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A look at the lousy situation Rhode Island is in, how we got here,
and how we might be able to get out.
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RIPR is a (paper) newsletter and a weekly column appearing in ten
of Rhode Island's finer newspapers. The goal is to look at local,
state and federal policy issues
that affect life here in the Ocean State, concentrating on action, not
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Available Back Issues:
Issues are issued in paper. They are archived irregularly here.
- Aug 09 (38) - How your government's
economic policies have worked against you. What a fake nineteenth
century nun can teach us about the tea party protests.
- Jun 09 (37) - Statistics of
optimism, the real cost of your government. Judith Reilly on
renewable tax credits. Review of Akerlof and Shiller on behavioral
- Apr 09 (36) - Cap and trade, the
truth behind the card check controversy, review of Governor's tax
policy workgroup final report.
- Feb 09 (35) - The many varieties of
market failures, and what classic economics has to say about them,
review of Nixonland by Rick Perlstein.
- Dec 08 (34) - Can "Housing First"
end homelessness? The perils of TIF. Review of You Can't Be
President by John MacArthur.
- Oct 08 (33) - Wage stagnation,
financial innovation and deregulation: creating the financial
crisis, the political rhetoric of the Medicaid waiver.
- Jul 08 (32) - Where has the money
gone? Could suburban sprawl be part of our fiscal problem? Review
of Bad Money by Kevin Phillips, news trivia or trivial
- Apr 08 (31) - Understanding
homelessness in RI, by Eric Hirsch, market segmentation and the
housing market, the economics of irrationality.
- Feb 08 (30) - IRS migration data,
and what it says about RI, a close look at "entitlements", historic
credit taxonomy, an investment banking sub-primer.
- Dec 07 (29) - A look at the state's
underinsured, economic geography with IRS data.
- Oct 07 (28) - Choosing the most
expensive ways to fight crime, bait and switch tax cuts, review
of Against Prediction, about the perils of using statistics
to fight crime.
- Aug 07 (27) - Sub-prime mortgages
fall heaviest on some neighborhoods, biotech patents in decline, no photo
IDs for voting, review of Al Gore's Against Reason
- Jun 07 (26) - Education
funding, budget secrecy, book review of Boomsday and the Social
Security Trustees' Report
- May 07 (25) - Municipal finance: could citizen
mobility cause high property taxes?
What some Depression-era economists had to say on investment, and why
it's relevant today, again.
- Mar 07 (24) - The state budget
disaster and how we got here. Structural deficit, health care,
borrowing, unfunded liabilities, the works.
- Jan 07 (23) - The impact of real
estate speculation on housing prices, reshaping the electoral college.
Book review of Blocking the Courthouse Door on tort "reform."
- Dec 06 (22) - State deficit: What's
so responsible about this? DOT bonding madness, Quonset, again,
Massachusetts budget comparison.
- Oct 06 (21) - Book review: Out of
Iraq by Geo. McGovern and William Polk, New rules about supervisors
undercut unions, New Hampshire comparisons, and November referenda guide.
- Aug 06 (20) - Measuring teacher
quality, anti-planning referenda and the conspiracy to promote them,
affordable housing in the suburbs, union elections v. card checks.
- Jun 06 (19) - Education report, Do
tax cut really shrink government?, Casinos and constitutions, State historic tax
credit: who uses it.
- May 06 (18) - Distribution
analysis of property taxes by town, critique of RIEDC statistics,
how to reform health care, and how not to.
- Mar 06 (17) - Critique of commonly
used statistics: RI/MA rich people disparity, median income, etc.
Our economic dependence on high health care spending. Review of
Crashing the Gate
- Feb 06 (16) - Unnecessary
accounting changes mean disaster ahead for state and towns, reforming
property tax assessment, random state budget notes.
- Jan 06 (15) - Educational equity,
estimating the amount of real estate speculation in Rhode Island,
interview with Thom Deller, Providence's chief planner.
- Nov 05 (14) - The distribution of
affordable houses and people who need them, a look at RI's affordable
- Sep 05 (13) - A solution to pension
strife, review of J.K. Galbraith biography and why we should care.
- Jul 05 (12) - Kelo v. New London:
Eminent Domain, and what's between the lines in New London.
- Jun 05 (11) - Teacher salaries,
Veterinarian salaries and the
minimum wage. Book review: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
- Apr 05 (10) - Choosing a crisis: Tax fairness and school
funding, suggestions for reform. Book review: business location and
- Feb 05 (9) - State and teacher
pension costs kept artificially high. Miscellaneous tax suggestions for balancing the state budget.
- Dec 04 (8) - Welfare applications and the iconography of welfare
department logos. The reality of the Social Security trust fund.
- Oct 04 (7) - RIPTA and DOT, who's really in crisis?
- Aug 04 (6) - MTBE and well pollution, Mathematical problems with property taxes
- May 04 (5) - A look at food-safety issues: mad cows, genetic engineering, disappearing farmland.
- Mar 04 (4) - FY05 RI State Budget Critique.
- Feb 04 (3) - A close look at the Blue Cross of RI annual statement.
- Oct 03 (2) - Taxing matters, a historical overview of tax burdens in Rhode Island
- Oct 03 Appendix - Methodology notes and sources for October issue
- Apr 03 (1) - FY04 RI State Budget critique
For those of you who can read english and understand it, the following
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The Rhode Island Policy Reporter is an independent news source that
specializes in the technical issues of public policy that matter so
much to all our lives, but that also tend not to be reported very
well or even at all. The publication is owned and operated by Tom
Sgouros, who has written all the text you'll find on this site,
except for the articles with actual bylines.
Fri, 30 Sep 2005
Hurricane's aftermath on GDP
According to the
Congressional Budget Office,
there's good news
from the hurricanes:
However, even with the additional impacts of Hurricane Rita, the
macroeconomic consequences of the hurricanes appear more modest than
those that CBO estimated [earlier]... CBO anticipates that, with
private and government support for recovery and rebuilding, GDP growth
will not be much affected in the 4th quarter and could even be
somewhat higher than was projected before the hurricanes.
It gets better:
Overall, GDP will return to its previous trend by early 2006, CBO
projects, and subsequently rise above that trend as rebuilding raises
overall economic activity.
So when the economy flags a little late next year, we can propose
burning down Cleveland as a stimulus?
Really, this is just more evidence that the statistics widely used
to measure the health of the economy do as much to mask the important
story as they do to tell it. You simply can't rely on the gross
aggregates to tell you whether people are doing well, but that's what
(Shameless plug: There's quite a bit more about exactly this issue in the current
issue of RIPR. There's no time like the present to subscribe,
don't you think?)
11:23 - 30 Sep 2005 [/y5/se]
Wed, 28 Sep 2005
Georgia on my mind
A novel approach to cutting school budgets was tried in Georgia, where
the Governor called two days off from school to save on gas.
A friend writes from that great state:
My fellow Americans:
Through the intrepid leadership of our present Governor, Sonny Purdue
(no relation to Frank......I think), we citizens of the "Empire State of
the South" (aka The Goober State) have just finished
sacrificing two days of our children's education as our special way of
conserving This Great Nation's petroleum reserves in these trying times.
I wish to inform you that we have now "done our share", and will resume
our use of disproportionate numbers of Humvees, SUVs, RVs, jet skis,
other PWCs, and F-150s, for the remainder of the Millenium.
Please do not attempt to argue that our selfless actions "don't count"
because a large percentage of us chose to use the unexpected four-day
school holiday to go on long trips involving disproportionately
extensive use of Humvees, SUVs, RVs, jet skies, PWCs, and F-150s
On the contrary, we were all perfectly happy to follow our Governor's
advice and stay home with the children, while avoiding any contact with
internal combustion engines.
So, we ask that you who reside outside our borders recognize the
enormity of this sacrifice, which we voluntarily chose to undertake
through the wisdom and courage of our Governor, in the name of price
stability and oil company profitability.
And we also ask that you consider this: if your State is not part of the
solution, then it's part of the problem.
Signed on behalf of the people of the State of Georgia,
They really did this, too.
15:19 - 28 Sep 2005 [/y5/se]
Mon, 26 Sep 2005
Some followup for the September issue
For more to read on the subject of pensions and the poor coverage of
our populace, you might be interested in these:
home of a report called
the Uncovered, which provides some discussion of the issues and a
fairly modest proposal to deal with the problem. But since the
proposal came from a group that included a fairly broad membership,
including the AFL, AARP, as well as MetLife and some banks,
maybe it will have some legs.
- National Compensation
Survey, some very useful BLS data about all kinds of employment
- Unemployment numbers
22:46 - 26 Sep 2005 [/y5/se]
Sat, 24 Sep 2005
Governor agrees with us
And we're so glad he has finally seen the error of his ways.
Apologies for quoting at such length, but this really is remarkable.
From the Governor's office:
Carcieri Testifies in Support of Consumers
Today Governor Carcieri attended a hearing at the Public Utilities
Commission, to testify against the adoption of the proposed 24%
Narragansett Electric rate increase. Governor Carcieri asked the
Commission to postpone action on the increase, in anticipation that
the energy markets may soften once the impact of hurricanes on the
Gulf Coast has been fully assessed.
"We are here today not because of the actions of Narragansett
Electric," the Governor said, "but because oil and gas
companies and the power generators that supply Narragansett Electric
are totally unregulated. They are making huge profits at the expense
of Rhode Islanders, and all Americans."
"Speculators on the futures markets took advantage of the
confusion by driving up the price of fuel at an alarming rate. And all
the while, oil and gas companies continue to reap profits. All of this
could be further exacerbated by Hurricane Rita.
Governor Carcieri also addressed the larger issue, which is the
1996 decision to deregulate electricity. He asked if this is
benefiting Rhode Island consumers.
"There is an inherent flaw in the system," the Governor
said. "The price of fuel is controlled by the generators and the
futures market speculators. With few new suppliers adding energy to
the grid, distributors have little option but to pay and then pass
that cost on to the ratepayer. There is no incentive for the
distributors to control their energy cost. This is also flawed
because the cost to draw the fuel to produce the energy, such as
drawing natural gas from the ground or hydropower, remains relatively
constant. So, while we pay more, those at the beginning of the chain
reap the profits dictated by the market."
Which is to say that the Governor agrees that it can be the case
that unregulated markets are bad for consumers and bad for the state.
Free markets are not the be-all and end-all. To which we say,
Hallelujah! At last someone has the nerve to recognize this
explicitly. What's more, it's someone who won't get called a
communist for doing so. (The Governor's partisans regularly make that
kind of charge in RIPR's direction, but now I guess they'll have to
either rethink that, or add him to their list of enemies. We await
Implicitly, of course, our governments have recognized the
imperfection of markets for decades, and we regulate all kinds of
markets in all kinds of commodities. Taxicabs, tow trucks, haircuts
and shellfish are all markets with prices or competitors regulated by
our little state. Milk, sugar and steel are all markets regulated or
protected by the federal government. And this is just the beginning
of the list.
There are several places where the citizens of our state would
benefit a great deal by serious market regulation. That is, the
electric market isn't the only important market that is failing to
serve us well. Just to pick one, the real estate market is currently
changing the face of our communities, putting people out of their
homes, and forcing good citizens to move elsewhere in search of
affordable housing. How about taking on that one next?
09:27 - 24 Sep 2005 [/y5/se]
Fri, 23 Sep 2005
Government planning can work
But usually it's the folks down in the trenches that are doing
important work in spite of the ones above. Here, for example, is
Incident News, a NOAA
service with important weather and map information for people who are
working to clean up the mess of Katrina and Rita and similar events.
You'll find there maps of how deep the water was in what district
of New Orleans, reports of oil spills and other hazards, and the
locations that need attention because of their vulnerability or hazard.
Especially look at this
for a map of the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.
21:24 - 23 Sep 2005 [/y5/se]
Wed, 21 Sep 2005
In another country. Wal-Mart
what it means to operate in an
environment where worker protections and the right to organize
actually mean something. Or at least we'll see when Quebec's labor
relations board issues its penalty.
What happened was that a Wal-Mart store in Quebec voted to
unionize, so Wal-Mart closed it down. The Labor Board simply pointed
out that Quebec has laws against this kind of thing. It's perfectly
ok to close a store, but doing it in retaliation is unacceptable.
Wal-Mart won't have to reopen the store, but may wind up owing fines,
and maybe compensation to the laid-off employees, when the board
issues its final report.
In a decision released late last week, the board said
that it did not find the April closing of the store in Jonquiere to be
"real, genuine and definitive" under the province's law. The
decision makes it possible that the company could be fined and that
compensation could be ordered for about 190 former employees.
Expect an appeal, is our bet.
12:30 - 21 Sep 2005 [/y5/se]
Mon, 19 Sep 2005
The September issue will be at the printer in the next day or two.
- A proposal to ease tensions over pensions.
- A look at economic development through the lens of John Kenneth
Galbraith's thought. A review of Richard Parker's new Galbraith
Wouldn't now be a great time to subscribe?
00:06 - 19 Sep 2005 [/y5/se]
Tue, 13 Sep 2005
Everyone who cares about public policy in Rhode Island should read and
memorize the new report out from the Poverty Institute. Called
the "State of Working Rhode Island," it is a statistical
picture of some of the realities of life in the Ocean State, if you're
not among the lucky who float on top of the waves.
Among the highlights:
- In 1979, the ratio in earnings between someone in the bottom decile of
workers to those in the top decile was 3:1. In 2004, it stood at
- Wages in the bottom ten percent went
down while the top percent saw real wages increase by almost 50%.
- The tax burden for a family in the bottom
20% is equal to 13% of income while for those in the top 1% is merely
15:32 - 13 Sep 2005 [/y5/se]
Explain it again.
Please explain why it is important for a judge not to explain how he
will vote on a case to come before the court? Roberts claims that he
can't do that as a matter of judicial ethics, or some such rot, and
I've already heard, this morning, talking heads explain how this is of
course the case. But why?
As it happens, I know precisely how Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas
will vote on every matter to do with Roe v. Wade, and I believe both
have used plain english on the subject in their written decisions. I
also know how they will vote on property rights cases, and I know how
they will vote in a case that might embarrass the President.
But for some reason no one thinks there's any problem there. So
what's the problem with simply asking a nominee how he will vote? And
what's the problem with him answering?
Answer: none whatever, in a legal sense, but plenty in a political
sense. But the result is that we're supposed to judge a nominee based
only on the things that don't matter. This, of course, is insane, but
news organizations pay legal analysts not to mention that.
See here for more on Roberts.
And now that you've explained that for me, explain why it's important
that the White House know more about Roberts than me. That is, after
all, the only excuse for withholding memos and briefs he wrote for the
Justice Department when he worked as deputy solicitor general there.
12:05 - 13 Sep 2005 [/y5/se]
Wed, 07 Sep 2005
Where there's a Will, there isn't a way...
...to admit you're wrong. George Will wrote a
in the recent Newsweek that appears to concede important points to his
liberal opposition. It's gotten passed around on lists I know of
because it has some praise in it for activist government. But listen
conservatives-meaning those whose conservatism arises from reflections
deeper than an aversion to high marginal tax rates-are conservative
because they understand how thin and perishable is the crust of
civilization, and hence how always near society's surface are the molten
passions that must be checked by force when they cannot be tamed by
I understand this to be saying that liberals are blind to those
molten passions. But I don't think I'm blind to them, and I suspect
people like me are who he has in mind. But I also think that there
are often times when meeting force with force is stupid and, worse,
doesn't work. That's a wholly different point of view, but one that
conservative debating partners generally refuse to acknowledge.
So Katrina has provided a teaching moment. This is a liberal hour in
that it illustrates the indispensability, and dignity, of the public
sector. It also is a conservative hour, dramatizing the prudence of
pessimism, and the fact that the first business of government, on which
everything depends, is security.
In other words, liberals are right about the need for the public
sector, but they're too soft on crime. So let's talk about the
conservative triumphs in public safety, huh? Let's talk about the
decline in crime during the 1990's and the increase during the 1980's,
shall we? Oops, can't do that. Well how about we talk about the
ineffective Rockefeller drug laws, shall we? Or let's talk about the
war on drugs that jails people for possession of tiny amounts of
marijuana and confiscates their property, but can't even increase the
price of heroin, shall we?
14:57 - 07 Sep 2005 [/y5/se]
Sun, 04 Sep 2005
Manufacturing still alive
in today's New York Times points out that some manufacturers haven't
fled to low-wage Asia. Thanks for the reminder. In terms of value
added, the US still leads the world in manufacturing. Who knows how
much longer this will last, but our share (by this measure) hasn't
dropped appreciably in the past 20 years.
But that's partly an artifact of the measure used. Domestic
manufacturers have competed by moving up the price ladder, trying to
find niches in markets where there are more important factors than
price. So while employment in manufacturing has plummeted, the value
added remains high, due to productivity gains from automation. It
can work: manufacturers can remain here and remain
profitable. It's just not clear that they can support the mass
prosperity that once was the norm in the rust belt states of Michigan
and Ohio, among many others.
20:35 - 04 Sep 2005 [/y5/se]
Maybe you're not better...
in the New York Times, writes about deceit in animals:
Deceit of the Raven
By DAVID BERREBY
It began with apes. In the 1960's and 70's, scientists taught captive
chimps to use words and documented wild ones using tools and planning
hunting expeditions. Then other smart mammals -- monkeys, elephants
and porpoises among them -- also proved to have surprisingly ''human''
mental powers. And in the last few years, the circle has expanded to
still other mammals and beyond.
Last year, in the journal Animal Cognition, the behavioral biologist
Thomas Bugnyar described a twist in an experiment he was conducting
with laboratory ravens. The birds' job was to find bits of cheese
hidden in film canisters, then pry open the lids to get the food
out. One raven, Hugin, was best at this, but a dominant bird, Munin,
would rush over and steal his reward.
So Hugin changed his strategy: when the other bird came over, he went
to empty canisters, pried them open and pretended to eat. While the
dominant bird poked around in the wrong place, Hugin zipped back to
where the food really was. He was deceiving Munin.
To do that, Hugin had to grasp that ''what I know'' and ''what he
knows'' are different. He had to understand, on some level, that other
ravens have their own individual perceptions, feelings and plans, just
as he does. It was big news when scientists found evidence that apes
could grasp this. That some birds can as well is even more remarkable.
Bugnyar and his colleague Bernd Heinrich have uncovered still more
evidence for avian ''mind reading.'' In another experiment, described
in The Proceedings of the Royal Society, they had ravens watch as a
scientist gazed fixedly at a spot on the other side of a barrier. All
the birds, apparently understanding that the big featherless biped
knew something they did not, hopped off their perches to get a look.
Deceit in ravens is very cool, but the rest of the article is just
moaning about how hard it is getting to define what makes a person
better than a chimp or a robot. To which I say, if you need to feel
that our entire species is better than all chimps in order for you to
feel like you're better than a chimp, then maybe, after all, you're
not better than a chimp.
Have you considered that?
20:34 - 04 Sep 2005 [/y5/se]
Sat, 03 Sep 2005
Ah, the consultants.
As you might imagine, because in a business-oriented administration
like this one, where you can't trust government employees to be
FEMA relied on consultants to do a lot of its
disaster planning, including in New Orelans. Apparently they (we)
paid an outfit called Innovative Emergency Management,
of Baton Rouge a half-million dollars to make the plan. I'm sure
you're as curious as I am to find out how much of that plan was
executed. It's funny, but I'm not sure I feel like we got our money's
Tomb, we learn that, at least for a while, the link to the above linked press
release was pulled from the IEM web
site. You don't suppose they're embarrassed by something?
22:44 - 03 Sep 2005 [/y5/se]
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