Wednesday, December 07, 2005

COLUMN -- Connecting the news story dots

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:09 AM |  

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Neither state nor county officials are offering an "exciting partnership" to the more than 2,000 hospitality industry and supporting industries employees displaced since implementation of the Hennepin County smoking ban.

Two thousand is the estimated number of jobs at stake if Ford closes its small-truck assembly plant in St. Paul. Attempting to save those jobs, Gov. Tim Pawlenty offered an "exciting partnership" and "significant" state investments if Ford agrees to establish an alternative-fuel vehicle research center in St. Paul.

On these opinion pages recently both Republican Sen. Norm Coleman and DFL senatorial candidate Amy Klobuchar opined support for a homegrown energy industry based on renewable resources.

Earlier this month the largest shipment into the United States of foreign-produced biofuels — 267,790 gallons of Ecuadorian palm oil-based biodiesel — arrived in Tampa, Fla. The foreign biodiesel qualifies for U.S. renewable energy programs and tax breaks. That doesn't sit well with Minnesota farmers led to believe that "alternative energy" is all about homegrown fuel, rural jobs and protecting family farm profits.

But if "alternative energy" is about low-cost, renewable sources of energy (not farm-belt votes), then a globally competitive biofuels market driven by low-cost production might provide a little price relief at the pump.

A little relief in fuel prices would be welcome news for the St. Paul school district, which is looking at a plan that would limit intra-district school choice options in order to, among other reasons, save about $3.5 million in transportation costs. The new proposal would divide the district into regions. Transportation would be provided only within each region, not across the district.

The point of this little game of connect the news stories is that individual issues are often related by a common philosophical thread. If one believes in free people and free markets, the thread running through those stories is far from comforting.

Neighborhood bars and restaurants are closing because a government-imposed smoking ban changed market rules and wiped out their market niche. People want to go to bars where they may smoke. Some bars are willing to provide that environment and people are willing to work in that environment. Aggregate statistics showing government is still raking in tax revenue is little comfort for people displaced by government's "market-be-damned" attitude.

Contrast those lost jobs with the jobs at risk at the Ford Ranger plant in St. Paul. Ford is certainly eager to sell small trucks, and there are people willing (at union scale with union benefits) to build them; unfortunately, not enough people want to buy Rangers at Ford's price. The market has spoken. But wait — state and local politicians are again saying, "Nope, the market be damned. We can save those jobs." The governor's plan involves more tax dollars going for an "alternative-energy" research facility in partnership with Ford.

It cost more than its value to the economy, but through subsidies and mandates government has indeed created a biofuels market. But instead of producing a domestic energy Eden, government's genesis of a biofuels industry faces the slithering devil of foreign competition. Government can cast domestic producers into the cruel world of competitive toil (don't bet on it), or government can provide the fig leaf of domestic subsidies and foreign biofuel tariffs. In the latter case taxpayers, who have already paid for government's idolatrous worship of welfare farming, must continue to tithe for higher-than-market fuel costs. Once again, "the market be damned. Bureaucrats know best."

That brings us back to the St. Paul school district. The district's transportation predicament is another result of government trying to control a market — the education market. The "school choice" in question does not include outside-the-system private and religious schools that public school kids walk by on the way to a bus that will shuttle them across town. Providing low-income families with vouchers that they might use at private schools offers families meaningful school choice in their own neighborhoods, dictated by the needs of the families and the neighborhoods. But again, "the market be damned."

Perhaps Frederic Bastiat was right — there are too many "great" men. Too many people making careers out of guiding the footsteps of their fellow citizens. Too many people eager to sacrifice your life and liberty in pursuit of their happiness.

Connecting these issues, it would certainly seem so.

Category: Column, School Choice, Energy Policy, Individual Liberty, Free Markets, Smoking Ban

Update: Because Bob from the ALA is calling me on the number, here's my orginal first paragraph as submitted prior to having it edited --
Neither state nor county officials are offering an “exciting partnership” to the estimated 2,000-plus hospitality industry and supporting industries employees displaced since implementation of the Hennepin County smoking ban.
The number was presented as an estimate. Bob's right -- the edited version, which I didn't see before publication, makes it look like a counted number. It is not. However contrary to what Bob said, in neither case is the number defined as "lost jobs."

Once again, Bob demonstrates he has no idea what the numbers mean he is throwing around. In economic terms, a "lost job" is indifferent to what the job is and whom is employed. If A loses a job as a bartender at Stub & Herbs because business is off due to the smoking ban and B gets a job as a waitress at Keegan's because they've booked several Christmas parties, statistically, no hospitality jobs are lost -- yet A is still out of work because of the smoking ban. Aggregate numbers hide the fact that A was "displaced" by the smoking ban.

Many people displaced by the smoking ban have since found other work because of the season and overall economic growth. Many displaced employees were not in hospitality jobs, but in businesses that make their living from supplying bars and restaurants and consequently don't show up on hospitality industry employment figures. Lost jobs selling air filters to bars does not show up in the Pioneer Press statistics, for example.

The real "number" travesty is to continue to use aggregate data as an excuse for disrupting people's lives, destroying people's businesses and saying it's all right because government continues to rake in its tax dollars.

I'm not surprised Bob was flumoxed by today's column. It is about free markets and government interference with free markets. He was bound to be confused.