Tag Archives: Entrepreneurship

Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, showing Kansas highlighted against neighboring states. Click for larger version.

Kauffman index of entrepreneurial activity

The performance of Kansas in entrepreneurial activity is not high, compared to other states.

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation prepares the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity. According to the Foundation, “The Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity is a leading indicator of new business creation in the United States. Capturing new business owners in their first month of significant business activity, this measure provides the earliest documentation of new business development across the country.”

Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, showing Kansas highlighted against neighboring states. Click for larger version.
Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, showing Kansas highlighted against neighboring states. Click for larger version.
As shown by the data, Kansas ranks low in entrepreneurial activity. This is true when Kansas is compared to the nation, and also when compared to a group of nearby states.

I’ve prepared two visualizations that present this data. One holds data for all states. Click here to open it in a new window.

Instructions for using the visualization of Kauffman data. Click for larger version.
Instructions for using the visualization of Kauffman data. Click for larger version.
A second visualization presents the data for Kansas and some nearby states. Click here to open it in a new window.

Visualization created using Tableau Public.

Kansas newspapers against the children

apple-wormA Kansas newspaper editorial illustrates that for the establishment, schools — the institution of public schools, that is — are more important than students.

An unsigned editorial in the Garden City Telegram proclaimed “Another attempt to undermine public schools materialized last week in the Kansas Statehouse.” (Legislators turn to ALEC for poor plan on schools, March 25, 2014.)

What was in a bill that so worried the Telegram editorial writers? According to the op-ed, the dangerous provisions are “expansion of charter schools, overhaul of teacher licensing and tax breaks for private school scholarships.”

To the Telegram, these ideas are “radical” and would “undermine” public schools. These ideas are from American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), purportedly funded by Charles and David Koch. To low-information newspaper editorialists, the source of an idea alone is sufficient evidence to condemn it. To buttress its argument, the Telegram mentions the Koch Brothers several times along with Americans for Prosperity, the tea party, and other “special interests.”

What’s curious is that the op-ed says “ALEC promotes concepts of free-market enterprise and limited government, which are worthy of discussion in legislative pursuits.” It’s good that the op-ed writers realize this. Very good.

But the next sentence criticizes ALEC’s “one-size-fits-all approach.” That’s a strange claim to make. The education reforms that ALEC supports — and the public school establishment hates — are centered around providing more choices for students and parents. The public schools that the Telegram defends are the “one-size-fits-all approach.” School choice programs foster diversity, creativity, and entrepreneurship in education. Government schools are the opposite.

Further, these school choice programs do not “target” public schools, as claimed in this op-ed. It is true that school choice programs provide competition for public schools. But to say that giving choices to parents and students is targeting public schools assumes a few things: First, it assumes that the institution of public schools is more important than Kansas schoolchildren.

Second, it assumes that public schools are somehow more worthy of taxpayer funds than are charter schools and private schools. But should taxpayer funds be spent where government school bureaucrats want, or where parents believe their children will get the best education?

Third, allowing and encouraging competition is not “targeting.” Proclaiming this reveals lack of understanding of economic competition in markets. In the jungle, the winners kill and eat the losers. But in markets, competition is a discovery process. Competition spurs people to innovate with new products, or become more efficient. As new products and services are discovered and refined through competition, the old products and services must adapt or fall by the wayside. But the old stuff doesn’t die, as do animals in the jungles. People and capital assets from failing enterprises are recycled into the new successful enterprises, and life goes on — except everything is better.

That’s the real problem. Kansas schools are not getting better. Editorials like this are part of the problem. It doesn’t help that the Wichita Eagle excerpted this editorial.

In Wichita, more tax for more transit?

Wichita City Hall

In 2014 it is likely that Wichitans will be asked to pay an increased sales tax, part of which would fund the existing bus transit service, as the system is not sustaining itself. Another part of the increased sales tax might expand the service. Wichitans ought to think twice before voting to spend additional taxpayer funds for either reason. In fact, Wichita ought to consider spending less on public transit, and look to the private sector to provide transit that people want to use, and which meets their real needs.

Transit is expensive. To be more precise, government-provided transit is expensive. I’ve gathered data from the National Transit Database and provided it in a more useful format that that provided by the government. You may click here to use this interactive visualization of operating costs. (This table provides the codes that are used.) As for Wichita, the nearby excerpt (click for a larger version) shows that for 2011, the cost per passenger mile for the “regular” bus service was $0.97. This is not the cost to move a bus one mile. It is the cost to move one passenger one mile. This value is not out of line compared to other cities.

wichita-transit-2014-01

If Wichita were to expand its transit service to offer wider coverage and longer hours of service, the cost per passenger mile probably would not go down. We would still have a system that is very expensive, especially considering the level of service that would still be provided.

Can the private sector do better? One thing we could do is to outsource or privatize the transit system. Government would still pay for the system, but the private sector would operate the buses. This would likely be an improvement, as outsourcing almost always results in lower costs and improved service.

(By the way, many people would be surprised to learn of the fraction of expenses paid for through fares. Considering operating expenses only, the number is 13.5 percent. Considering operating and capital costs, just 12.1 percent comes from fare revenue. The remainder is provided by taxpayers. So when a bus rider puts a dollar in the farebox, taxpayers contribute an additional six dollars to fund the system.)

What Wichita could do to really improve service is to allow private competition to the existing transit system. Here’s an example of what could happen:

Brooklyn’s dollar van fleet is a tantalizing demonstration of how we might supplement mass transit with privately-owned mini-transit entrepreneurs.

America’s 20th largest bus service — hauling 120,000 riders a day — is profitable and also illegal. It’s not really a bus service at all, but a willy-nilly aggregation of 350 licensed and 500 unlicensed privately-owned “dollar vans” that roam the streets of Brooklyn and Queens, picking up passengers from street corners where city buses are either missing or inconvenient. The dollar van fleet is a tantalizing demonstration of how we might supplement mass transit to include privately-owned mini-transit entrepreneurs, giving people alternative ways to get around, and creating jobs. (The (Illegal) Private Bus System That Works, The Atlantic.)

This is not an example of government paying a private-sector company to do a job that government formerly did. Instead, this is allowing the private sector to operate on its own, free to succeed or fail based on how well it provides service. It’s allowing the private sector to be flexible and innovative in ways that government bureaucracy, like our transit system, is not able.

There are other things we could do to help improve transit service in Wichita. On his television show, John Stossel recently had a segment on a system called “Lyft.” This is a system available in about a dozen large cities in America, and there are other similar systems. You might sign up to be a driver. You go through a background check, and if you pass, you’re a driver for Lyft. Then people who need a ride use their smart phone to request a trip. You, as a Lyft driver, can decide if you’d like to provide the ride.

After the driver drops off the rider, the rider — that is the customer — decides how much to pay the driver for the ride. The system makes a suggestion, but other than that it’s up to the customer to decide how much to pay. As you might imagine, the system uses feedback to rate both drivers and customers. People in the Lyft system have an incentive to be good providers of service, and also good consumers of service.

Isn’t that a tremendous contrast to the way government works? Government works through force — through taxation — requiring all of us to pay to support a bus system that very few people use. And few people use the system because — like most government programs — the service is lousy. It’s a self-perpetuating feedback loop. Lousy government service leads to few people using the service, which leads to the need for more subsidy. But in the Lyft system people willingly cooperate, aided by technology.

Could Lyft work in Wichita? Not likely, because government stands in the way. I’m pretty sure Lyft would be illegal in Wichita. The city recently passed taxicab regulations that are quite strict: Taxi companies must have a central office, staffed at least 40 hours per week; a dispatch system operating 24 hours per day, seven days per week; enough cabs to operate city-wide service, which the city has determined is ten cabs; and a supervisor on duty at all times cabs are operating.

These regulations stifle innovation and entrepreneurship. Things like Lyft and the dollar vans aren’t compatible with these regulations. These regulations mean that our present transit and taxi service — which no one seems happy with — is all that we will ever have.

Here’s something else: In the Lyft system, passengers ride in the front seat of the car next to the driver. Total strangers do that! Can you imagine if you asked to sit in the front seat of a taxicab in Wichita? This is the private sector versus government-regulated monopolies.

transit-service-in-wichita

Recently the director of the Wichita transit system made a presentation to Wichita City Council members outlining various possibilities about what Wichita could do with bus service. Was allowing the private sector a role in providing transit a possibility? Not that I heard. It’s just not in the DNA of government bureaucrats and unfortunately, many elected officials, to consider letting the private sector do a job.

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.

Wichita won’t consider this, I’m sure

City of Wichita logoAs Wichita considers continuing taxing everyone to pay for a transit system that few people use, and as Wichita considers taxing everyone even more to pay for a bigger transit system that only a few additional people will use, here’s an example of something that I’m sure is not under consideration: Privatization, entrepreneurship, and diversity.

A learning opportunity for Wichita

Next month the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce brings a speaker to town who might be able to offer Wichita helpful advice. As reported in the Wichita Business Journal, “Jim Clifton, the chairman and CEO of Gallup Inc., says cities that create a culture of entrepreneurial development are the ones succeeding today.”

Clifton is the author of The Coming Jobs War. Here’s material from the inside flap of this 2011 book:

WHAT EVERYONE IN THE WORLD WANTS IS A GOOD JOB

In a provocative book for business and government leaders, Gallup Chairman Jim Clifton describes how this undeniable fact will affect all leadership decisions as countries wage war to produce the best jobs.

Leaders of countries and cities, Clifton says, should focus on creating good jobs because as jobs go, so does the fate of nations. Jobs bring prosperity, peace, and human development — but long-term unemployment ruins lives, cities, and countries.

Creating good jobs is tough, and many leaders are doing many things wrong. They’re undercutting entrepreneurs instead of cultivating them. They’re running companies with depressed workforces. They’re letting the next generation of job creators rot in bad schools.

A global jobs war is coming, and there’s no time to waste. Cities are crumbling for lack of good jobs. Nations are in revolt because their people can’t get good jobs. The cities and countries that act first — that focus everything they have on creating good jobs — are the ones that will win.

visioineering-wichita-video-thumbnail

It sounds like Clifton has some good advice that Wichita could follow in two areas: Fostering entrepreneurship and improving schools. Wichita certainly needs help in creating jobs. In the nearby video, the record of job growth for Wichita, the nation, and our Visioneering peers (Kansas City, Omaha, Oklahoma City, and Tulsa) is presented. (Click here to watch the video on YouTube, which may work best.) If you don’t have time to watch, I’ll let you know that Wichita performs badly in this comparison. In last place, that is.

why-kansas-school-standards-low-video

Regarding schools, the record of Kansas schools is not as good as it first appears if we look beyond a simple comparison of NAEP scores with other states. As shown in Kansas school test scores, a hidden story, Kansas trails Texas in most areas of comparison. Further, the National Center for Education Statistics, in the most recent version of Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales, found that Kansas had weakened some of its standards. NCES judged Kansas’ standards as being low to begin with, and then they were lowered farther. This was during the years immediately after the Kansas Supreme Court ordered higher school spending, and while the legislature complied with that order. See Why are Kansas school standards so low?

But our government leaders in Wichita and Kansas won’t recognize these facts, at least not publicly.

Entrepreneurship in Wichita

Wichita’s economic development policies are definitely stacked against the entrepreneur. As Wichita props up its established industries, it makes it more difficult for young firms to thrive. Wichita uses programs that are targeted investment in our economic future, our elected officials and bureaucrats believing that 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 and Kansas 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.

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 IRB, EDX, PEAK, and HPIP are examples 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 July 28, 2013

WichitaLiberty.TV logo

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV, economist Dr. Russell Sobel joins host Bob Weeks. Topics include local economic development incentives, the environment of favor-seeking, how regulation stifles entrepreneurship, the seen and the unseen, the broken window fallacy, and Dr. Sobel’s research on how intergovernmental grants lead to higher taxes. Episode 6, broadcast July 28, 2013.

Links to material mentioned in this episode:
Dr. Sobel’s page.
Unleashing Capitalism.
Do intergovernmental grants create ratchets in state and local taxes?
Bastiat: What is seen and not seen, and the broken window.

Without government, there would be no change: Wichita Mayor

It’s worse than President Obama saying “You didn’t build that.” Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer tells us you can’t build that — not without government guidance and intervention, anyway.

City of Wichita logoWhen President Barack Obama told business owners “You didn’t build that,” it set off a bit of a revolt. Those who worked hard to build businesses didn’t like to hear the president dismiss their efforts.

Underlying this episode is a serious question: What should be the role of government in the economy? Should government’s role be strictly limited, according to the Constitution? Or should government take an activist role in managing, regulating, subsidizing, and penalizing in order to get the results politicians and bureaucrats desire?

Historian Burton W. Folsom has concluded that it is the private sector — free people, not government — that drives innovation: “Time and again, experience has shown that while private enterprise, carried on in an environment of open competition, delivers the best products and services at the best price, government intervention stifles initiative, subsidizes inefficiency, and raises costs.”

But some don’t agree. They promote government management and intervention into the economy. Whatever their motivation might be, however it was they formed their belief, they believe that without government oversight of the economy, things won’t happen.

But in Wichita, it’s even worse. Without government, it is claimed that not only would we stop growing, economic progress would revert to a previous century.

Mayor Carl Brewer made these claims in a 2008 meeting of the Wichita City Council.

In his remarks (transcript and video below), Brewer said “if government had not played some kind of role in guiding and identifying how the city was going to grow, how any city was going to grow, I’d be afraid of what that would be. Because we would still be in covered wagons and horses. There would be no change.”

When I heard him say that, I thought he’s just using rhetorical flair to emphasize a point. But later on he said this about those who advocate for economic freedom instead of government planning and control: “… then tomorrow we’ll be saying we don’t want more technology, and then the following day we’ll be saying we don’t want public safety, and it won’t take us very long to get back to where we were at back when the city first settled.”

Brewer’s remarks are worse than “You didn’t build that.” The mayor of Wichita is telling us you can’t build that — not without government guidance and intervention, anyway.

Many people in Wichita, including the mayor and most on the city council and county commission, believe that the public-private partnership is the way to drive innovation and get things done. It’s really a shame that this attitude is taking hold in Wichita, a city which has such a proud tradition of entrepreneurship. The names that Wichitans are rightly proud of — Lloyd Stearman, Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna, W.C. Coleman, Albert Alexander Hyde, Dan and Frank Carney, and Fred C. Koch — these people worked and built businesses without the benefit of public-private partnerships and government subsidy.

This tradition of entrepreneurship is disappearing, replaced by the public-private partnership and programs like Visioneering Wichita, sustainable communities, Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP), and rampant cronyism. Although when given a chance, voters are rejecting cronyism.

We don’t have long before the entrepreneurial spirit in Wichita is totally subservient to government. What can we do to return power to the people instead of surrendering it to government?

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, August 12, 2008:

“You know, I think that a lot of individuals have a lot of views and opinions about philosophy as to, whether or not, what role the city government should play inside of a community or city. But it’s always interesting to hear various different individuals’ philosophy or their view as to what that role is, and whether or not government or policy makers should have any type of input whatsoever.

“I would be afraid, because I’ve had an opportunity to hear some of the views, and under the models of what individuals’ logic and thinking is, if government had not played some kind of role in guiding and identifying how the city was going to grow, how any city was going to grow, I’d be afraid of what that would be. Because we would still be in covered wagons and horses. There would be no change.

“Because the stance is let’s not do anything. Just don’t do anything. Hands off. Just let it happen. So if society, if technology, and everything just goes off and leaves you behind, that’s okay. Just don’t do anything. I just thank God we have individuals that have enough gumption to step forward and say I’m willing to make a change, I’m willing to make a difference, I’m willing to improve the community. Because they don’t want to acknowledge the fact that improving the quality of life, improving the various different things, improving bringing in businesses, cleaning up street, cleaning up neighborhoods, doing those things, helping individuals feel good about themselves: they don’t want to acknowledge that those types of things are important, and those types of things, there’s no way you can assess or put a a dollar amount to it.

“Not everyone has the luxury to live around a lake, or be able to walk out in their backyard or have someone come over and manicure their yard for them, not everyone has that opportunity. Most have to do that themselves.

“But they want an environment, sometimes you have to have individuals to come in and to help you, and I think that this is one of those things that going to provide that.

“This community was a healthy thriving community when I was a kid in high school. I used to go in and eat pizza after football games, and all the high school students would go and celebrate.

“But, just like anything else, things become old, individuals move on, they’re forgotten in time, maybe the city didn’t make the investments that they should have back then, and they walk off and leave it.

“But new we have someone whose interested in trying to revive it. In trying to do something a little different. In trying to instill pride in the neighborhood, trying to create an environment where it’s enticing for individuals to want to come back there, or enticing for individuals to want to live there.

“So I must commend those individuals for doing that. But if we say we start today and say that we don’t want to start taking care of communities, then tomorrow we’ll be saying we don’t want more technology, and then the following day we’ll be saying we don’t want public safety, and it won’t take us very long to get back to where we were at back when the city first settled.

“So I think this is something that’s a good venture, it’s a good thing for the community, we’ve heard from the community, we’ve seen the actions of the community, we saw it on the news what these communities are doing because they know there’s that light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve seen it on the news. They’ve been reporting it in the media, what this particular community has been doing, and what others around it.

“And you know what? The city partnered with them, to help them generate this kind of energy and this type of excitement and this type of pride.

“So I think this is something that’s good. And I know that there’s always going to be people who are naysayers, that they’re just not going to be happy. And I don’t want you to let let this to discourage you, and I don’t want the comments that have been heard today to discourage the citizens of those neighborhoods. And to continue to doing the great work that they’re doing, and to continue to have faith, and to continue that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that there is a value that just can’t be measured of having pride in your community and pride in your neighborhood, and yes we do have a role to be able to help those individuals trying to help themselves.”

Entrepreneurial activity, Kansas vs. other states

Entrepreneurship, EntrepreneurEntrepreneurship is important for a growing and dynamic economy. The performance of Kansas in entrepreneurial activity is not high, compared to other states.

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation prepares the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity. According to the Foundation, “The Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity improves over other possible measures of entrepreneurship because of its timeliness, dynamic nature, inclusion of all types of business activity, exclusion of ‘casual’ businesses, and information on owner demographics.”

The following interactive visualization presents KIEA data. You may use the visualization below, or click here to open it in a new window, which may work better, as this is a large visualization. Use Ctrl+Click to add or remove states for comparison. Data is from Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity. Visualization created by myself using Tableau Public.

Wichita sees results of new economic development policy

The first action under a new Wichita economic development policy doesn’t produce economic growth, and in fact, harms the Wichita economy.

Government takes and gives

A feature of Wichita’s recently-revised economic development policy grants property tax and sales tax forgiveness for speculative industrial buildings. These are buildings built without having a tenant in place. The proposed plan had a formula that grants a higher percentage of tax forgiveness as building size increases, but the council eliminated that and voted a 100 percent tax abatement for all buildings larger than 50,000 square feet.

Given tax costs and industrial building rents, this policy gives these incentivized buildings a cost advantage of about 20 percent over competitors. That’s very high, and makes it difficult for existing buildings to compete. Probably no one will build these buildings unless they qualify for and receive this incentive.

The city hopes that these incentivized buildings will generate new jobs in Wichita. But there appears to be nothing in the policy that prevents existing Wichita companies from moving to these buildings. If this happens, it doesn’t create any new jobs. The company that moves will save a lot in property taxes. Some other landlord in Wichita will have empty space, not through his own fault, but because of Wichita city policy.

This is what has happened. The first tenant for the first building built under this incentive policy is a company already in Wichita. It’s simply moving its existing operations within the city. The Wichita Business Journal reports that an existing Wichita company will vacate its current space to move in to the new building. It will use about one-third of the available space. (Big industrial spec building signs first tenant)

(Paying less in property taxes is good, as money remains in the private sector instead of being transferred to government. But city hall doesn’t believe this. Politicians and bureaucrats want to increase the tax base, but here is an example of giving it away.)

Will the owners of speculative buildings rent only to companies newly moving to Wichita, or will they rent to whoever is willing to pay? Will Wichita companies want to move to a new building with cheaper rent? We now have answers to these questions. So far, the city’s new policy has simply moved jobs from one location to another, creating no new jobs. It has harmed landlords with existing buildings.

Existing industrial landlords in Wichita — especially those with available space to rent — must be wondering why they attempt to stay in business when city hall sets up subsidized competitors with new buildings and a large cost advantage.

Citizens must wonder about equality. A principle of taxation is that everyone pays equally, and that policy should be applied uniformly. But this program creates a special class of landlords and tenants who do not have to bear their full share of the cost of city, county, school district, and state government.

Do incentives work?

We must ask ourselves what do we really get for the cost of incentives. Alan Peters and Peter Fisher wrote an academic paper titled The Failures of Economic Development Incentives, published in Journal of the American Planning Association. A few quotes from the study, with emphasis added:

Given the weak effects of incentives on the location choices of businesses at the interstate level, state governments and their local governments in the aggregate probably lose far more revenue, by cutting taxes to firms that would have located in that state anyway than they gain from the few firms induced to change location.

On the three major questions — Do economic development incentives create new jobs? Are those jobs taken by targeted populations in targeted places? Are incentives, at worst, only moderately revenue negative? — traditional economic development incentives do not fare well. It is possible that incentives do induce significant new growth, that the beneficiaries of that growth are mainly those who have greatest difficulty in the labor market, and that both states and local governments benefit fiscally from that growth. But after decades of policy experimentation and literally hundreds of scholarly studies, none of these claims is clearly substantiated. Indeed, as we have argued in this article, there is a good chance that all of these claims are false.

The most fundamental problem is that many public officials appear to believe that they can influence the course of their state or 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 their expectations about their ability to micromanage economic growth and making the case for a more sensible view of the role of government — providing the foundations for growth through sound fiscal practices, quality public infrastructure, and good education systems — and then letting the economy take care of itself.

In 2008 Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit investigated spending on economic development. It found about the same as did Peters and Fisher.

There is one incentive that can be offered to all firms: Reduce tax costs for all. The Tax Foundation report from last year should be a shrill wake up call to the city and state that we must change our ways.

There is a lesson to be learned: Economic development incentives have a cost. Other businesses (and people) have to pay these costs. That only increases the motivation to seek incentives from the city and state. In fact, it may make it necessary to receive subsidies in order to be competitive with those companies who have incentives.

All this raises the cost of government. It’s a spiral that leads to ever-increasing control of economic activity by city hall. If all this produced results, that would be one thing. But Wichita has been lagging in economic growth for many years. The results of the first project undertaken under a new Wichita economic development policy holds clues as to why Wichita lags behind.

Wichita needs to build a dynamic economy that is based on free enterprise and entrepreneurship rather than government planning and handouts. This is the way we can have organic and sustainable economic development that will increase jobs and prosperity for everyone.

Kansas editorial writers aren’t helping

Recently it has become fashionable for newspapers to carry editorials bemoaning the current state of affairs in Kansas, contrasting the current regime to a tradition of moderation in Kansas governance. In particular, Governor Sam Brownback is singled out for criticism.

Examples of such columns are Kansas 1861-2013 in the Hutchinson News, Kansas slipping away from its people in the Topeka Capital-Journal, and Which Kansas is that? in the Wichita Eagle.

The common thread in these articles is willing ignorance of the facts. I say willing ignorance because these writers ought to know facts. If they don’t know facts about the Kansas economy and schools, we have to wonder why they are writing editorials that will be read by thousands of Kansans?

Here’s a brief rundown of the state of Kansas:

Kansas population has been growing at a slower rate than the country. A chart is here.

Kansas has been growing jobs at a slower rate than many other states. Here’s a link to an interactive visualization of job growth in the states. You can compare Kansas to any other state or combination of states. Should we be satisfied with the performance of Kansas compared to other states over the past few decades? No, we shouldn’t be satisfied with our record during the period that these editorialists write about.

Kansas has been growing its private-sector gross domestic product at a rate slower than most states. An interactive visualization is here.

Kansas has lost ground in interstate migrants. Many more people leave Kansas for other states than move to Kansas, as can be seen here. In the 2012 United Van Lines migration study, Kansas is seen as “balanced.” But Atlas has more outbound shipments than inbound.

While Kansas newspaper editorial writers like to boast of outstanding public schools, a proper examination of NAEP scores finds that Kansas can’t do better than Texas, a state that we often compare with ourselves in a negative way. Comparing Kansas to national averages, Kansas performs well compared to other states in math and reading in grades four and eight, scoring better than the national average in all these cases. But if we look at the data separated by racial/ethnic subgroups, something different becomes apparent: Kansas lags behind the national average in some of these areas. A table of these figures is here.

Regarding Texas again: Editorial writers say that because Texas has no income tax, its property and sales taxes are higher. Perhaps. But overall, Texas collects less taxes from its citizens. In 2011 Kansas state government collected $2,378 in taxes for each person. Texas collected $1,682. Texas may have higher sales or property taxes than Kansas, but the total tax burden in Texas is lower.

Spending follows the same pattern. In 2011 Kansas state government spent $5,115 per person in total, with $1,974 in general fund spending and $130 in bond spending. For Texas the total was $3,718 spent per person in total, with $1,654 in general fund spending and $50 in bond spending. The lower level of spending means Texas has a less burdensome state government, which allows more money to remain in the productive private sector. In Kansas, we spend more on government.

The “sea of oil” and bountiful severance tax revenue that newspaper editorial writers say benefits Texas but not Kansas: In 2011 Kansas, which has a severance tax of its own, collected $42.54 in this form of tax for each person. Texas collected $104.29 per person in its severance tax. The difference between the two — $61.75 per person per year — is only a small portion of the difference between Kansas and Texas taxation.

I could go on. But the more facts one states, the more criticism one receives.

It’s not that what our governor is doing is perfect. It wasn’t the best course to single out certain forms of business organization to receive tax cuts. Everyone should have their taxes cut the same way.

Governor Brownback still meddles in the economy, supporting harmful policies like the renewable portfolio standard for electricity generation. The Hutchinson News editorial wrote of how “Kansas proved to be a state teeming with inventiveness, ingenuity, determination and a savvy sense of business” and mentioned iconic Kansas-founded companies like Cessna, Beech, Stearman, Coleman, Pizza Hut, and White Castle. But today our state is strangling entrepreneurs, expanding control over economic development under the Brownback regime. Kansas has expanded the realm of public-private partnerships to the detriment of entrepreneurship. Cities like Wichita implement new regulations over industries like parking lot striping, taxicab driving, and haunted house attractions.

Instead of moving to a modern pension system for state employees, we’re considering borrowing money to cover up the mistakes of the past, with no reform forthcoming and few lessons learned.

Most inexplicably, Governor Brownback was absent in this year’s debate over important school reform measures like charter schools and school choice. These are initiatives that are working in other states, but not in Kansas.

It isn’t supportive of our state (or county, city, or school district) to overlook facts in order to create a false impression of a prosperous state with successful schools. Yet that’s exactly what these newspaper editorials want us to do.

If we don’t learn the facts and if we don’t accept the facts, we don’t have a common base of understanding and a common starting point for debate. Even if the facts are uncomfortable — especially then — we must recognize where we’ve been and what is the actual condition of our state.

Hoping that Kansans won’t notice might be politically expedient. Both parties can be guilty of valuing political gain more than the health of Kansas. But it’s a severe loss to Kansas that these newspaper editorial writers will not recognize facts, and a shame that they prefer political attacks to reality.

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer on role of government

When President Barack Obama told business owners “You didn’t build that,” it set off a bit of a revolt. Those who worked hard to build businesses didn’t like to hear the president dismiss their efforts.

Underlying this episode is a serious question: What should be the role of government in the economy? Should government’s role be strictly limited, according to the Constitution? Or should government take an activist role in managing, regulating, subsidizing, and penalizing in order to get the results politicians and bureaucrats desire?

Historian Burton W. Folsom has concluded that it is the private sector — free people, not government — that drives innovation: “Time and again, experience has shown that while private enterprise, carried on in an environment of open competition, delivers the best products and services at the best price, government intervention stifles initiative, subsidizes inefficiency, and raises costs.”

But some don’t agree. They promote government management and intervention into the economy. Whatever their motivation might be, however it was they formed their belief, they believe that without government oversight of the economy, things won’t happen.

But in Wichita, it’s even worse. Without government, it is claimed that not only would we stop growing, economic progress would revert to a previous century.

Mayor Carl Brewer made these claims in a 2008 meeting of the Wichita City Council.

In his remarks (transcript and video below), Brewer said “if government had not played some kind of role in guiding and identifying how the city was going to grow, how any city was going to grow, I’d be afraid of what that would be. Because we would still be in covered wagons and horses. There would be no change.”

When I heard him say that, I thought he’s just using rhetorical flair to emphasize a point. But later on he said this about those who advocate for economic freedom instead of government planning and control: “… then tomorrow we’ll be saying we don’t want more technology, and then the following day we’ll be saying we don’t want public safety, and it won’t take us very long to get back to where we were at back when the city first settled.”

Brewer’s remarks are worse than “You didn’t build that.” The mayor of Wichita is telling us you can’t build that — not without government guidance and intervention, anyway.

Many people in Wichita, including the mayor and most on the city council and county commission, believe that the public-private partnership is the way to drive innovation and get things done. It’s really a shame that this attitude is taking hold in Wichita, a city which has such a proud tradition of entrepreneurship. The names that Wichitans are rightly proud of — Lloyd Stearman, Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna, W.C. Coleman, Albert Alexander Hyde, Dan and Frank Carney, and Fred C. Koch — these people worked and built businesses without the benefit of public-private partnerships and government subsidy.

This tradition of entrepreneurship is disappearing, replaced by the public-private partnership and programs like Visioneering Wichita, sustainable communities, Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP), and rampant cronyism. Although when given a chance, voters are rejecting cronyism.

We don’t have long before the entrepreneurial spirit in Wichita is totally subservient to government. What can we do to return power to the people instead of surrendering it to government?

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, August 12, 2008: You know, I think that a lot of individuals have a lot of views and opinions about philosophy as to, whether or not, what role the city government should play inside of a community or city. But it’s always interesting to hear various different individuals’ philosophy or their view as to what that role is, and whether or not government or policy makers should have any type of input whatsoever.

I would be afraid, because I’ve had an opportunity to hear some of the views, and under the models of what individuals’ logic and thinking is, if government had not played some kind of role in guiding and identifying how the city was going to grow, how any city was going to grow, I’d be afraid of what that would be. Because we would still be in covered wagons and horses. There would be no change.

Because the stance is let’s not do anything. Just don’t do anything. Hands off. Just let it happen. So if society, if technology, and everything just goes off and leaves you behind, that’s okay. Just don’t do anything. I just thank God we have individuals that have enough gumption to step forward and say I’m willing to make a change, I’m willing to make a difference, I’m willing to improve the community. Because they don’t want to acknowledge the fact that improving the quality of life, improving the various different things, improving bringing in businesses, cleaning up street, cleaning up neighborhoods, doing those things, helping individuals feel good about themselves: they don’t want to acknowledge that those types of things are important, and those types of things, there’s no way you can assess or put a a dollar amount to it.

Not everyone has the luxury to live around a lake, or be able to walk out in their backyard or have someone come over and manicure their yard for them, not everyone has that opportunity. Most have to do that themselves.

But they want an environment, sometimes you have to have individuals to come in and to help you, and I think that this is one of those things that going to provide that.

This community was a healthy thriving community when I was a kid in high school. I used to go in and eat pizza after football games, and all the high school students would go and celebrate.

But, just like anything else, things become old, individuals move on, they’re forgotten in time, maybe the city didn’t make the investments that they should have back then, and they walk off and leave it.

But new we have someone whose interested in trying to revive it. In trying to do something a little different. In trying to instill pride in the neighborhood, trying to create an environment where it’s enticing for individuals to want to come back there, or enticing for individuals to want to live there.

So I must commend those individuals for doing that. But if we say we start today and say that we don’t want to start taking care of communities, then tomorrow we’ll be saying we don’t want more technology, and then the following day we’ll be saying we don’t want public safety, and it won’t take us very long to get back to where we were at back when the city first settled.

So I think this is something that’s a good venture, it’s a good thing for the community, we’ve heard from the community, we’ve seen the actions of the community, we saw it on the news what these communities are doing because they know there’s that light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve seen it on the news. They’ve been reporting it in the media, what this particular community has been doing, and what others around it.

And you know what? The city partnered with them, to help them generate this kind of energy and this type of excitement and this type of pride.

So I think this is something that’s good. And I know that there’s always going to be people who are naysayers, that they’re just not going to be happy. And I don’t want you to let let this to discourage you, and I don’t want the comments that have been heard today to discourage the citizens of those neighborhoods. And to continue to doing the great work that they’re doing, and to continue to have faith, and to continue that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that there is a value that just can’t be measured of having pride in your community and pride in your neighborhood, and yes we do have a role to be able to help those individuals trying to help themselves.

Wichita taxicab regulations likely to impede progress

Tomorrow the Wichita City Council will consider new taxicab regulations that, city hall hopes, will improve tax service in Wichita. But the regulations create high barriers to entry that stifle entrepreneurship and market competition, likely dooming the program to fail.

The problem is that some feel that Wichita’s taxicab companies are not delivering good service. There have been complaints about both the drivers and the conditions of cabs. Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer said he was tired of hearing complaints about the taxicabs. He has tired slowly, however, as it’s taken eleven years of Brewer as either city council member or mayor for a solution to be proposed.

In some cities, the permit or medallion to operate a cab costs many thousands of dollars, even hundreds of thousands in New York City and other large cities. Wichita’s proposed fees are not exorbitant: Just $200 annually for a taxicab company and $100 annually per taxicab. (In Wichita there are three taxicab companies, but two have the same ownership.)

Further, Wichita does not restrict the number of taxicab companies, the number of cabs, or prohibit cruising for fares, as do some cities. This sounds like light-handed regulation, which if so, should induce new entrants to the market for providing taxi service. The market competition thereby created would normally be expected to drive down fares and improve service.

But Wichita’s regulations create substantial barriers to entering the taxicab market. Some of the most restrictive include these: A central office, staffed at least 40 hours per week; a dispatch system operating 24 hours per day, seven days per week; enough cabs to operate city-wide service, which the city has determined is ten cabs; and a supervisor on duty at all times cabs are operating.

These requirements, in effect, eliminate the small-time entrepreneur and the solo operator from entering the market. Things like dispatch systems, a central office, a fleet of ten taxicabs, and supervisors sound good. But these are costly, and they aren’t all necessary to get started in the business, or even perhaps to thrive. Since some of the complaints are the lack of available cabs at the airport, we need more cabs, not fewer.

If a person wanted to simply concentrate on picking up fares from the airport or cruising downtown looking for street hails, a dispatch system is not necessary. Neither is a supervisor or an office.

Yes, a cab without a dispatch system will miss out on fares that other cabs will be able to service. But the decision as to whether to use a dispatch system should be made by taxicab drivers or owners, not the city. Certainly, for some drivers and companies the economic benefit of such systems will become apparent, and they will invest in them. Others won’t.

The regulations in Wichita make it difficult for new taxicab operators to enter the market, leaving the city’s citizens and visitors served by a near-monopoly of two companies. That hasn’t worked out well, at least according to city officials. A new government regulator with a new set of regulations to enforce isn’t likely to help create a thriving market for taxicabs in Wichita.

But these market-based considerations and potential solutions, evidently, are not considered by the city. At a workshop on the topic, Council Member Michael O’Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita) noted the near-monopoly of taxicabs companies and asked if the city had looked at ways of creating more competition in the market?

The presenter of the proposed regulations, a public management fellow in the city manager’s office, said, simply, “we have not, no.” (We’re left to wonder if this proposed regulatory expansion is just an exercise, or make-work, for a recent graduate of the school of public administration at Wichita State University.) City Manager Robert Layton interjected, adding “we are believers in the free market system,” saying that he hoped that the new regulations and fare structure would make it easier to enter the market. I don’t think anyone at the meeting picked up on the irony.

Southfork TIF should, again, be rejected

Tomorrow the Wichita City Council considers the formation of a tax increment financing (TIF) district in south Wichita. Known as the Southfork TIF District, the developer is Wichitan Jay Maxwell. His agent is Tim Austin.

The TIF proposal has been revised since it was approved by the Wichita city council last December, but rejected by the Sedgwick County Commission in January. Like all TIF districts, this form of government intervention in the economy does more harm than good, and should be rejected.

TIF is not free money

Supporters of TIF usually contend that TIF has no cost. This is not the case. This new development will consume fire, police, and other governmental services, but will not contribute its share of property taxes to pay for these. Instead, some portion of the property taxes will be redirected back to the TIF district to benefit the developers. Others will have to pay taxes to make up this deficit, or will have to accept a reduced level of service. See Tax increment financing is not free money.

There’s also the “but-for” argument: without the benefit of TIF, the project will not be built, and therefore no tax revenue would be received. It’s a powerful argument, if it were really true. But those who seek this type of government funding can always find a way to make their financial projections “prove” the need for TIF money. Governments then take them at their word.

We might ask ourselves this question: If TIF is truly without cost, why not have more TIF districts? Why not offer TIF for all new development?

The role of politics

Maxwell and Austin have some queer ideas regarding the nature of markets and politics. In an email message to supporters of the Southfork TIF, Austin wrote: “There are many underlying political winds working against the Southfork TIF.” In another email message, he wrote: “As I mentioned previously, there are underlying political interests at play that appear to be making this a political matter as opposed to a vote the merits of the TIF, the project, and South Wichita.”

Austin has it exactly backwards. It is he and Maxwell who are arguing for using the political process to enrich themselves. Those such as myself who oppose government interventions like TIF are arguing against using the political process — against making this a political matter, that is.

The supporters of government intervention such as TIF often make claims of “market failure.” They claim that the free market system has failed to deliver what they want, so they make appeals to government to intervene. This moves society away from markets and civil society and toward politics and cronyism.

In reality, markets do quite well in allocating the resources of our economy, despite the claims of many, including historians who should know better. There are those who may feel they’re not getting everything they deserve through the market process, but that’s no reason to introduce the tremendous inefficiencies and distortions that the political process brings with it. In his book How Capitalism Saved America: The Untold History of Our Country, From the Pilgrims to the Present, Thomas J. DiLorenzo explained:

Most historians also uncritically repeat the claim that government subsidies were necessary to building America’s transcontinental railroad industry, steamship industry, steel industry, and other industries. But while clinging to this “market failure” argument, they ignore (or at least are unaware of) the fact that market entrepreneurs performed quite well without government subsidies. They also ignore the fact that the subsidies themselves were a great source of inefficiency and business failure, even though they enriched the direct recipients of the subsidies and advanced the political careers of those who dished them out.

Political entrepreneurs and their governmental patrons are the real villains of American business history and should be portrayed as such. They are the real robber barons.

The idea of “market failure” is used by the promoters of this TIF district. They claim that only government — that is, politics — can make things right, at least according to their vision.

Political entrepreneurs, by the way, are those who seek their profits through government, not markets. Instead of seeking to create products and services that please customers, they seek to please politicians and bureaucrats. This move away from market entrepreneurship to political entrepreneurship is especially sad in Wichita, where we have a proud tradition of market entrepreneurs with famous names: Lloyd Stearman, Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna, W.C. Coleman, Albert Alexander Hyde, Dan and Frank Carney, Fred C. Koch, and many others.

Do TIF districts work?

In deciding whether TIF districts “work” we must come to an agreement of what “work” means. Generally, most supporters of TIF — besides the obvious motivations of the developers who are directly enriched by them — claim increased development and jobs.

But there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary.

As far as increased development: Yes, that generally happens within the TIF district. But what about the overall city? The answer is that TIF is harmful.

Regarding the effect of tax increment financing (TIF) districts on economic development, economists Richard F. Dye and David F. Merriman have studied the issue extensively. Their paper The Effects of Tax Increment Financing on Economic Development bluntly states the overall impact of TIF: “We find clear and consistent evidence that municipalities that adopt TIF grow more slowly after adoption than those that do not.”

Later in the same paper the authors conclude: “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.” More on their work is at Tax increment financing (TIF) and economic growth.

Others may support TIF for its purported positive impact on employment. Sure, it’s easy to drive by a TIF district and see people at work. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

One person who looked at the effect of TIF on employment in the entire city is economist Paul F. Byrne. He concluded this: “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.”

More on his work is at Does tax increment financing (TIF) deliver on its promise of jobs?

We must conclude that TIF does not meet the goals of increased development and/or jobs, if we consider the impact on everyone. What we’re left with is the well-known problem that public choice economics — the economics of politics — has described: Concentrated benefits and dispersed costs. It’s the reason why those who seek enrichment at Wichita City Hall and other governments make so many political campaign contributions.

This particular applicant

We also need to look at the characteristics of this applicant. The Wichita Business Journal reported this regarding a company Maxwell owned:

Pixius proposes to repay, over a 10-year period, $1.3 million of a $6.4 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service, according to court documents. The loan was part of a 2002 Farm Bill pilot program that loaned more than $180 million to ISPs to expand Internet service to rural areas.

“To my memory … Pixius is the only one (to receive a loan) that’s had to file bankruptcy to work out of its situation,” says Claiborn Crain, USDA spokesman.

When the government helped out Maxwell in the past, it cost taxpayers $5.1 million in a loan discharged in bankruptcy. His company is set apart from other similar companies in that, according to the USDA spokesman, only Maxwell’s declared bankruptcy.

I suggest that Maxwell has had his turn at the government funding trough. Taxpayers can’t afford to give him another.

In Wichita, Southfork TIF is politics, and therefore should be rejected

Last month the Wichita City Council approved the formation of a TIF district in south Wichita. Known as the Southfork TIF District, the developer is Wichitan Jay Maxwell. This week the matter will appear before the Sedgwick County Commission, as it may, under law, decide to veto the formation of the district.

Maxwell himself rarely appears at meetings of governmental agencies, sending his agent Tim Austin of Poe & Associates, Inc. instead.

The role of politics

Maxwell and Austin have some queer ideas regarding the nature of markets and politics. In an email message to supporters of the Southfork TIF, Austin wrote: “There are many underlying political winds working against the Southfork TIF.” In another email message, he wrote: “As I mentioned previously, there are underlying political interests at play that appear to be making this a political matter as opposed to a vote the merits of the TIF, the project, and South Wichita.”

Austin has it exactly backwards. It is he who is arguing for using the political process to enrich himself and Maxwell. Those such as myself and Americans for Prosperity who oppose government interventions such as this are arguing against using the political process — against making this a political matter, that is.

The supporters of government intervention such as TIF often make claims of “market failure.” They claim that the free market system has failed to deliver what they want, so they make appeals to government to intervene. This, of course, moves society away from markets and civil society and toward the politics that Austin seems to disdain.

In reality, markets do quite well in allocating the resources of our economy, despite the claims of many, including historians who should know better. There are those who may feel they’re not getting everything they deserve through the market process, but that’s no reason to introduce the tremendous inefficiencies and distortions that the political process brings with it. In his book How Capitalism Saved America: The Untold History of Our Country, From the Pilgrims to the Present, Thomas J. DiLorenzo explained:

Most historians also uncritically repeat the claim that government subsidies were necessary to building America’s transcontinental railroad industry, steamship industry, steel industry, and other industries. But while clinging to this “market failure” argument, they ignore (or at least are unaware of) the fact that market entrepreneurs performed quite well without government subsidies. They also ignore the fact that the subsidies themselves were a great source of inefficiency and business failure, even though they enriched the direct recipients of the subsidies and advanced the political careers of those who dished them out.

Political entrepreneurs and their governmental patrons are the real villains of American business history and should be portrayed as such. They are the real robber barons.

The idea of “market failure” is used by the promoters of this TIF district — as do supporters of TIF districts. They claim that only government — that is, politics — can make things right, at least according to their vision.

The idea that there are two classes of entrepreneurs — market and political — is explained by Helen Cochran in her book review of The Myth of the Robber Barons: A New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America by Burton Folsom. Cochran wrote:

According to Folsom, “political entrepreneurs” are those that seek government/taxpayer subsidy, public private partnerships, protective tariffs, special privileges, etc. Folsom makes a sound case that economic development fueled by political intervention invariably fails and undermines the very ideology it purports to serve.

On the other hand “market entrepreneurs” are those that obtain their successes by producing a product that is better and of more value to the consumer, unbridled by the government controls and restrictions that come with subsidy. No one can argue that it is the market entrepreneurs that create the wealth in this country.

The essence of political entrepreneurship is that Austin and Maxwell find it easier to convince a majority of the Wichita City Council, and now the Sedgwick County Commission, of the superiority of their plans than it is to convince others through the market process. They want to replace the collective knowledge of free people trading voluntarily in markets with the political process — that is, with the judgments of bureaucrats and politicians.

Do TIF districts work?

In deciding whether TIF districts “work” we must come to an agreement of what “work” means. Generally, most supporters of TIF — besides the obvious motivations of the developers who are directly enriched by them — claim increased development and jobs.

But there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary.

As far as increased development: Yes, that generally happens within the TIF district. But what about the overall city? The answer is that TIF is harmful.

Regarding the effect of tax increment financing (TIF) districts on economic development, economists Richard F. Dye and David F. Merriman have studied the issue extensively. Their paper The Effects of Tax Increment Financing on Economic Development bluntly states the overall impact of TIF: “We find clear and consistent evidence that municipalities that adopt TIF grow more slowly after adoption than those that do not.”

Later in the same paper the authors conclude: “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.” More on their work is at Tax increment financing (TIF) and economic growth.

Others may support TIF for its purported positive impact on employment. Sure, it’s easy to drive by a TIF district and see people at work. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

One person who looked at the effect of TIF on employment in the entire city is economist Paul F. Byrne. He concluded this: “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.”

More on his work is at Does tax increment financing (TIF) deliver on its promise of jobs?

So considering the high-minded goals of politicians and bureaucrats, we must conclude that TIF does not meet the goals of increased development and/or jobs, if we consider the impact on everyone. What we’re left with is the well-known problem that public choice economics — the economics of politics — has described: Concentrated benefits and dispersed costs. It’s the reason why those who seek enrichment at Wichita City Hall and other governments make so many political campaign contributions.

This particular TIF district

In a document prepared for Sedgwick County Commissioners by the county’s Finance Division, this TIF district is analyzed.

One startling conclusion: “The Southfork area qualifies for TIF funding because most of the land is in a flood plain, and while action is being taken to reduce the magnitude of this problem most of the land will remain in a flood plain after those actions are completed.” (emphasis added)

In other words, one of the “noble” actions of the developer — fixing a flooded area — is exposed for what it is.

Another conclusion of the analysis is that the “Proposed project is economically feasible without county funding support.” In other words, the TIF district is not financially necessary.

Then: “Proposed private equity funding is insufficient to effect default risk.”

Finally: “Costs to county government are greater than benefits to county government. If, as appears possible based on the financial projections provided for county review, the project is financially feasible without TIF funding, then a substantial cost to county government is the property tax revenue diverted unnecessarily to the project.”

This directly contradicts the claims that most TIF supporters make: That TIF is without cost. Randal O’Toole and others have shown the many ways in which TIF does have a great cost. His essay “TIF is not free money” may be read as part of my article Tax increment financing: TIF has a cost.

This particular applicant

We also need to look at the characteristics of this applicant. The Wichita Business Journal reported this regarding a company Mr. Maxwell owned:

Pixius proposes to repay, over a 10-year period, $1.3 million of a $6.4 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service, according to court documents. The loan was part of a 2002 Farm Bill pilot program that loaned more than $180 million to ISPs to expand Internet service to rural areas.

“To my memory … Pixius is the only one (to receive a loan) that’s had to file bankruptcy to work out of its situation,” says Claiborn Crain, USDA spokesman.

When the government helped out Maxwell in the past, it cost taxpayers $5.1 million. His company is set apart from other similar companies in that, according to the USDA spokesman, only Maxwell’s declared bankruptcy.

I suggest that Maxwell has had his turn at the government funding trough. Taxpayers can’t afford to give him another.

At Wichita City Council, a big company asks for a forgivable loan

Notes for remarks delivered to the Wichita City Council, October 18, 2011. Johnson Controls asked the city for a forgivable loan.

Mayor, members of the council,

I can understand the city’s desire to help out homegrown companies that might be struggling to get a foothold in business. I don’t think it’s wise to do so, but I can understand how people might think it is.

But Johnson Controls doesn’t fall into this category.

In Wichita, the labor force is 191,760. Johnson’s 137,000 worldwide employees amount to 71 percent of this figure.

Johnson’s profit of $1,540,000,000 is 2.8 times the city’s all funds budget of $549,313,783, or 7.1 times the city’s general fund budget of $217,912,874

So this is not a small company, or a startup company, or a company that lacks for money, or a company that isn’t successful. Its stock has far outperformed leading market indexes over the past ten years.

The State of Kansas is contributing $1,168,000 through various programs. This is not in the form of loans that need to be repaid. It is in the form of grants, forgiveness from paying the taxes that most others have to pay, and by expenditures through the tax system.

I remind this council that the cost-benefit calculations performed by the Wichita State University Center for Economic Development and Business Research are not of the same type that a business makes, or that people make in their personal lives. There are not legitimate business investments that have a return of five-fold over any reasonable period of time, at least not without accepting huge risks.

Instead, the “benefit” that goes into this equation is in the form of future anticipated tax revenues. It simply recognizes that economic activity is good, and since government taxes based on economic activity, its tax revenues go up. This happens whether or not government claims responsibility for creating the economic activity.

The harm of programs like this is that when the city, county, and state make these programs available, companies will take advantage of them. Evidently companies find it’s easy to persuade this state and this council to grant them money.

At least easier than it is to raise equity, where you have to trade shares of ownership for money. Or in debt markets, where you have to pay interest and principal.

This behavior creates a self-fulfilling feedback loop. Company A sees what Companies B, C, D, E, F (and so on …) have received from the city, county, and state, and they want it too. Soon we may find ourselves in the situation where few companies will consider Wichita without some form of handout.

But the real harm that these programs do is the destruction of civil society. By that I mean a society that respects individuals and property rights, and where people trade harmoniously with others through markets. This includes companies attempting to raise investment capital, like the applicant company today.

Instead, we replace a civil society and market entrepreneurship with political entrepreneurship, and with all the negatives that accompany that.

If we in Wichita are looking to distinguish ourselves, let’s start today by rejecting crony capitalism as our economic development tool.

The forgivable loan measure passed 6 to 1, with Michael O’Donnell (district 4, south and southwest Wichita) voting against it.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday September 28, 2011

Obama’s intercontinental railroad. Burton Folsom notices a recent speech by President Barack Obama that mentioned how America built the “intercontinental railroad.” Folsom grants Obama some slack for the gaffe — we all make them, after all — and explains to readers the most important lesson that should be learned from our experience building the transcontinental railroad: “… the story of the transcontinental railroads really is a great teaching tool for today. If we study the Union Pacific, the Central Pacific, and the Northern Pacific Railroads, we learn they all went broke after receiving a combined total of 61 million acres of land. And they ran the nation deep into debt, too. … federal spending on transcontinentals meant corruption, land grabs, and wasted taxpayer dollars. But wait. The Great Northern Railroad, which went from St. Paul to Seattle, never went bankrupt and was one of the best-built railroads in the United States. Why did the Great Northern succeed when the others failed? Because James J. Hill, the president, built his railroad with no federal subsidies. He built the Great Northern slowly and made each part profitable before expanding it further. … Hill made profits and never went bankrupt. Here is the lesson: that which is privately owned is properly cared for and is best positioned to create jobs and profits. When the government gets involved, profits vanish and quality declines. Therefore, the president is right. Let’s discuss railroad history and apply what we learn to the present day.” The article is Interfacing with Obama’s Intercontinental Railroad.

Alain festival starts. Today marks the first day of Jehan Alain, 1911-1940 — The American Festival, a three-day event celebrating the music of the French organist and composer, who died at the age of 29 fighting for his country against Germany in World War II. This three-day event is organized by Lynne Davis of Wichita State University. If you can attend only one event, I would suggest the opening recital to be performed by Davis at 7:30 pm tonight. The location is Wiedemann Recital Hall (map) on the campus of Wichita State University. … For more about Davis and WSU’s Great Marcussen Organ including photographs I took while climbing around the interior of the massive instrument, see my story from last year.

How business loves regulation and hates markets. In a chapter of the book Back on the Road to Serfdom: The Resurgence of Statism edited by Thomas E. Woods Jr., Timothy P. Carney writes about the cultural costs of corporatism: “Despite the widespread assumption that a free market is the ideal economy for big business, and that regulation checks the power of big business, more often the opposite is true. Regulation, by adding to the cost of doing business, disproportionately hurt smaller business and acts as a barrier to entry, keeping out new competitors. Likewise, government subsidies can be far more valuable, or at least more reliable, then income for consumers, for which businesses must continually fight with competitors. The dynamics of the lobbying game are crucial here. Bigger companies enjoy a greater advantage in Washington than they do in the market. Not only can bigger companies hire the better lobbyists — former lawmakers are top administration aides — and handout more in campaign contributions, but they also matter more to lawmakers. The more workers you employ and the more taxes you pay, the more lawmakers care about your well-being, desires, and wishes.” … Carney goes on to explain that big government enables political entrepreneurs to succeed over market entrepreneurs. And big companies are better equipped to be political entrepreneurs. So while the standard account is that Walmart kills small-town retailers, the reality is that Walmart is effective at political entrepreneurship in ways that mom-and-pop retailers can’t be. “An unbridled free market isn’t killing Mom and Pop; an untethered state is.” The effect of this is, he writes: “And so reading the market is no longer as valuable as reading the polls. Research and development is not as good an investment as political connections. A good lobbyist is now worth more than a good idea.” … While Carney is writing about the situation at the federal level, we see the same dynamic at work in Wichita, where the city Council and its surrogates such as the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation and Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition have large power over the granting of government favors. Connections to the politicians and bureaucrats that control these organizations replaces market allocation and market decisions.

The Buffet rule won’t work. In a Cato daily podcast, Cato Institute Senior Fellow Alan Reynolds says “It doesn’t work. We tried it.” He’s referring to raising tax rates to collect more revenue from high-income earners. Reynolds explains that starting in 1986 and for the next 10 years the capital gains tax rate was 28 percent. But then President Bill Clinton lowered the rate to 20 percent, and Reynolds said that the stock market soared and the government was flush with cash. This, he said, was an example of lower tax rates increasing tax revenue. … Reynolds also explained that Berkshire Hathaway — the company Warren Buffet formed — was a tax avoidance device until 2003. As a holding company, it purchased companies that paid dividends, but Berkshire didn’t pay dividends itself. This practice avoided the higher dividends tax by converting dividends into capital gains. (Prior to 2003, dividends were taxed as ordinary income, which for most taxpayers was higher than the capital gains tax rate. Plus, capital gains can be deferred.) This purposeful design by Buffet belies his current contention that the wealthy should pay higher taxes.

In Wichita, private tax policy on the rise

In a free society with a limited government, taxation should be restricted to being a way for government to raise funds to pay for services that all people benefit from. An example is police and fire protection. Even people who are opposed to taxation rationalize paying taxes that way. But in the city of Wichita, private tax policy is overtaking our city.

The Douglas Place project, a downtown hotel to be considered tomorrow by the Wichita City Council, makes use of several of these private tax policy strategies.

By private tax policy, I mean that the proceeds of a tax are used for the exclusive benefit of one person (or business firm), instead of used for the benefit of all. And in at least one case, private parties are being allowed to determine the city’s tax policy at their discretion.

The taxes collected by this private tax policy is still collected under the pretense of government authority. But instead of going to pay for government — things like police, fire, and schools — the tax is collected for the exclusive benefit of one party, not the public.

In Wichita and across Kansas, one example of taxation being used for the benefit of one person or business is the Community Improvement District (CID). Under this program, the business collects an extra tax that looks just like sales tax. Except — the proceeds of the extra CID tax are funneled back for the exclusive benefit of the people who own property in the district. The Douglas Place project is asking to collect an extra tax of two cents per dollar for its own benefit.

CIDs are a threat to unsuspecting customers who likely won’t be aware of the extra tax they’ll be paying until after they complete their purchases, if at all. Wichita decided against disclosing to citizens the amount of tax they’ll be paying with signage on stores. Instead, the city settled for a sign that says nothing except to check a city website for information about CIDs.

CIDs also present the City of Wichita as a high-tax place to live and do business. It’s a risk to our city’s reputation. Especially when you consider the Jeff Longwell strategy, which is that since these taxes are often used by hotels and other businesses that cater to visitors, Wichitans don’t pay them as much as do visitors.

Another example of private tax policy is when a tax such as Wichita’s hotel guest tax is redirected from its original goal. According to a description of the Tourism and Convention Fund in the city’s budget, the goal of the guest tax is to “support tourism and convention, infrastructure, and promotion of the City.” Its priorities are to be “Fund priorities are: 1) debt service for tourism and convention facilities, 2) operational deficit subsidies and 3) care and maintenance of Century II.”

But in the case of the Douglas Place project, the city is asking for a charter ordinance to be passed that would route 75 percent of this tax directly back to the Douglas Place owners. That’s not the proclaimed purpose of the guest tax, unless we consider private hotels to be part of the city’s tourism infrastructure. (I think some people think that way.)

At least in the case of Douglas Place the city is being more upfront with its citizens. The charter ordinance requires a two-thirds vote of the city council for passage, a higher bar than in the past. And, the city isn’t borrowing money to give to the hotel. That’s what the city has done in the past, as in the case of the Fairfield Inn & Suites Wichita Downtown that is part of the WaterWalk project. One of the many layers of subsidy going in to that hotel was that the city simply gifted the hotel $2,500,000, to be paid back by the hotel’s guest tax receipts.

Some will say that’s not really a gift, as the hotel will pay back the loan. But the loan is being repaid with taxes the hotel — more properly, its guests — must pay anyway. This is public taxation for private enrichment.

If you need further evidence that the city is turning over taxation to private hands, consider this: The charter ordinance is subject to a protest petition, and if sufficient signatures are gathered, the city council would have to either overturn the ordinance or hold an election to let the people decide.

Now, if such a tax is truly in the public interest, the city would hold such an election and bear its costs itself. But that’s not the case. In the agreement between the city and the Douglas Place developers, we see this: “If Developer requests a special election solely for the purpose of passing the charter ordinance in the event a sufficient protest petition is submitted, Developer shall reimburse the City for the actual out of pocket costs and expenses of conducting such election.”

In other words, the city is turning over to private interests the decision as to whether to have such an election. At least the citizens of Wichita won’t have to pay for it, if such an election happens.

Another example of private tax policy that the Douglas Place project is using is Tax increment financing, or a TIF district. This mechanism routes property taxes back to the development. In the case of Douglas Place, $3,325,000 of its own property taxes are being used to pay for its parking garage. That’s a deal most citizens can’t get.

Normally property taxes are used for the general operation of government. Not so in TIF districts, another example of public taxation for private enrichment. Again, these are taxes that the property must pay anyway.

Private taxation funds political entrepreneurship

In Wichita, especially in downtown, we see the rise of private tax policy, that is, the taxation power of government being used for private purposes. This private tax policy is pushed by Wichita’s political entrepreneurs. These are the people who would rather compete in the realm of politics rather than in the market.

Examples of Wichita’s political entrepreneurs include the developers of Douglas Place: David Burk of Marketplace Properties, and the principals of Key Construction.

Competing in the political arena is easier than competing in the market. To win in the political arena, you only have to convince a majority of the legislative body that controls your situation. Once you’ve convinced them the power of government takes over, and the people at large are forced to transfer money to the political entrepreneurs. In other words, they must engage in transactions they would not elect to perform, if left to their own free will.

In the free marketplace, however, entrepreneurs have to compete by offering products or services that people are willing to buy, free of coercion. That’s hard to do. But it’s the only way to gauge whether people really want what the entrepreneurs are selling.

One of the ways that political entrepreneurs compete is by making campaign contributions, and the developers of Douglas Place have mastered this technique. Key Construction principles contributed $13,500 to Mayor Carl Brewer and four city council members during their most recent campaigns. Council Member Jeff Longwell alone received $4,000 of that sum, and he also accepted another $2,000 from managing member David Burk and his wife.

All told, Burk and his wife contributed at least $7,500 to city council candidates who will be voting whether to give Burk money. Burk and others routinely make the maximum contribution to all — or nearly all — candidates, even those with widely varying political stances. How can someone explain Burk’s (and his wife’s) contributions to liberals like Miller and Williams, and also to conservatives like Longwell, Meitzner, and former council member Sue Schlapp?

The answer is: Burk will be asking these people for money.

Wichitans need to rise against these political entrepreneurs and their usurpation of a public function — taxation — for their own benefit. The politicians and bureaucrats who enable this should realize they should be serving the public interest, not the narrow and private enrichment of the few at the cost of many.

Job creation at young firms declines

A new report by the Kauffman Foundation holds unsettling information for the future of job growth in the United States. Kauffman has been at the forefront of research regarding entrepreneurship and job formation.

Previous Kauffman research has emphasized the importance of young firms in productivity growth. Research by Art Hall found that for the period 2000 to 2005, young firms created nearly all the net job growth in Kansas.

So young firms — these are new firms, and while usually small, the category is not the same as small businesses in general — are important drivers of productivity and job growth. That’s why the recent conclusion from Kauffman in its report Starting Smaller; Staying Smaller: America’s Slow Leak in Job Creation is troubling: “The United States appears to be suffering from a long-term leak in job creation that pre-dates the recession and has the potential to persist for an unknown time. The heart of the problem is a pullback by newly created businesses, the economy’s most critical source of job creation, which are generating substantially fewer jobs than one would expect based on past experience. … This trend has only worsened since the onset of the most recent recession. The cohort of firms started in 2009, for example, is on track to contribute close to a million jobs less in its first five to ten years than historical averages.”

The report mentions two assumptions that are commonly made regarding employment that the authors believe are incorrect:

First, policymakers’ focus on big changes in employment because of events such as a new manufacturing plant or the recruitment of a business to a community ignore the more important fact that our jobs outlook will be driven more by the collective decisions of the millions of young and small businesses whose changing employment patterns are not as easy to see or influence. Second, it is just as easy to be deluded into thinking that the jobs problem will be solved by growth in the number of the self-employed.

The importance of young firms is vital to formulating Kansas economic development policy. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has incorporated some of the ideas of economic dynamism in his economic plan released in February. The idea of dynamism, as developed by Dr. Art Hall, is that economic development is best pursued by creating a level playing field where as much business experimentation as possible can take place. The marketplace will sort out the best firms. The idea that government economic development agencies can select which firms should receive special treatment is sure to fail. It is failing.

While the governor’s plan promotes the idea of economic dynamism, some of his actual policies, such as retaining a multi-million dollar slush fund for economic development, are contrary to the free marketplace of business experimentation and letting markets pick winning firms.

At the City of Wichita, economic development policy is tracking on an even worse direction. Among city hall bureaucrats and city council members, there is not a single person who appears to understand the importance of free markets and capitalism except for one: council member Michael O’Donnell, who represents district 4 (south and southwest Wichita).

The policy of Wichita is that of explicit crony capitalism, with city leaders believing they have the wisdom to develop policies that recognize which firms are worthy of taxpayer support. And if they want to grant subsidies to firms that don’t meet policies, they find exceptions or write new policies. Elected officials like Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and city council member Jeff Longwell lust for more tools in the economic development toolbox.

At the Sedgwick County Commission, two of the five members — Karl Peterjohn and Richard Ranzau understand the importance of free markets for economic development. But the city has a much larger role in targeted incentives for economic development, as it is the source of tax increment financing districts, industrial revenue bonds, economic development exemptions, community improvement districts, and other harmful forms on economic interventionism.

Stossel: The state against blacks

John Stossel’s most recent television program was titled The State Against Blacks, and it dealt with the topics of affirmative action, welfare, and the minimum wage.

A featured guest on the show was Dr. Walter E. Williams, an economist at George Mason University. His most recent book is on this topic, and it’s titled Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination? A preview of the book is available at that link.

On welfare, Williams told Stossel: “The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery could not have done, the harshest Jim Crow laws and racism could not have done — namely, break up the black family. Today, just slightly over 30 percent of black kids live in two-parent families.” He contrasted this with much higher numbers of intact families in the past. A video clip is below.


In another clip from the show, Williams discusses the war on poverty and how the minimum wage is harmful to those it is meant to help.

Summarizing at the end of the show, Stossel told the audience that limited government — not an expansive welfare state — is best for everyone, including the poor, immigrants, and minorities:

There’s no question that in America that blacks, on average, are economically behind whites. Average black household income is about 40 percent less than for whites. Why? Other minorities were once that far behind, but they prospered. In 1910 Chinese immigrants were 10 percent poorer than other Americans. Their grandkids, in 1985, were 35 percent richer than other Americans.

Other minorities rose out of poverty: Italians, Hungarians, the Irish, and so on. So why not most blacks? Because just at the time that blacks like Walter Williams were lifting themselves out of poverty, President Johnson created a government war on poverty. Trillions of your dollars were spent on welfare programs that unintentionally reward dependency.

And then came more regulation like licensing rules and minimum wage rules that stifle entrepreneurship. Politicians like Jessie Jackson say racism is why blacks still struggle today. But Walter Williams taught me that’s just nonsense. There is still racism today. But if that’s such an obstacle, explain the success of black immigrants in America. Their skin is just as dark, but they knew well they’d proposer. Immigrants from Jamaica are poorer than the average American, but a few years later their kids are one percent richer than the average American.

Why? For one reason, it’s harder for immigrants to get government assistance. They don’t grow up in a culture of handouts, so they’re forced to make it on their own. And that makes all the difference. What helps poor people most is limited government, simple rules that everyone understands, that leave newcomers free to braid hair, for example, or drive taxis, or start companies.

If the state keeps the peace but then gets out of our way, people prosper. I didn’t understand that until Walter Williams taught me. And many Americans still don’t get it.

Stossel’s column on this topic is Is Government Aid Helping or Hurting Blacks? Video from Williams’ 1985 PBS documentary “State Against Blacks” is available here. Video from the “Good Intentions” series is here.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Sunday June 5, 2011

Wichita City Council this week. This week the Wichita City Council will consider these items of particular interest: The Wichita Art Museum has $265,738 in funds that it did not spend. The council will be asked to allow the museum to retain this unspent money. … Mid-Continent Instrument, Inc. is asking for a forgivable loan of $10,000. It received the same last week from Sedgwick County. According to city documents, the State of Kansas is also chipping in $503,055 in forgivable loans, sales tax exemptions, training grants, and tax credits. … Council members will receive the city’s 2010 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. … An item deferred from two weeks ago will consider hiring an outside firm to inspect the roofs at the airport for storm damage. Wichita Eagle reporting from that time has detail. Some, including Council Member Michael O’Donnell (south and southwest Wichita) have wondered why the city can’t do the inspection with its own engineering staff and resources. … Of further note is that the city — two weeks ago — proposed to use general obligation bonds to borrow the funds to pay for this inspection. This is similar to last December, when the city decided to also use bonds to borrow money to pay for an analysis of nine aging fire stations and what repairs and upgrades they might require. Material for this week’s meeting indicates the project will be “funded with Airport revenues either directly or through the repayment of General Obligation bonds.” … A “receive and file” item notes that as established by city ordinance, the salaries for council members, the vice-mayor, and the mayor will increase by 3.2 percent effective June 7. This is a cost-of-living increase based on the consumer price index. Last year all these parties decided to decline the increase. … A consent agenda item recommends settling a lawsuit for damages resulting from a shooting on August 3, 2008 for the amount of $575,000. The agenda material is not specific, but Wichita Eagle reporting indicates that Wichita police officers on that date shot James Ware “at least seven times” in the parking lot of a club after Ware retrieved a rifle from his car. Ware was charged with a crime in the matter, but acquitted in a jury trial. Consent agenda items will not be discussed by the council unless a member asks to “pull” an item for discussion and a possible vote separate from the other consent agenda items. … As always, the agenda packet — all 376 pages for this week’s meeting — is available at Wichita city council agendas.

Resources on Austrian economics. The prolific and best-selling author Thomas E. Woods, Jr. has compiled a very useful collection of resources regarding Austrian economics. In an essay by Lew Rockwell that Woods refers to, we can learn the essence of the Austrian way: “It is not a field within economics, but an alternative way of looking at the entire science. Whereas other schools rely primarily on idealized mathematical models of the economy, and suggest ways the government can make the world conform, Austrian theory is more realistic and thus more socially scientific. Austrians view economics as a tool for understanding how people both cooperate and compete in the process of meeting needs, allocating resources, and discovering ways of building a prosperous social order. Austrians view entrepreneurship as a critical force in economic development, private property as essential to an efficient use of resources, and government intervention in the market process as always and everywhere destructive.” Concluding his essay, Rockwell wrote: “The future of Austrian economics is bright, which bodes well for the future of liberty itself. For if we are to reverse the trends of statism in this century, and reestablish a free market, the intellectual foundation must be the Austrian School.” … Woods’ collection is at Learn Austrian Economics. … The local chapter of Americans for Prosperity, Kansas has been showing some of the video presentations Woods recommends at its monthly meetings, and will conclude the series at its June 13th meeting. Details to follow.

Wichita Save-A-Lot owner commended. Susan Estes of Americans for Prosperity, Kansas contributed this letter to the Wichita Eagle, and it appeared today. Following is the letter as submitted to me: “News the grocery store project in Planeview will proceed — without tax incentives — is a major win for Wichita taxpayers. We commend Ron Rhodes and his company for finding a way to make this project happen without asking for tax money. Rather than giving up the store entirely when the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district was vetoed by the county, the Rhodes family continued to explore the possibility of building a grocery store here. The planned Save-A-Lot store will create jobs and serve the needs of the neighborhood without adding on to their grocery bills through tax increases, which is certainly good news for Wichitans.” … For more on this matter, see In Wichita, corporate welfare not needed, after all.

Pompeo public forum. On Monday June 6 at 6:30 pm, U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo, a Wichita Republican serving his first term, will hold a public forum at Andover City Hall, 1609 E. Central. Pompeo’s office says: “Congressman Pompeo will take questions from those in attendance and discuss issues related to Congress and the federal government.”

Hawker Beechcraft to receive subsidy from Wichita City Council

Tomorrow the Wichita City Council will very likely live up to its part in a deal to award $2.5 million in subsidy to aircraft manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft. Sedgwick County will also be called on to contribute the same amount, and the state has agreed to chip in $40 million.

Undoubtedly the occasion will be used by Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and others to crow about the city’s effort to retain Hawker Beechcraft in the face of an offer from the State of Louisiana. While our local governments got what they wanted in this instance, it nonetheless provides a lesson in the futility of corporate welfare as economic development policy: Someone is usually willing to pay more. We would be much better off if we start transforming Kansas to a state where all companies are nurtured, not by bureaucratic and political oversight and government handouts, but by a low taxing and spending environment, and a reasonable regulatory regime.

I use “got what they wanted” rather than “success,” as there are important questions surrounding the wisdom of this deal. First, there is some evidence that Hawker may need to shrink substantially in order to survive, handouts notwithstanding. See The Teetering State of Hawker Beechcraft. Besides indicting Hawker for a “bloated and inefficient production process,” the report claims the company’s pension plan is underfunded by $296 million.

Some have called into question the validity of the competing offer. Louisiana had purportedly offered up to $400 million to attract Hawker’s 4,000 jobs. This is a cost of $100,000 per job, a very costly number, but some states have paid even more. If genuine, Kansas got a deal at only $11,250 per job.

But: These are retained jobs, not new jobs. H. Edward Flentje explained in his analysis Brinkmanship with jobs: “But the Hawker Beechcraft deal is different, focused on saving existing jobs, not creating new jobs, and the result diverts millions in limited taxpayer funds, primarily state income tax revenues, from state coffers to a company’s benefit, simply to have an existing business stay put.”

Flentje went on to explain the new economic development policy in Kansas and the precedent the Hawker deal sets: “The barn door has been flung open as well over 500 Kansas businesses are now eligible for state assistance, a tenfold increase over the year 2000, thanks to lawmakers. The expanding game of brinkmanship with jobs leaves state and local officials more vulnerable and can be expected to divert millions more in state tax revenues from state government’s primary obligations in response to the demands of companies that choose to play.”

The major problem, however, is that economic development policy in Wichita and Kansas is not moving in the right direction. We place large bets on old, established industry, when we should be looking to foster dynamism and young companies as the engine to propel the Kansas economy.

Somewhere in Wichita or Kansas there is a small, new, unknown company that has half a dozen or so employees — maybe more, maybe less — that is working on some innovation. If we’re lucky, we have many such companies. These companies could be working on a new technology, manufacturing process, computer software, video game, internet site, food processing technology, retail concept, chemical process, restaurant idea, manufacturing methodology, agricultural process, airplane wing — we just don’t know. Many will fail. But some will succeed, and a few will, hopefully, succeed in a big way.

But these small startup companies may not fit in to the economic development programs the city and state have. Being of entrepreneurial spirit, these people may not even think of looking to government for economic development assistance.

Any of these new and now-small companies could become the next Microsoft, Google, Home Depot, or Pizza Hut. We just don’t know which — and it’s impossible for anyone, government bureaucrats included — to know. But these companies, when in startup phase, struggle to pay the taxes that large companies are able to escape. Being small, they may also be disproportionally impacted by regulation. They don’t qualify for the economic development programs that larger companies benefit from, and they probably couldn’t afford to devote the time and effort to apply.

It’s not necessarily the case that a small startup aviation company is competing directly in aircraft sales with Hawker Beechcraft and is handicapped by the larger company’s government handouts. But these two companies could be competing for the same employees, for example, and that puts the smaller, unsubsidized company at a disadvantage.

But having decided to pursue a policy of giving in to the demands of companies who threaten to leave or build elsewhere, we have a question to answer: How can we identify which companies are deserving of government subsidy? Which companies should have their tax burden softened, their treasury fattened, at the expense of others? Allocating resources and deciding what to do in the face of uncertainty is the crux of entrepreneurship. It’s something that government is not equipped to do, as its incentives and motivations are all wrong.

For politicians, the prime motivation is to be reelected. It is rare that the time horizon of a politician extends beyond the next election. For bureaucrats, the motivation is to expand their sphere of influence and power. Neither of these motivations are compatible with entrepreneurship. Some are not compatible in any way with running a business. For example, a business firm looks at its employees as a cost that must be managed and controlled if a profit is to be made and the firm survive. But to government, spending on employees is a social benefit, and one that is paid for by someone else.

The deal with Hawker continues and expands the same process that Kansas and other states have been using for economic development. Therein lies the problem: Kansas’ approach to economic development is piecemeal. We respond to problems, as in the case of Hawker. But the state’s response gives more companies the incentive to come up with their own “problems” that require state intervention.

In order to succeed, Kansas needs to embrace dynamism in its approach to economic development. For more on this see Kansas economic growth policy should embrace dynamism and Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy.

Deals like this with Hawker move Kansas towards towards more state-controlled economic development and away from creating a dynamic economy. We prop up the old and declining at the expense of the new and vibrant.

And, we don’t learn. At the same meeting the Wichita City Council is considering approval of its policies for awarding economic development subsidy in downtown — another example of the very type of government planning that stifles economic dynamism and replaces it with cronyism.

Wichita forgivable loan action raises and illustrates issues

Today the Wichita City Council decided to grant a forgivable loan of $48,000 to The Golf Warehouse. This subsidy was promoted by the city as necessary to properly incentivize the applicant company to expand its operations in Wichita rather than Indiana, where the company has other operations and had also received an offer of subsidy. For more information, see Forgivable loan a test for new Wichita City Council members.

In presenting the item to the council, Allen Bell, Wichita’s Director of Urban Development said the forgivable loan was a “deal-closing” device intended to “win a competition with other locations.”

Further discussion brought out the fact that companies often “test the waters,” asking for incentives from cities like Wichita as a location they might consider moving to, only to us that as leverage for getting more incentives back home. (Wichita has suffered at the hands of this ruse, most recently granting a large forgivable loan to a company when the city used as leverage says they did not have discussions with the company.)

Council Member Michael O’Donnell asked if there was another form of economic development that The Golf Warehouse could have received. Bell said that in this case there wasn’t, that IRB financing with accompanying tax abatements wasn’t available for this project. As he has in the past, Bell pointed to the lack of tools in the toolbox, or “arrows in our quiver” he said today.

When the CEO of the applicant company spoke to the council, it was easy to get the impression that this company — like the many other companies that plead for incentives and subsidy — feel that because of their past and pending investment in Wichita, they are entitled some form of incentive. When the company’s outside site selection consultant spoke, this sense of entitlement became explicit. She told how the company has made “significant investment and has employed a lot of people and kept a lot of families employed.” She said that instead of forgivable loan, this should be called an “act of goodwill.” She said the company has made a huge investment, never asking for incentives, and that the loan allows the company to continue making investment into the community.

She also said that the offer made by Indiana amounted to twice Wichita’s offer, on a per-job basis.

Citizens spoke against the forgivable loan. John Todd asked if this is the economic formula that has blessed our city and county with the wealth and prosperity we enjoy today.

Clinton Coen told the council that these incentives are a bargaining tool, allowing cities to blackmail each other.

Susan Estes asked a question that built on O’Donnell’s earlier remarks: Why would we see this forgivable loan as egregious? On the surface, we see jobs, which is good, she said. But the money to pay for this loan comes from other taxpayers, she said, and there are many companies that need help, citing the number of companies filing for bankruptcy and having tax liens filed against them. “Why I find it egregious is that we’re doing something that helps one company at a time. We really need to take an overall look at our tax policy and address the tax issue. We have one of the highest tax rates on the Plains, and that’s why we get in these situations where we have to compete. If we had a better competitive tax rate we could spare all of this.”

Of interest for the political theater was the vote of three new council members, based on statements they made regarding forgivable loans on the campaign trail (see Forgivable loan a test for new Wichita City Council members). In making the motion to accept staff recommendation of the forgivable loan, council member Pete Meitzner said of the loan: “It is an investment, incentive, whatever you want to call it. It is not a give-away.”

Meitzner and James Clendenin voted with all the veteran council members to approve the forgivable loan. Only O’Donnell voted consistent with how he campaigned.

Analysis

This item before the Wichita City Council today requires analysis from two levels.

First, the economics and public policy aspects of granting the forgivable loan are this: It is impossible to tell whether The Golf Warehouse would not expand in Wichita if the forgivable loan was not granted. The companies that apply for these subsidies and that cite competitive offers from other states and cities have, in some cases, multi-million dollar motives to make Wichita think they will move away, or not invest any more in Wichita. Most politicians are scared to death of being labeled “anti-job,” and therefore will vote for any measure that has the appearance of creating or saving jobs.

Particularly inappropriate is the attitude of many of these companies in that they deserve some sort of reward for investing in Wichita and creating jobs. First, companies that make investments do, in fact, deserve a reward. That reward is called profit, but it has to be earned in the marketplace, not granted by government fiat. When a company earns profits in free markets, we have convincing evidence that wealth is being created and capital has been wisely invested. Everyone — the investors certainly but also the customers and employees — is better off when companies profit through competition in free markets.

But when government steps in with free capital, as was the case today, markets are no longer free. The benefits of capitalism are no longer available and working for us. The distortion that government introduces interferes with market processes, and we can’t be sure if the profit and loss system that is so important is working. Companies, as we saw today, increasingly revert to what economists call rent seeking — profiting through government rather than by pleasing customers in market competition.

Entrepreneurship, of which Wichita has a proud tradition, is replaced by a check from city hall.

Wichita’s own Charles Koch explained the harm of government interventionism in his recent recent Wall Street Journal op-ed: “Government spending on business only aggravates the problem. Too many businesses have successfully lobbied for special favors and treatment by seeking mandates for their products, subsidies (in the form of cash payments from the government), and regulations or tariffs to keep more efficient competitors at bay. Crony capitalism is much easier than competing in an open market. But it erodes our overall standard of living and stifles entrepreneurs by rewarding the politically favored rather than those who provide what consumers want.”

A forgivable loan — despite Council Member Meitzner’s claim to the contrary — is a cash payment to business, which Mr. Koch warns against.

The focus on job creation is also a confounding factor that obscures the path to true wealth and prosperity for Wichita. When companies ask the city, county, and state for subsidy and incentive, they tout the number of jobs and the payroll that will be created. But jobs are a cost, not a benefit, to business and most firms do all they can to minimize their labor costs just as they seek to minimize all costs. For Wichita to prosper, we need to focus on productivity and wealth creation, not merely employment.

The actions of the city council today keep Wichita on its path of piecemeal economic development and growth. Movement to a system that embraces economic dynamism, as advocated by Dr. Art Hall and as part of Governor Sam Brownback’s economic development plan for Kansas, is delayed. Economic development in Wichita keeps its present status as a sort of public utility, subject to policy review from time to time, as was mentioned today by the city manager.

Politically, Wichitans learned today the value of promises or statements made by most candidates while campaigning. Most candidates’ promises along with $3.75 will get you a small cappuccino at Starbucks — if you don’t ask for whipped cream.

Particularly interesting is the inability of politicians to admit they were wrong, or that they made a mistake, or that they were simply uninformed or misinformed when they made a campaign promise or statement. It was refreshing to hear Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, when he was in Wichita a few weeks ago, forthrightly admit that he was wrong about his initial position on cap-and-trade energy policies. City council members Clendenin and Meitzner could not bring themselves to admit that their votes today were at odds with their statements made while campaigning. This lack of honesty is one of the reasons that citizens tune out politics, why they have such a cynical attitude towards politicians, and perhaps why voter turnout in city elections is so low.

As one young Wichitan said on her Facebook page after sharing video of the three new council members today, obviously referring to city council district 2′s Pete Meitzner: “How to use your mouth: 1. Campaign under the guise that you are a fiscal conservative. 2. Insert foot.”

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Tuesday May 3, 2011

Why not school choice in Kansas? WhyNotKansas.com is a website that holds information about the benefits of giving families the freedom of school choice. The site is new this week, and is a project of Kansas Policy Institute and Foundation for Educational Choice. Innovation in school choice programs is common in many states. Kansas, however, still grants the education bureaucracy a monopoly on the use of public dollars in education.

Economics in one lesson this Monday. On Monday (May 9), four videos based on Henry Hazlitt’s classic work Economics in One Lesson will be shown in Wichita. The four topics included in Monday’s presentation will be The Curse of Machinery, Disbanding Troops & Bureaucrats, Who’s “Protected” by Tariffs?, and “Parity” Prices. The event is Monday (May 9) at 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at the Lionel D. Alford Library located at 3447 S. Meridian in Wichita. The library is just north of the I-235 exit on Meridian. The event’s sponsor is Americans for Prosperity, Kansas. For more information on this event contact John Todd at john@johntodd.net or 316-312-7335, or Susan Estes, AFP Field Director at sestes@afphq.org or 316-681-4415.

Sowell on government intervention. Must government intervene to fix the economy? Politicians face tremendous pressure to be seen as active, writes Thomas Sowell: “It is not politically possible for either the Federal Reserve or the Obama administration to leave the economy alone and let it recover on its own. Both are under pressure to ‘do something.’ If one thing doesn’t work, then they have to try something else. And if that doesn’t work, they have to come up with yet another gimmick. … The idea that the federal government has to step in whenever there is a downturn in the economy is an economic dogma that ignores much of the history of the United States. During the first hundred years of the United States, there was no Federal Reserve. During the first one hundred and fifty years, the federal government did not engage in massive intervention when the economy turned down. No economic downturn in all those years ever lasted as long as the Great Depression of the 1930s, when both the Federal Reserve and the administrations of Hoover and of FDR intervened. The myth that has come down to us says that the government had to intervene when there was mass unemployment in the 1930s. But the hard data show that there was no mass unemployment until after the federal government intervened. Yet, once having intervened, it was politically impossible to stop and let the economy recover on its own. That was the fundamental problem then — and now.”

Salina’s first TIF district. The Salina Journal looks at issues surrounding that city’s first TIF district. Of note: “TIF districts are prevalent in other cities and states. For instance, Manhattan uses TIF districts so much that it no longer considers it an incentive, [Dennis Lauver, president and CEO of the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce] said.”

Charles on energy and stuff. “We are making it cool to use less stuff,” says Charles, Prince of Wales, KG KT GCB OM AK QSO CD SOM PC AdC(P) FRS. Irish documentary film makers Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer have a new short film that looks at the activities of England’s Prince Charles as compared to what he wants the rest of us to do. Write the documentariasts: “Prince Charles is the latest to be exposed as an eco-Hypocrite in our short film series. The Prince is coming to the US this week to speak at Georgetown University about ‘sustainability’ so we decided to see just how he lives up to his own standards. We’ve made a short film that exposes just how hypocritical the Prince is as he lives a fabulous, luxury life whilst lecturing the rest of us that we have to live with less. Prince Charles — Hypocrite exposes the double standard that is at the center of so much environmentalism. … He is coming to the US to lecture on sustainability and tells people they must live with less in order to save the planet but tells us we must end our ‘age of convenience.’ He wants to make our lives more inconvenient to save the planet from alleged climate change but the Prince refuses to make any changes in his own life.”

Government and entrepreneurship. From an essay by Dane Stangler titled Entrepreneurship and Government, contained in Back on the Road to Serfdom: The Resurgence of Statism, edited by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.: “The third way in which the state can intrude on entrepreneurship is through distorted incentives: either with misguided regulations or unintended consequences, the government could end up creating the wrong incentives for entrepreneurs. Will Baumol discussed such institutional incentives in a famous article in which he argued. ‘How the entrepreneur acts at a given time and place depends heavily on the rules of the game — the reward structure in the economy — that happen to prevail.’ Problems arise when these rules of the game encourage ‘unproductive’ entrepreneurial behavior. The principal example of such unproductive behavior is rent seeking, which occurs when companies pursue a bigger slick of economic activity by means other than market competition — that is, when they graduate to seeking favors from Washington rather than seeking a competitive edge by means of innovation. A company’s entreaties to government for protective action often indicate a returns curve that has already turned negative.” … While the article mentions “favors from Washington,” we can easily substitute state capitols, city halls, or county courthouses. For example, Wichita’s economic development policy is firmly rooted in the belief that the city can direct entrepreneurial activity with no wrong incentives or ill consequences. Listening to the recent summit of aviation industry leaders with Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, it is apparent that this industry thrives on, and will continue to expect, large doses of incentives and special treatment and favor from government. But is the aviation industry best for the future of Wichita? While government leaders across Kansas pledge not to lose most important industry, we know it can happen (see Detroit). We have to be careful to make sure that our government policies don’t hasten this loss.

Wichita should reform its economic development strategy

Remarks to the Wichita City Council, February 15, 2011.

Mayor and members of the council, last week Governor Sam Brownback released his plan for economic development in Kansas. While his plan specifically addressed the state and its activities, the principles apply to local government. In fact, we need to harmonize our strategy with the state’s if we are to succeed.

Besides reorganizing the state’s economic development agencies, the governor’s plan calls for a shift in economic development strategy. Instead of targeting industries or specific companies, Kansas should seek to establish a strategy that is simple, fair, and of high capacity.

The governor’s plan seeks to promote an economy where a diversity of companies can thrive, each engaging in entrepreneurship or business experimentation. This is the type of environment that creates the conditions where the next Apple Computer, Google, Microsoft, or Pizza Hut might be launched.

Can we identify the companies that may be — or may not be — future successes? Will they satisfy the city’s criteria for receiving various forms of economic development assistance? Or being of entrepreneurial mind and spirit, will these young companies even consider coming to city hall for assistance?

There are those on this council and in city hall who believe we can formulate policies that identify these companies. I don’t think that’s possible, and the governor’s economic development plan doesn’t think it’s possible.

We need an environment that nurtures these unknown futures success stories, and as many as possible. Not only large success stores, but smaller-scale success, too. That’s what we don’t have, and this is what the governor’s plan seeks to create.

I mentioned capacity. When each economic development deal must pass through city hall bureaucracy, we can have capacity constraints, not to mention high cost. As an example, last April this applicant company received a forgivable loan from the city of just $15,000. How much effort did it take to process that loan? I would suggest it was a sizable fraction of the loan amount. And the same thing happened across the street at the county commission.

Mayor, you said in your recent State of the City address that in 2010, economic development efforts saved 745 jobs and created 435 jobs, for a total impact of 1,180 jobs. To place those numbers in context, the U.S. Census Bureau indicates the labor force in Wichita is 191,760 persons. This means that the economic development efforts of the City of Wichita and its agencies affected a number of jobs equivalent to 0.6 percent of the city workforce.

This small number of jobs impacted — representing less than one percent of the city’s labor force — is overwhelmed by the natural flow of economic events. Yet, to accomplish this, we have a large and costly bureaucracy in place. We increase costs for the numerous young companies that we now know are the engine of job growth.

Mayor and members of the council, we can start moving towards an environment that promotes diverse economic growth by voting against this item and the other targeted economic development incentives on today’s agenda. But if the council decides to approve each item, I would ask that the council identify specific spending somewhere else to cut, so that the cost of these programs are not spread among all the residents and businesses in the city.

Kansas Governor Parkinson says “thank you”

This week outgoing Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson released a “thank you” to Kansans that has been commented on — favorably — in many Kansas newspapers and media outlets. The entire piece may be read at the governor’s site at Thanks So Much.

The governor’s list of “achievements” — his language, not mine — is a reminder that under Parkinson and his predecessor Kathleen Sebelius Kansans have lost economic and personal freedom. It’s nothing that we should thank Parkinson for, and nothing he should be proud of.

Under achievement number one (“Steering the state budget through a very challenging time”) Parkinson wrote “Suffice it to say that I cut state spending more than any governor in Kansas history.” He doesn’t mention that he was forced to make these cuts, as Kansas can’t run deficits like the federal government.

Achievements two, three, and four have to do with his promotion of wind power in Kansas. It’s almost impossible to overstate how unwise these policies are. See Wind power: a wise investment for Wichita and Kansas? for a recent discussion of why wind power is a bad investment. Relying on the manufacturing of wind power equipment as an economic development strategy is an even worse idea. The governor praises legislation that requires utilities to increase their usage of renewable power such as wind. But I’d ask the governor this: If electricity from wind is so desirable, why do utilities have to be forced — and heavily subsidized — to produce it?

Achievement seven highlights “Economic development wins,” mentioning Black and Veatch, Cerner, Bombardier LearJet, and Hawker Beechcraft in particular. Each of these “wins” required large subsidy from the state. Worse, these taxpayer giveaways cement our practice of bureaucratic management of economic development instead of creating a vibrant Kansas business climate where innovation and entrepreneurship thrive. This state policy filters down to counties and cities, to the point where the first consideration for businesses and entrepreneurs is not is this something that will create value for customers and profit for me and my investors but rather what type of government help can I get?

Achievement eight is the statewide smoking ban. Parkinson’s championing of it means that he doesn’t believe that adult Kansans can decide for themselves whether they want to be around smokey places, and that he has little respect for private property rights.

Achievement nine is the new transportation plan. The governor claims it will create or keep 175,000 jobs. Most of these must be highway construction jobs, as it is that industry that heavily supported the plan. As usual, the governor and other advocates of government spending fail to see the jobs that are lost due to the government spending and the taxes necessary to pay for it. Veronique de Rugy explains: “Taxes simply transfer resources from consumers to government, displacing private spending and investment. Families whose taxes have increased will have less money to spend on themselves. They are poorer and will consume less. They also save less money, which in turn reduces the resources available for lending.” In addition, Kansas roads rate very well, even number one among the states in one highly-publicized study. Why the need to so much new investment?

Finally, achievement number ten is “Keeping Kansas a great place to do business.” If this is true, I wonder why do we have to spend so much on subsidies to keep Kansas companies from expanding elsewhere or packing up and leaving entirely, as with Hawker Beechcraft?

Hawker Beechcraft deal not proud moment for Kansas

This week the State of Kansas, City of Wichita, and Sedgwick County struck a deal with Hawker Beechcraft that allows Hawker to stay in Wichita rather than moving to another state.

While outgoing Governor Mark Parkinson and other leaders praise the deal, it was not a good day for Kansas.

It’s difficult to blame Hawker. That company saw similar Wichita-based companies receive corporate welfare, most recently Bombardier Learjet. Who can blame Hawker for wanting the same? In fact, when the state and local governments are willing to readily hand out corporate welfare, you can make a case that Hawker has a fiduciary duty to its shareholders to seek the same.

Therein lies the problem: Kansas’ approach to economic development is piecemeal. We respond to problems, as in the case of Hawker. But the state’s response gives more companies the incentive to come up with their own “problems” that require state intervention.

When recruiting or retaining companies, the state and its local governments presume they have the ability to select which companies are deserving of public subsidy.

What we have is a situation where a relatively small number of companies receive help from the state and its taxpayers, which only serves to increase the cost of business for everyone else.

Nonetheless, politicians and bureaucrats call this making an investment in, say, Hawker Beechcraft or whatever company is asking for handouts or tax breaks. The problem is that we don’t know if investing in these companies is the right investment, if government should be making these investments at all. (In the case of Hawker Beechcraft, there is some evidence that this company may need to shrink substantially in order to survive, handouts notwithstanding. See Report: Hawker should divest all but King Air.)

We need economic development policies that nurture all companies. Somewhere in Wichita or Kansas there is a small unknown company that has half a dozen or so employees — maybe more, maybe less — that is working on some innovation. If we’re lucky, we have many such companies. These companies could be working on a new technology, manufacturing process, computer software, video game, internet site, food processing technology, retail concept, chemical process, restaurant idea, engineering methodology, agricultural process, airplane wing — we just don’t know. Many will fail. But some will succeed, and few will, hopefully, succeed in a big way.

But these small startup companies may not fit in to the economic development programs the city and state have. Any of these now-small companies could become the next Cessna, LearJet, Beechcraft, or Pizza Hut. We just don’t know — we can’t know — which small companies will succeed. But these companies, when in small startup stage, struggle to pay the taxes that large companies are able to escape. Being small, they may also be disproportionally impacted by regulation. It’s not necessarily the case that a small startup aviation company is competing directly with Hawker Beechcraft and is handicapped by the larger company’s tax advantages and handouts. But these two companies could be competing for the same employees, for example, and that puts the smaller company at a disadvantage.

How can we identify which companies are deserving of government subsidy? Which companies should have their tax burden softened at the expense of others? Allocating resources — deciding what to do — in the face of uncertainty is the crux of entrepreneurship. It’s something that government is not equipped to do, as its incentives and motivations are all wrong.

In order to succeed, Kansas needs to embrace dynamism in its approach to economic development. For more on this see Kansas economic growth policy should embrace dynamism and Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy.

Unfortunately, the Hawker Beechcraft deal, along with most of the policies of the state and the City of Wichita move in the opposite direction: towards more state-controlled economic development.

Business can oppose incentives and use them

In the campaign for United States Congress from the fourth district of Kansas, Democrat Raj Goyle criticizes leading opponent Republican Mike Pompeo for accepting economic development incentives while opposing their existence.

A Goyle press release reads: “Already a known outsourcer, Pompeo, in an act of hypocrisy, took government incentivized aid for three of his companies, including Sunflower, Thayer and Sentry. He did this despite repeatedly denouncing government assistance in the private sector.”

This criticism — that those who oppose government programs nonetheless hypocritically take advantage of them — is an important topic to examine, not only as a campaign issue, but because the conflict that leads to this form of criticism arises often. It’s something that libertarians struggle with daily — and I don’t think Mike Pompeo would describe himself as libertarian.

In an article examining whether presidential candidate Ron Paul should accept federal matching campaign funds, the libertarian scholar Walter Block described the pervasiveness of government and the impossibility of escaping it:

For the modern state is so involved in the lives of its citizens that it is the rare individual who does not accept some form of government largesse, whether in the form of money payments, services, or goods of one type or another.

For example, while not everyone goes to a public school or teaches there, it is the rare individual who does not: walk on statist sidewalks, drive on public roads, carry currency in his pocket, avail himself of the services of governmental libraries, museums, parks, stadiums, etc. Which of us has not entered the premises of the motor vehicle bureau, sued someone in court, posted a letter, attempted to attain a passport, or interacted with government in any of the thousand and one other ways it touches upon our lives?

This hints at part of the conflict — angst even — that libertarians digest internally as we go about our business in a world dominated by government. I, for example, firmly believe that we would be better off with private ownership of the streets and highways. Each time I drive my car from my driveway onto the government street in front of my house, I think of this. I get it. I understand the conflict that government thrusts on me. It bothers me daily.

But there’s no other way for me to get to where I want to go. I’m consoled somewhat by the fact that the motor fuel taxes I paid go to building and maintaining the roads. This doesn’t mean, however, that I agree that our system of primarily government ownership of streets and highways is the best system. But it’s the system I am forced to live with, and I try to change it.

Business firms are generally aware, although not always, of government incentives available for economic development. These incentives are part of the economic and political landscape that business firms face. They have to be recognized and dealt with, just like any other factor such as regulation. If business firm “A” decides not to accept incentives and subsidies when firm “B” does, is this wise, even if accepting subsidy is against the principles of firm “A”?

I would recommend firm “A” to apply for and accept the subsidy. For one thing, if firm “A” is a public corporation and doesn’t pursue these incentives when they are available, the company is likely to be sued by its shareholders.

Second, these subsidies are part of the competitive landscape. Even though from a libertarian and conservative view they are wrong and harmful, they still exist. It does no good for a firm to pretend they don’t exist and thereby create a competitive disadvantage for itself. This is especially the case if firms “A” and “B” are direct competitors in the same industry. But even if they are not, these two firms still compete in the same markets for land, labor, capital, and other generic factors.

Third, firm “A,” like all of us, is paying for these incentives and subsidies. While this may seem like conceding to the power of the state, firm “A” might as well get some back of what it paid for.

So yes, business firms need to use government incentives and subsidies. At the same time, we need to work for the elimination of these programs. This is difficult, as the more government becomes involved in management and direction of the economy, it becomes harder to get government to stop. We see this in play at Wichita city hall, as more and more firms ask the city council for various forms of assistance or corporate welfare.

The fight is important, too. The factors that made our country and its economy great are at peril. Gary North wrote in The Snare of Government Subsidies: “… those within the government possess an extremely potent device for expanding political power. By a comprehensive program of direct political intervention into the market, government officials can steadily reduce the opposition of businessmen to the transformation of the market into a bureaucratic, regulated, and even centrally-directed organization. Bureaucracy replaces entrepreneurship as the principal form of economic planning.”

Returning to the politics of the day: Isn’t is a little strange to hear Goyle, who favors expansion of public-private partnerships, criticize those who use them, even if they are opposed to the idea in principle? Doesn’t Goyle want everyone to be in “the snare” that North describes?

In Wichita and Kansas, economic development is not working

The effort of Wichita and Kansas to retain Hawker Beechcraft, one of our leading employers and a Wichita institution, provides a lesson in the futility of corporate welfare as an economic development policy: Someone is usually willing to pay more. We would be much better off if we start transforming Kansas to a state where all companies are nurtured, not by bureaucratic and political oversight and handouts, but by a low taxing and spending environment, and a reasonable regulatory regime.

Recently I was shown a listing of all the industrial revenue bonds (IRBs) that Hawker Beechcraft and its predecessors have been authorized over the last 20 years. The number is large: $1.2 billion. This is not money that any governmental body has lent to Hawker Beechcraft. The purpose, instead, of the IRB program is to allow companies to escape paying property tax on property purchased with the bond proceeds. In some cases, companies escape paying sales tax as well.

It would be difficult to calculate how much tax Hawker Beechcraft and its predecessors have not paid due to the abatements, but it is a lot. The company still pays some property tax. Records from the Sedgwick County Treasurer’s system indicate the company paid $971,073 in tax year 2009.

When asking for tax breaks like this, companies often point out that they hire many people and pay good wages, so the taxing entities make up their money in other ways. That may be true. In fact, the cost-benefit analysis the city and county use make just that reckoning: if we give up collecting some tax from a company, how much additional tax will we collect from everyone else? Perhaps government officials don’t realize that much of this “benefit” is simply taxes shifted to someone else.

Nonetheless, politicians and bureaucrats call this making an investment in, say, Hawker Beechcraft or whatever company is asking for tax breaks at the moment. The problem is that we don’t know if investing in these companies is the right investment, if government should be making these investments at all.

Somewhere in Wichita or Kansas there a small unknown company that has half a dozen or so employees — maybe more, maybe less — that is working on some innovation. If we’re lucky, we have many such companies. These companies could be working on a new technology, manufacturing process, computer software, video game, internet site, food processing technology, retail concept, chemical process, restaurant idea, engineering methodology, agricultural process, airplane wing — we just don’t know. Many will fail. But some will succeed, and few will, hopefully, succeed in a big way.

But these small startup companies may not fit in to the economic development programs the city and state have. Some people may not even think of looking to government for economic development assistance, as when I interviewed a successful Vietnamese grocer in Wichita. He didn’t know “where to dig” for government handouts.

Any of these now-small companies could become the next Microsoft, Google, Home Depot, or Pizza Hut. We just don’t know which. But these companies, when in small startup stage, struggle to pay the taxes that large companies are able to escape. Being small, they may also be disproportionally impacted by regulation. It’s not necessarily the case that a small startup aviation company is competing directly with Hawker Beechcraft and is handicapped by the larger company’s tax advantages. But these two companies could be competing for the same employees, for example, and that puts the smaller company at a disadvantage.

How can we identify which companies are deserving of government subsidy? Which companies should have their tax burden softened at the expense of others? Allocating resources — deciding what to do — in the face of uncertainty is the crux of entrepreneurship. It’s something that government is not equipped to do, as its incentives and motivations are all wrong.

For politicians, the prime motivation is to be reelected. It is rare that the time horizon of a politician extends beyond the next election.

For bureaucrats, the motivation is to expand their sphere of influence and power.

Neither of these motivations are compatible with entrepreneurship. Some are not compatible in any way with running a business. For example, a business firm looks at its employees as a cost that must be managed and controlled if a profit is to be made and the firm survive. But to government, spending on employees is a social benefit, and one that is paid for by someone else.

Another problem is the nature of knowledge. In a recent issue of Cato Policy Report, Arnold King wrote:

As Hayek pointed out, knowledge that is important in the economy is dispersed. Consumers understand their own wants and business managers understand their technological opportunities and constraints to a greater degree than they can articulate and to a far greater degree than experts can understand and absorb.

When knowledge is dispersed but power is concentrated, I call this the knowledge-power discrepancy. Such discrepancies can arise in large firms, where CEOs can fail to appreciate the significance of what is known by some of their subordinates. … With government experts, the knowledge-power discrepancy is particularly acute.

I emphasized the last sentence to highlight the problem of the dispersed nature of knowledge.

There are other problems with government management of economic development. We need to move away from this and towards a free market approach to economic development. This will take some time, and until then, we’re forced to defend our industry from other states, as we are presently doing with Hawker Beechcraft.

But if we don’t start transforming Kansas, we’ll be doing this forever. And someone else always seems to have more money to spend.

‘The Power of the Poor’ to be shown in Wichita

On Monday October 11, the video “The Power of the Poor” will be shown in Wichita, with discussion following.

“The Power of the Poor is a compelling look at the surprising and vital role of inclusive laws and titled property in establishing peace and prosperity. It is also the story of real people with real struggles — all of whom share a commitment to entrepreneurship.”

“De Soto and his team have proven that, even hobbled by great obstacles, the world’s hard-working poor entrepreneurs have created far more wealth than anyone had ever imagined possible — even with the absence of the legal frameworks people in the rich north take for granted. Prosperity is possible, if only we simplify the rules of the game. That means giving the poor titled property and the legal business tools we in the West enjoy. Such will enable them to harness the power of their considerable assets, as these stories illustrate.”

The presentation will be at the Lionel D. Alford Library located at 3447 S. Meridian in Wichita. The time is from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm.

For more information on this event contact John Todd at john@johntodd.net or 316-312-7335, or Susan Estes, AFP Field Director at sestes@afphq.org or 316-681-4415.

In Wichita Planeview neighborhood: Yes, we have!

Developers of a proposed Save-A-Lot grocery store in Wichita’s Planeview neighborhood have made the case that without two forms of subsidy, the store won’t be profitable and won’t be built.

There is a counterexample, however. On Hillside, just south of Pawnee and just across the street from Planeview, sit two grocery stores that together occupy 13,000 square feet of space. This is close in size to the proposed Save-A-Lot store’s 16,500 square feet.

While the developer says the Save-A-Lot store can’t be profitable without over $800,000 of taxpayer subsidy, the existence of these grocers proves that it can be done. They are in business, earning a profit, and doing so without government subsidy. The City of Wichita, apparently, is not aware of these success stories, or doesn’t care.

Reviewing the September 14th meeting of the Wichita City Council gives us an idea of how little the city cares how its actions affect existing business.

At that meeting, Rob Snyder, developer of the proposed Save-A-Lot store, said he has “researched every possible way” to make the project work. Without the subsidy, he said, there won’t be a grocery store. But the existence of several grocery stores in or near Planeview, operating profitably without government subsidy, shows that Snyder’s claims are false.

I’m not claiming that Snyder intentionally lied to the city council about the necessity of subsidy for his store. But he has an $800,000 motive to get the council to approve his subsidy. And there’s evidence that corporate welfare like what Snyder requests is not necessary to open and operate a successful grocery store in this part of Wichita.

During his talk to the council, it became apparent that Snyder thinks corporate welfare is a wise business and political strategy. Snyder lamented the fact that earmarks are now unpopular with the American public and not available to finance his proposed grocery store. An earmark — that is to say, a grant of money paid for by U.S. taxpayers — was used as a large part of the financing for the other Save-A-Lot in Wichita at 13th and Grove. An article by James Arbertha tells of the roll earmarks played in the opening of that store.

While it may be necessary for Snyder’s store to be propped up by taxpayer subsidy, citizen Wendy Aylworth told council members of the several grocery stores already operating in the Planeview area. Mayor Carl Brewer appeared surprised to learn of these stores and asked Aylworth for their locations.

The mayor’s surprise is evidence that the city simply does not care about the impact of its corporate welfare policies on existing business. Several people have pointed out to me that these existing stores — with the exception of one large supermarket — are ethnic grocers, although most carry a wide variety of food and household items.

Is the CID tax necessary?

One of the issues relating to CIDs is their very necessity. If a business feels it needs to generate additional revenue, why not simply raise its prices? Why is it necessary to have the government collect taxes in order to generate additional revenue for the merchants in the CID?

Ron Rhodes, who developed the existing Save-A-Lot store in Wichita, addressed the Wichita city council that day. Rhodes referred to the “people who have ability to pay” an extra sales tax, and those who don’t have the ability to pay. Listening to him I couldn’t help be reminded of another slogan: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

Rhodes also spoke of neighborhood pride. But how proud can a neighborhood be when merchants have to rely on corporate welfare to open a store there?

In later questioning, Rhodes said that a Save-A-Lot store can’t raise its prices due to a “price deck” policy that says that most prices should be uniform in Save-A-Lot stores. This is an internal business policy of Save-A-Lot that should not bind the City of Wichita. It is not relevant to the formation of public policy in Wichita.

The issue of tax increment financing

At the same meeting, Greg Ferris, a lobbyist for Snyder, told the council that “there will not be a building on that corner if this is not passed today. There will not be any tax revenue, so we are not taking away any tax money away from schools, police, fire, etc.” He said we have “spent months” trying to figure out how to finance a project in that area. He said that “a grocery store is not going to move into the Planeview area to service those people,” alluding to how a grocery store did not move to the 13th and Grove area until the city subsidized it.

Ferris contended that there is no city tax money going in to this project that is taken from something else.

While presenting himself as speaking for the public interest, Ferris is a hired lobbyist for Snyder, the developer of the proposed grocery store. He is being paid to present Snyder’s interests, and those alone. He invokes the standard argument of those seeking corporate welfare through tax increment financing: the “but for” argument. This is the claim that without the benefit of the TIF district, nothing will happen.

It may be true that without the corporate welfare provided by the TIF district and the CID, Snyder won’t develop the Save-A-Lot store. But that doesn’t mean that it is not possible to run a successful grocery store in that part of town, as we have evidence that it is.

Ferris’ claim that no tax money from something else will go into this project is false, too. Will the Save-A-Lot store pledge to forgo the use of police, fire, and other city services? As this store wants to escape paying the same taxes that others have to pay, the rest of Wichita has to pay to provide services that Snyder doesn’t want to pay for.

TIF is not a wise policy. Research on tax increment financing indicates that TIF is a zero-sum game. When someone wins, others lose an equal amount. TIF does not increase the total amount of development that takes place in a city. It simply transfers development from one part of the region to another. This intervention by government may actually decrease the amount of development in a city.

In the case of Snyder and Ferris, the city’s actions in favoring a politically-connected developer and lobbyist with taxpayer-funded welfare may result in small ethnic grocers and one large established supermarket going out of business. How is this progress?

The moral hazard

In visiting with the owner of the large building and one of the grocery stores on Hillside, I asked him if he sought government assistance when developing that property. He answered no, that he didn’t know — speaking in his broken English — “where to dig the money” at that time.

Now he knows to get a shovel.

This creates an increasing cycle of dependence on government, particularly Wichita city government, for managing economic development. Entrepreneurship is replaced by bureaucracy and politics, not only for the revitalization of downtown Wichita, but across the city too.

Will the real robber barons please stand up?

By Helen Cochran.

At the April 13th meeting of the Wichita City Council a request from downtown developer Real Development will be made for an additional $2.2 million taxpayer subsidy for its condo project Exchange Place, located at Douglas and Market. With two weeks to go before this public hearing there is still time for council members to read The Myth of the Robber Barons by Burton Folsom. Folsom’s easy-to-read 134-page narrative lays out the case for entrepreneurship in America and can be read in one evening. It’s a history lesson worth reading by all.

Folsom highlights two kinds of business developers: “political entrepreneurs” and ‘market entrepreneurs.” And while Folsom focuses on the larger-than-life entrepreneurs of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the lessons gleaned have far reaching implications and relevance, even on a local level.

According to Folsom, “political entrepreneurs” are those that seek government/taxpayer subsidy, public private partnerships, protective tariffs, special privileges, etc. Folsom makes a sound case that economic development fueled by political intervention invariably fails and undermines the very ideology it purports to serve.

On the other hand “market entrepreneurs” are those that obtain their successes by producing a product that is better and of more value to the consumer, unbridled by the government controls and restrictions that come with subsidy. No one can argue that it is the market entrepreneurs that create the wealth in this country.

Despite the anti-business rhetoric spewed by most historians and reinforced in school curriculums across this country, Folsom offers concrete evidence that the likes of Commodore Vanderbilt, John D Rockefeller, Andrew Mellon, the Scrantons of Pennsylvania, James J. Hill, and Charles Schwab should be revered because of the consumer benefits achieved when free markets are allowed to flourish without government involvement. Folsom contrasts these successes with failure-after-failure of those in the same respective industries that received government subsidy. Government cannot do it better and most certainly cannot do it cheaper.

In Wichita, Real Development is one of several downtown “political entrepreneurs.” What was originally a $27.8 million project with an approved $9.3 million subsidy from the City of Wichita is now a $51.5 million project seeking an additional $2.2 million subsidy from the City. Real Development boasts that with approved additional City subsidy they will be able to qualify for a $30 million loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — a government guaranteed loan. This “guarantee” is none other than you and me. Our taxpayer dollars are lost if this project fails.

According to Goody Clancy, the City’s downtown development consultant, there is a market for downtown development in Wichita. Specifically, Goody Clancy consultants found that downtown Wichita demand for residences is 1,000 units over the next five years.

If such a market truly exists where are the market entrepreneurs and why are they not clamoring to develop? Why are local banks not willing to loan these political entrepreneurs money without a government guarantee? Michael Elzufon, one of the principals of Real Development, states this is a “low risk deal.” Yes, it’s a low risk deal for Elfuzon but I suggest it is a very high-risk deal for the taxpayer.

The Wichita City Council, as with as many city councils nationwide, continues to insist that economic development in downtown Wichita requires government subsidy. Fear mongering becomes a tactic used when justifying subsidies offered to private enterprise to locate or expand here: “Everyone else is offering them” or “If we don’t subsidize, Company X will go elsewhere or relocate” or “Without subsidy this won’t happen.” Millions of taxpayer dollars have been invested in the name of economic development or downtown revitalization and when projects fail, millions more are spent in an attempt to salvage the project.

Development succeeds when market entrepreneurs perceive a need and are willing to risk their own capital for success. Anything short of that has historically failed.

The Myth of the Robber Barons is a must read for anyone interested in the writing on the wall but especially for those with the power to commit taxpayer money to projects that are better left to market entrepreneurs.

Privatization of Wichita city parks

In a post concerning the possible privatization of City of Wichita parks maintenance, I called for, in a rather oblique way, privatization of city parks. A commenter picked up on this and wrote “I’m wondering how the parks would be decided by the market. Wouldn’t the parks have to charge an entry fee in that case?”

It’s a good question. Broadly, what would happen if the City of Wichita decided not to provide public parks? Would there then be any privately owned parks? What would these parks be like, if there were any?

As there are very few examples of privately-owned parks in America, we don’t really know how privately-owned parks would work. But that’s no reason we shouldn’t consider this idea.

The first thing we need to do is to dissuade ourselves of the false notion that the present system of municipal parks means free parks. They aren’t free. They seem to be free — or nearly so — to those who use them, because there is no admission fee charged.

One way that private parks might work is that their owners would charge an admission fee. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there would be an impenetrable fence surrounding the park and a toll gate at the single entrance. There could be other ways to collect admission fees.

Another way that a private owner might generate revenue and potential profit through owning a park is by the selling of concessions. Besides the obvious selling of food and drink, some other examples come to mind. A vendor might rent lockers for the storage of bicycles, so that it would be convenient for people to drive to the park and use their bicycles.

Vendors might rent roller skates. I rented these in college on the KU campus, and it was fun. Other things could be rented too, even paddle boats on the Little Arkansas River, as in the old days.

A private park might offer nanny service, so parents could drop off their young children for a session of supervised play.

A private park would probably provide security services so that its patrons feel safe. Would people be willing to pay for that?

A private park might sell advertising or sponsorship. Philanthropy could play a role, too.

So there could be many ways in which private parks could operate.

While the goal of private park owners would usually be to attract many people to patronize their parks, private owners would be able to exclude people from the park. Advocates for the present parks workers say that the workers clean the public parks of needles and syringes. This indicates that at present, the parks are used for activities that most people, especially families, don’t want to be around. Would a private owner of a park have an incentive to keep his park free of illegal drug users? Absolutely — and much more so than it appears the Wichita police do. And being privately owned, the owner would have the right to exclude drug users, noisemakers, smokers, beer drinkers, panhandlers, fornicators, proselytizers, sidewalk preachers, politicians, and others from his park. He could even impose a dress code.

(Which reminds me of a joke: A conservative said, “I am distressed by the idea of fornication in public parks.” The libertarian replied, “I am distressed by the idea of public parks.” )

Privately-owned parks would bring benefits, the nature of which we really can’t foresee and predict. Entrepreneurs are highly motivated to discover and meet consumer wishes and demands. They can experiment to see what works. The costs of their failures are born only by them. When public officials take risks and fail, they’re criticized for wasting public funds. This is a reason why little innovation comes from government.

By unleashing entrepreneurial creativity, there might be a tremendous diversity of parks springing up with features we can’t even dream of now.

Entrepreneurs don’t have to go through plodding approval of long-range plans as Wichita recently did with its Parks, Recreation, and Open Space (PROS) plan. This plan, according to its brochure, took 18 months to develop. How will it be funded? According to a memo accompanying the plan, “Present funding levels are insufficient to adequately cover the costs of the Department’s current facilities and programs.” I don’t sense much groundswell of support for raising revenue to increase this funding. So are we left to conclude that the method of public funding of the parks is failing? It seems so.

Back to my post from the other day: Another commenter wrote that the views I hold are those of “free-market extremists.” To which I reply: thank you for noticing.

This writer also wrote: “Hence, if there is no market or capitalistic value for parks, then why have them at all.”

This is my point. If people don’t value parks enough to pay for them as they use them (or let private owners profit in ways that I described above, or in other ways), then we’re faced with the situation we have today: First the government taxes everyone. Then politicians, bureaucrats, and a small group of enthusiasts decide how much recreation the people should have, and where and in what form.

I ask you: could anything be more extreme — not to mention counterproductive — than this?

Wichita Taxes Cancel Development

Carrie Rengers’ Wichita Eagle column from yesterday (Warehouse plans near airport are called off) reports on two Wichita real estate developers who have canceled a project that would be a valuable addition to our city. The reason for canceling? Wichita’s property tax environment.

In Wichita, we’re separating real estate development into two classes. There are those who listen to markets and consumers, and try to satisfy the needs that they sense. These are the market entrepreneurs.

Then, there are the political entrepreneurs. These developers make use of devices such as tax increment financing (TIF districts) to offload large portions of the cost of their developments on the public. They do this by pleasing government officials and bureaucrats, not consumers.

No Kansas subsidy to Northern Flyer

When it comes to government money, there’s no shortage of people who have ideas on how to spend it. One group that has grand ideas of how government should spend your money is the Northern Flyer Alliance. This group promotes passenger train service in our area. Currently they’re promoting extension of rail service from Oklahoma City to Wichita.

The problem with this group, as alluded to above, is that they seek to accomplish their goal by using government. As reported in the Wichita Eagle (Group seeks support for train service through Wichita), “The director of a group seeking expanded passenger rail service through Wichita today asked City Council members to pass a resolution urging the state to include in its upcoming transportation plan a new Amtrak line stretching from Oklahoma City to Wichita and on to Kansas City.”

So this group is asking Wichita (and many other towns and cities) to apply pressure to the State of Kansas to subsidize this rail line. This group is another example of political entrepreneurship in action. Instead of practicing market entrepreneurship — that’s where you develop and deliver services and products that people actually want enough to pay for — this group seeks to accomplish its goals by influencing politicians and bureaucrats. They were successful in Oklahoma.

If we want passenger train service that is truly successful, this group should work to raise private capital rather than seeking government subsidy. This is the only way we’ll know whether this train service is something that truly adds value, or whether it is just another “amenity” the government provides by taxing one person to subsidize someone else.

Wichita’s Naysayers Are Saying Yes to Liberty

Wichita politicians, newspaper editorial writers, and sometimes just plain folks are fond of bashing those they call the “naysayers,” sometimes known as CAVE people. An example is from a recent Opinion Line Extra in the Wichita Eagle:

An acquaintance in another city refers to the anti-everything people as “CAVE” people (Citizens Against Virtually Everything). I fear the GOP voters of western Sedgwick County have selected the ultimate CAVE person in Karl Peterjohn.

Naysayers, too, can’t be happy, according to a recent statement by Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer: “And I know that there’s always going to be people who are naysayers, that they’re just not going to be happy.”

If you read all of Mayor Brewer’s remarks at Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, August 12, 2008, you’ll learn that without government management of economic development in Wichita, we’d be back to the days of covered wagons. (I’m not kidding. He really said that, and I think he really believes it.)

Wichita’s news media, led by the Wichita Eagle, continually expresses a bias in favor of government. Even in news reporting this bias can be seen, as shown in the post The Wichita Eagle’s Preference For Government. On the Eagle’s editorial page, we rarely see an expansion of government interventionism opposed by the editorial writers. I can’t think of a single case.

But saying no to government doesn’t mean saying no to progress. It does mean saying “no” to the self-serving plans of politicians and bureaucrats. It means saying “no” to the dangers of collectivist thinking, as expressed in The Collectivism of Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius.

It means saying “no” to Wichita’s political entrepreneurs, who seek to earn profits through government coercion rather than meeting the needs of customers in the marketplace. It means saying “no” to the public-private partnership, where all too often it is the risk that is public and the profit that is private. It means saying “no” to a monopoly on the use of public money in the education of children, and “no” to an expansion of that monopoly through a new bond issue.

So yes, I guess I and Wichita’s other naysayers are saying “no” to a lot of things.

But what we’re saying “yes” to is liberty and freedom. We’re saying “yes” to the rich diversity of human individuality instead of government bureaucracy. We’re saying “yes” to free people cooperating voluntarily through free markets rather than forced government transfers from taxpayers to favored individuals and programs.

We’re saying “yes” to consumers choosing which businesses in Wichita thrive, rather than politicians on the city council choosing. We’re saying “yes” to people making their own choices, rather than government “incentivizing” the behavior it desires through TIF districts and tax abatements, those incentives being paid for by taxpayers.

So let me ask you: what do you say “yes” to?

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer saves us from covered wagons

On August 12, 2008, at a meeting of the Wichita City Council, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer delivered remarks that I found … well, I’m still trying to find the words that fully describe my astonishment. You can read my transcription of his remarks in this post: Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, August 12, 2008.

The context of these remarks is that John Todd and I had just testified against the city establishing a tax increment financing (TIF) district that benefits a local developer. Mayor Brewer believes it is the city’s firm duty to guide and subsidize economic development. His remarks on July 1, 2008 (Mayor Brewer Warren Theatre [sic] Statement) leave no doubt about this. So I wasn’t too surprised that the mayor ignored John’s and my advice and supported the formation of this TIF district.

What surprised me was when the mayor said that without the city’s “role in guiding and identifying how the city was going to grow … we would still be in covered wagons and horses.”

When I heard him say that, I thought he’s just using a rhetorical flourish to emphasize a point. But later on he said this: “… then tomorrow we’ll be saying we don’t want more technology, and then the following day we’ll be saying we don’t want public safety, and it won’t take us very long to get back to where we were at back when the city first settled.”

So I think it’s fair to say that the mayor believes that without the city’s role in economic development, we would soon return to the stone age (okay, there I exaggerate a bit).

Many people in Wichita, including the mayor and many on the city council and county commission, believe that the public-private partnership is the way to drive innovation and get things done. It’s really a shame that this attitude is taking hold in Wichita, a city which has such a proud tradition of entrepreneurship. The names that Wichitans are rightly proud of — Lloyd Stearman, Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna, W.C. Coleman, Albert Alexander Hyde, Dan and Frank Carney, and Fred C. Koch — these people worked and built businesses without the benefit of public-private partnerships and government subsidy.

Today this rugged heritage is disappearing in favor of the public-private partnership and programs like Visioneering Wichita. We don’t have long before the entrepreneurial spirit in Wichita is totally extinguished. What can we do to return power to the people instead of surrendering it to government?

Downtown Wichita Arena TIF District

Remarks to Wichita City Council, August 5, 2008.

When I’ve been talking to people in Wichita, I find there is great confusion about the way that TIF districts work. This confusion serves to obfuscate what really happens with TIF districts: the TIF developers get to use their own property taxes to pay for things that non-TIF developers have to pay for out-of-pocket, or through special tax assessments on top of their regular property taxes.

It is really this simple. To deny this is to deny simple arithmetic.

Then, do TIF districts perform as promised? One of the troubling things I learned from recent Wichita Eagle reporting is that in the past four years, assessed valuations in the downtown TIF areas have grown at 14.9 percent per year, just 1.4 times the rate of all commercial property. A few weeks ago I was assured by one council member that the taxes paid by property owners in TIF districts grows “exponentially.” But now we have evidence that the growth is quite modest.

I was going to say that I have no doubt that the members of this council have good and noble intentions in wanting downtown Wichita and the area around the arena to succeed. But establishing this TIF district is not good for the arena district or the city as a whole.

Entrepreneurs in Wichita, or anywhere for that matter, have a difficult enough job to do in predicting what consumers want. For government to step in and create special tax-favored districts adds another measure of uncertainty and risk. It distorts the market allocation of capital. Investment will be driven by government incentives rather than market considerations.

This is also a blow to those who have invested elsewhere. It is the city telling them they made a mistake, that they invested in the wrong part of town.

For the arena district to succeed, it needs to be because entrepreneurs, using their own capital, decide that it is a worthwhile place to invest.

In Wichita, is Economic Development Proven Public Policy?

In a statement read by Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and released on the city’s website at Mayor Brewer Warren Theatre [sic] Statement, the mayor states “Economic development is proven public policy.” The word “proven” was used several other times in the statement.

(I don’t know who wrote the title to the statement, but it combines the mayor’s name with theater developer Bill Warren’s name in a way that is, I am sure, unintentionally humorous. Mayor Brewer Warren? Who is he?)

The Warren Theater economic development project is one example of economic development that has proven not to work, despite the mayor’s claims.

But that is only my opinion. The definition of success, I realize, could mean different things to different people. To me, I would expect that once a development is given a huge head start with millions of dollars in subsidy provided through tax increment financing, that after a few years it would at least be breaking even. Certainly, I would hope — and I think the people of Wichita agree — that the project does not become a continual drain on the resources of the people of Wichita, as the Old Town Warren Theater has become.

But it appears that Mayor Brewer and council member Sharon Fearey have a different definition of success. To them, tax increment financing is not a subsidy to a developer. It’s an investment by the city. All it’s used for, according to Fearey, is to pay bonds: “Under a TIF, the additional property taxes generated by new development are used to repay bonds. No dollars go to private developers.” (Sharon Fearey: Warren loan is an investment in future, July 1, 2008 Wichita Eagle)

Ms. Fearey, may I ask this question: the proceeds from the bonds that were issued: how are they spent?

An interest-free or reduced-interest loan is not a subsidy according to the mayor, it’s “targeted economic development.” It’s a “public-private partnership.” Without it, our taxpayer dollars would not be protected.

John Todd tells me that there is a groundswell of resentment building in Wichita over this loan. I hope that in the coming months this increased interest in the economic development activities of the Wichita city government leads to more discussion of what path we want to pursue in Wichita. Do we want more private initiative and entrepreneurship, or do we want more politicians and bureaucrats?

Wichita and the Old Town Warren Theater Loan

Remarks to be delivered to the Wichita City Council, July 1, 2008.

Mr. Mayor and members of the Council, we are potentially beginning a journey down a road where there are two classes of businesses in Wichita.

There are business owners who seek to earn their profit through market entrepreneurship, that is, by meeting the demands of their customers and the marketplace. That’s a difficult thing to do. An entrepreneur must sense customer demand and desires, and then commit resources to satisfying customers. If entrepreneurs are correct in their judgments and successful in their execution, they earn profits.

There are other business owners who, through TIF districts, tax abatements, and outright subsidy as in the case of the proposed loan agreement before you today, earn their profits by pleasing politicians such as the members of this council. They practice political entrepreneurship. The people they must please are a majority of this council. Investments — to the extent that government spending can be called that — will be made based on political, rather than marketplace, considerations.

We have a proud history of market entrepreneurs in Wichita; men whose names are known not only in Wichita, but across the world. There are many other men and women in Wichita who, although their names are not famous, successfully meet customers’ demands in the marketplace and have built successful businesses.

Mr. Warren is, by all accounts, a talented entrepreneur who earns profits by pleasing customers at his theaters located on Wichita’s west and east sides and in other cities.

The fact that this theater — operated by a person with great experience in running successful theaters — is not profitable tells us all we need to know about the wisdom of investment in this business. If Mr. Warren and his partners wish to run it as a hobby, let them do so with their own money. The citizens of Wichita, however, need to be able to make their own investments in ways that they believe will earn a profit — that profitability being the one sure test of the success of an investment. When government makes “investments” based on political calculation, the people of Wichita are less able to make their own private investments.

The council made an unwise decision some years ago when it established the TIF district for this theater. While the city is bound to pay to retire the bonds that were issued, that is the only obligation we have. The fact that a bad decision was made in the past should have no bearing on the decision to be made today. This is especially true as a decision to make this loan steers Wichita firmly towards the path of less private entrepreneurship and more government control of investment in Wichita.

The Entrepreneur As American Hero

This is an excerpt of a speech given by Walter E. Williams on February 6, 2005 at Hillsdale College. The complete speech, titled “The Entrepreneur As American Hero,” can be read here: http://www.hillsdale.edu/imprimis/2005/03/.

At this juncture let me say a few words about the modern push for corporate social responsibility. Do corporations have a social responsibility? Yes, and Nobel Laureate Professor Milton Friedman put it best in 1970 when he said that in a free society “there is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.”

It is only people, not businesses, who have responsibilities. A CEO is an employee, an employee of shareholders and customers. The failure of the corporate executive community to recognize this, and its willingness to engage in activities unrelated to the pursuit of profits, means national wealth will be lower, product prices will be higher and the return on investment lower.

If we care about people’s wants, rather than beating up on profit-making enterprises, we should pay more attention to government-owned non-profit organizations. A good example are government schools. Many squander resources and produce a shoddy product while administrators, teachers and staff earn higher pay and perks, and customers (taxpayers) are increasingly burdened. Unlike other producers, educationists don’t face the rigors of the profit discipline, and hence they’re not as accountable. Ditto the U.S. Postal Service. It often provides shoddy and surly services, but its managers and workers receive increasingly higher wages while customers pay higher and higher prices. Again, wishes of customers can be safely ignored because there’s no bottom line discipline of profits.

Here’s Williams’ law: Whenever the profit incentive is missing, the probability that people’s wants can be safely ignored is the greatest. If a poll were taken asking people which services they are most satisfied with and which they are most dissatisfied with, for-profit organizations (supermarkets, computer companies and video stores) would dominate the first list while non-profit organizations (schools, offices of motor vehicle registration) would dominate the latter. In a free economy, the pursuit of profits and serving people are one and the same. No one argues that the free enterprise system is perfect, but it’s the closest we’ll come here on Earth.