Tag Archives: Free markets

U.S. Capitol Dome us-capitol-325341_1280

In Kansas fourth district, fundamental issues of governance arise

The contest in the Kansas fourth district is a choice between principle and political expediency, and between economic freedom and cronyism.

While some news articles and political columns have described the contest for Republican Party nomination for United States House of Representatives between Todd Tiahrt and Mike Pompeo as a yawner, as between two candidates with few and only minor distinguishing positions — there are important differences. The press is starting to notice.

A Crony Capitalist Showdown

In the Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel made the case for this contest’s importance as a bellwether of Republican sentiment:

A big decision comes Tuesday in the Kansas GOP primary. The Sunflower State is in the throes of political upheaval, with most of the attention on the fortunes of Gov. Sam Brownback and Sen. Pat Roberts. But the race that may say far more about the direction of the GOP is taking place in Wichita, the state’s Fourth District, in the standoff between Rep. Mike Pompeo and challenger Todd Tiahrt.

The 50-year-old Mr. Pompeo — an Army veteran, Harvard Law grad and businessman — was elected in the 2010 tea party surge, with a particular focus on liberating private enterprise. He’s made a name for himself as a leader in the fight to end corporate welfare and pork, and to cut back on strangling regulations. (Potomac Watch: A Crony Capitalism Showdown, August 1, 2014)

(If the above link does not work for you because you don’t have a subscription to the Wall Street Journal, click here.)

Such principles are preciselyAfter detailing some legislative activity and accomplishment, Strassel notes the difficulty that fighters for economic freedom encounter: “Such principles are precisely what conservative voters claim to demand from their representatives. Yet the antisubsidy line has hardly been an easy one, even in conservative Kansas — which collects its share of federal largess. And Mr. Tiahrt knows it.”

Concluding her column, Strassel outlines the choice that so many writers have failed to realize:

The choice voters fundamentally face on Tuesday is whether they want a congressman who works to get government smaller for everyone and to end corporate welfare, or a congressman who grabs what he can of big government to funnel to his district, and embraces crony capitalism. The latter is a return to the unreformed GOP, a groove plenty of Republicans would happily slide back into — if only voters gave the nod. We’ll see if Kansas conservatives do.

Another example of the difference between the two candidates is the Export-Import Bank. Conservative groups are urging that Congress not reauthorize the bank, a vote that will happen soon. The most common argument is that it harms American jobs, and there are allegations of corruption in its operations.

While in Congress, Pompeo voted against the reauthorization of the bank. He has said he would vote against its reauthorization again unless there is significant reform. Tiahrt, on the other hand, voted in favor of the Export-Import Bank. It’s representative of the type of cronyism he has supported while in office, and would likely support again, especially as his positions tack to the political left.

Finally, Tiahrt has recently criticized Charles Koch and Americans for Prosperity, leading us to wonder if Tiahrt understands or embraces the principles of economic freedom and free markets.

charles-koch-wall-street-journal-2014-04-03

For Tiahrt, economic freedom is not a good thing, it seems

Kansas congressional candidate Todd Tiahrt has criticized Charles Koch and Americans for Prosperity, leading us to wonder if Tiahrt understands or embraces the principles of economic freedom and free markets.

In a recent speech, candidate for United States House of Representatives Todd Tiahrt criticized Americans for Prosperity and Charles Koch, telling an audience “in general, they try to fight programs that they think are not good for Koch Industries.”

He also said that for Mike Pompeo, Tiahrt’s election opponent who is supported by Americans for Prosperity, they “think it’s all about the money.”

These allegations are contrary to positions and actions that Charles and David Koch have taken throughout their lives. As an example, in April of this year Charles Koch penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. In the article, Koch explains his involvement in public affairs:

Far from trying to rig the system, I have spent decades opposing cronyism and all political favors, including mandates, subsidies and protective tariffs — even when we benefit from them. I believe that cronyism is nothing more than welfare for the rich and powerful, and should be abolished.

Koch Industries was the only major producer in the ethanol industry to argue for the demise of the ethanol tax credit in 2011. That government handout (which cost taxpayers billions) needlessly drove up food and fuel prices as well as other costs for consumers — many of whom were poor or otherwise disadvantaged. Now the mandate needs to go, so that consumers and the marketplace are the ones who decide the future of ethanol. (Charles Koch: I’m Fighting to Restore a Free Society)

In an earlier Journal op-ed Koch wrote “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.”

If it was “all about the money” as Tiahrt contends, Koch Industries would join the majority of American business firms that seek to rig the system in their favor. But Charles and David Koch, along with Americans for Prosperity, do not do that. Instead, they advocate for reform.

It’s not a recent conversion, either. Charles and David Koch have promoted free markets and economic freedom for many decades. Charles Koch and others founded what became the Cato Institute in 1977, almost four decades ago. Cato has been consistent in its advocacy of economic freedom.

Even earlier that that: An issue of Koch Industries Discovery newsletter contains a story titled “Don’t subsidize me.” Here’s an excerpt describing an event that must have taken place about 50 years ago:

When Charles Koch was in his 20s, he attended a business function hosted by his father. At that event, Fred Koch introduced Charles to a local oilman. When the independent oilman politely asked about the young man’s interests, Charles began talking about all he was doing to promote economic freedom. “Wow!” said the oilman, who was so impressed he wanted to introduce the young bachelor to his eligible daughter. But when Charles mentioned he was in favor of eliminating the government’s oil import quota, which subsidized domestic producers, the oilman exploded in rage. “Your father ought to lock you in a cell!” he yelled, jabbing his finger into Charles’ chest. “You’re worse than a Communist!”

It seems the oilman was all for the concept of free markets — unless it meant he had to compete on equal terms.

Under oath

For more than 50 years, Charles Koch has consistently promoted economic freedom, even when it was not in the company’s immediate financial interest. In the 1960s, Koch was willing to testify before a powerful Congressional committee that he was against the oil import quota — a very popular political measure at the time. “I think it’s fair to say my audience was less than receptive,” recalls Koch.

Years later, Koch warned an independent energy association about the dangers of subsidies and mandates. “We avoid the short-run temptation to impose regulatory burdens on competitors. We don’t lobby for subsidies that penalize taxpayers for our benefit. “This is our philosophy because we believe this will produce the most favorable conditions in the long run,” Koch said.

It seems that candidate Tiahrt doesn’t share these principles.

Following is a transcript provided to me of remarks by Todd Tiahrt on July 25, 2014.

The Americans for Prosperity is an organization that is primarily funded by Koch Industries and, in general, they try to fight programs that they think are not good for Koch Industries. And now they’re trying to support President, excuse me, they’re trying to support Mr. Pompeo. So, I guess because Mr. Pompeo is a Harvard lawyer and President Obama is a Harvard lawyer, sometimes I accidentally slip when I say “President Obama” when I really meant to say “Mr. Pompeo,” because they’re both Harvard lawyers.

Americans for Prosperity have done some good things in the past, but today they’re on the wrong side of the truth. … Mr. Pompeo and Koch Industries think it’s all about the money. You can out-vote Charles Koch if you get one other person to vote with you. Right here we have enough people to out-vote all of the billionaires in Kansas. Right here we have enough people to out-vote most of the millionaires, but they think that they can sway the outcome of this election by just putting more and more money into it. And forget about you! … They, in Washington, are all about the money, and it’s playing out right here in the Fourth District of Kansas.

Wichita City Council Chambers

For Wichita leaders, novel alternatives on water not welcome

A forum on water issues featured a presentation by Wichita city officials and was attended by other city officials, but the city missed a learning opportunity.

This week Kansas Policy Institute held an educational form on the issues of water in the Wichita area. The event featured four presentations with questions and answers, with most being about one hour in length.

This was a welcome and important event, as the city is proposing to spend several hundred million dollars on an increased water supply. It is likely that citizens will be asked to approve a sales tax to pay this cost. It’s important that we get this right, and citizen skepticism is justified. The city has recently spent $247 million on a water project that hasn’t yet proved its value over a reasonably long trial. A former mayor has told audiences that he was assured Wichita had adequate water for the next 50 years. It was eleven years ago he was told that. Wichita’s current mayor has admitted that the city has not spent what was needed to maintain our current infrastructure, instead pushing those costs to the future.

Most of the information that Wichitans have access to is provided by city government. So when an independent group produces an educational event on an important topic, citizens might hope that Wichita city officials take part.

And, Wichita city officials did take part. The second of the four presentations was delivered by Wichita public works director Alan King and council member Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita). City governmental affairs director Dale Goter and council member Lavonta Williams were in the audience.

But after this presentation ended, the four city officials left.

What did they miss? They missed two additional presentations, or half the program. The city officials did not hear a presentation by Dr. Art Hall of Kansas University which presented novel ideas of using markets for water resources. Particularly, how Wichita could secure increased water supply by purchasing water rights and using the infrastructure it already has in place.

In the final presentation, the audience asked questions that the presenter was not able to answer. City officials like public works director King would have been able to provide the answers.

I understand that city council members are part-time employees paid a part-time salary. Some have outside jobs or businesses to run. But that’s not the case with the city’s public works director or its governmental affairs director.

Come to think of it, where was the city manager? Assistant city manager? Other council members? The city’s economic development staff?

Where was Mayor Carl Brewer?

If you’ve attended a city council meeting, you may have to sit through up to an hour of the mayor issuing proclamations and service awards before actual business starts. Fleets of city bureaucrats are in the audience during this time.

But none of these would spend just one hour listening to a presentation by a university professor that might hold a solution to our water supply issue.

I understand that city officials might not be the biggest fans of Kansas Policy Institute. It supports free markets and limited government.

But city officials tell us that they want to hear from citizens. The city has gone to great lengths to collect input from citizens, implementing a website and holding numerous meetings.

About 70 people attended the KPI forum. Citizens were interested in what the speakers had to say. They sat politely through the presentation by the two city officials, even though I’m sure many in the audience were already familiar with the recycled slides they’d seen before.

But it appears that Wichita city officials were not interested in alternatives that weren’t developed by city hall. They can’t even pretend to be interested.

WichitaLiberty.TV July 2, 2014

WichitaLiberty.TV: Citizen activists and the proposed Wichita sales tax

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Two activists join host Bob Weeks to discuss activism at the local level. Then, what about the proposed sales tax increase in Wichita? View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 51, broadcast July 13, 2014.

Wichita City Budget Cover, 1975

In Wichita, ‘free markets’ cited in case for economic development incentives

A prominent Wichita business uses free markets to justify its request for economic development incentives. A gullible city council buys the argument.

At the December 10, 2013 meeting of the Wichita City Council, Bombardier LearJet received an economic development incentive that will let it avoid paying some property taxes on newly-purchased property. The amount involved in that particular incident is relatively small. According to city documents, “the value of the abated taxes on that investment could be as much as $1,980.”

Wichita Economic DevelopmentThis week Bombardier was before the council again asking for property tax abatements. City documents estimate the amount of tax to be forgiven as $1,098,294 annually, for up to ten years. The document prepared for council members did not address sales tax, but generally sales taxes are forgiven when using the program Bombardier qualified for.

The December 10 meeting was useful because a representative of Bombardier appeared before the council. His remarks help us understand how some prominent members of Wichita’s business community have distorted the principles of free markets and capitalism. As illustrated by the fawning of Wichita City Council Member and Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) and others, elected officials have long forsaken these principles.

Bombardier’s argument

Don Pufahl, who is Director of Finance at Bombardier Learjet, addressed the council regarding this matter. He started his remarks on a positive note, telling the council “There are various aspects to a free-market economy. There’s the rule of law, there’s property rights, and another major aspect is incentives.”

Economic development incentives reduce riskWe must be careful when using the term incentive. In a free-market economy or capitalism, incentive refers to the motivation of the possibility of earning profits. Another incentive — the other side of the same coin — is avoiding losses. That’s why capitalism is called a profit-and-loss system. The losses are just as important as profits, as losses are a signal that the economic activity is not valued, and the resources should be shifted to somewhere else where they are valued more highly.

But in the field of economic development as practiced by government, incentive means something given to or granted to a company. That’s what the representative from Bombardier meant by incentive. He explained: “One party, in this case, the local government, uses incentives for another party, in this case our company, to invest in the community.”

A few thoughts: First, Bombardier is not investing in the community. The company is investing in itself. I’m sure Bombardier’s shareholders hope that is true.

Second, the free market system that the speaker praised is a system based on voluntary exchange. That flows from property rights, which is the foundational idea that people own themselves and the product of their labor, and are free to exchange with others. But when government uses incentives, many people do not consent to the exchange. That’s not a free market system.

Milton Friedman: Capitalism and FreedomThird, an important part of a free market system is market competition. That is, business firms compete with others for customers. They also compete with other business firms for resources needed for production, such as capital. When government makes these decisions instead of markets, we don’t have a free market system. Instead, we have cronyism. Charles G. Koch has described the harm of cronyism, recently writing: “The effects on government are equally distorting — and corrupting. Instead of protecting our liberty and property, government officials are determining where to send resources based on the political influence of their cronies. In the process, government gains even more power and the ranks of bureaucrats continue to swell.”

In the same article Koch wrote: “We have a term for this kind of collusion between business and government. It used to be known as rent-seeking. Now we call it cronyism. Rampant cronyism threatens the economic foundations that have made this the most prosperous country in the world.” (Charles G. Koch: Corporate cronyism harms America)

The representative from Bombardier also said that the city’s incentives would reduce Bombardier’s investment risk. There is little doubt this is true. When a company is given money with no strings attached except what the company already intends to do and wants to do, that reduced a company’s risk. What has happened, however, is that risk has not been eliminated or reduced. It has merely been shifted to the people of Wichita, Sedgwick County, the Wichita public school district, and the State of Kansas. When government does this on a piecemeal basis, this is called cronyism. When done universally, we call this socialism.

We can easily argue that actions like this — and especially the large subsidies granted to Bombardier by the state — increase the risk of these investments. Since the subsidies reduce the cost of its investment, Bombardier may be motivated to make risky investments that it might otherwise not make, were it investing its own funds (and that of its shareholders).

Entrepreneurship, EntrepreneurThe cost of Bombardier’s investments, and the accompanying risk, is spread to a class of business firms that can’t afford additional cost and risk. These are young startup firms, the entrepreneurial firms that we need to nurture in order to have real and sustainable economic growth and jobs. But we can’t identify these. We don’t know who they are. But we need an economic development strategy that creates an environment where these young entrepreneurial firms have the greatest chance to survive. (See Kansas economic growth policy should embrace dynamism and How to grow the Kansas economy.)

Now the city and Bombardier will say that these investments have a payoff for the taxpayer. That is, if Bombardier grows, it will pay more in taxes, and that constitutes “profit” for taxpayers. Even if we accept that premise — that the city “profits” from collecting taxes — why do we need to invest in Bombardier in order to harvest its “profits” when there are so many companies that pay taxes without requiring subsidy?

Finally, the representative from Bombardier said that these incentives are not a handout. I don’t see how anyone can say that and maintain a straight face.

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It would be one thing if the Wichita area was thriving economically. But it isn’t. We’re in last place among our self-identified peers, as illustrated in Wichita and Visioneering peers job growth. Minutes from a recent meeting of Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, the primary organization in charge of economic development, holds this paragraph: “As shown in the Chart below Wichita economy suffered the largest loss of employment among peer cities and has not seen any signs of rebounding as the other communities have. Wichita lost 31,000 jobs during the recession principally due to the down turn in general aviation.”

Following is a fuller representation of the Bombardier representative’s remarks to the council.

There are various aspects to a free-market economy. There’s the rule of law, there’s property rights, and another major aspect is incentives.

One party, in this case, the local government, uses incentives for another party, in this case our company, to invest in the community.

As the company moves forward to invest in the community, those investments are not without risk. … Your incentives allow us to offset some of that risk so that we can move forward with those investments, which hopefully create new jobs and also then also improves the quality of life in our community. … These incentives are not a handout. They are a way that the local government uses such things to offset some of the risk that is involved in local companies as they invest in the community, bring jobs to the community, and improve the community overall.

Wind farm near Spearville, Kansas.

Kansas City Star’s dishonest portrayal of renewable energy mandate

Commentary from Kansas Policy Institute.

Kansas City Star’s dishonest portrayal of renewable energy mandate

By Dave Trabert

A recent Kansas City Star editorial criticizing opponents of Kansas’ renewal energy mandate for being disingenuous was itself a fine example of disingenuity.

Kansas law mandates that utility companies purchase specific levels of renewable energy, which means that Kansans are forced to purchase wind energy and pay higher energy prices. The degree to

Wind farm near Spearville, Kansas.
Wind farm near Spearville, Kansas.
which it is more expensive is a matter of dispute, but even the Star admits that wind is more expensive than fossil fuel alternatives. The Star describes this mandate as “consumer-friendly.”

They falsely say “these laws encourage electric facilities to supplement their use of fossil fuels with renewables.” The law does not “encourage;” it requires.

The Star touts economic gains to the wind industry but ignores the reality that those gains come at the expense of everyone else in the form of higher taxes, higher electricity prices and other unseen economic consequences.

They conclude by saying people “deserve a choice”, but mandates are the opposite of choice. Real choice would not only allow citizens to individually decide whether to purchase renewable energy, but to choose their energy supplier as well. Maybe it’s time to look at breaking up the utility monopoly in Kansas as other states have done.

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WichitaLiberty.TV: Uber not for Wichita, Wichita fails at transparency, and Wichita jobs

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Uber is an innovative transportation service, but is probably illegal in Wichita. Then, the City of Wichita fails again at basic government transparency. Finally, a look at job growth in Wichita compared to other cities. Episode 45, broadcast June 1, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Leroy Towns tweet on Pat Roberts voting record from FreedomWorks 2014-05-22

For Kansas’ Roberts, an election year conversion?

A group of like-minded Republican senators has apparently lost a member. Is the conservative voting streak by Pat Roberts an election year conversion, or just a passing fad?

The campaign manager for United States Senator Pat Roberts has touted on Twitter the candidate’s perfect record on FreedomWorks scorecards for 2014:

FreedomWorks — whose motto is “Government fails. Freedom works.” — describes itself like this:

We are over 6 million Americans who are passionate about promoting free markets and individual liberty. Our members all share three common traits: a desire for less government, lower taxes, and more economic freedom.

For over a quarter century, FreedomWorks has identified, educated, and actuated citizens who are enthused about showing up to support free enterprise and constitutionally limited government.

So it’s good that Sen. Roberts is voting in favor of the goals of FreedomWorks. Economic freedom, free enterprise, and limited government are goals we need to work towards.

Voting record for several U.S. Senators, from FreedomWorks. Click for larger version.
Voting record for several U.S. Senators, from FreedomWorks. Click for larger version.
But: Until the last two years, Roberts’ score on the FreedomWorks scorecard followed the pattern of a group of well-known Republican senators: Thad Cochran, Lindsey Graham, Richard Lugar, Mitch McConnell, and John McCain. In some years this group voted well according to FreedomWorks’ criteria, but in many years their voting record was poor.

But this group of like-minded GOP senators has a renegade member. For 2013 and 2014 Pat Roberts’ score is markedly higher than the other members of this group. Roberts announced his intent to run for reelection in January 2013.

On the chart I’ve included records for Jim DeMint and Harry Reid to provide two examples of voting records that value — and disrespect — economic freedom, according to FreedomWorks.

Voting record for U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, from FreedomWorks. Click for larger version.
Voting record for U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, from FreedomWorks. Click for larger version.
Voters might want to consider who is the real Pat Roberts: The one that votes along with Mitch McConnell (even less supportive of economic freedom in some years)? Or the one that votes in favor of less government, lower taxes, and more economic freedom only when an election approaches?

You can investigate the FreedomWorks scorecards yourself. Click here to use the interactive visualization that plots senators individually, showing as many as you want. Click to add or remove senators.

Or, you may use the visualization that blends voting records on one chart.

Requesting an Uber driver.

Uber, not for Wichita

A novel transportation service worked well for me on a recent trip to Washington, but Wichita doesn’t seem ready to embrace such innovation.

Have you heard of Uber and similar services? Uber says it is “… evolving the way the world moves. By seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through our [smartphone] apps, we make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities for riders and more business for drivers. From our founding in 2009 to our launches in over 70 cities today, Uber’s rapidly expanding global presence continues to bring people and their cities closer.”

Uber works like this: Riders use their smartphones and the Uber app to request a ride. Drivers — who have undergone an application process and background check — acknowledge the request and pick up the rider. When the dropoff is made, payment is handled through the Uber app.

Being driven by Uber on the Washington Beltway.
Being driven by Uber on the Washington Beltway.
My first trip using Uber was from Dulles International Airport to my hotel in downtown Washington, a pretty long trip at nearly 27 miles. My Uber fare was $59.50. While that is expensive, my hotel’s website listed cab fare as $60. A private sedan would be $90, with reservations required.

So it seems like Uber is priced about the same as a regular taxicab. But: There’s a big difference. The Uber fare is all-inclusive. The way I elected to pay with Uber — which I suspect is probably the easiest way — was to store my credit card with the Uber system. As we approached my destination, I asked my driver if I could add a tip through the Uber app. He said no, there’s no need to. As he transferred my luggage to the bellman, it seemed awkward to not offer a tip. But I confirmed with DC natives that’s the way it is with Uber: No tipping.

No tipping! That’s refreshing. I’m tired of cab drivers extorting tips. But you may be asking: What motivates Uber drivers to offer good service? One factor is that customers rate their drivers through the smartphone app. An intriguing factor is that Uber drivers rate their passengers. Also, a customer service representative followed up regarding my trip. Another thing: My drivers seemed to like their job. They took pride in their clean cars and amenities.

And what service it was. There are several levels of Uber service. I used UberX, which is the least expensive. Other Uber services available in some cities include luxury cars or SUVs. The three cars I rode in were a Toyota Prius, a Lexus, and a Volvo. All were impeccably clean — both the cars and the polite drivers. On all three rides I was offered a bottle of water. Two cars had magazines for me to read. One had a bowl of wrapped candy on the seat next to me. Drivers asked if I was comfortable with the setting of the air conditioning. They were not blasting their radios, as has been the case with some of my cab trips.

In short, the service was great. While the Uber fare was the same as what my hotel estimated for a taxi fare, there was an important difference — no tip to the Uber driver. No need for cash, no need for a taxi driver to fumble with an awkward method of accepting credit cards.

A receipt from a trip using Uber. Click for larger version.
A receipt from a trip using Uber. Click for larger version.
And … a neat receipt available on the Uber website or in my email. When I’ve asked a cab driver for a receipt, I’ve received a blank form.

And … I had an estimate of the fare before I requested a driver. In my case, the estimate was $60.00, with the actual fare at $59.50. Remember, no tipping.

Uber in Wichita?

Recently Uber and Lyft (a similar service) started operations in Kansas City, Missouri. Nearly immediately the city council passed additional regulations that make it tougher — or impossible — for these services to operate.

Requesting an Uber driver.
Requesting an Uber driver.
In Wichita, it’s certain that Uber would be in violation of city ordinances. In 2012 the city passed new taxi regulations which erect and enforce substantial barriers to entering the taxicab market. Some of the most restrictive include these: Drivers must work for a company that has a central office staffed at least 40 hours per week; a taxicab company must have a dispatch system operating 24 hours per day, seven days per week; it must have enough cabs to operate city-wide service, which the city has determined is ten cabs; and a supervisor must be on duty at all times cabs are operating.

A dispatch system. That’s 1950s technology. Uber and similar services use smartphones. No dispatcher needed. No central office required. When you request a ride with the Uber app, you see a screen showing the available drivers nearby, along with an estimate of when the driver will arrive. You can watch the driver’s progress towards your pickup location. Can you do that with Wichita’s cab companies with their supervisors and dispatch systems?

Requesting a driver in Wichita using Uber. It's not available.
Requesting a driver in Wichita using Uber. It’s not available.
Wichita has implemented regulations regarding the hygiene and local knowledge of taxi drivers, enforced by bureaucrats. How is Uber regulated? First, there are the customer ratings, a powerful force. Then, provided with Uber receipts is a map of the route the driver took to deliver riders to their destinations. If riders are concerned that drivers are padding fares by taking roundabout routes, that’s easy to see and resolve, and the Uber dashboard lets riders request a fare review. Can you imagine how difficult that would be in Wichita, to prove that your driver padded your fare or extorted a tip?

Regulation by bureaucrats, or regulation by customers. There’s a difference, and Wichita is served by the least effective, thanks to our city council.

To top it off, while Wichita has regulations regarding the personal hygiene of drivers and the cleanliness of their vehicles, the city fell short in protecting drives from something really important, like violent crime. After the city passed the new regulations, a passenger was raped by a driver. The Wichita Eagle reported “[the driver] shouldn’t have received a taxi license but did because the new change banning registered sex offenders wasn’t communicated to staff members doing background checks on taxi driver applicants, city officials told The Eagle on Friday. The city has fixed the problem that led to the oversight in Spohn’s case, they said.” (See Regulation failure leads to tragedy in Wichita.)

wichita-taxi regulationsThe regulations regarding customer service training were implemented. But the really important regulations? Lack of oversight, says the city. Which leads us to wonder: Who is regulating the regulators? If an Uber driver committed such a crime, the company would undoubtedly be held liable and experience a loss of reputation. But how do we hold city bureaucrats accountable for their regulatory failures?

Going forward

Will Wichita consider relaxing taxicab regulations so that Wichitans might be served by a superior service like Uber? Not likely, I would say. The city council is proud of the new and restrictive regulations. The city is served by three taxi companies, two having the same owner. These companies are likely to lobby aggressively against allowing Uber and similar services in Wichita, just as taxi companies have done in other cities.

Recent discussion about the future of transit in Wichita have not included services like Uber. At last week’s city council meeting Council Member Janet Miller (district 6, north central Wichita) spoke about baby boomers who may soon be aging and either can’t drive, or don’t want to drive. Yet, she said, they have disposable income and want to spend it. These are ideal customers for Uber.

Uber and the like might not be a total replacement for traditional city bus transit. But it could help many people, and it could provided needed competition to the city’s taxicab fleet. But it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll see Uber in Wichita soon, if at all.

city-council-chambers-sign-800

In Wichita, capitalism doesn’t work, until it works

Attitudes of Wichita government leaders towards capitalism reveal a lack of understanding. Is only a government-owned hotel able to make capital improvements?

Janet miller
Janet Miller
One of the problems Wichita faces as it decides the future level of government involvement in its economy is an anti-market and anti-capitalism bias of many council members. It’s also characteristic of city hall bureaucrats. The basic belief is that government is not hindered by the demands of businesses, such as profit. Therefore, it is able to do things that the private sector cannot, or will not, do. Wichita City Council Member Janet Miller (district 6, north central Wichita) recently provided an example:

Council member Janet Miller called the Hyatt a special case and said she’s opposed to selling it.

“We have to maintain a high quality convention hotel,” she said. “The hotel makes a profit, but we reinvest the profits back into it. If we sell that property, a hotelier is unlikely to invest as much back into it as we do — debt service, stockholders, things like that. We don’t have that burden.” (Hyatt Regency Wichita focus of debate as council examines city-owned real estate, March 28, 2014 Wichita Eagle)

I don’t know if Miller reads the Wichita Eagle, but less than one month before, that newspaper reported this:

A $5 million renovation project at the Wichita Marriott hotel near east Kellogg and the Kansas Turnpike is complete.

The 10-month-long project encompassed nearly the entire ground floor of the 11-story, 294-room hotel at 9100 Corporate Hills Drive, said general manager Michelle Ruffin-Stein.

“We basically tore everything down and started from scratch,” said Ruffin-Stein, who added that the hotel remained in operation throughout the renovation.

She said it was the first extensive renovation of the hotel’s ground floor since the hotel opened in 1987. It follows a renovation of the hotel’s guest rooms about four years ago, she said. (Wichita Marriott hotel’s $5 million renovation complete, March 3, 2014 Wichita Eagle)

You draw your own conclusions. Here are a few that I’ve drawn.

If I owned or worked at the Wichita Marriott or other hotel in Wichita, I’d be offended with Miller’s implication that the Hyatt is Wichita’s only “high quality convention hotel.” Why did we pour millions in taxpayer subsidy into the Broadview and Ambassador hotels?

Even though it has the “burden” of being in the private sector, how was the Marriott able to invest millions in renovation?

How would you feel if you owned a high-quality convention hotel, like the Marriott, and the city operates a competitor that doesn’t have to worry about profits, debt service, and stockholders? Does that create an environment that encourages private investment? Perhaps this is why so many of the hotels that have opened recently in Wichita have sought and received millions in government subsidy.

The expressed attitude of Miller towards business and capitalism is common among government officials and bureaucrats. Yet, we are expected to trust people with these beliefs to lead our economic development efforts. It’s little wonder that the only solutions considered involve a greater role for government, including greater revenue for government.

Finally, I wonder if other hotels are more diligent than the Hyatt in keeping people from establishing meth labs in their rooms.

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WichitaLiberty.TV: Examining surveys about the future of Wichita

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: What do Wichitans want for their city’s future? Surveys from the City of Wichita and Kansas Policy Institute are examined. Episode 42, broadcast May 11, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Defining liberty: The future of freedom

From The Independent Institute, an important video on current and future issues relating to freedom and liberty.

How can Americans overcome record government spending and debt, escalating healthcare costs, intrusive federal surveillance, endless wars, ongoing economic malaise, high unemployment, failing schools, and increasing abuses of civil and economic liberties? In this superb, new video from the recent, sold-out event sponsored by The Independent Institute and The Smith Center for Private Enterprise Studies (CSU-East Bay), former, twelve-term Congressman and Presidential candidate, Dr. Ron Paul, takes a candid look at America’s increasingly dysfunctional political system. Drawing on his 24 years in Congress, he highlights the need to rein in unchecked government power.

The author of numerous #1 New York Times bestselling books, Dr. Paul is a leading advocate for individual liberty, privacy, limited constitutional government, low taxes and spending, free markets, restrained foreign policy, and sound money. The New York Post has called him a man who “cannot be bought by special interests. There are few people in public life who, through thick and thin, rain or shine, stick to their principles.” And, Judge Andrew Napolitano calls him “The Thomas Jefferson of our day.”

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Poll: Wichitans don’t want sales tax increase

kansas-policy-institute-logoFollowing is a press release from Kansas Policy Institute.

Scientific Poll: Wichitans Don’t Want Sales Tax Increase

They’re opposed to business incentives, want to pursue privatization over tax increases, and have concerns about how city hall has recently spent money.

May 2, 2014 — Wichita — According to a newly released poll from Kansas Policy Institute, Wichitans may want more jobs and a secure water source but they certainly don’t support a sales tax increase as the means to get either. A scientific survey of 502 registered Wichita voters, conducted by SurveyUSA, shows strong opposition to a sales tax increase, as well as a possible explanation for their opposition. Full results, cross tabs, and methodology are available here.

  • 63 percent oppose a sales tax increase to provide incentives to businesses; only 28 percent support the idea
  • 64 percent oppose a sales tax increase to expand or renovate convention spaces such as the Hyatt Hotel and Century II; only 28 percent support the idea
  • 78 percent would be willing to pay a higher sales tax to secure a long-term water source and build new infrastructure but 65 percent believe the City should fund those projects through privatization rather than raise taxes.

“Government typically claims that citizen support for certain projects means they are also supportive of higher taxes, but that’s often because citizens are presented with false choices,” said Dave Trabert, president of Kansas Policy Institute. “That’s exactly what the City of Wichita did with their ACT ICT community meetings. Wichita officials were simply looking for justification to do what they wanted to do — raise taxes.”

Trabert believes the survey provides insight on citizens’ opposition to tax increases. “Only 28 percent of Wichitans believe city officials have efficiently used taxpayer money. 78 percent believe the City should adjust spending and be more efficient to fund new infrastructure and secure a long-term water source. City officials would understand that if they had an honest dialogue with citizens about all of the options, instead of just pushing a tax increase.”

Kansas Policy Institute is planning a series of public forums over the coming months to examine multiple options for long-term water solutions, economic development and infrastructure. National experts on privatization and other options will be brought in, as well as government officials who have successfully used privatization to provide services. The effectiveness of taxpayer subsidies will also be explored. Local elected officials and other civic leaders will be invited to participate.

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ALEC should stand up to liberal pressure groups

From April 2012.

Today’s Wall Street Journal explains how left-wing activists are using fear of the racism label to shut down free speech and debate. The target of their current smear campaign is American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

Liberals can’t stand ALEC because it is a strong and influential advocate for free market and limited government principals in state legislatures. Liberals accuse ALEC of supplying model legislation which may influence the writing of actual state law, or even become state law in some cases. Of course, liberal advocacy groups do this too, but they don’t let that get in the way of their criticism of ALEC.

The reality is that all sorts of people and special interest groups seek to influence the writing of laws. But for laws to take effect — no matter who proposes them — they must be passed by legislatures and signed by the chief executive (or a veto must be overturned).

The false charges of racism are particularly troubling, as no one wants to be labeled as such. That’s why scoundrels demonize their opponents with charges of racism, writes the Journal, and it’s become a powerful weapon for left-wing activists: “The ugly, race-baiting anti-ALEC campaign is typical of today’s liberal activism. It’s akin to the campaigns to smear libertarian donors Charles and David Koch and to exploit shareholder proxies to stop companies from giving to political campaigns or even the Chamber of Commerce. The left these days isn’t content merely to fight on the merits in legislatures or during elections. If they lose, they resort to demonizing opponents and trying to shut them down. The business community had better understand that ALEC won’t be the last target.”

As it turns out, the motivations of some contributors to ALEC are quite narrow. Coca-Cola wanted help from ALEC only in the opposition to soft drink taxes: “So Coke executives are happy to get ALEC’s help in their self-interest but head for the tall grass when ALEC needs a friend.”

Liberals accuse ALEC of being a front group for corporations, promoting only legislation that advances the interests of corporations or business at the expense of others. When you examine specific examples of these charges, the proposals being criticized often reduce taxes for everyone or reduce harmful and unnecessary regulations. If ALEC does promote legislation that caters to special interest groups, it should stop doing so.

Besides services to legislators, ALEC provides a valuable service to the public: The Rich States, Poor States publication that examines why some states perform better in economic growth and opportunity than others. The fifth edition was released last week.

Recently a city council member from a small town asked me if there were resources to help city council or county commission members understand and apply the principals of free markets and limited government to city and county governments. I looked and asked a few people. The answer is no, there appears to be no such resource. This seems like a growth opportunity for ALEC or a new organization. There are several well-known organizations that strive to advance the size and scope of city and county governments, and these need a counter-balance.

Shutting Down ALEC

Playing the race card to silence a free-market policy voice

Is it suddenly disreputable to advocate free-market policies? That’s the question raised by a remarkable political assault on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which promotes reform in the 50 states. Led by former White House aide Van Jones, various left-wing activists and media are bullying big business to cut off ALEC’s funding. So much for free and open debate.

Founded in 1973, ALEC is a group of state lawmakers who meet to share and spread conservative policy ideas. ALEC’s main focus is fiscal and economic policy, notably at the moment pension and lawsuit reform, tax and spending limitation, and school choice. For years it labored in obscurity, its influence rising or falling with the public mood. But after conservatives made record gains in state legislatures in 2010, the left began to target ALEC for destruction.

Continue reading at the Wall Street Journal (no subscription required)

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Meet ALICE. Who knew?

ALICE logoProgressives criticize “bill mills,” but the movement has its own.

Criticism of policies based simply on their sources is a weak form of argument. But this is the substance of criticism leveled against ALEC, or American Legislative Exchange Council.

Opponents of ALEC say it is a “bill mill” that “pushes” legislation upon unsuspecting state legislatures. Since the goal of ALEC, according to its website, is to “advance limited government, free markets, and federalism at the state level,” it’s good that legislators are being advised by an organization with these goals. There are, of course, forces on the other side that seek, on a daily basis, to grow government at the expense of freedom.

It’s not uncommon for states to look to other states for legislation. A few years ago, a bill appeared for consideration in the Kansas Senate that would add taxes to sugary soft drinks. I found that the Kansas bill contained large sections of statutory language taken word-for-word from a California bill. (See Tax law imported to Kansas from California.) While this bill was introduced in a Senate controlled by Republicans — President Steve Morris and Vice President John Vratil — neither were friends of limited government or taxpayers.

While ALEC has model bills, it’s not the only organization that does. Meet ALICE, or American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange. Its website says “The American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange, or ALICE, is a one-stop, web-based, public library of progressive state and local law on a wide range of policy issues.”

In more detail, ALICE describes some of its content as “Models = Generalizable framework laws that can serve as the basis for actual legislation.” Also, “Exemplary = Actual laws that were enacted or introduced somewhere that represent good progressive local or state legislation.”

Does this sound like a “bill mill?” According to ALEC critics, bill mills are bad.

I could present to you the list of people and organizations that fund ALICE. You might realize that many of them work in favor of big expansive government instead of individual liberty, limited government, economic freedom, and free markets. But I think we’d be better off if we examined ALICE proposals based on their merits, just as we should judge ALEC proposals in the same way.

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Kansas news media should report, not spin

kansas-policy-institute-logoA Hutchinson News editorial contained an uninformed opinion of which special interest groups are working for the best interests of Kansans. Following, Dave Trabert of Kansas Policy Institute explains that influence may be shifting from media, unions, the education establishment, cities, counties, and school boards to those with different views — those of limited government and economic freedom that empower citizens, not an expansive government and its beneficiaries. The editorial referred to is Goodbye Democracy, Hello Wealthocracy.

Media spin a threat

By Dave Trabert

Kansans are bombarded with claims that range from innocently incomplete to quite deliberately false. Increasingly, the media perpetrates this bad information. That behavior limits civil discourse and is a serious threat to personal freedom and our democratic republic.

Media should use its powerful voice to provide unbiased information. Instead, we see a growing trend in Kansas media to distort the truth, ignore facts and attack those who disagree with their view of the world. A recent Hutchinson News editorial is an example of this petulant behavior.

The basic premise of “Goodbye Democracy, Hello Wealthocracy” is that elected officials are chosen and kept in line by special interest groups. The author allows that moneyed interests work both sides of the aisle in Washington and in other states but incredibly asserts that this is not the case in Kansas. He says, “Here, the GOP rules, and the split is between those who labor for their constituents and those who pledge allegiance to their sponsors.”

Even casual political observers know that to be laughably false. Republicans have a paper majority, but even cub reporters know it is meaningless. KPI’s Economic Freedom Index has consistently found Republicans at the top and bottom of rankings based on their votes for economic and educational freedom.

The dividing line is not party affiliations or labels like liberal, moderate or conservative. Rather, it’s a philosophical belief in the role of government and collectivism versus the personal liberty of individuals.

There is no such thing as a “wealthocracy,” but special interest groups do influence politics. Claiming this to be the exclusive province of Kansans with a limited government perspective, however, is a conscious lie.

The behaviors attributed to the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity (recruiting and financially supporting friendly candidates for public office and encouraging elected officials to see things their way) are equally attributable to public employee unions, school board associations and others with big-government views. “Laboring for constituents” is a Hutchinson News euphemism for upholding the self-serving ideals of KNEA, KASB, state employee unions and other institutional interests.

There is nothing wrong, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, about special interests attempting to influence government. The difference — and perhaps the real objection of The Hutchinson News — is that their “side” is losing its long-standing monopoly over information and, with it, heavy influence over government and citizens.

The Kansas Policy Institute is perhaps the leading provider in Kansas of factual information on school funding and student achievement. Our information often differs from that published by media, unions and the education establishment, but they are facts nonetheless.

The editorial said, “… few lobbyists dominate like the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Policy Institute.” We’re flattered to be considered a dominant force, but the editorial conveniently didn’t mention other dominant players, including cities, counties, school boards and unions. The objection is not to our dominance; it’s that we don’t share the big-government/collectivist perspective of The Hutchinson News.

We call that hypocrisy.

Kauffman paper on local business incentive programs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Kauffman Foundation

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

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Competition in markets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kansas Policy Institute at work

Kansas CapitolA letter in the Wichita Eagle accused Kansas Policy Institute of the “destruction of K-12 education.” Following is part of the comment KPI president Dave Trabert wrote in response to the letter. It’s a good recap of what KPI has done the past few years. I’m left to wonder how anyone who cares about Kansas schoolchildren could be opposed to the work KPI has done.

We are showing citizens and legislators the facts about student achievement. Contrary to claims of nation-leading achievement, Kansas students scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and ACT are just about average. Overall averages are distorted by demographic differences but scores for each student cohort (White, Low Income, etc.) are actually about average across the nation.

We are showing citizens and legislators that the achievement gaps for low income students in Kansas are large and growing. Even [Kansas Education Commissioner] Diane DeBacker had to agree with that statement in front of the House and Senate Education Committees.

We proved that Kansas State Department of Education and the State Board of Education reduced performance standards to some of the lowest in the nation (according to the US Dept. of Ed.).

We are giving people the truth about school spending and showing that very large spending increases did very little to improve achievement.

We are showing people that school spending continues to set records, even though districts are not even spending all of the money they are given to run schools.

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In Kansas, the Blob is worked up

apple-chalkboard-books“Education reformers have a name for the resistance: the education ‘Blob.’ The Blob includes the teachers unions, but also janitors and principals unions, school boards, PTA bureaucrats, local politicians and so on.” (John Stossel, The Blob That Ate Children.)

In Kansas, we’re seeing the Blob at full activation, vigorously protecting its interests. The source of the Blob’s consternation is a bill in the Kansas Legislature that would add charter schools and tax credit scholarships to the educational landscape in Kansas. (Kansas does have charter schools at present, but the law is so stacked in favor of the Blob’s interests that there are very few charter schools.)

An example of a prominent spokesperson for the Blob is the Wichita Eagle’s Rhonda Holman. She recently wrote regarding Kansas school funding: “In the Kansas Speaks survey released last fall by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University, two-thirds said they wanted to see more K-12 state funding.”

I don’t doubt that these results are accurate. The desire for good schools is nearly universal. But when we look at the beliefs of people, we find that they are, largely, uninformed and misinformed about the level of school spending. Kansas Policy Institute commissioned a survey that asked the public a series of questions on schools and spending. (See Citizens generally misinformed on Kansas school spending.) A key finding is that most people think that schools spend much less than actual spending, and by a large margin. Further, most people think spending has declined, when in fact it has risen. These finding are similar to other research commissioned by KPI, and additional surveys by other organizations at the national level.

Not surprisingly, when citizens and taxpayers learn the true level of school spending, their attitude towards school spending changes. That’s dangerous to school spending advocates — the Blob. It diminishes their most compelling arguments for more school spending — “it’s for the kids.”

The Eagle editorial board, along with the Kansas City Star, has been instrumental in misinforming Kansans about school spending. These newspapers continually use base state aid per pupil as the measure of schools spending, when in fact this is just a fraction of total spending on schools. (See Here’s why Kansans are misinformed about schools.)

The survey that Holman relies upon as evidence of the desire for more school spending didn’t ask — as far as I know — questions to see if respondents were informed on the issue. Even worse: Instead of seeking to educate readers on the facts, Holman resorts to demagoguery and demonizing, referring to “education reforms coveted by some conservatives and the American Legislative Exchange Council.” There, the two evils: Conservatives and ALEC, the substance of her argument.

Reform in Kansas

There are two reforms being talked about in Kansas that are popular in other states. Popular except with the Blob, that is.

One is a tax credit scholarship program. This lets corporations make contributions to organizations that would provide scholarships for students to attend private schools. The corporations would then receive credits against their income tax. The Blob opposes programs like this. The Blob says that these programs simply let students that are already in private or church schools have the state pay their tuition.

But the proposed law in Kansas this year, as in years past, contains these provision: For the scholarship program, students must qualify as “at-risk” students and be attending a school that qualifies as “title I,” a program that applies to schools with many students from low-income families.

Further, the student must have been enrolled in a public school before seeking a scholarship, unless the student is less than six years old.

Together these requirements rebut the argument of the Blob: That the scholarships are just a way for children already in private or church schools to get tax funds to pay for their schools. Instead, the law targets these scholarships at students from low-income households.

Another possible reform is charter schools. These are schools that are public schools and receive public funding, but operate outside the present education establishment and local school boards. The Blob objects to this because they say that without government oversight, charter schools aren’t held accountable. The Blob must forget that charter schools are accountable to parents of children, which is a higher standard than the accountability of government bureaucrats. Also, unlike the regular public schools, the government can’t force children to attend a charter school.

The Blob criticizes charter schools because they say they “cherry-pick” the best students, leaving public schools with the worst. Here’s what the proposed Kansas law says: “A public charter school shall enroll all students who wish to attend the school.” If more students apply than the school has space, students will be selected via lottery. In most areas that have charter schools, there are many more aspirants than available spaces, and students are chosen by lottery. That would undoubtedly be the case in Kansas.

The Blob says that charter schools pick only the students they want, and therefore lead to segregation. Here’s the proposed law: “A public charter school shall be subject to all federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability, race, creed, color, gender, national origin, religion, ancestry or need for special education services.”

Here’s what the Blob really hates: “A public charter school shall be exempt from all laws and rules and regulations that are otherwise applicable to public schools in this state.” And also this: “Teachers in public charter schools shall be exempt from the teacher certification requirements established by the state board.”

The Blob values its rules and regulations that make work for its fleets of bureaucrats. Never mind that these regulations probably don’t increase student learning. That’s not the point.

And the political muscle of the Blob, the teachers unions? Well, charter school teachers usually aren’t unionized. The union is in favor of public schools only if the the teachers are in unions.

What the Blob won’t tell you

The Kansas Blob is proud of Kansas schools, partly because of scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” Kansas ranks pretty high among the states on this test. It’s important, however, to examine the results from a few different angles to make sure we understand the entire situation. An illustrative video is available here.

Visualization of National Assessment of Educational Progress scores.
Visualization of National Assessment of Educational Progress scores.
Data for the 2013 administration of the test was just released. I’ve gathered scores and made them available in a visualization that you can use at wichitaliberty.org. The most widely available NAEP data is for two subjects: reading and math, and for two grades, fourth and eighth. The video presents data for Kansas, Texas, and the average for national public schools. I choose to compare Kansas with Texas because for several reasons, Kansas has been comparing itself with Texas. So let’s look at these test scores and see if the reality matches what Kansas school leaders have said.

Looking at the data for all students, you can see why Kansas school leaders are proud: The line representing Kansas is almost always the highest.

NAEP makes data available by ethnic subtypes. If we present a chart showing black students only, something different appears. Now Texas is higher than Kansas in all cases in one, where there is a tie.

If we consider Hispanic students only: Texas is higher in some cases, and Kansas and Texas are virtually tied in two others. National public schools is higher than Kansas in some cases.

Considering white students only, Texas is higher than Kansas in three of four cases. In some cases the National public school average beats or ties Kansas.

So we have what seems to be four contradictory statements, but each is true.

  • When considering all students: Kansas scores higher than Texas.
  • Hispanic students only: Kansas is roughly equal to Texas.
  • Black students only: Kansas scores below Texas.
  • White students only: Kansas scores below Texas in most cases.

When you hear the Blob trumpet high Kansas test scores, does it also explain the nuances? No, of course not, But you can examine these test scores in an interactive visualization.

Kansas school standards

Another problem you won’t hear about from the Blob: Kansas has low standards for its schools. Even worse, at a time when Kansas was spending more on schools due to an order from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state lowered its already low standards for schools.

Kansas school standards for grade 4 reading compared to other states.
Kansas school standards for grade 4 reading compared to other states.
This is the conclusion of the National Center for Education Statistics, based on the most recent version of Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales. NCES is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations, and is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.

The mapping project establishes a relationship between the tests each state gives to assess its students and the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test that is the same in all states. As explained in Kansas school standards and other states, Kansas standards are relatively low, compared to other states. This video explains. (View below, or click here to view in HD at YouTube.)

For Kansas, here are some key findings. First, NCES asks this question: “How do Kansas’s NAEP scale equivalent scores of reading standards for proficient performance at grades 4 and 8 in 2009 compare with those estimated for 2005 and 2007?”

For Kansas, the two answers are this (emphasis added):

“Although no substantive changes in the reading assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of both its grade 4 and grade 8 standards decreased.

Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its reading grade 8 assessment between 2005 and 2009, and the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased.

In other words, NCES judged that Kansas weakened its standards for reading performance.

Recommended reading: Foundations of a Free Society

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

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

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

Harry Reid takes money from companies under investigation for bribery law violations

The Washington Examiner reports “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has received campaign contributions from people and political action committees linked to multiple companies suspected of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”

This comes as the Senate Majority Leader has used the Senate floor to criticize Charles and David Koch for doing things that Reid doesn’t like … such as advocating for and supporting free markets, economic freedom, and limited government.

Near the end of February Reid said from the Senate floor this about ObamaCare: “Despite all that good news, there’s plenty of horror stories being told. All of them are untrue, but they’re being told all over America.”

On advertisements from Americans for Prosperity, an organization linked to Charles and David Koch, Reid said: “We heard about the evils of Obamacare, about the lives it’s ruining in Republicans’ stump speeches and in ads paid for by oil magnates, the Koch brothers. But in those tales, turned out to be just that: tales, stories made up from whole cloth, lies distorted by the Republicans to grab headlines or make political advertisements.”

Many may be surprised to learn that when members of Congress are speaking on the floor, they are immune from standards of behavior that the rest of us — including Charles and David Koch and Americans for Prosperity — must observe. That is, members can’t be sued for libel and slander while speaking as did Reid. Constitutional Law For Dummies explains Article I of the United States Constitution: “Among other consequences, the clause gives members of Congress a right, unique among American citizens and other officials, to basically libel or slander others in statements on the floor of Congress.”

More about this issue may be found at Koch representatives respond to U.S. Senate majority leader’s recent attacks.

Kansas wind turbines

Special interests defend wind subsidies at taxpayer cost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

money-bag-struggle

Special interests struggle to keep special tax treatment

Detail of stairway in Kansas Capitol.
Detail of stairway in Kansas Capitol.

When a legislature is willing to grant special tax treatment, it sets up a battle to keep — or obtain — that status. Once a special class acquires preferential treatment, others will seek it too.

When preferential tax treatment is granted, that is, when government says someone doesn’t have to pay taxes, it’s usually the case that someone else has to pay. That’s because governmental bodies usually don’t reduce their spending in response to the tax breaks they give. Spending stays the same (or rises), but someone isn’t paying their share. Therefore, others have to make up the missing tax revenue.

In Kansas, SB 72 has been passed by the Senate and may be considered by the House of Representatives. This bill would, according to its supplemental note “provide a property or ad valorem tax exemption on all property owned and operated by a health club.” In effect, this bill would give all health clubs the same property tax exemption that the YMCA enjoys on its fitness centers.

When the legislature uses tax law to achieve goals, the statute book becomes complicated as illustrated by the many special sales tax exemptions in Kansas. K.S.A. 79-3606 details the special sales tax exemptions that the legislature has granted. In order to list them all, the statute has sections labeled from (a) through (z), then from (aa) through (zz), then from (aaa) through (zzz), and finally from (aaaa) through (gggg).

Some of these sections are needed and valuable, such as the section that exempts manufacturers from paying sales tax on component parts and ingredients used to build final products. It is supposed to be a retail sales tax, after all.

But then there are sections like this: “(vv) (18) the Ottawa Suzuki Strings, Inc., for the purpose of providing students and families with education and resources necessary to enable each child to develop fine character and musical ability to the fullest potential.”

I have no doubt that this organization is engaged in useful work and that there should be more of this. But what about all the other organizations engaged in similar activities, and which are undoubtedly as deserving of the same tax break? Should they be penalized because they did not have the temerity to ask?

In the area of property taxation, we find many similar circumstances, where two businesses that seem to be similarly situated are treated very differently by the tax collector.

For example, Wesley Medical Center, one of Wichita’s principal hospitals, is Wichita’s second-largest property taxpayer, with taxable assessed value representing 0.90 percent of the total of such property in Wichita.

One hospital has many millions in property, but is not taxed on that property.
One hospital has many millions in property, but is not taxed on that property.

But another large Wichita Hospital, Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis, has assets valued at over $115 million, yet pays no property tax. For the mill levy rate that applies to its address, this represents about $3.5 million in property tax savings. (It did pay a Sedgwick County Solid Waste User Fee of $8.91.)

How can we meaningfully distinguish between Wesley and St. Francis Hospitals? Does one provide more charity care than the other? Does the non-profit hospital charge lower rates? (I’d be surprised if so.) Does St. Francis impose less of a burden on city and county resources such as fire and police protection than does Wesley? Since Wesley attempts to earn a profit and St. Francis purportedly does not, does that make Wesley evil and St. Francis saintly? Why do we exempt St. Francis from millions of property tax, yet insist it pay $8.91 in solid waste user fees?

A scene from a non-profit retirement living center.
A scene from a non-profit retirement living center.

We find other examples: A luxury retirement community (Larksfield Place) with real property valued at $27,491,440 pays no property tax, except for $5.95 in the solid waste user fee. Less than a mile away, Sedgwick Plaza, a senior living center, has a valuation of $5,067,350 for its real property, and was billed $70,080.51 in property tax, including its solid waste user fee of $972. Despite — or perhaps due to — its non-profit status, Larksfield Place is able to provide its president a salary of over $130,000.

A Goodwill thrift store on West Central in Wichita has real property valued at $696,600, but paid no property taxes except for $5.94 solid waste user fee. On the other side of town, a small thrift store on East Douglas has real property valued at $113,800. It pays $3,437 in property tax, including its solid waste user fee.

These differences in what seem to be properties in similar situations are not justifiable under any theory of taxation, one of which is that similar situations are taxed similarly. The YMCA’s fitness centers are difficult to distinguish from others in Wichita — except for the YMCA’s rarefied tax-exempt status.

The slippery slope

Here’s the danger: Should SB 72 pass and all health clubs start enjoying the same tax privileges as the YMCA, shouldn’t we then expect to see for-profit hospitals like Wesley Medical Center ask to be relieved of their tax burden, using the same logic? If the legislature were to deny that request, how could it possibly explain its reasoning to citizens?

In defense of its tax exempt status, the YMCA says it engages in many charitable activities. I’m sure that’s true, and we’d like to keep those activities. Perhaps the YMCA would consider separating its fitness centers from the rest of its operations. Separate the business-like activities from the charitable. The YMCA can use the “profits” from its fitness centers to finance its charitable activities. To the extent it does that, it will avoid paying state and federal income tax on its profits.

But property taxes are something different from income taxes. The YMCA benefits from all the things the city (and other taxing jurisdictions) provide, ranging from public safety to schools to security for the mayor’s trip to Ghana. When it doesn’t pay its share, others have to pay. That means that others — you and me, for example — have less money available for the charitable (and other) activities they feel important. Even worse, I am forced to subsidize the charitable activities that the YMCA (or the Methodist Church, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, etc.) chooses to fund. This is especially true in Kansas, where low-income households pay a regressive sales tax on food.

When the YMCA — or any non-profit, for that matter — escapes taxation that other similar organizations must pay, it means that we all subsidize the charitable activities of these non-profits. It sustains a system in which special interest groups lobby to keep their advantages, and those who are not similarly blessed spend lavishly on campaign contributions and other lobbyists. Even when the organization is widely respected, as is the YMCA, this is wrong. It leads to cynicism as citizens realize that our laws are not applied uniformly, and that special interests feel they can buy their way to special treatment.

For their business-like activities, the YMCA, Larksfield Place, and Goodwill thrift stores should pay property taxes so they shoulder the same burden that the rest of us struggle under. That will spread the cost of government fairly, and let ordinary people themselves decide how to contribute their after-tax dollars.

WichitaLiberty.TV.24

WichitaLiberty.TV: Government planning, taxes, and carbon

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: The City of Wichita held a workshop where the Community Investments Plan Steering Committee delivered a progress report to the city council. The document holds some facts that ought to make Wichitans think, and think hard. Then: What is the purpose of high tax rates on high income earners? Finally: Advances in producing oil and natural gas make for a more competitive and carbon-efficient economy. Episode 33, broadcast March 2, 2014. View below, or click here to view on YouTube.

Corporate cronyism harms America

As the Wichita Business Journal features an interview with Charles Koch today, here’s a repeat of his article from September 2012 in which he address many of the same topics as covered in the WBJ interview.

“The effects on government are equally distorting — and corrupting. Instead of protecting our liberty and property, government officials are determining where to send resources based on the political influence of their cronies. In the process, government gains even more power and the ranks of bureaucrats continue to swell.”

The editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal by Charles G. Koch, chairman of the board and CEO of Wichita-based Koch Industries contains many powerful arguments against the rise of cronyism. The argument above is just one of many.

In his article, Koch makes an important observation when he defines cronyism: “We have a term for this kind of collusion between business and government. It used to be known as rent-seeking. Now we call it cronyism. Rampant cronyism threatens the economic foundations that have made this the most prosperous country in the world.”

“Rent-seeking” was always a difficult term to use and understand. It had meaning mostly to economists. But “cronyism” — everyone knows what that means. It is a harsh word, offensive to many elected officials. But we need a harsh term to accurately describe the harm caused, as Koch writes: “This growing partnership between business and government is a destructive force, undermining not just our economy and our political system, but the very foundations of our culture.”

The entire article is available at the Wall Street Journal. Koch has also contributed other articles on this topic, see Charles G. Koch: Why Koch Industries is speaking out and Charles Koch: The importance of economic freedom.

Charles G. Koch: Corporate Cronyism Harms America

When businesses feed at the federal trough, they threaten public support for business and free markets.

By Charles G. Koch

“We didn’t build this business — somebody else did.”

So reads a sign outside a small roadside craft store in Utah. The message is clearly tongue-in-cheek. But if it hung next to the corporate offices of some of our nation’s big financial institutions or auto makers, there would be no irony in the message at all.

It shouldn’t surprise us that the role of American business is increasingly vilified or viewed with skepticism. In a Rasmussen poll conducted this year, 68% of voters said they “believe government and big business work together against the rest of us.”

Businesses have failed to make the case that government policy — not business greed — has caused many of our current problems. To understand the dreadful condition of our economy, look no further than mandates such as the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “affordable housing” quotas, directives such as the Community Reinvestment Act, and the Federal Reserve’s artificial, below-market interest-rate policy.

Far too many businesses have been all too eager to lobby for maintaining and increasing subsidies and mandates paid by taxpayers and consumers. This growing partnership between business and government is a destructive force, undermining not just our economy and our political system, but the very foundations of our culture.

With partisan rhetoric on the rise this election season, it’s important to remind ourselves of what the role of business in a free society really is — and even more important, what it is not.

Continue reading at The Wall Street Journal

Located across the street from the Transit Center, the city-owned garage on William Street suffers from maintenance issues that diminish its value for its intended use: retail space.

As landlord, Wichita has a few issues

Located across the street from the Transit Center, the city-owned garage on William Street suffers from maintenance issues that diminish its value for its intended use: retail space.
Located across the street from the Transit Center, the city-owned garage on William Street suffers from maintenance issues that diminish its value for its intended use: retail space.

Commercial retail space owned by the City of Wichita in a desirable downtown location was built to be rented. But most is vacant, and maintenance issues go unresolved.

At one time it was thought that the Wichita city-owned parking structure in the 400 block of East William Street would house retail shops along the street. But the present state of the property should cause us to be wary of government economic development efforts.

As reported by the Wichita Eagle twenty years ago on Wednesday, October 20, 1993:

The council also approved a plan to spend about $76 a square foot to construct roughly 6,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor of the parking garage. The space would lease for an estimated $8.70 a square foot.

Council member Sheldon Kamen questioned that part of the plan. ”I just can’t visualize spending $76 a square foot,” he said. “If I was a developer I wouldn’t spend $76 a square foot for retail space on William street.”

Council member Joan Cole disagreed with Kamen, calling $8.70 a “very good price” that would attract tenants. ”It is my feeling there are small operations that would find this kind of small space very attractive,” she said.

(Adjusted for inflation, these prices would be $122 and $14 today)

What has been the results of the city’s venture into commercial real estate? As can be seen in this video from September, a Wichita city government office occupied some of the space, but the office had moved to another location. Now, Wichita Festivals occupies some of the space, but much is still empty.

Rusted awnings near retail space in the city-owned garage on William Street in Wichita,
Rusted awnings near retail space in the city-owned garage on William Street in Wichita,

Inspecting the building last September, I found that this city-owned property had maintenance issues that might, in some circumstances, be considered as contributing to blight. As can be seen in the nearby photos taken this week (click them for larger versions), maintenance hasn’t improved in the nearly six months since then. Maybe that’s why there’s apparently little demand to rent this space.

At the city-owned garage on William Street in Wichita, a duct tape repair is still in use after six months.
At the city-owned garage on William Street in Wichita, a duct tape repair is still in use after six months.

It’s not as though the building has many of advantages that city planners tell us are needed for a vital downtown Wichita. There are hundreds of state employees parking in the garage each workday. It’s adjacent to the block with the Eaton Hotel and the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, the agency charged with promoting downtown. This retail space is right across the street from the city’s bus transit center. It’s also one block away from the Intrust Bank Arena, which was promoted as a driver of commerce and activity for the surrounding area. Its Walk Score — a measure promoted by city planners — is 71, which is deemed “Very Walkable.”

Considering all the advantages this government-owned property has, it’s failing. It’s becoming blighted. The best thing the city could do is sell this property so that the benefits of markets and the profit-and-loss system can replace city bureaucrats.

In Wichita, citizens want more transparency in city government

Wichita city hallIn a videographed meeting that is part of a comprehensive planning process, Wichitans openly question the process, repeatedly asking for an end to cronyism and secrecy at city hall.

As part of the Wichita-Sedgwick County Comprehensive Plan, the City of Wichita held a number of focus groups meetings. Their purpose, according to city documents, was to provide “information on the components of the Plan and provide input on a draft survey.”

(Some indication of the reverence given to the plan to city planners may be inferred by the city’s use of capitalization when referring to it.)

The community meetings were structured in a way reminiscent of the Delphi method, described in Wikipedia as “a structured communication technique, originally developed as a systematic, interactive forecasting method which relies on a panel of experts.” Others have a more skeptical view, believing that the Delphi technique leads citizens to believe they have participated in community democratic decision-making when in reality, that is not the goal of the process.

In October Americans for Prosperity-Kansas invited the city to hold a focus group meeting. Video from the meeting is below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Dave Barber, who is Advanced Plans Manager at Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Department, facilitated the meeting. Susan Estes of AFP was the meeting organizer and host. Mike Shatz is the videographer. His description of the meeting is “The City of Wichita is holding a series of meetings to gain input from the public on future spending plans. The meetings are based off a survey the city conducted, which, by all accounts, was full of loaded questions geared towards promoting the programs that city officials want to see. In this meeting, one of the first in the series, citizens openly question the process and repeatedly ask for an end to cronyism and secrecy at city hall.”

Medicaid expansion: The impact on the federal budget and deficit

From Kansas Policy Institute.

Medicaid Expansion: The Impact on the Federal Budget and Deficit

By Steve Anderson

Medicaid.gov Keeping America HealthyThe problem with the uninsured is not going to be solved by expanding Medicaid. Even amongst Medicaid’s staunchest proponents you’ll be hard pressed to find any who will claim it to be the equivalent of high quality private health insurance coverage. The number of federal senators and representatives that choose to exclude their staffers from Obamacare shows that many Washington politicians understand the quality of government insurance plans Medicaid and Obamacare represent. The simple fact is, that health insurance is not to be confused with health care.

Medicaid’s proponents can only claim anecdotal claims of improving health outcomes of recipients. Even in pre-ObamaCare Medicaid, beneficiaries largely do not access available preventable care services. In fact, a Harvard University study shows that emergency room visits actually increased by 40 percent for Medicaid recipients in Oregon after their expansion. Citizens would do well to remember, a “decrease in ER visits” was a key selling point of ObamaCare generally and Medicaid expansion specifically. ER visits are the most expensive form of care. When these increased visits are paid for by Medicaid, the taxpayers are picking up BOTH the state and federal portion of the high cost of emergency room visits. This flies in the face of the Obama Administration’s claim that Medicaid expansion would actually save money by limiting this sort of behavior.

It doesn’t stop there and this is the part that hardly anyone has mentioned, and what the Obama Administration would rather you not know — a staggering number of those enrolling in ObamaCare will actually be sent to Medicaid and not be in the private market. And by “private market” we mean one established and controlled by government.

The following charts are the pre-Medicaid expansion projection of revenues versus expenditures from the Congressional Budget Office. They were completed before the decision by 25 states and the District of Columbia to expand eligibility.i

The three lines with the steepest slopes and therefore the fastest growing expenditures are Medicaid, Unemployment payments (called Income Security) and Other Programs. The U.S. House of Representatives has addressed the unemployment expense growth by bringing the program back to its original intent – to provide a safety net between jobs. Other Programs will be largely controlled if current trends hold and extension of the various “stimulus” programs are curtailed. However, the one that is going to accelerate with expansion and is larger than the other two combined in total state and federal expenditures is Medicaid. At least 3.9 million of Obamacare participants are expected to be enrolled in Medicaid and 19 million nationwide overall will be added to Medicaid in the next year. A 35 percent increase in Medicaid participants.ii Picture these two charts with 35 percent greater additional costs for the Medicaid entitlement and you have an idea how problematic this is for the federal budget and deficit. Is it any wonder that President Obama has started to back track from the claim that the federal government—which let’s not forget, is funded by you the taxpayer — will pay all the costs for 3 years and 90 percent thereafter. Instead, his administration and he himself talk about blended rates that will transfer a sizeable portion of the cost to state budgets.iii Despite his promises to the contrary.

The Impact on the Kansas State Budget

Even the leftist Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which typically finds spending citizens’ tax dollars an event to celebrate, is cautioning that the “blended rate” shift by the President will “likely prompt states to cut payments to health care providers and to scale back the health services that Medicaid covers for low-income children, parents, people with disabilities, and/or senior citizens (including those in nursing homes). Reductions in provider payments would likely exacerbate the problem that Medicaid beneficiaries already face regarding access to physician care, particularly from specialists.”iv This analysis actually left out the administrative cost of expansion that is largely being absorbed by the states. If anything, this suggests that reality will be more dire than CBPP’s predictions.

KPI’s own cost study of Medicaid expansion, conducted by a sitting member of the Social Security Advisory Board and former chief economist at the Federal Reserve in Cleveland, shows that Kansas taxpayers can expect to pick a $600 million tab if Medicaid is expanded. Hardly the “free money” that the Kansas Hospital Association has tried to foist on your family. They’ve even hired a former George W. Bush cabinet secretary to aggressively lobby for this “free money.” They’ve also yet to explain what services they recommend the state cut to fund the expansion and if their members are willing to pick up the additional costs when “blended rates” almost certainly take effect.

As a taxpayer you are going to pay for this on both the federal and state level and you deserve answers when any special interest groups come asking for more of your money.

http://directorblue.blogspot.com/2011/01/liberals-democrat-party-will-split-if.html
ii http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-02/obamacare-s-medicaid-expansion-may-create-oregon-like-er-strain.htm
iii http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3521
iv Ibid

Voice for Liberty Radio: David Boaz of Cato Institute

Voice for Liberty logo with microphone 150

In this episode of WichitaLiberty Radio: David Boaz spoke at the annual Kansas Policy Institute Dinner. David Boaz is the executive vice president of the Cato Institute and has played a key role in the development of the Cato Institute and the libertarian movement. He is a provocative commentator and a leading authority on domestic issues such as education choice, drug legalization, the growth of government, and the rise of libertarianism. Boaz is the former editor of New Guard magazine and was executive director of the Council for a Competitive Economy prior to joining Cato in 1981. He is the author of Libertarianism: A Primer, described by the Los Angeles Times as “a well-researched manifesto of libertarian ideas,” the editor of The Libertarian Reader, and coeditor of the Cato Handbook For Policymakers. His articles have been published in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, National Review, and Slate. He is a frequent guest on national television and radio shows, and has appeared on ABC’s Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, CNN’s Crossfire, NPR’s Talk of the Nation and All Things Considered, John McLaughlin’s One on One, Fox News Channel, BBC, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other media. His latest book is The Politics of Freedom.

This is an excerpt of David Boaz speaking in Wichita, October 15, 2013.

Shownotes

Cato Institute
David Boaz at Cato Institute
David Boaz: Independent Thinking in a Red-Blue Town
Books by David Boaz
Kansas Policy Institute

Voice for Liberty Radio: Private enterprise and markets

Voice for Liberty logo with microphone 150

In this episode of WichitaLiberty Radio: Mary Beth Jarvis delivered the keynote address of the Kansas Republican Party Convention for 2014. She spoke on the topics of private enterprise and the profit and loss system.

Mary Beth Jarvis is Chief Executive Officer and President at Wichita Festivals. Prior to that, she worked in communications at Koch Industries, and before that in the United States Air Force.

In her speech, she said “Entrepreneurial capitalism — you know what that is — it’s not cronyism. It’s real courage, real risk, real passion, and real effort.”

Expanding on the importance of entrepreneurial capitalism, she told the audience:

“What else is necessary for that kind of entrepreneurial capitalism, that kind of engine for improvement, is that you always respect that what you need is a clear tie to market signals of what’s really adding value, what’s really making people’s lives better. That dedication to maintaining strong markets and to maintaining liberty is absolutely essential.

“It is also essential to find out quickly and clearly if this is the necessary message, that our efforts — however industrious — are not creating value. Because only then can you divert resources to that which will help us all. So the reward for successfully bringing value to someone ought to be clear, and the signal that you are not, ought to be clear, and the only way to do that is an absolute adherence to the principles of free markets and the improvement that they provide.”

In conclusion, she said: “In those public policy endeavors that you work so hard, and devote your energy and passion to, doing what’s right really means: Measuring ideas and actions by the yardstick of freedom and markets. The mantra that markets matter then becomes the platform for which the greatest progress and the greatest good in the improvement of our quality of life can happen.”

This was recorded on Friday January 24, 2014. This is a portion of her speech.

Shownotes

Wichita River Festival
Mary Beth Jarvis at LinkedIn

Wichita economic development: Worth higher taxes?

In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita city and business leaders are likely to ask Wichitans to support a higher sales tax in order to support additional economic development efforts. Should Wichitans vote in favor of this? View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

Another thing that a tax increase in Wichita might be used for is for economic development. That is, paying subsidies to companies so that they will provide jobs in Wichita.

wichita-chamber-job-growth-2013-12
It’s felt that Wichita needs to step up its economic development efforts because things haven’t been going well lately. Not that everyone agrees. You’ve seen the charts I showed you, showing the growth of jobs in Wichita and also other economic indicators. When we compare Wichita with the nation as a whole and with our Visioneering peer cities, Wichita is almost always in last place. When I presented this data to the Wichita city Council, the Council members did not believe these numbers. So here’s a chart that was presented recently at a Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce meeting. It uses the same data source that I use, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and it shows the same data using the same methodology. It comes to the same conclusion: Wichita performs poorly.

Our chamber of commerce and its leadership will use this poor performance to argue that Wichita needs to spend more money on economic development. And that’s a problem.

Your chamber of commerce radio buttons
Very often, local chambers of commerce support principles of crony capitalism instead of pro-growth policies that allow free enterprise and genuine capitalism to flourish.

Now you may be confused. Most people probably think that local chambers of commerce, since their membership is mostly business firms, support pro-growth policies that embrace limited government and free markets. But that’s not always the case. Here, in an excerpt from his Wall Street Journal article “Tax Chambers” Stephen Moore explains:

“The Chamber of Commerce, long a supporter of limited government and low taxes, was part of the coalition backing the Reagan revolution in the 1980s. On the national level, the organization still follows a pro-growth agenda — but thanks to an astonishing political transformation, many chambers of commerce on the state and local level have been abandoning these goals. They’re becoming, in effect, lobbyists for big government.

“In as many as half the states, state taxpayer organizations, free market think tanks and small business leaders now complain bitterly that, on a wide range of issues, chambers of commerce deploy their financial resources and lobbying clout to expand the taxing, spending and regulatory authorities of government. This behavior, they note, erodes the very pro-growth climate necessary for businesses — at least those not connected at the hip with government — to prosper. Journalist Tim Carney agrees: All too often, he notes, state and local chambers have become corrupted by the lure of big dollar corporate welfare schemes.”

This is the argument that the Wichita Chamber of Commerce and the city council will be making: We don’t spend enough on business welfare. Capitalism and the free market: These things don’t work, they will tell us. Only government can save Wichita from decline. Business leaders will tell us we need more taxes for more spending on economic development. But be careful here:

There’s a difference between “business leaders” and “capitalists.”

Last year Charles Koch explained the difference in an article in the Wall Street Journal. He wrote:

“Far too many businesses have been all too eager to lobby for maintaining and increasing subsidies and mandates paid by taxpayers and consumers. This growing partnership between business and government is a destructive force, undermining not just our economy and our political system, but the very foundations of our culture.”

He continued:

“The effects on government are equally distorting — and corrupting. Instead of protecting our liberty and property, government officials are determining where to send resources based on the political influence of their cronies. In the process, government gains even more power and the ranks of bureaucrats continue to swell.”

In his article, Koch makes an important observation when he defines cronyism: “We have a term for this kind of collusion between business and government. It used to be known as rent-seeking. Now we call it cronyism. Rampant cronyism threatens the economic foundations that have made this the most prosperous country in the world.”

You regular viewers know that we have a problem with cronyism in Wichita. This is exemplified by incidents like where a mayor votes to send millions of taxpayer dollars to a man who owns movie theaters, and then the mayor sells his barbeque sauce in those theaters. It’s when a real estate developer lists the mayor and city manager as business references when bidding for a city project and thinks that no one will care or notice. It’s when a city council member receives thousands in campaign contributions from an out-of-state construction company right at the time he votes to award a contract to that company. It’s when the city council votes to give over-priced no-bid construction contracts to their significant campaign contributors.

In other words, instead of allowing people to direct resources to where they believe they will be most useful, our local government direct resources to their cronies. Where it’s useful for their political careers.

I’m of the opinion that it has harmed Wichita’s economic growth. It’s one of the reasons why Wichita is the bottom line in the charts we’ve seen. But many of our business leaders, and almost all of our political leaders, propose more of the same.

That’s right. Instead of focusing on things like water and sewer pipes, government wants to raise taxes so that it can direct more of our economy. Having neglected our water and sewer infrastructure to the point where the mayor says we need to spend at the rate of $70 million dollars per year for the next 30 years, our city leaders are going to ask us for more tax money so that they can try to fix the Wichita economy.

Returning to Stephen Moore’s article. Here he quotes Jon Caldera of the Independence Institute. “I used to think that public employee unions like the National Education Association were the main enemy in the struggle for limited government, competition and private sector solutions. I was wrong. Our biggest adversary is the special interest business cartel that labels itself ‘the business community’ and its political machine run by chambers and other industry associations.”

Let’s ask our business and political leaders some questions. First, will we acknowledge Wichita’s poor economic performance, or will we continue to ignore the facts and statistics? Second: Will we realize that the cozy relationship between city hall and a small group of insiders — Wichita’s cronies, if you will — is harmful and corrosive? Third: Will we realize that free enterprise and capitalism work better than cronyism?

In Wichita, ‘free markets’ used to justify business welfare

Wichita City HallIncredibly, a prominent Wichita business uses the free market to justify its request for economic development incentives. A gullible city council buys the argument.

At the December 10, 2013 meeting of the Wichita City Council, Bombardier LearJet received an economic development incentive that will let it avoid paying some property taxes on newly-purchased property. The amount involved in this particular incident is relatively small. According to city documents, “the value of the abated taxes on that investment could be as much as $1,980.”

(Bombardier receives millions each year in other government subsidies; see Kansas PEAK program: corporate welfare wrapped in obfuscation and Bombardier Learjet should pay just a little for examples.)

While the amount of the incentive granted in the December 10 action is small, the meeting was useful in letting us understand how some prominent members of Wichita’s business community have distorted the principles of free markets and capitalism. As illustrated by the fawning of Wichita City Council Member and Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner (district 2, east Wichita) and others, elected officials have long forsaken these ideas.

Bombardier’s argument

Don Pufahl, who is Director of Finance at Bombardier Learjet, addressed the council regarding this matter. He started his remarks on a positive note, telling the council “There are various aspects to a free-market economy. There’s the rule of law, there’s property rights, and another major aspect is incentives.”

We must be careful when using the term incentive. In a free-market economy or capitalism, incentive refers to the motivation of the possibility of earning profits. Another incentive — the flip side of the same coin — is avoiding losses. That’s why capitalism is called a profit-and-loss system. The losses are just as important as profits, as losses are a signal that the economic activity is not valued, and the resources should be shifted to somewhere else where they are valued more highly.

But in the field of economic development as practiced by government, incentive means something given to or granted to a company. That’s what the representative from Bombardier meant by incentive. He explained: “One party, in this case, the local government, uses incentives for another party, in this case our company, to invest in the community.”

A few thoughts: First, Bombardier is not investing in the community. The company is investing in itself.

Second, the free market system that the speaker seemed to praise is a system based on voluntary exchange. That flows from property rights, which is the fundamental idea that people own themselves and the product of their labor, and are free to exchange with others, or to not exchange. But when government uses incentives, many people do not consent to the exchange. That’s not a free market system.

Third, an important part of a free market system is market competition. That is, business firms compete with others for customers. They also compete with other business firms for resources needed for production, such as capital. When government makes these decisions instead of markets, we don’t have a free market system. Instead, we have cronyism. Charles G. Koch has described the harm of cronyism, recently writing: “The effects on government are equally distorting — and corrupting. Instead of protecting our liberty and property, government officials are determining where to send resources based on the political influence of their cronies. In the process, government gains even more power and the ranks of bureaucrats continue to swell.”

In the same article Koch wrote: “We have a term for this kind of collusion between business and government. It used to be known as rent-seeking. Now we call it cronyism. Rampant cronyism threatens the economic foundations that have made this the most prosperous country in the world.” (Charles G. Koch: Corporate cronyism harms America)

The representative from Bombardier also said that the city’s incentives would reduce Bombardier’s investment risk. There is little doubt this is true. What has happened, however, is that the risk has not been eliminated or reduced. It has merely been shifted to the people of Wichita, Sedgwick County, the Wichita public school district, and the State of Kansas. When government does this on a piecemeal basis, this is called cronyism. When done universally, we call this socialism.

We can easily argue that actions like this — and especially the large subsidies granted to Bombardier the by state — increase the risk of these investments. Since the subsidies reduce the cost of its investment, Bombardier may be motivated to make risky investments that it might otherwise not make, were it investing its own funds (and that of its shareholders).

The cost of Bombardier’s investments, and the accompanying risk, is spread to a class of business firms that can’t afford additional cost and risk. These are young startup firms, the entrepreneurial firms that we need to nurture in order to have real and sustainable economic growth and jobs. But we can’t identify these. We don’t know who they are. But we need an economic development strategy that creates an environment where these young entrepreneurial firms have the greatest chance to survive. (See Kansas economic growth policy should embrace dynamism and How to grow the Kansas economy.)

Now the city and Bombardier will say that these investments have a payoff for the taxpayer. That is, if Bombardier grows, it will pay more in taxes, and that constitutes “profit” for taxpayers. Even if we accept that premise — that the city “profits” from collecting taxes — why do we need to invest in Bombardier in order to harvest its “profits” when there are so many companies that pay taxes without requiring subsidy?

Finally, the representative from Bombardier said that these incentives are not a handout. I don’t see how anyone can say that and maintain a straight face.

wichita-chamber-job-growth-2013-12
It would be one thing if the Wichita area was thriving economically. But it isn’t. We’re in last place among our self-identified peers, as illustrated in Wichita and Visioneering peers job growth. Minutes from a recent meeting of Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, the primary organization in charge of economic development, holds this paragraph: “As shown in the Chart below Wichita economy suffered the largest loss of employment among peer cities and has not seen any signs of rebounding as the other communities have. Wichita lost 31,000 jobs during the recession principally due to the down turn in general aviation.”

Following is a fuller representation of the Bombardier representative’s remarks to the council.

There are various aspects to a free-market economy. There’s the rule of law, there’s property rights, and another major aspect is incentives.

One party, in this case, the local government, uses incentives for another party, in this case our company, to invest in the community.

As the company moves forward to invest in the community, those investments are not without risk. … Your incentives allow us to offset some of that risk so that we can move forward with those investments, which hopefully create new jobs and also then also improves the quality of life in our community. … These incentives are not a handout. They are a way that the local government uses such things to offset some of the risk that is involved in local companies as they invest in the community, bring jobs to the community, and improve the community overall.


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Your local chamber of commerce: Working for you?

Your chamber of commerce radio buttons

Very often, local chambers of commerce support principles of crony capitalism instead of pro-growth policies that allow free enterprise and genuine capitalism to flourish.

We may soon have an example of this in Wichita, where business leaders are tossing about ideas for tax increases. I distinguish between “business leaders” and “capitalists.”

Most people probably think that local chambers of commerce, since their membership is mostly business firms, support pro-growth policies that embrace limited government and free markets. But that’s not always the case. Here, in an excerpt from his article “Tax Chambers” Stephen Moore explains:

The Chamber of Commerce, long a supporter of limited government and low taxes, was part of the coalition backing the Reagan revolution in the 1980s. On the national level, the organization still follows a pro-growth agenda — but thanks to an astonishing political transformation, many chambers of commerce on the state and local level have been abandoning these goals. They’re becoming, in effect, lobbyists for big government.

In as many as half the states, state taxpayer organizations, free market think tanks and small business leaders now complain bitterly that, on a wide range of issues, chambers of commerce deploy their financial resources and lobbying clout to expand the taxing, spending and regulatory authorities of government. This behavior, they note, erodes the very pro-growth climate necessary for businesses — at least those not connected at the hip with government — to prosper. Journalist Tim Carney agrees: All too often, he notes in his recent book, “Rip-Off,” “state and local chambers have become corrupted by the lure of big dollar corporate welfare schemes.”

“I used to think that public employee unions like the NEA were the main enemy in the struggle for limited government, competition and private sector solutions,” says Mr. Caldera of the Independence Institute. “I was wrong. Our biggest adversary is the special interest business cartel that labels itself ‘the business community’ and its political machine run by chambers and other industry associations.”

From Stephen Moore in the article “Tax Chambers” published in The Wall Street Journal February 10, 2007. The full article can be found here.

Charles G. Koch: Corporate cronyism harms America

From September 2012, and even more relevant today.

“The effects on government are equally distorting — and corrupting. Instead of protecting our liberty and property, government officials are determining where to send resources based on the political influence of their cronies. In the process, government gains even more power and the ranks of bureaucrats continue to swell.”

The editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal by Charles G. Koch, chairman of the board and CEO of Wichita-based Koch Industries contains many powerful arguments against the rise of cronyism. The argument above is just one of many.

In his article, Koch makes an important observation when he defines cronyism: “We have a term for this kind of collusion between business and government. It used to be known as rent-seeking. Now we call it cronyism. Rampant cronyism threatens the economic foundations that have made this the most prosperous country in the world.”

“Rent-seeking” was always a difficult term to use and understand. It had meaning mostly to economists. But “cronyism” — everyone knows what that means. It is a harsh word, offensive to many elected officials. But we need a harsh term to accurately describe the harm caused, as Koch writes: “This growing partnership between business and government is a destructive force, undermining not just our economy and our political system, but the very foundations of our culture.”

The entire article is available at the Wall Street Journal. Koch has also contributed other articles on this topic, see Charles G. Koch: Why Koch Industries is speaking out and Charles Koch: The importance of economic freedom.

Charles G. Koch: Corporate Cronyism Harms America

When businesses feed at the federal trough, they threaten public support for business and free markets.

By Charles G. Koch

“We didn’t build this business — somebody else did.”

So reads a sign outside a small roadside craft store in Utah. The message is clearly tongue-in-cheek. But if it hung next to the corporate offices of some of our nation’s big financial institutions or auto makers, there would be no irony in the message at all.

It shouldn’t surprise us that the role of American business is increasingly vilified or viewed with skepticism. In a Rasmussen poll conducted this year, 68% of voters said they “believe government and big business work together against the rest of us.”

Businesses have failed to make the case that government policy — not business greed — has caused many of our current problems. To understand the dreadful condition of our economy, look no further than mandates such as the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “affordable housing” quotas, directives such as the Community Reinvestment Act, and the Federal Reserve’s artificial, below-market interest-rate policy.

Far too many businesses have been all too eager to lobby for maintaining and increasing subsidies and mandates paid by taxpayers and consumers. This growing partnership between business and government is a destructive force, undermining not just our economy and our political system, but the very foundations of our culture.

With partisan rhetoric on the rise this election season, it’s important to remind ourselves of what the role of business in a free society really is — and even more important, what it is not.

Continue reading at The Wall Street Journal

WichitaLiberty.TV October 27, 2013

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: David Boaz, Executive Vice President of the Cato Institute, visits the WichitaLiberty.TV studios and explains the ideas behind libertarianism and its approach to government and society. Episode 18, broadcast October 27, 2013. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

David Boaz is the executive vice president of the Cato Institute and has played a key role in the development of the Cato Institute and the libertarian movement. He is a provocative commentator and a leading authority on domestic issues such as education choice, drug legalization, the growth of government, and the rise of libertarianism. Boaz is the former editor of New Guard magazine and was executive director of the Council for a Competitive Economy prior to joining Cato in 1981. He is the author of Libertarianism: A Primer, described by the Los Angeles Times as “a well-researched manifesto of libertarian ideas,” the editor of The Libertarian Reader, and coeditor of the Cato Handbook For Policymakers. His articles have been published in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, National Review, and Slate. He is a frequent guest on national television and radio shows, and has appeared on ABC’s Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, CNN’s Crossfire, NPR’s Talk of the Nation and All Things Considered, John McLaughlin’s One on One, Fox News Channel, BBC, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other media. His latest book is The Politics of Freedom: Taking on The Left, The Right and Threats to Our Liberties.

Exchange Place still not good for Wichita, others

Wichita city hall logo

Tomorrow the Wichita City Council will consider a redevelopment plan for the Exchange Place project in downtown Wichita. Despite having shed the problems with the former owners, the project has become an even worse deal for the taxpayers of Wichita, Kansas, and the nation. Those looking for jobs and for investment capital to meet consumer demands are worse off, too.

Here’s what the city council agenda packet gives as the sources of financing for this project.

HUD Loan Amount         $29,087,700
Private Equity            5,652,254
Tax Credit Equity        19,370,395
TIF Proceeds             12,500,000
Total Sources of Funds  $66,610,349

Consider each of these sources of funding. TIF, or tax increment financing, diverts future increased tax revenues away from their normal uses and diverts them back to the project. In this case, the city will borrow $12,500,000 by selling bonds. It will give this money to the developer. Then, TIF proceeds will be used to repay these bonds.

It sounds innocent, even beneficient and desirable. But if this project was not built within a TIF district, it would add $12,500,000 in tax revenues to the city, county, and school district. This is called “building up the tax base,” something politicians and bureaucrats say is an important goal. Downtown Wichita, however, has not done well in this regard, despite the claim of hundreds of millions in investment.

City leaders will tell us that tax increment financing is needed for economic development. Regarding the effect of tax increment financing districts on economic development, economists Richard F. Dye and David F. Merriman have studied tax increment financing 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.”

What about the effect of tax increment financing on job creation, that being another goal mentioned by politicians and bureaucrats? One person who has looked at the effect of TIF on jobs is Paul F. Byrne of Washburn University. He authored a recent report titled Does Tax Increment Financing Deliver on Its Promise of Jobs? The Impact of Tax Increment Financing on Municipal Employment Growth. In its abstract we find this conclusion regarding the impact of TIF on jobs: “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.” This project is a retail project, and can be expected to have a negative effect on employment.

Another bad aspect of this project for citizens is what city documents describe as “tax credit equity.” The amount is $19,370,395. This is understatement at its finest. Tax credits are a direct transfer from taxpayers to the project developers, with very few strings attached.

A tax credit is an appropriation of money made through the tax system and economically equivalent to a direct grant of money. Recently some have started to use the word “tax appropriations” or “tax expenditures” to describe tax credits in recognition of this. These expenditures don’t go through the normal legislative process as do most appropriations. If the Kansas Legislature and United States Congress are not comfortable with writing this developer a check for over $19,000,000, they should not make a roundabout contribution through the tax system that has the same economic impact on the state’s and nation’s finances.

Citizens will be told that the tax credits are needed because rehabbing historic buildings is expensive. We should let politicians and bureaucrats know that living or working in a historic building is a premium amenity that one chooses, just like one might choose granite counter tops in their kitchen. We shouldn’t expect others to pay for these voluntary choices.

Then, there’s a “HUD Loan Amount,” which is actually a loan guarantee of $29,087,700. U.S. taxpayers are liable for this amount of money should the project not meet its projections.

The subsides to this project have real costs. This development will require services from the city, county, and school district, yet it won’t be contributing its full share of property taxes. So someone else has to pay.

The tax credits represent money that has to be made up by taxpayers across Kansas and the nation. Again, someone else has to pay. Since Kansas applies sales tax to food, even poor people buying groceries will be contributing to the cost of the grants given to this project through state tax credits.

We’ll be told that there’s a “funding gap” that taxpayers must step forward to fill. Why does that gap exist? It’s simple: Markets have decided that this project is not worth what it costs. If it was worth what it’s going to cost, and if the developer is reputable (as we’ve been promised), markets would be willing to fund the project. This happens every day all across the country, even during recessions.

What the city is proposing to do is to take risks with the taxpayers’ money that no one is willing to take with their own. Further, the spending and credit that is diverted from markets to this project wastes capital. There is less capital available for projects that people value, because it is diverted to projects that politicians and bureaucrats value.

The difficulty is that it’s easy to see the new project. The groundbreaking and ribbon cutting ceremonies that commemorate government intervention will be covered by television and newspapers. Politicians and bureaucrats are drawn to these events and will spend taxpayer funds to make sure you’re aware of them.

It’s more difficult to see that the harm that government intervention causes. That harm is dispersed and more difficult to spot. But the harm is real. If it is not, then we need to ask why our governments don’t do more of this type of development.

Driving by a development in a TIF district and noticing a building or people working at jobs does not tell the entire story. Recognizing the existence of a building, or the payment of taxes, or jobs created, is “stage one” thinking, and no more than that.

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

Coalition to Congress: End the wind production tax credit

Following is a letter from a coalition of organizations led by Americans for Prosperity advocating for the end of special treatment and subsidies for one industry.

September 24, 2013
Dear Senators and Representatives:

On behalf of the millions of members that our organizations represent, we encourage you to oppose extending the main source of federal support for wind energy, the production tax credit (PTC). The problems with bestowing government favors on wind energy are myriad — it doesn’t produce cheaper energy, it threatens electrical grid reliability, it’s inefficient, it’s unprincipled tax policy, to name a few — and it’s time to end this misguided handout.

Proposals to phase out the credit over time are a red herring. A phaseout is still an extension, and it does not address any of the problems that arise from government backing for wind energy. Besides, the PTC in its current form already has a phaseout built in: Wind farm projects may claim the tax credit for 10 years following receiving an investment letter.

In addition, we discourage you from including a PTC extension in a large tax extenders package at the end of the year. This is precisely what happened this past December; a 1-year PTC extension and expansion found its way into the Fiscal Cliff deal at the last minute. This provision expanded wind farm eligibility from those that were already in operation to those that were simply in the planning stages. If Congress is serious about comprehensive tax reform that lowers rates for everyone, then special provisions like the PTC that clutter the tax code should be first on the chopping block.

The PTC is scheduled expire on December 31, 2013. Congress should ensure that it does so as to clear the way for a simpler, less burdensome tax system across the board.

Also, Christine Harbin Hanson, a policy analyst for Americans for Prosperity, contributes the following article:

Kansas wind turbines

Expiring wind subsidies bring a sense of déjà vu to Capitol Hill. The main federal tax break for wind energy, the wind production tax credit (PTC), is on track to expire at the end of the year, and history is poised to repeat itself. This year, Congress should break from the past and end this wasteful handout for the wind industry, once and for all.

Over the next four months, Washington will engage in the same debate as always. The wind industry will claim that it needs even more time and more subsidies to get on its feet. Meanwhile, Americans for Prosperity and our coalition partners will point out the numerous economic and philosophical problems with the tax credit — it doesn’t produce cheaper energy, it’s an unreliable energy source, it’s inefficient, it’s not principled, it distorts markets, etc. Over the last twenty years, Congress has repeatedly agreed to the PTC, usually in one or two-year intervals.

This is exactly what happened with this past extension. Big Wind produced a flurry of lobbying activity while Senate Minority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) and Vice President Biden (D) negotiated a deal to avert the Fiscal Cliff. As Tim Carney noted in the Washington Examiner at the time, this lobbying included “Obama’s closest corporate confidants as well as former congressmen from both parties.” In the end, a 1-year PTC extension and expansion found its way into the Fiscal Cliff deal at the 11th hour, alongside several additional targeted tax credits for renewable energy. Not only was the subsidy extended but it was expanded from wind farms that were already in operation to those that were simply in the planning stages.

This upcoming expiration has a plot twist: The American Wind Energy Association senses that its D.C. gravy train may be coming to an end and it will likely propose phasing down the tax credit over a period of years. Congress should avoid this trap. A phaseout is still an extension, and it does not address the problems that arise from subsidizing wind energy. Besides, the PTC in its current form already has a phaseout built in: wind farm projects may claim the tax credit for 10 years following receiving an investment letter.

Washington may be wising up to the pitfalls of using federal incentives to encourage politically-favored energy sources. Grants and loan guarantees are drying up, tarnished by repeated failures like Solyndra, Beacon Power, Ener1, A123 Systems and the list goes on-and-on. The main tax breaks for ethanol have also gone away, and momentum is building in Congress to repeal green energy mandates like the renewable fuel standard. This phase out proposal is Big Wind’s attempt to get more drink at the taxpayer trough.

Laughably, the only group calling for making the tax credit permanent is the White House. Apparently the Obama administration has still not learned from its repeated green energy failures, showing just how out of touch it is with economic realities.

Congress should end—not phase down, not extend—the wind production tax credit this year. Americans deserve energy solutions that can make it on their own in the marketplace—not ones that need to be propped up by government indefinitely. Washington’s long-time policy of giving preferential tax treatment to special interests simply isn’t working.

Wichita income is not keeping up

Visioneering Wichita uses per capita income growth as one benchmark of economic progress. What do the numbers say about the city’s progress? The following video illustrates. View below, or click here to view in higher resolution at YouTube, which may work better for some people.

For more in this, and to access the interactive visualization, see Wichita personal income growth benchmark.

The real free lunch: Markets and private property

As we approach another birthday of Milton Friedman, here’s his article where he clears up the authorship of a famous aphorism, and explains how to really get a free lunch. Based on remarks at the banquet celebrating the opening of the Cato Institute’s new building, Washington, May 1993.

I am delighted to be here on the occasion of the opening of the Cato headquarters. It is a beautiful building and a real tribute to the intellectual influence of Ed Crane and his associates.

I have sometimes been associated with the aphorism “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” which I did not invent. I wish more attention were paid to one that I did invent, and that I think is particularly appropriate in this city, “Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own.” But all aphorisms are half-truths. One of our favorite family pursuits on long drives is to try to find the opposites of aphorisms. For example, “History never repeats itself,” but “There’s nothing new under the sun.” Or “Look before you leap,” but “He who hesitates is lost.” The opposite of “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” is clearly “The best things in life are free.”

And in the real economic world, there is a free lunch, an extraordinary free lunch, and that free lunch is free markets and private property. Why is it that on one side of an arbitrary line there was East Germany and on the other side there was West Germany with such a different level of prosperity? It was because West Germany had a system of largely free, private markets — a free lunch. The same free lunch explains the difference between Hong Kong and mainland China, and the prosperity of the United States and Great Britain. These free lunches have been the product of a set of invisible institutions that, as F. A. Hayek emphasized, are a product of human action but not of human intention.

At the moment, we in the United States have available to us, if we will take it, something that is about as close to a free lunch as you can have. After the fall of communism, everybody in the world agreed that socialism was a failure. Everybody in the world, more or less, agreed that capitalism was a success. The funny thing is that every capitalist country in the world apparently concluded that therefore what the West needed was more socialism. That’s obviously absurd, so let’s look at the opportunity we now have to get a nearly free lunch. President Clinton has said that what we need is widespread sacrifice and concentrated benefits. What we really need is exactly the opposite. What we need and what we can have — what is the nearest thing to a free lunch — is widespread benefits and concentrated sacrifice. It’s not a wholly free lunch, but it’s close.

Let me give a few examples. The Rural Electrification Administration was established to bring electricity to farms in the 1930s, when about 80 percent of the farms did not have electricity. When 100 percent of the farms had electricity, the REA shifted to telephone service. Now 100 percent of the farms have telephone service, but the REA goes merrily along. Suppose we abolish the REA, which is just making low-interest loans to concentrated interests, mostly electric and telephone companies. The people of the United States would be better off; they’d save a lot of money that could be used for tax reductions. Who would be hurt? A handful of people who have been getting government subsidies at the expense of the rest of the population. I call that pretty nearly a free lunch.

Another example illustrates Parkinson’s law in agriculture. In 1945 there were 10 million people, either family or hired workers, employed on farms, and the Department of Agriculture had 80,000 employees. In 1992 there were 3 million people employed on farms, and the Department of Agriculture had 122,000 employees.

Nearly every item in the federal budget offers a similar opportunity. The Clinton people will tell you that all of those things are in the budget because people want the goodies but are just too stingy to pay for them. That’s utter nonsense. The people don’t want those goodies. Suppose you put to the American people a simple proposition about sugar: We can set things up so that the sugar you buy is produced primarily from beets and cane grown on American farms or so the sugar in addition comes without limit from El Salvador or the Philippines or somewhere else. If we restrict you to home-grown sugar, it will be two or three times as expensive as if we include sugar from abroad. Which do you really think voters would choose? The people don’t want to pay higher prices. A small group of special interests, which reaps concentrated benefits, wants them to, and that is why sugar in the United States costs several times the world price. The people were never consulted. We are not governed by the people; that’s a myth carried over from Abraham Lincoln’s day. We don’t have government of the people, by the people, for the people. We have government of the people, by the bureaucrats, for the bureaucrats.

Consider another myth. President Clinton says he’s the agent of change. That is false. He gets away with saying that because of the tendency to refer to the 12 Reagan-Bush years as if they were one period. They weren’t. We had Reaganomics, then Bushonomics, and now we have Clintonomics. Reaganomics had four simple principles: lower marginal tax rates, less regulation, restrained government spending, noninflationary monetary policy. Though Reagan did not achieve all of his goals, he made good progress. Bush’s policy was exactly the reverse of Reaganomics: higher tax rates, more regulation, more government spending. What is Clinton’s policy? Higher tax rates, more regulation, more government spending. Clintonomics is a continuation of Bushonomics, and we know what the results of reversing Reaganomics were.

On a more fundamental level, our present problems, both economic and noneconomic, arise mainly from the drastic change that has occurred during the past six decades in the relative importance of two different markets for determining who gets what, when, where, and how. Those markets are the economic market operating under the incentive of profit and the political market operating under the incentive of power. In my lifetime the relative importance of the economic market has declined in terms of the fraction of the country’s resources that it is able to use. And the importance of the political, or government, market has greatly expanded. We have been starving the market that has been working and feeding the market that has been failing. That’s essentially the story of the past 60 years.

We Americans are far wealthier today than we were 60 years ago. But we are less free. And we are less secure. When I graduated from high school in 1928, total government spending at all levels in the United States was a little over 10 percent of the national income. Two-thirds of that spending was state and local. Federal government spending was about 3 percent of the national income, or roughly what it had been since the Constitution was adopted a century and a half earlier, except for periods of major war. Half of federal spending was for the army and the navy. State and local government spending was something like 7 to 9 percent, and half of that was for schools and roads. Today, total government spending at all levels is 43 percent of the national income, and two-thirds of that is federal, one-third state and local. The federal portion is 30 percent of national income, or about 10 times what it was in 1928.

That figure understates the fraction of resources being absorbed by the political market. In addition to its own spending, the government mandates that all of us make a great many expenditures, something it never used to do. Mandated spending ranges from the requirement that you pay for antipollution devices on your automobiles, to the Clean Air Bill, to the Aid for Disability Act; you can go down the line. Essentially, the private economy has become an agent of the federal government. Everybody in this room was working for the federal government about a month ago filling out income tax returns. Why shouldn’t you have been paid for being tax collectors for the federal government? So I would estimate that at least 50 percent of the total productive resources of our nation are now being organized through the political market. In that very important sense, we are more than half socialist.

So much for input, what about output? Consider the private market first. There has been an absolutely tremendous increase in our living standards, due almost entirely to the private market. In 1928 radio was in its early stages, television was a futuristic dream, airplanes were all propeller driven, a trip to New York from where my family lived 20 miles away in New Jersey was a great event. Truly, a revolution has occurred in our material standard of living. And that revolution has occurred almost entirely through the private economic market. Government’s contribution was essential but not costly. Its contribution, which it’s not making nearly as well as it did at an earlier time, was to protect private property rights and to provide a mechanism for adjudicating disputes. But the overwhelming bulk of the revolution in our standard of living came through the private market.

Whereas the private market has produced a higher standard of living, the expanded government market has produced mainly problems. The contrast is sharp. Both Rose and I came from families with incomes that by today’s standards would be well below the so-called poverty line. We both went to government schools, and we both thought we got a good education. Today the children of families that have incomes corresponding to what we had then have a much harder time getting a decent education. As children, we were able to walk to school; in fact, we could walk in the streets without fear almost everywhere. In the depth of the Depression, when the number of truly disadvantaged people in great trouble was far larger than it is today, there was nothing like the current concern over personal safety, and there were few panhandlers littering the streets. What you had on the street were people trying to sell apples. There was a sense of self-reliance that, if it hasn’t disappeared, is much less prevalent.

In 1938 you could even find an apartment to rent in New York City. After we got married and moved to New York, we looked in the apartments-available column in the newspaper, chose half a dozen we wanted to look at, did so, and rented one. People used to give up their apartments in the spring, go away for the summer, and come back in the autumn to find new apartments. It was called the moving season. In New York today, the best way to find an apartment is probably to keep track of the obituary columns. What’s produced that difference? Why is New York housing a disaster today? Why does the South Bronx look like parts of Bosnia that have been bombed? Not because of the private market, obviously, but because of rent control.

Despite the current rhetoric, our real problems are not economic. I am inclined to say that our real problems are not economic despite the best efforts of government to make them so. I want to cite one figure. In 1946 government assumed responsibility for producing full employment with the Full Employment Act. In the years since then, unemployment has averaged 5.7 percent. In the years from 1900 to 1929 when government made no pretense of being responsible for employment, unemployment averaged 4.6 percent. So, our unemployment problem too is largely government created. Nonetheless, the economic problems are not the real ones.

Our major problems are social — deteriorating education, lawlessness and crime, homelessness, the collapse of family values, the crisis in medical care, teenage pregnancies. Every one of these problems has been either produced or exacerbated by the well-intentioned efforts of government. It’s easy to document two things: that we’ve been transferring resources from the private market to the government market and that the private market works and the government market doesn’t.

It’s far harder to understand why supposedly intelligent, well-intentioned people have produced these results. One reason, as we all know, that is certainly part of the answer is the power of special interests. But I believe that a more fundamental answer has to do with the difference between the self-interest of individuals when they are engaged in the private market and the self-interest of individuals when they are engaged in the political market. If you’re engaged in a venture in the private market and it begins to fail, the only way you can keep it going is to dig into your own pocket. So you have a strong incentive to shut it down. On the other hand, if you start exactly the same enterprise in the government sector, with exactly the same prospects for failure, and it begins to fail, you have a much better alternative. You can say that your project or program should really have been undertaken on a bigger scale; and you don’t have to dig into your own pocket, you have a much deeper pocket into which to dig, that of the taxpayer. In perfectly good conscience you can try to persuade, and typically succeed in persuading, not the taxpayer, but the congressmen, that yours is really a good project and that all it needs is a little more money. And so, to coin another aphorism, if a private venture fails, it’s closed down. If a government venture fails, it’s expanded.

We sometimes think the solution to our problems is to elect the right people to Congress. I believe that’s false, that if a random sample of the people in this room were to replace the 435 people in the House and the 100 people in the Senate, the results would be much the same. With few exceptions, the people in Congress are decent people who want to do good. They’re not deliberately engaging in activities that they know will do harm. They are simply immersed in an environment in which all the pressures are in one direction, to spend more money.

Recent studies demonstrate that most of the pressure for more spending comes from the government itself. It’s a self-generating monstrosity. In my opinion, the only way we can change it is by changing the incentives under which the people in government operate. If you want people to act differently, you have to make it in their own self-interest to do so. As Armen Alchan always says, there’s one thing you can count on everybody in the world to do, and that’s to put his self-interest above yours.

I have no magic formula for changing the self-interest of bureaucrats and members of Congress. Constitutional amendments to limit taxes and spending, to rule out monetary manipulation, and to inhibit market distortions would be fine, but we’re not going to get them. The only viable thing on the national horizon is the term-limits movement. A six-year term limit for representatives would not change their basic nature, but it would change drastically the kinds of people who would seek election to Congress and the incentives under which they would operate. I believe that those of us who are interested in trying to reverse the allocation of our resources, to shift more and more to the private market and less and less to the government market, must disabuse ourselves of the notion that all we need to do is elect the right people. At one point we thought electing the right president would do it. We did and it didn’t. We have to turn our attention to changing the incentives under which people operate. The movement for term limits is one way of doing that; it’s an excellent idea, and it’s making real progress. There have to be other movements as well.

Some changes are being made on the state level. Wherever you have initiative, that is, popular referendum, there is an opportunity to change. I don’t believe in pure democracy; nobody believes in pure democracy. Nobody believes that it’s appropriate to kill 49 percent of the population even if 51 percent of the people vote to do so. But we do believe in giving everybody the opportunity to use his own resources as effectively as he can to promote his own values as long as he doesn’t interfere with anybody else. And on the whole, experience has shown that the public at large, through the initiative process, is much more attuned to that objective than are the people they elect to the legislature. So I believe that the referendum process has to be exploited. In California we have been working very hard on an initiative to allow parental choice of schools. Effective parental choice will be on the ballot this fall. Maybe we won’t win it, but we’ve got to keep trying.

We’ve got to keeping trying to change the way Americans think about the role of government. Cato does that by, among other things, documenting in detail the harmful effects of government policies that I’ve swept over in broad generalities. The American public is being taken to the cleaners. As the people come to understand what is going on, the intellectual climate will change, and we may be able to initiate institutional changes that will establish appropriate incentives for the people who control the government purse strings and so large a part of our lives.