Tag Archives: Economics

Kauffman paper on local business incentive programs

Do Local Business Incentive Programs Really Create Jobs? Better Data Needed to Know for Sure, Says New Kauffman Paper

Kansas City, Mo. (PRWEB) April 17, 2014

Financial incentives are a key strategy for nearly every U.S. city and state to attract firms, and jobs, to their area. But while incentives can be credited with attracting firms to one region or another, how can we be sure they are generating the promised returns in terms of job creation?

The paper “Evaluating Firm-Specific Location Incentives: An Application to the Kansas PEAK Program,” released today by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation introduces a proposed evaluation method and applies it to Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK), one of that state’s primary incentive programs.

In the paper, researcher Nathan Jensen, associate professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis, identifies a need for more comprehensive data to determine the effectiveness of incentive programs in creating jobs. Currently, states and cities provide limited data about companies receiving incentives, and many don’t keep information about firms that apply for incentives but don’t receive them.

“The data most often used to evaluate incentive programs tells only one part of one side of the story,” Jensen said. “To understand how much job creation can be directly attributed to incentives, and how much would have happened anyway, we need to pursue more granular data that provides better context.”

The proposed evaluation model, as applied to the PEAK program, uses National Establishment Time Series (NETS) data to capture employment and sales data for PEAK and non-PEAK firms in Kansas. To accurately assess results, the identified PEAK firms are compared to a control group of five “nearest neighbors,” firms similar in structure and sector to the PEAK firms.

Jensen cautioned that better access to more detailed data is necessary to make conclusive evaluations, but said the model highlights the need to reform the collection, management and sharing of data about incentive programs and recipients.

“Greater transparency and public sharing of data will allow much more sophisticated analysis of these programs’ value,” said Dane Stangler, Kauffman Foundation vice president of Research and Policy. “Understanding what types of incentives work, and how well they work, will help our cities and states make smart investments in programs that create jobs and drive economic growth.”

About the Kauffman Foundation

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that aims to foster economic independence by advancing educational achievement and entrepreneurial success. Founded by late entrepreneur and philanthropist Ewing Marion Kauffman, the Foundation is based in Kansas City, Mo., and has approximately $2 billion in assets. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org, and follow the Foundation on www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.

WichitaLiberty.TV set 2014-03-03 1200

WichitaLiberty.TV: Kansas school finance and reform, Charles Koch on why he fights for liberty

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: The Kansas legislature passed a school finance bill that contains reform measures that the education establishment doesn’t want. In response, our state’s newspapers uniformly support the system rather than Kansas schoolchildren. Then, in the Wall Street Journal Charles Koch explains why liberty is important, and why he’s fighting for that. Episode 39, broadcast April 20, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

children-arm-wrestling-beach-176645_1280

Competition in markets

children-arm-wrestling-beach-176645_1280Competition must surely be one of the most misunderstood concepts. As applied to economics, government, and markets, the benefits of competition are not understood and valued.

Usually when people think of competition they think of words like hostile, cut-throat, or dog-eat-dog. They may reference the phrase “survival of the fittest,” making analogies to the law of the jungle. There, competition is brutal. The winners kill and eat the losers. Or, they may refer to games or sporting events, where a competition is created specifically to produce a winner and a loser.

But as David Boaz of the Cato Institute explains in his essay Competition and Cooperation, it’s different in markets. There, as Boaz explains, people compete in order to cooperate with others, not defeat them:

The competitive process allows for constant testing, experimenting, and adapting in response to changing situations. It keeps businesses constantly on their toes to serve consumers. Both analytically and empirically, we can see that competitive systems produce better results than centralized or monopoly systems. That’s why, in books, newspaper articles, and television appearances, advocates of free markets stress the importance of the competitive marketplace and oppose restrictions on competition.

We often see people plead for cooperation, as being preferred over competition: “Can’t we all get along?” But Boaz says this: “What needs to be made clear is that those who say that human beings ‘are made for cooperation, not competition’ fail to recognize that the market is cooperation. Indeed, as discussed below, it is people competing to cooperate.”

Boaz says that cooperation is so essential to human flourishing that we don’t just want to talk about it; we want to create social institutions that make it possible. That is what property rights, limited government, and the rule of law are all about.

If we didn’t have well-defined property rights and rule of law, we would be continually fighting — competing, that is — over property and who owns it. Boaz says “It is our agreement on property rights that allows us to undertake the complex social tasks of cooperation and coordination by which we achieve our purposes.”

Cooperation and coordination in markets is what has allowed us to progress beyond the simple societies where each person has only what he himself produces, or what he can trade for with those in his immediate surroundings. Maybe it would be wonderful if this cooperation and coordination could be accomplished through benevolence, that is, by people doing good simply for good’s sake. Sort of like “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” During the last century we saw how political systems based on that philosophy worked out.

Human nature isn’t always benevolent. People are self-interested. They want more for themselves. In economies where property rights are respected and protected, the only legitimate way to get more stuff for yourself is by trading with others. You figure out what other people want, you produce it, and give it to them in exchange for what you want. And if you can figure out what people really want, that is, what they’re willing to trade a lot of their stuff in order to obtain, you can prosper. And since the trading is voluntary, both parties to the trade are better off.

In Adam Smith’s lasting imagery over two centuries ago: “By directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”

Figuring out what others place high value on and providing it to them — and doing that better than someone else — is what competition in markets is about. As Boaz said, it is “people competing to cooperate.” When you generate success in this way, rather than by stealing from others, we all benefit. We experience what Boaz and others call the “civil society.” We cooperate with others to get what we want, instead of beating them over the head and stealing from them. Our desire for more stuff, coupled with property rights and rule of law, means that we compete to make others’ lives better, so that in turn our own lives can be better.

Who knows best what people should have? Each person knows best for themselves, of course. People place different values on things, but it each person who knows best what he values, and how much he values it.

That’s the way voluntary markets work. But government and politics works differently. Here’s what Milton Friedman had to say on this topic: “[The political system] tends to give undue political power to small groups that have highly concentrated interests; to give greater weight to obvious, direct and immediate effects of government action than to possibly more important but concealed, indirect and delayed effects; to set in motion a process that sacrifices the general interest to serve special interests rather than the other way around. There is, as it were, an invisible hand in politics that operates in precisely the opposite direction to Adam Smith’s invisible hand.”

So the benefits of market competition and cooperation are turned around and perverted in government and politics. There are many examples of this. Currently in Kansas we have a vivid example unfolding. The Blob — that’s the public school establishment — doesn’t want to allow competition, at least not competition using taxpayer funds in the form of charter schools, vouchers, or tax credit scholarships. It doesn’t want existing teachers to face competition from professionals who haven’t spent years earning a teaching degree and obtained a license.

Instead of the values of civil society, where people compete to cooperate with others in order to accomplish their goals, our public schools operate under a different system. Politicians and courts will tell us how much to spend on schools, and will pass laws to seize payment from people. Bureaucrats will tell us what schools will teach, and how they will teach it. If parents don’t like what government provides, they’re free to send their children somewhere else. But they still must pay for a product they’ve determined they have no use for.

The benefit of market competition, that is, the “constant testing, experimenting, and adapting” that Boaz writes about, is missing from government-run schools. Instead, the centralized monopoly of public schools plods along. We place all our eggs in the No Child Left Behind basket. That law is now considered by nearly everyone as a failure. So we attempt to impose another centralized, monopolistic system: the Common Core Standards.

Instead of peacefully and happily competing to cooperate in the education of Kansas schoolchildren, there is vitriol. Extreme vitriol, I would say. No one seems happy with the system. Great effort is spent fighting — jungle competition, we might say, rather than cooperating. And for some crazy reason, we use this system for many other things, too.

For more on this topic, see Competition and Cooperation: Two sides of the same coin by Steven Horwitz.

Economic Outlook Ranking for Kansas and selected states.

Rich States, Poor States for 2014 released

In the 2014 edition of Rich States, Poor States, Utah continues its streak at the top of Economic Outlook Ranking, meaning that the state is poised for growth and prosperity. Kansas continues with middle-of-the-pack performance rankings, and fell in the forward-looking forecast.

Rich States, Poor States is produced by American Legislative Exchange Council. The authors are economist Dr. Arthur B. Laffer, former Wall Street Journal senior economics writer (now Heritage Foundation Chief Economist) Stephen Moore, and Jonathan Williams, director of the ALEC Center for State Fiscal Reform.

Rich States, Poor States computes two measures for each state. The first is the Economic Performance Ranking, described as “a backward-looking measure based on a state’s performance on three important variables: State Gross Domestic Product, Absolute Domestic Migration, and Non-Farm Payroll Employment — all of which are highly influenced by state policy.” The process looks at the past ten years.

Looking forward, there is the Economic Outlook Ranking, “a forecast based on a state’s current standing in 15 state policy variables. Each of these factors is influenced directly by state lawmakers through the legislative process. Generally speaking, states that spend less — especially on income transfer programs, and states that tax less — particularly on productive activities such as working or investing — experience higher growth rates than states that tax and spend more.”

For economic performance this year, Kansas is thirty-second. That’s up three spots from last year.

In this year’s compilation for economic outlook, Kansas ranks fifteenth. That’s down four spots from last year.

Kansas compared to other states

Economic Outlook Ranking for Kansas and selected states.

Economic Outlook Ranking for Kansas and selected states.

A nearby chart shows the Economic Outlook Ranking for Kansas and some nearby states, shown as a trend over time. The jump of Kansas in 2013 is evident, as is the fall of Missouri.

Why Kansas fell

Kansas fell four spots in the Economic Outlook Ranking from 2013 t0 2014. To investigate why, I gathered data for Kansas from 2013 and present it along with the 2014 values. There are three areas that may account for the difference, One value, “Top Marginal Corporate Income Tax Rate,” did not change from 2013 to 2014, remaining at 7.00%. But the ranking for Kansas fell from 24 to 26, meaning that other states improved in this measure.

Economic Outlook Ranking components for Kansas, 2013 and 2014 compared.

Economic Outlook Ranking components for Kansas, 2013 and 2014 compared.

For “Personal Income Tax Progressivity (change in tax liability per $1,000 of Income)” Kansas fell two positions in rank.

In “Sales Tax Burden” Kansas also fell two spots in rank. The burden is calculated proportional to personal income. The most recent data for these measures is for 2011, so this does not include the sales tax rate change that took place on July 1, 2013.

Kansas improved three rank positions for “Debt Service as a Share of Tax Revenue.” This data is from 2011.

Important conclusions

According to the authors of the report, there are three main conclusions to be drawn from this research:

States with lower taxes and fiscally responsible policies experience far more economic growth, job creation, and domestic in-migration than their high-tax, big government counterparts.

States are looking to become more competitive and embrace the policies that have been proven to lead to economic prosperity. Last year, 17 states substantially cut taxes, with Indiana, North Carolina, and Michigan leading the charge to vastly improve their overall economic outlooks.

California, Illinois, and New York — once economic powerhouses — continue their long slides into deeper economic malaise. While levels of economic output for these states remain high, rates of economic growth are falling behind states like Texas, North Carolina, and Utah.

How valuable is the ranking?

Correlation of ALEC-Laffer state policy ranks and state economic performance

Correlation of ALEC-Laffer state policy ranks and state economic performance

After the 2012 rankings were computed. ALEC looked retrospectively at rankings compared to actual performance. The nearby chart shows the correlation of ALEC-Laffer state policy ranks and state economic performance. In its discussion, ALEC concluded:

There is a distinctly positive relationship between the Rich States, Poor States’ economic outlook rankings and current and subsequent state economic health.

The formal correlation is not perfect (i.e., it is not equal to 100 percent) because there are other factors that affect a state’s economic prospects. All economists would concede this obvious point. However, the ALEC-Laffer rankings alone have a 25 to 40 percent correlation with state performance rankings. This is a very high percentage for a single variable considering the multiplicity of idiosyncratic factors that affect growth in each state — resource endowments, access to transportation, ports and other marketplaces, etc.

WichitaLiberty.TV set 2014-03-03 1200

WichitaLiberty.TV: Schools and the nature of competition and cooperation, Wind power and taxes

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: A Kansas newspaper editorial is terribly confused about schools and the nature of competition in markets. Then, we already knew that the wind power industry in Kansas enjoys tax credits and mandates. Now we learn that the industry largely escapes paying property taxes. Episode 38, broadcast April 6, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Example of a Community Improvement District sign on the door of a merchant.

Wichita City Council fails to support informing the taxed

Example of a Community Improvement District sign on the door of a merchant.

Example of a Community Improvement District sign on the door of a merchant.

It’s enlightening to look back at some examples of discussion at the Wichita City Council so that we remember the attitudes of council members and city bureaucrats towards citizens. In the following example, the council was considering whether Wichitans and visitors should be notified of the amount of extra sales tax — or even the existence of extra tax — they will pay when shopping at merchants located within Community Improvement Districts (CIDs). Did the council side with special interests or citizens?

At its December 7, 2010 meeting, the Wichita City Council considered whether stores in CIDs should be required to post signs warning shoppers of the amount of extra tax being charged. Some, including myself, felt that shoppers should have this information before deciding to shop in such a store.

In discussion from the bench, Jeff Longwell, who was Vice Mayor at the time, said it is important that we disclose these “types of collections” as they are taxing the public. But in a convoluted stretch of reasoning, he argued that posting a sign with a specific tax rate would be confusing to citizens: (View video below, or click here to view at YouTube.

“I was leaning to putting a percentage on there, but again if we have a website that spells out the percentage, I think that’s important. And number two, I guess I would be a little bit concerned how we would work through it — if you put a percentage on a development over here in downtown that’s only collecting one percent and someone walks in and sees a CID tax collected of one percent and just assumes every CID tax is one percent it would be confusing when they go to the next one, and it may scare them off if they see one that’s two percent, they’ll never go to one that’s maybe only one percent. So I think that proves an additional concern for some confusion. So having something on the front door that says we are financing this with a CID tax, where they’re made well aware that it’s collected there, I think to try and include a percentage might even add some confusion as we collect different CID taxes around the city.”

Longwell is content to tell people as they enter a store that they’re being taxed, but not how much tax they’re required to pay. We can summarize his attitude as this: Giving citizens too much information will confuse them.

Wichita City Council Member Sue Schlapp

Wichita City Council Member Sue Schlapp

Council Member Sue Schlapp (who left office in 2011 after reaching the city’s limit on length of service) said she supported transparency in government:

“Every tool we can have is necessary … This is very simple: If you vote to have the tool, and then you vote to put something in it that makes the tool useless, it’s not even any point in having the vote, in my opinion. Either we do it, and we do it in a way that it’s going to be useful and accomplish its purpose. … I understand totally the discussion of letting the public know. I think transparency is absolutely vital to everything we do in government. So I think we’re doing that very thing.”

Wichita City Council Member Lavonta Williams

Wichita City Council Member Lavonta Williams

Schlapp understood and said what everyone knows: That if you arm citizens with knowledge of high taxes, they’re likely to go somewhere else to shop. Well, maybe except for women, as Council Member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita), noted that women would still want to shop at a store in a CID if it is “very unique.”

Mayor Carl Brewer said he agreed with Schlapp and the other council members.

In the end, the council unanimously voted for requiring signage that reads, according to minutes from the meeting: “This project made possible by Community Improvement District Financing and includes the website.”

This sign doesn’t mention anything about the rate of extra sales tax that customers of CID merchants will pay. In fact, reading the sign, shoppers are not likely to sense that they’ll be paying any additional tax. The sign almost makes the Community Improvement District seem benevolent, not predatory.

Contrary to Schlapp’s assertions, this is not anything like government transparency.

Here’s what is really troubling: What does it say about Wichita’s economic development strategy that if you fully inform citizens and visitors on what they’re asked to pay, it renders the tool “useless,”as Schlapp contended?

It’s just another example of the council and staff being totally captured by special interests, preferring advancing the interests of their cronies rather than protecting citizens.

Using the visualization: Sorting and selecting.

State and local government employment levels vary

workers-gearsThe states vary widely in levels of state government and local government employees, calculated on a per-person basis.

Two states have annual payroll costs per person of over $4,000, while many states operate on little more than half that. Only ten states have total government employee payroll costs greater than Kansas, on a per-person basis. (This does not include federal government employees working in Kansas.)

I gathered data from the U.S. Census Bureau for 2012, the most recent year available. Using Tableau Public, I created an interactive visualization. I show the full-time equivalent employees divided by the population for each state. Also, the annual payroll divided by population. (The Census Bureau supplies payroll data for only one month, the month of March, so I multiply by 12 to produce an approximation of annual payroll cost.)

Using the visualization: Sorting and selecting.

Using the visualization: Sorting and selecting.

There are two series of data, “Local government” and “State government.” The first series refers to the number of local government employees in each state, such as city and county employees. The second series refers to the number of state government employees in each state. Check boxes allow you to include either or both series in the chart.

By clicking on column headers or footers (“State,” “Annual payroll per person,” Full-time equivalent employees per person”) you can sort by these values.

Use the visualization below, or click here to open it in a new window, which may work best. Data is from United States Census Bureau, Government Employment & Payroll, data released March 2014.

Kansas Capitol

State employment visualizations

Kansas CapitolThere’s been dueling claims and controversy over employment figures in Kansas and our state’s performance relative to others. I present the actual data in interactive visualizations that you can use to make up your own mind.

(Let’s keep in mind that jobs are not necessarily the best measure of economic growth and prosperity. Russell Roberts relates an anecdote: “The story goes that Milton Friedman was once taken to see a massive government project somewhere in Asia. Thousands of workers using shovels were building a canal. Friedman was puzzled. Why weren’t there any excavators or any mechanized earth-moving equipment? A government official explained that using shovels created more jobs. Friedman’s response: ‘Then why not use spoons instead of shovels?’”)

It’s important to note there are two series of employment data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor. The two series don’t measure exactly the same thing. Nearby is an example of just how different the two series can appear.

cps-ces-difference-example-2013-12

A document from BLS titled Employment from the BLS household and payroll surveys: summary of recent trends explains in brief: “The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has two monthly surveys that measure employment levels and trends: the Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey, and the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey. … These estimates differ because the surveys have distinct definitions of employment and distinct survey and estimation methods.”

State employment based on Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey.

State employment based on Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey.

Another BLS document explains in detail the differences between the CPS and CES data. For example: CES: “Designed to measure employment, hours, and earnings with significant industrial and geographic detail” CPS: “Designed to measure employment and unemployment with significant demographic detail.”

Another difference: CES: “Self-employed persons are excluded.” CPS: “Self-employed persons are included.” (See Understanding the employment measures from the CPS and CES survey.)

State employment based on Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey.

State employment based on Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey.

I’ve gathered data from BLS and made it available in two interactive visualizations. One presents CPS data; the other holds CES data. You can compare states, select a range of dates, and choose seasonally-adjusted or not seasonally-adjusted data. I’ve create a set that allows you to easily choose Kansas and our nearby states, since that seems to be relevant to some people. (I included Texas in this set, as we often compare ourselves to that state.) The visualizations are indexed, meaning that each shows the percentage change in values from the first data shown.

Using the visualization.

Using the visualization.

Here is the visualization for CES data, and here is visualization for CPS data.

Recommended reading: Foundations of a Free Society

institute-economic-affairs-logo

Described as “An introduction to the core principles that define a free society,” I highly recommend this short book. It’s written by Eamonn Butler and published by Institute of Economic Affairs, a British think tank whose mission is to “improve understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society by analysing and expounding the role of markets in solving economic and social problems.” (Being written in British English, a few words are spelled wrongly now and then.)

The book may be purchased or downloaded at no charge at Foundations of a Free Society. Here is the summary of the book, as provided by the author:

  • Freedom creates prosperity. It unleashes human talent, invention and innovation, creating wealth where none existed before. Societies that have embraced freedom have made themselves rich. Those that have not have remained poor.
  • People in a free society do not become rich by exploiting others, as the elites of less-free countries do. They cannot become rich by making others poorer. They become rich only by providing others with what they want and making other people’s lives better.
  • The chief beneficiaries of the economic dynamism of free societies are the poor. Free societies are economically more equal than non-free societies. The poor in the most-free societies enjoy luxuries that were undreamed of just a few years ago, luxuries available only to the ruling elites of non- free countries.
  • International trade gives entrepreneurs new market opportunities and has helped lift more than a billion people out of abject poverty in the last twenty years. Freedom is truly one of the most benign and productive forces in human history.
  • Attempts by governments to equalise wealth or income are counter-productive. They destroy the incentives for hard work and enterprise and discourage people from building up the capital that boosts the productivity of the whole society.
  • A free society is a spontaneous society. It builds up from the actions of individuals, following the rules that promote peaceful cooperation. It is not imposed from above by political authorities.
  • Government has a very limited role in a free society. It exists to prevent harm being done to its citizens by maintaining and enforcing justice. It does not try to impose material equality and it does not prohibit activities just because some people consider them disagreeable or offensive. Leaders cannot plunder citizens for their own benefit, grant favours to their friends, or use their power against their enemies.
  • The government of a free society is constrained by the rule of law. Its laws apply to everyone equally. There must be?due process of law in all cases, with fair trials and no lengthy detention without trial. People accused of offences must be treated as innocent until proved guilty, and individuals must not be harassed by being prosecuted several times for the same offence.
  • Tolerating other people’s ideas and lifestyles benefits society. Truth is not always obvious; it emerges in the battle of ideas. We cannot trust censors to suppress only wrong ideas. They may mistakenly suppress ideas and ways of acting that would greatly benefit society in the future.
  • Communications technology is making it more difficult for authoritarian governments to hide their actions from the rest of the world. As a result, more and more countries are opening up to trade and tourism, and new ideas are spreading. More people see the benefits of economic and social freedom, and are demanding them.
Alternative measures of unemployment in the United States, from Bureau of Labor Statistics

Alternative measures of unemployment

visualization-example

Besides the official unemployment rate that is the topic of news each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (part of the U.S. Department of Labor) tracks and publishes five other series. These are called alternative measures of labor underutilization.

BLS defines the six measures as follows, along with the seasonally adjusted value for February 2014:

  • U-1, persons unemployed 15 weeks or longer, as a percent of the civilian labor force, 3.5%
  • U-2, job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs, as a percent of the civilian labor force, 3.5%
  • U-3, total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force (this is the definition used for the official unemployment rate), 6.7%
  • U-4, total unemployed plus discouraged workers, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus discouraged workers, 7.2%
  • U-5, total unemployed, plus discouraged workers, plus all other marginally attached workers, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers, 8.1%
  • U-6, total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers, 12.6%

As the above definitions indicate, U-3 is the “official” or most often mentioned unemployment rate. Those who fit the profile of U-4, U-5, or U-6 are called “discouraged workers.” In particular, those in category U-6 are called “involuntary part-time workers.” The rate for this category, 12.6 percent, is 1.88 times the level of U-3, the official unemployment rate.

Alternative measures of unemployment in the United States, from Bureau of Labor Statistics

Alternative measures of unemployment in the United States, from Bureau of Labor Statistics

Kansas wind turbines

Special interests defend wind subsidies at taxpayer cost

man-digging-coinsThe spurious arguments made in support of the wind production tax credit shows just how difficult it is to replace cronyism with economic freedom. From October, 2012.

We often see criticism of politicians for sensing “which way the wind blows,” that is, shifting their policies to pander to the prevailing interests of important special interest groups. The associated negative connotation is that politicians do this without regard to whether these policies are wise and beneficial for everyone.

So when a Member of Congress takes a position that is literally going against the wind in the home district and state, we ought to take notice. Someone has some strong convictions.

This is the case with U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo, a Republican representing the Kansas fourth district (Wichita metropolitan area and surrounding counties.)

The issue is the production tax credit (PTC) paid to wind power companies. For each kilowatt-hour of electricity produced, the United States government pays 2.2 cents. Wind power advocates contend the PTC is necessary for wind to compete with other forms of electricity generation. Without the PTC, it is said that no new wind farms would be built.

Kansas wind turbinesThe PTC is an important issue in Kansas not only because of the many wind farms located there, but also because of wind power equipment manufacturers that have located in Kansas. An example is Siemens. That company, lured by millions in local incentives, built a plant in Hutchinson. Employment was around 400. But now the PTC is set to expire on December 31, and it’s uncertain whether Congress will extend the program. As a result, Siemens has laid off employees. Soon only 152 will be at work in Hutchinson, and similar reductions in employment have happened at other Siemens wind power equipment plants.

Rep. Pompeo is opposed to all tax credits for energy production, and has authored legislation to eliminate them. As the wind PTC is the largest energy tax credit program, Pompeo and others have written extensively of the market distortions and resultant economic harm caused by the PTC. A recent example is Puff, the Magic Drag on the Economy: Time to let the pernicious production tax credit for wind power blow away, which appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

The special interests that benefit from the PTC are striking back. An example comes from Dave Kerr, who as former president of the Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce played a role in luring Siemens to Hutchinson. Kerr’s recent op-ed in the Hutchinson News is notable not only for its several attempts to deflect attention away from the true nature of the PTC, but for its personal attacks on Pompeo.

There’s no doubt that the Hutchinson economy was dealt a setback with the announcement of layoffs at the Siemens plant that manufactures wind power equipment. Considered in a vacuum, these jobs were good for Hutchinson. But we shouldn’t make our nation’s policy in a vacuum, that is, bowing to the needs of special interest groups — sensing “which way the wind blows.” When considering everything and everyone, the PTC paid to producers of power generated from wind is a bad policy. We ought to respect Pompeo for taking a principled stand on this issue, instead of pandering to the folks back home.

Kerr is right about one claim made in his op-ed: The PTC for wind power is not quite like the Solyndra debacle. Solyndra received a loan from the Federal Financing Bank, part of the Treasury Department. Had Solyndra been successful as a company, it would likely have paid back the government loan. This is not to say that these loans are a good thing, but there was the possibility that the money would have been repaid.

But with the PTC, taxpayers spend with nothing to show in return except for expensive electricity. And spend taxpayers do.

Kerr, in an attempt to distinguish the PTC from wasteful government spending programs, writes the PTC is “actually an income tax credit.” The use of the adverb “actually” is supposed to alert readers that they’re about to be told the truth. But truth is not forthcoming from Kerr — there’s no difference. Tax credits are government spending. They have the same economic effect as “regular” government spending. To the company that receives them, they can be used — just like cash — to pay their tax bill. Or, the company can sell them to others for cash, although usually at a discounted value.

From government’s perspective, tax credits reduce revenue by the amount of credits issued. Instead of receiving tax payments in cash, government receives payments in the form of tax credits — which are slips of paper it created at no cost and which have no value to government. Created, by the way, outside the usual appropriations process. That’s the beauty of tax credits for big-government spenders: Once the program is created, money is spent without the burden of passing legislation.

If we needed any more evidence that PTC payments are just like cash grants: As part of Obama’s ARRA stimulus bill, for tax years 2009 and 2010, there was in effect a temporary option to take the federal PTC as a cash grant. The paper PTC, ITC, or Cash Grant? An Analysis of the Choice Facing Renewable Power Projects in the United States explains.

Astonishingly, the wind PTC is so valuable that wind power companies actually pay customers to take their electricity. It’s called “negative pricing,” as explained in Negative Electricity Prices and the Production Tax Credit:

As a matter of both economics and public policy, no government production tax subsidy should ever be so large that it creates an incentive for a business to actually pay customers to take its product. Yet, the federal Production Tax Credit (“PTC”) for wind generation is doing just that with increasing frequency in electricity markets across the United States. In some “wind-rich” regions of the country, wind producers are paying grid operators to take their generation during periods of surplus supply. But wind producers more than make up the cost of the “negative price” payment, because they receive a $22/MWH federal production tax credit for every MWH generated.

In western Texas since 2008, wind power generators paid the electrical grid to take their electricity ten percent of the hours of each day.

Once we recognize that tax credits are the same as government spending, we can see the error in Kerr’s argument that if the PTC is ended, it is the same as “a tax increase on utilities, which, because they are regulated, will pass on to consumers.” Well, government passes along the cost of the PTC to taxpayers, illustrating that there really is no free lunch.

Kerr attacks Pompeo for failing to “crusade” against two subsidies that some oil companies receive: Intangible Drilling Costs and the Percentage Depletion Allowance. These programs are deductions, not credits. They do provide an economic benefit to the oil companies that can use them (“big oil” can’t use percentage depletion at all), but not to the extent that tax credits do.

Regarding these deductions, last year Pompeo introduced H. Res 267, titled “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the United States should end all subsidies aimed at specific energy technologies or fuels.”

In the resolution, Pompeo recognized the difference between deductions and credits, the latter, as we’ve seen, being direct subsidies: “Whereas deductions and cost-recovery mechanisms available to all energy sectors are different than credits, loans and grants, and are therefore not taxpayer subsidies; [and] Whereas a deduction of costs and cost recovery with respect to timing is not a subsidy.”

Part of what the resolution calls for is to “begin tax simplification and reform by eliminating energy tax credits and deductions and reducing income tax rates.”

Kerr wants to deflect attention away from the cost and harm of the PTC. Haranguing Pompeo for failing to attack percentage depletion and IDC with the same fervor as tax credits is only an attempt to muddy the waters so we can’t see what’s happening right in front of us. It’s not, as Kerr alleges, “playing Clintonesque games of semantics with us.” As we’ve seen, Pompeo has called for the end of these two tax deductions.

If we want to criticize anyone for inconsistency, try this: Kerr criticizes Pompeo for ignoring the oil and gas deductions, “which creates a glut in natural gas that drives down the price to the lowest levels in a decade.” These low energy prices should be a blessing to our economy. Kerr, however, demands taxpayers pay to subsidize expensive wind power so that it can compete with inexpensive gas. In the end, the benefit of inexpensive gas is canceled. Who benefits from that, except for the wind power industry? The oil and gas targeted deductions also create market distortions, and therefore should be eliminated. But at least they work to reduce prices, not increase them.

By the way, Pompeo has been busy with legislation targeted at ending other harmful subsidies: H.R. 3090: EDA Elimination Act of 2011, H.R. 3994: Grant Return for Deficit Reduction Act, H.R. 3308: Energy Freedom and Economic Prosperity Act, and the above-mentioned resolution.

I did notice, however, that Pompeo hasn’t called for the end to the mohair subsidy. Will Kerr attack him for this oversight?

Finally, Kerr invokes the usual argument of government spenders: Cut the budget somewhere else. That’s what everyone says.

Creating entire industries that exist only by being propped up by government subsidy means that we all pay more to support special interest groups. A prosperous future is best built by relying on free enterprise and free markets in energy, not on programs motivated by the wants of politicians and special interests. Kerr’s attacks on Pompeo illustrate how difficult it is to replace cronyism with economic freedom.

Click image for larger version.

The relevance of income tax rates

Bar char statistics

Jim Pinkerton, the journalist, Fox News contributor, and co-founder of the RATE (Reforming America’s Taxes Equitably) Coalition told an audience this: “The purpose of high taxes on the rich is not to get the rich to pay money, it’s to get the middle class to feel better about paying high taxes.”

Pinkerton was speaking last week at a conference titled “The Tax & Regulatory Impact on Industry, Jobs & The Economy, and Consumers” produced by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. His remarks, as he told the conference attendees, were based on the work of economist F.A. Hayek. Others have also noted that changes to marginal tax rates often have little impact on the amount of taxes actually paid. The top marginal tax rate — that’s the rate that applies to high income earners on most of their income — was above 90 percent during most of the 1950s. From 2003 to 2012 it was 35 percent, and is now 39.6 percent.

The top marginal tax rate is the rate that applies to income. It’s not the same as what is actually paid. This fact is unknown or ignored by those who clamor for higher taxes on the rich. They often cite the rising prosperity of the 1950s as caused by the high marginal tax rate in effect at the time.

A common mistake is equating tax rates with the tax actually paid. For many taxpayers, there is a direct relationship. For those who earn a paycheck, there’s not much they can do to change the timing of their income, find tax shelters, or shift income to capital gains. When income tax rates rise, they have to pay more. But rich people can use these (and other) strategies to reduce the taxes they pay.

Click image for larger version.

Click image for larger version.

In The purpose of high tax rates on the rich I showed that despite wide fluctuations in the top marginal tax rate, the tax revenue collected since World War II is remarkably constant, when measured as a percent of gross domestic product.

This is not the only way to consider the effect of tax rates. Using data from the Internal Revenue Service and Congressional Budget Office, I developed two charts. One shows the share of total federal taxes paid by top income earners, in this case the top five percent and the top one percent. For the range of years for which CBO provides data, the top marginal income tax rate has varied widely and has mostly fallen, and the share of federal taxes paid by top income earners has risen slightly.

Click image for larger version.

Click image for larger version.

A second chart shows the average federal tax rate for these two groups of top earners. The average federal tax rates paid by top earners has varied much less than the variation in tax rates.

As Pinkerton told the Franklin Center conference attendees, high tax rates make the middle class feel better about paying their own taxes. They may take comfort in the fact that someone else is worse off — that rich people are paying higher tax rates. But as the data shows, it’s a misconception that high tax rates mean rich people actually pay taxes at correspondingly higher rates.

Click image for larger version.

American economy is more competitive and carbon-efficient, says economist

Stephen Moore. Credit: Willis Bretz/Heritage Foundation

Stephen Moore. Credit: Willis Bretz/Heritage Foundation

The oil and gas boom in America boosts our competitiveness in the world economy while at the same time reducing carbon emissions, says economist Stephen Moore.

Moore recently left the Wall Street Journal to accept a position at Heritage Foundation as chief economist. He presented to an audience at a conference titled “The Tax & Regulatory Impact on Industry, Jobs & The Economy, and Consumers” produced by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

A large portion of his presentation was on energy and its important role in the economy, and how radical environmentalists — the “green” movement — are harming our economy and people. An irony, he said, is that while President Barack Obama is in the “hip pocket” of radical environmentalists, he is presiding over the greatest oil and gas boom in American history. This boom is proceeding in spite of government, not because of it.

Moore emphasized the importance of energy costs to low-income people. Rising energy costs are like taxes on them, he said, while the wealthy can more easily absorb higher energy costs. “To be green is to be against capitalism, against progress, against poor people, against jobs.”

The boom in oil and gas production in America, made possible by horizontal drilling and fracking, is ahead of the rest of the world. While European countries have in the past embraced green energy technologies, these policies have failed, and the countries are retreating from them. Now, European countries want to use American drilling technologies, he said.

The lower electricity prices in America are a competitive advantage over Europe and China. German auto manufacturers are shutting plants in Europe and moving them to the United States, he said.

Of radical environmentalist groups. Moore said: “They don’t even care about global warming. If they really cared about global warming, they would be cheerleading fracking. Because fracking is making natural gas the new fuel for America. And guess what? Natural gas emits less carbon. It’s a great antidote to global warming.”

(According to the U.S. Energy information Administration, when generating electricity, coal emits from 2.08 to 2.18 pounds of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour electricity generated. Natural gas emits 1.22 pounds, or about 43 percent less carbon dioxide.)

Moore went on to tell the attendees that it is the United States that has reduced its carbon emissions the greatest amount in the last five years. He said this is remarkable in light of the fact that the U.S. didn’t sign the Kyoto Treaty, the U.S. didn’t implement cap-and-trade, and didn’t implement a carbon tax. “You would think these environmental groups would be applauding natural gas. Now these environmentalist groups have a new campaign called ‘beyond natural gas,’” he said.

Moore explained that at first, environmentalists said they could accept natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to solar power and wind. They were in favor of natural gas, he said, up until the time it became cheap and plentiful. Now, they are against gas. “My point is, the left and environmentalists are against any energy source that works.”

Over the past six years the U.S. has spent $100 billion promoting wind and solar power, but these two sources together account for just 2.2 percent of electricity generation. Even if the country were to quadruple the portion of electricity generated by these two renewable sources over the next 10 to 20 years, the nation would still need to get 90 percent of its electricity from other sources. Moore was doubtful that the country could quadruple the output from wind and solar.

Trends in carbon emissions

To further investigate the topics Moore raised, I gathered data from Global Carbon Atlas and prepared interactive visualizations using Tableau Public. You may access and use the visualizations by clicking here. Following are static excerpts from the visualizations. Click on each image for a larger version.

Click image for larger version.

Click image for larger version.

Looking at the amount of total carbon emissions, we see two important facts. First, after rising slowly, carbon emissions by the United States have declined in recent years. Second, carbon emissions by China are soaring. China surpassed the U.S. around 2005, and the gap between the two countries is increasing.

Click image for larger version.

Click image for larger version.

Note also that carbon emissions in India are rising. Emissions in most advanced economies are steady or falling. These trends are emphasized in the chart that shows carbon emissions for each country indexed from a common starting point. Emissions from China and India are rapidly rising, while emissions from countries with advanced economies have risen slowly or have declined.

Click image for larger version.

Click image for larger version.

A chart that shows the carbon emissions efficiency of countries, that is, the carbon emitted per unit of GDP, shows that in general, countries are becoming more efficient. Advanced economies such as the U.S., Japan, and Germany have an advantage in this metric. These countries emit about one-fourth as much carbon per unit GDP as does China.

Click image for larger version.

Click image for larger version.

The chart of carbon emissions per person in each country show that the United States leads in this measure. In 2011, the U.S. emitted about 17 tons of carbon dioxide per person. China was at 6.6, and India at 1.7. But, the trend in the U.S. is downward, that is, less carbon emitted per person. In China and India, the trend is up, and rising rapidly in China.

Click image for larger version

The purpose of high tax rates on the rich

Taxes

“The purpose of high taxes on the rich is not to get the rich to pay money, it’s to get the middle class to feel better about paying high taxes.”

This is what Jim Pinkerton, the journalist, Fox News contributor, and co-founder of the RATE (Reforming America’s Taxes Equitably) Coalition told an audience at a conference titled “The Tax & Regulatory Impact on Industry, Jobs & The Economy, and Consumers” produced by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

Pinkerton was referring to the economist F.A. Hayek. Others have also noted that changes to marginal tax rates often have little impact on the amount of taxes actually paid. The top marginal tax rate — that’s the rate that applies to high income earners on most of their income — was above 90 percent during most of the 1950s. From 2003 to 2012 it was 35 percent, and is now 39.6 percent.

The top marginal tax rate is the rate that applies to income. It’s not the same as what is actually paid. This fact is unknown or ignored by those who clamor for higher taxes on the rich. They often cite the rising prosperity of the 1950s as caused by the high marginal tax rate in effect at the time.

The mistake the progressives make is equating tax rates with the tax actually paid. For many people, there is a direct relationship. For workers who earn a paycheck, there’s not much they can do to change the timing of their income, find tax shelters, or shift income to capital gains. When income tax rates rise, they have to pay more. But rich people can use these and other strategies to reduce the taxes they pay.

But as Pinkerton told the conference attendees, the high tax rates make the middle class feel better about paying their own taxes. They may take comfort in the fact that someone else is worse off, at least based on the misconception that high tax rates mean rich people actually pay correspondingly higher tax.

In 2010 W. Kurt Hauser explained in The Wall Street Journal: “Even amoebas learn by trial and error, but some economists and politicians do not. The Obama administration’s budget projections claim that raising taxes on the top 2% of taxpayers, those individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples earning $250,000 or more, will increase revenues to the U.S. Treasury. The empirical evidence suggests otherwise. None of the personal income tax or capital gains tax increases enacted in the post-World War II period has raised the projected tax revenues. Over the past six decades, tax revenues as a percentage of GDP have averaged just under 19% regardless of the top marginal personal income tax rate. The top marginal rate has been as high as 92% (1952-53) and as low as 28% (1988-90). This observation was first reported in an op-ed I wrote for this newspaper in March 1993. A wit later dubbed this ‘Hauser’s Law.’”

Incentives matter, economists tell us. People react to changes in tax law. As tax rates rise, people seek to reduce their taxable income. A common strategy is to make investments in economically unproductive tax shelters. There is less incentive to work, to save and build up capital stocks, and invest. These are some of the reasons why tax rate hikes usually don’t generate the promised revenue.

Click image for larger version

Click image for larger version

The subtitle to Hauser’s article is “Tax revenues as a share of GDP have averaged just under 19%, whether tax rates are cut or raised. Better to cut rates and get 19% of a larger pie.” The nearby chart illustrates. The top line, the top marginal tax rate in effect for year year, varies widely. The other two lines show total taxes and federal income taxes as a percent of gross domestic product. Since World War II, these lines are fairly constant, even as the top marginal tax rate varies.

Data is from Bureau of Economic Analysis (part of the U.S. Department of Commerce) along with my calculations.

presentation-512

Economic development in Wichita, steps one and two

presentation-512

Critics of the economic development policies in use by the City of Wichita are often portrayed as not being able to see and appreciate the good things these policies are producing, even though they are unfolding right before our very eyes. The difference is that some look beyond the immediate — what is seen — and ask “And then what will happen?” — looking for the unseen.

Thomas Sowell explains the problem in a passage from the first chapter of Applied economics: thinking beyond stage one:

When we are talking about applied economic policies, we are no longer talking about pure economic principles, but about the interactions of politics and economics. The principles of economics remain the same, but the likelihood of those principles being applied unchanged is considerably reduced, because politics has its own principles and imperatives. It is not just that politicians’ top priority is getting elected and re-elected, or that their time horizon seldom extends beyond the next election. The general public as well behaves differently when making political decisions rather than economic decisions. Virtually no one puts as much time and close attention into deciding whether to vote for one candidate rather than another as is usually put into deciding whether to buy one house rather than another — or perhaps even one car rather than another.

The voter’s political decisions involve having a minute influence on policies which affect many other people, while economic decision-making is about having a major effect on one’s own personal well-being. It should not be surprising that the quantity and quality of thinking going into these very different kinds of decisions differ correspondingly. One of the ways in which these decisions differ is in not thinking through political decisions beyond the immediate consequences. When most voters do not think beyond stage one, many elected officials have no incentive to weigh what the consequences will be in later stages — and considerable incentives to avoid getting beyond what their constituents think and understand, for fear that rival politicians can drive a wedge between them and their constituents by catering to public misconceptions.

The economic decisions made by governing bodies like the Wichita City Council have a large impact on the lives of Wichitans. But as Sowell explains, these decisions are made by politicians for political reasons.

Sowell goes on to explain the danger of stopping the thinking process at stage one:

When I was an undergraduate studying economics under Professor Arthur Smithies of Harvard, he asked me in class one day what policy I favored on a particular issue of the times. Since I had strong feelings on that issue, I proceeded to answer him with enthusiasm, explaining what beneficial consequences I expected from the policy I advocated.

“And then what will happen?” he asked.

The question caught me off guard. However, as I thought about it, it became clear that the situation I described would lead to other economic consequences, which I then began to consider and to spell out.

“And what will happen after that?” Professor Smithies asked.

As I analyzed how the further economic reactions to the policy would unfold, I began to realize that these reactions would lead to consequences much less desirable than those at the first stage, and I began to waver somewhat.

“And then what will happen?” Smithies persisted.

By now I was beginning to see that the economic reverberations of the policy I advocated were likely to be pretty disastrous — and, in fact, much worse than the initial situation that it was designed to improve.

Simple as this little exercise may sound, it goes further than most economic discussions about policies on a wide range of issues. Most thinking stops at stage one.

We see stage one thinking all the time when looking at government. In Wichita, for example, a favorite question of city council members seeking to justify their support for government intervention such as a tax increment financing (TIF) district or some other form of subsidy is “How much more tax does the building pay now?” Or perhaps “How many jobs will (or did) the project create?”

These questions, and the answers to them, are examples of stage one thinking. The answers are easily obtained and cited as evidence of the success of the government program.

But driving by a store or hotel in a TIF district and noticing a building or people working at jobs does not tell the entire story. Using the existence of a building, or the payment of taxes, or jobs created, is stage one thinking, and no more than that.

Fortunately, there are people who have thought beyond stage one, and some concerning local economic development and TIF districts. And what they’ve found should spur politicians and bureaucrats to find ways to move beyond stage one in their thinking.

An example are economists Richard F. Dye and David F. Merriman, who have studied tax increment financing extensively. Their article Tax Increment Financing: A Tool for Local Economic Development states in its conclusion:

TIF districts grow much faster than other areas in their host municipalities. TIF boosters or naive analysts might point to this as evidence of the success of tax increment financing, but they would be wrong. Observing high growth in an area targeted for development is unremarkable.

So TIFs are good for the favored development that receives the subsidy — not a surprising finding. What about the rest of the city? Continuing from the same study:

If the use of tax increment financing stimulates economic development, there should be a positive relationship between TIF adoption and overall growth in municipalities. This did not occur. If, on the other hand, TIF merely moves capital around within a municipality, there should be no relationship between TIF adoption and growth. What we find, however, is a negative relationship. Municipalities that use TIF do worse.

We find evidence that the non-TIF areas of municipalities that use TIF grow no more rapidly, and perhaps more slowly, than similar municipalities that do not use TIF.

In a different paper (The Effects of Tax Increment Financing on Economic Development), the same economists wrote “We find clear and consistent evidence that municipalities that adopt TIF grow more slowly after adoption than those that do not. … These findings suggest that TIF trades off higher growth in the TIF district for lower growth elsewhere. This hypothesis is bolstered by other empirical findings.”

Here we have an example of thinking beyond stage one. The results are opposite of what one-stage thinking produces.

Some city council members are concerned about creating jobs, and are swayed by the promises of developers that their establishments will employ a certain number of workers. Again, this thinking stops at stage one. But others have looked farther, as has Paul F. Byrne of Washburn University. The title of his recent report is Does Tax Increment Financing Deliver on Its Promise of Jobs? The Impact of Tax Increment Financing on Municipal Employment Growth, and in its abstract we find this conclusion regarding the impact of TIF on jobs:

Increasingly, municipal leaders justify their use of tax increment financing (TIF) by touting its role in improving municipal employment. However, empirical studies on TIF have primarily examined TIF’s impact on property values, ignoring the claim that serves as the primary justification for its use. This article addresses the claim by examining the impact of TIF adoption on municipal employment growth in Illinois, looking for both general impact and impact specific to the type of development supported. Results find no general impact of TIF use on employment. However, findings suggest that TIF districts supporting industrial development may have a positive effect on municipal employment, whereas TIF districts supporting retail development have a negative effect on municipal employment. These results are consistent with industrial TIF districts capturing employment that would have otherwise occurred outside of the adopting municipality and retail TIF districts shifting employment within the municipality to more labor-efficient retailers within the TIF district.

While this research might be used to support a TIF district for industrial development, TIF in Wichita is primarily used for retail development. And, when thinking beyond stage one, the effect on employment — considering the entire city — is negative.

It’s hard to think beyond stage one. It requires considering not only the seen, but also the unseen, as Frederic Bastiat taught us in his famous parable of the broken window. But over and over we see how politicians at all levels of government stop thinking at stage one. This is one of the many reasons why we need to return as much decision-making as possible to the private sector, and drastically limit the powers of politicians and governments.

clouds-164757_1280

Viewing the seen and unseen

clouds-164757_1280

The lesson of the book “Economics in One Lesson” by Henry Hazlitt is this: “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”

(The Ludwig von Mises Institute has published an edition of this book which is available at no cost at its website; click here. Amanda BillyRock has illustrated most of the chapters in video. Click here for the playlist.)

Looking beyond what we see at first glance, that’s important. And considering everyone, not just some small group, is important too. You may be familiar with the term “special interest group.” A local example might be the Wichita Area Builders Association, which represents homebuilders. The purpose of groups like this — and I’m sorry to have to single out this group — is to represent their members, and them alone. So last year the Builders Association was able to persuade the Wichita City Council to pass a program that rebates Wichita property taxes on new homes for a few years. This makes it easier to sell these new homes. Homes which are built, of course, by members of the Wichita Area Builders Association.

Did the city council consider the long term effects of this policy, such as the effect on tax revenue in future years? Did the council consider the “Cash for Clunkers” effect, in which incentive programs induce people to buy now, only to depress sales in later years after the program ends? The answer is either a) No, the council did not consider these effects, or b) The council decided to ignore these effects.

Then, what about the effect on other groups besides the builders? Did the council consider that by offering savings when buying these select new homes, it likely reduced the appeal and value of all other homes across the city? Did the council consider that these new homes will require services like police and fire protection, but since they don’t contribute property tax, other taxpayers have to pay to provide these services?

And what about setting another precedent, that when business is not doing well, a special interest group appeals to government for special favors?

This is an example of the city council considering only the immediate effects of a policy, and also the effects on only a single group — the self-interested homebuilders. Things like this happen all the time.

Remember how Hazllitt said these groups will argue “plausibly and persistently?” That happened. As an example, Wichita State University economists prepared an analysis showing that this rebate program benefited the city. Did that analysis consider the long-term effects or only the immediate effects of the policy? Did that analysis consider the effects on all groups? I’m afraid that if we could look under the hood of these models, we’d find that they suffer from the problems Hazlitt warns about.

And the president of the Builders Association argued persuasively before the council. That’s an example of when Hazlitt wrote about a special interest group: “It will hire the best buyable minds to devote their whole time to presenting its case.”

Hazlitt told us what we need to do in these cases, writing: “In these cases the answer consists in showing that the proposed policy would also have longer and less desirable effects, or that it could benefit one group only at the expense of all other groups.”

broken-window-glassSpecial interest groups expend lot of effort to get government to look at the seen and skip the unseen. That’s a reference to the famous parable of the broken window from chapter two of “Economics in One Lesson.” Ahe child who threw a rock through the window of the bakery. The crowd that gathered around the broken window: Someone suggested that the damage is actually a good thing, because the windowmaker now has work to do and earns money. And the windowmaker in turn will spend his new income somewhere else, and so forth. Economic development professionals who make arguments for subsidies to business call this the multiplier effect. It creates what they call indirect impacts.

A few years ago in an effort to drum up taxpayer subsidies for arts, a national organization — a special interest group — made this argument:

paint-bucket

A theater company purchases a gallon of paint from the local hardware store for $20, generating the direct economic impact of the expenditure. The hardware store then uses a portion of the aforementioned $20 to pay the sales clerk’s salary; the sales clerk respends some of the money for groceries; the grocery store uses some of the money to pay its cashier; the cashier then spends some for the utility bill; and so on. The subsequent rounds of spending are the indirect economic impacts.

Thus, the initial expenditure by the theater company was followed by four additional rounds of spending (by the hardware store, sales clerk, grocery store, and the cashier). The effect of the theater company’s initial expenditure is the direct economic impact. The subsequent rounds of spending are all of the indirect impacts. The total impact is the sum of the direct and indirect impacts.

That is the same argument made to excuse the destruction of the broken window in the bakery. Doesn’t this sound plausible? But Hazlitt, echoing Bastiat before him, notes this: The baker was going to buy a suit of clothes, and buying that suit would set off its own chain of economic activity.

But now he must spend that money on fixing the broken window. The new window is what is seen. The unbought suit of clothes is more difficult to see. It is the unseen.

If the window was not broken, the baker has a functional window and a new suit of clothes. After the window is broken, however, all the baker has is a replacement window. No new suit of clothes is purchased.

As Hazlitt summarized: “The glazier’s gain of business, in short, is merely the tailor’s loss of business. No new ‘employment’ has been added. The people in the crowd were thinking only of two parties to the transaction, the baker and the glazier. They had forgotten the potential third party involved, the tailor. They forgot him precisely because he will not now enter the scene. They will see the new window in the next day or two. They will never see the extra suit, precisely because it will never be made. They see only what is immediately visible to the eye.”

In the case I cited above, it’s easy to see the benefit granted to the homebuilders. But the economic activity that does not take place because of the diversion of resources to the homebuilders? Where is that? It is unseen.

When the theater company spends $20 of taxpayer-provided money to buy paint: Where did that $20 come from? Isn’t it possible that a homeowner might have bought the same gallon of paint, but now is not able to because he must pay taxes to support the theater company? It’s easy to see the theater production with its taxpayer-funded painted set. It’s not easy to see the house that sits unpainted for a year to pay for the theater company’s paint. That is the seen and unseen.

chart-rising-audience

Economic freedom, the key to improving lives

chart-rising-audience

Economic freedom, in countries where it is allowed to thrive, leads to better lives for people as measured in a variety of ways. This is true for everyone, especially for poor people.

This is the message presented in a short video based on the work of the Economic Freedom of the World report, which is a project of Canada’s Fraser Institute. Four years ago Robert Lawson, one of the authors of the Economic Freedom of the World report, lectured in Wichita on this topic. The current video is made possible by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.

One of the findings highlighted in the presentation is that while the average income in free countries is much higher than that in the least-free countries, the ratio is even higher for the poorest people in these countries. This is consistent with the findings that economic freedom is good for everyone, and even more so for those with low incomes.

Civil rights, a clean environment, long life expectancy, low levels of corruption, less infant mortality, less child labor, and lower unemployment are all associated with greater levels of economic freedom.

What are the components or properties of economic freedom? The presentation lists these:

  • 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.
  • Government stays small, relative to the size of the economy.

Over the last eleven years, the United States’ ranking has fallen relative to other countries, and the presentation says our position is expected to keep falling. The question is asked: “Will our quality of life fall with it?”

Economic freedom is not necessarily the platform of any single political party. It should be noted that for about eight of the past twelve years — a period in which our economic freedom has been falling — there was a Republican president, sometimes with a Republican Congress. The size of government rose. In 2005 the Cato Institute studied the numbers and found that “All presidents presided over net increases in spending overall, though some were bigger spenders than others. As it turns out, George W. Bush is one of the biggest spenders of them all. In fact, he is an even bigger spender than Lyndon B. Johnson in terms of discretionary spending.” This was before the spending on the prescription drug program had started.

Critics of economic freedom

The defining of what economic freedom means is important. Sometimes you’ll see people write things like “Bernie Madoff was only exercising his personal economic freedom while he ran his investment firm.” Madoff, we now know, was a thief. He stole his clients’ money. That’s contrary to property rights, and therefore contrary to economic freedom.

Or, you’ll see people say if you don’t like government, go to Somalia. That country, one of the poorest in the world — but not the poorest — is used as an example of how bad anarchy is as a form of government. The evidence is, however, that Somalia’s former government was so bad that things improved after the fall of that government. See Peter T. Leeson, Better Off Stateless: Somalia Before and After Government Collapse and History of Somalia (1991–2006).

You’ll also encounter people who argue that some countries are poor because they have no natural resources. But there are many countries with few natural resources that have economic freedom and a high standard of living. Most countries that are poor are that way because they are run by corrupt governments that have no respect for economic freedom, and follow policies that stifle it.

Some will argue that economic freedom means the freedom to pollute the environment. But it is in wealthy countries that the environment is respected. Poor countries, where people are struggling just to find food for each day, don’t have the time or wealth to be concerned about the environment.

In Wichita, why do some pay taxes, and others don’t?

Wichita City Hall

A request by a luxury development in downtown Wichita raises issues, for example, why do we have to pay taxes?

Tomorrow the Wichita City Council considers yet another layer of business welfare for The Lux, a luxury real estate development in downtown Wichita. This project, despite having already received millions in assistance from taxpayers, is not economically viable, according to city documents.

Because the transaction contemplated tomorrow is shrouded in the mystery of Internal Revenue Bonds (IRBs), we can expect that the important aspects of this transaction will be under-reported. We’re likely to see headlines that The Lux is receiving $14,450,000 in IRBs. City council members may clumsily explain to citizens that the city is not lending this money, and that taxpayers are not on the hook if the bonds are not repaid. The city may tell us that a local bank will buy the bonds and that the Lux will issue a mortgage to protect the bank’s interest, as though that was a matter of public concern rather than a private business dealing.

The city’s documents, for all their words and effort spent in preparation, don’t state the amount of sales tax relief this project will receive. But the amount of the bonds contemplated is $14,450,000, so an upper estimate of the amount of sales tax forgone is that amount times the city’s sales tax rate, or $1,033,175.

The item on tomorrow’s agenda features another example of the city adapting to meet the needs of its cronies. The letter of intent originally called for a certain level of investment, but now that has been reduced:

The Letter of Intent approved by the City Council stated that “LUX Building, LLC has represented that it will make a total capital investment in the project of at least $24,000,000.” The projection was intended to be an estimate of the not-to-exceed project costs at that time and not a requirement of minimum capital investment. Since the actual total cost of the project will be closer to $20,000,000 the developer is requesting that the minimum investment requirement be waived.

It’s a small point, but big numbers like $24,000,000 are a “wow” factor to city council members and are cited and praised as evidence of the goodness of the city’s economic development incentives. But now: never mind.

Why do we tax?

TaxThere are a variety of theories of taxation, such as taxes being “dues” paid, or payment for services the city provides, or as the cost of a civilized society. In any case, we have to wonder why the owners of The Lux are being excused from paying perhaps one million dollars of these dues, or payment for government services it will consume, or it share of the cost of a civilized society.

Tale of two cash registers

Supporters will point to the cost/benefit ratios. These ratios are simply recognition that economic activity is good, and government taxes it. But unless the city, county, and state will each reduce their spending by the amount of sales tax forgiveness given to The Lux, other taxpayers have to pay.

It’s worth noting that the subsidy being granted to The Lux is in the form of sales tax exemption. Kansas taxes food at the same rate as everything else. This means that while the owners of The Lux are enjoying the privilege of saving perhaps one million dollars in sales tax, others — including poor people struggling to provide food for their families — are making up the sales tax that The Lux is not paying.

man-digging-coinsWhen other taxpayers have to bear the cost of incentives for the Lux and its owners, other spending and investment is reduced. While the spending on incentives is concentrated and easy to see — there will be groundbreaking and ribbon-cutting ceremonies to make sure we don’t miss it — the missing spending and investment is dispersed. That means the missing spending and investment is difficult to see. But it is every bit as real as this project.

In fact, this missing spending and investment is more valuable than government spending on this project. That’s because when people spend and invest on their own, they choose what is most important to them, not what is important to politicians and bureaucrats. This is a special problem in Wichita, where the mayor and city council members have a history of awarding over-priced no-bid contracts to their campaign contributors. (A separate item on tomorrow’s agenda will attempt to address that problem.)

Sometimes these subsidies are justified by the claim that renovating historic buildings like The Lux is more expensive than new construction. If that’s true, we have to recognize that investing in, or living in, a historic building is a lifestyle choice. The people who make these choices should pay themselves, just like we expect others to pay for the characteristics of the housing they choose. For example , building a home with granite kitchen counter tops and marble floors in the bathrooms is more expensive than a plainer home. These premium features are chosen voluntarily by the homeowner, and it is right and just that they alone should pay for them.

We should recognize historic buildings for what they are: a premium feature or amenity whose extra cost should be born solely by those who chose to own them or rent them. There’s no difference between these premium features and choosing to live in a historic building. Those who desire them choose them voluntarily, and should pay their full cost. Forcing everyone to subsidize this choice is wrong. It’s an example of a special interest gone wild. But in Wichita we call this economic development.

The nature of tax credits

The sales tax exemption is not the only form of taxpayer subsidy The Lux will receive. The historic preservation tax credits approved for this the project are worth millions. These credits are equal to grants of cash. They are a cost to government that taxpayers must bear.

hidden-hand-government-spending-title
The confusing nature of tax credits leads citizens to believe that they have no cost to the state or federal government. But tax credits are equivalent to government spending. By mixing spending programs with taxation, some are lead to believe that tax credits are not cash handouts. But not everyone falls for this seductive trap. In an article in Cato Institutes’s Regulation magazine, Edward D. Kleinbard explains:

Specialists term these synthetic government spending programs “tax expenditures.” Tax expenditures are really spending programs, not tax rollbacks, because the missing tax revenues must be financed by more taxes on somebody else. … Tax expenditures dissolve the boundaries between government revenues and government spending. They reduce both the coherence of the tax law and our ability to conceptualize the very size and activities of our government. (The Hidden Hand of Government Spending, Fall 2010)

The use of tax credits to pay for economic development incentives leads many to believe that what government is doing is not a direct subsidy or payment. In order to clear things up, perhaps we should require that government write checks instead of issuing credits.

Indeed, if government issued checks to real estate developers, citizens would look at things differently. They’d wonder why they’re subsidizing the construction of expensive apartments and condos. They’d be angry. Using a semi-mysterious mechanism like tax credits shrouds the true economic transaction taking place.

These expenditures of tax money — being issued as credits rather than appropriations — go through a different process than most expenditures of taxpayer money. Recently some have started to use the word “tax appropriations” to describe tax credits. These expenditures don’t go through the normal legislative process as do most appropriations.

It’s time to recognize these historic preservation tax credits as payments to a special interest group. Unfortunately, as with most special interest groups, the group receiving the payment — tax credits in this case — has an extreme interest in the matter. They benefit greatly. But to the rest of the populace — well, does it really matter to them? John Stossel explains the problem like this:

The Public Choice school of economics calls this the problem of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs. Individual members of relatively small interest groups stand to gain huge rewards when they lobby for government favors, but each taxpayer will pay only a tiny portion of the cost of any particular program, making opposition pointless.

That’s the situation we face with the historic preservation tax credits. A few real estate developers will enrich themselves at taxpayer expense. Well-to-do renters will get a better deal. To everyone else, it’s just another way that government nickels and dimes us to death.

What’s the matter with Wichita?

We have to wonder why so many projects in downtown Wichita require massive doses of taxpayer subsidy. Here’s what city documents tell us:

The Office of Urban Development has reviewed the economic (gap) analysis of the project and determined a financial need for incentives exists based on the current market. The project lender, Intrust Bank, has advised that the bank cannot increase the loan amount, leaving a gap in funding sources that is filled by the City’s facade program.

When the city is willing to fill in financing gaps, you can be sure that gaps will be created.

Here’s an idea: Instead of handing out economic development incentives on a piecemeal basis, let’s try to fix what prevents projects like The Lux from moving forward on its own. If, in fact, the obstacles are real, and don’t exist only in the imagination of those seeking to finance their projects on the backs of Wichita taxpayers.

WichitaLiberty.TV February 2, 2014

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: A Kansas college professor claims that college costs are rising only a tad faster than inflation. We’ll take a look at the actual numbers. Then, this week Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer delivered the annual State of the City address. A few things deserve comment. Episode 30, broadcast February 2, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

The state of Wichita, 2014

Wichita city hall

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer delivered the annual State of the City address. He said a few things that deserve discussion.

This week Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer delivered his annual State of the City address. We expect a certain amount of bragging and over-the-top community pride, things like “Wichita is the BEST place to work and raise a family!” That’s good, to a point. Because if we take these boasts seriously, and if they are not based on factual information, then we have a problem. We may believe that everything is fine in Wichita. But if the actual state of the city is otherwise, we may take unwise action that ultimately is harmful.

(While the city took prominent measures to promote the mayor’s speech, so far the text has not been made available on the city’s website. But you may click here to read it.)

Here’s an example, and perhaps the most important. The mayor said “Our community partnerships have helped us overcome the challenges of the great recession — which brought layoffs to many sectors of our economy.” But the problem is that we haven’t overcome the recession.

wichita-peer-job-growth-1990-2014-01

If we take a look at job growth in Wichita over the last two decades, we see Wichita performing very poorly. That’s not only on an absolute basis, but relative to our self-chosen peer cities. The relative part is important, because the recession was nation-wide. All cities suffered. Note that there are a few cities over which Wichita ranked higher: Springfield, Illinois, and Wichita Falls, Texas. These cities are relevant because we recently hired people from these cities to lead our economic development efforts.

wichita-chamber-job-growth-2013-12

I’ve shown data like this to the city council. I don’t think they believed me. I can understand their reluctance, as it’s not easy to admit things like this. Few like to admit failure. But that doesn’t excuse a reluctance to face facts. I also believe that some council members think that city hall critics take joy in presenting these figures. At least for me, that’s not true. I realize that these statistics tell a story of human hardship. So for those who don’t believe or trust my research, here’s a chart prepared by the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce for a presentation to its leadership committee. It uses a different time frame and a slightly different set of peers for comparison, but the results are the same: Wichita lags behind in terms of job growth.

Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition

Despite this evidence, the mayor thinks we’re doing well, and he is proud of our economic development efforts. In his address, he told the audience this: “For the past five years — the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition has helped generate nearly 10,000 jobs and more than 400 million in capital investment.”

That sounds like a lot of jobs. But we have to temper that number. We know that we don’t update our job statistics to reflect jobs that didn’t last for very long. We also must realize that some of these jobs would have been created without the involvement of our economic development agencies. We also must realize that these economic development efforts have a cost, and that cost is harmful to our economy and job creation.

But even if we give our economic development agencies sole credit for these 10,000 jobs, let’s apply a little arithmetic to provide some context. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that the labor force in the Wichita Metropolitan area is about 302,000 people. that number, by the way, has been declining since 2009. If we take the 10,000 jobs — recognizing that was for five years — that averages to 2,000 jobs per year. That’s in the neighborhood of six percent of the labor force.

Does that represent a significant factor in the Wichita area economy? Remember, that calculation gives government more credit that it deserves. When we combine this with Wichita’s lackluster performance in creating jobs compared to our peers, I really don’t think we should be proud of our government’s economic development efforts.

In his State of the City Address, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer also said we need to “continue to diversify our economy.” But we’re not doing that. Our economic development programs heavily favor the aviation industry, which makes it more difficult for aspiring companies in other diverse industries to start and thrive.

wichita-airport-dashboard-2013-07-29

The mayor told the audience that “We will also continue to support our successful affordable airfares program.” This is the program whereby Wichita and the state of Kansas pay a discount airline to provide service in Wichita. It was AirTran, but is now Southwest. It is thought that if one airline has low fares, others will reduce their fares to match. That’s probably the case. But I’ve done the research, and there is another effect. As can be seen in the nearby chart, the number of flights and the number of available seats is declining in Wichita. These measures are also declining on a national level, but they are declining faster in Wichita than for the nation.

The mayor also asked for cooperation in using Southwest Airlines, advising the audience: “So when you make your corporate travel plans, please remember our community’s commitment to supporting low-cost carriers.” Well. How would you feel if you worked for one of our air carriers that don’t receive a subsidy, such as American, United, and Delta? How would you feel if you owned stock in one of these airlines, as does nearly everyone who holds broad-based index funds in their retirement or investment accounts?

In the past, the subsidized discount carrier has carried around ten percent of Wichita’s passengers. So we are vitally dependent on the legacy, or major, airlines, and we don’t need to insult them, as I believe the mayor did.

(To help you explore Wichita airport data, I’ve created an interactive visualization. Click here to open the visualization in a new window. You may add or remove any number of airports. Or, if you’d like to watch a video, click on Wichita Airport statistics: The video.)

Water was another topic that the mayor touched on. He told the audience: “The city has also invested in the second phase of the aquifer storage and recovery project known as ASR. New construction was completed in time to help with the drought. More than 100 million gallons were diverted from the little Arkansas River directly to customers.” 100 million gallons sounds like a lot of water. But what is the context? Well, 100 million gallons is about how much water we use on a single hot summer day.

And what about the ASR, or aquifer storage and recovery program? Its cost, so far for Phases I and II, is $247 million. Two more phases are contemplated. Despite this investment, and despite the plan’s boasts, Wichitans were threatened with huge fines for excessive water usage. The Wichita City Council also started a rebate program so that citizens were forced to pay for other people to buy low-water usage appliances. Expensive city decorative fountains were dry for a time.

Why were these measures necessary? A document created in March 2013 — that’s just as Wichita realized the city was running out of water — is titled “Wichita Area Future Water Supply: A Model Program for Other Municipalities.” It states: “In 1993 the Wichita City Council adopted an Integrated Local Water Supply Plan that identified cost effective water resources that would be adequate to meet Wichita’s water supply needs through the year 2050.” This squares with what former mayor Bob Knight recently told the Wichita Pachyderm Club, that when he was in office, Wichita had sufficient water for the next 50 years. He was told that about 10 years ago.

Just to give you an idea of how seriously we should take the claims made in speeches like this, here’s what the mayor told us in his 2009 State of the City Address: “We will continue work on the state-of-the art water supply system, known as the ASR project. It will provide the Wichita area with sufficient water for the next 50 years. Economic Development is not possible without an adequate water supply.” The mayor’s right. We need an adequate water supply. But it appears that despite huge expense and the boasts of city officials — including the mayor — we don’t have a secure water supply.

The mayor also addressed transit. He asked the community to answer a few questions, such as:

Should we have more stops to drop off and pick up riders?
Should we run later hours during the week and on the weekends?
Should we find new partners to extend our service area and help with costs?

The problem with questions like these are that citizens don’t have all the information needed to make an informed answer. Would we like to have more bus service? Who could answer no to such a question?

But if the mayor had told us that the cost per passenger mile for Wichita transit buses is 95 cents, or that only 30 percent of the operating costs are paid by fares, people might answer these questions differently. (That 30 percent would be lower if we included the cost of capital, that is, the cost of the buses.) And when the mayor asked citizens to weigh in at the Activate Wichita website: I looked, and there’s no topic for transit.

But even if citizens were informed of these costs, their answers are still not fully reliable. That’s because of the disconnect between the payment for the service and the actual bus service. Because so much of the cost of providing bus service is paid for someone else, we don’t really see the total cost of a bus trip. That’s often a problem with services provided by the government. Since someone else is paying, there’s not the same concern for receiving value as there is when people spend their own money.

activate-wichita-rate-this-idea

The Activate Wichita website, by the way. When citizens are asked to rate ideas, to express their approval or — well, that’s the problem. Your choices for voting on an idea are: “I Love It!” … “I Like It!” … “It’s OK.” … “Neutral.” That’s it. There’s no voting option for expressing disagreement or disapproval with an idea. “Neutral” is as much dissent as Wichitans are allowed to express in this system. On this system that city leaders say they rely on for gathering citizen input, there needs to be a voting selection that expresses disagreement or disapproval with an idea. Otherwise when votes are tallied, the worst that any idea can be is “neutral.” City planners may get a false impression that all these ideas a fine and dandy.

wichita-citizen-involvement-2012

On the topic of citizen involvement: The mayor also told us this: “A few weeks ago – the city launched the Office of Community Engagement.” That’s something that the city needs, based on data the city has gathered. The Wichita Performance Measures Report holds some data from a survey called the National Research Center National Citizen Survey. Survey respondents were asked to rate “the job Wichita does at welcoming citizen involvement.” The results are shown in the nearby chart I created from data in the most recent version of the Wichita Performance Measure Report. The numbers are the percent of respondents giving “excellent” or “good” as their response to the question. The values for the last three administrations of the survey are between 35 percent and 39 percent. The report says this performance is “much below” a benchmark set by the National Research Center. The report tells us that the city expects to re-survey citizens in 2014. For that year, the city has given itself the lofty target of 40 percent of citizens rating the job Wichita does at welcoming citizen involvement as excellent or good. Maybe an Office of Community Engagement will help.

Last year the city conducted an extensive survey of residents. Of this survey, the mayor said: “We learned that more than 70% of our residents are willing to rise above their personal interests to do what’s best for the community.”

The problem with this is that it relies on the false concept of a conflict between personal interests and what is good for the community. In the marketplace, which is the opposite of government, people advance their self-interest in one legitimate way: By finding out the goods and services that others want, and then providing them. If you can do this well and efficiently, you can earn profits. It’s the quest for profits — that’s self interest — that drives people to figure out what others want, and then to work hard to provide that. Everyone benefits.

This quest for profits could, and should, apply to areas that are under the control of government. But people are so afraid that someone will earn a profit by serving their fellow man. Recently John Stossel spotlighted a park in New York City that is run by a private corporation with the aim of earning a profit. People are happy with the new park. They feel safe, even though the park doesn’t discriminate and still lets homeless people stay there. There’s commerce going on, selling food, for example. People like that, and evidence of that is the profit being earned. But Stossel’s guest was critical and unhappy because someone was earning a profit, even though park patrons were happy with the park and most were unaware of its private sector operation.

So when the park was operated by the city — for the common good, that is — not many people used it. It was dirty and trashy, and people didn’t feel safe. Under the profit motive, people like the park and they use it. So where is the conflict between personal interest and what is good for the community?

Now, not everything government does is bad. But when government dabbles in areas that the private sector can do very well, we see problems. As an example, the city wants to help real estate developers, but the city handled a recent situation so badly that the mayor apologized in his address, saying “We are also taking steps to ensure we have integrity and openness when we solicit proposals for development in the core area.”

Citizens that pay attention at city hall also note there are several small groups that contribute heavily to campaigns. Then the mayor and council members vote to give financial benefits to these people. These are not isolated incidents. This behavior is repeated over and over. Some cities have laws against this type of behavior. But in Wichita, while we’re being encouraged to put “what is good for the community” above our personal self-interest, we see city hall run over by cronyism. That is, by people using city government for their own interests. In the name of the “common good,” of course.

At the end of his speech, the mayor asked citizens to “get into the game,” saying: “We need you to be a player — not a spectator — to win a better and brighter tomorrow.”

But we’ve seen what happens when people want to be involved, but not in the way the mayor and council want. Do you remember the chart of airport data? Last year I presented that information to the city council. It so happened that Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn had appointed me to the Airport Advisory Board, and later in that same meeting the city council voted on my appointment. I was rejected. Only one council member voted in my favor. The Wichita Eagle reported: “Mayor Carl Brewer was clear after the meeting: The city wants a positive voice on the airport advisory board, which provides advice to the council on airport-related issues.” A positive voice is more valued than a critical voice, it seems.

Council members shall refrain 01

You may also remember how Susan Estes of Americans for Prosperity testified at a meeting of the Wichita City Council. She cited a section of the Wichita City Code that says council members shall refrain from making decisions involving, among other things, friends and business associates. She asked the mayor to observe that part of the city code. But the mayor lashed out at Estes and others and threatened a lawsuit.

At least this year the mayor didn’t mention the importance of open and transparent government, as he usually does. Because based on Activate Wichita — where there is no disagreement allowed, to rejecting board appointments simply because someone might be critical of the city’s programs, to threatening those who ask the mayor and council members to follow the laws that they passed, to the city’s hostile attitude towards the citizen’s right to know: The message we get is this: The city welcomes your involvement, but only up to a point. Question the authority, and you’re not welcome.

That’s the state of Wichita government, that government to be distinguished from the many wonderful people who live here. We can be thankful for the difference.

WichitaLiberty.TV.09

WichitaLiberty.TV January 26, 2014

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: The City of Wichita’s performance report holds a forecast for increasing debt in Wichita. Then, the government sector in Kansas has grown faster than the private sector. What does this mean? Finally: What can the story of “Bootleggers and Baptists” teach us about regulation? Episode 29, broadcast January 26, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Kansas government grows faster than private sector

graph-1

In Kansas, government has grown faster than the private sector. Milton Friedman explains why it’s best to leave spending in the private sector.

For gross domestic product in Kansas attributable to government, growth was 106.0 percent from 1997 to 2012. For the private sector, growth was 86.5 percent.

The nearby chart (click for a larger version) shows Kansas (highlighted in blue) against the other states and regions. (If you’d like to use the interactive visualization of state GDP data, you may click here to open it in a new window.)

kansas-gross-domestic-product-government-private-2014-01Considering the government sector, Kansas did well, compared to other states. Considering the private sector, Kansas is average.

The green highlighted line is Michigan. That state stands out from all others for its poor economic growth. Jennifer Granholm was governor of Michigan from 2003 to 2011, and Kansas Democrats have announced that she is the speaker for their annual Washington Days celebration. It’s difficult to see what Kansas can learn from Michigan regarding economic growth.

Government spending

Is it good for government to grow faster than the private economy? Government depends on the private sector for its funding. Without private sector activity, there are no taxes to collect.

But the real problem is the nature of government spending. A quote from Milton Friedman explains: “Nobody spends other people’s money as carefully as he spends his own.”

In an excerpt from Free to Choose: A Personal Statement, Friedman and his wife Rose explain the problems when people spend other people’s money, which is the nature of government spending.

A simple classification of spending shows why that process leads to undesirable results. When you spend, you may spend your own money or someone else’s; and you may spend for the benefit of yourself or someone else. Combining these two pairs of alternatives gives four possibilities summarized in the following simple table:

friedman-spending-categories-2013-07

Category I in the table refers to your spending your own money on yourself. You shop in a supermarket, for example. You clearly have a strong incentive both to economize and to get as much value as you can for each dollar you do spend.

Category II refers to your spending your own money on someone else. You shop for Christmas or birthday presents. You have the same incentive to economize as in Category I but not the same incentive to get full value for your money, at least as judged by the tastes of the recipient. …

Category III refers to your spending someone else’s money on yourself — lunching on an expense account, for instance. You have no strong incentive to keep down the cost of the lunch, but you do have a strong incentive to get your money’s worth.

Category IV refers to your spending someone else’s money on still another person. You are paying for someone else’s lunch out of an expense account. You have little incentive either to economize or to try to get your guest the lunch that he will value most highly. However, if you are having lunch with him, so that the lunch is a mixture of Category III and Category IV, you do have a strong incentive to satisfy your own tastes at the sacrifice of his, if necessary.

All welfare programs fall into either Category III — for example, Social Security which involves cash payments that the recipient is free to spend as he may wish; or Category IV — for example, public housing; except that even Category IV programs share one feature of Category III, namely, that the bureaucrats administering the program partake of the lunch; and all Category III programs have bureaucrats among their recipients.

In our opinion these characteristics of welfare spending are the main source of their defects.

Legislators vote to spend someone else’s money. The voters who elect the legislators are in one sense voting to spend their own money on themselves, but not in the direct sense of Category I spending. The connection between the taxes any individual pays and the spending he votes for is exceedingly loose. In practice, voters, like legislators, are inclined to regard someone else as paying for the programs the legislator votes for directly and the voter votes for indirectly. Bureaucrats who administer the programs are also spending someone else’s money. Little wonder that the amount spent explodes.

The bureaucrats spend someone else’s money on someone else. Only human kindness, not the much stronger and more dependable spur of self-interest, assures that they will spend the money in the way most beneficial to the recipients. Hence the wastefulness and ineffectiveness of the spending.

But that is not all. The lure of getting someone else’s money is strong. Many, including the bureaucrats administering the programs, will try to get it for themselves rather than have it go to someone else. The temptation to engage in corruption, to cheat, is strong and will not always be resisted or frustrated. People who resist the temptation to cheat will use legitimate means to direct the money to themselves. They will lobby for legislation favorable to themselves, for rules from which they can benefit. The bureaucrats administering the programs will press for better pay and perquisites for themselves — an outcome that larger programs will facilitate.

The attempt by people to divert government expenditures to themselves has two consequences that may not be obvious. First, it explains why so many programs tend to benefit middle- and upper-income groups rather than the poor for whom they are supposedly intended. The poor tend to lack not only the skills valued in the market, but also the skills required to be successful in the political scramble for funds. Indeed, their disadvantage in the political market is likely to be greater than in the economic. Once well-meaning reformers who may have helped to get a welfare measure enacted have gone on to their next reform, the poor are left to fend for themselves and they will almost always he overpowered by the groups that have already demonstrated a greater capacity to take advantage of available opportunities.

The second consequence is that the net gain to the recipients of the transfer will be less than the total amount transferred. If $100 of somebody else’s money is up for grabs, it pays to spend up to $100 of your own money to get it. The costs incurred to lobby legislators and regulatory authorities, for contributions to political campaigns, and for myriad other items are a pure waste — harming the taxpayer who pays and benefiting no one. They must be subtracted from the gross transfer to get the net gain — and may, of course, at times exceed the gross transfer, leaving a net loss, not gain.

These consequences of subsidy seeking also help to explain the pressure for more and more spending, more and more programs. The initial measures fail to achieve the objectives of the well-meaning reformers who sponsored them. They conclude that not enough has been done and seek additional programs. They gain as allies both people who envision careers as bureaucrats administering the programs and people who believe that they can tap the money to be spent.

Category IV spending tends also to corrupt the people involved. All such programs put some people in a position to decide what is good for other people. The effect is to instill in the one group a feeling of almost God-like power; in the other, a feeling of childlike dependence. The capacity of the beneficiaries for independence, for making their own decisions, atrophies through disuse. In addition to the waste of money, in addition to the failure to achieve the intended objectives, the end result is to rot the moral fabric that holds a decent society together.

Another by-product of Category III or IV spending has the same effect. Voluntary gifts aside, you can spend someone else’s money only by taking it away as government does. The use of force is therefore at the very heart of the welfare state — a bad means that tends to corrupt the good ends. That is also the reason why the welfare state threatens our freedom so seriously.

Kansas gross domestic product

Seal of the State of Kansas

Since 1997, Kansas gross domestic product has grown 89.1 percent. The United States as a whole has grown 88.2 percent.

Considering compound annual rate of growth for the same period, the rate for Kansas is 4.34 percent, and for the U.S. the rate is 4.31 percent.

So the record for Kansas is right about in the middle of the states. Not good, but not bad either.

kansas-michigan-gdp-2014-01

Of note: Kansas Democrats have announced their speaker for their annual Washington Days celebration. It’s Jennifer Granholm, who was governor of Michigan from 2003 to 2011. In the nearby illustration (click it for larger version) of state GDP, Kansas is highlighted in blue. The green line that stands out from all other states is Michigan.

Using the visualization.

Using the visualization.

If you’d like to use the interactive visualization of state GDP data, you may click here to open it in a new window. Data is from U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis along with author’s own calculations. Visualization created using Tableau Public.

Job claims in Kansas addresses

Kansas Capitol

How can conflicting jobs claims made by two Kansas leaders and candidates for governor be reconciled?

Listening to the State of the State Address and the official response might cause Kansans to become confused, or worse. The claims made by Sam Brownback and Paul Davis appear to contain conflicting views of Kansas employment.

In the State of the State Address, Brownback said “Since December 2010, Kansas has added on average, more than a thousand private sector jobs every month.”

Davis, in the official response, said “According to the latest jobs report — released just a few weeks ago — there are 16,000 fewer Kansans working than when Governor Brownback took office.”

bureau-labor-statistics-logoWho is correct? The answer is not easy to provide. That’s because there are two series of employment data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The two series don’t measure exactly the same thing, and each of these candidates for Kansas governor has chosen to use the series that benefits their campaign. Nearby is an example of just how different the two series can appear.

cps-ces-difference-example-2013-12

A document from BLS titled Employment from the BLS household and payroll surveys: summary of recent trends explains in brief: “The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has two monthly surveys that measure employment levels and trends: the Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey, and the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey. … These estimates differ because the surveys have distinct definitions of employment and distinct survey and estimation methods.”

Another BLS document explains in detail the differences between the CPS and CES data. For example: CES: “Designed to measure employment, hours, and earnings with significant industrial and geographic detail” CPS: “Designed to measure employment and unemployment with significant demographic detail.”

Another difference: CES: “Self-employed persons are excluded.” CPS: “Self-employed persons are included.” (See Understanding the employment measures from the CPS and CES survey.)

I’ve prepared a table showing the claims made primarily by the Davis campaign in December (since it provided the most detail) and gathered data from both the CES and CPS series. I’ve also showed the seasonally adjusted data compared to the raw data when available. Sometimes the numbers match exactly with the claims made by the campaigns, and sometimes the numbers are a little different. Click here for the full table.

cps-ces-jobs-compared-2013-12
I’ve also created an interactive visualization of the CPS and CES data for Kansas. Click here to open it in a new window.

Each campaign uses the data that best makes its case. Generally speaking, the CES data shows larger employment gains.

We still have this question: Who is correct? Here’s something to consider. On the national level, a widely-watched number each month is the count of new jobs created. This number, which is universally considered to be important, comes from the CES survey. That’s the number that shows quite a bit of job growth in Kansas.

Download (PDF, 42KB)

Wichita City Hall.

Wichita’s legislative agenda favors government, not citizens

city-council-chambers-sign-small

This week the Wichita City Council will consider its legislative agenda. This document contains many items that are contrary to economic freedom, capitalism, limited government, and individual liberty. Yet, Wichitans pay taxes to have someone in Topeka promote this agenda. I’ve excerpted the document here, and following are some of the most problematic items.

Agenda: Existing economic development tools are essential for the continued growth and prosperity of our community.

First. The premise of this item is incorrect. We don’t have growth and prosperity in Wichita. Compared to a broad group of peer metropolitan areas, Wichita performs very poorly. See For Wichita’s economic development machinery, failure for details.

Second: In general, these incentives don’t work to increase prosperity. Click here for a summary of the peer-reviewed academic research that examines the local impact of targeted tax incentives from an empirical point of view. “Peer-reviewed” means these studies were stripped of identification of authorship and then subjected to critique by other economists, and were able to pass that review.

Third: Wichita leaders often complain that Wichita doesn’t have enough “tools in the toolbox” to compete effectively in economic development. The city’s document lists the tools the city wants the legislature to protect:

  • GWEDC/GO WICHITA: Support existing statutory records exemptions
  • Industrial Revenue Bond tax abatements (IRBX)
  • Economic Development Exemptions (EDX)
  • Tax Increment Financing (TIF)
  • Sales Tax Revenue (STAR) Bonds
  • Community Improvement Districts (CID)
  • Neighborhood Revitalization Area (NRA) tax rebates
  • Special Assessment financing for neighborhood infrastructure projects, facade improvements and abatement of asbestos and lead-based paint.
  • State Historic Preservation Tax Credits (HPTC)
  • State administration of federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC)
  • High Performance Incentive Program (HPIP) tax credits
  • Investments in Major Projects and Comprehensive Training (IMPACT) grants
  • Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK) program
  • Economic Revitalization and Reinvestment Act bonding for major aviation and wind energy projects
  • Kansas Industrial Training (KIT) and Kansas Industrial Retraining (KIR) grants
  • Network Kansas tax credit funding
  • State support for Innovation Commercialization Centers in Commerce Department budget

That’s quite a list of incentive programs. Some of these are so valuable that Kansas business leaders told the governor that they value these incentives more than they would value elimination of the state corporate income tax.

Agenda: GWEDC/GO WICHITA: Support existing statutory records exemptions

This may refer to the city wanting to prevent these agencies from having to fulfill records requests under the Kansas Open Records Act. (If so, I wonder why the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation was left off.) City leaders say Wichita has an open and transparent government. But Kansas has a weak records law, and Wichita doesn’t want to follow the law, as weak as it is. This is an insult to citizens who are not able to access how their taxes are spent. For more on this issue, see Open Records in Kansas.

Agenda: The Wichita City Council opposes any legislative attempts to restrict the taxing and spending authority of local governments.

As Wichita city leaders prepare to ask for a higher sales tax rate in Wichita, we can hope that the legislature will save us from ourselves. At best, we can hope that the legislature requires that all tax rate increases be put to popular vote.

Agenda: The Wichita City Council opposes any restrictions on the use of state and/or local public monies to provide information to our citizens and to advocate on their behalf.

This is the taxpayer-funded lobbying issue. As you can see in this document, many of the things that Wichita city leaders believe people want, or believe that will be good for their constituents, are actually harmful. Additionally, many of the methods the city uses to engage citizens to determine their needs are faulty. See In Wichita, there’s no option for dissent for an example. Also, see Wichita survey questions based on false premises.

Agenda: The Wichita City Council supports the current framework for local elections, continuing the current February/April schedule of local primary and general elections, as well as the local option allowing non-partisan elections.

The present system of non-partisan elections held in the spring results in low voter turnout that lets special interest groups exercise greater influence than would be likely in fall elections. See my legislative testimony in Kansas spring elections should be moved.

Agenda: The Wichita City Council supports the development of appropriate state and local incentives to nurture and preserve arts activity throughout the City of Wichita and the State of Kansas.

Translation: The city knows better than you how to provide for your entertainment and cultural edification, and will continue to tax you for your own benefit.

Agenda: Public support and awareness of the possibility of passenger rail service connecting Oklahoma City and Wichita/Newton has grown over the past two years.

I’m not sure where the claim of public support and awareness growing comes from, but people are definitely not informed about the economics of passenger rail. In 2010, when the state rolled out several plans for this passenger rail service link, I reported as follows:

Expansion of rail service in Kansas is controversial, at least to some people, in that any form of rail service requires taxpayer involvement to pay for the service. First, taxpayer funding is required to pay for the start-up costs for the service. There are four alternatives being presented for rail service expansion in Kansas, and the start-up costs range from $156 million up to $479 million.

After this, taxpayer subsidies will be required every year to pay for the ongoing operational costs of providing passenger rail service. The four alternatives would require an annual operating subsidy ranging from $2.1 million up to $6.1 million. Taking the operating subsidy and dividing by the estimated number of passengers for each alternative, the per-passenger subsidy ranges from $35 up to $97 for every passenger who uses the service.

It would be one thing if tickets sales and other revenue sources such as sale of food and beverage paid for most of the cost of providing passenger rail service, and taxpayers were being asked to provide a little boost to get the service started and keep it running until it can sustain itself. But that’s not the case. Taxpayers are being asked to fully fund the start-up costs. Then, they’re expected to pay the majority of ongoing expenses, apparently forever.

Also, in Amtrak, taxpayer burden, should not be expanded in Kansas I reported on the Heartland Flyer route specifically. This is from 2010, but I doubt much has changed since then.

For the Heartland Flyer route, which runs from Fort Worth to Oklahoma, and is proposed by taxpayer-funded rail supporters to extend into Kansas through Wichita and Kansas City, we find these statistics about the finances of this operation:

Amtrak reports a profit/loss per passenger mile on this route of $-.02, meaning that each passenger, per mile traveled, resulted in a loss of two cents. Taxpayers pay for that.

But this number, as bad as it is, is totally misleading. Subsidyscope calculated a different number. This number, unlike the numbers Amrak publishes, includes depreciation, ancillary businesses and overhead costs — the types of costs that private sector businesses bear and report. When these costs are included, the Heartland Flyer route results in a loss of 13 cents per passenger mile, or a loss of $26.76 per passenger for the trip from Fort Worth to Oklahoma City.

Asking the taxpayers of Wichita to pay subsidies each time someone boards an Amtrak train: This doesn’t sound like economic development, much less a program that people living in a free society should be forced to fund.

WichitaLiberty.TV December 29, 2013

WichitaLiberty.TV.20

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Are Kansas school leaders being honest with schoolchildren and parents regarding Kansas school test scores? Then: Walter Williams on greed. Finally: Do we have too many laws? A look at the problem of overcriminalization. Episode 24, broadcast December 29, 2013. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Job growth, Kansas and other states

Kansas Capitol 2013-11-11 14.58.34Critics of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and his economic growth plans say Kansas hasn’t been creating jobs. A look at the statistics tells us that Kansas has produced substandard performance in job growth for a long time.

job-growth-states-compound-annual-rate-2013-12

The nearby chart (click for a larger version) shows the compound annual rate of growth of jobs in the states, with Kansas highlighted in blue.

From 1992 to 2012, Kansas created jobs at the rate of 1.022 percent per year, compounded. Arkansas managed 1.096 percent over the same period. That seems like a small difference, just 0.074 percentage points. But over time, compounding adds up, so to speak. If both states started with one million jobs and continued growing at these rates, in ten years Arkansas would have 8,136 more jobs than Kansas. In 20 years, the difference would be 18,080 jobs. That’s about as many people as work in each of Finney and Ford Counties, home to Dodge City and Garden City, respectively.

Or, consider Texas, the state Kansas progressives love to hate. It’s has created jobs at the rate of 2.001 percent. If both states started with one million jobs and grew at these rates, in ten years Texas would have 112,083 more jobs than Kansas would have. In 20 years the difference would be 260,722 jobs. That’s almost as many people as work in the Wichita metropolitan area.

Using the visualization.

Using the visualization.

If you’d like to use the interactive visualization of state employment data, you may click here to open it in a new window. Data is from Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Visualization created using Tableau Public.

Kansas jobs: Who do we believe?

bownback-davis-logo-02

Earlier this week we saw that candidates for Kansas governor have released statements on recent job figures in Kansas. The news releases from Sam Brownback and Paul Davis appear to contain conflicting views of Kansas employment.

But we saw that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has two monthly surveys that measure employment levels and trends. There’s the Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey, and there is also the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey. BLS explains: “These estimates differ because the surveys have distinct definitions of employment and distinct survey and estimation methods.”

cps-ces-jobs-compared-2013-12Both the Davis and Brownback campaign appear to cite the data correctly. So which is the better measure to use? Which gives the best indication of the performance of the Kansas economy in creating jobs?

Here’s something to consider. On the national level, a widely-watched number each month is the count of new jobs created. This number, which is universally considered to be important, comes from the CES survey. That’s the number that shows quite a bit of job growth in Kansas. But in order to belittle the Brownback effort, the Davis campaign cites the other data series.

So let’s be fair. The next time Davis and Democrats praise good job creation figures at the national level as evidence of the goodness of Barack Obama, let’s ask them to give the same credit to Sam Brownback.

In Kansas, dueling job claims

bownback-davis-logo-01Candidates for Kansas governor last week released statements on recent job figures in Kansas. The releases from Sam Brownback and Paul Davis appear to contain conflicting views of Kansas employment.

Brownback released a statement containing this, in part: “In the past year, we have seen more than 20,000 new jobs in Kansas and a total of 45,600 new jobs created from January 2011 through October 2013.” (Click here for the full statement.)

Davis released a statement containing this, in part: “From January 2011 – Oct 2013: Period during which Brownback cites 46,500 new jobs … Employed: +3,634 (not 46,500, which is what was claimed by Brownback)” (Click here for the full statement.)

So which campaign is correct? The answer is not easy to provide. That’s because there are two series of employment data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The two series don’t measure exactly the same thing, and each campaign has chosen to use the series that benefits their campaign. Nearby is an example of just how different the two series can appear.

cps-ces-difference-example-2013-12
A document from BLS titled Employment from the BLS household and payroll surveys: summary of recent trends explains in brief: “The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has two monthly surveys that measure employment levels and trends: the Current Population Survey (CPS), also known as the household survey, and the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, also known as the payroll or establishment survey. … These estimates differ because the surveys have distinct definitions of employment and distinct survey and estimation methods.”

Another BLS document explains in detail the differences between the CPS and CES data. For example: CES: “Designed to measure employment, hours, and earnings with significant industrial and geographic detail” CPS: “Designed to measure employment and unemployment with significant demographic detail.”

Another difference: CES: “Self-employed persons are excluded.” CPS: “Self-employed persons are included.” (See Understanding the employment measures from the CPS and CES survey.)

I’ve prepared a table showing the claims made primarily by the Davis campaign (since it provided the most detail) and gathered data from both the CES and CPS series. I’ve also showed the seasonally adjusted data compared to the raw data when available. Sometimes the numbers match exactly with the claims made by the campaigns, and sometimes the numbers are a little different. Click here for the full table.

cps-ces-jobs-compared-2013-12
I’ve also created an interactive visualization of the CPS and CES data for Kansas. Click here to open it in a new window.

Each campaign uses the data that best makes its case. Generally speaking, the CES data shows larger employment gains.

Download (PDF, 42KB)

The war on poverty

For about 50 years we’ve been fighting a war on poverty. Initially, the poverty rate declined. But over the last four decades, the poverty rate has gone up and down, but is largely unchanged over this period. Spending on welfare programs, however, has continually risen, and rapidly in the past few years. The accompanying chart shows the poverty rate and welfare spending. The spending is per person in the U.S., adjusted for inflation, and doesn’t include spending on health care.

poverty-rate-welfare-spending-2013-12

For more on this topic, see:
The American Welfare State: How We Spend Nearly $1 Trillion a Year Fighting Poverty — and Fail (Cato Institute)
Examining the Means-tested Welfare State: 79 Programs and $927 Billion in Annual Spending (Heritage Foundation)
The Failure Of The War On Poverty (FreedomWorks)
Does Welfare Diminish Poverty? (Foundation for Economic Education)

WichitaLiberty.TV December 8, 2013

WichitaLiberty.TV.16

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita city leaders are preparing to ask Wichita voters to approve a sales tax increase. What would this money be used for? Are there alternatives, such as private sector integration, that the city could consider? Then: What is the role of the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce? Is it promoting capitalism, or something else? Finally, David Hart, who is Director of the Online Library of Liberty Project at the Liberty Fund, explains some of the lessons of Frederic Bastiat, including the broken window fallacy. Episode 23, broadcast December 8, 2013. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Walter Williams: How to do good

From September 2011.

Thursday’s lecture in Wichita by economist Walter Williams featured a section covering how greed, or what some call enlightened self-interest, is the best way to produce good acts.

This lecture was presented by the Bill of Rights Institute and underwritten by the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation.

When government is used in an attempt to do good, it requires either elimination or attenuation of private property and market forces, Williams told the audience. But it is private property and the desire by people for more that motivates people to do the difficult and laborious things that benefit their fellow man. It all happens without government. In fact, government involvement in the market reduces the motivation of people to acquire, protect, and improve private property.

Here’s a transcript of Williams explaining how this works:

But do-gooders fail to realize that most good done in the world is not done in the name of good.

If you were to ask me “Williams, what’s that human motivation that gets wonderful things done? What’s the human motivation that you like?” I tell them greed. I love greed.

I’m not talking about ripping off people, fraud, and misrepresentation. I’m talking about people trying to get as much as they can for themselves. Now consider the following, because a lot of people don’t understand greed.

Last winter we had Texas cattle ranchers getting up in the dead of winter, running down stray cattle and trying to feed them, making a huge personal sacrifice to make sure New Yorkers had beef on their shelves.

This summer we had Idaho potato farmers getting up in the morning, doing back-breaking work, sun beating down on them, bugs biting them, making this personal sacrifice so that New Yorkers would also have potatoes.

Now, why do you think they’re doing that? Do you think they’re doing that because they love New Yorkers? They may hate New Yorkers — I’m not that wild about New Yorkers myself — but they make sure beef and potatoes get to New York every single day of the week.

Why? Because they love themselves. They’re trying to get more for themselves. And this is what Adam Smith was talking about in The Wealth of Nations: That the public good is served best by the private interest. That is, by people trying to get more for themselves. And in the free market, in order to get more for yourself, you have to find ways to please your fellow man, to make your fellow man happy.

How much beef and potatoes do you think New Yorkers would have if it all depended on human love and kindness? I’d be worried about New Yorkers.

Let me give you another example. Some people tell me “Well Williams, instead of saying greed, you’re trying to win friends and influence people, why don’t you say enlightened self-interest?” Well, that’s okay, but I like greed instead.

Let me give you another example of the virtue of self interest and private property. I have often said that I don’t care much about future generations. Some people think that’s awful. People have sometimes asked “Williams, why don’t you care about future generations?” And I ask “What have future generations ever done for me?”

I mean, some kid being born in 2050, what has he done for me? And if he has not done anything for me, how then am I obliged to do anything for him? Where is the quid pro quo?

But however, if you watch my actual behavior, my behavior would belie that sentiment.

I have a very nice house and property in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Several years ago I took $400 that I could have used to buy two bottles of Chateau d’Yquem Sauterne wine and selfishly enjoyed it all by myself, but instead I planted some trees on my property.

Now when those trees reach full maturity, I’ll be dead. There will be some 2050 kid swinging in my trees. Mrs. Williams, who is now departed, made extensive improvements to our house — built a big sunroom — with my money of course. That sunroom is going to outlast both of us, and there’s going to be some 2050 kid tracking mud in my sunroom.

If you ask the question “why did I make those sacrifices of current consumption to produce something that’s going to benefit somebody in 2050,” the answer’s very easy: The nicer my house is, the longer it will provide housing services, and the higher the price I get when I go to sell it.

That is, by pursing my own narrow selfish interest, I can’t help but make a house available for future generations, whether I mean to or not.

Now, would I have the same incentives if the government owned my house? Would I have the same incentives if there were a 75 percent transfer tax when I went to sell my house? Whatever weakens my private property rights interest in that house, weakens my incentive to do the socially responsible thing, namely, conserve on the scare resources of our society.

Let me give you one other example. … I was listening to NPR, a number of years ago, and people were picketing the UN because they were concerned about the extinction of the giraffe, the gorilla, and the lion. So I wrote down a list of animals that people were in a tizzy over the possibility of their becoming extinct.

Then I wrote down another list of animals, very valuable to us, but people are not worried about them. I said “How come people are not marching for the chicken? Why are people not forming save the pig clubs?”

What’s the difference between these two lists of animals? The essential difference is that with this list of animals — cows, chickens, and pigs — they belong to somebody. Somebody’s personal private interest is at stake. But this other list of animals — they don’t belong to anybody. Nobody’s personal private wealth is at stake. If you’re concerned about the extinction of various animals, I would recommend trying to privatize them.

Wichita Airport traffic: The video

In the economic sphere an act, a habit, an institution, a law produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them.
– Frederic Bastiat

visualization-example-small

To keep airfares low at the Wichita Airport, the Wichita City Council in partnership with Sedgwick County and the State of Kansas pays a discount air carrier to operate in Wichita. While the program almost certainly has the intended effect on airfares, there is another effect: The trend of flights and seats available in Wichita is declining, and and at a rate faster than for the nation as a whole.

In this video, I use Tableau Public to analyze and present data from Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, to look at trends at the Wichita Airport. I presented this data in different form at a recent Wichita City Council meeting. This interactive visualization is available for you to use here: Wichita airport statistics: the visualization.

You may view the video presentation below, or click here to view it at YouTube, which will probably work best for this video.

Wichita City Council makes an uneconomic decision

Wichita City Hall

Last year the Wichita City Council was faced with a decision regarding a program designed to stimulate the sales of new homes. Analysis revealed that even though the city had an opportunity to make an investment with a purportedly high return on investment, it would be better off, dollar-wise, if it did not make the investment. What did the city council do? The following video explains the decision the council faced. View below, or click here to view in High Definition on YouTube. More information is at Wichita new home tax rebate program: The analysis and Wichita HOME program has negative consequences.

Cessna, another Wichita company asking for tax relief

Wichita City Hall

This week the Wichita City Council will consider granting economic development incentives to Cessna Aircraft Company. The incentives are in the form of property (ad valorem) tax relief, implemented through the city’s Industrial Revenue Bond program, as described by city documents:

Since 1991, the City Council has approved issuance of Industrial Revenue Bonds (“IRBs”) totaling $1.2 billion to finance expansion and modernization of Cessna Aircraft Company (“Cessna”) facilities in Wichita. The City Council also authorized 100% ad valorem tax exemptions for all bond-financed property for periods of up to ten years.

The city does this for economic development, which in the eyes of politicians and bureaucrats, means jobs. Highly visible jobs, hopefully, that voters will be grateful for. So we might want to examine the record of job creation by Wichita’s economic development machinery. (We should note that Cessna is not the only aircraft company that Wichita has been generous to with subsidy.)

The Bureau of Economic Analysis, which is part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, provides economic data for metropolitan areas. One of the measures that Visioneering Wichita uses as a benchmark of performance is personal income growth. Specifically, per capita personal income growth. There are some issues related to per capita measures that require caution; see Wichita and peer GDP growth for an explanation.

personal-income-compound-growth-visioneering-peers-2012-11

Considering personal income growth, here is what Wichita looks like compared to our Visioneering peer cities, based on data from BEA (click on charts for larger versions).

This chart shows the compound annual growth rate in job creation. Note that Wichita, the violet line, is in last place. But it wasn’t always that way. It was during the decade of the 1990s that Wichita started to slip to last place. Coincidentally, that is the decade in which Wichita started offering economic development incentives to Cessna.

per-capita-personal-income-compound-growth-visioneering-peers-2012-11

Since Visioneering uses per capita personal income, I also present it. This time, I start the chart with 1990 data. It’s much the same story as the previous chart: Wichita is in last place.

Another benchmark Visioneering uses (but won’t present to the council) is job growth. Wichita does poorly here too, ranking in last place among our Visioneering peer cities except in one area: Government jobs. See Wichita job growth and Visioneering peers for details and a video. We should note that to the extent the government sector grows faster than the private sector, we become poorer.

We might ask the mayor and council members how this proposed action will help Wichita catch up to its self-identified peers. After all, city documents state that we’ve granted IRBs to Cessna in the past: $1,200,000,000 worth, according to city documents. The action contemplated this week is for up to $40,200,000 in bonds, or about three percent of the total granted to Cessna. These amounts are not loans to Cessna from the city, but instead represent the value of property that Cessna may have exempted from taxation: property and possibly sales taxes both.

Other companies have received similar treatment, and not always with good results. After the announcement of Boeing leaving in 2012, a news report contained this: “‘They weren’t totally honest with us,’ said [Wichita Mayor Carl] Brewer of Boeing, which has benefited from about $4 billion of municipal bonds and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax relief. ‘We thought the relationship was a lot stronger.’”

The problem with this action

A major reason why this action is harmful to the Wichita economy is its strangling effect on entrepreneurship and young companies. As Cessna and other similarly-situated companies escape paying taxes, others have to pay. This increases the burden of the cost of government on everyone else — in particular on the companies we need to nurture. This is being brought into sharp relief as the council considers asking Wichita voters to approve a sales tax increase.

Last month the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce featured a speaker who stressed the importance of entrepreneurship, as evidenced by the headline in the Wichita Eagle: Gallup CEO tells Wichita Chamber: Treat entrepreneurs like star athletes.

There’s plenty of other evidence that entrepreneurship, in particular young business firms, are the key to economic growth. But Wichita’s economic development policies, as evidenced by this action the council is considering, are definitely stacked against the entrepreneur. As Wichita props up its established industries, it makes it more difficult for young firms to thrive. Wichita relies on targeted investment in our future. Our elected officials and bureaucrats believe they have the ability to select which companies are worthy of public investment, and which are not. It’s a form of centralized planning by the state that shapes the future direction of the Wichita economy.

These targeted economic development efforts fail for several reasons. First is the knowledge problem, in that government simply does not know which companies are worthy of public investment. This lack of knowledge, however, does not stop governments from creating policies for the awarding of incentives. This “active investor” approach to economic development is what has led to companies receiving grants or escaping hundreds of millions in taxes — taxes that others have to pay. That has a harmful effect on other business, both existing and those that wish to form. Young entrepreneurial companies are particularly vulnerable.

Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy

Professor Art Hall of the Center for Applied Economics at the Kansas University School of Business is critical of this approach to economic development. In his paper Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy, Hall quotes Alan Peters and Peter Fisher: “The most fundamental problem is that many public officials appear to believe that they can influence the course of their state and local economies through incentives and subsidies to a degree far beyond anything supported by even the most optimistic evidence. We need to begin by lowering expectations about their ability to micro-manage economic growth and making the case for a more sensible view of the role of government — providing foundations for growth through sound fiscal practices, quality public infrastructure, and good education systems — and then letting the economy take care of itself.”

In the same paper, Hall writes this regarding “benchmarking” — the bidding wars for large employers: “Kansas can break out of the benchmarking race by developing a strategy built on embracing dynamism. Such a strategy, far from losing opportunity, can distinguish itself by building unique capabilities that create a different mix of value that can enhance the probability of long-term economic success through enhanced opportunity. Embracing dynamism can change how Kansas plays the game.”

In making his argument, Hall cites research on the futility of chasing large employers as an economic development strategy: “Large-employer businesses have no measurable net economic effect on local economies when properly measured. To quote from the most comprehensive study: ‘The primary finding is that the location of a large firm has no measurable net economic effect on local economies when the entire dynamic of location effects is taken into account. Thus, the siting of large firms that are the target of aggressive recruitment efforts fails to create positive private sector gains and likely does not generate significant public revenue gains either.’”

(For a summary of the peer-reviewed academic research that examines the local impact of targeted tax incentives from an empirical point of view, see Research on economic development incentives. A sample finding is “General fiscal policy found to be mildly effective, while targeted incentives reduced economic performance (as measured by per capita income).”

There is also substantial research that is it young firms — distinguished from small business in general — that are the engine of economic growth for the future. We can’t detect which of the young firms will blossom into major success — or even small-scale successes. The only way to nurture them is through economic policies that all companies can benefit from. Reducing tax rates for everyone is an example of such a policy. Abating taxes for specific companies through programs like the Wichita city council is considering for Cessna is an example of precisely the wrong policy.

In explaining the importance of dynamism, Hall wrote: “Generally speaking, dynamism represents persistent, annual change in about one-third of Kansas jobs. Job creation may be a key goal of economic development policy but job creation is a residual economic outcome of business dynamism. The policy challenge centers on promoting dynamism by establishing a business environment that induces business birth and expansion without bias related to the size or type of business.”

We need to move away from economic development based on this active investor approach, especially the policies that prop up our established companies to the detriment of dynamism. We need to advocate for policies — at Wichita City Hall, at the Sedgwick County Commission, and at the Kansas Statehouse — that lead to sustainable economic development. We need political leaders who have the wisdom to realize this, and the courage to act appropriately. Which is to say, to not act in most circumstances.

WichitaLiberty.TV November 24, 2013

WichitaLiberty.TV.09In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Host Bob Weeks takes a look at proceedings of a Wichita City Council meeting and uses it to illustrate some of the reasons why the Wichita-area economy is not growing very rapidly. Episode 21, broadcast November 24, 2013. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Government-funded arts, again

city-council-chambers-sign-small

With the Wichita City Council pondering the future of Century II, it’s time to take a look at the desirability of government-funded convention centers and arts.

Convention centers, as shown in Should Wichita expand its convention facilities?, are losers as far as providing economic benefit to the cities that build them. Government, too, ought to stay out of the funding and management of arts, if it respects its citizens.

Reading between the lines, it seems like the fate of Century II is sealed. I’d say its future is dim, as hinted at in this material from the agenda packet for Tuesday’s meeting of the city council:

Century II, a multi-purpose convention and performing arts venue was originally completed in 1969, with convention space added in 1985. Century II has served the community well and has provided a venue for a wide variety of events. The building is beginning to show signs of being outdated, as well as losing some of its functionality as a convention center due to the changing needs and requirements of convention clientele, causing the need for a planning and design study to determine current and future feasibility of possible renovations.

On Tuesday the council will consider spending up to $240,000 on what is described as “the initial phase of the design study.” We can anticipate that this contract will eventually cost much more.

Why does government feel it must provide arts to its citizens? The arguments that supporters of government-funded art use generally fall into two categories: That arts funding is good economics, and that since arts are good for life and culture, government must be involved.

The economic case for government art funding

Supporters of government art funding make the case that government-funded art is good for business and the economy. They have an impressive-looking study titled Arts & Economic Prosperity III: The Economic Impact of the Nonprofit Arts and Culture Industry in the State of Kansas, which makes the case that “communities that invest in the arts reap the additional benefit of jobs, economic growth, and a quality of life that positions those communities to compete in our 21st century creative economy.” Its single greatest defect is that it makes a simplistic and naive analysis of government spending.

As an example, the report concludes that the return on dollars spent on the arts is “a spectacular 7-to-1 return on investment that would even thrill Wall Street veterans.” It hardly merits mention that there aren’t legitimate investments that generate this type of return in any short time frame. If these returns were in fact true and valid, we should invest more — not less — in the arts. But as we shall see, these returns are not valid in any meaningful economic sense.

Where do these fabulous returns come from? Here’s a passage from the report that government art spending promoters rely on:

A theater company purchases a gallon of paint from the local hardware store for $20, generating the direct economic impact of the expenditure. The hardware store then uses a portion of the aforementioned $20 to pay the sales clerk’s salary; the sales clerk respends some of the money for groceries; the grocery store uses some of the money to pay its cashier; the cashier then spends some for the utility bill; and so on. The subsequent rounds of spending are the indirect economic impacts.

Thus, the initial expenditure by the theater company was followed by four additional rounds of spending (by the hardware store, sales clerk, grocery store, and the cashier). The effect of the theater company’s initial expenditure is the direct economic impact. The subsequent rounds of spending are all of the indirect impacts. The total impact is the sum of the direct and indirect impacts.

This is all true. But there’s a problem with this reasoning. It ignores the unseen effects of economic action. What the authors of this study fail to see is that anyone who buys a gallon of paint for any reason sets off the same chain of economic activity. There is no difference — except that a homeowner buying the paint is doing so voluntarily, while an arts organization using taxpayer-supplied money to buy the paint is using someone else’s money.

When the theater company spends $20 of taxpayer-provided money to buy paint: Where did that $20 come from? Isn’t it possible that a homeowner might have bought the same gallon of paint, but now is not able to because he must pay taxes to support the theater company? It’s easy to see the theater production with its taxpayer-funded painted set. It’s not easy to see the house that sits unpainted for a year to pay for the theater company’s paint. That is the seen and unseen.

The study also pumps up the return on government spending on arts by noting all the other spending that arts patrons do on things like dinner before and desert after arts events. But if people kept their own money instead of being taxed to support the arts, they would spend this money on other things, and those things might include restaurant meals, too. People would spend their money as they think best benefits them, not how someone else thinks they should.

This report — like most of its type that attempt to justify and promote government “investment” in someone’s pet program — focuses only on the benefits without considering secondary consequences or how these benefits are paid for. Henry Hazlitt, in his masterful book Economics in One Lesson explains:

While every group has certain economic interests identical with those of all groups, every group has also, as we shall see, interests antagonistic to those of all other groups. While certain public policies would in the long run benefit everybody, other policies would benefit one group only at the expense of all other groups. The group that would benefit by such policies, having such a direct interest in them, will argue for them plausibly and persistently. It will hire the best buyable minds to devote their whole time to presenting its case. And it will finally either convince the general public that its case is sound, or so befuddle it that clear thinking on the subject becomes next to impossible.

It is, as Hazlitt terms it, “the special pleading of selfish interests” that drive much of the desire for government spending on the arts. Government-funded arts advocates can promote their case with economic fallacies all they want, but in the end that’s what their case relies on: “the special pleading of selfish interests.”

Government art means, well, government art

Is anyone else offended, as I am, that government taxes us to provide for us the art that politicians, bureaucrats, and their sycophants think we should consume? What type of personality feels entitled to forcibly make these personal decisions for others?

Arts organizations need to survive on their own merits. They need to produce a product or service that satisfies their customers and patrons just as any other business or human endeavor must. This is especially true and important with something so personal as art. David Boaz, in his book The Politics of Freedom: Taking on The Left, The Right and Threats to Our Liberties writes this in a chapter titled “The Separation of Art and State”:

It is precisely because art has power, because it deals with basic human truths, that it must be kept separate from government. Government, as I noted earlier, involves the organization of coercion. In a free society coercion should be reserved only for such essential functions of government as protecting rights and punishing criminals. People should not be forced to contribute money to artistic endeavors that they may not approve, nor should artists be forced to trim their sails to meet government standards.

Government funding of anything involves government control. That insight, of course, is part of our folk wisdom: “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” “Who takes the king’s shilling sings the king’s song.”

IMG_1956

Government art. Is this not a sterling example of an oxymoron? Must government weasel its way into every aspect of our lives? And the fact that government arts funding means tax dollars taken through coercion — don’t the government arts promoters realize this? How better to crush the human spirit — the same spirit that the arts are meant to uplift and enrich.

The more important to our culture we believe the arts to be, the stronger the case for getting government out of its funding. The “leveraging” or “seed” effect of government money is why. In a statement opposing the elimination of the Kansas Arts Commission in 2011, executive director Llewellyn Crain explained that “The Kansas Arts Commission provides valuable seed money that leverages private funds …”

This “seed money” effect is precisely why government should not be funding arts. David Boaz explains:

Defenders of arts funding seem blithely unaware of this danger when they praise the role of the national endowments as an imprimatur or seal of approval on artists and arts groups. Jane Alexander says, “The Federal role is small but very vital. We are a stimulus for leveraging state, local and private money. We are a linchpin for the puzzle of arts funding, a remarkably efficient way of stimulating private money.” Drama critic Robert Brustein asks, “How could the [National Endowment for the Arts] be ‘privatized’ and still retain its purpose as a funding agency functioning as a stamp of approval for deserving art?” … I suggest that that is just the kind of power no government in a free society should have.

We give up a lot when we turn over this power to government bureaucrats and arts commission cronies.

Government arts funding means that artists and arts organizations are distanced from their customers. Instead of having to continuously meet the test of the market, they must please government bureaucrats and politicians to get their funding. Instead of producing what the great unwashed mass of people want, they produce what they think will get government funding.

Without government funding, organizations that provide culture and art will have to satisfy their customers by providing products that people really want. That is, products that people are willing to pay for themselves, not what people say they want when someone else is paying the bill. With government funding, these organizations don’t have to face the discipline of the market. They can largely ignore what their customers really want. They can provide what they think their customers want, or, as I suspect is the case, what they believe the people should want, if only we were as enlightened as the elitists that staff arts commissions.

Without the discipline of the market, arts organizations will never know how their customers truly value their product. The safety net of government funding allows them to escape this reality. We have seen this many times in Wichita and Sedgwick County, as organizations fail to generate enough revenue to cover their costs, only to be bailed out by the government. Other businesses learn very quickly what their customers really want — that is, what their customers are willing to pay for — or they go out of business. That’s the profit and loss system. It provides all the feedback we need to determine whether an organization is meeting its customers’ desires. The arts are no different.

Some say that without government support there wouldn’t be any arts or museums. They say that art shouldn’t be subject to the harsh discipline of markets. Personally, I believe there is little doubt that art improves our lives. If we had more art and music, I feel we would have a better state. But asking government commissions to judge how much art and which art we should have is not the way to provide it. Instead, let the people tell us, through the mechanism of markets, what art and culture they really want.

It might turn out that what people want is different than from what government arts commission members believe the people should want. Would that be a surprise? Not to me. In the name of the people, we should disband government arts councils and government funding and let people decide on their own — without government intervention — how to spend their personal arts budgets on what they really value.

(The material by David Boaz is from a speech which may be read here: The Separation of Art and State.)

Downtown Wichita tax base: Growing?

IMG_1956

There’s been much investment in downtown Wichita, we’re told, but the goal of increasing the tax base is farther away rather than closer.

Wichita city leaders have promoted public investment in downtown Wichita as wise because it will increase the tax base.

In his State of the City Address for 2013, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer told the audience (based on his prepared remarks):

As you know, revitalizing downtown has been a key part of growing our community in recent years, recognizing that a healthy and thriving downtown improves our ability to attract new business, keep our young people here, and expand our tax base. With $100 million in completed downtown projects in 2012 and another $115 million starting this year, we’ve made extraordinary progress toward having the downtown that Wichitans have dreamed of. … As development continues downtown, we are closer to reaching our goals of increased pride, an increased tax base, and bringing more businesses and jobs to Wichita.

ssmid-investment-quote-2013

In its report on the economics of downtown Wichita redevelopment, the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation says:

The Downtown SSMID (Self Supported Municipal Improvement District — shown above) has seen a ten-year total amount of $396,850,538 in public investment and $564,776,159 in private investment. SSMID property values have increased over $300 million in the last ten years.

The Wichita Downtown Development Corporation sold the planning process to Wichitans by making the argument that “it will grow existing tax base revenues.”

Wichita downtown self-supporting municipal improvement district (SSMID) boundary map

To evaluate the success of the city’s efforts, we might look at the change in assessed property valuation in downtown Wichita over past years. A way to do that is to look at the valuations for property in the Wichita downtown self-supporting municipal improvement district (SSMID). This is a region of the city that pays an additional property tax to fund the activities of the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation. Its boundaries are roughly the Arkansas River east to Washington, and Kellogg north to Central.

Assessed valuation is the basis for levying property tax. The process starts with an appraised value, which is targeted to be fair market value for the property. Then, that is multiplied by 25 percent for commercial property, or by 11.5 percent for residential property. This produces the assessed value. Multiply that by the sum of the several mill levy rates that apply to the property, and you have the total property tax for that property.

With all the new projects coming online in downtown Wichita, we should expect that the assessed valuation is rising. As someone converts an old, dilapidated property into something more valuable, appraised and assessed values should rise. As new buildings are built, new appraised and assessed value is created where before there was none (or very little). This process is the success story that Mayor Brewer and boosters of public investment in downtown trumpet, as the mayor did twice in one paragraph in his State of the City Address.

So what has happened to the assessed valuation of property in downtown Wichita, using the SSMID as a surrogate?

The answer is that after a period of increasing values, the assessed value of property in downtown has has been declining. The peak was in 2008. The nearby table holds the figures.

This is the opposite of what we’ve been promised. We’ve been told that public investment in downtown Wichita builds up the tax base.

Some might excuse this performance by noting there’s been a recession. That’s true. But according to presentations, there has been much activity in downtown Wichita. Hundreds of millions of dollars in worth, we are told.

So why isn’t the assessed valuation rising? Why is it falling during the time of huge successes?

Wichita downtown self-supporting municipal improvement district (SSMID) assessed property valuation

Data can be viewed here.

Economic freedom improves our lives

economic-chart-upwards-01Economic freedom, in countries where it is allowed to thrive, leads to better lives for people as measured in a variety of ways. This is true for everyone, especially for poor people.

This is the message presented in a short video based on the work of the Economic Freedom of the World report, which is a project of Canada’s Fraser Institute. Two years ago Robert Lawson, one of the authors of the Economic Freedom of the World report, lectured in Wichita on this topic. The current video is made possible by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.

One of the findings highlighted in the presentation is that while the average income in free countries is much higher than that in the least-free countries, the ratio is even higher for the poorest people in these countries. This is consistent with the findings that economic freedom is good for everyone, and even more so for those with low incomes.

Civil rights, a clean environment, long life expectancy, low levels of corruption, less infant mortality, less child labor, and lower unemployment are all associated with greater levels of economic freedom.

What are the components or properties of economic freedom? The presentation lists these:

  • 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.
  • Government stays small, relative to the size of the economy.

Over the last eleven years, the United States’ ranking has fallen relative to other countries, and the presentation says our position is expected to keep falling. The question is asked: “Will our quality of life fall with it?”

Economic freedom is not necessarily the platform of any single political party. It should be noted that for about eight of the past twelve years — a period in which our economic freedom has been falling — there was a Republican president, sometimes with a Republican Congress. The size of government rose. In 2005 the Cato Institute studied the numbers and found that “All presidents presided over net increases in spending overall, though some were bigger spenders than others. As it turns out, George W. Bush is one of the biggest spenders of them all. In fact, he is an even bigger spender than Lyndon B. Johnson in terms of discretionary spending.” This was before the spending on the prescription drug program had started.

Critics of economic freedom

The defining of what economic freedom means is important. Sometimes you’ll see people write things like “Bernie Madoff was only exercising his personal economic freedom while he ran his investment firm.” Madoff, we now know, was a thief. He stole his clients’ money. That’s contrary to property rights, and therefore contrary to economic freedom.

Or, you’ll see people say if you don’t like government, go to Somalia. That country, one of the poorest in the world — but not the poorest — is used as an example of how bad anarchy is as a form of government. The evidence is, however, that Somalia’s former government was so bad that things improved after the fall of that government. See Peter T. Leeson, Better Off Stateless: Somalia Before and After Government Collapse and History of Somalia (1991–2006).

You’ll also encounter people who argue that some countries are poor because they have no natural resources. But there are many countries with few natural resources that have economic freedom and a high standard of living. Most countries that are poor are that way because they are run by corrupt governments that have no respect for economic freedom, and follow policies that stifle it.

Some will argue that economic freedom means the freedom to pollute the environment. But it is in wealthy countries that the environment is respected. Poor countries, where people are struggling just to find food for each day, don’t have the time or wealth to be concerned about the environment.