Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday October 31, 2011

Wichita City Council. The Wichita City Council this week considers two items of interest. Spirit AeroSystems will ask for $15 million in IRBs. Spirit will purchase the bonds itself. It will receive a property tax exemption for ten years and exemption from sales tax. No dollar amount is given for the value of the exemptions. … Then, Southfork Investment LLC, a group headed by Jay Maxwell, is asking for the formation of a new tax increment financing (TIF) district. This item, if the council approves, will set December 6 as the date for a public hearing. The vote to form the district would be taken then. … According to city documents, the project is near 47th Street South and I-135. It is planned for 50 acres and one million square feet of retail, hotel, restaurants and office space. For comparison, Towne East Square has slightly less than 1.2 million square feet of space. There will be a medical park on an additional 22 acres. … It appears that all the TIF financing will be pay-as-you go, which is a recent revision to the Kansas TIF law. No bonds would be sold. Instead, the increment in property tax would be refunded to the developer as it is paid. There’s also a joining of TIF and special assessments, where TIF revenue will be used to pay special assessment taxes. … Only a simply majority vote is needed to form the TIF district after the December 6 public hearing. There will have to be redevelopment plans approved after that, and those require a two-thirds majority. Sedgwick County and USD 259, the Wichita public school district each may pass ordinances objecting to the formation of the district. Sedgwick County did that regarding the Save-A-Lot TIF last year, and that project went ahead, despite the claims of the developer that TIF was necessary. USD 259 Superintendent John Allison has recently stated that the school district would not be participating in the formation of TIF districts in the future, as they lose revenue. This will be the first test of that. In 2008 John Todd and I testified that the district should not agree to the formation of a TIF district because of the lost revenue. Officials assured us that the Kansas school finance formula held them harmless, and it didn’t matter if a TIF district was formed. … There will also be a community improvement district (CID) with an additional sales tax of one cent per dollar. … As always, the agenda packet is available at Wichita city council agendas.

Crony capitalism. The Occupy Wall Street protests, as well as the group that protested against Koch Industries on Saturday, seem to be opposed to capitalism. Their efforts would be better directed against business specifically, or crony capitalism in particular. There’s a huge difference. Capitalism is a system of absolute respect for property rights and free exchange in free markets. As Tom G. Palmer wrote in his introduction to the recently-published book The Morality of Capitalism, “Indeed, capitalism rests on a rejection of the ethics of loot and grab.” … As for free markets and enterprise Milton Friedman explained that business is not always in favor: “The great virtue of free enterprise is that it forces existing businesses to meet the test of the market continuously, to produce products that meet consumer demands at lowest cost, or else be driven from the market. It is a profit-and-loss system. Naturally, existing businesses generally prefer to keep out competitors in other ways. That is why the business community, despite its rhetoric, has so often been a major enemy of truly free enterprise.” Even one liberal New York Times columnist realizes this, as did Nicholas D. Kristof when he recently wrote “But, in recent years, some financiers have chosen to live in a government-backed featherbed. Their platform seems to be socialism for tycoons and capitalism for the rest of us. They’re not evil at all. But when the system allows you more than your fair share, it’s human to grab. That’s what explains featherbedding by both unions and tycoons, and both are impediments to a well-functioning market economy.” Kristof goes on to explain that capitalism means the freedom to fail as well as succeed: “Capitalism is so successful an economic system partly because of an internal discipline that allows for loss and even bankruptcy. It’s the possibility of failure that creates the opportunity for triumph. Yet many of America’s major banks are too big to fail, so they can privatize profits while socializing risk.” … While most want more regulation on Wall Street and banks, I think that it’s impossible for government to write effective regulations. Instead, markets — if allowed to work — provide the most effective regulation: if you fail, you fail. It’s as simple as that. But George W. Bush gave a bailout, and Barack Obama has followed along. The Dodd-Frank banking regulations, for example, make “too big to fail” an explicit policy.

Kansas pensions. Do we know the true magnitude of Kansas’ unfunded pension problem? Do we want to know? Perhaps not, writes Paul Soutar at Kansas Watchdog: “Even though taxpayers in the rest of America eventually may find out what public pensions really cost them, Kansas school accounting practices and the way school retirement is funded may let school districts avoid reporting the true cost of district employee pensions. Some estimates show the unfunded actuarial liability of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System will more than double from its current official $8.3 billion based on optimistic assumptions to more than $20 billion using the more realistic calculations.” The full story is School Districts May Get to Dodge Accounting Rules on Pensions . … State Budget Solutions, in a recent report (Report reveals aggregate state debt exceeds $4 trillion) made similar findings, writing that our unfunded pension liability is $21.8 billion, well over twice as high as the numbers used by most official sources. The difference: “The AEI figures estimate how large public pension liabilities would be if states used private sector market-valuation methods.” In other words, the real world.

Global economics to be discussed in Wichita. This week’s meeting (November 4th) of the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Chris Spencer, Vice President, Regional Sales Manager Oppenheimer Funds, speaking on “Goliath vs Goliath — The global battle of economic superpowers.” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club Upcoming speakers: On November 11th: Sedgwick County Commission Members Richard Ranzau and Jim Skelton, speaking on “What its like to be a new member of the Sedgwick County Board of County commissioners?” … On November 18th: Delores Craig-Moreland, Ph.D., Wichita State University, speaking on “Systemic reasons why our country has one of the highest jail and prison incarceration rates in the world? Are all criminals created equal?” … On November 25th there will be no meeting.

Progress, or not. Today’s Wichita Eagle carries a letter that laments the jobs lost due to self-serve checkout lanes, online bill payment, online banking, and online reservation services. Concluding, the letter asks readers to “consider how many jobs could be saved if all of us stopped demanding immediate service or answers.” This reminded me of a recent column by Donald J. Boudreaux, commenting on similar remarks by U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). He wrote: “Fred Barnes reports in the Weekly Standard that you refuse to use computerized checkout lanes at supermarkets (“Boneheaded Economics,” Oct. 24). As you — who are described on your website as ‘progressive’ — explain, ‘I refuse to do that. I know that’s a job or two or three that’s gone.’ Overlooking the fact that you overlook the lower prices on groceries made possible by this labor-saving technology, I’ve some questions for you: Do you also avoid using computerized (‘automatic’) elevators, riding only in those few that still use manual elevator operators? Do you steer clear of newer automobiles equipped with technologies that enable them to go for 100,000 miles before needing a tune-up? I’m sure I can find for you, say, a 1972 Chevy Vega that will oblige you to employ countless mechanics. Do you shun tubeless steel-belted radial tires on your car — you know, the kind that go flat far less often than do old-fashioned tires? No telling how many tire-repairing jobs have been destroyed by modern technology-infused tires. Do you and your family refuse flu shots in order to increase your chances of requiring the services of nurses and M.D.s — and, if the economy gets lucky and you and yours get seriously ill, also of hospital orderlies and administrators? Someone as aware as you are of the full ramifications of your consumption choices surely takes account of the ill effects that flu shots have on the jobs of health-care providers. You must, indeed, be distressed as you observe the appalling amount of labor-saving technologies in use throughout our economy. It is, alas, a disturbing trend that has been around for quite some time — since, really, the invention of the spear which destroyed the jobs of some hunters.”

Business and politics. We often hear that government should be run like a business. But the two institutions are entirely different, explains Burton Folsom: “The differences between business and politics, however, is where our focus needs to be. In business, you hire people with your profits to make and sell your product. With those jobs, your employees earn money, spend money, and thereby create other jobs by their demand for houses, cars, iPhones, and household products. Wealth expands, new entrepreneurs get new ideas for products to make, and, if society is free, it becomes prosperous. In politics, you do hire people to run your campaigns and your administration once you’re in office; you do sometimes dole out jobs to build highways, snoop on business, or run the IRS. But almost all of those jobs require other people’s money (i.e. tax dollars) to continue. They take money out of the economy. For example, the jobs created by the Justice Department to check on the trading practices of corporations, the jobs created by the agriculture department to interact with farmers, or the thousands of jobs created to bring trillions of tax dollars each year to Washington are all jobs that take wealth out of the private sector. Looked at this way, the jobs created in business are the productive jobs, the ones that create wealth and give us the thousands of choices we enjoy in breakfast cereal, cars, clothes, and houses. By contrast, each job created in the political class subtracts a job that could be continued or created in the private sector.” … More at The Difference between Business and Politics.


One thought on “Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday October 31, 2011”

  1. I too balked at that letter to the editor.

    You had some great examples to illustrate the fallacy. My favorite example was when economist Milton Friedman visited another country and observed citizen digging a canal. He asked why the workers were all using shovels why and no modern equipment was employed. The natives declared “this is a jobs program”. Mr. Friedman then asked -then why not have everyone use spoons?

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