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Third annual Kansas Freedom Index released

From Kansas Policy Institute.

3rd Annual Kansas Freedom Index Released

Support of Freedom About More Than Politics, IDs Role of Government and Freedom of Citizens

July 1, 2014 — Wichita — Kansas Policy Institute released a new scorecard tracking votes from the 2014 legislative session. The third annual Kansas Freedom Index takes a broad look at voting records and establishes how supportive state legislators are regarding economic freedom, student-focused education, limited government, and individual liberty. The Index is intended to provide educational information to the public about broad economic and education freedom issues that are important to the citizens of our State. It is the product of nonpartisan analysis, study, and research and is not intended to directly or indirectly endorse or oppose any candidate for public office.

“An informed citizenry is an essential element of maintaining a free society. Having a deeper understanding of how legislation impacts education freedom, economic freedom and the constitutional principles of individual liberty and limited government allows citizens to better understand the known and often unknown consequences of legislative issues,” said KPI president Dave Trabert.”

A Freedom Percentage is calculated for each legislator, representing the relative position of a legislator’s raw score on a number line of the minimum and maximum score, with the percentage indicating proximity to the maximum score.

A positive cumulative score (or a Freedom Percentage above 50%) indicates that a legislator generally supported economic and education freedom, while a negative cumulative score (or Freedom Percentage below 50%) indicates that a legislator was generally opposed. A score of zero or a Freedom Percentage of 50% indicates that a legislator was generally neutral. The cumulative score only pertains to the specific votes included in the Kansas Freedom Index and should not be interpreted otherwise. A different set of issues and/or a different set of circumstances could result in different cumulative scores.

Trabert continued, “Each year it has been clear that support of economic freedom isn’t an issue of political affiliation. Republicans represented at least 70 percent of all House members and all Senate members since 2012. Those counts would produce fairly strong results one way or the other if economic freedom was a partisan issue, but instead, the overall score of both chambers was very near neutral.”

Trabert concluded, “Too often votes come down to parochial or personal issues and the idea of freedom is left on the legislature’s cutting room floor. Hopefully, the Kansas Freedom Index can start to recalibrate citizens and legislators towards supporting the freedoms of everyday Kansans and not be driven by politics.”

2014 Freedom Index by the Numbers
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What is the record of economic development incentives?

On the three major questions — Do economic development incentives create new jobs? Are those jobs taken by targeted populations in targeted places? Are incentives, at worst, only moderately revenue negative? — traditional economic development incentives do not fare well.

Money GrabberJudging the effectiveness of economic development incentives requires looking for the unseen effects as well as what is easily seen. It’s easy to see the groundbreaking and ribbon cutting ceremonies that commemorate government intervention — politicians and bureaucrats are drawn to them, and will spend taxpayer funds to make sure you’re aware. It’s more difficult to see that the harm that government intervention causes.

That’s assuming that the incentives even work as advertised in the first place. Alan Peters and Peter Fisher, in their paper titled The Failures of Economic Development Incentives published in Journal of the American Planning Association, wrote on the effects of incentives. A few quotes from the study, with emphasis added:

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

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

The most fundamental problem is that many public officials appear to believe that they can influence the course of their state or local economies through incentives and subsidies to a degree far beyond anything supported by even the most optimistic evidence. We need to begin by lowering their expectations about their ability to micromanage economic growth and making the case for a more sensible view of the role of government — providing the foundations for growth through sound fiscal practices, quality public infrastructure, and good education systems — and then letting the economy take care of itself.

Following is the full paper, or click here.

Franklin Roosevelt, contributor to modern nanny state

If you’ve wondered what was the genesis of the modern nanny state, listen to this speech by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It’s part of his State of the Union Address from 1944.

The purpose of the original Bill of Rights is to protect our freedoms from government. But to provide the things Roosevelt calls for — food, clothing, a decent home, adequate medical care, and a good education — requires an expansive government. These rights are called positive rights because they require action by the government, in contrast to the negative rights found in the Bill of Rights. Richard A. Epstein explains the consequences of the “Roosevelt Rights”:

All of these are positive rights, which means necessarily that some unidentified individuals or groups have the duty to provide decent wages, home, health, and education to the people. The individual so taxed can discharge that duty only by forfeiting his own right to reap the fruits of his own labor. Yet the incidence and size of these hefty correlative duties are left unaddressed by Roosevelt.

We are witnessing today a modern rerun of Roosevelt’s incomplete strategy. Obama’s healthcare plan, for instance, designates a generous set of “essential health benefits” to a large number of individuals entitled to affordable care on the newly created government exchanges. But these benefits cannot be funded with higher taxes on the “millionaires and billionaires,” whose combined wealth falls short of what is needed. So what duty will undergird the new right?

This sort of funding crisis could never arise under the Bill of Rights 1.0, whose correlative duties are negative — or, put another way, they impose a “keep off” sign on other people. If I have the freedom of speech, your duty is to forbear from disrupting the speech with force, and vice versa. Each of us can demand forbearance from the use of force by all others.

David Kelley elaborates further in a chapter from The Morality of Capitalism:

By contrast, welfare rights are conceived as rights to possess and enjoy certain goods, regardless of one’s actions; they are rights to have the goods provided by others if one cannot earn them oneself. Accordingly, welfare rights impose positive obligations on others. If I have a right to food, someone has an obligation to grow it. If I cannot pay for it, someone has an obligation to buy it for me. Welfarists sometimes argue that the obligation is imposed on society as a whole, not on any specific individual. But society is not an entity, much less a moral agent, over and above its individual members, so any such obligation falls upon us as individuals. Insofar as welfare rights are implemented through government programs, for example, the obligation is distributed over all taxpayers.

From an ethical standpoint, then, the essence of welfarism is the premise that the need of one individual is a claim on other individuals. The claim may run only as far as the town or the nation. It may not embrace all of humanity. But in all versions of the doctrine, the claim does not depend on your personal relationship to the claimant, or your choice to help, or your evaluation of him as worthy of your help. It is an unchosen obligation arising from the sheer fact of his need.

Here is an excerpt from Roosevelt’s State of the Union Address, January 1944.

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth- is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

Do economic development incentives work?

Government takes and gives

Judging the effectiveness of economic development incentives requires looking for the unseen effects as well as what is easily seen. It’s easy to see the groundbreaking and ribbon cutting ceremonies that commemorate government intervention — politicians and bureaucrats are drawn to them, and will spend taxpayer funds to make sure you’re aware. It’s more difficult to see that the harm that government intervention causes.

That’s assuming that the incentives even work as advertised in the first place. Alan Peters and Peter Fisher, in their paper titled The Failures of Economic Development Incentives published in Journal of the American Planning Association, wrote on the effects of incentives. A few quotes from the study, with emphasis added:

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

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

The most fundamental problem is that many public officials appear to believe that they can influence the course of their state or local economies through incentives and subsidies to a degree far beyond anything supported by even the most optimistic evidence. We need to begin by lowering their expectations about their ability to micromanage economic growth and making the case for a more sensible view of the role of government — providing the foundations for growth through sound fiscal practices, quality public infrastructure, and good education systems — and then letting the economy take care of itself.

Following is the full paper, or click here.

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.

Pompeo: Systems are needed, and risk of abuse is low

Recently U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo of Wichita appeared on Stossel to defend the programs the National Security Agency uses to gather data on Americans and others. I wondered about these questions: If it’s true that the information leaked by Edward Snowden has harmed the security of the United States, how is it that this was able to happen? Aren’t there many thousands of people with knowledge and information similar to, or greater than, what Snowden had access to? Is the security of our country dependent on all of them keeping their secrets?

In a telephone conversation, Pompeo told me there are thousands of people who have access to classified material. Each one of these persons represents some risk.

How did the Snowden situation develop? We don’t yet know the answer, Pompeo said. It was a mistake, he said, for the NSA to permit Snowden to have access to, and be able to take from the facility, the breadth of information he has released. But Snowden did not leak actual intelligence data; only an informational presentation about the programs being used.

Snowden has harmed our security, and he may not be finished releasing information. Appearing on Stossel, Pompeo told the host that already Al-Qaeda is behaving differently. “They might well have suspected that some of this was going on. But they learned a couple things. They learned not only what was going on, but they’ve also learned the legal limits of these programs. Having shared that is very dangerous, and allows the enemy to have insights into the things we’re doing, to go catch the really bad guys — the terrorists who still want to kill us.”

Addressing privacy concerns, on Stossel Pompeo emphasized the “tremendous oversight” of intelligence services. Actual telephone calls are not being listened to. Further, the data that’s collected is not “mined” continuously, he said. It’s only for specific purposes, and then with FISA court approval, that the data is used.

An important distinction, Pompeo told me, is that it is data about telephone calls that is being collected, not the actual content of the calls. He emphasized the process and layers of oversight, by both agencies and courts. Even with a president and attorney general who have shown themselves not always worth of public trust, Pompeo says that the depth and scope of oversight gives him confidence that the risk of abuse is low.

Interestingly, the perception of the breadth of data that’s being collected may be overstated. In a June 18 hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Pompeo asked these questions of the Director of the NSA (video follows):

Pompeo: Gen. Alexander, from the data under Section 215 that’s collected, can you figure out the location of the person who made a particular phone call?

General Keith Alexander, Director of the National Security Agency: Not beyond the area code.

Pompeo: Do you have any information about signal strength or tower direction? I’ve seen articles that talked about you having this information. I want to make sure for the record we’re got that right.

Alexander: We don’t have that in the database.

Do economic development incentives work?

Economic development

Judging the effectiveness of economic development incentives requires looking for the unseen effects as well as what is easily seen. It’s easy to see the groundbreaking and ribbon cutting ceremonies that commemorate government intervention — politicians and bureaucrats are drawn to them, and will spend taxpayer funds to make sure you’re aware. It’s more difficult to see that the harm that government intervention causes.

That’s assuming that the incentives even work as advertised in the first place. Alan Peters and Peter Fisher, in their paper titled The Failures of Economic Development Incentives published in Journal of the American Planning Association, wrote on the effects of incentives. A few quotes from the study, with emphasis added:

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

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

The most fundamental problem is that many public officials appear to believe that they can influence the course of their state or local economies through incentives and subsidies to a degree far beyond anything supported by even the most optimistic evidence. We need to begin by lowering their expectations about their ability to micromanage economic growth and making the case for a more sensible view of the role of government — providing the foundations for growth through sound fiscal practices, quality public infrastructure, and good education systems — and then letting the economy take care of itself.

Following is the full paper, or click here.

Without government, there would be no change: Wichita Mayor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, August 12, 2008:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kansans’ views on role of government

Kansas Policy Institute

Kansas Policy Institute has released the results of a public opinion poll asking Kansans for their views on some issues that are currently in the news. Following is KPI’s press release:

Kansans’ Views on the Role of Government
K-12 funding should be based on efficient use of taxpayer funds; narrow opposition to judicial reform; overwhelming support for “paycheck protection”

Wichita — A new statewide public opinion survey shows strong support for having K-12 funding decisions based on efficient and effective use of taxpayer funds. This is especially noteworthy in light of the fact that no study has ever been conducted in Kansas to determine what it costs to achieve required student outcomes and have schools organized and operating in a cost-effective manner. The survey was conducted by SurveyUSA on behalf Kansas Policy Institute between January 24 and January 27; 500 adults were surveyed with a ±4.5% margin of error. The complete survey and interactive crosstabulations are available here.

Asked whether cost-effectiveness should be the basis for school funding decisions, 74% agreed and only 23% disagreed. Responses were very consistent across political and ideological lines.

Participants were also asked “If the Kansas Legislature is not basing school funding decisions on what it costs to hit required achievement levels and also have schools operating in a cost-effective manner, should the Legislature conduct such a study and fund schools accordingly?” A strong majority, 59% said “yes” while only 19% said “no.” Again, responses were very consistent across political and ideological lines.

The Shawnee County District Court based its recent school finance ruling on the 2005 Montoy decision, in which the State Supreme Court relied on a flawed 2001 Augenblick & Myers cost study. A&M admitted they deviated from their standard methodology and threw efficient use of taxpayer money out the window. A follow-up study by Legislative Post Audit very specifically said that they “… weren’t directed to, nor did we try to, examine the most cost-effective way for Kansas school districts to be organized and operated.”

KPI president Dave Trabert said, “In addition to funding schools, legislators also have a responsibility to ensure that taxpayer money is used efficiently. Lawsuits and hundreds of millions more in taxpayer funding have … and will continue to have .. little impact on student achievement. The only way to determine whether schools are effectively and efficiently funded is to conduct a thorough student-focused review of the current system examining all of the inputs (not just money), make any necessary adjustments and cost it out.”

Key findings on Judicial and Court Questions
A series of questions relating to the courts produced much more divided opinions. Kansans believe that courts should not have final say on how much money is spent on public education (54% vs. 44%) and courts should not have final say on the specific way that money is spent on education (56% vs. 40%). Interesting though, 54% of Kansans believe it is “… in citizens’ best interests to have judges recommended for appointment to the Kansas Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals by a majority-attorney panel” while 39% disagree.

Even self-identified conservatives narrowly said the current system of appointing judges is in citizens’ best interest (46% vs. 45%) while self-identified moderates and liberals expressing stronger support (53% vs. 41% and 69% vs. 23%, respectively).

Key findings on Paycheck Protection proposals
Proposed legislation that would prohibit government from collecting and remitting voluntary union dues intended to be used for political purposes is an extremely controversial topic this year — but apparently, only in the state capitol. Kansans of all political and ideological persuasion overwhelming support some form of change in the current practice.

Asked whether governments should continue the current practice of withholding union dues, including the portion that is used for political purposes … or withhold regular membership dues only, so that employees wishing to contribute money for political purposes would write their own personal checks … or withhold no union dues, even self-identified government employees and union members say current practice should change.

A second Bill of Rights, by Franklin Roosevelt

If we wonder what was the genesis of the modern nanny state, listen to this speech by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It’s part of his State of the Union Address from 1944.

The purpose of the original Bill of Rights is to protect our freedoms from government. But to provide the things Roosevelt calls for — food, clothing, a decent home, adequate medical care, and a good education — requires an expansive government. These rights are called positive rights because they require action by the government, in contrast to the negative rights found in the Bill of Rights. Richard A. Epstein explains the consequences of the “Roosevelt Rights”:

All of these are positive rights, which means necessarily that some unidentified individuals or groups have the duty to provide decent wages, home, health, and education to the people. The individual so taxed can discharge that duty only by forfeiting his own right to reap the fruits of his own labor. Yet the incidence and size of these hefty correlative duties are left unaddressed by Roosevelt.

We are witnessing today a modern rerun of Roosevelt’s incomplete strategy. Obama’s healthcare plan, for instance, designates a generous set of “essential health benefits” to a large number of individuals entitled to affordable care on the newly created government exchanges. But these benefits cannot be funded with higher taxes on the “millionaires and billionaires,” whose combined wealth falls short of what is needed. So what duty will undergird the new right?

This sort of funding crisis could never arise under the Bill of Rights 1.0, whose correlative duties are negative — or, put another way, they impose a “keep off” sign on other people. If I have the freedom of speech, your duty is to forbear from disrupting the speech with force, and vice versa. Each of us can demand forbearance from the use of force by all others.

David Kelley elaborates further in a chapter from The Morality of Capitalism:

By contrast, welfare rights are conceived as rights to possess and enjoy certain goods, regardless of one’s actions; they are rights to have the goods provided by others if one cannot earn them oneself. Accordingly, welfare rights impose positive obligations on others. If I have a right to food, someone has an obligation to grow it. If I cannot pay for it, someone has an obligation to buy it for me. Welfarists sometimes argue that the obligation is imposed on society as a whole, not on any specifi c individual. But society is not an entity, much less a moral agent, over and above its individual members, so any such obligation falls upon us as individuals. Insofar as welfare rights are implemented through government programs, for example, the obligation is distributed over all taxpayers.

From an ethical standpoint, then, the essence of welfarism is the premise that the need of one individual is a claim on other individuals. The claim may run only as far as the town or the nation. It may not embrace all of humanity. But in all versions of the doctrine, the claim does not depend on your personal relationship to the claimant, or your choice to help, or your evaluation of him as worthy of your help. It is an unchosen obligation arising from the sheer fact of his need.

Things have changed at Social Security Administration

Remember when your Social Security card stated that it was not to be used for identification purposes?

You’d have to be of at least a certain age to remember this, according to SSA: “The first Social Security cards were issued starting in 1936, they did not have this legend. Beginning with the sixth design version of the card, issued starting in 1946, SSA added a legend to the bottom of the card reading “FOR SOCIAL SECURITY PURPOSES — NOT FOR IDENTIFICATION.” This legend was removed as part of the design changes for the 18th version of the card, issued beginning in 1972. The legend has not been on any new cards issued since 1972.”

As with many government programs, Social Security has grown exponentially, and its identification number has become a de facto national identity number. It’s so important and used in so many ways that it is the prime target for thieves who would steal your identity.

Social security card

Free will and government charity

Those who call on government intervention to take care of the less fortunate and who rely on Christian teachings to support such government action, often conveniently forget that government is based on coercion, not the free will that God created us with. As P.J. O’Rourke wrote: “There is no virtue in compulsory government charity, and there is no virtue in advocating it. A politician who portrays himself as ‘caring’ and ‘sensitive’ because he wants to expand the government’s charitable programs is merely saying that he’s willing to try to do good with other people’s money. Well, who isn’t? And a voter who takes pride in supporting such programs is telling us that he’ll do good with his own money — if a gun is held to his head.” Below, Jason Karber elaborates.

Jesus did encourage people to help the less fortunate. What I don’t recall from Sunday school is any instance where Jesus implored the government to use force to transfer resources from one group to another.

Indeed the Christian belief system is not exclusive of free-market capitalism. Free-will in Christianity, and free markets in economies appear complimentary to me. While the citizens of government planned economies starve, the poor in the United States are threatened more by obesity than starvation. Many people who are on record as staunch free-market capitalists are generous donors of time and money on their own accord. Freedom provides better lives for everyone, and less freedom via a bigger government will ultimately reduce the quality of life for all.

While I understand that not everyone within a political group think alike, I do chuckle a bit when the policies embraced by liberals include removing any religious ideology and prayer from public schools, while calling our leaders hypocritical for not mandating Biblical principals
using public policy.

Jason Karber

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer on role of government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wichita fluoridation debate reveals attitudes of government

Is community water fluoridation like iodized salt? According to Wichita City Council Member and Vice Mayor Janet Miller (district 6, north central Wichita), we didn’t vote on whether to put iodine in table salt, so Wichitans don’t need to vote on whether to add fluoride to drinking water.

There’s a distinguishing factor, however, that somehow Miller didn’t realize: Consumption of iodized salt is a voluntary act. Not so with fluoridated water.

At the August 21, 2012 meeting of the Wichita City Council, Miller went on to name other substances added to our food supply that she said are beneficial to health. We didn’t vote on these either, but again, consumption of these foods and the added substances is voluntary.

In her discussion, Council Member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita) said “Did you like the art that went down to WaterWalk? Maybe you didn’t. But you don’t have to go there.”

She also said we don’t have to go to the apartments that were built at WaterWalk, and we don’t have to stay at the Ambassador Hotel.

True, we can avoid these government-sponsored and subsidized places if we want to. But what Williams may have forgotten is that we can’t avoid being forced to pay for them.

Besides that, what does it say about a government where if we disagree with its actions, we’re told “you don’t have to go there”?

This confusion of government and voluntary action is troubling for the future of Wichita, and more broadly, our country.

Wichita-area economic development policy changes proposed

The City of Wichita and Sedgwick County are considering a revision to their economic development policies. Instead of promoting economic freedom and a free-market approach, the proposed policy gives greater power to city bureaucrats and politicians, and is unlikely to produce the economic development that Wichita needs.

A new feature of the proposed policy implements property tax forgiveness for speculative industrial buildings, with a formula that grants a higher percentage of tax forgiveness as building size increases. And, in a stroke of pure bureaucratic central planning, the ceilings of these buildings must be at least 28 feet high.

The policy requires that projects have an estimated ratio of public benefits to public costs of at least 1.3 to 1, although there are factors that allow exceptions. This ratio should be met for both the city’s general fund, and its debt service fund. This — if the city actually enforces this — would be a welcome change. But within the last year, the city ignored a large negative cost-benefit ratio for the Ambassador Hotel, and instead used a positive ratio for the city’s general fund. See Fact checking the Wichita Ambassador Hotel campaign.

Wichitans also need to realize that the “benefits” in the calculation are in the form of increased tax revenue paid to the city, county, etc. There is no consideration of actually rewarding the taxpayers that pay for — and assume the risk of — economic development incentives.

There is also the curious focus on jobs that pay above-average wages. But what about workers who don’t have the skills to earn above-average wages? Shouldn’t they be able to benefit from the city’s economic development efforts?

There is also the focus on exports: “A ‘Value-Added Job’ produces goods and/or services that are sold predominately outside of the MSA. Importing wealth into the community through value added jobs grows the local economy. Whereas non-value-added jobs typically re-circulate wealth within the community.” This is reminiscent of mercantilism, an economic strategy where exports are prized and imports are discouraged. It ignores the benefit that Wichitans receive from trading with themselves.

There are also targeted industries and a list of eligible business activities.

Clawbacks — the recovery of incentives if a company fails to live up to its agreed-to goals — are important in the new proposed policy. But the city has had clawbacks in effect, in the form of personal guarantees from TIF developers, for example. But last year the city decided not to enforce that agreement, and instead refinanced the debt at credit risk to the city.

The record on economic development

Earlier this year Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition issued its annual report on its economic development activities for the year. The shows us that power of government to influence economic development is weak. In its recent press release, the organization claimed to have created 1,509 jobs in Sedgwick County during 2011. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor force in Sedgwick County in 2011 was 253,940 persons. So the jobs created by GWEDC’s actions amounted to 0.59 percent of the labor force. This is a very small fraction, and other economic events are likely to overwhelm these efforts.

In his 2012 State of the City address, Brewer took credit for creating a similar percentage of jobs in Wichita.

Rarely mentioned are the costs of creating these jobs. These costs have a negative economic impact on those who pay these costs. This means that economic activity and jobs are lost somewhere else in order to pay for the incentives.

Also, at least some of these jobs would have been created without the efforts of GWEDC. All GWEDC should take credit for is the marginal activity that it purportedly created. Government usually claims credit for all that is good, however.

Danger going forward

The danger we in the Wichita area face is the overwhelming urge of politicians to be seen doing something. For example, in response to the departure of Boeing, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer called for the community to “launch an aggressive campaign of job recruitment and retention.”

It is likely that we will become susceptible to large-scale government interventions in an attempt to gain new jobs. Our best course would be to take steps to make Kansas and Wichita an inviting place for all firms to do business. The instinct of politicians and bureaucrats, however, is to take action, usually in the form of targeted incentives as a way to spur economic development.

We’ve seen the disappointing results — not only with Boeing, but also in a report showing that Wichita has declined in economic performance compared to other areas.

These targeted economic development efforts fail for several reasons. First is the knowledge problem, in that government simply does not know which companies are worthy of public investment. In the case of the Wichita and Sedgwick County policy, do we really know which industries should be targeted? Are we sure about the list of eligible business activities? Is 1.3 to 1 really the benchmark we should seek, or we be better off and have more jobs if we insisted on 1.4 to 1 or relaxed the requirement to 1.2 to 1?

This lack of knowledge, however, does not stop governments from creating policies for the awarding of incentives. This “active investor” approach to economic development is what has led to companies escaping hundreds of millions in taxes — taxes that others have to pay. That has a harmful effect on other business, both existing and those that wish to form.

Embracing Dynamism: The Next Phase in Kansas Economic Development Policy

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

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

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

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

We need to move away from economic development based on this active investor approach. We need to advocate for policies — at Wichita City Hall, at the Sedgwick County Commission, and at the Kansas Statehouse — that lead to sustainable economic development. We need political leaders who have the wisdom to realize this, and the courage to act appropriately. Which is to say, to not act in most circumstances. Wichita and Sedgwick County are moving in the wrong direction.

Walter Williams on government in a free society

Walter E.
Williams

Last September in Wichita economist Walter E. Williams spoke on the legitimate role of government in a free society, touching on the role of government as defined in the Constitution, the benefits of capitalism and private property, and the recent attacks on individual freedom and limited government.

Williams’ evening lecture was held in the Mary Jane Teall Theater at Century II, and all but a handful of its 652 seats were occupied. It was presented by the Bill of Rights Institute and underwritten by the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation.

Williams said that one of the justifications for the growth of government — far beyond the visions of the founders of America — is to promote fairness and justice. While these are worthy goals, Williams said we must ask what is the meaning of fairness and justice, referring to the legitimate role of government in a free society.

In the Constitution, Williams said the founders specified the role of the federal government in Article 1 Section 8. This section holds a list that enumerates what Congress is authorized to do. If something is not on the list, Williams said Congress is not authorized to do it.

The Article 8 powers that Williams mentioned are to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises; to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; to borrow money on the credit of the United States; to coin money; to establish post-offices and post-roads; and to raise and support armies. It is regarding these powers, plus a few others, that Congress has taxing and spending authority. “Nowhere in the United States Constitution to we find authority for Congress to tax and spend for up to two-thirds to three-quarters of what Congress taxes and spends for today.”

Farm subsidies, handouts to banks, and food stamps are examples Williams gave of programs that are not authorized by the Constitution. “I think that we can safely say that we’ve made a significant departure from the constitutional principles of individual freedom and limited government that made us a rich nation in the first place.”

The institutions of private property and free enterprise are the embodiment of these principles, Williams said. But there have been many successful attacks on private property and free enterprise. Thomas Jefferson, Williams said, anticipated this when he wrote “The natural progress of things is for government to gain ground, and for liberty to yield.”

Taxation and spending are the ways government has gained ground. Taxes represent government claims on private property.

But an even better measure of what government has done is to look at spending. From 1787 to 1920, federal spending was only three percent of gross domestic product, except during wartime. Today, that figure is approaching 30 percent, Williams said: “The significance is that as time goes by, you and I own less and less of our most valuable property, namely ourselves and the fruits of our labor.”

In the realm of economics, Williams said that the founders thought that free markets and capitalism was the most effective social organization for promoting freedom, with capitalism defined as a system where people are free to pursue their own objectives as long as they do not violate the property rights of others. An often-trivialized benefit of capitalism and voluntary exchange is that it minimizes the capacity of one person to coerce another, he told the audience. This applies to the government, too.

But for the last half-century, Williams said that free enterprise has been under unrelenting attack by the American people. Whether they realize it or not, people have demonstrated a “deep and abiding contempt” for private property rights and individual liberty.

Williams said that ironically, capitalism is threatened not because of its failure, but because of its success. Capitalism has eliminated things that plagued mankind since the beginning of time — he mentioned disease, gross hunger, and poverty — and been so successful that “all other human wants appear to us to be at once inexcusable and unbearable.”

So now, in the name of ideals other than freedom and liberty, we pursue things like equality of income, race and sex balance, affordable housing, and medical care. “As a result of widespread control by our government in order to achieve these higher objectives, we are increasingly being subordinated to the point where personal liberty in our country is treated like dirt.”

This ultimately leads to tyranny and totalitarianism, he said. To those who might object to this strong and blunt conclusion, Williams asked this question: “Which way are we headed, tiny steps at a time: towards more liberty, or towards more government control of our lives?” He said that the answer, unambiguously, is the latter.

It is the tiny steps that concern Williams, as they ultimately lead to their destination. Quoting Hume, he said “It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once.” Instead, Williams said it is always lost bit by bit. If anyone wanted to take away all our liberties all at once, we would rebel. But not so when liberties are taken bit by bit, which is what is currently happening.

It is people’s desire for government to do good — helping the disadvantaged, elderly, failing businesses, college students — that leads to the attack on private property and economic freedom. But Williams explained that government has no resources of its own, meaning that for government to give one person money it must first — “through intimidation, threats, and coercion” — confiscate it from someone else.

Williams told the audience that if a private person used coercion to take money from someone and give it to another person, that act would universally be considered theft and a crime. It doesn’t matter how needy or deserving the recipient, it would still be theft. But Williams asked if there is any conceptual difference between that act and when agents of the government do the same. Williams says no, except that in the second act, where Congress takes the money, the theft is legal.

But mere legality doesn’t not make something moral. Slavery was legal in America for many years, but not moral. The purges of Stalin and Mao were legal under the laws of those countries. So legality does not equate to morality, Williams explained, and he said he cannot find a moral case for taking what belongs to one person and giving it to another to whom it does not belong.

Charity is “praiseworthy and laudable” when it is voluntary, but it is worthy of condemnation when government reaches into others’ pockets for charity. Those who accept the forced takings are guilty, too, he explained.

“The essence of our relationship with government is coercion,” Williams told the audience. This, he said, represents our major problem as a nation today: We’ve come to accept the idea of government taking from one to give to another. But the blame, Williams said, does not belong with politicians — “at least not very much.” Instead, he said that the blame lies with us, the people who elect them to office in order to get things for us. A candidate who said he would do only the things that the Constitution authorizes would not have much of a chance at being elected.

The further problem is that if Kansans don’t elect officials who will bring federal dollars to Kansas, it doesn’t mean that Kansans will pay lower federal taxes. The money, taken from Kansans, will go to other states, leading to this conundrum: “That is, once legalized theft begins, it pays for everybody to participate.”

We face a moral dilemma, then. Williams listed several great empires that declined for doing precisely what we’re doing: “Bread and circuses,” or big government spending.

But there is a note — only one — of optimism, Williams believes. The first two years of the Obama administration, along with the Democratic Senate and House of Representatives, has been so brazen in their activities in “running roughshod over our liberties” that people are starting to argue and debate the Constitution. State attorneys general are bringing suits against the federal government over Obama’s health care plan. State legislatures are passing tenth amendment resolutions. The tea party and other grassroots movements give him optimism, too.

We must also ask ourselves if we are willing to give up the benefits we get from government, he said. But most people want cuts in spending on other people, not ourselves, as “ours is critical and vital to the national interest.” With all of us feeling this way, Williams said the country is in danger.

Young people have the greatest stake in the struggle for limited government and economic freedom, as the older generations have benefited from a relatively free country and the economic mobility that accompanied it. He said he’s afraid we’re losing that: “I’m hoping that future generations will not curse us for bequeathing to them a nation far less robust, far less free, than the nation that our parents and our ancestors bequeathed us.”

In answering a question from the audience, Williams said he would be afraid of a constitutional convention to be held today, as some are advocating. We wouldn’t be sending people like John Adams. Instead, he said we’d be sending people like Barney Frank and others who have “deep contempt” for personal freedom.

In response to a question on regulation, Williams said that regulations like health care and uncertainty over taxation cause businesses to be afraid to commit money to long term investments. Uncertainty “collapses the time horizon” causing firms to look for investments that pay off in the short term rather than the long term. This contributes to unemployment, he said.

Williams also talked about the economic history of America. From its beginning to 1930, there were recessions and depressions, but there were not calls for the federal government to intervene and stimulate the economy. It wasn’t until the Hoover administration and the New Deal that the federal government intervened in the economy in order to “fix” the economy. Williams said that what should have been a “sharp two or three-year downtown” was turned in to the Great Depression — which was not over until after World War II — by government intervention. The measures being taken today are similarly postponing the recovery, he said. He added that most serious economic downturns are caused by government. It’s also futile for the government to spend the country out of a recession, which he likened to taking water from the deep end of a pool to the shallow end in order to raise the level of the shallow end. Government taking money from one person, giving it to another, and expecting the economy to rise is similarly futile.

A question about mainstream media and their representation of the issues of today brought this response: “You have to make the assumption, I believe implied in your question, that those people are ignorant, and if only they knew better, they would change their behavior. Human ignorance is somewhat optimistic, because ignorance is curable through education. I’m very sure that many of these people want government control. The elite have always wanted government control, and the media was very responsible in getting President Obama elected.”

In an interview, I asked what President Obama should say in his jobs speech. Williams recommended the president should reduce regulation and lower taxes, especially capital gains and corporate income taxes. The spending programs of the past will not help. But Obama’s constituency will not favor this approach. The spending on roads and bridges benefits labor unions, for example.

On those who accept who accept and benefit from government spending, Williams said that “one of the tragedies of our nation” is that the growth of government has turned otherwise decent people into thieves, because they participate in the taking of what belongs to someone else. But because of the pervasiveness of government, sometimes this is unavoidable.

I asked do we need better politicians — ones who will work to limit government — or do we need different rules such as a balanced budget amendment or spending constraints? Williams said that the bulk of the blame lies with the people, as politicians are simply doing what voters ask them to do. “The struggle is to try to convince our fellow Americans on the moral superiority of liberty and its main ingredient, limited government.” Politicians will then follow, he added.

I asked if we’ve passed some sort of tipping point, where people look first to government rather than voluntary exchange through markets. He said perhaps so, and mentioned another problem: Close to 50 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax. These people become natural constituents for big-spending politicians. As they pay no taxes — “no stake in the game” — they don’t care if taxes are raised or lowered.

On the issue of the subsidy being poured into downtown Wichita, Williams said the issue is an example of the “seen and unseen” problem identified by Frederic Bastiat. We easily see the things that government taxation and intervention builds, such as a convention center. But what is not easily seen is what people would have done with the money that was taken from them through taxation. While the money taken from each person may be small, it adds up.

On government funding for arts, an issue in Kansas at this time, Williams said that it ought to be an insult to artists that their work has to be funded through government forcing people to pay, as opposed to voluntary payments.

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Dr. Walter E. Williams holds a B.A. in economics from California State University, Los Angeles, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in economics from UCLA. He has served on the faculty of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics, since 1980. His website is Walter Williams Home Page.

Sedgwick County considers a planning grant

This week the Sedgwick County Commission considered whether to participate in a HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant.

A letter from Sedgwick County Manager Bill Buchanan to commissioners said that the grant will “consist of multi-jurisdictional planning efforts that integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure investments in a manner that empowers jurisdictions to consider the interdependent challenges of economic prosperity, social equity, energy use and climate change, and public health and environmental impact.”

The budget of the grant is $2,141,177 to fund the three-year plan development process, with $1,370,000 from federal funds and $771,177 of “leveraged resources” as a local match. These leveraged resources are in the form of in-kind contributions of staff time, plus $60,000 in cash.

While Sedgwick County will be the grant’s “fiscal agent,” the work will be done by Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP), an umbrella organization with the mission of, according to its website: “Guide state and national actions that affect economic development in the region and adopt joint actions among member governments that enhance the regional economy.”

REAP’s members include city and county governments in a nine-county area in south-central Kansas. One of its duties is to administer the Kansas Affordable Airfares Program, the program that pays subsidies to airlines to provide service to the Wichita airport. In 2011, Sedgwick County paid $15,272 in “assessments” for its membership in REAP, while the City of Wichita paid $27,192. Governments pay smaller amounts as part of REAP’s water resources program.

The counties that are considering participating in this planning grant are Reno, Harvey, Sedgwick, Sumner, and Butler.

County documents specify the county’s in-kind contribution as $120,707. That consists of portions of the salary and benefits for four existing employees, plus $85,800 in “indirect administration costs.” There is no cash match at this time.

John Schlegel, Director of Planning for the Wichita-Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Planning Department, told commissioners that the end product of this grant would be the development of a regional plan for sustainable development. He said that we don’t know what the plan would contain, but that the purpose of the grant program is to get regions to work together on sustainability issues. The target area of the grant is a five-county area around Sedgwick County.

He said that examples of issues would be economic development, workforce development, fiscal sustainability such as balanced budgets and spending priorities, and working together to create efficiencies in the region like joint purchasing and cost sharing.

Commissioner Richard Ranzau asked to see a copy of the completed application, but the application is not complete.

In his remarks, Ranzau described the application process, reading from the application document: “The applicant must show a clear connection between the need that they have identified within the region, the proposed approach to address those conditions, and the outcomes they anticipate the plan will produce.” He said that it appears that REAP will do these within the application, but the commission is being asked to approve and commit to these items without having seen them, which he described as irresponsible. He made a motion that action on the grant be delayed until these things are known.

Joe Yager, chief executive officer of REAP, said that last year’s grant application is available on the REAP website, and that is the closest thing to a draft application that is available today. This year’s application is a second year of the program. Last year the commission voted not to participate in the grant by a 3 to 2 vote.

Commissioner Karl Peterjohn wondered if the new planning consortium is a duplication of existing regional authorities. He listed seven different groups, besides REAP, that are involved in planning for the region.

In further remarks, Peterjohn was concerned that smaller counties will have the same voting representation as Sedgwick County, which is many times larger than the small counties.

In response to a question from Peterjohn, Yager said that the current application is for category 1 funds only, which are for planning purposes. If REAP is successful in the application, it could apply for category 2 funds, which are for implementation of a plan.

Answering another question, Yager said that “livability principles,” which applicants must be committed to advance, are providing more transportation choices, promoting equitable and affordable housing, enhancing economic competitiveness, supporting existing communities, coordinating policies and leveraging investments, and valuing communities and neighborhoods. Peterjohn said these principles were not supplied in the information made available to commissioners.

Peterjohn said these principles sound innocuous on their face, but when details are examined, he said he could not support a “Washington-driven agenda” that could not pass the present Congress. He described this effort as part of an “administrative end-around,” baiting us with a federal grant, that will allow Washington, HUD, and EPA to “drive what we do in our community.”

The motion on deferring the item failed on a 2 to 3 vote, with Peterjohn and Ranzau voting for it.

The commission heard from three citizens. In his remarks, John Todd referenced a slide titled “Common Concerns” from a presentation given by REAP. Todd listed these concerns, which include: “A method of Social Engineering to restrict residence in the suburbs and rural areas and force Americans into city centers; a blueprint for the transformation of our society into total Federal control; will enforce Federal Sustainable Development zoning and control of local communities; will create a massive new ‘development’ bureaucracy; will drive up the cost of energy to heat and cool your home; will drive up the cost of gasoline as a way to get you out of your car; and will force you to spend thousands of dollars on your home in order to comply.”

Susan Estes of Americans for Prosperity challenged the attitude of some commissioners, particularly Jim Skelton, which is that approving the planning grant does not commit us to implementing the plan. She told the commissioners “If you know you don’t like the federal government coming in and planning for you, say so now. Let’s get it over with and be upfront and honest to those involved,” referring to the other cities and counties that may participate in the grant and planning process.

She characterized the language that appears in the grant materials as meaning “more control and less liberty.”

In his remarks, Ranzau asked Schlegel what problem we will solve by participating in the grant. Schlegel answered that the purpose of the grant is to “build the greater regional capacity for regions to better compete in what is really becoming a global marketplace.” This is the end product, he said.

Ranzau said that we don’t need more planning, that we have more than enough planning at the present time. This grant, he said, would create another consortium that is unaccountable to the people, as no one is elected to them. The organizations receive tax dollars, and while some elected officials serve on these bodies, it is not the same as being directly accountable to the people. The fact that the grant requires a new consortium to be formed is evidence that the agenda is to circumvent the will of the people, he said.

Ranzau also said that Schlegel told him that “acceptance of this grant will take REAP to another level, because right now they are struggling, and this will help plot the course for REAP.” He said that REAP, which is housed at the Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs at Wichita State University, needs to expand its role and authority in order to give it “something to do.” He said the grant will promote the “progressive agenda” of the Obama administration in this way.

Later Commission Chair Dave Unruh disputed the contention regarding the workload of REAP.

Ranzau also questioned whether we want the federal government to be a “source of solutions” for our local communities. He also questioned one of the stated goals of the program, which is to reduce cost to taxpayers. It’s a new program, he said, and would not reduce the cost to taxpayers.

He further questioned the ability of the grant program to help teach local communities to be fiscally responsible. With federal spending out of control, he said the federal government is not in a position to help in this regard.

He further said that talking in generalities sounds benign, and that he wanted to know what he is committing the county to this year. Repeating the concerns of Peterjohn, Ranzau said that accepting this grant would be accepting the policies of the Obama Administration as our own. He said that in the 2010 elections the people repudiated the agenda of the president, and this grant program is an example of the type of programs people have said they don’t want. It is concern with the agenda behind this grant program that is his greatest concern, he later explained.

Continuing, Ranzau questioned the ability of the federal government to create conditions for sustainable growth: “You’ve got to be kidding me. Look at the vision they now have for growth in this county. It’s a disaster. And now they want to take the same policies that have created and made our current economic situation worse — they want to bring them to our local communities by these sorts of grants.”

Both Ranzau and Peterjohn questioned the ability of this grant to produce affordable housing, citing the government’s role in the ongoing housing crisis.

Ranzau, who has voted against many grants, added that this is the “the worst and most troublesome grant” he’s seen in his time in office, adding that the grant is clearly an agenda created by President Obama. He said there are politicians who ran for office on platforms of limited government and fiscal responsibility, and this grant is an opportunity for them to “act on those values.”

In further discussion, it was brought out that each region makes its own definition of what sustainability means to it, but Yager provided this definition of sustainability: “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

In his remarks, Unruh said that Sedgwick County has been involved in sustainability thinking and planning for at least two years. He said this is a strategy that helps the county plan for the future. He asked manager Buchanan if the county had a definition of sustainability. Buchanan replied the County has taken a similar approach to the International City/County Management Association, which he said involves four factors: Economic stability — sufficient jobs and economic development; ensuring that local governments are fiscally healthy so that they can provide quality services; social equity, which he said ensures that the delivery of services in communities is equitable; and the environment, which he said was not about global warming, but rather making sure we’re not wasting natural resources.

Unruh said that we are not opposed to these principles, that these are reasonable activities for elected officials. He added that regionalism is the “whole measuring stick.” We must consider communities close to us when planning, he added. It is reasonable to get these people together on a voluntary and non-binding basis. While he said he didn’t like excess spending at the federal level, it is his money that the federal government is spending, and we should take advantage of this program, adding that we need to plan. If the plans are not acceptable, he said we could simply not adopt them. He disagreed with the contention of Ranzau and Peterjohn that this process causes the county to yield to any master plan developed by the federal government. He again mentioned that we are using our money to develop this plan, and asked our federal officeholders to stop spending money in this way.

He added that he believes in limited government and fiscal responsibility, and that accessing these resources does not make him “hypocritical, insincere, or untruthful.”

In rebuttal to Buchanan, Ranzau said that the grant funding document says that one of the goals is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are believed by many to be a cause of global warming or climate change. The document does mention helping regions “consider the interdependent challenges of … energy use and climate change.” This language was transmitted to commissioners in a letter from Buchanan. Ranzau again said it is important not to downplay the agenda that is associated with the grant funds. In earlier remarks, Ranzau had described how applications would be scored or ranked, and that winning applications would need to conform to the goals of HUD.

The commission voted to approve the grant, with Unruh, Norton, and Skelton voting in favor, and Ranzau and Peterjohn voting against.

Commentary

Discussions such as these, where the role of government and the nature of the proper relationship between the federal government and states, counties, and cities, are a regular feature at Sedgwick County Commission meetings, due to the concerns of Peterjohn and Ranzau. These discussion do not often take place at the Wichita City Council, unless initiated by citizens whose testify on matters.

The remarks of chairman Unruh illustrated one of the important conundrums of our day. Many are opposed to the level of federal (and other government) spending. Polls indicate that more and more people are concerned about this issue. Yet, it is difficult to stop the spending.

In particular, the grant process is thorny. The principled stand of Ranzau, and sometimes Peterjohn, is that we should simply refuse to participate in the spending — both federal and local — that grants imply, and in the process also accepting the strings attached to them. Others, Unruh and Skelton in particular, have what they believe is a pragmatic view, arguing that it is our money that paid for these grant programs, and so by participating in grants we are getting back some of the tax funds we send to Washington. This reasoning allows Unruh to profess belief in limited government and fiscal responsibility while at the same time participating in this spending.

But there is no doubt that accepting federal money such as these grant funds means buying in to at least parts of the progressive Obama agenda, something that I think conservatives like Unruh and Skelton would not do on a stand-alone basis. This is an example of the power and temptation of what appears to be “free” federal money, and Ranzau and Peterjohn are correctly concerned and appropriately wary.

It is even more troublesome to realize that this power over us is exercised using our own money, as Skelton and Unruh rightly recognize, but nonetheless go along.

There may be a legislative solution someday. First, we can elect federal officials who will stop these programs. But the temptation to bring money back to the home district, either through grant programs or old-fashioned pork barrel spending, is overwhelming. Just this week U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, who voted against raising the debt ceiling in August, pledged to find more federal funds to pay for Wichita’s aquifer storage and recovery program.

An example of legislation that may work is a bill recently introduced by U. S. Representative Mike Pompeo of Wichita and others. The bill is H. R. 2961: To amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to have Early Innovator grant funds returned by States apply towards deficit reduction. The purpose of the bill is to direct the early innovator grant funds that Kansas Governor Sam Brownback returned towards deficit reduction, rather than being spent somewhere else.

The fiscal conservatives who vote to accept federal grant funds should be aware of research that indicates that these grants cause future tax increases. In my reporting on such a study I wrote: This is important because, in their words, “Federal grants often result in states creating new programs and hiring new employees, and when the federal funding for that specific purpose is discontinued, these new state programs must either be discontinued or financed through increases in state own source taxes.” … The authors caution: “Far from always being an unintended consequence, some federal grants are made with the intention that states will pick up funding the program in the future.”

The conclusion to this research paper (Do Intergovernmental Grants Create Ratchets in State and Local Taxes?) states:

Our results clearly demonstrate that grant funding to state and local governments results in higher own source revenue and taxes in the future to support the programs initiated with the federal grant monies. … Most importantly, our results suggest that the recent large increase in federal grants to state and local governments that has occurred as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will have significant future tax implications at the state and local level as these governments raise revenue to continue these newly funded programs into the future. Federal grants to state and local governments have risen from $461 billion in 2008 to $654 billion in 2010. Based on our estimates, future state taxes will rise by between 33 and 42 cents for every dollar in federal grants states received today, while local revenues will rise by between 23 and 46 cents for every dollar in federal (or state) grants received today. Using our estimates, this increase of $200 billion in federal grants will eventually result in roughly $80 billion in future state and local tax and own source revenue increases. This suggests the true cost of fiscal stimulus is underestimated when the costs of future state and local tax increases are overlooked.

The situation in which we find ourselves was accurately described by economist Walter E. Williams in his recent visit to Wichita. As I reported: “The essence of our relationship with government is coercion,” Williams told the audience. This, he said, represents our major problem as a nation today: We’ve come to accept the idea of government taking from one to give to another. But the blame, Williams said, does not belong with politicians — “at least not very much.” Instead, he said that the blame lies with us, the people who elect them to office in order to get things for us. A candidate who said he would do only the things that the Constitution authorizes would not have much of a chance at being elected.

The further problem is that if Kansans don’t elect officials who will bring federal dollars to Kansas, it doesn’t mean that Kansans will pay lower federal taxes. The money, taken from Kansans, will go to other states, leading to this conundrum: “That is, once legalized theft begins, it pays for everybody to participate.”

We face a moral dilemma, then. Williams listed several great empires that declined for doing precisely what we’re doing: “Bread and circuses,” or big government spending.

Walter Williams: Government must stick to its limited and legitimate role

Walter E.
Williams

At two events in Wichita today, economist Walter E. Williams spoke on the legitimate role of government in a free society, touching on the role of government as defined in the Constitution, the benefits of capitalism and private property, and the recent attacks on individual freedom and limited government.

The evening lecture was held in the Mary Jane Teall Theater at Century II, and all but a handful of its 652 seats were occupied. It was presented by the Bill of Rights Institute and underwritten by the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation.

Williams said that one of the justifications for the growth of government — far beyond the visions of the founders of America — is to promote fairness and justice. While these are worthy goals, Williams said we must ask what is the meaning of fairness and justice, referring to the legitimate role of government in a free society.

In the Constitution, Williams said the founders specified the role of the federal government in Article 1 Section 8. This section holds a list that enumerates what Congress is authorized to do. If something is not on the list, Williams said Congress is not authorized to do it.

The Article 8 powers that Williams mentioned are to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises; to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; to borrow money on the credit of the United States; to coin money; to establish post-offices and post-roads; and to raise and support armies. It is regarding these powers, plus a few others, that Congress has taxing and spending authority. “Nowhere in the United States Constitution to we find authority for Congress to tax and spend for up to two-thirds to three-quarters of what Congress taxes and spends for today.”

Farm subsidies, handouts to banks, and food stamps are examples Williams gave of programs that are not authorized by the Constitution. “I think that we can safely say that we’ve made a significant departure from the constitutional principles of individual freedom and limited government that made us a rich nation in the first place.”

The institutions of private property and free enterprise are the embodiment of these principles, Williams said. But there have been many successful attacks on private property and free enterprise. Thomas Jefferson, Williams said, anticipated this when he wrote “The natural progress of things is for government to gain ground, and for liberty to yield.”

Taxation and spending are the ways government has gained ground. Taxes represent government claims on private property.

But an even better measure of what government has done is to look at spending. From 1787 to 1920, federal spending was only three percent of gross domestic product, except during wartime. Today, that figure is approaching 30 percent, Williams said: “The significance is that as time goes by, you and I own less and less of our most valuable property, namely ourselves and the fruits of our labor.”

In the realm of economics, Williams said that the founders thought that free markets and capitalism was the most effective social organization for promoting freedom, with capitalism defined as a system where people are free to pursue their own objectives as long as they do not violate the property rights of others. An often-trivialized benefit of capitalism and voluntary exchange is that it minimizes the capacity of one person to coerce another, he told the audience. This applies to the government, too.

But for the last half-century, Williams said that free enterprise has been under unrelenting attack by the American people. Whether they realize it or not, people have demonstrated a “deep and abiding contempt” for private property rights and individual liberty.

Williams said that ironically, capitalism is threatened not because of its failure, but because of its success. Capitalism has eliminated things that plagued mankind since the beginning of time — he mentioned disease, gross hunger, and poverty — and been so successful that “all other human wants appear to us to be at once inexcusable and unbearable.”

So now, in the name of ideals other than freedom and liberty, we pursue things like equality of income, race and sex balance, affordable housing, and medical care. “As a result of widespread control by our government in order to achieve these higher objectives, we are increasingly being subordinated to the point where personal liberty in our country is treated like dirt.”

This ultimately leads to tyranny and totalitarianism, he said. To those who might object to this strong and blunt conclusion, Williams asked this question: “Which way are we headed, tiny steps at a time: towards more liberty, or towards more government control of our lives?” He said that the answer, unambiguously, is the latter.

It is the tiny steps that concern Williams, as they ultimately lead to their destination. Quoting Hume, he said “It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once.” Instead, Williams said it is always lost bit by bit. If anyone wanted to take away all our liberties all at once, we would rebel. But not so when liberties are taken bit by bit, which is what is currently happening.

It is people’s desire for government to do good — helping the disadvantaged, elderly, failing businesses, college students — that leads to the attack on private property and economic freedom. But Williams explained that government has no resources of its own, meaning that for government to give one person money it must first — “through intimidation, threats, and coercion” — confiscate it from someone else.

Williams told the audience that if a private person used coercion to take money from someone and give it to another person, that would universally be considered theft and a crime. It doesn’t matter how needy or deserving the recipient, it would still be theft. But Williams asked if there is any conceptual difference between that act and when agents of the government do the same. Williams says no, except that in the second act, where Congress takes the money, the theft is legal.

But mere legality doesn’t not make something moral. Slavery was legal in America for many years, but not moral. The purges of Stalin and Mao were legal under the laws of those countries. So legality does not equate to morality, Williams explained, and he said he cannot find a moral case for taking what belongs to one person and giving it to another to whom it does not belong.

Charity is “praiseworthy and laudable” when it is voluntary, but it is worthy of condemnation when government reaches into others’ pockets for charity. Those who accept the forced takings are guilty, too, he explained.

“The essence of our relationship with government is coercion,” Williams told the audience. This, he said, represents our major problem as a nation today: We’ve come to accept the idea of government taking from one to give to another. But the blame, Williams said, does not belong with politicians — “at least not very much.” Instead, he said that the blame lies with us, the people who elect them to office in order to get things for us. A candidate who said he would do only the things that the Constitution authorizes would not have much of a chance at being elected.

The further problem is that if Kansans don’t elect officials who will bring federal dollars to Kansas, it doesn’t mean that Kansans will pay lower federal taxes. The money, taken from Kansans, will go to other states, leading to this conundrum: “That is, once legalized theft begins, it pays for everybody to participate.”

We face a moral dilemma, then. Williams listed several great empires that declined for doing precisely what we’re doing: “Bread and circuses,” or big government spending.

But there is a note — only one — of optimism, Williams believes. The first two years of the Obama administration, along with the Democratic Senate and House of Representatives, has been so brazen in their activities in “running roughshod over our liberties” that people are starting to argue and debate the Constitution. State attorneys general are bringing suits against the federal government over Obama’s health care plan. State legislatures are passing tenth amendment resolutions. The tea party and other grassroots movements give him optimism, too.

We must also ask ourselves if we are willing to give up the benefits we get from government, he said. But most people want cuts in spending on other people, not ourselves, as “ours is critical and vital to the national interest.” With all of us feeling this way, Williams said the country is in danger.

Young people have the greatest stake in the struggle for limited government and economic freedom, as the older generations have benefited from a relatively free country and the economic mobility that accompanied it. He said he’s afraid we’re losing that: “I’m hoping that future generations will not curse us for bequeathing to them a nation far less robust, far less free, than the nation that our parents and our ancestors bequeathed us.”

In answering a question from the audience, Williams said he would be afraid of a constitutional convention to be held today, as some are advocating. We wouldn’t be sending people like John Adams. Instead, he said we’d be sending people like Barney Frank and others who have “deep contempt” for personal freedom.

In response to a question on regulation, Williams said that regulations like health care and uncertainty over taxation cause businesses to be afraid to commit money to long term investments. Uncertainty “collapses the time horizon” causing firms to look for investments that pay off in the short term rather than the long term. This contributes to unemployment, he said.

Williams also talked about the economic history of America. From its beginning to 1930, there were recessions and depressions, but there were not calls for the federal government to intervene and stimulate the economy. It wasn’t until the Hoover administration and the New Deal that the federal government intervened in the economy in order to “fix” the economy. Williams said that what should have been a “sharp two or three-year downtown” was turned in to the Great Depression — which was not over until after World War II — by government intervention. The measures being taken today are similarly postponing the recovery, he said. He added that most serious economic downturns are caused by government. It’s also futile for the government to spend the country out of a recession, which he likened to taking water from the deep end of a pool to the shallow end in order to raise the level of the shallow end. Government taking money from one person, giving it to another, and expecting the economy to rise is similarly futile.

A question about mainstream media and their representation of the issues of today brought this response: “You have to make the assumption, I believe implied in your question, that those people are ignorant, and if only they knew better, they would change their behavior. Human ignorance is somewhat optimistic, because ignorance is curable through education. I’m very sure that many of these people want government control. The elite have always wanted government control, and the media was very responsible in getting President Obama elected.”

In an interview, I asked what President Obama should say in his jobs speech tonight. Williams recommended the president should reduce regulation and lower taxes, especially capital gains and corporate income taxes. The spending programs of the past will not help. But Obama’s constituency will not favor this approach. The spending on roads and bridges benefits labor unions, for example.

On those who accept who accept and benefit from government spending, Williams said that “one of the tragedies of our nation” is that the growth of government has turned otherwise decent people into thieves, because they participate in the taking of what belongs to someone else. But because of the pervasiveness of government, sometimes this is unavoidable.

I asked do we need better politicians — ones who will work to limit government — or do we need different rules such as a balanced budget amendment or spending constraints? Williams said that the bulk of the blame lies with the people, as politicians are simply doing what voters ask them to do. “The struggle is to try to convince our fellow Americans on the moral superiority of liberty and its main ingredient, limited government.” Politicians will then follow, he added.

I asked if we’ve passed some sort of tipping point, where people look first to government rather than voluntary exchange through markets. He said perhaps so, and mentioned another problem: Close to 50 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax. These people become natural constituents for big-spending politicians. As they pay no taxes — “no stake in the game” — they don’t care if taxes are raised or lowered.

On the issue of the subsidy being poured into downtown Wichita, Williams said the issue is an example of the “seen and unseen” problem identified by Frederic Bastiat. We easily see the things that government taxation and intervention builds, such as a convention center. But what is not easily seen is what people would have done with the money that was taken from them through taxation. While the money taken from each person may be small, it adds up.

On government funding for arts, an issue in Kansas at this time, Williams said that it ought to be an insult to artists that their work has to be funded through government forcing people to pay, as opposed to voluntary payments.

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Dr. Walter E. Williams holds a B.A. in economics from California State University, Los Angeles, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in economics from UCLA. He has served on the faculty of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics, since 1980. His website is Walter Williams Home Page.

Sedgwick County considers a federal grant

Remarks delivered to the Sedgwick County Commission as it considered accepting a federal grant. The terms of this grant required that the commission hold a public hearing.

Commissioners: With regard to the wisdom of accepting this grant.

Milton Friedman said: “Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.”

Is this true? Or is it just rhetoric and speculation by the brilliant and freedom-loving economist?

If we ask the question: Do federal grants cause state and/or local tax increases in the future after the government grant ends? We now have an answer.

Economists Russell S. Sobel and George R. Crowley have examined the evidence, and they find the answer is yes.

Their research paper is titled Do Intergovernmental Grants Create Ratchets in State and Local Taxes? Testing the Friedman-Sanford Hypothesis.

The difference between this research and most is that Sobel and Crowley look at the impact of federal grants on state and local tax policy in future periods, not just the present period.

This is important because, in their words, “Federal grants often result in states creating new programs and hiring new employees, and when the federal funding for that specific purpose is discontinued, these new state programs must either be discontinued or financed through increases in state own source taxes.”

The same remarks apply to local governments like counties and cities.

The authors caution: “Far from always being an unintended consequence, some federal grants are made with the intention that states will pick up funding the program in the future.”

I realize that much of what is planned for the grant funds is one-time purchases of equipment. But one planned use is to hire a toxicologist to support what is described in the application as “timely investigation of criminal activity.” What will happen after the grant funds expire? Will we be unwilling to go back to the untimely investigation of criminal activity, if in fact that describes the present situation?

And if that does not describe the present situation, why do we need the grant?

From the conclusion to the research findings:

Our results clearly demonstrate that grant funding to state and local governments results in higher own source revenue and taxes in the future to support the programs initiated with the federal grant monies. Our results are consistent with Friedman’s quote regarding the permanence of temporary government programs started through grant funding.

Our results suggest that the recent large increase in federal grants to state and local governments that has occurred as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will have significant future tax implications at the state and local level as these governments raise revenue to continue these newly funded programs into the future.

Based on our estimates, future state taxes will rise by between 33 and 42 cents for every dollar in federal grants states received today, while local revenues will rise by between 23 and 46 cents for every dollar in federal (or state) grants received today.

I realize that some have criticized arguments that I and others have made as being only theoretical, and that as commissioners you must deal with the real world.

But what I have presented today is not just a quaint theory. It is empirical research. It’s what has actually happened. It describes the real world.

Not only are we taxed to pay for the cost of funding federal and state grants, the units of government that receive grants are very likely to raise their own levels of taxation in response to the receipt of the grants. This is a cycle of ever-expanding government that needs to end, and right now.

Gentlemen, we can do better. While most people think the problem of government over-spending requires a top-down solution starting in Washington, we have to do better than waiting for Washington to act.

Right here, right now, in Sedgwick County, home to what the Weather Channel calls the fourth-hottest city in the country, we can show the rest of the country the way. We can show the country that there is a bottom-up solution to the problem of federal spending.

The promises politicians make

Recently John Stossel produced a television show titled Politicians’ Top 10 Promises Gone Wrong. The show features segments on government programs and why they’ve gone wrong, with a focus on the unintended consequences of the programs. Particularly illuminating are the attempts by programs’ supporters to justify their worth.

Now the program is available to view on the free hulu service by clicking on Politicians’ Top 10 Promises Gone Wrong.

One of the segments on the show explained the harm of Cash for Clunkers, in which serviceable cars were destroyed so that new cars could be sold. The program simply stole sales from the months before and after the program. The mistaken idea that destruction can be a way to create new wealth is held by many who should know better, and Stossel reminds us of the New York Times’ Paul Krugman, who wrote that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 “could even do some economic good” as rebuilding will increase business spending. It’s the seen vs. unseen problem, Stossel and David Boaz of the Cato Institute explain. It’s easy to see people buying new cars. It was reported on television. But it’s more difficult to see all the dispersed economic activity that didn’t take place because of the programs.

“Living wage” laws, in which people would be paid enough to live on — whatever that means — is next. While increasing wages of low-paid workers is a noble goal, increasing the cost of labor results in an entirely predictable result: less labor is demanded. Fewer people will have jobs. The Grand Canyon National Park, for example, switched to automated ticket machines. Christian Dorsey of the Economic Policy Institute, said that elimination of minimum wage laws would leave employers free to drive down wages as low as possible. But Stossel noted businesses hire employees in a competitive market, and it is that market that sets wages. Only about five percent of workers earn the minimum wage. Why do the others earn more than that? Competitive markets force employers to pay more, not laws.

A segment on “fancy stadiums” boosting the economy holds a lesson for Wichita and the Intrust Bank Arena in its downtown. The claimed benefits of these venues rarely appear, and the unseen costs are large — “at the local bar there’s one less bartender, there was one less waitress hired at a restaurant, a movie theater that had one less theaterfull. It’s handing money from your right hand to your left and declaring I’m rich.” While Wichita’s arena seems to be doing well, it’s still well within its honeymoon period. Even then, there was a month where no events took place at the arena.

A segment on the new credit card regulations, intended to protect consumers, shows that the regulations resulted in fewer people being able to get credit cards. Now these people have to go to payday lenders or pawn shops, which are much more expensive than credit cards. Arkansas once capped credit card interest at ten percent. The result was that few people in Arkansas could get a credit card, and the state became known as the pawn shop capital of America.

Ethanol is the topic of a segment. Promised as a way to solve our energy problem, many politicians of both parties support ethanol. But we’ve come to realize the problems with government support of ethanol: rising price of food, excessive use of fertilizer and fuel to produce corn, and an awareness that ethanol is more harmful to the environment than gasoline. “But it makes us feel good,” Stossel says. In Kansas, Governor Sam Brownback is firmly in favor of government support of ethanol, which Boaz called “pound-for-pound, the dumbest program ever.”

On the role of government in causing the housing bubble, Howard Husock said “Government exaggerates, rather than minimizes, the age-old impulse to greed. The government made it harder for bankers who wanted to do the right thing.” Stossel explained that bankers who wanted to stay with safe home loans lost out on profits they could earn selling high risk loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored agencies.

At the end, Stossel said: “And that’s the number one promise gone wrong. These guys say they’ll be fiscally responsible. And then we elect them, and they spend more. They’re spending us into bankruptcy. There must be 10,000 harmful programs, and yet they keep creating more. Why can’t we cut them?” Boaz explained: “Every one of those 10,000 programs has a lobbyist in Washington. … They always know when the bill is up before Congress, and they send political contributions, they send people to Washington to lobby. The rest of us don’t do that. … People should be more engaged, people should be better citizens. But the fact is we have lives, and there’s no way that any normal person can know about the 10,000 programs that make up the $3.5 trillion federal budget.”

And so the programs keep growing, Stossel said, and we must pay their costs and unintended consequences forever — “Unless, there’s a new wind blowing in America. A new attitude, a new expectation that maybe Washington should do less. I hear there is. I sure hope so.”

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday April 11, 2011

Social security entitlement. In today’s Wichita Eagle Opinion Line, this comment was left: “Please stop calling my Social Security an ‘entitlement.’ I paid into it all my working life, and I just want my money back.” Two points: The writer seems to believe that just because people pay into Social Security, they’re entitled to benefits as through there was a contract in place. But there is no contract. Social Security benefits are what Congress says they are, and Congress can make changes at any time. … Second, the writer wants his money back, as though the money was paid onto some sort of investment account and has been working there earning interest. Unfortunately, the Social Security trust fund money has been spent. There’s nothing for the writer to get back except the future taxes to be paid by future workers.

New York Times may be offended. “The New York Times is carrying out a vendetta against Charles and David Koch, two of the very few rich people who support conservative and libertarian causes. The Times is offended, apparently, that the Left does not quite have a monopoly on big money. The paper’s editorialists flat-out lied about the Koch brothers, and had to issue a retraction.” … Referring to author David Callahan and a recent op-ed: “What is most striking about Callahan’s piece is its rampant hypocrisy. He himself is an employee of a left-wing organization that prefers not to abide by the transparency standards that Callahan advocates.” From Powerline: The Times Vendetta Continues.

Kansas Legislature website. Kansas Reporter writes: “Most hurdles now behind legislative website update.” The major problems I experience now are reliability issues, where many times clicking on a document produces the dreaded “Error 500 Internal Server Error” message. … The cost of the work, plus a new system for preparing legislative text, is some $11 million.

General Electric tax bill. The Washington Post looks at the New York Times and its reporting on General Electric and its taxes: “Unfortunately, for all its good work, the article has created at least one major misperception: that GE paid no U.S. income taxes last year and is getting a $3.2 billion refund from the Treasury. … The company says it’s not getting any refund for 2010 — validating [accounting professor Ed] Outslay’s analysis. Its 2010 tax situation? ‘We expect to have a small U.S. income tax liability for 2010,’ said Gary Sheffer, GE’s chief spokesman. How big is small? GE declined to say. The number is unlikely to be disclosed unless GE goes public with it or is forced to do so. One reason the Times was ensnared — and that it took us a while to sort this out — is that the material is confusing. Outslay drew up 10 GE tax metrics for us and could have given us at least six more. None shows what GE’s U.S. income tax bill is for a given year.”

Sweet deal for big sugar. Senator Dick Lugar, writing in the Washington Times, explains the harm to U.S. consumers from a tariff that benefits a few: “The collapse of communism brought an end to many of the world’s command-and-control economic systems and central planning by government bureaucrats. But a notable exception is the United States government’s sugar program. A complicated system of marketing allotments, price supports, purchase guarantees, quotas and tariffs that only a Soviet apparatchik could love, the U.S. sugar program has actually lasted longer than the Soviet Union itself.” The idea is that by keeping prices high and insulating domestic sugar produces from the world market, jobs are saved. Counters Lugar: “But in 2006, the Commerce Department calculated that for every sugar-growing job saved by artificially high prices, three manufacturing jobs in the confectionery industry are lost. Overall, from 1997 to 2009, more than 111,000 jobs were lost in the sugar-using food sector, according to Commerce data.” This is always the case with protectionist trade tariffs: a small number of highly-visible jobs are saved, at the cost of great economic harm spread across the economy, harm that is difficult to see. Sugar protectionism is only one such example. President Bush’s tax hike and Obama’s tax increase on tires are other examples.

Williams on role of government. A short lecture by Walter E. WIlliams. “Almost every group in our country has come to feel that the government owes them a special privilege or favor.” Conservatives too, he says. Williams highlights the contradictions of conservatives, who “don’t have a moral leg to stand on,” he says. “They merely prove that it’s a matter of whose ox is being gored.” He quotes H.L. Mencken: “Government is a broker in pillage” and “Every election is an advance auction on the sale of stolen property.” Williams says not to blame the elected officials we send to Washington and local centers of government. They, he says, are doing precisely what we send them there to do: “Namely, to use the power of their office to confiscate the property of one American and bring it back to another American to whom it does not belong.” Politician who say they would not do this — of course, they do not speak so bluntly on the campaign trail — would not be elected.

Classical liberalism explained

In a short video, Nigel Ashford of Institute for Humane Studies explains the tenets of classical liberalism. Not to be confused with modern American liberalism or liberal Republicans, classical liberalism places highest value on liberty and the individual. Modern American liberals, or progressives as they often prefer to be called, may value some of these principles, but most, such as free markets and limited government — and I would add individualism and toleration — are held in disdain by them.

Here are the principles that Ashford identifies:

Liberty is the primary political value. “When deciding what to do politically — what should the government do — classical liberals have one clear standard: Does this increase, or does it reduce the freedom of the individual?”

Individualism. “The individual is more important than the collective.”

Skepticism about power. “Government, for example, often claims ‘we’re forcing you to do X because it’s in your own interests to do so.’ Whereas very often, when people with power do that, it’s really because it’s good for themselves. Classical liberals believe that the individual is the best judge of their own interests.”

Rule of law.

Civil society. Classical liberals believe that problems can be dealt with best by voluntary associations and action.

Spontaneous order. “Many people seem to assume that order requires some institution, some body, to manipulate and organize things. Classical liberals don’t believe that. They believe that order can arise spontaneously. People through their voluntary interaction create the rules by which people can live by.”

Free markets. “Economic exchange should be left to voluntary activity between individuals. … We need private property to be able to do that. … History show us that leaving things to free markets rather than government planning or organization, increases prosperity, reduces poverty, increases jobs, and provides good that people want to buy.”

Toleration. “Toleration is the belief that one should not interfere with things on which one disapproves. … It’s a question of having certain moral principles (“I think this action is wrong”), but I will not try and force my opinions — for example through government — to stop the things I disapprove of.”

Peace. Through free movement of capital, labor, goods, services, and ideas, we can have a world based on peace rather than conflict and war.

Limited government. “There are very few things the government should do. The goal of government is simply to protect life, liberty, and property. Anything beyond that is not justifiable.”

This video is available on YouTube through LearnLiberty.org, a site which has many other informative videos.

In Wichita, start of a solution to federal spending

At the Sedgwick County Commission, newly-elected commissioner Richard Ranzau voted three times against the county applying for grants of federal funds, showing a possible way that federal spending might be brought under control.

During the meeting, Ranzau asked staff questions about where the funding for the grant programs was coming from, which, of course, is the federal government, sometimes routed through the Kansas Department of Commerce. Sometimes local spending is required by these grants.

In opposing the programs, Ranzau said that federal government spending is too high. Also, our level of debt is too high, and that the cost of these spending programs is passed on to future generations. He also didn’t see where the U.S. Constitution authorizes activity like the commission — in partnership with the federal government — is considering undertaking.

Ranzau offered an alternative: if the commission believes these projects are important to us as a community, we could pay for them ourselves and pay for them now.

Commissioner Jim Skelton argued that if we don’t apply for and receive this money, the federal government will spend it anyway, and someone else will receive it. “I think we can end up screwing our constituency by opposing this on the philosophy that our government is too big.”

He said he doesn’t agree with the “rampant spending of stimulus money” and would like to see it end, but he didn’t see how refusing this money would make a difference.

Constitutional basis questioned

During discussion, Skelton asked county counselor Richard Euson a question: “Can you tell me about the constitutionality of this issue? How on earth can this happen if it’s not constitutional?”

Euson was flummoxed by the question, and admitted that he was not prepared to answer the question. This is not to be held against the county’s attorney, as questions like this are rarely asked — an indication of the novelty of Ranzau’s position and how infrequently elected officials and staff consider questions such as the fundamental role of government and its level of involvement.

The job of a commissioner, according to Norton

In discussion about one grant program, Commissioner Tim Norton asked a question designed to make sure that Ranzau knew that the project was located in his district. On a grant for a transportation plan, Norton again asked a question designed to make sure that Ranzau knew whose district this plan would serve, referring to former commissioner Kelly Parks’ support of the program.

These questions by Norton highlight the problem with district-based representation, where representatives of districts are expected to bring as much government largess as possible back to their districts. At the federal level this problem is illustrated by the earmarking process. Locally, we see that Sedgwick County Commissioners are assumed to be in favor of any project that benefits their districts, regardless of the overall worth of the project or its cost.

A bottom-up solution to federal spending?

At a town hall meeting on Saturday, I asked Kansas fourth district Congressman Mike Pompeo, who represents all of Sedgwick County, about his opinion of ground-up opposition to federal spending and debt, rather than waiting for Congress and the President to solve the problem from the top down.

Pompeo didn’t answer the question directly, but said that from now on, each law passed by Congress will have a section that states the constitutional authority for the legislation. He also said that the federal government is involved in many areas that it should not be involved in, adding “So many times the question is ‘should we reduce this agency’s budget by three percent,’ and the proper question is ‘why does this agency exist?’”

While the new U.S. House of Representatives is full of enthusiasm for cutting spending, here we see an example of just how difficult cutting spending will be. Local governments are addicted to grants like the three discussed above. A congressman who voted to cut programs like these will hear from the affected constituents, and would also likely hear from the Sedgwick County staff who are advocates for these projects and spending. If more elected officials would vote against these programs, that would make it easier for Congress to cut off the flow of spending.

We should also remember that Ranzau offered an alternative: fund the programs ourselves. The problem is that we are funding them ourselves, through the roundabout trip of tax dollars going to Washington, which then sends them back, in this case in the form of grants with many conditions and restrictions on the way the money can be spent. So Skelton is correct: the federal government will spend the money anyway. But to go along means that the hole is dug deeper. More crudely, the federal government says: implement this program in our way, because you’ve already paid for it, and you don’t want to piss away your taxes somewhere else.

Perhaps a coalition of forward-thinking local government officeholders like Ranzau and U.S. Congressmen like Pompeo can join together to bring the spending under control. It will take courage, especially from the local officeholders.

Stossel on politicians’ promises

Recently John Stossel produced a television show titled Politicians’ Top 10 Promises Gone Wrong. The show features segments on government programs and why they’ve gone wrong, with a focus on the unintended consequences of the programs. Particularly illuminating are the attempts by programs’ supporters to justify their worth.

Now the program is available to view on the free hulu service by clicking on Politicians’ Top 10 Promises Gone Wrong.

One of the segments on the show explained the harm of Cash for Clunkers, in which serviceable cars were destroyed so that new cars could be sold. The program simply stole sales from the months before and after the program. The mistaken idea that destruction can be a way to create new wealth is held by many who should know better, and Stossel reminds us of the New York Times’ Paul Krugman, who wrote that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 “could even do some economic good” as rebuilding will increase business spending. It’s the seen vs. unseen problem, Stossel and David Boaz of the Cato Institute explain. It’s easy to see people buying new cars. It was reported on television. But it’s more difficult to see all the dispersed economic activity that didn’t take place because of the programs.

“Living wage” laws, in which people would be paid enough to live on — whatever that means — is next. While increasing wages of low-paid workers is a noble goal, increasing the cost of labor results in an entirely predictable result: less labor is demanded. Fewer people will have jobs. The Grand Canyon National Park, for example, switched to automated ticket machines. Christian Dorsey of the Economic Policy Institute, said that elimination of minimum wage laws would leave employers free to drive down wages as low as possible. But Stossel noted businesses hire employees in a competitive market, and it is that market that sets wages. Only about five percent of workers earn the minimum wage. Why do the others earn more than that? Competitive markets force employers to pay more, not laws.

A segment on “fancy stadiums” boosting the economy holds a lesson for Wichita and the Intrust Bank Arena in its downtown. The claimed benefits of these venues rarely appear, and the unseen costs are large — “at the local bar there’s one less bartender, there was one less waitress hired at a restaurant, a movie theater that had one less theaterfull. It’s handing money from your right hand to your left and declaring I’m rich.” While Wichita’s arena seems to be doing well, it’s still well within its honeymoon period. Even then, there was a month where no events took place at the arena.

A segment on the new credit card regulations, intended to protect consumers, shows that the regulations resulted in fewer people being able to get credit cards. Now these people have to go to payday lenders or pawn shops, which are much more expensive than credit cards. Arkansas once capped credit card interest at ten percent. The result was that few people in Arkansas could get a credit card, and the state became known as the pawn shop capital of America.

Ethanol is the topic of a segment. Promised as a way to solve our energy problem, many politicians of both parties support ethanol. But we’ve come to realize the problems with government support of ethanol: rising price of food, excessive use of fertilizer and fuel to produce corn, and an awareness that ethanol is more harmful to the environment than gasoline. “But it makes us feel good,” Stossel says. In Kansas, Governor Sam Brownback is firmly in favor of government support of ethanol, which Boaz called “pound-for-pound, the dumbest program ever.”

On the role of government in causing the housing bubble, Howard Husock said “Government exaggerates, rather than minimizes, the age-old impulse to greed. The government made it harder for bankers who wanted to do the right thing.” Stossel explained that bankers who wanted to stay with safe home loans lost out on profits they could earn selling high risk loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored agencies.

At the end, Stossel said: “And that’s the number one promise gone wrong. These guys say they’ll be fiscally responsible. And then we elect them, and they spend more. They’re spending us into bankruptcy. There must be 10,000 harmful programs, and yet they keep creating more. Why can’t we cut them?” Boaz explained: “Every one of those 10,000 programs has a lobbyist in Washington. … They always know when the bill is up before Congress, and they send political contributions, they send people to Washington to lobby. The rest of us don’t do that. … People should be more engaged, people should be better citizens. But the fact is we have lives, and there’s no way that any normal person can know about the 10,000 programs that make up the $3.5 trillion federal budget.”

And so the programs keep growing, Stossel said, and we must pay their costs and unintended consequences forever — “Unless, there’s a new wind blowing in America. A new attitude, a new expectation that maybe Washington should do less. I hear there is. I sure hope so.”

Prices mean something, even life and death

In the five years since Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, some $15 billion has been spent rebuilding and strengthening that city’s flood defenses. The goal is to protect against the loss of life and property that happened in 2005 when the levies failed.

Is this wise? Will it work? Mark Thornton wrote “The sad truth is that the government is only making things worse over time. Higher levies only increase the destructive force of future levy breaks.”

But engineers say that if Katrina arrived today, the city would experience only light flooding. But what will happen in the future? The network of flood protection structures and machinery needs constant maintenance. Reporting in the Wall Street Journal cautions that “Another big question is who will pay the tens of millions of dollars in annual maintenance costs for the new structures once they are complete. Typically, the Corps hands the responsibility of upkeep to state and local authorities after completing a flood-control project. But city officials say the infrastructure is so large and complex that they don’t have the technical expertise to go it alone — or pay for it alone.”

So there is a definite risk that the strengthening of the city’s flood defenses may make future failures even more disastrous. There’s also the risk that these structures will not be maintained as required. In the latter case, how will we know if the protections are being maintained adequately?

The answer is we probably won’t know. That’s because the property in New Orleans is insured by the federal government’s flood insurance program. That program, unlike private insurance, doesn’t have to earn a profit, and therefore doesn’t have to price its insurance according to the risks it is covering.

That’s different from the way fire insurance, for example, is priced. In this case, fire insurance companies have to price their product to cover their expected loses, their other costs, and return some profit. The expected loses are based on a variety of factors, such as characteristics of the home, distance from a fire hydrant, and the qualities of a city’s fire department.

Many cities have their fire departments rated by a company called Insurance Services Office (ISO). This rating is a major factor in the insurance rates that companies will offer to customers in a city. If a city’s ISO rating declines, meaning that its fire defenses are not as good as before, insurance rates will rise. People will notice. They’ll wonder why and seek answers.

But government does not face the discipline of profit as do private insurers. As has been noted, government will insure insane risks for very low premiums. And if it pays a loss, it will insure the same property again. Since it isn’t in the insurance business to make money, it doesn’t really have much motive to rate the risk of the property it is insuring.

That’s the source of the problem. The New Orleans flood protection systems lacked the oversight and inquiring eyes of profit-minded companies. The result was death and destruction on a massive scale.

So prices and their importance are not of interest only to economists and academics. They contain, as Hayek has taught us, a tremendous amount of information gathered from many sources. Prices can literally mean the difference between life and death.

Some may object that insurance in some locations, like New Orleans, would be expensive if it was priced to reflect the actual risk faced. That’s probably true, and that’s good. When that extra cost is spread across the entire country through government insurance programs, residents of New Orleans can get cheap insurance. But as we’ve seen, the cost of the missing information that accurate prices provide is very high.

Private enterprise does it better

While some believe that government is the best provider of services, John Stossel, in the following article, shows us that this is not always the case. In fact, it is rare that government is able to do a better job at lower cost than the private sector.

One motivating factor that private business has that government does not is profit. Liberals view profit as an extra expense that must be paid to private sector businesses. They say that profit is a cost that can be avoided if government — which has no need for profit — provides a service.

But as Stossel explains, profit is a powerful motivating factor. It makes private businesses provide products and services that people want, and efficiently, too: “Because if private companies don’t do things efficiently, they lose money and die. Unlike government, they cannot compel payment through the power to tax.”

We hear, as we do in Wichita now, that government should be operated more like a business. Our city manager speaks of a business model he is developing. But it is folly to speak of operating government like a business. The goal of business is profit — the signal that the business is providing things that customers value.

But government, as Mises and others have shown, has no ability to calculate profit. It can’t be guided by the same signals that guide the private sector.

Even streets and highways could be provided in a better way than government does, as Stossel explains.

Private Enterprise Does It Better

Why freedom and responsibility triumph over regulation and central planning
By John Stossel

In Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity, I bet my readers $1,000 that they couldn’t name one thing that government does better than the private sector.

I am yet to pay.

Free enterprise does everything better.

Why? Because if private companies don’t do things efficiently, they lose money and die. Unlike government, they cannot compel payment through the power to tax.

Even when a private company operates a public facility under contract to government, it must perform. If it doesn’t, it will be “fired”—its contract won’t be renewed. Government is never fired.

Continue reading at Reason Magazine

Andrew Napolitano: Man is free, and must be vigilant

At Saturday’s general session of the RightOnline conference at The Venetian in Las Vegas, Judge Andrew P. Napolitano told an audience of 1,100 conservative activists that the nature of man is to be free, and that government and those holding power are an ever-present danger to freedom.

Napolitano is Senior Judicial Analyst at the Fox News Network and the author of the books Lies the Government Told You: Myth, Power, and Deception in American History, The Constitution in Exile: How the Federal Government Has Seized Power by Rewriting the Supreme Law of the Land, and A Nation of Sheep.

Napolitano told of how at the time of the founding of the United States, there was the natural rights group — Madison and Jefferson — which believed that, as Napolitano said: “Our freedom comes from our humanity. It is as natural to us as our physical bodies are. The yearnings that we have to be free are — if you use a 2010 phrase — hard-wired into us by the supreme being that created us.”

But Hamilton and Adams believed that without government there can be no freedom. Since government protects freedom, government can restrict freedom in bad times.

The natural law argument won the day, and that’s why there is the Bill of Rights, he told the audience. But in the second year of Adam’s presidential administration, Congress enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts, which made it illegal to criticize the government, including the president and congress.

Napolitano asked: How could those who once risked their lives during the American Revolution come to write such laws once they assumed power? Many people in government have an urge to tell others how to live their lives, he answered. “This is the core of the problem with government from 1787 to 2010. If you must look for any defect in any candidate in either party for any office: If they want to tell you how to live your life, vote them out of office.”

War is a time when rights can be lost, as when Lincoln locked up newspaper publishers in the North because they criticized his presidency.

Napolitano told of the Espionage Act of 1917, which makes it illegal to talk someone out of being drafted, working in a munitions plant, or supporting the war. It’s still the law today, he said.

Ronald Reagan, in his first inaugural address, reminded us that the states created the federal government, not the other way around. Napolitano said that he would have added “And the power that the states gave the federal government, they can take back from the federal government.”

Shifting topics a bit, Napolitano said the government wants to give away your money in your name. It uses the Mafia model. “Taxation is theft,” he said. It presumes that the government has a higher right to your property than you do. “If the Constitution is to be taken seriously, if you own the sweat of your brow, if you own your ideas and that which you create with your own hands: It’s yours, it’s not the government’s.”

He told of a recent interview with South Carolina Democratic Congressman James E. Clyburn, where Napolitano asked where in the Constitution is the federal government authorized to manage health care? Clyburn replied: “Judge, most of what we do here in Washington is not authorized by the Constitution. Where in the Constitution is it prohibited for the federal government to manage health care?”

Napolitano said Clyburn’s first answer was frank and candid, as well as accurate. The second answer, he said, reveals a “profound misunderstanding of the nature and concept of limited government.”

Our role in this moment is to defend freedom, he told the audience in closing.

The bamboozled public

The intellectual arguments used by the State throughout history to “engineer consent” by the public can be classified into two parts: (1) that rule by the existing government is inevitable, absolutely necessary, and far better than the indescribable evils that would ensue upon its downfall; and (2) that the State rulers are especially great, wise, and altruistic men — far greater, wiser, and better than their simple subjects. In former times, the latter argument took the form of rule by “divine right’ or by the “divine ruler” himself, or by an “aristocracy” of men. In modern times, as we indicated earlier, this argument stresses not so much divine approval as rule by a wise guild of “scientific experts” especially endowed in knowledge of statesmanship and the arcane facts of the world. The increasing use of scientific jargon, especially in the social sciences, has permitted intellectuals to weave apologia for State rule which rival the ancient priestcraft in obscurantism. For example, a thief who presumed to justify his theft by saying that he was really helping his victims by his spending, thus giving retail trade a needed boost, would be hooted down without delay. But when this same theory is clothed in Keynesian mathematical equations and impressive references to the “multiplier effect,” it carries far more conviction with a bamboozled public.

From Murray N. Rothbard, For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, pages 59 – 60

Importance of economic freedom explained in Wichita

Yesterday Robert Lawson appeared in Wichita to deliver a lecture titled “Economic Freedom and the Wealth and Health of Nations.” The lecture explained how Lawson and his colleagues calculate the annual “Economic Freedom of the World” index, which ranks most of the countries of the world in how the “policies and institutions of countries are supportive of economic freedom.” The conclusion is that economic freedom is a vital component of well-being, income, health, and both personal and political freedom.

Robert LawsonRobert Lawson

The Economic Freedom of the World annual report is available in its entirety at FreeTheWorld.com.

Lawson started his lecture by noting two methods of organizing an economy. There’s the way of Adam Smith, in which liberty, private property, and free trade are paramount, and government is to have a limited role. The other way is that of Karl Marx, where society would be planned and controlled by a central authority according to a national strategy.

Lawson said he became interested in measuring freedom as a way to investigate the truth of the claims of Smith and Marx. By collecting data about economic freedom, we could learn more about which system — economic freedom or planned economies — works best.

Lawson defined economic freedom as consisting of free markets, private property and personal choice; freedom to trade both within a country and foreign trade; freedom to enter markets; and security of property and the rule of law. He said that there is a role for government in this system to protect property rights and provide basic infrastructure, but the role of government is limited.

Measuring economic freedom is complex and multidimensional. Data comes from 141 countries using 42 components that are grouped into five broad areas: size of government, including expenditures, taxes, and enterprises; legal structure and security of property rights; access to sound money; freedom to trade internationally; and regulation of credit, labor, and business. Ratings are on a scale from zero to ten, with ten representing the most freedom.

Some of the components of the ranking are based on objective data, while some are subjective, perhaps from a survey. Lawson said that the report and book detail the methodology used in creating the index.

The result is that Hong Kong ranks as most economically free country. Singapore is second, which Lawson said poses a problem. Singapore is economically free, but it is not politically liberal in terms of civil liberties. There is a strong positive relationship between political freedom and economic freedom, but there are exceptions like Singapore.

The United States ranks sixth. Sweden is ranked fortieth, which is still in the upper quartile of countries. Lawson said that while Sweden has a reputation as a welfare state, the U.S. and Sweden are not all that different. Taxes in Sweden are about 50 perfect higher than ours, and Sweden has many more labor regulations, but otherwise the countries are similar.

The big differences in the world, Lawson said, are between countries like the U.S. and countries like Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

China is ranked eighty-second, below the midpoint. Lawson said that China is a problem to rank, having Shanghai which is relatively free, and then outer provinces which are still tightly controlled and repressive.

Russia ranks eighty-third, right below China. Some of the former Soviet republics like Estonia are doing well, but the Ukraine has made little progress towards freedom.

India ranks eighty-sixth. It is not an economically free county, but is more free now than in the past, Lawson said.

To show how economic freedom impacts the lives of people, Lawson used a series of charts that showed the impact of economic freedom on various measures.

Economic freedom is very important in determining the incomes of people. The countries in the highest-ranking quartile of the economic freedom index have a per-capita income of $32,443. For countries in the lowest quartile the income is only $3,802. Economic growth rates are higher in the freer countries, too, although the difference is not as great as with income.

Lawson said that a frequent criticism of free economies is income inequality. He showed a chart presenting the share of income earned by the poorest ten percent in each country, grouped by quartile. There is very little difference between the groups. “It doesn’t really matter what kind of economic system you have — free market or not — it does not correlate in any way with income inequality. It’s simply not true that market economies, in general, are more unequal.”

A follow-up, Lawson said, is that if you are poor, where do you want to be? The answer is in the economically free countries. The per-capita income of the poorest ten percent in the least economically free countries is $896, while in the most economically free it is $9,105.

Life expectancy is also positively correlated with economic freedom, ranging from 59.40 years in the least-free countries to 79.12 in the most-free countries.

Is there a relationship between economic systems and the environment? Lawson showed a chart showing that the free countries do better in a measure of environmental performance.

Lawson said that political rights and civil liberties are also strongly associated with economic freedom, the example of Singapore notwithstanding. India is another exception, being a fairly liberal democracy but ranking low in economic freedom.

Speaking about the United States, Lawson said that the numbers are likely to go down in the future. While the U.S. ranks above the world average, its measurement of freedom has been declining since 2000. At the same time, the rest of the world is on an upward trend. “It’s no longer accurate to say the United States is among the very top tier in the economic freedom index,” Lawson said, adding that he blames George Bush for this. The decline is partly due to the increasing size of government, but the largest cause of the decline is in the area of property rights. This area is measured largely by surveys asking people how they feel about property rights in America. The perception, Lawson, said, is that the security of property rights are on the decline.

A question from the audience asked about reliance on foreign aid. Lawson replied that the economic freedom index methodology doesn’t include foreign aid. But there has been research done using the index and foreign aid, which concluded that countries get more foreign aid when they do worse on the index. Furthermore, after receiving more foreign aid, countries do worse in the index.

A question about the cost of living in countries was answered by the use of purchasing power parity.

Responding to a question about deficits, Lawson said that the size of government deficits doesn’t enter into the index calculations. The amount of government spending is part of the index, however. Lawson said that Milton Friedman argued that it wasn’t very important to freedom whether the government runs deficits. The size of government spending is important, Friedman said, with the method of financing the spending much less important.

A question revealed that health care doesn’t play a part in the index calculations, as the composition of spending is not a factor. If the U.S. government decides to spend more on health care, its rating will probably decline, as government spending is in the index.

A question asked how it can be that China and India are growing very rapidly, but still rank low in the index. Lawson answered that it’s the change or increase in the index that has been important for these two countries. There has been great change in both countries. “It takes only a tiny bit of relaxation to see a flourishing of growth in both China and India.” He added that both countries need to continue their reforms in order to maintain their rates of economic growth.

Lawson added that regulation, not taxation, is the biggest threat to prosperity and economic freedom in America.

Lawson’s lecture was sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and underwritten by The Fred C. and Mary R. Koch Foundation.

Wichita Eagle letter promotes taxes, big government

Today’s Wichita Eagle carries a letter to the editor that, like many we’ve seen before, makes claims and espouses beliefs that are totally opposite to freedom and liberty. In today’s example, Omer C. Belden of Wichita argues that we should “concentrate on saving such successful programs as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.”

To call these programs “successful” is quite a stretch. Each faces actuarial difficulties in the near future, when these programs will not be able to continue in their present form. In fact, Mr. Belden seems to recognize this, as he acknowledges “… their trust funds have been sorely treated …”

But as Belden makes clear in his letter, if we poured adequate tax funds into these programs, they wouldn’t be in trouble. I suppose that’s true, in a way. Since each of these entitlement programs exist for the sole purpose of taking money from one group of people and giving it to another group, it follows that the more money transferred, the more “successful” the program is. This, of course, assumes you’re in one of the groups on the receiving end of this equation, and you don’t mind receiving something that belongs to someone else.

In remarking that “taxes are its lifeblood” Belden — while arguing for more taxation — diagnoses the problem with government: unlike most people who must work for their income, the government simply takes what it needs in the form of taxes. (Or it borrows, which simply delays taxation to some future day.) Instead of free people engaging in voluntary transactions, each providing for themselves, their families, and their friends as they see fit, we have a coercive government, forcing us into collective retirement and health care systems. A system, we might note, overrun with fraud — so much so in the case of Medicare that it’s impossible to come up with an accurate estimate of its scope.

Belden asks the question “isn’t ours a government by and for the people?” This statement is not a founding principle of our country, nor is it a guiding principle of free people. It’s just a line from a speech by a president, and one who was no particular friend of freedom and limited government. The idea that government can do things “for” us is a false and dangerous notion, as government has no resources of its own to give to people. Each thing it does for someone is something taken from someone else.

The final claim that needs examination in Beldens’ letter is the claim that these programs “helped the medical profession build new clinics, hospitals and offices …” It’s well-known that Medicare and Medicaid pay doctors very little for the services they provide, with most doctors claiming that the payments don’t cover the cost of providing services. These programs aren’t a source of capital for building new facilities.

Road to prosperity for Kansas to be examined in Wichita

At this Friday’s meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm Club, Dave Trabert, President of the Flint Hills Center for Public Policy, will take a look at the future of government, especially in Kansas.

I received the following preview from the speaker:

It’s about being a critical crossroads, with one choice being a smoothly paved road and the other is a bumpy, rutted road. One looks very easy to navigate, but there’s a large price to pay along the way and the destination is Serfdom. The road to Prosperity might be more difficult to travel, but the destination is worth the effort.

I also try to make the case that we don’t have to be held hostage by “either/or” situations (higher taxes to sustain good services or sacrifice the services); rather, we simply need to find ways to make government more efficient so we can have good services and lower taxes.

Dave Trabert is President of the Flint Hills Center for Public Policy. Trabert developed his interest in the public policy arena during his 18-year career managing television stations. Most recently he served as general manager of WYTV in Youngstown, Ohio, an area beset with chronic employment issues resulting from a high tax burden, low education attainment and a lack of regionalism. Trabert initiated community discussions, published an extensive white paper on the issue and led a research-driven education campaign focusing on possible solutions for removing job growth barriers. He graduated cum laude from West Liberty State College with a degree in Business Administration and previously managed KAKE-TV in Wichita. Trabert researches and writes on fiscal policy issues.

All are welcome to attend Pachyderm meetings. Lunch is $10, or you may attend the meeting only for $3.

At Pachyderm meetings, there’s usually plenty of time for the speaker to take questions from the audience. The meeting starts at noon, although those wishing to order lunch are encouraged to arrive by 11:45. The location is Whiskey Creek Steakhouse at 233 N. Mosley in Old Town. You can view a map of this location by clicking on Google map of 233 N. Mosley.

Plato to speak to Pachyderms

This Friday June 19, 2009, the Wichita Pachyderm Club turns back the clock of time real far to present the Greek philosopher Plato.

A very talented local authority, who wishes to remain anonymous, will personify the essence of ancient wise man. His topic will be “Why I am not a democrat.”

Plato has said things like “Democracy … is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder; and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.” Also “Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty.”

All are welcome to attend Pachyderm meetings. Lunch is $10, or you may attend the meeting only for $3.

At Pachyderm meetings, there’s usually plenty of time for the speaker to take questions from the audience. The meeting starts at noon, although those wishing to order lunch are encouraged to arrive by 11:45. The location is Whiskey Creek Steakhouse at 233 N. Mosley in Old Town. You can view a map of this location by clicking on Google map of 233 N. Mosley.

Americans love government. Why?

In his article Americans Love Government, Walter E. Williams wonders why we rely on something that we have so little faith in:

According to latest Rasmussen Reports, 30 percent of Americans believe congressmen are corrupt. Last year, Congress’ approval rating fell to 9 percent, its lowest in history. If the average American were asked his opinion of congressmen, among the more polite terms you’ll hear are thieves and crooks, liars and manipulators, hustlers and quacks. But what do the same people say when our nation faces a major problem? “Government ought to do something!” When people call for government to do something, it is as if they’ve been befallen by amnesia and forgotten just who is running government. It’s the very people whom they have labeled as thieves and crooks, liars and manipulators, hustlers and quacks.

So why do people rely on government so much? Here’s what Williams says:

I don’t think that stupidity, ignorance or insanity explains the love that many Americans hold for government; it’s far more sinister and perhaps hopeless. I’ll give a few examples to make my case. Many Americans want money they don’t personally own to be used for what they see as good causes such as handouts to farmers, poor people, college students, senior citizens and businesses. If they privately took someone’s earnings to give to a farmer, college student or senior citizen, they would be hunted down as thieves and carted off to jail. However, they get Congress to do the identical thing, through its taxing power, and they are seen as compassionate and caring. In other words, people love government because government, while having neither moral nor constitutional authority, has the legal and physical might to take the property of one American and give it to another. (Emphasis added.)

What does this lead to? Williams paints a grim picture, but if you’ve read Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom (or see the cartoon version), you know very well the danger that we face. Here’s how Williams explains the danger:

The path we’re embarked upon, in the name of good, is a familiar one. The unspeakable horrors of Nazism, Stalinism and Maoism did not begin in the ’30s and ’40s with the men usually associated with those names. Those horrors were simply the end result of a long evolution of ideas leading to consolidation of power in central government in the name of “social justice.” In Germany, it led to the Enabling Act of 1933: Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Nation and, after all, who could be against a remedy to relieve distress? Decent but misguided Germans, who would have cringed at the thought of what Nazi Germany would become, succumbed to Hitler’s charisma.

Today’s Americans, enticed, perhaps enchanted, by charismatic speeches, are ceding so much power to Washington, and like yesteryear’s Germans are building the Trojan Horse for a future tyrant.

Seven principles of sound public policy

Lawrence W. Reed, now the president of the Foundation for Economic Education, has a short booklet available that can help citizens analyze whether a government policy is sound.

Titled Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy, it’s a comfortably short pamphlet of just 11 pages. But it’s full of a lot of wisdom.

The seven principles are these:

  • Free people are not equal, and equal people are not free.

  • What belongs to you, you tend to take care of;
    what belongs to no one or everyone tends to fall into disrepair.

  • Sound policy requires that we consider long-run effects and all people, not simply short-run effects and a few people.
  • If you encourage something, you get more of it; if you discourage something, you get less of it.
  • Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own.
  • Government has nothing to give anybody except what it first takes from somebody, and a government that’s big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you’ve got.
  • Liberty makes all the difference in the world.

In the booklet, Reed expands on each principle.

Click on Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy to read the booklet. There’s a pdf version available for downloading and printing.

The ABC’s of Virginia Alcohol Law

At the recent Sammies awards presented by the Sam Adams Alliance, a video titled The ABC’s of Virginia Alcohol Law received an award.

It’s a funny video. It’s not the most important issue in the world, but it shows us another example of the ways that government get so twisted up in a knot (of its own making) that it doesn’t make sense anymore.

Caleb O. Brown (his blog is catallaxy.net) and Austin Bragg created the video and won the award.

Articles of Interest

Obama’s volunteer corps, Kansas cigarette taxes, U.S. Auto industry, Austrian economics

The Rise of ObamaCorps (Americans for Limited Government) “Unless the Blue Dogs can muster enough support to halt Speaker Pelosi’s march to madness, the American taxpayer will have to pony up another $5 billion for paid ‘volunteers’ (an oxymoron if there ever was one) to politically-oriented organizations, the aims of many of which they will invariably oppose.”

Study documents historic trend of decreased state tax revenues following cigarette tax increases “This study clearly shows that raising cigarette taxes simply drives Kansas consumers to other states to purchase tobacco products,” said AFP-Kansas state director Derrick Sontag. “It clearly results in lower cigarette tax revenues, not because more people are quitting, but because people go elsewhere to avoid paying those higher per-pack taxes. … We hope this document will show to lawmakers that raising cigarette taxes is an ineffective deterrent to smoking and that it is simply unwise to fund government programs with revenue that is likely to dwindle once the new tax takes effect.”

Detroit’s Fate Sealed in West Wing (Wall Street Journal) Describes President Obama and his team’s involvement in the remaking of General Motors. “Mr. Rattner broke the news to [General Motors CEO] Mr. Wagoner at his office at the Treasury, according to an administration official. Afterward, Mr. Rattner met with Mr. Henderson, and told him he would take over as GM’s CEO.” The president plans to put some of his own staff into the auto companies. We can be sure that as the president and his team assert more control over GM and Chrysler, Congress will want to get in on the act too.

The Obama Autoworks: At GM and Chrysler, politics is now Job One (Wall Street Journal) More analysis of just how bad things are likely to get now that the American automobile industry — at least GM and Chrysler — is on the road to nationalization. “Bankruptcy or not, the larger problem here is Washington’s industrial policy. Even if Chrysler merges and GM restructures, Mr. Obama wants the companies to make the kind of cars the political class favors, whether or not consumers want to buy them. ‘The United States of America will lead the world in building the next generation of clean cars,’ the President said yesterday. He didn’t mention a goal of profitability. … Mr. Obama’s industrial policy vision runs directly counter to a strategy that would get the companies back to profitability as soon as possible. … All of which is to say that the taxpayer commitment to the Obama autoworks is only getting started.”

Austrians Can Explain the Boom and the Bust (Robert P. Murphy at the Ludwig von Mises Institute) An Austrian explanation of the recent boom and bust cycle, including the Austrian model of the structure of capital. Interest rates, as it turns out, are very important.

Welcome to Washington

I am not entirely sure it is not, but my personal impression is that nothing makes people more cynical about government than working for it. I have never heard a libertarian speak about the futility of most government departments the way American and foreign officials often do in restaurants or bars on Capitol Hill, on K Street — the center of the lobbying industry — in Georgetown or even at the Fish Wharf.

From Welcome to Washington, by Alvaro Vargas Llosa of the Center on Global Prosperity at The Independent Institute.

I Tested My Politics

I came across a test designed to place you and your political thoughts on a map of political ideologies. The test I took is here.

These tests can be fun, but in the case of this particular example, I wondered how some questions had any relevance to politics. In these tests I also find that some questions are leading and seem to be designed to get people to answer a certain way.

On this test, here are the results reported for me: “You are a Social Liberal (76% permissive) and an Economic Conservative (93% permissive). You are best described as a Libertarian.”

When my results were compared to those of famous people, I’m right alongside Thomas Jefferson, which is pretty good company. Plotted on a map of political ideologies, I’m in the libertarian area, but right near the border of anarchist.

Interestingly, whose photo do you suppose appears squarely in the socialist region? Barack Obama.

Advocates for Self-Government has a short quiz that has been cited as reliable. A quiz I would encourage everyone to take is the Are You an Austrian quiz (really an examination) at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Applying For Food Stamps: American Duty?

A television news story from yesterday in Wichita went like this:

Television news anchor: “Some may think that using food stamps is a drain on the economy, but the truth is that’s really not right. Local organizers say using food assistance can help boost the economy during these tough times. One dollar of food assistance relief equals about three dollars. Kansas is only using about half of the money assigned to it by the federal government. Using this money helps to pay everyone: from truckers and farmers, to workers in the grocery stores.”

Dr. Anita Raghavan, Campaign to End Childhood Hunger: “It’s kind of saying ‘Hey, do your American duty. Apply for food stamps.’”

The notion that government spending can stimulate the economy is erroneous and dangerous. Here’s what the economist Walter E. Williams had to say earlier this year in his article Stimulus Package Nonsense:

There are three ways government can get the money for a stimulus package. It can tax, borrow or inflate the currency by printing money. If government taxes to hand out money, one person is stimulated at the expense of another who pays the tax, who is unstimulated and has less money to spend. If government borrows the money, it’s the same story. This time the unstimulated person is the lender who has less money to spend. If government prints money, creditors, and then everyone else, are unstimulated. As my colleague Russell Roberts said in a NPR broadcast, “It’s like taking a bucket of water from the deep end of a pool and dumping it into the shallow end. Funny thing — the water in the shallow end doesn’t get any deeper.”

If people are hungry — and no doubt many families are — there are better ways than government welfare to help them. There are many private charities that are much more efficient than government in helping people. Plus, since people donate to these charities voluntarily, it’s an example of free people cooperating voluntarily in free markets. That’s how wealth is created.

It turns out that this is how happiness is created, too. Arthur C. Brooks has done research into economics and happiness. I quote him in my post How Government Makes Us Unhappy: “Givers of charity earn substantial mental and physical health rewards, even more than do the recipients of charity — empirical evidence that it is indeed more blessed to give than to receive.”

Do We Have Too Little Regulation?

One of the things we’re being told by the mainstream media is that deregulation is the cause of our current economic crisis. If only Bush hadn’t torn up so many regulations, we wouldn’t be in this trouble. Only adding more regulation will save the economy. Free markets — as if our economy is based on anything like that concept — are also blamed.

The most recent Cato Policy Report has an article Are We Ailing from Too Much Deregulation? that shows why these beliefs are incorrect.