Kansas and Wichita quick takes: Tuesday March 22, 2011


Progressive government. Stephen Goldsmith in The Wall Street Journal: “Across the country, the interests of organized labor, elected officials and taxpayers are colliding over wages, work rules and the astronomical costs of retiree pensions and health care. As important as these specific issues are to resolve, there is another, more fundamental problem causing so many Americans to lose faith in their government: It is not government unions per se but progressive government itself — long celebrated in Wisconsin, New York and elsewhere — that no longer produces progressive results.” … Goldsmith is deputy mayor of New York City. “In the early 20th century, the progressives championed a rule-based approach to public-sector management that was a big step forward from the cronyism and corruption of Tammany Hall. Today, however, the very rules that once enhanced accountability, transparency and efficiency now stifle the creativity of public-sector workers and reduce the ability of public investments to create opportunities for citizens — outcomes precisely the opposite of those intended by Progressive Era reformers.”

Identity theft possible. Michael Schwanke of KWCH Television finds a large dumpster full of employee records in an alley behind a Wichita business. These records could be used to commit identity theft and fraud. While many people are aware of the threat of using a personal computer regard regarding identity theft, most people use anti-virus and other security software, and take steps like using good passwords when creating online accounts. These steps are under the control of each person. But the companies we transact with — including your employer and the government — may not be as careful with your data as you are. There’s not much individuals can do about this.

Is the automobile this bad? From a letter in today’s Wichita Eagle: “Perhaps it would be helpful if we all spent five minutes imagining the car in our garage is a murderer worse than Osama bin Laden, a disaster worse than the Tohoku earthquake, a polluter worse than coal, a drug more addictive than crack. It doesn’t have to be this way. We have allowed real-estate developers to zone our lives so there is quite literally nothing for us to walk to. Maybe those five minutes of imagining will move some of us to demand ultralight commercial development in our suburban residential deserts.” … Putting aside the wild and unsubstantiated claims the writer makes, the automobile gives us mobility, which is priceless. In his recent book Gridlock: why we’re stuck in traffic and what to do about it, Randal O’Toole explains the benefits of mobility: “The benefits of mobility are huge and undeniable. The most tangible benefit is to our personal incomes. Increased travel speeds allow people to reach more potential jobs in a given commute time. Research in France found that, for every 10 percent increase in travel speeds, the pool of workers available to employers increased by 15 percent. This gives employers access to more highly skilled workers, which in turn increases worker productivity by 3 percent. Similarly, research in California has found that doubling the distance workers can commute to work increases productivity by 25 percent. … Mobility also reduces our consumer costs and gives us access to a wider diversity of consumer goods. … Thanks to our mobility, most Americans enjoy much better housing than they did a century ago and better than most other people in the world today. Mobility not only increases the income available for housing; it allows us to reach areas where housing, and the land it requires, is more affordable. The most intangible benefit of mobility may be the thing many Americans say they value most: freedom.”

Voters Boot Mayoral Marauder. From CommonSense with Paul Jacob: “On March 15, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez got the boot, with almost nine out of ten county voters (88 percent) agreeing to get rid of him. The Miami Herald calls the event ‘the largest recall of a local politician in U.S. history.’ Brandon Holmes of Citizens in Charge calls it ‘the most significant recall election since California ousted former governor Gray Davis in 2003.’ Alvarez was shown the door for larding aides with hefty pay raises (from $185,484 to $206,783, for his chief of staff) and increasing the salaries of other county employees while hiking property taxes 18 percent in the name of preventing layoffs. Meanwhile, the mayor tooled around town in a taxpayer-subsidized BMW Gran Turismo.” Wall Street Journal reporting notes: “What really seems to have sent the recall into nearly unanimous territory is that the mayor and his government used both taxpayer and union funds to finance their fight to stay in office.” Concluding, the Journal writes: “Union protesters in Madison, Wisconsin have commanded the headlines of late, but what happened in Miami on Tuesday is a reminder that the taxpayer revolt against elected officials who treat voters like cash dispensers is alive and well. Every Governor and Member of Congress should be warned.”

Public union issues. William F. Shughart of the Independent Institute writing in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Public employee wages and benefits are typically not the result of simple collective bargaining. They are the result of the public employee unions’ political and lobbying activities — which, in many states, are financed with union dues employees are forced to pay as a condition of employment. … Thus, the unions use their power and purse to elect politicians willing to grant them more power – and use that power to extract financial concessions from the same politicians. It’s been an ongoing vicious cycle in some states for many years, with the ultimate bill-payer — the taxpayer — the odd man out.” The author notes that we don’t have the choice but to consume and pay for public services provided by public employee unions. For private sector companies and their unions, consumers have choice, which is a regulating factor.

The naysayers’ plan. Murray N. Rothbard in defense of the naysayers who are criticized because they have no plan, except for relying on the ingenuity of free people trading freely in markets. From For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto: The libertarian who wants to replace government by private enterprises in the above areas is thus treated in the same way as he would be if the government had, for various reasons, been supplying shoes as a tax-financed monopoly from time immemorial. If the government and only the government had had a monopoly of the shoe manufacturing and retailing business, how would most of the public treat the libertarian who now came along to advocate that the government get out of the shoe business and throw it open to private enterprise? He would undoubtedly be treated as follows: people would cry, “How could you? You are opposed to the public, and to poor people, wearing shoes! And who would supply shoes to the public if the government got out of the business? Tell us that! Be constructive! It’s easy to be negative and smart-alecky about government; but tell us who would supply shoes? Which people? How many shoe stores would be available in each city and town? How would the shoe firms be capitalized? How many brands would there be? What material would they use? What lasts? What would be the pricing arrangements for shoes? Wouldn’t regulation of the shoe industry be needed to see to it that the product is sound? And who would supply the poor with shoes? Suppose a poor person didn’t have the money to buy a pair?” These questions, ridiculous as they seem to be and are with regard to the shoe business, are just as absurd when applied to the libertarian who advocates a free market in fire, police, postal service, or any other government operation. The point is that the advocate of a free market in anything cannot provide a “constructive” blueprint of such a market in advance. The essence and the glory of the free market is that individual firms and businesses, competing on the market, provide an ever-changing orchestration of efficient and progressive goods and services: continually improving products and markets, advancing technology, cutting costs, and meeting changing consumer demands as swiftly and as efficiently as possible.”


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