The Business of Business Is… Healthcare?
As disappointing as it is that Ian Donnis would write approvingly of something spat onto the public square by the NEA’s Patrick Crowley, it’s more disappointing that he seems to agree:
Pat Crowley has a strong post up at RI’s Future, pointing to a state report to indicate how Rhode Island taxpayers are paying more than $5 million (plus about $6M from the feds) to pay for health insurance for workers at some of the state’s biggest and more profitable corporations
Yeah, it’s a nice bit of spin disguised as presumption for those who share the view of Crowley’s boss, Bob Walsh, that employers who don’t provide public-union-like benefits to employees “are terrible people [who] shouldn’t be allowed to exist.” In that view, many employers provide health insurance (often with a you-pay-for-it caveat) to their workers, so it must be considered a moral obligation. That obligation being presumed to be universally acknowledged, the progressives acquire the suspicion that, somewhere along the hierarchy, the companies let themselves off the hook with an assuagement of guilt that the public will pick up the slack. Hence the bizarre characterization of the process as “corporate welfare.”
The obvious question, in response to the moralists’ insinuations is what we should do about the problem, and one can imagine their answer being to make the employers provide health coverage. That would be the logical reaction to our discovery of such injurious behavior.
So what would be the consequence of government dictation of minimum benefits for employees? Will employers just throw up their hands — “fellas, they got us” — and take the financial blow? No. They’ll attempt to make up the expense elsewhere. Perhaps they’ll attempt to levy a sort of third-party tax on customers, passing on the cost of government mandates to them. Perhaps they’ll lower salaries or lay people off. And if the cost of doing business in Rhode Island becomes too high, if customers will not accept increased costs, or if employees cannot be attracted with lower salaries (but higher benefits), then the businesses will close down or leave.
I wonder, were that to happen, whether progressives would then declare the various public costs of supporting the unemployed to be corporate welfare “going to” (Crowley’s words) the companies that no longer employ the money’s actual recipients.
The truly disheartening realization is that Donnis, whom I take to be somewhat representative of honorable and well-intentioned progressives in the state, apparently fails to make the connection between this very approach to issues facing the public and the state’s problems, which he readily acknowledges:
While I’d like to claim credit for coining the subject line in this post [“Rhode Island and Sisyphus Plantations”], that honor goes to URI professor of economics Len Lardaro, who uses it to describe the Ocean State’s seemingly perpetual budget problems. …
Lardaro believes that voter dissatisfaction will bring a number of new lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, into office this year, and that that will have a salutary effect.
We’ll have to wait to see if the professor is right. In the interim, state officials will have to keep rolling budget deficits up the proverbial hill.
Everybody understands (if they don’t have a financial or ideological reason not to) that Rhode Island needs to improve its business environment. But that term doesn’t just include tax rates. It isn’t limited to infrastructure, roads, location, schools, real estate costs, and so on. It also involves the likelihood that a region’s culture will lead it to push the government past its bounds in regulating corporations. There’s a reason that only two insurance companies operate in Rhode Island. There’s a reason healthcare expenses are so high. And there is a multiplicity of reasons that businesses choose not to operate in our state, making it difficult for Rhode Islanders to find work, let alone jobs with stellar benefits.