Island and Hawaii) and asking, “Where would you rather move your business to?” And that was it. As if it is obvious that the bottom two are better places to live than the former.

So, PolitiFact presents the suggestion that people are leaving Rhode Island for Florida because it’s a nicer place to live.  Now Plain leaves hanging the insinuation that Rhode Island doesn’t have to be as business friendly as Utah and Texas because <em>it’s</em> a nicer place to live.  It seems there’s an argument for avoiding the conclusion that Rhode Island’s taxes are too high and regulations too stringent no matter which way the progressives turn.

The thing is: After all the rhetorical justifications, people are leaving Rhode Island.  Worse, I’ve long been arguing that, in general, it is specifically productive people who are motivated to build a life who are leaving.  They’re not chasing weather; they’re looking to start businesses, or at least to work for them.  Recently, on this site, I traced the trends down to the city/town level.

“Where would you rather move your business to?”  Well, that’s not really the full question that people ask themselves in the course of making important life decisions.  Plain’s construction leaves out the phrase “if you could.”  Ultimately, though, the important part of the extended thought is “that you can.”

Yeah, maybe Texas and Utah have to be business friendly because they don’t have Rhode Island’s natural advantages, but to the extent that that’s a consideration, Rhode Islanders ought to be even more outraged about their state’s plight.  Despite being a desirable place to live, the Ocean State is unarguably at the back of the nation’s economic pack.

Just think about how much bad governance and abuse of private citizens in the civic and economic spheres it has taken to make something that ought to be contradictory seem like such a natural part of the state’s status quo.

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