Tag Archives: Economic freedom

Economic freedom means property rights are protected under an impartial rule of law, people are free to trade with others, both within and outside the country, there is a sound national currency, so that peoples’ money keeps its value, and government stays small, relative to the size of the economy.

In Kansas, everything is okay — not

A few weeks ago Kansas University political science professor Burdett Loomis had an opinion piece in The Wichita Eagle. Commenting on it at the time, I wrote “Overall, Loomis presents an argument for the status quo in Kansas government, and the potential for change in the direction of restraining its growth has Loomis — in his own words — ‘concerned — worried, even.'” Now Alan Cobb of Topeka, who is vice president of state operations at Americans for Prosperity Foundation, comments. Following is the unabridged version of Cobb’s op-ed that appeared in today’s Wichita Eagle.

A few weeks ago, noted KU political science professor and nice guy, Burdett Loomis, commented that everything is fine here in Kansas, so why would anyone want to lower taxes or change anything?

Where to start? If you compare Kansas to much of the world, yes, we are okay. Hot water comes out of the hot water tap, you can watch your favorite college team on TV, and you have about two dozen different road combinations to make it to Grandma’s house for the Holidays. (We don’t need that many options, but that is another editorial.)

If you compare Kansas to places more similar to Kansas than Bhutan or Belarus, we have a bit different story.

One of the simplest ways to measure economic growth is population growth. People go where there is economic opportunity.

Over the last decade, Kansas’ population increased 6.1 percent while Colorado increased 16.9 percent, (remember tax and spending limits decimating Colorado?) Missouri 7 percent, Oklahoma 8.7 percent, and Nebraska 6.7 percent. Maybe the most sobering statistic is South Dakota’s growth of 7.86 percent, an astonishing rate of nearly 30 percent higher than Kansas. South Dakota has a lot of fine attributes. But there is no reason that Kansas can’t at least equal that, is there? Or maybe come closer? Or if we really put on our thinking caps, maybe even we can beat South Dakota.

Kansas’ population growth is because our birth rate exceeds our mortality rate. We aren’t attracting folks from out of state. We still have more people moving out of Kansas than moving in. And the folks moving out have a higher annual income than those moving in and they are leaving Kansas on some of the best roads in America. Oh, South Dakota is a net importer of residents and South Dakota doesn’t have an income tax.

One can think about this stuff until the cows come home, or until one tries to do Chinese math with a liberal arts mind, but it is really pretty simple. People live in and move to where they think they can improve their lives.

There are a few parts of Kansas that are growing, though I can’t say that is improvement, at least not with a straight face. During the last decade, the number of Kansas government employees has increased by 15,000 jobs while private sector employment has decreased by 35,000. The size of today’s private sector workforce in Kansas smaller than it was in 2000. Oh, but everything is fine, really.

To make the dwindling private sector worker feel even better, the average annual salary for a State government worker in Kansas is $46,000 while the private sector is $38,500. Of course that doesn’t include the generous health and retirement benefits rarely seen in the private sector.

Though some are satisfied with the status quo, I and the 40,000 members of AFP are not.

The final point to address is Bird’s kind of lame back handed swipe at AFP as if we represent only wealthy interests. I’ve been with AFP-Kansas since the beginning. I’ve attended hundreds and hundreds of AFP events and meetings. I’ve been to Pittsburg, Liberal, Leavenworth, Goodland and many towns in between. Bird would have been awed by the vast amounts of wealth present at the Big Cheese Pizza in Independence, at Spears Cafeteria in Wichita, the Liberal Train Depot or the Topeka Public Library.

But, I’ve never seen Bird attend any of those meetings.

I am sure that among that 40,000 members of AFP in Kansas there are some rich folks. But their interests are the same as all AFP members: personal liberty, economic freedom and growth, and debate based on facts.

Economic freedom at decline, across the U.S. and in Wichita

Earlier this year Robert Lawson appeared in Wichita to speak about economic freedom throughout the world. While the United States presently ranks well, that is changing. Writing this month in The Freeman, Lawson and his colleagues warn of dangerous trends — particularly the Obama Administration’s response to the recession — that pose a threat to the economic freedom that powers growth and prosperity.

While the article is focused primarily at the national economy, there are lessons to be learned locally, too. In particular, increasing intervention into the state and local economy leads to compounding the loss of economic freedom.

As an example, the Wichita City Council has just approved a plan for the revitalization of downtown Wichita that calls for public investment to be made downtown. While the plan is promoted as a market-based plan, it is, instead, a government plan to redirect investment from where people have decided it should be to where politicians, bureaucrats, and their patrons think it should be. These patrons are sometimes called “crony capitalists,” as explained in this passage from the article (James D. Gwartney, Joshua C. Hall and Robert A. Lawson:
The Decline in Economic Freedom
):

It is important to distinguish between market entrepreneurs and crony capitalists. Market entrepreneurs succeed by providing customers with better products, more reliable service, and lower prices than are available elsewhere. They succeed by creating wealth — by producing goods and services that are worth more than the value of the resources required for their production. Crony capitalists are different: They get ahead through subsidies, special tax breaks, regulatory favors, and other forms of political favoritism. Rather than providing consumers with better products at attractive prices, crony capitalists form an alliance with politicians. The crony capitalists provide the politicians with contributions, other political resources, and, in some cases, bribes in exchange for subsidies and regulations that give them an advantage relative to other firms. Rather than create wealth, crony capitalists form a coalition with political officials to plunder wealth from taxpayers and other citizens.

We are now in the midst of a great debate between the proponents of limited government and open markets on the one hand and those favoring more collectivism and political direction of the economy on the other. The outcome of this debate will determine the future of both economic freedom and the prosperity of Americans and others throughout the world.

In Wichita, “those favoring more collectivism and political direction of the economy” are winning. Not only are they winning the actual political votes, they are also winning the battles within their own minds. Astonishingly, many of the crony capitalists in Wichita have deluded themselves into believing that they are supporters of free markets and capitalism. But taxpayer-supported institutions like Wichita Downtown Development Corporation and Visioneering Wichita exist for the very purpose of directing taxpayer funds toward the crony capitalists. Even the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce plays a role in the plunder of the taxpayer, with its president nodding in approval as nominally conservative members of the Wichita City Council expressed their support for the collectivist, anti-market vision for downtown Wichita.

The heads of each of these organizations, along with city council members Sue Schlapp, Paul Gray, Jim Skelton, and Vice Mayor Jeff Longwell consider themselves to be conservatives. Many of these have personally assured me they are in favor of free markets.

The actions of the council members, not only their enthusiastic embrace of the downtown plan, but their interventions — at nearly every meeting, week after week — that interfere with the market economy and destroy economic freedom, show that none have even a basic understanding of the difference between the economic means and the political means. Writing in his recent book The Science of Success, Koch Industries Chairman and CEO Charles Koch explains the difference:

The economic means of profiting involves voluntarily exchanging your goods or services for the goods or services of others. Parties will not voluntarily enter into an exchange unless they both believe they will be better off. Therefore, you can only profit over time in a system of voluntary exchange (a market) by making others better off.

The political means of profiting transfers goods or services from one party to another by force or fraud. A coerced or fraudulent exchange leaves at least one of the parties worse off. Examples are stealing, committing fraud, polluting, using unsafe practices, filing baseless lawsuits, lobbying government to hamper competitors or obtain subsidies and promoting self-serving redistribution programs.

The economic means creates wealth by making each participant, and, therefore, society as a whole, better off. The political means, at best, merely distributes wealth. As a general system, it causes the overcoming majority of people to be worse off. (emphasis added)

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Tuesday December 21, 2010

Steineger switches teams. Chris Steineger, a Kansas State Senator from Kansas City, has switched to the Republican Party. As a Democrat, Steineger had compiled a voting record more conservative than many senate Republicans. On the Kansas Economic Freedom Index for this year — recognizing that supporting economic freedom is not the same as conservatism or Republicanism — Steineger had a voting record more in favor of economic freedom than that of 15 of the senate’s Republicans.

Kansas school funding reform to wait. Incoming Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says that the Kansas economy comes first, and then school finance, Medicaid, and KPERS in a “year or two.” Tim Carpenter of the Topeka Capital-Journal reports in Revitalizing the Kansas economy is the governor-elect’s No. 1 priority.

Tax cuts in Kansas not likely, says new senate leader. Yesterday Kansas Senate Republicans elected Jay Emler of Lindsborg to be the majority leader, replacing Derek Schmidt, who will become Attorney General. As the Associated Press reports, Emler is not in favor of any tax cuts, including a repeal of the recent increase in the statewide sales tax.

McGinn to lead Ways and Means. Carolyn McGinn, a Kansas Senator from Sedgwick, will chair the Ways and Means Committee. This important committee handles appropriations — in other words, the actual spending of money. On the Kansas Economic Freedom Index for this year, McGinn scored seven percent, tying her with Senate President Stephen Morris as the Republicans most opposed to economic freedom. She also scores low in the Kansas Taxpayer Network/Americans for Prosperity ratings.

Kansas holds on to House seats. At one time it was feared that the 2010 U.S. Census might find Kansas losing one of its four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. But Kansas will retain them. Texas picks up four seats, Florida adds two, while Georgia, South Carolina, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah gain one seat each. Ohio and New York lose two each, while Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, and New Jersey lose one each.

Rasmussen polls. As often, Rasmussen is the bearer of bad news. Like: What’s the deal with Obama? “For the first time since he became president, only 35% of voters say Barack Obama thinks society is fair and decent. That’s almost half as many as voters who hold that belief themselves. A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey finds that 49%, on the other hand, say Obama thinks society is unfair and discriminatory.” See America’s Best Days: Fewer Voters Than Ever Say Obama Thinks Society is Fair and Decent. … Tea Party people skeptical of newly elected officeholders: “Most Tea Party members view the candidates they elected in November as agents of change from government business as usual, but non-members are a lot more skeptical. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone poll finds that only 34% of all Likely U.S. Voters think Tea Party candidates elected in November will remain true to their beliefs. See Most Tea Party Members Think Those They Elected Won’t Sell Out, Others Aren’t So Sure. … Others are pessimistic, too: “Just 23% of Likely U.S. Voters now say the country is heading in the right direction.” See Right Direction or Wrong Track.

Eminent domain reserved for use in Wichita

As part of the plan for the future of downtown Wichita, the city council was asked to formally disavow the use of eminent domain to take private property for the purpose of economic development. The council would not agree to this restriction.

Susan Estes noted that the legislative agenda that the city council passed earlier in the meeting supported “home rule and local control as the most valid solution for recurring legislative issues.” High on the list of these issues is eminent domain.

Estes asked that the city adopt a statement that the city will not use eminent domain to take property for someone else’s use.

Answering her, Mayor Carl Brewer said it is the council’s record not to use eminent domain. “But,” he said, the city needs that opportunity and flexibility. He said that the city has been asked by developers to use eminent domain, but they’ve resisted. Nonetheless, he described it as one of the tools that is available to the city.

Council member Janet Miller said that the Kansas legislature has placed restrictions on eminent domain, which she characterized as a prohibition.

While Miller is correct — the Kansas legislature would have to pass a statute authorizing specific use of eminent domain, and the law is now more in favor of property owners than in the past — that protection, in my opinion, is weak.

We can easily imagine a scenario where a developer — promising a grand development — wants a large tract of land, perhaps a city block or more. The mayor and others will travel to Topeka and testify that the city desperately needs the jobs and tax revenue the development will create. (Forgetting the fact that the development will probably be in a tax increment financing district and therefore not contributing increased tax revenue to the city’s general government.) The city’s lobbyist will work the halls, a case of a taxpayer-paid lobbyist working against the interest of taxpayers. The case will be made to other lawmakers that if they ever want to use eminent domain in their home towns, they’d better vote for Wichita’s request. Other forms of legislative logrolling will be in full behind-the-scenes use.

So now property owners, instead of having to contest the city’s lawyers before a judge, have to lobby the entire legislature. The case — instead of being heard in a forum where the rule of law is respected — will be contested in a political body which in many cases has shown us that it cares little for private property rights.

This was a moment in time where the city council could have taken leadership in protecting property owners from eminent domain abuse. The city — particularly Mayor Brewer and Council Member Miller — failed to grasp the importance of protecting this form of liberty and economic freedom.

Wichita should reject Goody Clancy plan for downtown

Remarks to the Wichita City Council regarding the adoption of a plan for the future of downtown Wichita.

Mr. Mayor, members of this council, there are many reasons why we should reject Project Downtown: The Master Plan for Wichita. I’d like to present just a few.

First, consider the attitudes of Goody Clancy, the Boston planning firm the city hired to lead us through the process. At a presentation in January, some speakers from Goody Clancy revealed condescending attitudes towards those who hold values different from this group of planners. One presenter said “Outside of Manhattan and Chicago, the traditional family household generally looks for a single family detached house with yard, where they think their kids might play, and they never do.”

David Dixon, who leads Goody Clancy’s Planning and Urban Design division and was the principal for this project, revealed his elitist world view when he told how that in the future, Wichitans will be able to “enjoy the kind of social and cultural richness” that is only found at the core.

This idea that only downtown people are socially and culturally rich is an elitist attitude that we ought to reject.

By the way, as I look at the members of this council and the city bureaucratic staff behind me, I see many people who do not live in the core area.

In fact, looking at the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, its president, chair, and past chair live in the type of fringe, suburban developments that Dixon claims are not socially and culturally rich. Do all of you accept Dixon’s criticism?

These attitudes reflect those of most of the planning profession — that people can’t be relied on to choose what’s best for them. Instead they believe that only they — like the planners at Goody Clancy — are equipped to make choices for people. It’s an elitism that Wichita ought to reject.

The irony is that when we start to look at what exactly Goody Clancy is selling us, we find that we ought to reject it.

In January, Dixon used Walk Score in a presentation delivered in Wichita. Walk Score is purported to represent a measure of walkability of a location in a city. Walkability is a key design element of the master plan Goody Clancy has developed for downtown Wichita.

Walk Score is not a project of Goody Clancy, as far as I know, and Dixon is not responsible for the accuracy or reliability of the Walk Score website. But he presented it and relied on it as an example of the data-driven approach that Goody Clancy takes.

Walk Score data for downtown Wichita, as presented by planning firm Goody ClancyWalk Score data for downtown Wichita, as presented by planning firm Goody Clancy. Click for a larger view.

The score for 525 E. Douglas, the block the Eaton Hotel is in and mentioned by Dixon as a walkable area, scored 91, which means it is a “walker’s paradise,” according to the Walk Score website.

But here’s where we can start to see just how bad the data used to develop these scores is. For a grocery store — an important component of walkability — the website indicates indicates a grocery store just 0.19 miles away. It’s “Pepsi Bottling Group,” located on Broadway between Douglas and First Streets. Those familiar with the area know there is no grocery store there, only office buildings. The claim of a grocery store here is false.

There were other claimed amenities where the data is just as bad. But the chairman of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation told me that Walk Score has been updated. I should no longer be concerned with the credibility of this data, he told me through a comment left on this website.

He’s correct. Walk Score has been updated. Now for the same location the walk score is 85%, which is considered “very walkable.” The “grocery store” is no longer the Pepsi Bottling Group. It’s now “Market Place,” whose address is given as 155 N. Market St # 220.

If someone would ever happen to stroll by that location, he’d find that address, 155 N. Market number 220, is the management office for an office building whose name is Market Place.

Still no grocery store. Not even close.

Again, David Dixon and Goody Clancy did not create the Walk Score data. But they presented it to Wichitans as an example of the data-driven, market-oriented approach to planning that they use. Dixon cited Walk Score data as the basis for higher real estate values based on the walkability of the area and its surrounding amenities.

But anyone who relies on the evidence Dixon and Goody Clancy presented would surely get burnt unless they investigated the area on their own.

And since this January reliance on Walk Score was made after Goody Clancy had spent considerable time in Wichita, the fact that someone there could not immediately recognize how utterly bogus the data is — that should give us cause for concern that the entire planning process is based on similar shoddy data and analysis.

I also question whether we have the bureaucratic and political will to actually do what this plan says. For example, the public financing portion is to be limited to things that have a genuine public purpose, such as parking. Financing, if I understand correctly, will be limited largely to tax increment financing districts and historic preservation tax credits.

But look at what this city has done.

In January, Goody Clancy, in its market findings report, told us there is a thriving market for downtown hotel rooms. But right after that the city awarded several millions in subsidy to the Fairfield Inn Hotel, in addition to the benefit it already received from being in a TIF district.

Goody Clancy’s report also states: “Strong occupancy and revenue rates at hotels and a relative undersupply of rooms compared to office space suggest a market opportunity for more hotel rooms.”

But just recently, this city awarded yet another form of subsidy to the many millions already awarded to the Broadview Hotel.

So I wonder if we have the bureaucratic and political will to limit ourselves to the types of public subsidy that the plan calls for.

Finally, Mayor and members of the council, we already have market-driven development in Wichita. Just because some people don’t agree with the results the markets have produced, that does not constitute a market failure that requires government correction.

We already have community engagement in Wichita by people who are actually accountable for the decisions they make and the actions they take.

Now we are considering replacing the dynamic and truly market-driven approach to building our city with what is — despite the claims of its backers — a political and bureaucratic system.

This is a mistake we should not make.

Timothy Sandefur: The right to earn a living

Last Friday’s meeting (December 10) of the Wichita Pachyderm Club featured noted Cato Institute scholar, Principal Attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, and author Timothy Sandefur. He discussed his recent book The Right to Earn a Living: Economic Freedom and the Law. A description of the book at Amazon.com reads: “America’s founders thought the right to earn a living was so basic and obvious that it didn’t need to be mentioned in the Bill of Rights. Yet today that right is burdened by a wide array of government rules and regulations that play favorites, rewrite contracts, encourage frivolous lawsuits, seize private property, and manipulate economic choices to achieve outcomes that bureaucrats favor. The Right to Earn a Living charts the history of this fundamental human right, from the constitutional system that was designed to protect it by limiting government’s powers, to the Civil War Amendments that expanded protection to all Americans, regardless of race. It then focuses on the Progressive-era judges who began to erode those protections, and concludes with today’s controversies over abusive occupational licensing laws, freedom of speech in advertising, regulatory takings, and much more.”

I haven’t had the opportunity to write coverage of Sandefur’s talk, but following is an audio recording of the event. Dion Lefler of the Wichita Eagle covered the story at Pachyderm speaker lauded for blasting judges.

Audio recording: Timothy Sandefur speaking to the Wichita Pachyderm Club, December 10, 2010.
[powerpress]

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Sunday December 12, 2010

This week at Wichita City Council. This Tuesday, six speakers have signed up to appear on the public agenda. This is a portion of the meeting where citizens may speak on nearly any topic. Five are speaking on the city’s proposed trash plan, while one is speaking on a city-wide recycling project. … Approval of the city’s legislative agenda will be considered. Probably the greatest threat to economic freedom is this plank: “City of Wichita supports continued use of effective private-public partnerships and the appropriate intervention of state and local governments to spur economic development.” Also the city expresses support for highly subsidized, expensive, and little-used passenger rail service. … Also the council will consider amending the Wichita-Sedgwick County Comprehensive Plan to include Project Downtown: The Master Plan for Wichita. This is the plan that consulting firm Goody Clancy developed for the revitalization of downtown Wichita. The complete agenda report is at Wichita City Council, December 14, 2010.

Sedgwick County Commission this week. On Wednesday the Sedgwick County Commission will vote on its legislative agenda. The agenda, or platform, is not law, but expresses the sentiment or desire of the commission. Last year Commissioner Karl Peterjohn shepherded through the requirement that voters approve all tax rate increases. This year the same language is proposed, but it may not pass. (The proposed language is this: “All local sales tax increases must be approved by voters under Kansas law. All property tax increases that raise the mill levy should also be required to receive voter approval.”) Some commissioners believe that voters elect them to use their judgment to make decisions on taxes, while other commissioners believe voters should have the final say on something as important as this. The agenda and backup material for Wednesday’s meeting is at Sedgwick County Commission, December 15, 2010.

Wichita Eagle: Adopt downtown plan. Today’s Wichita Eagle editorial calls for passage of the downtown master plan recently developed by planning firm Goody Clancy. Rhonda Holman argues that a “busier, richer core” will benefit the town economically, adding that “downtown matters too much to be left to chance.” The idea that the core is essential to progress is taken as a given, but when downtown supporters are questioned, no evidence to support this nostrum is given. Also, this concept of “chance” that Holman doesn’t trust could also be described as a dynamic marketplace of ideas and capital, with many diverse players with dispersed knowledge acting to advance their own self-interest by creating things people will freely buy, all coordinated through the magic of the price system. What Wichita — with Holman’s support — plans to do is to replace this with the bureaucratic and political system.

City planning by “Those Who Know Best.” “While the fixations of trendy planners might not register on the list of things that average Americans think about, these new utopian land-use ideals are filtering down into government agencies and city councils, and might eventually impact the way we all live.” Writing in the Orange County Register, Steven Greenhut quotes the definition of New Urbanism: “New Urbanism is the most important planning movement this century, and is about creating a better future for us all. It is an international movement to reform the design of the built environment, and is about raising our quality of life and standard of living by creating better places to live. New Urbanism is the revival of our lost art of place-making, and is essentially a reordering of the built environment into the form of complete cities, towns, villages and neighborhoods …” He warns: “Whenever some ideologue claims to offer the most important thing since sliced bread and then promises to reorder my life around it, we should all get nervous.” (The downtown Wichita planners do not use the term “New Urbanism,” but they share the same characteristics and goals.) And even more strongly: “The New Urbanists claim to want to give our lives meaning by creating superior urban forms of living, yet they miss the most meaningful things in life because they emphasize architecture over people. Like all totalitarians, they assume that what they prefer is so good and noble that they have the moral right to impose it on everybody else. The rest of us need to take notice now, so there is still time to oppose it.”

Anderson appointment criticized. KU political science professor Burdett Loomis criticizes the appointment of Steven J. Anderson to be the new Kansas budget director, branding him an “ideologue” that has made “broadside attacks on public education.” Anderson believes in limited government, and his “attacks” on public — let’s be clear here — government schools are advocating school choice through vouchers. In states where vouchers are used, evidence is that public schools improve in response to the competition from private schools that parents can now actually afford. Plus, the state saves money, too. Loomis also criticizes Anderson for uncovering the large unspent fund balances in many Kansas agencies, balances that Loomis seems to doubt exist. Overall, Loomis presents an argument for the status quo in Kansas government, and the potential for change in the direction of restraining its growth has Loomis — in his own words — “concerned — worried, even.”

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday December 10, 2010

This Week in Kansas. On This Week in Kansas guests Rebecca Zepick of State of the State KS, Joe Aistrup of Kansas State University, and myself discuss Kansas House of Representatives leadership, Governor-elect Brownback’s appointments, and voter ID. Tim Brown is the host. This Week in Kansas airs on KAKE TV channel 10, Sunday morning at 9:00 am.

Cato scholar to speak on economic freedom. Today’s meeting (December 10) of the Wichita Pachyderm Club features noted Cato Institute scholar, Principal Attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, and author Timothy Sandefur. He will discuss his recent book The Right to Earn a Living: Economic Freedom and the Law. A description of the book at Amazon.com reads: “America’s founders thought the right to earn a living was so basic and obvious that it didn’t need to be mentioned in the Bill of Rights. Yet today that right is burdened by a wide array of government rules and regulations that play favorites, rewrite contracts, encourage frivolous lawsuits, seize private property, and manipulate economic choices to achieve outcomes that bureaucrats favor. The Right to Earn a Living charts the history of this fundamental human right, from the constitutional system that was designed to protect it by limiting government’s powers, to the Civil War Amendments that expanded protection to all Americans, regardless of race. It then focuses on the Progressive-era judges who began to erode those protections, and concludes with today’s controversies over abusive occupational licensing laws, freedom of speech in advertising, regulatory takings, and much more.” … Of the book, Dick Armey said: “Government today puts so many burdens and restrictions on entrepreneurs and business owners that we’re squandering our most precious resource: the entrepreneurial spirit and drive of our people. Sandefur’s book explains how this problem began, and what steps we can take to ensure that we all enjoy the freedom to pursue the American Dream.” … The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club.

Tea party regional blogs compiled. Phillip Donovan has compiled a list of top tea party-related blogs by region, and Voice for Liberty in Wichita is on the list. Of my blog, Donovan wrote “Bob Weeks has been blogging the perspective of free markets, personal liberty, and limited government since 2004, long before the ‘tea party movement’ was born.”

Tax rates still a secret. Rhonda Holman’s Wichita Eagle editorial asks the central question about signage requirements warning customers of Community Improvement Districts that they will be paying higher sales tax: “But if transparency about CIDs is bad for business, how can CIDs be good for citizens and the community?”

Federal spending oversight. In the U.S. House of Representatives, the actual spending of money happens in the Appropriations Committee, and this committee is a large source of the problems we have with federal spending. The Wall Street Journal column Oversight for the Spenders explains why: “The Members who join the Appropriations subcommittee on, say, agriculture do so precisely because they are advocates of farm spending. They have no interest in subjecting their own programs to greater public scrutiny.” What is the outlook going forward for this committee? Incoming Speaker John Boehner appointed Kentucky’s Hal Rogers as chair. The Journal column says his “spending record rivals that of any free-wheeling Democrat.” A bright spot: reformer Jeff Flake of Arizona is appointed to the committee, but his request to run an investigations subcommittee was not granted. The Journal is not impressed, concluding “Mr. Boehner’s selection of Mr. Rogers is a major disappointment and makes his promises to control spending suspect. If he really wants to change the spending culture, he should unleash Mr. Flake.”

Slow death for high-speed rail. From Randal O’Toole: “New transportation technologies are successful when they are faster, more convenient, and less expensive than the technologies they replace. High-speed rail is slower than flying, less convenient than driving, and at least five times more expensive than either one. It is only feasible with heavy taxpayer subsidies and even then it will only serve a tiny portion of the nation’s population.”

Does the New York Times have a double standard? John LaPlante in LaPlante: NY Times leaky double-standard: “Many newspapers in America reprint articles from the New York Times on a regular basis. So their editorial slant is of importance beyond the (direct) readership of the Gray Lady. Compare and contrast how the Times treated two recent leaks: ‘The documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won’t be posted here. — New York Times, on the Climategate emails, Nov. 20, 2009. … ‘The articles published today and in coming days are based on thousands of United States embassy cables, the daily reports from the field intended for the eyes of senior policy makers in Washington. … The Times believes that the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match.. — New York Times, on the WikiLeaks documents, Nov. 29, 2010.” I’ll let you make the call.

Wichita Eagle Opinion Line. “The party of the wealthy triumphs again. Congratulations, Republican voters. By extending the handout to the wealthy, you just increased the national debt.” I would say to this writer that action to prevent an increase in income tax from occurring is not a handout. The only way that extending the present tax rates qualifies as a handout is if you believe that the income people earn belongs first to government. This is entirely backwards and violates self-ownership. Further, the national debt — actually the deficit — has two moving parts: the government’s income, and its spending. We choose as a nation to spend more than the government takes in. That is the cause of the deficit.

Wichita downtown planning, not trash, is real threat

A recent plan for the City of Wichita to take over the management of residential trash pickup has many citizens advocating for the present free market system. Some go as far as calling city-managed trash pickup “socialism.”

While I appreciate the sentiment, and I agree that a free market in trash pickup is superior to government management of a cooperative, it is, after all, only trash. There are far greater threats to the economic freedom of Wichitans, in particular the planning for the future of downtown Wichita.

While the downtown Wichita planners promote their plan as market-based development, the fact is that we already have market-based development happening all over Wichita. But because this development may not be taking place where some people want it to — downtown is where the visionaries say development should be — they declare a “market failure.”

But just because people make decisions that visionaries don’t approve of, that’s not market failure. And this is one of the most important reasons why Wichitans should oppose the downtown plan. It proposes to direct public investment away from where free people trading in free markets want public investment to be. The public investment component of the downtown plan says that people who decided not to live or work downtown are wrong, and they must now pay for others to be downtown.

The public investment in suburban development, by the way, is not as large as critics of “sprawl” claim. Here is an example of the public infrastructure that a suburban development paid. It’s a big number, and pays for many of the things that people assume the city pays for. Downtown developers, however, aren’t asked to pay for infrastructure in the same way. Or, they may receive preferential treatment like tax increment financing (TIF) that allows their property taxes to be redirected back to them for their own exclusive benefit.

We have market-based development in Wichita. We don’t need a government plan to have market-based development.

The downtown planning visionaries are also proud of their community engagement. This consists largely of asking people what they’d like to see downtown. The problem with this community engagement is that there’s no accountability. Anyone can say they’d like to see almost anything downtown, and it goes into the plan. But without accountability, this is meaningless. After all, who doesn’t want more of everything?

The fact is that just like we already have market-based development in Wichita, we already have community engagement in Wichita. It’s done by people who are held accountable by markets in the most severe way. These people are the private-sector developers who risk their own capital in order to build what their research or tenants tell them they want. It is through this process that we build what people really want when they spend their own money. Those planning how to spend other people’s money — these are the downtown planners and visionaries — do not have this accountability.

It is the conceding to a centralized government of the power to plan that is a great threat to economic freedom in Wichita. To top it off, it just isn’t going to work. Here is a passage from the opening chapter of The Voluntary City: Choice, Community and Civil Society that explains the problems with the type of planning Wichita is considering to adopt:

The use of land is not a “special case” exempt from the power of markets to fashion orderly and efficient outcomes. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Just as Nobel prize-winner Friedrich Hayek (1988) and fellow Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises demonstrated the folly of top-down economic planning, Jane Jacobs (1963) exposed the problems of top-down city planning. Top-down planners of all stripes are fatally hobbled by their inability to tap local knowledge, the sheer magnitude of which would in any event overwhelm them. In a competitive market, local knowledge reappears, lessening the dependence on politics and increasing flexibility; “public” goods (and spaces) in CIDs and in shopping centers are provided more optimally; the capitalization of benefits in land rents more efficiently finances public goods provision; and market-tested rules of governance are developed. Private developers now routinely supply what had been thought to be “public” goods — without the widely presumed market failure. Just as many people presume the inevitability of top-down planning because of external effects and information problems, events show the opposite: the inevitability of bottom-up approaches to these problems exactly as the Hayekian critique makes clear. It takes decentralized markets to generate the required information through trial-and-error learning. In the process, market participants are far more productive than central planners can ever be.

In Wichita, we are considering replacing the dynamic and truly market-driven approach to development with the political and bureaucratic system. This loss of economic freedom is far more important than having a city manager who doesn’t think Wichitans can handle arranging for their own trash service.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday December 6, 2010

Cato scholar to speak on economic freedom. Friday’s meeting (December 10) of the Wichita Pachyderm Club features noted Cato Institute scholar, Principal Attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, and author Timothy Sandefur. He will discuss his recent book The Right to Earn a Living: Economic Freedom and the Law. A description of the book at Amazon.com reads: “America’s founders thought the right to earn a living was so basic and obvious that it didn’t need to be mentioned in the Bill of Rights. Yet today that right is burdened by a wide array of government rules and regulations that play favorites, rewrite contracts, encourage frivolous lawsuits, seize private property, and manipulate economic choices to achieve outcomes that bureaucrats favor. The Right to Earn a Living charts the history of this fundamental human right, from the constitutional system that was designed to protect it by limiting government’s powers, to the Civil War Amendments that expanded protection to all Americans, regardless of race. It then focuses on the Progressive-era judges who began to erode those protections, and concludes with today’s controversies over abusive occupational licensing laws, freedom of speech in advertising, regulatory takings, and much more.” … Of the book, Dick Armey said: “Government today puts so many burdens and restrictions on entrepreneurs and business owners that we’re squandering our most precious resource: the entrepreneurial spirit and drive of our people. Sandefur’s book explains how this problem began, and what steps we can take to ensure that we all enjoy the freedom to pursue the American Dream.” … The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club.

Success factor for liberals identified. On last night’s installment of The Right, All Along: The Rise, Fall & Future of Conservatism, economist Arthur Laffer issued this assessment of the presidency of Bill Clinton: “Two groups I love are principled conservatives and unprincipled liberals. And Bill Clinton I viewed as an unprincipled liberal. And he did one of the best jobs — one of the best presidents we’ve ever had.” It’s an interesting observation by Laffer that for liberals to have success, they must be unprincipled.

Joshua Blick for Wichita City Council. A website for a candidate for Wichita City Council district 4 is up and running. Joshua Blick’s site says: “Joshua Blick is an active leader in District 4; he is the President of his neighborhood association and a local business owner. Joshua also passionately supports the growth and sustainability of new jobs for Wichita, and improving the quality of living for every resident in this great city.” District 4 covers the southwest side of Wichita. The incumbent council member, Paul Gray, may not run again because of term limits.

Washington is why the economy is not growing. Mark Tapscott of the Washington Examiner runs through the reasons why the economy is not growing: “On every front, the federal government is creating more investment-killing tax uncertainty, issuing endless pages of new bureaucratic regulations on the economy, and preventing firms from taking actions that could create hundreds of thousands of new positions and kick-start a muscular recovery with real legs. … Obama is also tightening the federal bureaucracy’s regulatory straightjacket on economic growth. As the Heritage Foundation reported a week before the election, the hidden tax of regulation costs at least $1.75 trillion annually. … Then there is the Obama Permitorium on energy exploration and production here in the United States, which threatens even greater long-term damage to the economy’s ability to generate new jobs and growth. … Instead, Obama is spending billions of tax dollars to subsidize alternative energy programs that cannot possibly replace the energy produced by oil, coal or natural gas until 2030 at the earliest.” The full article is Mark Tapscott: Washington is why the economy is not growing.

Rasmussen polls from last week. Current Congress not appreciated: “Most voters continue to give this Congress poor marks in its closing days, and they still don’t believe the national legislature has passed anything to significantly improve life in America.” Full story here. Ability of Congress to substantially cut spending is doubted, especially by Republicans. See Most Voters Don’t Expect Big Spending Cuts From New Congress. About half of Americans believe that lenghty unemployment benefits increase the number of unemployed people. See Americans Question Whether Extended Unemployment Benefits Do More Harm Than Good. Almost half say repeal of Obamacare would be good for the economy. See Health Care Law.

Kansas Democrats not quite dead. Tim Carpenter of the Topeka Capital-Journal looks at the results of the November election in Kansas and the future for Kansas Democrats. An important process to watch is reapportionment, when new legislative districts will be drawn: “The reapportionment debate is likely to have an urban vs. rural character as districts are reconfigured to correspond with population growth in urban counties, especially Johnson County, and erosion of residents in rural areas of the state. The math isn’t clear yet, but results of the 2010 Census could trigger loss of two rural Senate districts and six rural House districts.” As for the future of Democrats, two observers say “They are back in the Stone Ages” and “We’re seeing a definite balance-of-power shift.” One observer warns that breakdown of the “union of Republican social and economic conservatives” could be an opening for Democrats and moderate Republicans. See KS Dems: Weaker, but not dead.

Young Republicans group started. Lynda Tyler of Kansans for Liberty is shepherding a new group of young Republicans. Writes Lynda: “Do you know a high school student, child, grandchild in the teen years who is interested in learning more about politics and getting involved? Perhaps you would like to get them involved. Chase Blasi has started the Sedgwick Teen Age Republicans group known as STARS. We are sponsoring them and would like to help the group grow so see below for details on their next meeting.” Lynda is hosting a Christmas Party for this group. Write to her at [email protected] for more information.