Tag Archives: Term limits

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WichitaLiberty.TV February 16, 2014

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: The controversy surrounding the residence of a long-time senator from Kansas raises issues of term limits and the ability of citizens to exercise the power of initiative and referendum. Then, the seen and the unseen applied to economic development in Wichita, and why do we rely on certain experts. Episode 31, broadcast February 16, 2014. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.

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.

In Kansas, redistricting went well, after all

The Kansas political class is upset because a federal court drew new districts they way they should be drawn — compactly and contiguously, and also considering communities of interest.

The court, in its opinion, explained: “we have developed new legislative maps that distribute population as evenly as practicable between districts, while also considering to a much lesser degree the state’s legislative policies guiding redistricting.”

In drawing Congressional districts the court took into consideration the Roeck score, a measure of compactness.

What the court has done is to ignore the desires of the political class. The legislature’s consideration when attempting redistricting was all politics, all the time. Incumbents were protected and not pitted against each other. The residencies of potential challengers to incumbents were considered. The infighting was so protracted that the legislature failed to produce new districts, and is said to have affceted progress on other important legislation.

It’s good the court didn’t consider the entrenched political class, because they don’t count. The legislature should not be run as a club. Said the court: “We have subordinated protection of incumbents to other state policy factors and, of course, to the constitutional requirement of one person, one vote. … any efforts to protect incumbents would require our choosing among incumbents, an inherently political exercise that we are neither able nor inclined undertake.”

In creating the new districts for the Kansas House and Senate, the court — unintentionally — imposed a rough and not complete one-time implementation of term limits. In the House, there are 48 districts with more than one incumbent and 25 districts with no incumbent. This means a lot of turnover, which is good. We need fewer professional politicians and more citizens in legislatures. This is not as large a problem in Kansas as in the U.S. Congress, as our legislature meets for four months each year, and legislators are pretty much regular citizens the remainder of the year. But still, the redistricting battle has reminded us that there is indeed a political class in Kansas that believes it is entitled to office, term after term.

Further evidence of an entrenched political class is the number — five at current count — of incumbents who moved their residence in order to run.

I believe that Kansans will appreciate the large number of new members that are likely to take office next January. Hopefully the new members will realize the benefit themselves and implement term limits in Kansas. That would require an amendment to the constitution, which requires a two-thirds vote of each chamber of the legislature. Then, the people would have to pass the amendment by a simple majority. It’s quite likely that voters would approve term limits, as they are consistently popular with voters.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback does not play a formal role in passing constitutional amendments. His involvement would be to exercise his influence. Brownback, when elected to the U.S. Senate, imposed a two-term limit in himself, and he held true to that pledge. He has spoken in favor of term limits for members of Congress.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday December 6, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday November 29, 2010

Louisville success factor may be gone. The secret sauce behind redevelopment of downtown Louisville, Kentucky may no longer be available to cities attempting to replicate Louisville’s success, such as it is. The Washington Post reports in the article Sen. Mitch McConnell’s earmark power credited for revitalizing Louisville: “The once grand downtown of this city on the Ohio River is shabby, as the nation’s old downtowns tend to be. Magnificent tall cast-iron-fronted buildings sit empty. So do historic brick tobacco warehouses, surrounded in razor wire, tagged with graffiti. But the downtown of Kentucky’s largest city also has a spectacular redeveloped waterfront featuring bike paths and open vistas, the spanking-new KFC Yum Center sports arena, and a medical complex of several hospitals that employ nearly 20,000 people, treat tens of thousands and conduct cutting-edge research. This resurgence is a result of civic vision, pride, tenacity — and the impressive earmark performance of Louisville’s Slugger: Mitch McConnell (R), Kentucky’s longest-serving senator and the powerful Senate minority leader.” … Louisville is cited as a success story by Wichita’s planners. But the earmark money that helped Louisville is probably not available to Wichita in the near term, and may not ever be available again, at least as it has been in the past. Plus, Kansas doesn’t have a senator with the clout of McConnell, and not one that calls Wichita home. McConnell lives in Louisville.

Loss of earmarks lamented. In the Wichita Eagle article Earmark ban could kill some Kansas projects, well, the title pretty much describes the problem according to some. In particular, the town of Augusta would have had a difficult time affording a levee if not for earmarks. It is mentioned that earmarks are about one percent of the total federal budget. One comment writer, defending the process, wrote “Earmarks return our money to us.” To which we must counter: Why send the money away to Washington in the first place, only to have to fight to get it back?

“No” to citizen-powered democracy. The Newton Kansas argues that a “practical” state like Kansas shouldn’t let its citizens place propositions on the ballot through the petitions process. The editorial says that the California budget process has led to “serious economic turmoil in that state.” It doesn’t explain why, but the writer is probably referring to the fact that the California budget must be passed by a two-thirds majority of both houses of the legislature, rather than by a simple majority as in Kansas. The editorial also says that ballot measures induce spending by proponents and opponents, and some money may come from out of state. Special interests may get involved, too. And administrative costs of adding “pages” to the ballot must be paid for, too. … I must inform the Newton Kansas that the Kansas statehouse is already overrun by special interests, out-of-state interests already spend a lot on our elections and lobbying, and anyone who has observed our legislative process up close would not use the word “practical” to describe it. … The primary reason the ruling class don’t like the citizen initiative process is that one of the first things citizens may do is impose term limits on their elected officials.

Wichita IMAX may not be exclusive. In another installment of his series of love letters to Wichita theater operator Bill Warren, Wichita Eagle reporter Bill Wilson reports on the construction of Warren’s new theater in west Wichita. On Warren’s plans for his theaters in Moore, Oklahoma (part of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area), Wilson’s article reports: “IMAX? ‘Possibly, and a few other surprises down there,’ Warren said.” … Earlier this year when Warren applied to the Wichita City Council for favored tax treatment for this theater, he implied that without the city’s largesse, he’d take his IMAX theater elsewhere. In his remarks at the council meeting where the tax favoritism was approved, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer bought into the myth that there can be only one Warren IMAX theater when he said: “A lot of other cities want this IMAX … they’re on the internet watching this city council meeting to see what we’re going to do because they’re going to make a bid for this IMAX.” … City officials said the theater would be a tourist draw from as far away as Texas. … With another Warren IMAX possibly being built nearby, Wichitans and the mayor ought to agree that we were mislead, and Wilson ought to report this in the pages of the Wichita Eagle. This entire episode is more evidence that the Wichita City Council will believe almost anything told to them, as long as it involves the possibility of economic development and jobs.

Sheriff to address Pachyderms, guide tour. This Friday (December 3) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Sedgwick County Sheriff Robert Hinshaw as the presenter. His topic will be “An overview of the duties of the office of sheriff.” Then, from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm Sheriff Hinshaw will guide Pachyderm Club members on a tour of the Sedgwick County jail. I’ve had the sheriff’s tour before, and it is very interesting. The public is welcome at Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club.

Wichita City Council this week. As this Tuesday is the fifth Tuesday of a month, the Wichita City Council will not meet. Also, the Sedgwick County Commission will not meet this week.

No free market for health care. A letter in today’s Wichita Eagle claims love for the free-market economy, but not for the provision of health care. The writer claims that free markets for medical services cannot work, because the transactions are one-sided, in that the patient does not have freedom of choice. The writer also cites government success in providing military and education that “improve our society’s overall well-being,” so government should provide health care, too. … I might suggest to the letter writer that we first attempt a free market in health care before we decide it doesn’t work. Most health care is paid for by someone else, and many people who have health insurance through their employers don’t have a choice in the matter. It is this regulation that causes many of the problems in the market, such as it is, and it is nothing resembling “free.” … Citing success of government education and military may not be persuasive to those who see performance of American schools on a long downward slide compared to other countries.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday November 15, 2010

This week at Wichita city council. An Old Town bar faces the possibility of losing its drinking establishment license and two apartment complexes seek city support in the application for housing tax credits. … The old Coleman Company Plant at 250 N. St. Francis faces an obstacle on its path to demolition: The Wichita Historic Preservation Board found that “the demolition of the structure and construction of a surface parking lot does encroach upon, damage, or destroy the environs of the state and national register listed properties by removing distinctive buildings, and altering spatial relationships that characterize the environs.” There were other reasons the board found to oppose the demolition. The building was deemed to be a “character-defining structure.” Furthermore, it is located within 500 feet of historical districts and historical properties. This is the so-called “halo” law, where if your property is located with the environs of another historic property, there are restrictions on what you can do with your property. … In a matter added to the agenda at the last moment, the city will decide whether to pay a Wichita man $925,000 to settle charges that he was injured by actions of the Wichita police department.

Planning commission to look at downtown plan. This week the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission will have a public hearing on the Goody Clancy plan for the revitalization of downtown Wichita. The meeting is Thursday at 1:30 pm in the tenth floor meeting room at Wichita city hall. The agenda for the meeting is here: Metropolitan Area Planning Commission Agenda, November 18, 2010.

Kansas tax policy. Various proposals for modifying Kansas’ tax system are floating about. One aspect in particular that is gaining attention is the multitude of sales tax exemptions, where various classes of economic activity or specific named organizations do not have to pay sales tax on their purchases. In Sunday’s Wichita Eagle Rhonda Holman wrote “selected taxpayers are saving $4.2 billion a year, worsening the tax burden for everybody else.” This number is highly misleading. As I explained earlier this year in Kansas sales tax exemptions don’t hold all the advertised allure: “Analysis of the nature of the exemptions and the amounts of money involved, however, leads us to realize that the additional tax revenue that could be raised is much less than spending advocates claim, unless Kansas was to adopt a severely uncompetitive, and in some cases, unproductive tax policy.” … An example is the exemption whereby manufacturers don’t pay sales tax on component parts used in producing final products, with an estimated $2,248.1 million in lost sales tax revenue. If Kansas were to eliminate this exemption, we could very quickly say goodbye to all our manufacturers. … Another example is government not paying sales tax on its purchases, worth an estimated $449.9 million in lost revenue. Reporting from Kansas Reporter on a special committee formed to look at Kansas tax policy is at Kansas tax reform waits on Brownback plans, lawmakers say.

“Big Ditch” builder to address Pachyderms. At this Friday’s (November 19) meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm Club, M. S. “Mitch” Mitchell will speak on the topic “The Big Ditch, 60 Years Later.” Otherwise known as the Wichita-Valley Center Flood Control Project, the project is responsible for flood control in Wichita, and Mitchell was there at its building. The public is welcome at Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club.

Why I will not teach to the test. A California public school teacher explains why he will not “teach to the test” despite that state’s emphasis on “value added” teacher assessments: “The state tests being used to evaluate student progress — and, in turn, the effectiveness of teachers — virtually ensure mediocrity. … As teachers, we want to know if we are doing a good job. We want to know our strengths and our weaknesses. We welcome accountability. Frankly, I am embarrassed by how hard teachers’ unions have fought to protect weak teachers. It is shameful. But scoring all teachers based on a system that pushes educators to produce memorizers instead of thinkers is not the answer. Worse, it actually rewards mediocre teaching.” No doubt about it, evaluating teachers in public schools is a problem. Being insulated from competition, school administrators may evaluate teachers on all sorts of things except what really matters: how well they do their job. See In public schools, incentives matter.

Tracking federal tax dollars. According to the Wall Street Journal: “A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 40% thought foreign aid was one of the two largest federal-budget expenses. In reality, Uncle Sam spends $14 on Medicare — itself the second-largest expense — for every dollar spent on foreign aid.” To help citizens understand how federal money is spent, the Journal highlighted an analysis by Third Way, which describes itself as “the leading moderate think-tank of the progressive movement. Top categories for spending? Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and interest on the national debt. Then some several categories of military spending, which if consolidated, would move higher. The Journal article is Tracking Your Federal Tax Dollars ; the ThirdWay study is at Tax Receipt: Knowing What You Paid For.

Rasmussen key polls. “Lame duck” session of Congress: “Most voters think Congress should wait until the new members take office in January before tackling any major new legislation, but even more expect Democrats to try to pass major legislation anyway in the upcoming lame-duck session.” More here. … Support for investigation of Obama Administration is not high; breaks down on party lines: Voters Have Mixed Feelings About GOP Plans to Investigate Obama. But voters support investigating the new health care law passed earlier this year: Most Voters Favor Investigation of Health Care Law’s Potential Impact.

One more vote. The Center for Individual Freedom has launched an initiative called “The 60% Solution,” a proposal for a Constitutional Amendment requiring: a federal balanced budget annually, a 60% vote in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate to raise the debt ceiling, and a 60% vote in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate to increase taxes or impose new taxes. More information may be found at One More Vote, the name referring to the fact that Congress in 1995 fell just one vote short of endorsing a balanced budget amendment and sending it to the states for ratification. But CFIF warns against a simple balanced budget amendment: “A balanced budget amendment, in the wrong hands or crafted in the wrong form, can unfortunately provide a vehicle for big-government advocates to rationalize higher taxes.”

Wichita Eagle opinion line.“We have term limits, via voting. We need better-informed voters. Voters need to educate themselves as to the issues and the people who are running for certain offices.” This sentiment is repeated after each election. The fact that voters, at least according to this opinion, don’t inform themselves year after year is a strong argument for term limits.

The Hartman clean campaign pledge: Pompeo response

In the contest for the Republican Party nomination for United States Congress from the fourth district of Kansas, Wichita businessman Wink Hartman has run many advertisements making an issue of a clean campaign pledge. He’s signed it, and says that leading rival Mike Pompeo won’t sign it.

I asked Rodger Woods, manager of the Pompeo campaign, why his candidate didn’t sign the pledge. Woods mentioned two reasons.

First, Woods said that the meaning of the word “clean” is subjective. He said that Pompeo has committed to running a truthful campaign, the meaning of which is not subjective, noting that “truth” and “factual” do not appear in the Hartman pledge.

Second, Woods said that the purpose of primary elections is the find the best candidate. The tone of Hartman’s pledge, he said, is that Republicans are best served by not bringing up certain sets of issues.

Woods said that Pompeo has been committed from the start to being truthful, and he is satisfied that the campaign is fulfilling that commitment. A recent Pompeo press release stated “To date, no Mike Pompeo ad has mentioned any opponent. All Pompeo advertising has been built around Mike Pompeo’s positive record and the issues facing voters.” By my observation, this appears to be true.

Woods didn’t say this, but sometimes these clean campaign pledges are used to neutralize or deflect negative information that is about to be revealed. In this case, Hartman promoted his pledge shortly before issues of his controversial Florida residency and Florida voting were made public. (Hartman’s Florida voting was first reported in my story Hartman, candidate for Congress from Kansas, recently voted in Florida.) If a rival candidate were to mention inconvenient facts, it allows the other campaign to make allegations of dirty campaigning.

Facts, even unpleasant, need to be aired during primary election campaigns, I believe. Better for both parties to deal with them then rather than during the general election contest.

While Pompeo did not sign the pledge, that shouldn’t stop Hartman from living up to its standards, if he chooses to. But recently Hartman started running a television advertisement that lives up to all the worst expectations of negative campaigning.

It uses — as is standard practice in negative attack ads — unflattering images of the opponent. After quoting a leftist Kansas blog when it declared “Pompeo has thrown the first ugly punch,” the announcer states “No big surprise. Pompeo worked in Washington DC as a lawyer before moving to Kansas.”

The fact is that Pompeo worked in Washington for three years after graduating from law school. While Hartman’s ad is factually correct, this is the type of attempt at a backhanded compliment that most people would agree violates a plank of Hartman’s clean campaign pledge: “2. Treat Republican opponents with respect by focusing campaign advertisements on our own campaign’s vision for Kansas; this includes not mentioning fellow Republicans negatively in television or radio commercials.”

Hartman’s ad continues with the announcer stating “And the Pompeo record on jobs? He took Kansas jobs to Mexico. That’s right: took Kansas jobs to Mexico.”

Pompeo has stated that when the company he managed, Thayer Aerospace, opened a facility in Mexico, the Mexican plant was a condition of a contract with a customer. The Mexico jobs were new jobs, not jobs previously held by Kansans that were transferred to Mexico.

The ad concludes with “Mike Pompeo: just another Washington insider we can’t trust.” While there is no specific definition of “Washington insider,” at least one of Pompeo’s policy positions and his past action is in direct opposition to what “insiders” want: term limits.

In a speech to the Wichita Pachyderm Club last November, Pompeo told of his efforts, working pro bono, in favor of an effort in Arkansas of that state placing its federal office holders under term limits. I also reported “On term limits, Pompeo said he would like to see a constitutional amendment for term limits, but he would not make a personal pledge to limit his own service.”

Along with most of the other candidates in this contest — including Hartman — Pompeo opposes earmarks, another favorite Washington “insider” perk.

Hartman’s ad, besides going against the spirit and letter of his clean campaign pledge, also starts to drag the fourth district campaign down into the type of negative campaign that voters say they dislike. The other candidates besides Hartman and Pompeo in the race have not raised enough campaign funds to do any television or other widespread advertising.

The candidates and their campaign websites are Wichita businessman Jim Anderson, Wichita businessman Wink Hartman, Wichita businessman Mike Pompeo, Latham engineer Paij Rutschman, and Kansas Senator Jean Schodorf.

Dale Swenson, tea party critic, a barrel of laughs

Today’s Wichita Eagle contains a story (Tea party organizers: We paid for event) covering the dust-up between a member of the Kansas House of Representatives and tea party organizers.

The state representative — Dale Swenson, a Democrat whose district covers parts of southwest Wichita — said of the tea party event: “We need taxes to support their protests.”

Today’s Eagle story reports on organizer Lynda Tyler’s expenditures necessary to put on the event. It’s much the same information as in her statement presented in my post Wichita tea party paid its expenses from Sunday.

In his defense, Swenson told the Eagle “I was just being funny.”

Actually, joking around might be a believable defense in Swenson’s case. For example, last November he was re-elected to the Kansas House as a Republican. Then, just two months later, he decided he was really a Democrat and switched parties. I wonder if the voters in his district think that was a funny joke.

When running for the Kansas House for the first time in 1994, Swenson, according to a profile in the Wichita Eagle, was in favor of 12-year term limits for the Legislature and Congress. He must have been joking around then, because as is the case with many politicians who are initially in favor of term limits, he decided that term limits are just a funny joke, too.

Articles of Interest

Wichita real estate development, redistricting, newspapers, free markets

Wichita developer plans to turn old school into apartments (Bill Wilson in the Wichita Eagle) All that’s missing from this story is the developer’s propensity to seek subsidy, that is, a handout from government. We’ll have to wait to see how that develops.

Longtime Wichita developer George Ablah may be forced to shut down (Wichita Business Journal, a subscription service) “George Ablah says the economic downturn could force him to soon shut down his commercial real estate business. Ablah, who celebrated his 80th birthday Tuesday, estimates he has purchased and developed $2 billion of property … Now he wonders how much longer Ablah Enterprises can continue, given the current market conditions and a presidential administration that he says is crippling his business.”

Rethink redistricting in Kansas (Rhonda Holman in the Wichita Eagle) A cure for the problem Holman discusses in this editorial is term limits. But in the past she’s written: “Term limits are a dumb, artificial device that ends up throwing out the good leaders along with the bad and tends to fill governing bodies with novices who are easy prey for lobbyists.”

Editor’s message about changes at the Monitor (Christian Science Monitor) Today is the last daily printed edition of the Christian Science Monitor, although there will be a weekly print edition. I wonder if this newspaper’s reporters could get press credentials at the Kansas Capitol? I was told that because the Voice For Liberty in Wichita doesn’t print on paper, my application for credentials would not be considered.

The Miraculous Market (A speech by Leonard E. Read from 1965) “Awakening during the night, I flicked a bedside switch and soon the room was flooded with a piano concerto composed by Johannes Brahms. Perhaps the music itself induced a reflective mood: how explain this wonder of wonders for my enjoyment and with a near imperceptible effort on my part?” (Back in 1965 there were no IPods, CDs, and stereo was a recent invention.) As our country appears to be moving away from free markets to more government control — be it at the federal level, at the Kansas statehouse, or in Wichita city hall — we need be aware of the tremendous innovation that markets inspire in man.