Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Monday May 9, 2011

Airfares down in Wichita. A city press release announces: “Wichita Mid-Continent Airport had the country‚Äôs 11th largest airline fare decrease since 2000 and now ranks 43rd in average fare of the 100 busiest airports, according to research by the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS).” The program’s major source of funding is $5 million per year from the state. Currently, it is not known whether this funding will be in the budget the legislature is working on. … The program is controversial for claims of economic benefit that appear overstated. There is a way to pay for the program that shouldn’t be controversial. When government provides services that benefit everyone, such as police protection, most people agree that taxes to pay for these services should be broad-based. But we can precisely identify the people who benefit from cheap airfares: the people who buy tickets. Wichita could easily add a charge to tickets for this purpose. The mechanism is already in place.

Wichita City Council this week. A speaker on the public agenda will speak about restoring Joyland. Undoubtedly, the goal of the speaker will be to obtain public funds for this project. … City staff is recommending that the council deny a request for Industrial Revenue Bond financing by Pixius Communications LLC. As always, the benefit of the IRB financing to the applicant is the property tax and possible sales tax abatements that accompany the program. The city does not lend money, and does not guarantee that the applicant will repay the bonds. The reason staff is recommending not to approve the application is that Pixius is a service business, and under current policy, a service business must generate a majority of its revenues from outside the Wichita area. Pixius does not, and is asking the city to waive this policy for their benefit. … Separately, Pixius is applying for low-cost financing of renovations to the same building though the facade improvement program. The city has performed its “gap” analysis and has “determined a financial need for incentives based on the current market rates for economic rents.” This is another example of government investing in money-losing businesses. … Then The Golf Warehouse in northeast Wichita asks for a forgivable loan from the city as part of a larger package of incentives and subsidy. This item will prove to be a test for several council members who campaigned against these loans. … Council members will receive a quarterly financial report and view an “artistic concept” for WaterWalk.

Joyland topic of British tabloid. The British tabloid newspaper Daily Mail, in its online version, has a story and video about Wichita’s closed Joyland amusement park. For those who remember the park in its heyday, this is a fascinating — if not bittersweet — look at the park’s current condition. The headline of the article (“New images of an abandoned theme park reveal desolation in America’s heartland”) makes a connection between the deterioration of Joyland and the economic condition of America, a false impression which several comment writers corrected. … I don’t think the closing of Joyland has anything to do with public policy. Businesses come and go all the time as tastes and generations change.

Educational freedom to be discussed in Wichita. This week Kansas Policy Institute and The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice will be discussing what other states have done to increase student achievement through reforms based on educational freedom and creating a student-centric focus. KPI and FFEC recently launched the “Why Not Kansas” initiative to educate Kansans on the need to reform the state’s K-12 educational system to allow Kansas schools to continue to improve. Speakers at the event will be Dave Trabert, president of Kansas Policy Institute, and Leslie Hiner, vice president of programs and state relations at The Foundation for Educational Choice. The event is Thursday, May 12 at 10:30 am, at the Central Wichita Public Library Auditorium. RSVP is requested by email to James Franko or by calling 316-634-0218.

Do you want to live in the world of Atlas Shrugged? From LearnLiberty.org, a project of Institute for Humane Studies: “In her masterpiece of fiction, Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand emphasizes three key classical liberal themes: individualism, suspicion of centralized power, and the importance of free markets. In this video, Prof. Jennifer Burns shows how Rand’s plot and characters demonstrate these themes, principally through innovative entrepreneurs who are stifled by laws and regulations instituted by their competitors. In the world of Atlas Shrugged, free markets and individual liberty have been traded away for equality and security enforced by the government. Burns ends by reviving Rand’s critical question: do you want to live in this kind of world?” … The video is six minutes in length.

Who are the real robber barons? In summarizing a chapter from his book How Capitalism Saved America: The Untold History of Our Country, From the Pilgrims to the Present, Thomas J. DiLorenzo explains the false lessons of capitalism and government that we have been taught:

“The lesson here is that most historians are hopelessly confused about the rise of capitalism in America. They usually fail to adequately appreciate the entrepreneurial genius of men like James J. Hill, John D. Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, and more often than not they lump these men (and other market entrepreneurs) in with genuine “robber barons” or political entrepreneurs.

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

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

At the same time, the market entrepreneurs who practiced genuine capitalism, whose genius and energy fueled extraordinary economic achievement and also brought tremendous benefits to Americans, should be recognized for their achievements rather than demonized, as they so often are. Men like James J. Hill, John D. Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt were heroes who improved the lives of millions of consumers; employed thousands and enabled them to support their families and educate their children; created entire cities because of the success of their enterprises (for example, Scranton, Pennsylvania); pioneered efficient management techniques that are still employed today; and donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charities and nonprofit organizations of all kinds, from libraries to hospitals to symphonies, public parks, and zoos. It is absolutely perverse that historians usually look at these men as crooks or cheaters while praising and advocating “business/government partnerships,” which can only lead to corruption and economic decline.

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