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Now Okay to Walk and Talk in DC

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Tourist guides in our nation’s capital now get to talk through what they’re walking through.

DC circuit Judge Janice Brown rules that Washington, DC, wrongly burdens First Amendment rights when it prohibits talking “about points of interest or the history of the city while escorting or guiding a person who paid you to do so — that is, unless you pay the government $200 and pass a 100-question multiple-choice exam.” Until her ruling, the city could jail guides for 90 days and/or fine you up to $300 for daring to walk and talk professionally without going through the hoops of regulation and licensing.

Chastising slovenly argumentation in other courts, Brown observes that the record is “wholly devoid of evidence” supporting bans on the speech of tour guides Tonia Edwards and Bill Main, the stand-up persons who challenged the requirements.

The suit’s prospects may have been enhanced by the freedom-of-speech angle. But although the importance of the First Amendment cannot be overstated, violating it is only one of many ways that governments infringe on our right to engage in peaceful productive activity. The assaults seem endless. Too many people are too unwilling to mind their own business, too eager to interfere with yours. So we must be eternally vigilant.

By “we” I largely mean — with respect to this case and thousands like it — the folks at Institute for Justice, who came to the aid of Edwards and Main, and who incessantly champion the rights of people seeking only to peaceably earn their bread.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Bypassing McDonald’s to Fly

Friday, June 6th, 2014

When a professional academic economist and poverty specialist like Prof. Robert Plotnick defends a radically higher minimum wage law, as has been put in place in SeaTac, Washington, and was just enacted (with elaborate postponement/implementation periods) in Seattle, I raise an eyebrow. What am I missing?

But then I read what he actually said: “People aren’t going to stop flying out of Sea Tac [airport] because it costs a little more to buy a hamburger or a beer,” he says.

No. They won’t.

But that’s irrelevant. With prices higher for fast food, there’s certainly going to be no increase in fast food purchases. People will still go to the airport, but more often avoid the fast food joints, in SeaTac or Seattle.

And, over time, as businesses struggle with reduced revenue, or at least reduced profits, fewer of those businesses will survive. And folks with better qualifications — say, better language skills, better people skills, or a higher work ethic  — will move in to the forced higher-wage area (the $15/hour minimum in both Sea Tac and Seattle is the highest city rate in the nation) and will replace less skilled workers.

Increasing poverty, not decreasing it: stultifying progress, both personal and in general.

Already the horror stories are piling up: check out the stories in the Seattle Times. (See economist David Henderson’s discussion on EconLog.)

One of the problems was inadvertently suggested by our president, who recently intoned, “Let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty.”

Great. We’ll have fewer low-income workers working full time.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Value the Vote

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

What happens when politicians create a special new election date in order to place a tax increase before voters . . . when least expected?

Did I mention that, as the Seattle Times reported, Proposition 1 “enjoyed massive support among politicians, labor unions, environmentalists, social-equity groups and business coalitions”?

Or that the YES campaign outspent the NO side by $654,922 to a mere $7,700, a nearly 100 to 1 margin?

The answer: On Tuesday, voters in one of the most liberal counties in America said NO. A solid 55 percent rejected the ballot measure.

Proposition 1 would have hiked King County’s 9.5-cent sales tax by 0.1 percent and imposed a $60 annual car-tab fee. The idea was to provide more funding for mass transit and local roads, with 60 percent of that revenue going toward the area’s mass transit system.

Transit officials argued that without the additional dough they’d have to make deep service cuts.

“The voters are not rejecting Metro; they are rejecting this particular means of funding Metro,” explained County Executive Dow Constantine. “We know the people of King County love and value their transit service.”

Love? Perhaps. Ridership is reportedly at a near-record high, about 400,000 a day.

Value? Not so much.

This very “progressive” electorate expressed, with utmost clarity, their unwillingness to pay higher taxes for transit. Further, there’s an unmistakable signal in the refusal of King County Metro officials to consider raising the price of their beloved service to become sustainable.

Isn’t it only fair to ask those riding the bus to pay the fare?

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

A Fighting (Peaceful) Chance

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

Elections you win are better than elections you lose. But while the polls remain open, I say cast your ballot and savor the chance to win, make a decision, make needed changes. In other words, accept that fighting chance.

But no fighting, actually — it’s peaceful political action.

Today, I’m watching closely three contests.

First, Liberty Initiative Fund, where I work, has been a big supporter of pension reform in general and Cincinnati’s Issue 4 in particular. Ballotpedia, the nation’s best tracker of ballot measures, declared the Cincinnati issue one of the nation’s five most important being decided today.

Win or lose in Cincinnati, the pension problems of cities and states across the country won’t just go away — not without an engaged public to demand the issue be addressed. Pension reform ballot initiatives “end run” the can-kicking on city councils and in state houses.

Second, Citizens in Charge was a major backer of the petition drive that succeeded in earning a spot on today’s Washington State ballot for initiative 517, the “Protect the Initiative Act.” While 517’s supporters have been badly outspent by opponents, at least we’ve had a chance to take the idea to the people.

The third? Governance. In Vancouver, Washington, city officials blocked citizens from petitioning onto the ballot the issue of bringing in (and connecting with) the light rail system of twin city Portland, Oregon. After battling and losing a court case (with support from Citizens in Charge Foundation), citizens didn’t give up. They formed Vancouver Vitality and are supporting the ouster of several incumbents and their replacement with a clean slate of new candidates.

I only hope we can do more good when we go vote a year from now.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Video: Meanwhile, in Washington State

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

Some people wonder, “what does Paul Jacob do?” That is, beside these Common Sense memos and his weekly Townhall columns?

The answer, of course, is “help citizens around the country beat back big government.” Here is a political ad from a current effort:

Liars, Fools, Educators

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

There’s something very, very wrong with today’s public school culture.

I wrote that as a start for today’s excursion into the land wherein common sense has utterly fled . . . but without knowing whether I would dissect a Washington Times story about two Virginia Beach, Virginia, students suspended (perhaps for the entire year) for playing with an air soft gun in their own yards, or the Washington Post’s excellent coverage of a new test-score scandal.

The first story reflects both today’s crazed anti-gun culture and a sort of imperialism: educators seem to think that it’s their jurisdiction to judge how children behave at home, especially when it comes to toy guns, which they apparently deem inherently bad, etc., etc. Yes, Virginia educators insist on enforcing pacifism and disarmament as a settled matter, as if the Second Amendment didn’t exist.

Now, schools should not allow violence on school grounds or buses. And, if the kids who were playing with the toy guns were pointing and shooting with dangerous irresponsibility, and against city code, then maybe the school has a leg to stand on.

Nearby in Washington, D.C., in our second story, public school administrators have rigged the testing system to yield better math scores. Indeed, the district had boasted of a four-point gain. Then it was discovered that scores had actually declined, in part because of new rigorous tests. But instead of “biting the bullet” and taking a “temporary” hit, educators fiddled with the statistics and came up with phony bragging points.

Liars to the north of me; fools at another point in the compass, entirely.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

D.C. Protectionism

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Some things are a bit hard to grasp. One of them is intra-national protectionism.

Most forms of protectionism try to shield businesses within a country from competition outside, using tariffs or price controls to “even the playing field,” so to speak. What these laws do is make goods more costly for consumers within the protected country, in effect taking wealth from consumers and awarding it to the protected businesses.

In the United States’ capital district, politicians are in the process of pushing through a “living wage” bill that would apply only to big box stores like Costco and Walmart. While Costco and Walmart will be required to pay their employees a minimum of $12.50 an hour, other companies in the district could still pay wages as low as $8.25.

Doesn’t seem exactly fair, does it? The bill has been pushed by organized labor to supposedly help smaller retailers, but — surprise, surprise — exempts unionized grocery chains such as Giant and Safeway.

On the one hand, the Washington, D.C. city council is punishing Walmart, forcing it to pay more than its competitors for labor. On the other hand, the city has spent $40 million in direct subsidies to the company and another $28 million to advance projects that involve building six new Walmarts.

“I can’t imagine that they will proceed on any of the unbuilt stores if this bill passes,” says Grant Ehat, the principal of the company building the two Walmart projects already underway.

Mayor Vincent Gray expressed his hope to “find a way to, say, thread the needle” between the company and the council.

Or our nation’s capital might experiment with common sense laws, equally applied.

Yes, Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.