August 9, 2009

Policy Baubles to Distract from the Pocket Picking

Justin Katz

Tom Sgouros used his just-about-regular column in the reputedly right-wing Providence Journal, yesterday, to promote his new book. Obviously 800 words is insufficient to synopsize such a work and present much depth from the arguments that appear therein, but one thing Sgouros accomplishes is to convey his role in the left-wing–labor alliance in Rhode Island: He's the showman distracting the mark (i.e., the taxpayer) with baubles while accomplices slip as much out of the victim's pockets as possible.

It's long been clear that Tom's on a quest to find explanations other than the obvious for Rhode Island's sorry state, and he has solidified his results as follows:

So what's the problem? Well, labor certainly has allies in the state legislature, but it has lost almost all the high-profile battles it has undertaken over the past decade, from pension cuts to mayoral academies. Welfare benefits are stingy and hard to get here, just like in other states, and the rolls have declined dramatically over the past dozen years. Meanwhile, few municipalities are spending any more than the bare minimum necessary to meet legal requirements.

For context, here's his summary of the point of view that he's refuting:

Rhode Island is in a crisis. Hamstrung by a legislature in thrall to powerful unions and the lobbyists for social-service agencies, we have spent far beyond our means. Profligate spending by cities and towns is bankrupting local government, and threatens to take the state down, too. Meanwhile, to satisfy the unquenchable demand for government services and benefits, taxes are rising every year without end.

The game is easy to spot, for anybody who's paid attention. In the face of popular demand (mayoral academies) and utter necessity (pensions), the General Assembly and the unions have made the bare minimum of concessions in order to get by politically, while weighing them down with regulations and hedged bets so as to encourage their failure.. Welfare benefits are only "stingy" if one deliberately defines away most of the forms that it takes (typically refusing to include anything other than direct cash payments via a specific government program; search this site for "TANF"). And those "legal requirements" that municipalities are scrounging to pay aren't the result of some divine decree; they're the result (1) of imposed policy from the labor-friendly State House and (2) the contracts by which the towns have spent their residents' money.

Pay no attention to these impossibly complex disputes, says Mr. Sgouros. You can't possibly prove your position based on the available data. If that's not an exact quote from some of my own arguments with Tom, it's pretty close.

So, what Tom's calling "Ten Things You Don't Know About Rhode Island" is really a list of ten projects to occupy our ADD-besotted citizenry while maintaining the status quo for his friends and clients behind the scenes. Here, unravel this one:

Since the 1950s, we have built what amounts to an entire second state's worth of roads, bridges, schools and police stations. Yet the state's population is up only about 30 percent since that time.

One suspects that he's not proposing that we immediately break out the bulldozers, so the entire fleet of current public sector employees would be well into their Florida retirements before even the preliminary "studies" were completed. Here's a nice related project we can resolve in the meantime:

Almost all the police hired in the past decade have been in the low-crime parts of the state. Many communities with high crime rates have been forced to cut their police departments, while low-crime towns added jobs.

Clearly, this has nothing to do with organized labor in the state. And, by the way, I thought the towns weren't overspending?

Some of the items that Sgouros wiggles before our eyes fit precisely with the analysis of Rhode Island's problems that he explicitly rejects. Others are irresolvable without further entrenchment in the progressive policies that underlie his own analysis — which is to say that the "solutions" are incompatible with freedom.

Pace Sgouros, analysis of Rhode Island's problems is not so tricky a matter, and the solutions are easily defined, albeit difficult to implement: cut taxes (and spending), reform regulations and licensing, and ease mandates. Sgouros's contention that we've "tried" these measures "to little effect" is flat deception from an up-and-coming master of legerdemain.

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I saw the claim that "[a]lmost all the police hired in the past decade have been in low-crime parts of the state."

Does he have some statistics to back that up?

I would be very surprised if the largest number of hires in the past decade occurred any where other than Providence, Pawtucket and Warwick -- the three largest municipalities -- rather than, say, Richmond or Portsmouth.

Maybe his claim is correct, but it would be much more believable if backed up by actual numbers.

Posted by: brassband at August 9, 2009 9:13 PM

Talk about spite. This post is coloured green with envy.

Posted by: David at August 9, 2009 9:48 PM

Not really.

Posted by: Justin Katz at August 9, 2009 9:54 PM

I had to put the paper down before I even finished reading the stupidity that clown was putting forth.
Someone should tell the idiot to run for Governor if he thinks he knows what he is talking about.
He'll be guaranteed the union pig vote.
And, he is guaranteed the stupid vote. Come to think of it, the guy has a good shot of winning with that constituency.

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at August 9, 2009 9:59 PM

"cut taxes (and spending), reform regulations and licensing, and ease mandates. Sgouros's contention that we've "tried" these measures"

What?! When was that??

Posted by: Monique at August 11, 2009 8:11 AM
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