Equivalence and Obviousness
Unlike Matt Jerzyk, Tom Sgouros’s difficulty in assessing the different interests at the Handy/Moura hearing wasn’t that he emphasized their irrelevant differences, but that he bound them together with reductive equivalence:
Before the hearing, there was a rally in the rotunda protesting cuts to Head Start, the early-childhood education program. “Great,” you say, “yet another interest group, trying to protect its special program that’s costing us money.” I watched the rally, then went downstairs to the hearing.
And do you know what I saw there? Lots of other interest groups trying to protect their special programs, mostly tax breaks. The difference? These people were wearing nice suits. (So was I. As I said: full disclosure.)
Now this is a little unkind, and perhaps a little easy. The business owners and managers who crowded the hearing play an important part in our state’s economy. What they say is important, and what they do is even more important. But it’s not always obvious how far they are from other people looking for assistance.
Oh? Well, here’s a quick test: What happens if each group — those looking for government assistance and those looking for the government to take a little less — were to pack up and leave the state? If the needy leave, the state has more money to address infrastructure, education, and all of the other good things that everybody wants. If the suit-wearers leave, the state loses revenue, has fewer resources to redirect, and can advertise less to potential residents, workers, and businesses.
I’m not saying that either outcome is desirable or possible in its extreme, but if we’re trying to look at the groups from an objective, government policy perspective, that’s a difference that ought to be considered. The businesses make it possible even to entertain the possibility of providing assistance or — preferably — economic opportunity to the less fortunate among us.
Sgouros laments that none of the business interests were “there to talk about the economic value of good schools, clean water and safe bridges,” but this elides another distinction between his two “interest groups”: One is, by necessity, competing with infrastructure requirements for government funding, while the other pursues, by its nature, the activity that ultimately generates that funding in the first place.
To perpetuate his equivalence, Sgouros attempts to cast the following as a sort of negative reciprocation:
If it takes a subsidy to keep a company in our state, isn’t that a sign that we’re doing something else wrong? What does that say about our quality of life or the quality of the employees they’re able to find here? And if the price of that tribute we pay is an inability to address those quality issues — not to mention the screaming social problems that surround us — then what have we gained?
We need to provide that assistance, in other words, to maintain the quality of our workforce and to prevent our local society from slipping into a cacophonous chaos of social disease. In order to accept this line of thought, however, one must erase history and pretend that (with the notable exception of the illegal immigrants) our state’s population is static.
Among the first bits of wisdom I received upon deciding to acclimate myself to Rhode Island’s waters was that my children would most likely have to leave the state for opportunity when they finish their schooling. The state of Rhode Island can invest every cent it has in education, but unless there is work here for the educated, that investment is reaped by another state. Moreover, the workforce in which lucrative businesses would be most interested is that produced by our colleges and universities — potential employees whom Rhode Island in significant degree imports.
Another Rhode Island truth is easily observed: that the infrastructure (roads and bridges) is crumbling. And a third is learned through bitter experience: that the cost of living here — in taxes, in fees, in unnecessary regulations, in aggravation — is high. If anything has made business subsidies necessary, these are more likely suspects than the unsatisfied needs of the needy.
Sgouros peddles a vicious lie that “the Governor and his allies in the Chamber have cowed legislators into thinking that all they can do is manage the decline.” To the contrary, that is what an income redistribution scheme would do. That is what the public-sector/poverty-institute axis would like to do. They are the leaders who benefit not from liberty, but from despair — not from unity, but from division. We who see Moura/Handy socialism for what it is are the ones with a positive vision for Rhode Island, one that will benefit everybody if that burdensome monkey of tax-largess addiction can be made to loose its white-knuckle grip on the state’s throat and let it breathe.
There is no natural reason that Rhode Island ought to be first on every undesirable list and last on every desirable one. Indeed, the opposite ought to be true. Break the corruption that funding under threat of the taxman’s gun inevitably breeds, turn the lights on for those whom the pushers have hooked on handouts, and open the door for innovative and talented people with stars in their eyes and watch as Rhode Island fills its lungs and begins to sprint.
If we’re going to have equivalence, let it be equivalence of opportunity, of freedom, not of dependency.