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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,
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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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you can't understand it, and that's the point of writing it this way.
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.
Sun, 30 Dec 2007
for a analysis better than I can write, of why I find the rhetoric of Barack
Obama so problematic. I don't want someone who will seek
reconciliation. I want to line up behind leaders who will, as David
Addington (Dick Cheney's aide) put it so memorably, "Push and push and
push until some larger force makes us stop."
00:47 - 30 Dec 2007 [/y7/de]
Thu, 27 Dec 2007
Score one for the Britannica
You might enjoy
from Encyclopedia Britannica films (1946). Did you know that
progressive taxation is a defense of freedom?
22:37 - 27 Dec 2007 [/y7/de]
Check out footnoted.org, whose
editor spends her time reading the footnotes of corporate filings.
Listen to her on Marketplace.
20:01 - 27 Dec 2007 [/y7/de]
Wed, 26 Dec 2007
Another sign of our world-class health care system
It seems that the incidence of worms among inner-city residents is
high and on the rise:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Roundworms may infect close to a quarter of
inner city black children, tapeworms are the leading cause of seizures
among U.S. Hispanics and other parasitic diseases associated with poor
countries are also affecting Americans, a U.S. expert said on Tuesday.
Recent studies show many of the poorest Americans living in the United
States carry some of the same parasitic infections that affect the
poor in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, said Dr. Peter Hotez, a
tropical disease expert at George Washington University and
editor-in-chief of the Public Library of Science journal PLoS
Neglected Tropical Diseases.
I especially liked this part:
He noted a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, presented in November, found that almost 14 percent of the
U.S. population is infected with Toxocara roundworms, which dogs and
cats can pass to people.
"Urban playgrounds in the United States have recently been shown to be
a particularly rich source of Toxocara eggs and inner-city children
are at high risk of acquiring the infection," Hotez wrote, adding that
this might be partly behind the rise in asthma cases in the
country. Up to 23 percent of urban black children may be infected, he
14:20 - 26 Dec 2007 [/y7/de]
Fri, 21 Dec 2007
How long before this gets blamed on Clinton?
13:52 - 21 Dec 2007 [/y7/de]
Thu, 20 Dec 2007
Several papers where my column was printed this week omitted this
image, the cover of the annual welfare department report from 1936:
More modern welfare logos, from around the nets:
They have a certain theme, don't they?
Wrote about this
21:46 - 20 Dec 2007 [/y7/de]
Pedestrians are second-class citizens
Two pedestrians were
yesterday because there was nowhere for them to walk besides the
I read this somewhere:
To be a pedestrian in Rhode Island is to be a second-class citizen,
constantly reminded that you are less important than citizens who
(See p. 12.)
On the brighter side, my bus driver was handing out cookies this
Read a little more after the jump.
There are some common experiences to trying to get around Rhode Island
on foot. Traveling without a car in Rhode Island means committing to
scrambling over berms and guard rails between bus stops and
destinations, walking across four-lane streets with no crosswalks,
wading across marshy median strips, climbing over unplowed sidewalks,
and more. Bus stops are out by the road, with gargantuan parking lots
to trek across before you get to the store. Standing next to
the road in inclement weather means getting wet from drivers passing four feet
away at forty miles an hour, and crossing the street means matching
wits with aloof and occasionally hostile drivers. And there is not a
"walk" button in the state that perceptibly changes the light when
you press it.
Bringing these experiences to officials' attention is rarely
productive. One is told that too few people walk to make it important
(the very definition of a self-fulfilling prophecy) or that slowing
down the traffic would make "people" wait, as if the pedestrians
do not qualify as people. Putting in additional
crosswalks is thought to create unnecessary traffic tie-ups and even
though municipal comprehensive plans may require commercial buildings
to be next to the sidewalk, and therefore convenient to pedestrians,
planning commissions and town councils seldom insist on these kinds of
restrictions, and regularly trade them away for other amenities..
After all, few of them walk. In other words, to be a
pedestrian in Rhode Island is to be a second-class citizen, constantly
reminded that your safety and comfort are rated far behind those of
your fellow citizens in cars.
09:17 - 20 Dec 2007 [/y7/de]
Tue, 18 Dec 2007
Here's an exciting graph, made
This is the change in income share for
various different sections of the population since 1979. You'll see
that the top 1% of income earners did pretty well. How'd your
See the link for all the details.
14:45 - 18 Dec 2007 [/y7/de]
Pension system woes
Received this from the Treasurer's Office:
FYI. Rhode Islandís pension system is one of the most underfunded
in the United States, in aggregate terms, according to a study by the
Pew Charitable Trusts released today. Rhode Island requires a higher
contribution from state employees (8.75% of salary) to participate in
the pension system than all but two other states....
You can see the rest
The state employee pension fund (which also covers teachers) is
indeed underfunded, but determining how fast we need to fix that is a
source of contention. Were one to ask Treasurer Mollis why, if the
underfunding is such a crisis, he doesn't demand that we pay off the
unfunded liability next year. He'll say that's crazy talk, thereby
making my point (made here and here and here and here)
that reasonable people can differ about how fast it
should be paid off.
The fact remains that Rhode Island is on a very aggressive schedule
of repayments, and this costs us a lot of money to be more fiscally
responsible than anyone requires us to be. If "fiscal responsibility"
simply means spending your dollars wisely, then Rhode Island's
citizens should know that a trade-off is being made in their names in
favor of what banks call fiscal responsibility and against what other
observers — the ones who notice the long-term costs of slashing
education spending, for example — might also call fiscal responsibility.
11:50 - 18 Dec 2007 [/y7/de]
Thu, 13 Dec 2007
What a falling market looks like
In California, prices flew higher than here, by a lot, but the basic
shape of the real estate price record was roughly the same: crazy
run-up of prices, unsustainable, and not supported by real people, but
by speculators. Now look
to see what it looks like on the Stockton Magical Mystery Repo tour.
Via K. Drum.
13:07 - 13 Dec 2007 [/y7/de]
A fabulous new publication
Tax policy in Rhode Island is a game played largely in the dark.
There has been very little data available about taxes the state
collects and even less analysis of that data. The state budget has
never contained a full accounting of the taxes we collect, for
example, and it contained no accounting at all of the gas tax.
But a hazy light has
appeared on the horizon, and the tax division and House Finance have
cooperated on a new publication,
Facts. This was apparently put out last month, but I missed the
announcement party, I guess.
The first issue has some rough spots (a table on page 135 seems to
be missing about 400,000 taxpayers, for example), but it is a vast
step forward from what we have had. Happy holidays to all you little
Update: The table has been fixed.
08:22 - 13 Dec 2007 [/y7/de]
Sun, 09 Dec 2007
More bad news
What's the good of an opposition party if it won't
22:56 - 09 Dec 2007 [/y7/de]
Sat, 08 Dec 2007
Very bad news
is a very bad sign. The dollar's value is plummeting, and it will
continue to plummet, so long as we have nothing the world wants to
buy. Until recently, about the only thing we had that people wanted were
financial assets. Foreign nations would sell us stuff and accept our
dollars because they could re-invest them in US securities that would
earn money, or because they could use the dollars to buy
dollar-denominated goods from other countries. This last was mostly
Well, no one wants to buy our financial assets this week, and now
dollars won't get you any Iranian crude, either. There is very little
incentive for the other oil-producing states to accept dollars, except
to the extent that their wealth relies on US investments. This
probably means that Saudi Arabia and Kuwait will not eagerly follow
suit, but what about Venezuela, Indonesia, Norway and Libya? What
have they got to lose?
Expect imported goods -- including oil -- to get a lot more
Oh, and congratulations to all the people who think that
international power flows only from military might. You've got your
wish, and US foreign policy has been conducted over the past 7 years
as if guns and planes are the only thing that makes us powerful. But
this is only an adolescent fantasy put forward by people who look good
in suits, and so are thought to be Very Serious People. We are about
to see it unmasked. Stay tuned.
The reality is that our power in the world derives from the strength of our
economy, the value of our financial assets, the value of dollars in
international markets, the fact that people from
all over the world want to come here, and more such intangibles. As we chip away at
each of these, we shouldn't be surprised as we lose power.
14:31 - 08 Dec 2007 [/y7/de]
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