Category Archives: Quick takes

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday December 30, 2011

Year in review, Wichita Liberty-style. Here it is: A selection of stories that appeared on Voice for Liberty in 2011. Was it a good or bad year for the causes of economic freedom, individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and civil society?

Patriots New Years Eve. Larry Halloran of Wichita — South Central KS 912 Group is sponsoring for the second time a “Patriots New Years Eve”: Taking time to relax in the company of Patriots as we dedicate ourselves to the important work ahead in 2012. This event is New Year’s Eve from 6:00 pm to 11:00 pm at the Hawthorn Suites located at 2405 N. Ridge Road, Wichita, KS 67205, telephone (316) 729-5700. The potluck dinner starts just after 6:00 pm, followed by guest speaker Bob Weeks at 8:00 pm. This is a family-friendly event, and no alcohol is served or allowed. Despite that, I still plan to attend. RSVP to LarryHalloran@aol.com.

Legislators to hear from citizens. The South-Central Kansas Legislative Delegation will be taking public comments Tuesday January 3rd at 7:00 pm in the Jury Room of the Sedgwick County Courthouse, 525 N. Main in Wichita. (Use the north entrance to the courthouse). This is your opportunity to let local legislators know your wishes on issues that will be considered during the 2012 legislative session. In the past, each person wishing to talk has been limited to between three and five minutes depending on the number of people wishing to speak. There is usually the requirement to sign up as you enter if you want to speak.

California’s redevelopment nightmare to end. In Kansas, they’re called tax increment financing districts, and in California, they’re about to end. A press release from the Institute of Justice notes: “In a landmark victory for private property owners in the Golden State, the California Supreme Court today upheld a statute abolishing the nearly 400 redevelopment agencies across the state. The court also struck down a law that would have allowed these agencies to buy their way back into existence. The final outcome of the case is that, in 2012, California’s decades-long redevelopment nightmare will finally come to an end. California redevelopment agencies have been some of the worst abusers of eminent domain for decades, violating the private property rights of tens of thousands of home, business, church and farm owners.” Besides eminent domain abuse, the high cost of the redevelopment agencies was a factor, with 12 percent of California property taxes being diverted to what are know as TIF districts in Kansas. … The City of Wichita still views tax increment financing as a wise investment, with one such district authorized for creation this month.

Growth will heal nation’s economy. From Kansas Watchdog: While most economists are predicting something between a long, slow recovery and the impossibility of repairing an economy buried in debt, entrepreneur Louis Woodhill believes the U.S. can come roaring back in just one or two years — with the right actions. “We probably need 25 million new jobs to get to full employment from here,” he said. “But basically it could be done in a year or two at the outside if you did everything right.” His recovery formula focuses on growing the gross domestic product. “If Vince Lombardy had been an economist instead of a football coach, he would have said economic growth is not the most important thing, it’s the only thing,” Woodhill said. … The full story is at Louis Woodhill: Prescription for Growth Will Heal Nation’s Economy.

Assumptions about capitalism. Burton W. Folsom in The Myth of the Robber Barons: “This shallow conclusion dovetails with another set of assumptions: First, that the free market, with its economic uncertainty, competitive stress, and constant potential for failure, needs the steadying hand of government regulation; second, that businessmen tend to be unscrupulous, reflecting the classic cliché image of the ‘robber baron,’ eager to seize any opportunity to steal from the public; and third, that because government can mobilize a wide array of forces across the political and business landscape, government programs therefore can move the economy more effectively than can the varied and often conflicting efforts of private enterprise. But the closer we look at public-sector economic initiatives, the more difficult it becomes to defend government as a wellspring of progress. Indeed, an honest examination of our economic history — going back long before the twentieth century — reveals that, more often than not, when government programs and individual enterprise have gone head to head, the private sector has achieved more progress at less cost with greater benefit to consumers and the economy at large.” … Folsom goes on to give examples from the history of steamships, railroads, and the steel and oil industries that show how our true economic history has been distorted. Concluding, he writes: “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 if we have difficulty learning from history, it is often because our true economic history is largely hidden from us. We would be hard pressed to find anything about Vanderbilt’s success or Collins’s government-backed failure in the steamship business by examining the conventional history textbooks or taking a history course at most colleges or universities. The information simply isn’t included.” … Folsom’s book on this topic is The Myth of the Robber Barons: A New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America.

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

Cato University. One of the highlights of my year was attending Cato University, a summer seminar on political economy. Besides attending many very informative lectures and meeting lovers of liberty from across the world, I became aware of several brilliant Cato scholars and executives whom I had not paid much attention to. One in particular is Tom G. Palmer, who is Senior Fellow and Director of Cato University, besides holding the position of Vice President for International Programs at Atlas Economic Research Foundation. He delivered many of our lectures and is the author of Realizing Freedom: Libertarian Theory, History, and Practice. An important chapter from this book is Twenty Myths about Markets. In this video he discusses being effective in bringing about change.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday December 26, 2011

Kansas computer security. This month the Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit released an audit looking at how well five Kansas state government agencies kept their computers up-to-date. The audit found: “Three of the five agencies had significant vulnerabilities because of inadequate workstation patching processes, and all five could make some minor improvements to their patching process.” Patching refers to the process of keeping software updated. The most important updates, or patches, concern security vulnerabilities that have been discovered and fixed. Some of these vulnerabilities are serious and can lead to computers and networks being compromised. The report is at State Agency Information Systems: Reviewing Selected Systems Operation Controls in State Agencies.

KPERS. Wichita financial planner Richard Stumpf contributes a piece to the Wichita Eagle on the problems with Kansas Public Employee Retirement System (KPERS). He paints a bleak picture of the plan’s finances and proposes a tax increase, writing: “I am recommending that Brownback propose a 25 percent tax increase to fund employees’ retirement plans. The commission wouldn’t cut spending. I refuse to recommend taking more money from classrooms to pay this bill. The only remaining option is a tax increase.” … As bleak as is this picture, it’s not as dark as it should be: Stumpf says the debt in KPERS is “nearly $9 billion.” More realistic analysis puts the figure much higher. Adjusting for unreported investment losses and using a realistic assumed rate of return of six percent, Kansas Policy Institute says the shortfall would be $14.1 billion. More shocking is an evaluation of state pension funds conducted by the American Enterprise Institute which uses market valuation methods. This evaluation puts the shortfall for Kansas at $21.8 billion. … Stumpf notes this: “So far this year, the stock market is up about 1.3 percent. Since KPERS is based upon an 8 percent assumed rate of return, earning 1.3 percent this year is equivalent to losing 6.7 percent.” The full editorial is at Richard Stumpf: Unions, Legislature lack guts to fix KPERS.

Kansas Treasurer makes grand circuit. One of the jobs of Kansas Treasurer Ron Estes is to safeguard unclaimed property and seek to return it to its owners. Estes and his staff have now visited all 105 Kansas counties, holding unclaimed property return events in each. The office says that in 2011, 65,913 claims totaling $14,433,929 have been returned to Kansans. The office is holding $230 million in unclaimed property.

Huelskamp considered objecting. The payroll tax measure passed last week in the U.S. House of Representatives was passed using “unanimous consent.” This means that there was no voice or roll call vote taken, and members did not need to be present. But if even one member had been present and had voiced an objection, the measure would have failed. Appearing on CNN, U.S. Representative Tim Huelskamp, who is in his first term representing the Kansas first district, said he considered making such an objection, but could not get to Washington from Kansas in time: “Actually, I did. Problem was by the time we were notified that the unanimous consent agreement would be offered, where I come from in Kansas, I can’t get to Washington quick enough on this short notice. So that was an option, we did think about that, but there’s no way to fly in on time to make that happen. Back on the pledge to America, we talked about 72 hours where big things like this would give us an opportunity to reel read the deal, actually read the bill. And in this case they decided to not follow that rule as well.” … Huelskamp said he was disappointed with the House leadership team, noting Congress has not cut spending, did not stand up to the president on the budget ceiling debate, and did not pass a balanced budget amendment. Noting the lack of delivery after the election of a conservative majority to the House, Huelskamp wondered “what difference did it make?” He described the payroll tax measure as one of numerous losses this year.

Obama’s regulation. Wall Street Journal Review & Outlook: “To answer the most basic question — has regulation increased? — we’ll focus on what the government defines as ‘economically significant’ regulations. Those are rules that impose more than $100 million in annual costs on the economy, though there are hundreds if not thousands of new rules every year that fall well short of that. According to an analysis of the Federal Register by George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, the Cabinet departments and agencies finalized 84 such regulations annually on average in President Obama’s first two years. The annual average under President Bush was 62 and under President Clinton 56.” The Journal notes the deception used by the Obama Administration as it tries to portray itself as not regulation-hungry: “Cass Sunstein, the director of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, has been shopping around lower numbers that selectively compare Mr. Obama’s first two years favorably with Mr. Bush’s last two. Administrations are typically most active on the way out, and in any case the Bush regulatory record is nothing to crow about. But Mr. Sunstein’s numbers are even more misleading because they only include the rules that his office reviews while excluding the prolific ‘independent’ agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission. This means that if Congress tells, say, the Securities and Exchange Commission to write a new rule, it doesn’t enter Mr. Sunstein’s tally. So it omits, for example, some 259 rules mandated by the Dodd-Frank financial reregulation law along with its 188 other rule suggestions. It also presumes that Mr. Obama is a bystander with no influence over his own appointees who now dominate the likes of the National Labor Relations Board.” … After presenting more evidence of the growth of costly regulation under Obama, the Journal concludes: “The evidence is overwhelming that the Obama regulatory surge is one reason the current economic recovery has been so lackluster by historical standards. Rather than nurture an economy trying to rebuild confidence after a financial heart attack, the Administration pushed through its now-famous blitz of liberal policies on health care, financial services, energy, housing, education and student loans, telecom, labor relations, transportation and probably some other industries we’ve forgotten. Anyone who thinks this has only minimal impact on business has never been in business. … Mr. Obama can claim he is the progressive second coming of Teddy Roosevelt as he did in Kansas last week, or he can claim to be a regulatory minimalist, but not both. The facts show he’s the former.” The full article is Regulation for Dummies: The White House says its rule-making isn’t costly or unusual. The evidence shows otherwise.

The failure of American schools. The Atlantac: “Who better to lead an educational revolution than Joel Klein, the prosecutor who took on the software giant Microsoft? But in his eight years as chancellor of New York City’s school system, the nation’s largest, Klein learned a few painful lessons of his own — about feckless politicians, recalcitrant unions, mediocre teachers, and other enduring obstacles to school reform.” Key takeway idea: “As a result, even when making a lifetime tenure commitment, under New York law you could not consider a teacher’s impact on student learning. That Kafkaesque outcome demonstrates precisely the way the system is run: for the adults. The school system doesn’t want to change, because it serves the needs of the adult stakeholders quite well, both politically and financially.” … Also: “Accountability, in most industries or professions, usually takes two forms. First and foremost, markets impose accountability: if people don’t choose the goods or services you’re offering, you go out of business. Second, high-performing companies develop internal accountability requirements keyed to market-based demands. Public education lacks both kinds of accountability. It is essentially a government-run monopoly. Whether a school does well or poorly, it will get the students it needs to stay in business, because most kids have no other choice. And that, in turn, creates no incentive for better performance, greater efficiency, or more innovation — all things as necessary in public education as they are in any other field.” … Overall, an eye-opening indictment of American public schools.

Markets: exploitation or empowerment? Do markets lead to a centralization of political and economic power, or do markets decentralize and disseminate wealth? In an eight-minute video from LearnLiberty.org, a project of Institute for Humane Studies, Antony Davies presents evidence and concludes that markets and free trade empower individuals rather than exploit them.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday December 19, 2011

Boeing tanker and Wichita. News reports from this morning’s press conference held by U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo of Wichita indicate that Boeing will not use Wichita as the finishing plant for work on the new air refueling tanker project. It was thought that this work would require 7,500 jobs in Wichita. Political and union leaders speak of holding Boeing accountable to what they believe was a promise Boeing made to Wichita, but I don’t know how they can do that. … Pompeo’s press release states: “… the work will be done in Washington state. Until very recently, it had been my expectation based on representations made to all Kansans, personally to me and my office, and to the United States Air Force, that Boeing would create 7,500 aviation jobs in our great state should Boeing prevail in the tanker bid. We now know that Boeing intends to walk away from that promise, which severely jeopardizes the future of the over 2000 aviation jobs currently held by Boeing employees in Kansas. … Boeing fought a long and fierce battle to build the KC-46A Tanker and secured the largest defense contract in the history of the world. Over a decade Boeing won, then lost and then once again emerged victorious over its competitor EADS. Kansas aviation workers were at the very core of Boeing’s effort that entire time. During that competition, Boeing stressed — both publicly and in its formal final bid proposal submitted to the United States Air Force — that its Wichita, Kansas facility would be critical to building the next generation tanker. For years, Kansas’ elected political leadership worked diligently to secure a contract award for Boeing. In short, Kansas workers and Kansas political leaders were central to the Air Force’s decision to select Boeing over EADS. To remove Kansas from the tanker project not only violates a public trust, but it creates risk to taxpayers and to our fighting forces. … I urge the company’s leaders to do all that they can to honor the Boeing name and to take all steps available to do right by the hard-working, talented people who build the world’s greatest airplanes here in Kansas.”

Wichita school dress code. The Wichita Eagle reports on a new dress code for teachers at USD 259, the Wichita public school district: “Mark Jolliffe, principal at Wilbur Middle School and president of the local administrators group, said the guidelines are intended to ‘enhance our professional position, and model for our students, staff and community’ the importance of professional dress.” Teachers continually complain that they are, in fact, professionals, but are not treated as such. I wonder: What does it say when you have to be told how to dress at work? What the community ought to be worried about is a school district that spends time on issues like this while students continue to receive a substandard education. … Furthermore, the mode of dress of schoolteachers ought to be something that parents decide through a market-based selection process. Those parents who believe that their children are best served by schools where the teachers dress nicely (and perhaps the students are in uniform) could choose schools like this, if we had school choice. Also, parents who believe their children would thrive in a more casual environment could select schools with this characteristic, but again, only if we had school choice.

Kansas legislator briefing book. A very useful publication produced by Kansas Legislative Research Department is now available in a 2012 edition. Its target is legislators, but anyone who is interested in understanding state government will find the 2012 Legislator Briefing Book useful. The section on education, for example, has an explanation of the Kansas school funding formula, complete with descriptions and values for the weightings that determine how much state funding districts receive.

Velvet Revolution voice has died. “Vaclav Havel, the playwright who led the Velvet Revolution that ended communism in Czechoslovakia, has died at 75. … Vaclav Havel helped Czechoslovakia make the transition from one of the most repressive Communist regimes to one of the most successful post-Communist countries.” More from David Boaz at Vaclav Havel, RIP.

Open records in Wichita. “The Wichita City Council approved a $2 million payment to the city’s convention and visitors’ bureau, GO Wichita, despite objections to the lack of transparency in how GO Wichita handles taxpayer money. The Kansas Open Records Act requires that entities receiving public money be subject to the law’s transparency provisions, but one of these provisions states that if such an organization files an annual financial statement, it has complied with the law. At issue is whether a one- or two-page financial report listing total revenues and expenditures can substitute for public access to more detailed records regarding specific expenditures of public funds.” More from Paul Sourtar of Kansas Watchdog at City of Wichita Spends $2 million, Rebuffs Citizen’s Transparency Request.

Cellulosic ethanol. The Wall Street Journal notes the debacle of cellulosic ethanol production and government involvement. This is ethanol produced from “wood chips and stalks or switch grass,” said President George W. Bush in 2006, also stating that “Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years.” So what has happened? “When these mandates were established, no companies produced commercially viable cellulosic fuel. But the dream was: If you mandate and subsidize it, someone will build it. Guess what? Nobody has. Despite the taxpayer enticements, this year cellulosic fuel production won’t be 250 million or even 25 million gallons. Last year the Environmental Protection Agency, which has the authority to revise the mandates, quietly reduced the 2011 requirement by 243.4 million gallons to a mere 6.6 million. Some critics suggest that even much of that 6.6 million isn’t true cellulosic fuel.” … the Journal cites a recent report by National Academy of Sciences that states “currently, no commercially viable biorefineries exist for converting cellulosic biomass to fuel.” The $132.4 million loan guarantee for a cellulosic plant near Hugoton in southwest Kansas is noted. (More about that at Kansas and its own Solyndra.) … Concluding, the Journal writes: “To recap: Congress subsidized a product that didn’t exist, mandated its purchase though it still didn’t exist, is punishing oil companies for not buying the product that doesn’t exist, and is now doubling down on the subsidies in the hope that someday it might exist. We’d call this the march of folly, but that’s unfair to fools.” See The Cellulosic Ethanol Debacle.

Overcriminilization. A new paper from Paul Larkin of of Heritage Foundation reports on the difficulties facing legislative solutions to the problem of overcriminilization. The abstract of the paper Overcriminalization: The Legislative Side of the Problem reads: “The past 75 years in America have witnessed an avalanche of new criminal laws, the result of which is a problem known as “overcriminalization.” This phenomenon is likely to lead to a variety of problems for a public trying to comply with the law in good faith. While many of these issues have already been discussed, one problem created by the overcriminalization of American life has not been given the same prominence as others: the fact that overcriminalization is a cause for (and a symptom of) some of the collective action problems that beset Congress today. Indeed, Congress, for a variety of reasons discussed in this paper, is unlikely to serve as a brake on new, unwarranted criminal laws, let alone to jettison broad readings of those laws by the courts. Therefore, the key to curbing overcriminalization is the American public: It is the people who, if made aware of the legislative issues that enable overcriminalization, could begin to head off such laws before the momentum for their passage becomes overwhelming.” … The conclusion to the report emphasizes the role of the people: “The legislative dynamic is not likely to serve as a brake on new, unwarranted criminal laws, let alone to jettison broad readings of those laws by the courts. The public needs to head off such laws before the momentum for their passage becomes overwhelming. And that can happen only if the public is aware of the legislative side of this problem.”

No Wichita Pachyderm. This week and next week (December 23rd and 30th) the Wichita Pachyderm club will not meet due to the holidays. Upcoming speakers: On January 6th: David Kensinger, Chief of Staff to Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. … On January 13th: Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives Mike O’Neal, speaking on “The untold school finance story.” … On January 20th: Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn.

Stevens, Pachyderm President, honored. At last week’s meeting of the Wichita Pachyderm Club, President John Stevens received the “Tough Tusk Award.” In presenting the award, club Vice President John Todd remarked: “Once in awhile a local leader comes along who deserves recognition. From time to time The Wichita Pachyderm Club recognizes these special people. Today it is my pleasure to recognize one of our own who deserves special recognition. The Wichita Pachyderm Club awards committee would like to recognize our club President John Stevens as the recipient of our club’s ‘Tough Tusk Award’ as sponsored by the National Federation of Pachyderm Clubs. … He is a retired business owner who now spends his time volunteering with SCORE counseling small business owners and entrepreneurs. John also works as a community activist through his participation in city and neighborhood organizations. He is a past Wichita Park Board Commissioner and serves on boards and committees for Wichita Independent Neighborhoods. … In 2008 John was elected the precinct committeeman for the 101st precinct in Wichita. He has worked as a volunteer in local campaigns and has run as the Republican candidate for the 86th Kansas House of Representatives seat, concerned that Republican values, attitudes, and principles are not being represented in the 86th District. He continues to work toward having a Republican in the 86th House seat. … John has served as President of the Wichita Pachyderm Club for the past three years. Through the Pachyderm Club he is able to facilitate educating citizens about our government, our leaders and the Republican Party. … John says he is addicted to progress, and I can tell you that he works tirelessly for the betterment of The Wichita Pachyderm Club.” … I will add: Thank you, John Stevens, for a job well done.

Occupiers and crony capitalism. “They’re rightfully angry at what’s happening in the United States today. But unfortunately they have confused capitalism and crony capitalism, and they’ve misdiagnosed the cause of their frustration.” That’s Chris Coyne of George Mason University speaking of the Occupy Wall Street protesters. He explains in more detail in the following short video. This video is from LearnLiberty.org, a project of Institute for Humane Studies, and many other informative videos are available.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday December 16, 2011

Kansas school finance. Reactions to Kansas Governor Sam Brownback’s school finance plan are coming in. Dave Trabert, president of Kansas Policy Institute gives it a grade of “incomplete.” “It’s good to give districts more flexibility in deciding how to spend aid dollars and the formula may be easier to understand, but there is nothing in this plan to substantively address his laudable goals of raising student achievement. Excellence in Education requires laser-like focus on outcomes and those elements are missing from this plan. … Funding is important but that’s not what drives achievement. Total aid to Kansas schools increased from $3.1 billion in 1998 to $5.6 billion in 2011. Yet reading proficiency levels according to the U.S. Department of Education remain relatively unchanged at about 35%.” … Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), the teachers union, notes the good points: It anticipates no further cuts to K-12 Education funding. It allows maximum flexibility in addressing student needs by removing restrictions on spending on at-risk or bilingual students. It counts kindergartners as full time students. But, the bad, according to the union: It has a TABOR-like effect that permanently locks in school funding at the current inadequate level. TABOR refers to taxpayer bill of rights, plans that some states have to limit the rate of growth of government. … While the Brownback administration believes the plan should settle lawsuits aimed at forcing more spending on education, lawyers suing the state say “Without addressing the costs of what schools need to spend in order to get the kind of performance the 21st Century demands, it is a system doomed to failure. It doesn’t do what the Kansas Supreme Court and the Kansas Constitution requires and that is fund education based on its costs.”

No school choice for Kansas. The Brownback plan contains no mention of school choice programs of any kind, not even charter schools. The latter are possible in Kansas, but the law is stacked against their formation. School choice programs are increasing in popularity in many states, because they hold the strong possibility of better results for students and parents. Plus, as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice has found in its study Education by the Numbers: The Fiscal Effect of School Choice Programs, 1990-2006, school choice programs save money: “Every existing school choice program is at least fiscally neutral, and most produce a substantial savings.” Governor Brownback could have integrated a small school choice program into the school financing plan as a way to save money and provide greater freedom for students and parents. … In what the Wall Street Journal dubbed the The Year of School Choice, Republican governors across the nation have founded or expanded school choice programs. Wrote the Journal: “But choice is essential to driving reform because it erodes the union-dominated monopoly that assigns children to schools based on where they live. Unions defend the monopoly to protect jobs for their members, but education should above all serve students and the larger goal of a society in which everyone has an opportunity to prosper. This year’s choice gains are a major step forward, and they are due in large part to Republican gains in last fall’s elections combined with growing recognition by many Democrats that the unions are a reactionary force that is denying opportunity to millions. The ultimate goal should be to let the money follow the children to whatever school their parents want them to attend.” … But under governor Brownback’s leadership, this is not happening in Kansas.

Federal budget transparency. U.S. Representative Tim Huelskamp, who is in his first term representing the Kansas first district, this week expressed frustration with transparency involving the federal budget. “I appreciate the Congressman from Utah talking about transparency. The idea that just because we’re only shining some light on a particular aspect — on not on the whole process — to me that’s an argument we need more transparency on the whole process. I totally agree with that. The experience in my office in the last three days has been to make an attempt to find out what is in this Conference Committee report. It’s been three days, and at 12:37 am this morning that was posted online — 1,219 pages, not quite 11 hours ago. I’m a Member of Congress and I’m going to be expected to vote on that very quickly. There was an interesting quote in The Hill this morning. I don’t know who said it, but it quoted: ‘… [A]ppropriators are worried that the tactic could leave the omnibus text out in the public for too long, giving time for K Street lobbyists to attack it before it gets approved.’ I don’t care about the lobbyists. It’s my job. It’s a responsibility to my constituents. We need more transparency not less. We need more discussions of the tyranny of debt, not less. This type of legislation gives us that opportunity. It gives the American people more appropriately the opportunity to see what we are doing.” There is video of Huelskamp’s remarks.

Open records in Wichita. “A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to A Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.” That’s James Madison, framer of the First Amendment, 1822. Six of seven Wichita City Council members seem not to agree with Madison, and we have a city attorney who goes out of his way to block access to information that the public has a right to know. The City of Wichita’s attitude towards open records and government transparency will be a topic of discussion on this week’s edition of the KAKE Television public affairs program This Week in Kansas. That program airs in Wichita and western Kansas at 9:00 am Sundays on KAKE channel 10, and at 5:00 am Saturdays on WIBW channel 13 in Topeka.

Cell phone ban while driving. Sometimes regulating a behavior, even though it is dangerous, makes things even worse. “A news release from the Highway Loss Data Institute summarizes the finding of a new study: “It’s illegal to text while driving in most US states. Yet a new study by researchers at the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) finds no reductions in crashes after laws take effect that ban texting by all drivers. In fact, such bans are associated with a slight increase in the frequency of insurance claims filed under collision coverage for damage to vehicles in crashes. This finding is based on comparisons of claims in 4 states before and after texting ban, compared with patterns of claims in nearby states.” More at Texting bans haven’t worked.

Myths of the Great Depression. “Historian Stephen Davies names three persistent myths about the Great Depression. Myth #1: Herbert Hoover was a laissez-faire president, and it was his lack of action that lead to an economic collapse. Davies argues that in fact, Hoover was a very interventionist president, and it was his intervening in the economy that made matters worse. Myth #2: The New Deal ended the Great Depression. Davies argues that the New Deal actually made matters worse. In other countries, the Great Depression ended much sooner and more quickly than it did in the United States. Myth #3: World War II ended the Great Depression. Davies explains that military production is not real wealth; wars destroy wealth, they do not create wealth. In fact, examination of the historical data reveals that the U.S. economy did not really start to recover until after WWII was over.” This video is from LearnLiberty.org, a project of Institute for Humane Studies, and many other informative videos are available.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday December 14, 2011

Property rights in Wichita. At yesterday’s meeting of the Wichita City Council, the city approved its legislative agenda. The city incorporates the agenda of the League of Kansas Municipalities. One plank: “We support increased flexibility for local governments to use eminent domain for economic development purposes, including blight remediation, without seeking legislative approval.” Susan Estes of Americans for Prosperity appeared before the council, asking members to strike this provision, as the taking of property by eminent domain for the purposes of giving it to someone else is one of the worse violations of property rights and freedom. No council member was moved to make such a motion.

Importance of open records. In a press release from 2008, the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government noted the problems with open and transparent government in Kansas: “Kansas recently failed an open government test by the Better Government Association, an independent non-partisan government watchdog group based in Chicago. Among other things, the BGA researches solutions that promote transparency and accountability in government. ‘The threat today is real,’ said Randy Brown, executive director of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government. ‘We are seeing closed government problems popping up around the state. Some local governments are doing well. But for Kansans who understand that open government at all levels is essential to democracy, things are getting worse, not better.'” … Yesterday the Wichita City Council provided another example in how open and transparent government is not valued.

Wichita city news. The communications staff of the City of Wichita maintains a city news and announcements page. Staff has ample time (and a half-million dollar budget) to write articles covering — in detail — when carolers will be at the airport. But substantive news that the city is opposed to — say the successful filing of a petition challenging a Wichita city ordinance — doesn’t make it on this page.

Cronyism in America. The harm of crony capitalism is explained in a short video from Economic Freedom Project. Susan Dudley says this in the video: “Crony capitalism means that your success as an entrepreneur depends less on how well you meet your customers’, and more on how well you curry favor from the government. It’s a problem because it means that valuable resources — including the best and brightest minds — are diverted from productive uses towards unproductive seeking government favors.” … In its conclusion, the video sates: “Without special protections that can only be provided by an increasingly powerful government, big businesses would have to compete to earn their profits, instead of taking them straight from taxpayers. We all agree: Businesses should succeed or fail based on the value they provide to their consumers, not based on their ability to influence the political system. And that’s what happens in a free market.” … It should be noted that the economic development policies of Wichita are firmly rooted in crony capitalism.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday December 12, 2011

Kansas budget. The Kansas Policy Institute has produced a study looking at the future of the Kansas state budget. A press release states: “It’s no secret that KPERS and Medicaid costs have been growing, but many Kansans may be shocked to learn that those two items could soon consume nearly half of all Kansas State General Fund (SGF) revenue. In 1998, Medicaid and employee pension costs consumed 5.9% of SGF revenue and are budgeted at 24.2% of 2012 revenue. But, even if SGF revenue grows at a slightly-above-average annual rate of 3.5%, KPERS and Medicaid will account for somewhere between 34% and 45.1% of SGF revenue by 2023. … A new study from Kansas Policy Institute, “Major Structural Deficits Looming In Kansas,” projects General Fund spending under four spending scenarios and three revenue growth assumptions. Spending scenarios are based on alternate funding levels for KPERS, whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as ObamaCare) is implemented; the scenarios also assume that all other SGF spending continues at historic averages. Depending upon which variables occur (KPERS is funded at a 6% assumed rate of return, ObamaCare is implemented, or both), average annual revenue growth of 3.5% would produce SGF deficits totaling $275 million, $1.7 billion or nearly $5 billion over the next eleven years. … KPI President Dave Trabert summed up the analysis by saying, ‘Even sustained, record revenue growth would not prevent deficits unless ObamaCare is repealed and KPERS’ rosy 8% investment return assumption holds up.'” … The press release is at KPERS and Medicaid Poised to Drive Kansas Budget Off a Cliff, and the full study document at Major Structural Deficits Looming In Kansas.

Trade protectionism makes us poorer. The president of a large labor union is urging President Obama to not implement pending free trade agreements. Should we have free trade with other countries, or not? Richard W. Rahn explains, starting with the complexity of even the most humble and simple of consumer goods — the pencil — as highlighted in yesterday’s article: “As simple as a pencil is, it contains materials from all over the world (special woods, paint, graphite, metal for the band and rubber for the eraser) and requires specialized machinery. How much would it cost you to make your own pencils or even grow your own food? Trade means lower costs and better products, and the more of it the better. Adam Smith explained that trade, by increasing the size of the market for any good or service, allows the efficiencies of mass production, thus lowering the cost and the ultimate price to consumers. … It is easy to see the loss of 200 jobs in a U.S. textile mill that produces men’s T-shirts, but it is not as obvious to see the benefit from the fact that everyone can buy T-shirts for $2 less when they come from China, even though the cotton in the shirts was most likely grown in the United States. Real U.S. disposable income is increased when we spend less to buy foreign-made products because we are spending less to get more — and that increase in real income means that U.S. consumers can spend much more on U.S.-made computer equipment, air travel or whatever. … The benefits of trade are not always easy to see or quickly understand, and so it is no surprise that so many commentators, politicians, labor leaders and others get it wrong.”

A new day in politics? John Stossel writes about the new book The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, both of Reason, the libertarian magazine of “Free Minds and Free Markets.” Ssays Stossel: “‘Independence in politics means that you can actually dictate some of the terms to our overlords,’ Welch and Gillespie write, adding that we need independence not just in politics but from politics. Welch said, ‘When we look at the places where government either directly controls or heavily regulates things, like K-12 education, health care, retirement, things are going poorly.’ … It’s very different outside of government where — from culture to retail stores to the Internet — there’s been an explosion of choice. ‘(Y)ou were lucky … 20 years ago (if) you would see one eggplant in an exotic store,’ Welch continued. ‘Now in the crappiest supermarket in America you’ll see four or five or six varieties of eggplant, plus all types of different things. … (W)hen you get independent from politics, things are going great because people can experiment, they can innovate. … We should squeeze down the (number of) places where we need a consensus to the smallest area possible, because all the interesting stuff happens outside of that.'” … Stossel’s television show dedicated to this topic and the book authors is available on the free hulu service.

Harm of expanding government explained. Introducing his new book Back on the Road to Serfdom: The Resurgence of Statism, Thomas E. Woods, Jr. writes: “The economic consequences of an expanded government presence in American life are of course not the only outcomes to be feared, and this volume considers a variety of them. For one thing, as the state expands, it fosters the most antisocial aspects of man’s nature, particularly his urge to attain his goals with the least possible exertion. And it is much easier to acquire wealth by means of forcible redistribution by the state than by exerting oneself in the service of one’s fellow man. The character of the people thus begins to change; they expect as a matter of entitlement what they once hesitated to ask for as charity. That is the fallacy in the usual statement that ‘it would cost only $X billion to give every American who needs it’ this or that benefit. Once people realize the government is giving out a benefit for ‘free,’ more and more people will place themselves in the condition that entitles them to the benefit, thereby making the program ever more expensive. A smaller and smaller productive base will have to strain to provide for an ever-larger supply of recipients, until the system begins to buckle and collapse.” … Phrases like “smaller and smaller productive base” apply in Wichita, where our economic development policies like tax increment financing, community improvement districts, and tax abatement through industrial revenue bonds excuse groups of taxpayers from their burdens, leaving a smaller group of people to pay the costs of government.

Youthful senator to speak. This Friday (December 16th) the Wichita Pachyderm Club presents Kansas Senator Garrett Love. The youthful legislator, just completing his first year in office, will be speaking on “Young people in politics.” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club. … Upcoming speakers: … On December 23rd there will be no meeting. On December 30th there will be no meeting. … On January 6th: David Kensinger, Chief of Staff to Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. … On January 13th: Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives Mike O’Neal, speaking on “The untold school finance story.” … On January 20th: Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn.

Markets: exploitation or empowerment? Do markets lead to a centralization of political and economic power, or do markets decentralize and disseminate wealth? In an eight-minute video from LearnLiberty.org, a project of Institute for Humane Studies, Antony Davies presents evidence and concludes that markets and free trade empower individuals rather than exploit them.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday December 9, 2011

Ethanol subsidy. According to Wichita Eagle reporting, the head of an ethanol trade group says the subsidy for ethanol will likely disappear after January 1, but the change might be good for the industry. It has to do with image, said the speaker. The subsidy the speaker mentioned is in the form of a tax credit, and is one of the programs that would be eliminated by proposed legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo of Wichita. His bill would end tax credits for all forms of energy. … The production tax credit is just one of three government interventions that benefit ethanol. Besides the tax credit, we should also ask for the end of mandates for ethanol use, and an end to the tariff on imported ethanol. We also need to ask for the end of interventions aimed at benefiting the cellulosic ethanol industry, like the $132.4 million loan guarantee for such a plant in Kansas.

Cronyist Warren Buffet. “Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings company has agreed to buy a giant, 550-megawatt photovoltaic farm currently under construction in San Luis Obispo County for $2 billion, giving a huge boost to the solar industry that could spur investment by other major players.” Concludes John Hinderaker of Powerline Blog: “Meanwhile, I am warming up to the idea that Warren Buffett should pay more in taxes. I would settle for just getting his federal subsidies back.” More at Crony Capitalism, Episode #…What Are We Up To Now?

Natural gas subsidies for Pickens. While on the topic of energy and harmful subsidies, Timothy P. Carney of the Washington Examiner provides an update on H.R. 1380: New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act of 2011, or NATGAS act. The bill provides a variety of subsidies, implemented through tax credits, to producers and users of natural gas. The goal is to promote the use of natural gas as the fuel the nation uses for transportation. … Carney explains the personal financial of the bill’s backer, energy investor T. Boone Pickens. He holds options on 15 million shares of a company known as Clean Energy Fuels. These options expire on December 28th, and their value would skyrocket if the NATGAS bill can pass by then. … Carney notes the opposition to this bill from Wichita-based Koch Industries. As a large producer of fertilizer, the price of a key input — natural gas — would likely increase if NATGAS passes. But we all ought to worry about increases in the price of fertilizer, which would like lead to higher grocery prices. These price increases harm low income families hardest.

Planning grant to be topic of meeting. On Monday December 12th Americans for Prosperity Foundation will feature Sedgwick County Commission Member Richard Ranzau speaking on the topic “The $1.5 million dollar Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP) HUD Sustainable Development Planning Grant: Economic Development or Economic Destruction?” Some background on this item may be found at Sedgwick County considers a planning grant. This free event is from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at the Lionel D. Alford Library located at 3447 S. Meridian in Wichita. The library is just north of the I-235 exit on Meridian. For more information on this event contact John Todd at john@johntodd.net or 316-312-7335, or Susan Estes, AFP Field Director at sestes@afphq.org or 316-681-4415.

Tilting at wind turbines. “Switching from conventional sources of electricity like coal and natural gas to renewables like wind and solar, our elected leaders tell us, will reduce pollution, advance renewable technology and spark a green jobs revolution. Is renewable energy really a green pathway to a brighter economic future? Or is it nothing more than a heavily subsidized impossible dream?” Reason TV takes a look at wind energy in the video Tilting at Wind Turbines: Should the Government Subsidize Renewable Energy? Locally, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer promotes manufacturing of wind power machinery as good for Wichita’s economic development, and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback supports renewable energy standards for Kansas.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday December 7, 2011

Wichita petitions. At yesterday’s meeting of the Wichita City Council, the invocation featured a Bible verse that contained the phrase “Petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be offered for those in authority.” I don’t think the speaker was aware of the irony, since petitions were delivered to city hall just the day before. These petitions seek to overturn an action of the city council, and city leaders are not pleased that citizens took to the streets to gather signatures in opposition to the council’s action.

Petitions being contested. Speaking of petitions, the developers of the Ambassador Hotel are calling those who signed the petition and asking them to rescind their signature. The signers are being read a script that claims a study by Wichita State University indicates that 978 jobs will be created by the project. At the time the hotel developers persuaded the Wichita City Council and other governmental units to grant them over $15 million in taxpayer subsidy, they claimed the project would create 100 to 120 jobs. More reporting by Bill Wilson of the Wichita Eagle at Clash over hotel incentives heating up. … Work started and continues on the hotel even though the subsidy targeted by the petition is in doubt, so it appears the hotel will open — and jobs be created — no matter what happens to the petition.

AFP statement on peitition. “Activists with Americans for Prosperity and many other local organizations are firmly engaged in the public process, acting on our right to ask for a public vote on how our city doles out tax dollars to private interests,” said Susan Estes, AFP-Kansas grassroots coordinator and Wichita resident. “Certainly the opposition in this matter is acting on its right to fight our efforts. “However, from what we have heard from some of the recipients of recent phone calls, the actions of our opposition seem desperate, insulting and even intimidating to some. We find it interesting that an entity so concerned about receiving public incentives is so against allowing the public to vote on one portion of the approved incentive package. Great lengths are being taken — and at great expense — to prevent Wichitans from voting, even going so far as to have individuals from Colorado calling petition signers to sway their opinion about a Wichita issue.” … “The signature gathering process has simply been about one thing: providing the people of Wichita an opportunity to express support or opposition to this type of public tax policy. A campaign would allow both proponents and opponents to share their message with the people of Wichita. We believe his would be a healthy debate for our community. One that is needed, one that we hoped would be embraced by all. We are not afraid of this public debate, but apparently some are.”

Smart Taxpayers Exposing Waste. An initiative of the American Beverage Association is exposing ways in which government is spending money to run attack ads on the beverage industry. The claim is that $230 million of federal stimulus money has been spent in this way. The Facebook page, located at Smart Taxpayers Exposing Waste (STEW), holds many examples.

Planning grant to be topic of meeting. On Monday December 12th Americans for Prosperity Foundation will feature Sedgwick County Commission Member Richard Ranzau speaking on the topic “The $1.5 million dollar Regional Economic Area Partnership (REAP) HUD Sustainable Development Planning Grant: Economic Development or Economic Destruction?” Some background on this item may be found at Sedgwick County considers a planning grant. This free event is from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at the Lionel D. Alford Library located at 3447 S. Meridian in Wichita. The library is just north of the I-235 exit on Meridian. For more information on this event contact John Todd at john@johntodd.net or 316-312-7335, or Susan Estes, AFP Field Director at sestes@afphq.org or 316-681-4415.

Kansas history writer to speak. This Friday (December 9th) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Beccy Tanner, Kansas history writer and reporter for The Wichita Eagle, speaking on “The Kansas Sesquicentennial (150th) Anniversary.” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club. … Upcoming speakers: On December 16: Kansas Senator Garrett Love. The youthful legislator, just completing his first year in office, will be speaking on “Young people in politics.” … On December 23 there will be no meeting. The status of the December 30th meeting is undetermined at this time. … On January 6: David Kensinger, Chief of Staff to Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. … On January 13: Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives Mike O’Neal, speaking on “The untold school finance story.” … On January 20: Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn.

Wichita City Council. Some video from this week’s meeting of the Wichita City Council. First, my discussion of tax increment financing (TIF) districts. Then, click here for Clinton Coen and Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer’s discussion. Under the mayor’s leadership, things disintegrate. Finally, former council member Jim Skelton returns to Wichita city council chambers.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday December 2, 2011

Wichita trip to Ghana. KAKE Television reports that Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer believes the recent trip to Africa by him and others may result in sales of beef and airplanes. I wonder, though: don’t marketers of beef and airplanes know about Africa already? And who has the greater motive to sell, not to mention knowledge about the products that might meet African customers’ needs: sales reps for these companies, or politicians? … The most telling indication that this trip is more junket than anything else is that Brewer and Vice Mayor Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast and east Wichita) paid for their own airfare. If this trip was truly good for the city, the city should pay all expenses for those who go, just as companies pay legitimate travel expenses for their employees.

Register of Deeds returns funds. At this week’s meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission Register of Deeds Bill Meek returned $200,000 in unspent funds from his office. These unspent funds may be used by other county offices for “equipment or technological services relating to the land or property records filed or maintained by Sedgwick County,” according to the resolution passed by commissioners.

Transaction fee, or interest? At the same commission meeting, there was discussion on the topic of the county charging extra fees for paying money to the county using credit cards. During the discussion, Commissioner Jim Skelton speculated that, depending on the card you have, there will be “$50 to $250 or more on interest” each month. The commissioner may not have heard that if you pay the entire statement balance each month, there won’t be any interest charges.

This is a cut? In Republicans Take an Ax to Government, David Boaz writes: “Sort of. Two million dollars. Two million dollars. That’s what the Washington Post sees as ‘shrinking government.’ I’m guessing the Post doesn’t often run a story when a governor does something that “expands government” by $2 million. But Virginia has a reputation for fiscal conservatism. Maybe $2 million is actually a big chunk of the state’s budget. Let’s check the numbers. As it turns out, this week the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers put out a report on state finances, and it showed that Virginia’s general fund spending is up 7.1 percent in 2012. And according to Virginia’s own budget, that’s an increase of $1.1 billion in FY2012. That’s not the whole budget, by the way. In addition to the $16 billion in General Fund spending, Virginia will also spend $23 billion in FY2012. ”

Tax incentives questioned. In a commentary in Site Selection Magazine, Daniel Levine lays out the case that tax incentives that states use to lure or keep jobs are harmful, and the practice should end. In Incentives and the Interstate Competition for Jobs he writes: “Despite overwhelming evidence that state and local tax incentives are having little to no positive effect on promoting real economic growth anywhere in the country, states continue to up the ante with richer and richer incentive programs. … there are real questions as to whether the interstate competition for jobs is a wise use of anyone’s tax dollars and, if not, then what can be done to at least slow down this zero sum game?” As a solution, Levine proposes that the Internal Revenue Service classify some types of incentives as taxable income to the recipient, which would reduce the value and the attractiveness of the offer. Levine also correctly classifies tax credits — like the historical preservation tax credits in Kansas — as spending programs in disguise: “Similarly, when a ‘tax credit’ can be sold or transferred if unutilized it ceases to have a meaningful connection to state tax liability. Instead, in such circumstances the award of tax credit is merely a delivery mechanism for state subsidy.” In the end, the problem — when recognized as such — always lies with the other guy: “Most state policy makers welcome an opportunity to offer large cash incentives to out-of-state companies considering a move to their state but fume with indignation when a neighboring state uses the same techniques against them.”

Golden geese on the move. Thomas Sowell: “The latest published data from the 2010 census show how people are moving from place to place within the United States. In general, people are voting with their feet against places where the liberal, welfare-state policies favored by the intelligentsia are most deeply entrenched.” Sowell notes that blacks, especially those young and educated, are moving to the South and suburbs. “Among blacks who moved, the proportions who were in their prime — from 20 to 40 years of age — were greater than in the black population at large, and college degrees were more common among them than in the black population at large. In short, with blacks, as with other racial or ethnic groups, those with better prospects are leaving the states that are repelling their most productive citizens in general with liberal policies.” Detroit, he writes is “the most striking example of a once-thriving city ruined by years of liberal social policies.” Finally, a lesson for all states, including Kansas: “Treating businesses and affluent people as prey, rather than assets, often pays off politically in the short run — and elections are held in the short run. Killing the goose that lays the golden egg is a viable political strategy.” (Mass Migration Of America’s Golden Geese.) The migration statistics concerning Kansas are not favorable, although some are trending in a better direction.

Rep. Hedke, author of new book, to speak. This Friday (December 2nd) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Kansas Representative Dennis Hedke speaking on “Energy and environmental policy.” Hedke is the author of the just-published book The Audacity of Freedom, described as an “unequivocal challenge to the Socialist-Marxist-Communist principles being pushed upon freedom loving Americans by entities and individuals both within and outside the United States.” In his forward to the book, Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives Mike O’Neal writes: “Dennis Hedke’s The Audacity of Freedom is a timely and welcome “from the heart” wake-up call for those who value freedom and America. Unapologetically, Hedke does not mince words in describing the combination of crises that threaten our country. His irrefutable and precise recitation of compelling facts and refreshingly candid faith and patriotism are infectious. He exhorts us not to stand by and suffer any longer the fools who have been insulting our collective intelligence and bringing us dangerously close to a socialistic irrelevance in the world. His book, in short, is important.” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club. … Upcoming speakers: On December 9: Beccy Tanner, Kansas history writer and reporter for The Wichita Eagle, speaking on “The Kansas Sesquicentennial (150th) Anniversary.” … On December 16: David Kensinger, Chief of Staff to Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. … On December 23 there will be no meeting. The status of the December 30th meeting is undetermined at this time. … On January 6: Kansas Senator Garrett Love. … On January 13: Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives Mike O’Neal, speaking on “The untold school finance story.” … on January 20: Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn.

Economic freedom in America: The decline, and what it means. “The U.S.’s gains in economic freedom made over 20 years have been completely erased in just nine.” Furthermore, our economic freedom is still dropping, to the point where we now rank below Canada. The result is slow growth in the private sector economy and persistent high unemployment. This is perhaps the most important takeaway from a short new video from Economic Freedom Project, which is a project of the Charles Koch Institute. The video explains that faster growth in government spending causes slower growth in the private economy. This in turn has lead to the persistent high unemployment that we are experiencing today. … To view the video at the Economic Freedom Project site, click on Episode Two: Economic Freedom in America Today. Or, click on the YouTube video below.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday November 28, 2011

FHA risk. Today a Wall Street Journal Review & Outlook piece notes a government housing agency that has deteriorating finances. From What Housing Risk? The FHA says there’s nothing for taxpayers to worry about. Oh-oh. “Mr. Gyourko notes that while the FHA’s loan exposure has grown to more than $1 trillion this fiscal year from $305 billion at the end of 2007, the agency hasn’t “increased its capital reserves commensurately.” Sure enough, the Department of Housing and Urban Development recently reported that the FHA’s capital reserves are 0.24%, a far cry from the 2% statutory minimum.” The FHA itself disagrees, saying its books are “sound.” … FHA wants to expand into offering prime loans, the mortgages made to people with good credit, and it has been doing that. But this is an area that is served by traditional, private sector lenders, and now a government agency wants to compete. … Concluding, the Journal writes: “Far from making ‘spurious’ claims, Mr. Gyourko is doing a public service by chronicling the FHA’s reckless expansion at a time when the housing market needs less government intervention, not more of it. The fury of the FHA’s response shows that he’s onto something.”

Boeing in Wichita. The Wichita Eagle runs down the details on the possible exit of Boeing from Wichita in Analysts: Loss of Boeing would hurt city, region. A few points of discussion: Is Boeing raising the possibility of departure as a ploy for economic incentives? … “With looming defense budget cuts, the threat of plant closures makes politicians more aware of what’s at stake, he [aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia] said. It will help Boeing win allies in Congress working against the cuts.” He also mentioned the “threats of defense cuts.” But we ought to be welcoming cuts in defense spending. It means that resources will be freed for other things that people really want. … I also wonder: Are aerial refueling tankers a relic of a different era of warfare, the Cold War? And is defense spending a good economic development policy for Wichita, or any city?

Wichita City Council. Wichita City Council will not meet this week, as it is the fifth Tuesday of a month. … Next week’s meeting will take up a proposal by Southfork Investment LLC, a group headed by Jay Maxwell, asking for the formation of a new tax increment financing (TIF) district. … According to city documents, the project is near 47th Street South and I-135. It is planned for 50 acres and one million square feet of retail, hotel, restaurants and office space. For comparison, Towne East Square has slightly less than 1.2 million square feet of space. There will be a medical park on an additional 22 acres. … It appears that all the TIF financing will be pay-as-you go, which is a recent revision to the Kansas TIF law. No bonds would be sold. Instead, the increment in property tax would be refunded to the developer as it is paid. There’s also a joining of TIF and special assessments, where TIF revenue will be used to pay special assessment taxes. … Only a simply majority vote is needed to form the TIF district after the December 6 public hearing. There will have to be redevelopment plans approved after that, and those require a two-thirds majority.

Harm of public-sector unions. “Mr. Siegel observes that public-sector unions have ‘become a vanguard movement within liberalism. And the reason for that is it’s the public sector that comes closest to the statist ideals of McGovern and post-McGovern liberals. And that is, there’s no connection between effort and reward. You’re guaranteed your job. You’re guaranteed your salary increase. There’s a kind of bureaucratic equality.’ In turn, he continues, ‘this vanguard becomes in the eyes of many liberals the model for the middle class. Public-sector unions are what all workers should be like. Their benefits are the kind of benefits everyone should get.'” … Much more in the Wall Street Journal at The New Tammany Hall: The historian of the American city on what Wall Street and the ‘Occupy’ movement have in common, and how government unions came to dominate state and local politics.

Rep. Hedke, author of new book, to speak. This Friday (December 2nd) the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Kansas Representative Dennis Hedke speaking on “Energy and environmental policy.” Hedke is the author of the just-published book The Audacity of Freedom, described as an “unequivocal challenge to the Socialist-Marxist-Communist principles being pushed upon freedom loving Americans by entities and individuals both within and outside the United States.” In his forward to the book, Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives Mike O’Neal writes: “Dennis Hedke’s The Audacity of Freedom is a timely and welcome “from the heart” wake-up call for those who value freedom and America. Unapologetically, Hedke does not mince words in describing the combination of crises that threaten our country. His irrefutable and precise recitation of compelling facts and refreshingly candid faith and patriotism are infectious. He exhorts us not to stand by and suffer any longer the fools who have been insulting our collective intelligence and bringing us dangerously close to a socialistic irrelevance in the world. His book, in short, is important.” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club. … Upcoming speakers: On December 9: Beccy Tanner, Kansas history writer and reporter for The Wichita Eagle, speaking on “The Kansas Sesquicentennial (150th) Anniversary.” … On December 16: David Kensinger, Chief of Staff to Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. … On December 23 there will be no meeting. The status of the December 30th meeting is undetermined at this time. … On January 6: Kansas Senator Garrett Love. … On January 13: Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives Mike O’Neal, speaking on “The untold school finance story.” … on January 20: Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn.

Even quicker. Brownback prepares K-12 funding overhaul … Brownback tweet tattling a national story. Example from CNN: The girl who dared to tweet about Gov. Brownback. … The Chevy Volt: Detroit’s Hottest Car: “Industry watchers are preparing for the Volt to undergo a recall to fix whatever problem the car’s lithium-ion battery pack has that seems to be causing the vehicles to spontaneously burst into flames.” … The Bipartisan War on Liberty: “Liberal and conservative elites agree on one thing: Americans are too free for their own good.” … FDA Considers Mandatory Salt Reductions: “As I noted last month in a Cato podcast with interviewer Caleb Brown, the FDA’s new initiative plunges it deeper into social engineering than it has gone in the past. It’s one thing to limit adulteration or contamination of foods, or the use of mysterious chemical additives; it is another to order the reformulation of recipes to reduce intake of a substance that 1) occurs naturally in virtually all foods; 2) is beneficial to health in many circumstances; and 3) has been sought out and purposely added to the human diet through recorded history.” … Camera experiments to start soon in federal courts in Kansas.

Myth of spending cuts. Nick Gillespie of Reason says that only by “obscuring and obfuscating basic math” can we be told there will be spending cuts.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday November 23, 2011

Standing up for fundamental liberties. A particularly troubling objection that those who advocate for liberty face is that we want to deny freedom and liberty to others — as if the quantity of liberty is fixed, and I can have more only if you have less. This is the type of false accusation that leftists make against Wichita-based Koch Industries. In this excerpt from the company’s Koch Facts page, the work that Koch does to advance liberty for everyone is explained: “Throughout Koch’s long-standing record of public advocacy, we have been strong and steadfast supporters of individual liberties and freedoms. These values permeate all that we do as a company and every part of our public outreach. We help fund public and school-based educational programs across the country in an effort to increase citizens’ understanding of the relationship between economic liberty and democracy. We support voter registration efforts in the communities where we live and work, and for our tens of thousands of employees. We support civil rights programs through numerous organizations. We also help build entrepreneurial initiatives that foster the fundamental reality that economic freedom creates prosperity for everyone, especially the poor, in our society. … For many years, we have directly contributed to Urban League, Andrew Young Foundation, Martin Luther King Center, Latin American Association, 100 Black Men, Morehouse College, United Negro College Fund, and dozens of other worthy organizations pursuing similar civic missions. We founded and continue to support Youth Entrepreneurs in schools throughout Kansas, Missouri and Atlanta. This year-long course teaches high school students from all walks of life the business and entrepreneurial skills needed to help them prosper and become contributing members of society. … Many of the attacks against Koch in recent months are cynical posturing at best and deliberate falsehoods divorced from reality at worst. For proof, look no further than the false claim from groups like SEIU that we are somehow trying to suppress the right to vote. … Our freedom as individual Americans relies on the ability to hold the government accountable through the direct exercise of voting rights and the exercise of other individual liberties. We are unwavering in our commitment to these rights and we stand firmly behind our track record in defending them.”

Private property saved the Pilgrims. At Thanksgiving time, the Economic Freedom Project reminds us how an early American experiment with socialism failed miserably, and how private property rights and free enterprise saved the day. See So, Is That My Corn or Yours?

Did Grover Norquist derail the Supercommittee? To hear some analysts, you’d think that Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform is responsible for no deal emerging from the United States Congress Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the “Supercommittee”). It’s ATR’s pledge to not increase taxes that is blamed, so they say. All members of the Kansas Congressional Delegation except Kevin Yoder signed the pledge. Paul Jacob is thankful for Norquist and that a tax increase was averted.

Drive-through petition signing. From Americans for Prosperity, Kansas: The Wichita area chapter of the free-market grassroots group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and other local groups have been working to collect signatures for a petition to put the hotel guest tax ordinance to a public vote. Volunteers will be collecting signatures this weekend during a “drive-thru” petition signing Friday, Saturday and Sunday at two Wichita hotels. Wichita activists are continuing their efforts to collect signatures for a petition to put the hotel guest tax ordinance to a public vote. Registered voters simply drive up to the listed locations and volunteers will bring a petition out to them. The times are from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Friday and Saturday (Nov. 25 and 26), and 12:00 noon to 5:00 pm Sunday (Nov. 27). The locations are Wichita Inn East (8220 E. Kellogg Dr.) and Best Western Airport Inn (6815 W. Kellogg/US-54).

Job creation. Governments often fall prey to the job creation trap — that the goal of economic development is to create jobs. We say this today in Wichita where several labor union leaders appeared before the Sedgwick County Commission to encourage the county to grant a subsidy to Bombardier Learjet. The labor leaders, naturally, pleaded for jobs. To them, and to most of our political and bureaucratic leaders, the more jobs created, the better. Our business leaders don’t do any better understanding the difference between capitalism and business. In his introduction to the recently-published book The Morality of Capitalism, Tom G. Palmer writes: “Capitalism is not just about building stuff , in the way that socialist dictators used to exhort their slaves to ‘Build the Future!’ Capitalism is about creating value, not merely working hard or making sacrifices or being busy. Those who fail to understand capitalism are quick to support ‘job creation’ programs to create work. They have misunderstood the point of work, much less the point of capitalism. In a much-quoted story, the economist Milton Friedman was shown the construction on a massive new canal in Asia. When he noted that it was odd that the workers were moving huge amounts of earth and rock with small shovels, rather than earth moving equipment, he was told ‘You don’t understand; this is a jobs program.’ His response: ‘Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If you’re seeking to create jobs, why didn’t you issue them spoons, rather than shovels?” … After describing crony capitalism — the type practiced in Wichita, Sedgwick County, and Kansas, with deals like the complete funding by taxpayers of the Bombardier LearJet facility, Palmer explains: “Such corrupt cronyism shouldn’t be confused with ‘free-market capitalism,’ which refers to a system of production and exchange that is based on the rule of law, on equality of rights for all, on the freedom to choose, on the freedom to trade, on the freedom to innovate, on the guiding discipline of profits and losses, and on the right to enjoy the fruits of one’s labors, of one’s savings, of one’s investments, without fearing confiscation or restriction from those who have invested, not in production of wealth, but in political power.”

Experts. David Freedman and John Stossel discuss experts, our reliance on them, the political advocacy that’s often involved, and how often experts are wrong.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Tuesday November 22, 2011

Ghana junket. A reader writes with information and opinion about the trip by Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and Vice Mayor Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast and east Wichita) to Ghana, Africa: “I found it interesting that the City Council $15,000 plus junket to Ghana was first advertised as a Sister City recruitment trip (And after the Police Chief and others were identified) the trip mission changed to Economic Development. I have no idea how Ghana can help us when 56% of their economy is agricultural and in 2002 the government opted for debt relief under the “Heavily Indebted Poor Country Program.”Tomorrow night the Ambassador of South Africa is visiting Wichita and making a presentation on Economic Development to the World Trade Council at the Marriott East in order to hopefully partner with Wichita in future economic development projects. So the point is this: South Africa has a GDP of $527.5 billion and is coming to us for economic development (they import machine and equipment), and the mayor is spending thousands of dollars to visit Ghana, a country with a $38.24 billion GDP and mostly agricultural. Finally, foreign governments that invited American delegations always provide security if there is a need for it.”

Kansas job recovery seen as slow. From Kansas Reporter: “IHS Global Insight, a Lexington, Mass., business information and forecasting firm, calculated that at the pace jobs are being created or recovered now, Kansas workers will not regain the more than 90,000 lost since April 2008 until the end of 2014.” More at Full Kansas jobs recovery remains three years away, forecasters say.

Village West defaults. The Legends at Village West, a huge shopping development in Kansas City near the Kansas Speedway, has defaulted on its loan. According to reporting in Commercial Real Estate Direct, the property never met its cash flow projections, topping out at $10.3 million per year in 2008. The loan assumed it would generate $11.1 million. Since 2008 cash flow has fallen. The public policy interest is that this facility, along with the nearby racetrack, received millions in sales tax (STAR) bond financing, to be repaid by taxpayers through sales tax collections.

No Pachyderm this week. Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, the Wichita Pachyderm Club will not meet on Friday. Upcoming speakers: On December 2: Kansas Representative Dennis Hedke speaking on “Energy and environmental policy.” … On December 9: Beccy Tanner, Kansas history writer and reporter for The Wichita Eagle, speaking on “The Kansas Sesquicentennial (150th) Anniversary.” … On December 16: David Kensinger, Chief of Staff to Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. … On December 23 there will be no meeting. The status of the December 30th meeting is undetermined at this time. … On January 6: Kansas Senator Garrett Love. … On January 13: Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives Mike O’Neal, speaking on “The untold school finance story.” … on January 20: Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Thursday November 10, 2011

Occupy Wall Street. One of the most troubling things about OWS is the anti-semitism. FreedomWorks has a video which explains. Also from FreedomWorks, president Matt Kibbe contributes a piece for the Wall Street Journal (Occupying vs. Tea Partying: Freedom and the foundations of moral behavior.). In it, he concludes: “Progressives’ burning desire to create a tea party of the left may be clouding their judgment. Even Mr. Jones has grudgingly conceded that tea partiers have out-crowd-sourced, out-organized, and out-performed the most sophisticated community organizers on the left. ‘Here’s the irony,’ he said back in July. ‘They talk rugged individualist, but they act collectively.’ He and his colleagues don’t seem to understand that communities can’t exist without respect for individual freedom. They can’t imagine how it is that millions of people located in disparate places with unique knowledge of their communities and circumstances can voluntarily cooperate and coordinate, creating something far greater and more valuable than any one individual could have done alone. In the world of the contemporary Western left, someone needs to be in charge — a benevolent bureaucrat who knows better than you do. They can’t help but build hierarchical structures — a General Assembly perhaps — because they don’t understand how freedom works.”

Johnson Controls. Rhonda Holman’s recent Wichita Eagle editorial criticized those who spoke against the award of a forgivable loan to Johnson Controls, specifically mentioning the claim by Sedgwick County Commissioner Richard Ranzau that Johnson was going to move these jobs to Wichita “no matter what.” No one has disputed Ranzau. I specifically asked at the commission meeting that someone from Johnson address this assessment. The Johnson people in the audience chose not to answer. It would be helpful if someone at the newspaper or county at least pretended as through they cared about the truth of these matters. … At one time newspapers might have objected to Commission member Jim Skelton voting on this matter due to a family member working at Johnson. True, Kansas law says he was eligible to vote on the matter. Sedgwick County has no code of ethics that prohibited it, either. But Skelton could have acted as though the county had a code of ethics, and a model code of ethics says Skelton should not have voted on this matter.

Save-A-Lot store opens. Yesterday a Save-A-Lot grocery store opened in Wichita’s Planeview neighborhood. This is a store that was said to be impossible to build without subsidy in the form of tax increment financing (TIF) and an extra community improvement district (CID) sales tax of two cents per dollar. The Sedgwick County Commission exercised its veto power over the TIF district, and developer developer Rob Snyder canceled his plans for the store. But someone else found a way. Said Snyder at the time to the Wichita City Council: “We have researched every possible way, how do we make this project work with the existing funding that’s available to us. … We might as well say if for some reason we can’t figure out how to get this funding to go through, there won’t be a shopping center over there.” As part of his presentation to the council Allen Bell, Wichita’s Director of Urban Development explained that to be eligible for TIF, developers must demonstrate a “gap,” that is, an analytical finding that conventional financing is not sufficient for the project, and public assistance is required: “We’ve done that. We know, for example, from the developer’s perspective in terms of how much they will make in lease payments from the Save-A-Lot operator, how much that is, and how much debt that will support, and how much funds the developer can raise personally for this project. That has, in fact, left a gap, and these numbers that you’ve seen today reflect what that gap is.” … This episode has severely harmed the credibility of those who plead for incentives and subsidies, and also of the city hall bureaucrats who plead their cases for them. For more see For Wichita, Save-A-Lot teaches a lesson.

Teacher pay. A look at public school teacher pay by American Enterprise Institute finds that — opposite of the myth spread by school spending advocates — teachers are paid much more than they could earn in the private sector. While teachers are paid less than private sector workers with similar college degree attainment, the course of study for teachers is less demanding than most other fields. Fringe benefits for teachers are much higher than for private sector workers. Job security, even in the face of recent layoffs, is much greater for teachers and has a value: “Consider that one-fifth of the highest-performing public school teachers in Washington, D.C., recently declined to give up even part of their job security in exchange for base salary increases of up to $20,000.” … The authors note the study is based on averages: “Our research is in terms of averages. The best public school teachers — especially those teaching difficult subjects such as math and science — may well be underpaid compared to counterparts in the private sector.” But teachers have formed unions that ensure that all teachers are paid the same without regard to ability. See Public School Teachers Aren’t Underpaid: Our research suggests that on average — counting salaries, benefits and job security — teachers receive about 52% more than they could in private business. … Naturally, the best way to set teacher salaries is through voluntary exchange in markets. That doesn’t happen with public school teachers.

Ranzau, Skelton to speak. This week’s meeting (November 11th) of the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Sedgwick County Commission Members Richard Ranzau and Jim Skelton, speaking on “What its like to be a new member of the Sedgwick County Board of County commissioners?” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club. … Upcoming speakers: On November 18th: Delores Craig-Moreland, Ph.D., Wichita State University, speaking on “Systemic reasons why our country has one of the highest jail and prison incarceration rates in the world? Are all criminals created equal?” … On November 25th there will be no meeting.

Making economics come alive. On Monday November 14th Americans for Prosperity Foundation will show the video “Making Economics Come Alive” with John Stossel. Topics included in this presentation are Economics of Property Rights, Private Ownership and Conservation, Property Rights and the Status of Native Americans, Atlas Shrugged: Selfishness and the Economics of Exchange, Economics and the Military Draft, Regulation and Unintended Consequences, Regulation: Louisiana Florist, The Unintended Consequences of the Ethanol Subsidies, The Unintended Consequences of Minimum Wage Laws, Public Choice Economics and Crony Capitalism, Trade Restrictions and Crony Capitalism, Stimulus Spending and Crony Capitalism, and Political Versus Market Choices. This free event is from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at the Lionel D. Alford Library located at 3447 S. Meridian in Wichita. The library is just north of the I-235 exit on Meridian. For more information on this event contact John Todd at john@johntodd.net or 316-312-7335, or Susan Estes, AFP Field Director at sestes@afphq.org or 316-681-4415.

Economics in two minutes. In two minutes, Art Carden explains the important ideas of economics in Economics on One Foot: “Individuals strive to achieve their goals in the best ways possible, every action has a cost, incentives matter, value is determined on the margin, profits and losses help gauge value creation and destruction, and government interventions often have unintended and undesirable consequences.” … This video is from LearnLiberty.org, a project of Institute for Humane Studies, and many other informative videos are available.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Thursday November 3, 2011

Energy bill to be introduced today. According to a press release, U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo of Wichita will introduce the “Energy Freedom and Economic Prosperity Act.” This bill would eliminate all tax credits related to energy production. For more, see Pompeo to introduce ‘Energy Freedom and Economic Prosperity Act.’

Crony capitalism disputed. At yesterday’s meeting of the Sedgwick County Commission, chair Dave Unruh objected to my use of the term “crony capitalism” on the basis of the term having a pejorative connotation. A dictionary definition of “crony” is a “close friend especially of long standing.” Applied to government, the implication is that jobs or favoritism is given based on friendship or patronage. But when talking about capitalism, the term “crony capitalism” the definition is “Government spending on business only aggravates the problem. Too many businesses have successfully lobbied for special favors and treatment by seeking mandates for their products, subsidies (in the form of cash payments from the government), and regulations or tariffs to keep more efficient competitors at bay.” This is the description given by Charles G. Koch in his Wall Street Journal piece Why Koch Industries Is Speaking Out: Crony capitalism and bloated government prevent entrepreneurs from producing the products and services that make people’s lives better. It precisely describes what happened when the county granted a forgivable loan to Johnson Controls. More about this issue is available here.

Kansans For No Income Tax. The new group Kansans for No Income Tax is, according to its website, “a nonprofit working to educate Kansas taxpayers about the benefits of eliminating the state income tax.” The problem, as the group sees it: “Kansas has the 19th highest state and local tax burden in the country and our economic outlook is ranked 37th in the nation. With this economic environment, it is no surprise that Kansas continues to lose businesses, revenue and its citizens. We cannot continue down the path of reckless spending and policy that includes one year fixes to get us by. We must instead focus on a long-term path to prosperity for our state. This path includes the regulation of our tax base with less volatile taxes paired with a more business friendly regulation environment.” … The groups is conducting a bus trip across Kansas this Friday and Saturday. More information, including locations and times, is in this press release.

Misguided efforts to improve capitalism. From Eamonn Butler: Ludwig von Mises — A Primer on how efforts by government to intervene in markets fail: Indeed, our efforts to manipulate the market economy, and make it conform to a particular vision, are invariably damaging. Capitalism is superbly good at boosting the general standard of living by encouraging people to specialise and build up the capital goods that raise the productivity of human effort. But when we tax or regulate this system, and make it less worthwhile to invest in and own capital goods, then capitalism can falter. But that is not a “crisis of capitalism,” explains Mises. It is a crisis of interventionism: a failure of policies that are intended to “improve” capitalism but in fact strangle it. One common political ideal, for example, is “economic democracy” — the idea that everyone should count in the production and allocation of economic goods, not just a few capitalist producers. But according to Mises, we already have economic democracy. In competitive markets, producers are necessarily ruled by the wishes of consumers. Unless they satisfy the demands of consumers, they will lose trade and go out of business. If we interfere in this popular choice, we will end up satisfying only the agenda of some particular political group. A more modest notion is that producers’ profits should be taxed so that they can be distributed more widely throughout the population. But while this shares out the rewards of success, says Mises, it leaves business burdened with the whole cost of failure. That is an imbalance that can only depress people’s willingness to take business risks and must thereby depress economic life itself.

Markets: exploitation or empowerment? Do markets lead to a centralization of political and economic power, or do markets decentralize and disseminate wealth? In an eight-minute video from LearnLiberty.org, a project of Institute for Humane Studies, Antony Davies presents evidence and concludes that markets and free trade empower individuals rather than exploit them.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday October 31, 2011

Wichita City Council. The Wichita City Council this week considers two items of interest. Spirit AeroSystems will ask for $15 million in IRBs. Spirit will purchase the bonds itself. It will receive a property tax exemption for ten years and exemption from sales tax. No dollar amount is given for the value of the exemptions. … Then, Southfork Investment LLC, a group headed by Jay Maxwell, is asking for the formation of a new tax increment financing (TIF) district. This item, if the council approves, will set December 6 as the date for a public hearing. The vote to form the district would be taken then. … According to city documents, the project is near 47th Street South and I-135. It is planned for 50 acres and one million square feet of retail, hotel, restaurants and office space. For comparison, Towne East Square has slightly less than 1.2 million square feet of space. There will be a medical park on an additional 22 acres. … It appears that all the TIF financing will be pay-as-you go, which is a recent revision to the Kansas TIF law. No bonds would be sold. Instead, the increment in property tax would be refunded to the developer as it is paid. There’s also a joining of TIF and special assessments, where TIF revenue will be used to pay special assessment taxes. … Only a simply majority vote is needed to form the TIF district after the December 6 public hearing. There will have to be redevelopment plans approved after that, and those require a two-thirds majority. Sedgwick County and USD 259, the Wichita public school district each may pass ordinances objecting to the formation of the district. Sedgwick County did that regarding the Save-A-Lot TIF last year, and that project went ahead, despite the claims of the developer that TIF was necessary. USD 259 Superintendent John Allison has recently stated that the school district would not be participating in the formation of TIF districts in the future, as they lose revenue. This will be the first test of that. In 2008 John Todd and I testified that the district should not agree to the formation of a TIF district because of the lost revenue. Officials assured us that the Kansas school finance formula held them harmless, and it didn’t matter if a TIF district was formed. … There will also be a community improvement district (CID) with an additional sales tax of one cent per dollar. … As always, the agenda packet is available at Wichita city council agendas.

Crony capitalism. The Occupy Wall Street protests, as well as the group that protested against Koch Industries on Saturday, seem to be opposed to capitalism. Their efforts would be better directed against business specifically, or crony capitalism in particular. There’s a huge difference. Capitalism is a system of absolute respect for property rights and free exchange in free markets. As Tom G. Palmer wrote in his introduction to the recently-published book The Morality of Capitalism, “Indeed, capitalism rests on a rejection of the ethics of loot and grab.” … As for free markets and enterprise Milton Friedman explained that business is not always in favor: “The great virtue of free enterprise is that it forces existing businesses to meet the test of the market continuously, to produce products that meet consumer demands at lowest cost, or else be driven from the market. It is a profit-and-loss system. Naturally, existing businesses generally prefer to keep out competitors in other ways. That is why the business community, despite its rhetoric, has so often been a major enemy of truly free enterprise.” Even one liberal New York Times columnist realizes this, as did Nicholas D. Kristof when he recently wrote “But, in recent years, some financiers have chosen to live in a government-backed featherbed. Their platform seems to be socialism for tycoons and capitalism for the rest of us. They’re not evil at all. But when the system allows you more than your fair share, it’s human to grab. That’s what explains featherbedding by both unions and tycoons, and both are impediments to a well-functioning market economy.” Kristof goes on to explain that capitalism means the freedom to fail as well as succeed: “Capitalism is so successful an economic system partly because of an internal discipline that allows for loss and even bankruptcy. It’s the possibility of failure that creates the opportunity for triumph. Yet many of America’s major banks are too big to fail, so they can privatize profits while socializing risk.” … While most want more regulation on Wall Street and banks, I think that it’s impossible for government to write effective regulations. Instead, markets — if allowed to work — provide the most effective regulation: if you fail, you fail. It’s as simple as that. But George W. Bush gave a bailout, and Barack Obama has followed along. The Dodd-Frank banking regulations, for example, make “too big to fail” an explicit policy.

Kansas pensions. Do we know the true magnitude of Kansas’ unfunded pension problem? Do we want to know? Perhaps not, writes Paul Soutar at Kansas Watchdog: “Even though taxpayers in the rest of America eventually may find out what public pensions really cost them, Kansas school accounting practices and the way school retirement is funded may let school districts avoid reporting the true cost of district employee pensions. Some estimates show the unfunded actuarial liability of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System will more than double from its current official $8.3 billion based on optimistic assumptions to more than $20 billion using the more realistic calculations.” The full story is School Districts May Get to Dodge Accounting Rules on Pensions . … State Budget Solutions, in a recent report (Report reveals aggregate state debt exceeds $4 trillion) made similar findings, writing that our unfunded pension liability is $21.8 billion, well over twice as high as the numbers used by most official sources. The difference: “The AEI figures estimate how large public pension liabilities would be if states used private sector market-valuation methods.” In other words, the real world.

Global economics to be discussed in Wichita. This week’s meeting (November 4th) of the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Chris Spencer, Vice President, Regional Sales Manager Oppenheimer Funds, speaking on “Goliath vs Goliath — The global battle of economic superpowers.” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club Upcoming speakers: On November 11th: Sedgwick County Commission Members Richard Ranzau and Jim Skelton, speaking on “What its like to be a new member of the Sedgwick County Board of County commissioners?” … On November 18th: Delores Craig-Moreland, Ph.D., Wichita State University, speaking on “Systemic reasons why our country has one of the highest jail and prison incarceration rates in the world? Are all criminals created equal?” … On November 25th there will be no meeting.

Progress, or not. Today’s Wichita Eagle carries a letter that laments the jobs lost due to self-serve checkout lanes, online bill payment, online banking, and online reservation services. Concluding, the letter asks readers to “consider how many jobs could be saved if all of us stopped demanding immediate service or answers.” This reminded me of a recent column by Donald J. Boudreaux, commenting on similar remarks by U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). He wrote: “Fred Barnes reports in the Weekly Standard that you refuse to use computerized checkout lanes at supermarkets (“Boneheaded Economics,” Oct. 24). As you — who are described on your website as ‘progressive’ — explain, ‘I refuse to do that. I know that’s a job or two or three that’s gone.’ Overlooking the fact that you overlook the lower prices on groceries made possible by this labor-saving technology, I’ve some questions for you: Do you also avoid using computerized (‘automatic’) elevators, riding only in those few that still use manual elevator operators? Do you steer clear of newer automobiles equipped with technologies that enable them to go for 100,000 miles before needing a tune-up? I’m sure I can find for you, say, a 1972 Chevy Vega that will oblige you to employ countless mechanics. Do you shun tubeless steel-belted radial tires on your car — you know, the kind that go flat far less often than do old-fashioned tires? No telling how many tire-repairing jobs have been destroyed by modern technology-infused tires. Do you and your family refuse flu shots in order to increase your chances of requiring the services of nurses and M.D.s — and, if the economy gets lucky and you and yours get seriously ill, also of hospital orderlies and administrators? Someone as aware as you are of the full ramifications of your consumption choices surely takes account of the ill effects that flu shots have on the jobs of health-care providers. You must, indeed, be distressed as you observe the appalling amount of labor-saving technologies in use throughout our economy. It is, alas, a disturbing trend that has been around for quite some time — since, really, the invention of the spear which destroyed the jobs of some hunters.”

Business and politics. We often hear that government should be run like a business. But the two institutions are entirely different, explains Burton Folsom: “The differences between business and politics, however, is where our focus needs to be. In business, you hire people with your profits to make and sell your product. With those jobs, your employees earn money, spend money, and thereby create other jobs by their demand for houses, cars, iPhones, and household products. Wealth expands, new entrepreneurs get new ideas for products to make, and, if society is free, it becomes prosperous. In politics, you do hire people to run your campaigns and your administration once you’re in office; you do sometimes dole out jobs to build highways, snoop on business, or run the IRS. But almost all of those jobs require other people’s money (i.e. tax dollars) to continue. They take money out of the economy. For example, the jobs created by the Justice Department to check on the trading practices of corporations, the jobs created by the agriculture department to interact with farmers, or the thousands of jobs created to bring trillions of tax dollars each year to Washington are all jobs that take wealth out of the private sector. Looked at this way, the jobs created in business are the productive jobs, the ones that create wealth and give us the thousands of choices we enjoy in breakfast cereal, cars, clothes, and houses. By contrast, each job created in the political class subtracts a job that could be continued or created in the private sector.” … More at The Difference between Business and Politics.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Wednesday October 26, 2011

Tax increment financing. “Largely because it promises something for nothing — an economic stimulus in exchange for tax revenue that otherwise would not materialize — this tool [tax increment financing] is becoming increasingly popular across the country. … ‘TIFs are being pushed out there right now based upon the but for test,’ says Greg LeRoy. ‘What cities are saying is that no development would take place but for the TIF. … The average public official says this is free money, because it wouldn’t happen otherwise. But when you see how it plays out, the whole premise of TIFs begins to crumble.’ Rather than spurring development, LeRoy argues, TIFs ‘move some economic development from one part of a city to another.’ … In Wichita, those who invest in TIF districts and receive other forms of subsidy through relief from taxes are praised as courageous investors who are taking a huge risk by believing in the future of Wichita. Instead, we should be asking why we have to bribe people to invest in Wichita. Much more on tax increment financing at Giving Away the Store to Get a Store: Tax increment financing is no bargain for taxpayers from Reason Magazine.

Tax incentives questioned. In a commentary in Site Selection Magazine, Daniel Levine lays out the case that tax incentives that states use to lure or keep jobs are harmful, and the practice should end. In Incentives and the Interstate Competition for Jobs he writes: “Despite overwhelming evidence that state and local tax incentives are having little to no positive effect on promoting real economic growth anywhere in the country, states continue to up the ante with richer and richer incentive programs. … there are real questions as to whether the interstate competition for jobs is a wise use of anyone’s tax dollars and, if not, then what can be done to at least slow down this zero sum game?” As a solution, Levine proposes that the Internal Revenue Service classify some types of incentives as taxable income to the recipient, which would reduce the value and the attractiveness of the offer. Levine also correctly classifies tax credits — like the historical preservation tax credits in Kansas — as spending programs in disguise: “Similarly, when a ‘tax credit’ can be sold or transferred if unutilized it ceases to have a meaningful connection to state tax liability. Instead, in such circumstances the award of tax credit is merely a delivery mechanism for state subsidy.” In the end, the problem — when recognized as such — always lies with the other guy: “Most state policy makers welcome an opportunity to offer large cash incentives to out-of-state companies considering a move to their state but fume with indignation when a neighboring state uses the same techniques against them.”

The Moral Case Against Spreading the Wealth. From The Moral Case Against Spreading the Wealth by Leslie Carbone: “After two years, the results of President Obama’s wealth-spreading policies have confirmed centuries of economics, political philosophy, and common sense: Forced wealth redistribution doesn’t make things good for everybody; it makes things worse, both fiscally and morally.” Carbone explains the two reasons: Government-mandated wealth distribution does create prosperity, and it’s not a legitimate function of government. On the type of behavior we’d like to see in people, she writes: “Wealth redistribution discourages the virtuous behavior that creates wealth: hard work, saving, investment, personal responsibility.” After explaining other problems that progressive taxation — wealth redistribution — causes, she sounds a note of optimism; “Through Tea Parties and popular protests, millions of Peters and Pauls, and Joe the Plumbers are rejecting what F.A. Hayek so aptly called the fatal conceit of paternalistic government. Decades of federal expansion have demonstrated what history, economics, philosophy, and common sense have told us all along: People, working through the market, are the engines of prosperity, both moral and financial — but only if we get government out of their way.” Leslie Carbone is the author of Slaying Leviathan: The Moral Case for Tax Reform. That book expands on the ideas presented in this article.

Political pretense vs. market performance. What is the difference between markets and politics or government? “There is a large gap between the performance of markets and the public’s approval of markets. Despite the clear superiority of free markets over other economic arrangements at protecting liberty, promoting social cooperation and creating general prosperity, they have always been subject to pervasive doubts and, often, outright hostility. Of course, many people are also skeptical about government. Yet when problems arise that can even remotely be blamed on markets, the strong tendency is to ‘correct’ the ‘market failures’ by substituting more government control for market incentives.” The article is The Political Economy of Morality: Political Pretense vs. Market Performance by Dwight R. Lee. Lee explains the difference between “magnanimous morality” (helping people) and “mundane morality” (obeying the generally accepted rules or norms of conduct). Markets operate under mundane morality, which is not as emotionally appealing as as magnanimous morality. But it’s important, as it is markets — not government — that have provided economic progress. There’s much more to appreciate in this article, which ends this way: “The rhetoric dominating the public statements of politicians and their special-interest supplicants is successful at convincing people that magnanimous morality requires substituting political action for market incentives, even though the former generates outcomes that are less efficient and moral than does the latter. The reality is that political behavior is as motivated by self-interest as market behavior is. … As long as there are people who cannot resist the appeal of morality on the cheap, the political process will continue to serve up cheap morality. And the result will continue to be neither moral nor cheap.”

Increasing taxes not seen as solution. “Leaving aside the moral objection to tax increases, raising taxes won’t in fact solve the problem. For one thing, our public servants always seem to find something new on which to spend the additional money, and it isn’t deficit reduction. But more to the point, tax policy can go only so far, given the natural brick wall it has run into for the past fifty years. Economist Jeffrey Rogers Hummel points out that federal tax revenue ‘has bumped up against 20 percent of GDP for well over half a century. That is quite an astonishing statistic when you think about all the changes in the tax code over the intervening years. Tax rates go up, tax rates go down, and the total bite out of the economy remains relatively constant. This suggests that 20 percent is some kind of structural-political limit for federal taxes in the United States.'” From Rollback: Repealing Big Government Before the Coming Fiscal Collapse by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. Hummel’s article may be read at Why Default on U.S. Treasuries is Likely. A similar concept is Hauser’s Law.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday October 24, 2011

Wichita City Council. This week is the fourth Tuesday of the month, so the Wichita City Council meeting is largely confined to consent agenda items plus workshops. An item on the Council agenda is titled “Approval of travel expenses for Mayor Carl Brewer and Vice Mayor Lavonta Williams to attend, by invitation, the African Global Sister Cities Foundation Governmental, Business, Education, Cultural Arts and Sister City exploration in Ghana, West Africa, November 14-23, 2011, for possible international trade and twinning city relations. Airfare expenses will be paid by Mayor Brewer and Vice Mayor Williams.” Although the agenda report doesn’t state so, for these trips generally the lodging and meals are paid for by the host city or some other organization, not by the City of Wichita. But if these trips are truly good for the city, the city should pay expenses for those who go, just as companies pay legitimate travel expenses for their employees. But the city has no products of its own to sell, and the city isn’t authorized to negotiate international trade agreements. According to the Economic Freedom of the World report, Ghana ranks 70th of the 141 rated countries, so I hope we’re not planning to import ideas on governance from this country. It seems these trips are just junkets and not truly productive, so maybe it’s best the city doesn’t pay for airfare. … The workshop topic is concealed carry in Wichita city buildings. … As always, the agenda packet is available at Wichita city council agendas.

‘Federalists’ author to appear in Wichita this week. On Tuesday October 25th Kansas Family Policy Council is hosting an event in Wichita featuring Joshua Charles, a recent KU graduate who has teamed up with Glenn Beck to write the book The Original Argument: The Federalists Case for the Constitution Adapted for the 21st Century. The book debuted at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List in July. … KFPC says “The event will be at Central Christian Church (2900 North Rock Road in Wichita) on Tuesday October 25th at 7:00 pm. Doors will open at 6:30 pm. This is a free event and dessert will be provided for attendees.” RSVP is requested to 316-993-3900 or contact@kansasfpc.com.

Rep. Huelskamp to speak in Wichita. This week’s meeting (October 28th) of the Wichita Pachyderm Club features U.S. Representative Tim Huelskamp, who is in his first term representing the Kansas first district, speaking on “Spending battles in Washington, D.C.” The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club … Upcoming speakers: On November 4th: Chris Spencer, Vice President, Regional Sales Manager Oppenheimer Funds, speaking on “Goliath vs Goliath — The global battle of economic superpowers.” … On November 11th: Sedgwick County Commission Members Richard Ranzau and Jim Skelton, speaking on “What its like to be a new member of the Sedgwick County Board of County commissioners?” … On November 18th: Delores Craig-Moreland, Ph.D., Wichita State University, speaking on “Systemic reasons why our country has one of the highest jail and prison incarceration rates in the world? Are all criminals created equal?” … On November 25th there will be no meeting.

Kansas tax reform. Citizens for Tax Justice has warned Kansas about possibly bad effects of tax reform in Kansas. In particular, the organization warns that eliminating the Kansas income tax (the article doesn’t specify individual, corporate, or both) and replacing it with a sales tax would result in a sales tax rate of 13.5 percent. Calculations like this are usually made in a vacuum and ignore the dynamic effects of people making adjustments. For example, the state might — wisely — decide to spend less, and therefore less revenue would be needed. Plus, the reason for reducing income taxes is to generate a more favorable business climate so that Kansas stops losing people and instead attracts people and business. This would lead to increased tax revenues. … The article also warns that Kansas doesn’t want to be more like Texas, citing statistics such as Texas being last in the country in the percent of adults with a high school diploma. The organization that collected these statistics, the Brookings Institution, explains that Texas’ low ranking is due to its large immigrant population, which arrived as adults with no diploma. CTJ didn’t mention that.

The debt of the states. Most states, Kansas included, have a balanced budget requirement. So it comes as somewhat of a surprise that collectively, the states hold about $4 trillion in debt. This figure comes from a new report by State Budget Solutions (Report reveals aggregate state debt exceeds $4 trillion). By way of comparison, the federal government holds about $14.8 trillion in debt. Bob Williams, President of State Budget Solutions, said: “These deficit numbers are staggering and should be frightening to the American public. Due to budget gimmicks, many states fail to give an adequate picture of how much trouble they are really in. This report makes it clear that if legislators don’t act immediately and decisively, our country will be facing a budget crisis that we have never seen before.” … According to figures gathered by SBS, the per capita debt in Kansas is $2,009, which ranks Kansas at 34th in the nation. Figures for some of our neighboring states include Colorado at $1,068, Iowa at $1,026, Missouri at $813, Nebraska at $21 (!), Oklahoma at $595, and Texas at $1,568. … Ominously for Kansas, the report includes separate figures that place our unfunded pension liability at $21.8 billion, well over twice as high as the numbers used by most official sources. The difference: “The AEI figures estimate how large public pension liabilities would be if states used private sector market-valuation methods.” In other words, the real world.

Freedom of the press. One of the assertions in the statement made by the Occupy Wall Street movement is “They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.” Really? I wasn’t aware this was going on. I would think that with the internet, that freedom of the press is thriving in the U.S. Perhaps OWS was thinking of China.

Student loans. One of the ideas tossed about by the Occupy Wall Street group is forgiveness of student loans. This debt is a problem, no doubt, especially when graduates can’t find work. Some fear that student loans will be the next great bubble — a government-caused problem that requires a government solution. In reality, easy government loans and grants have fueled the rapid rise in college costs, another government-caused problem that requires a government solution. Kansas Watchdog has more at Student Loan Racket Enables Higher Education Bubble .

Obama makes a great appointment. Malcolm Harris lets us know that it seems that President Barack Obama has made a wise appointment. This example is Tom Hoenig to serve at the FDIC. See Tom Hoenig Nominated to Be the Vice Chair of the FDIC.

Libertarianism works both ways. Dr. Jeffrey Miron explains the two “flavors” of libertarian thought and explains that they’re really not different at all. In his recent book Libertarianism, from A to Z, described as an “encyclopedic exposition of libertarian thought”, Miron explains: “Libertarianism comes in two flavors: consequential and philosophical (also known as rights-based). The two variants offer similar policy conclusions but utilize seemingly different arguments to arrive at these conclusions. Consequentialism — the path followed in this book — argues that most government interventions are undesirable because they fail to achieve their stated goals or because they generate costs that are worse than the problems they purport to fix. Consequentialism emphasizes that many policies have unintended consequences the consequentialist approach is thus just a cost-benefit calculation, albeit one with a broad view of costs and benefits. In particular, the consequentialist approach recognizes that policies have intangible and non-monetary effects, not just tangible or monetary effects. Philosophical libertarians hold that government should never infringe individual rights or freedoms.” … Miron goes on to explain that the two different versions of libertarianism are not really different, and that the explicitly consequentialist approach is the “better language” for explaining libertarianism. His video A Cost-Benefit Approach to Public Policy explains. Another interview with Miron by Reason.tv’s Nick Gillespie is at Libertarianism From A to Z With Jeffrey Miron.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday October 17, 2011

Government job creation. Reason editor Matt Welch introduces the magazine’s November issue, which contains articles on free-market job creation. After citing the litany of failures, he concludes: “Such persistence in the face of repeated failure suggests that some powerful myths continue to hold sway among politicians and many of the people they represent. Among the most stubborn of these is the notion that passing a bill to fix a problem is the same as actually fixing the problem. This assumption — which reaches its illogical conclusion during times of national panic, when do-something busybodies like Michael Bloomberg will say that it doesn’t matter what Washington does, it just needs to do something — is oblivious to the law of unintended consequences, to the reality of corporatist lobbying, and to the limitations of government power.” … Then having done something, government is oblivious to what it has actually done: “A curious flip side to the myth of government omnipotence is near-complete incuriosity about government side effects. That is, people remain convinced that the state can and should look a problem squarely in the eye and fix it, but they are rarely moved by daily examples of the harm caused by earlier fixes.”

Wichita City Council. Tomorrow the Wichita City Council considers these items: The city will consider revisions the ordinances governing municipal court bondsmen. The agenda packet reports “Currently, six departments are involved in the licensing and oversight of bail bondsmen.” The goal, says the city, is a more efficient process. … Johnson Controls asks the city for a forgivable loan of $42,500. It is proposed that Sedgwick County do the same. The State of Kansas is contributing $1,168,000 through various programs. Worldwide, Johnson Controls has 137,000 employees, sales of $39,080,000,000, and profits of $1,540,000,000. Yet, corporate welfare is still required, it seems. … As always, the agenda packet is available at Wichita city council agendas.

Kansas tax plans. “In the coming months, Brownback and state legislators are expected to deal with at least three major proposals to change Kansas’ tax structure.” More from Kansas Reporter at Competing tax plans head for Kansas Legislature .

Repealer on tour. “Government regulation is costing businesses valuable time and opportunities and denying state and local government millions in tax revenue from business activity and development, according to business leaders speaking at the ‘Drowning in Regulation’ tour stop in Wichita Wednesday.” The event was part of the Office of the Repealer seeking input from Kansans. More, including video, from Kansas Watchdog at Legislators Hear Examples of Businesses Drowning in Regulations. The Repealer (Dennis Taylor, Secretary of Kansas Department of Administration) will make a public appearance in Wichita on Tuesday, November 1st at 11:30 am, in the Wichita Public Library Patio Room (223 S. Main).

Sowell: And then what will happen? Last week I quoted at length from a book by Thomas Sowell (Applied economics: thinking beyond stage one) where he writes about “thinking beyond stage one.” Later that day the great economist was interviewed by Sean Hannity, and he told the same story. Video is at Thomas Sowell on ‘Hannity’.

Zuckerman on Obama. James Freeman of the Wall Street Journal interviews Mortimer Zuckerman, who is a Democrat and an Obama voter. He has been openly critical of President Barack Obama and his leadership, and that again is expressed in this article. Zuckerman told of the real unemployment numbers: “Mr. Zuckerman says that when you also consider the labor-force participation rate and the so-called ‘birth-death series’ that measures business starts and failures, the real U.S. unemployment rate is now 20%.” … Zuckerman is pessimistic about the Obama Administration, writes Freeman. An example: “At that time he supported Mr. Obama’s call for heavy spending on infrastructure. “But if you look at the make-up of the stimulus program,” says Mr. Zuckerman, ‘roughly half of it went to state and local municipalities, which is in effect to the municipal unions which are at the core of the Democratic Party.’ He adds that ‘the Republicans understood this’ and it diminished the chances for bipartisan legislating.”

The fall of California. “California has long been among America’s most extensive taxers and regulators of business. But it had assets that seemed to offset its economic disincentives: a sunny climate, a world-class public university system that produced a talented local work force, sturdy infrastructure that often made doing business easier, and a record of spawning innovative companies. No more. In surveys, executives regularly call California one of the country’s most toxic business environments, while the state has become an easy target for economic development officials from other states looking to lure firms away.” Reasons: “a suffocating regulatory climate,” “California taxes are high and hit employers and employees hard,” and “the state’s legal environment is a mess.” Complete article by Steve Malanga of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research in the Wall Street Journal at How California Drives Away Jobs and Business: The Golden State continues to incubate cutting-edge companies in Silicon Valley, but then the successful firms expand elsewhere to avoid the state’s tax and other burdens.

Public Sector Inc. Speaking of the Manhattan Institute, its project PublicSectorInc is a great resource for learning more aboout the issues of public sector employment. Says the site: “PublicSectorInc.org is a one-stop-shop for the latest news, analysis and research about the issues facing the public sector and the American taxpayer. It provides a national forum to probe problems and develop solutions at the state and local level. With a critical focus on the urgent topics of pension reform, employee compensation, bargaining and retirement health benefits for public employees, PublicSectorInc.org is shaping the national debate unfolding in state capitals and city halls across America.” … An example article of value is Valuing Job Security as a Public Employee Benefit.

Markets and trade help all. James Otteson explains the motivations and concerns of Adam Smith, one of the earliest economists and author of The Wealth of Nations. In a short video, Otteson explains: “One of the main concerns is … how do we raise the estates of the least among us? He’s deeply concerned about the poor in society.” Continuing: “His investigation of centuries of data … shows that, empirically, the way to help people who are the least among us, the bottom rungs economically of society, is by allowing for commerce: free trade, free migration, limited government. To the extent that you can encourage those policies, their estates will be raised tremendously. … What he’s interested in is those people at the bottom, and his endorsement of markets and of trade is because he thinks they’ll help the people at the bottom, not because they’ll help the people who are already rich.” Over the centuries since Smith, we’ve learned many times that economic freedom is good for everyone, especially the poor. … The video is from LearnLiberty.org, a project of Institute for Humane Studies.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Friday October 14, 2011

Kansas school reform. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is preparing to release a plan for reform of Kansas school finance. The reform plans, however, appear to do nothing to actually improve Kansas schools. Missing is any plan to introduce school choice to Kansas, whether in the form of charter schools, vouchers, or tax credit scholarships. While the school spending establishment says that these programs rob the existing public schools of money, the reverse is true: school choice programs cost less. An example: “Pennsylvania’s tax-credit program had saved Keystone State residents $144 million since 2001.” … It’s unfortunate for Kansas schoolchildren that the governor will not introduce these programs, as many other states are introducing or expanding choice programs.

Occupy Wall Street vs. Jobs. Steve Jobs, that is. After contrasting the behaviors of the Occupy Wall Street protests with the business accomplishments of Apple’s Jobs and how the products Apple developed have lead to better lives, Michael D. Tanner draws a line between government and the private sector: “The Occupy Wall Street crowd, and for that matter President Obama, see government as the center of our existence. It is government that makes for a better society, while the rich, businessmen, and entrepreneurs are ‘takers’ who don’t ‘pay their fair share.’ But would we really have been better off if we had taken more of Jobs’s wealth and given it to the government? Would President Obama really have used it better than Jobs did? Would the government have given us all that Jobs did? Government has spent trillions on schools that don’t educate, anti-poverty programs that don’t lift people out of poverty, stimulus programs that don’t stimulate, and health-care programs that don’t control the cost of health care. Compare Apple or Pixar’s record of success with the failures of government. For that matter, what government jobs program has created as many net new jobs as Jobs? In fact, the next time someone suggests that what we need is more taxes, more regulation, more class warfare, more government programs, we should instead suggest that what we really need are policies that encourages a poor boy from San Francisco to become rich and thereby make the rest of us a little richer as well.” … The complete article is Occupy Wall Street vs. Jobs.

OWS and Tea Party united? Are the Occupy Wall Street protesters and the Tea Party political allies? Maybe, or maybe not, explains Fred Smith of Competitive Enterprise Institute, writing in USA Today: “The problems we face come not from capitalism, Wall Street variety or any other, but rather from crony-capitalism. Tea Partiers distinguish capitalism from crony-capitalism. Occupiers confuse them. In fact, some Occupiers seek their own form of cronyism — an expanded government that will help the ‘right’ beneficiaries, such as students and homeowners, instead of bankers and automakers. … The economist Joseph Schumpeter, in his essay “Can Capitalism Survive?”, warned long ago that too many business leaders would seek success through politics rather than competition, and that this would destroy true capitalism. Certainly, too many in Wall Street have succumbed to that temptation, and capitalism has suffered accordingly. But it suggests that Occupiers and the Tea Partiers share at least one common enemy. The Solyndra scandal illustrates that crony-capitalists are found far beyond Wall Street. Thus, instead of focusing on one small part of Manhattan Island, shouldn’t we liberate the whole American economy?” … It should be noted that the economic development policies of Wichita are firmly rooted in crony capitalism.

Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Thursday October 13, 2011

Wichita city leaders too cozy with developers? Yesterday I participated in a KAKE Television news story where I explained the need for pay-to-play laws in Wichita and Kansas. These laws generally restrict officeholders from participating in votes or activities that would enrich their campaign contributors. In the story I said “What I, and some of my political allies object to, is what is happening in plain sight: In that there is a relatively small group of people — and their spouses and people who work at their companies — who regularly contribute to a wide variety of city council members, both political liberals and political conservatives, because they know that they are going to be coming to the city council and asking for taxpayer money.” Officeholders and the developers who contribute deny there is a connection between contributions and votes. Curiously, these developers generally don’t make contributions to school board members, county commissioners, state legislators, or federal representatives. Actually, it’s not so curious: It’s primarily the Wichita City Council that is able to vote to give them money. I would say the contributors are acting rationally. … If there is no connection between contributions and votes or consideration, there should be no problem in getting the council to agree to some form of pay-to-pay law for Wichita. An example is a charter provision of the city of Santa Ana, in Orange County, California, which states: “A councilmember shall not participate in, nor use his or her official position to influence, a decision of the City Council if it is reasonably foreseeable that the decision will have a material financial effect, apart from its effect on the public generally or a significant portion thereof, on a recent major campaign contributor.” … KAKE correspondent Deb Farris reported that Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer doesn’t look at the list of campaign contributors. I wonder: does he send thank you letters to his contributors? … Video and story at Wichita City Leaders Too Cozy With Developers?

Obama economic strategy questioned. This year’s Nobel prize in economics went to Thomas J. Sargent of New York University and Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, and Christopher A. Sims of Princeton University. In its reporting, the Wall Street Journal explained (A Nobel for Non-Keynesians: People’s expectations about government policy make it difficult for officials to affect the economy in the ways they intend to): “The Swedish economists announcing the award emphasized, correctly, the importance of Messrs. Sargent’s and Sims’s thinking about the role people’s expectations play in economic decision making and the larger economy. But what they failed to mention is that their work has also offered empirical evidence that the school of thought known as Keynesian economics — which believes that government can turn a flagging economy around with the right combination of fiscal ‘stimulus’ (generally government spending) and monetary policy — is fallible.” In further explanation, the Journal writes: “One of Mr. Sargent’s key early contributions, along with University of Minnesota economist Neil Wallace, was the idea that people’s expectations about government fiscal and monetary policy make it difficult for government officials to affect the economy in the ways they intend to. If, for example, people get used to the Federal Reserve increasing the money supply when unemployment rises, they will expect higher inflation and will adjust their wage demands higher also. The result: The lower unemployment rate that the Fed was trying to achieve with looser monetary policy won’t happen. This conclusion was at odds with the Keynesian model, which dominated economic thinking from the late 1930s to the early 1970s. The Keynesian model posited a stable trade-off between inflation and unemployment.” The 1970s however, saw stagflation — both high unemployment and high inflation at the same time, a danger that some feel will grip us in the near future. Keynesianism, of course, is the basis of the economic policy of President Barack Obama and the reason why the economy has not recovered. … While these economists worked on national economies, does the theory of rational expectations apply to state and local governments, meaning that it is very difficult for local government officials to micro-manage their economies through intervention? I think so.

Public vs. private. One of the curious statements in Rhonda Holman’s Sunday Wichita Eagle editorial (Say ‘no’ to naysayers, October 9, 2011) was where she wrote of the “crowds increasingly assembling downtown for concerts and events.” Curious because not long ago she begrudgingly realized the cool down at the Intrust Bank Arena, writing: “Intrust Bank Arena’s strong performance during its inaugural year of 2010 couldn’t last. And it didn’t.” (Make case for arena, August 19, 2100 Wichita Eagle) I don’t know if these two editorials are at odds with each other. … I have noticed one downtown Wichita venue that seems to have a lot of concerts, that being the Orpheum Theater. That venue doesn’t suffer from government genesis and ownership as does the arena, although the arena’s management is in the hands of the private sector. As part of its restoration the Orpheum may qualify for historic preservation tax credits, a government spending program that I oppose. That subsidy, if obtained, is quite small compared to the total taxpayer funding of the arena.

Kansas tax policy. Several news outlets have reported on how hard Kansas state officials are working on crafting a new state tax policy. That worries me. The best tax policy is one that is simple and fair to all. The more tax policy is worked on, the more likely it is to contain measures designed to manage the behavior of people and business firms. This would be a continuation of the conceit that the state can manage economic growth, and contrary to the concepts of economic dynamism for Kansas, where fertile ground is created for all companies.

Petition drive is on. Last Friday citizen activists started the petition drive to give the people of Wichita a chance to vote on crony capitalism or free markets. See Our Downtown Wichita (motto: “Limited government and free markets in Downtown Wichita benefit everyone. Centralized planning and crony capitalism benefit only a few.”) for more information.

Kansas education scores mixed. From Kansas Reporter: “Kansas students’ performance on reading and math proficiency improved for the 11th consecutive year, according to Kansas State Department of Education’s latest State Report Card for schools released Tuesday. Some 87.6 percent of the students tested turned in scores in the top three of five performance levels for reading and 84.7 percent achieved similar scores in math. But two other performance yardsticks show different results. Statewide Kansas test scores on ACT college entrance exams, which are averaging 22 points out of a perfect 36, have been flat for the past five years. … Most Kansas statewide reading, writing and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, tests have changed little since 2000, according to the U.S. Education Department, which counts the test results as the broadest national measure of how school systems compare state by state. ‘Fourth-grade math tests have improved significantly, but that’s about it,; said Arnold Goldstein, program director for the federal Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics.” Complete story on Kansas Reporter at Kansas education scores proved mixed picture of schools’ success.

‘Federalists’ author to appear in Wichita. On October 25th Kansas Family Policy Council is hosting an event in Wichita featuring Joshua Charles, a recent KU graduate who has teamed up with Glenn Beck to write the book The Original Argument: The Federalists Case for the Constitution Adapted for the 21st Century. The book debuted at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List in July. … KFPC says “The event will be at Central Christian Church (2900 North Rock Road in Wichita) on Tuesday October 25th at 7:00 pm. Doors will open at 6:30 pm. This is a free event and dessert will be provided for attendees.” RSVP is requested to 316-993-3900 or contact@kansasfpc.com.

Kansas gas wells appraisals. Some Kansas counties use different methods of gas well valuation for tax purposes, writes Paul Soutar in Kansas Watchdog: “The method used to appraise the tax value of gas wells in Stevens County is ‘not correct or appropriate’ according to a report commissioned for Stevens County and released at their latest meeting. The method is or has been used for at least nine years, possibly since the early 1990s, in nine Southwest Kansas counties covering much of the Hugoton gas field, the ninth highest producing field in the U.S. in 2010.” … The complete investigate report is at Report Says Gas Well Appraisal Method ‘Not Correct or Appropriate’.

Lieutenant Governor in Wichita. This week’s meeting (October 14th) of the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer, M.D. speaking on “An update on the Brownback Administration’s ‘Roadmap for Kansas’ — Medicaid Reform” … Upcoming speakers: On October 21st: N. Trip Shawver, Attorney/Mediator, on “The magic of mediation, its uses and benefits.” … On October 28th: U.S. Representative Tim Huelskamp, who is in his first term representing the Kansas first district, speaking on “Spending battles in Washington, D.C.” … On November 4th: Chris Spencer, Vice President, Regional Sales Manager Oppenheimer Funds, speaking on “Goliath vs Goliath — The global battle of economic superpowers.” … On November 11th: Sedgwick County Commission Members Richard Ranzau and James Skelton, speaking on “What its like to be a new member of the Sedgwick County Board of County commissioners?” … On November 18th: Delores Craig-Moreland, Ph.D., Wichita State University, speaking on “Systemic reasons why our country has one of the highest jail and prison incarceration rates in the world? Are all criminals created equal?”

Urban renewal. “The goal was to replace chaotic old neighborhoods with planned communities.” Planned by government, that is, with all the negatives that accompany. The fascinating video from Reason.tv is titled The Tragedy of Urban Renewal: The destruction and survival of a New York City neighborhood. Its introduction reads: “In 1949, President Harry Truman signed the Housing Act, which gave federal, state, and local governments unprecedented power to shape residential life. One of the Housing Act’s main initiatives — “urban renewal” — destroyed about 2,000 communities in the 1950s and ’60s and forced more than 300,000 families from their homes. Overall, about half of urban renewal’s victims were black, a reality that led to James Baldwin’s famous quip that “urban renewal means Negro removal. … The city sold the land for a token sum to a group of well-connected Democratic pols to build a middle-class housing development. Then came the often repeated bulldoze-and-abandon phenomenon: With little financial skin in the game, the developers let the demolished land sit vacant for years.”