Bribing Paul with Peter’s money

The NY Times this week ran a fantastic — and I hope ground breaking — series that covered the fallacy and fraud of economic development policy in America. On Day 1 they honed right in on the way cities and states routinely make ridiculous and uninformed decisions for handing out money. On Day 2 they actually focused on Texas — a state with rabid rhetoric for markets and a penchant for cooking the books Enron-style with lots of debt and business subsidies — to make a larger point that ties in absolutely with our entire ponzi scheme narrative. The state by state breakdown was also stunning. Check it out.

(Chuck Marohn)

I agree that that the series is stunning. It’s too big for me to have digested yet. There’s a third part about poor Michigan – as if GM wasn’t enough – deciding that helping us amuse ourselves to death through movies is the economic wave of the future.

The state-by-state breakdown map helped me drill down to my community, where some of the recipients were surprising.

I acknowledge coming late the the realization that incentivizing companies to locate here rather than there adds nothing to the nation’s wealth:

Soon after Kansas recruited AMC Entertainment with a $36 million award last year, the state cut its education budget by $104 million. AMC was moving only a few miles, across the border from Missouri. Workers saw little change other than in commuting times and office décor. A few months later, Missouri lured Applebee’s headquarters from Kansas.

“I just shake my head every time it happens, it just gives me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach,” said Sean O’Byrne, the vice president of the Downtown Council of Kansas City. “It sounds like I’m talking myself out of a job, but there ought to be a law against what I’m doing.”

(Day 1)

I’ll say it before anyone else does: the building in which I work and of which I’m part owner likely would not have happened without tax abatements, from which I benefitted. That third of a city block would probably be sitting vacant still. But someone else paid for police, fire, schools and every other state-or-local funded amenity for several years in gratitude to a group of already well-off guys who hoped to make money eventually.

Maybe there’s a principled difference between our project and the ones the New York Times highlights. Maybe not. On balance, I still think our project was a good one – maybe even worthy of tax abatements – because we were local established businesses fixing local blight and building a strong, increasingly walkable (if still less than ideal) city center. I’ll neither glower nor smirk if you disagree. I wasn’t a hypocrite in my involvement, if only because my consciousness hadn’t yet been raised. Today, I’m not so sure. That’s why I’m bringing the subject up.

One diagonal block to our northeast, at the opposite corner of the courthouse square, would be a blighted block were it not for incentives, I suspect (I don’t know the details on that big project, though some of my professional colleague were instrumental in it).

There’s another project proposed for about 4-5 blocks north of us, outside the downtown core, to cure blight (a full block of abandoned Rental Center – you know, floor sanders, big tools you only need once, table service for 100, etc.; it moved out to the periphery) with new townhomes. Private enterprise won’t do it, apparently, without incentives. I think it’s a good project, and will promote human-scaled population density, not automobile-scaled sprawl. I have no financial interest in saying that.

I’ll grant you this, too. Our city center feels a bit overbuilt at the moment. Occupancy is far from 100%. Maybe that’s just the recession. Maybe it will get better with whatever recovery we manage to simulate or stimulate. Or maybe it will get better because we don’t recover, and demand rises for dwellings and businesses near bus routes and within walking distance of locally-owned amenities.

Or maybe downtown revitalization, even without boondoggle convention centers and sports complexes, is  a failed experiment from which we need to learn what doesn’t work.

Thoughts?

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Tipsy vents his spleen

From the Religion Clause blog Wednesday, two evocative items.

First:

Miami-Dade Commission Re-institutes Opening Prayer
In Florida yesterday, the Miami-Dade County Commission voted 8-3 to re-institute prayer before the opening of the Commission’s formal meetings.  The Miami Herald reports that the vote comes after an intensive 18-month lobbying effort by the Christian Family Coalition to bring back prayers instead of the moment of silence that replaced the invocation in 2004. Commissioners will rotate in choosing someone to lead the prayer, or lead it themselves. The invocation must be non-denominational, and will be offered before the roll call of commissioners. During debate on the bill, the commissioners agreed to the rotation format, instead of having the county clerk compile a database of local religious leaders to choose from which would have cost $26,000 to implement. The ACLU said that if the prayers turn out to be sectarian, it will file suit.  However, Anthony Verdugo, executive director of the Christian Family Coalition, said the vote ended “8½ years of discrimination.”

(Emphasis added)

Second:

Indiana Legislator Wants To Require Science Teachers To Prove Truth of Their Teachings
In Indiana, state senator Dennis Kruse, chairman of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee, says he will try a new approach now that he failed last session to get legislation to allow the teaching of creationism along with evolution in the public schools. According to the Indianapolis Star yesterday, Kruse will introduce what he calls a “truth in education” bill.  As the senator describes the proposal: “If a student thinks something isn’t true, then they can question the teacher and the teacher would have to come up with some kind of research to support that what they are teaching is true or not true.”

(Emphasis added)

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First, what, pray tell, is a “nondenominational,” or in ACLU terms, “nonsectarian,” prayer?

This is not a rhetorical question. I’ve been asking for more than 40 years what possible good it does for public meetings or school classrooms to throw some fatuous little unitarian ditty at the ceiling that offends the Unitarians (because it’s uttered in public), amuses the Trinitarians (because it’s not “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”), ought to offend the Evangelicals who presumably are so desperately seeking it (because it’s not closed “in Jesus’ name”) and presumably offends every other real religion that has a characteristic or prescribed idea of authentic prayer?

Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.

(Ernest Hemingway) Or maybe this:

To whom it may concern:
Some of us down here think there is a “whom” that this ritual “may concern,” and who would be offended by mere silence. If so, we (and I think I’m speaking now even for the ones who think there is no whom that this may concern) would really appreciate it if you’d keep us from tearing each other’s throats out over things like religion, and also help us to be good, compliant consumers,  producers and above all borrowers, so that this house of cards we’re pretending not to notice won’t collapse until we’re dead and buried and it falls on our posterity (and the posterity of the undocumented workers who are keeping Social Security afloat) instead. Amen.

Does anybody think that God is pleased by that sort of thing?

And who, other than the ever-vigilant ACLU, judges foot-faults on the sufficient neutrality (i.e., fatuousness) of the prayers? The government? Really? Caesar deciding what prayer is inoffensive enough to be permissible?

Second, does Senator Kruse really want a bunch of smart-ass adolescents disrupting class with imperious questions that probably have been answered already multiple times that semester? Or is he trying to give Creationist kids a nuclear option, scaring teachers out of mentioning evolution and Darwin by the knowledge that they’ll be besieged with harassing questions if they do, on pain of punishment for not citing “research” quickly enough?

I see a connection between those two examples: insincerity. That’s another word for “bearing false witness.” That’s supposed to be a no-no.

Yes, I’m saying that the Christian Family Coalition and Senator Kruse are being disingenuous about their objectives. The former does not want fatuous unitarian ditties. The latter does not want better citation of research in support of evolution. Besides abasing themselves, they bring disrepute to their putative Lord.

Or I could be wrong. They could be delusional, unaware of the obvious nonsense-on-stiltsiness of such proposals. (Some Krustians consider it a victory to get a creche on the courthouse square because, the court reasons, it’s devoid of religious significance, having become effectively secular. You like the taste of that sawdust, boys?)

Or I could be an obnoxious old curmudgeon – instead of, or in addition to, the preceding two options.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Mitch Daniels

Our esteemed local Gannett newspaper has above the fold today the introduction to a pretty interesting tit-for-tat kerfuffle between Governor Mitch Daniels and the teachers union, which Daniels blames for illegal activities that supposedly brought down Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett.

I like Mitch. I’ve voted for him. I’ll probably like a lot about his tenure at Purdue starting next month (happy December, by the way). But I have two beefs with him:

  • The reckless glee with which he (though his FSSA head) destroyed our former system for administering Medicaid. I will now acknowledge that Modernization 2.0 is starting to work. But a lot of poor people fell through the safety net during Modernization 1.0, for which only the most willfully blind would have predicted success since the private contractors carpetbaggers picked to implement it had an unbroken record of failure in other states.
  • The sour grapes with which he’s greeting Tony Bennett’s defeat. I guarantee you, gentle reader, that Bennett’s defeat had to do with a lot more than ticking off the teachers’ union (and local school superintendents, be it noted), with vouchers and charter schools. Some of Bennett’s mandates were resisted as sheer, willful idiocy by teachers and staff in the very private schools that are accepting vouchers. Tipsy knows this with a high degree of confidence. Tipsy trusts his sources enough that he didn’t vote for Bennett.

Maybe a measure of willfulness is the dark underbelly of a genius at political reform. There’s no doubt that Medicaid reform is a necessity (just listen to Purdue’s Larry DeBoer talk about the challenge of state budgeting some time). But I don’t have to pretend the underbelly isn’t dark because the top is cute and furry.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.