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Legislative Hall in Dover, Delaware

This article originally appeared at the Watchdog.org website on January 20, 2015. Read the original at http://watchdog.org/193657/legislative-priorities-2015-delaware-way/

Last week was the first week the state Legislature was in session, but they will soon adjourn for budget and finance hearings before getting back to lawmaking in mid-March. Five new representatives and one new senator took their oaths of office for the first time, but this Legislature looks almost identical to the last one: the Democrats control the governor’s mansion, the House of Representatives 25-16, down from 27-14 last year, and the Senate 12-9, down from 13-8.

Notably absent from the last General Assembly were bills to make Delaware’s economy more free as the state—well-known as the “Switzerland of America” for its easy incorporation process and fair Court of Chancery—faces competition from Nevada and North Dakota for corporate business and from the Sun Belt for jobs. This year the Caesar Rodney Institute hopes to see legislation to address the following issues:

1. Education Savings Accounts: Delaware has “school choice”-IF your idea of school choice is to allow a child to transfer from one public school district to another (provided that district has room).While that’s better than nothing, that’s not really school choice.

CRI supported a bill last year called the “Parent Empowerment Education Savings Account Act” (PEESAA) which would have introduced Education Savings Accounts as an option for low-income and special-needs students who are the most likely to need additional services not being offered by the traditional public schools. This bill was tabled in the House Education Committee but we hope ESA’s and other bills encouraging school choice are brought up this year.

2. Prevailing Wage (PW): Delaware has an insanely wide range of wages a that business who wants a public construction contract has to pay its employees to get the contract.

Every January the state Department of Labor mails out its PW survey to union-friendly contractors and conveniently “forgets” to remind non-union-friendly construction companies to ask for, and return, the survey. This results in wage variance like $14.51 per hour for a bricklayer in Sussex County, but $48.08 per hour for the same job in Kent and New Castle Counties. Not to be outdone, boilermakers get $71.87 an hour in New Castle County, but “only” $30.73 in Kent County.

These high rates prevent many construction projects from being started and make those which are done more expensive for taxpayers. If the PW won’t be eliminated, we hope the state will instead use the U.S. Occupational Employment Statistics survey. This would reduce rates by almost 40 percent on average and free up nearly $63 million of spending from the State’s FY15 capital budget, including almost $18 million for more school capital improvements.

3. Make Delaware the next right-to-work state: Delaware is not a right-to-work (RTW) state and, between that and our inconsistent-as-applied PW law, many businesses outside the state choose not to move here. Incorporating and buying office space in Wilmington for some high-paying executive jobs is one thing. But Moody’s Analytics in late 2013 said Delaware was the only state at immediate risk of falling back into a recession and a lot of this is due to more businesses closing than opening in Delaware. Pass legislation to end forced unionization and support pro-job growth policies instead.

4. Tax and regulatory reform: Only five states have a Gross Receipts Tax, which is a tax on revenue generated before profit and loss is factored in. Three of those states have no further taxes on corporate earnings and the only other state (Virginia) that does has lower tax rates. Between this tax, high personal and corporate income taxes, franchise taxes, and overall over-regulation by state agencies, Delaware is increasingly threatening its “Incorporation Golden Goose” as Nevada and North Dakota work to take business from the state. This needs to be addressed.

5. Work to lower energy prices: Delaware has electric rates 25 percent higher than the states we compete with for jobs like nearby Virginia. We import close to one-third of our electricity from out of state, the highest rate in the nation. Some of this is due to our geography, but a lot of it is due to the state’s failure to build a network of natural gas pipelines from the Marcellus Shale to Delaware.

Coupled with the state’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) carbon tax scheme and taxpayer subsidizing of “green” companies like Bluewater Wind (gone), Fisker Automotive (didn’t build cars in Delaware), and Bloom Energy (still has not brought the promised 900 high-paying full-time jobs), Delaware cannot grow its economy if energy prices are high. We want the Legislature to pass natural gas pipeline extension and end participation in RGGI and subsidies for “green” companies.

What issues do you think the state Legislature should focus on this year?

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Since 2008 America has seen a greater number of businesses close than open. According to Gallup, roughly 6 million businesses out of 26 legally recognized actually function; the rest are inactive or exist only on paper. Of these 6 million “real” businesses, 3.8 million employ 1-4 employees. Only about 108,000 businesses in America (2% of “real businesses”) employ 100+ people. If we continue to kill off small business with over-regulation and over-taxation, how will the government be able to pay its bills, short of more printing, borrowing, and cancelling debts?

From Gallup: (article truncated for space)

“The U.S. now ranks not first, not second, not third, but 12th among developed nations in terms of business startup activity. Countries such as Hungary, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, Israel and Italy all have higher startup rates than America does.

We are behind in starting new firms per capita, and this is our single most serious economic problem. Yet it seems like a secret. You never see it mentioned in the media, nor hear from a politician that, for the first time in 35 years, American business deaths now outnumber business births.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the total number of new business startups and business closures per year — the birth and death rates of American companies — have crossed for the first time since the measurement began. I am referring to employer businesses, those with one or more employees, the real engines of economic growth. Four hundred thousand new businesses are being born annually nationwide, while 470,000 per year are dying.

You may not have seen this graph before.

Until 2008, startups outpaced business failures by about 100,000 per year. But in the past six years, that number suddenly turned upside down. There has been an underground earthquake. As you read this, we are at minus 70,000 in terms of business survival. The data are very slow coming out of the U.S. Department of Census, via the Small Business Administration, so it lags real time by two years.

Here’s why: Entrepreneurship is not systematically built into our culture the way innovation or intellectual development is. You might say, “Well, I see a lot of entrepreneurial activity in the country.” Yes, that’s true, but entrepreneurship is now in decline for the first time since the U.S. government started measuring it.

Because we have misdiagnosed the cause and effect of economic growth, we have misdiagnosed the cause and effect of job creation. To get back on track, we need to quit pinning everything on innovation, and we need to start focusing on the almighty entrepreneurs and business builders. And that means we have to find them.”

No matter how much some people will try to convince you the Roaring Twenties are back, the reality is that we have far too many businesses closing and not enough replacing them.Businesses do open and close all the time, but a lot of business closings are small businesses getting shut down because of government policy via regulation and taxation. A lot of these policies are Cronyist policies pushed by big business to weaken their competition, which is smaller stores. Thus for example, a big chain like Costco can safely come out in favor of the minimum wage increase knowing it will end up hurting the roughly 80 percent of businesses which employ nine or fewer people, while at the same time reaping the benefits of “caring” for their employees (note: we don’t object to Costco paying its employees well; we applaud it. But just because Costco might be able to afford a wage increase doesn’t mean every business can).

Crony business policies, government bureaucrats who make new regulations to justify their jobs, politicians who want to “do something” to get votes, and a well-intentioned but misinformed public which votes for things like minimum wage hikes  all result in a decline in new business startups and jobs lost and never created in the first place. We at CRI support economic policies which make it easier for people to start businesses and create new (hopefully well-paying) job opportunities without sacrificing necessary regulations and basic standards of decency. But unless we fundamentally change the way our country is operating, that 70,000 per year decrease in total businesses operating in America will increase in number.

Help support CRI! Your support allows us to research and provide analysis to the public on policies which will best grow the economy and create jobs. An end to the prevailing wage, Right to Work legislation, an end to Delaware’s gross receipts tax and lower corporate income taxes and personal income taxes, health care reform which encourages innovation from the private sector, and energy policies which would give people more choices would go a long way to helping Delaware, and America, make a sound economic recovery for all. Please consider making a contribution today.

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Earlier this week Business Insider UK published an article titled, “Conservatives will hate this: Proof That Government Spending Cuts Hurt Economic Growth”. From the article:

“… austerity subtracted about 0.76 percentage points off the real growth rate of the economy between the middle of 2010 and the middle of 2011. If real government spending had remained constant at mid-2010 levels and everything else stayed constant, (yes we know these are big assumptions) the US economy would now be about 1.2 per cent larger.

There’s a secondary conclusion, too: War is good (economically), it turns out.”

They provided a graph (created by Matt Klein of the Financial Times) with data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) “proving” that Keynesianism works. Without public spending, the author argued, our economy can’t grow.

US govt spending growth contribution detail

Enter the Foundation for Economic Freedom, whose founder Leonard Reed once published the famous short story “I, Pencil.” You absolutely should read this, by the way. An economist named Robert Murphy points out the fallacy in the calculations made for the graph above:

“Edwards (the author of the Business Times UK article) seems to think that the above chart shows at least a correlation between government spending and economic growth. After all, he wrote that the BEA chart “seems to show that government has a pretty straightforward effect on GDP.” But… the chart does nothing of the kind.

Look carefully at the legend. The various colored rectangles are different components of government spending. Specifically, the rectangles indicate how the change in each component — positive or negative — relates to the change in overall GDP. The black line is not GDP growth, but is instead the sum of the various components of government spending… if we take the BEA’s word for how much each component of government spending contributed to GDP growth in each quarter, then we can stack those numbers on top of each other and even add them up! Contrary to Edwards, the FT chart doesn’t “show” anything at all, except that the BEA each quarter announces how much various components of government spending contributed to, or subtracted from, GDP growth.

After this discussion, we can see why pretty charts from the FT showcasing government spending’s “contribution to GDP growth” quarter by quarter don’t really mean anything. It’s the same for the ex post “empirical” analyses that concluded that the Obama stimulus package “saved or created” such-and-such million jobs. The underlying models that generate these estimates assume a Keynesian world, and thus cannot test whether the Keynesian model is correct.”

Even though the government prints and issues money, it’s the private sector (both businesses and consumers) who determine the value of a good or service. The government can only run on money taken from the private sector; printing into eternity is Quantitative Easing, which causes inflation if too much is printed. So they tax or borrow it from the people. If government spending really did save economies, both Delaware and America would have people making record amounts of money instead of seeing wages stagnate. The Federal Reserve would not have to continue holding interest rates low in order to convince people to buy things like homes or cars or take out student loans.

Check out CRI’s analysis here and here.

The bottom line is, Keynesianism does not work in the real world, despite efforts by its supporters to say it does. The less the government spends, the less the government needs. Even The News Journal noted that in a recent editorial.

As we approach 2015, here’s to more free markets and less government spending at all levels.

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Today is Giving Tuesday, a day created by the UN and 92nd Street Y nonprofit to encourage people to consider giving to a nonprofit/charitable organization instead of buying more stuff for the holidays.

As someone who currently works at a nonprofit, I can’t emphasize enough how critical donations are to keeping the organization running. I know stories abound about nonprofits where the CEO’s and top executives pull in six or seven figure salaries and very little that’s donated goes to the actual mission. That may be true for a small number of larger nonprofits or shady enterprises, but I can assure you the vast majority of us who work in nonprofits are not rolling in money.

So please find a charity (like the Caesar Rodney Institute, hint hint) and make a contribution today. You can also visit smile.amazon.com and choose a nonprofit you want Amazon to contribute to. For every dollar you spend on Amazon they will make a small contribution to your designated nonprofit. It won’t cost you any money and it’s an easy way to give.

So what are you waiting for? Support #GivingTuesday today!

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Happy Thanksgiving! We hope you have a happy and safe holiday.

For this week’s post we are going to respond to the post of blogger Lyman Stone, a grad student at George Washington University’s Elliott School. In his November 21 blogpost titled “North Dakota, Illinois, and Delaware: A Boom State, a Struggler, and a Winner”, he wrote about Delaware’s migration and why the state has had an overall increase in people from 2000-2010 (source: U.S. Census). His top four points and our response:

1. “Many of the people Delaware loses, as I’ve already shown, are richer people. That is to say, Delaware is exporting its richer people (many of them retirees) to states like Arizona, Florida, Virginia, and Texas. Meanwhile, it is inundated with floods of lower-income, somewhat less-educated individuals. Delaware’s in-migration includes very high rates of retiree migration and migration of the young.”

Delaware lost roughly $480 million in net wealth from 2000-2010, predominately from New Castle County (source irs.gov). Some of that wealth went across the border to Chester/Media, PA; many of the top 1% retired to Florida or Arizona, but many people did stay in Delaware and moved to Kent or Sussex Counties where property is even cheaper and cost of living is lower than New Castle County. Delaware’s low property taxes attract retirees mainly from DC, MD, NJ, and NY. Young people move to New Castle County for the corporate jobs. But Lyman is missing this point: Families with school-age children tend not to stay in Delaware. (see here and here). Unless the parents can afford a private school or get to a good charter school, the parents more often than not leave for PA. A graph within the presentations in the links shows a huge drop-off with parents with at least one child aged 5 or older leaving for places like Valley Forge or Media while parents with children 0-4 stay in Delaware. So it’s like “come when you’re young, leave when you have a family, return when you’re ready to retire”.

2. “Once again, like Illinois, Delaware has lots of high-traffic borders and nearby border metro areas, thus we can fruitfully look to policy variables as one part of the explanation. Delaware has income taxes at a similar rate to most of its regional peers (though much higher than Virginia’s) and is in the minority of states in that it still has an estate tax. In that regard, it is peculiar that so many retirees would choose it.

That is, until we recall Delaware’s three most salient tax features: it has no sales tax (thus reducing cost of living), among the lowest property taxes in the nation (reducing cost of living), and funds its infrastructure through tolls and user fees more than any other state (reducing burdens on people who drive less: young and old). Its taxes overwhelmingly fall on businesses, but it attracts businesses by offering highly favorable legal and regulatory conditions.”

Delaware has a gross-receipts tax, a tax on business revenue BEFORE profit and loss is considered. Only Virginia has both a gross receipts and income tax, both of those rates are lower there than Delaware. The result has been that Delaware has had more businesses closing than opening and we are 51st in the country in jobs created by existing firms (Source: deconfirst.com). This means no state or DC is worse than Delaware at getting businesses already here to hire more people. The state is very good at helping start-ups but not good at helping established businesses, especially medium-sized businesses.

Delaware’s Court of Chancery is known for its fairness, and incorporation laws are lax. This is favorable to larger businesses to want to headquarter here, which is why the Wilmington area has so many corporate offices with high-paying administrative jobs. This is a good thing for the state but again, this benefits larger businesses and not small- or medium- sized businesses.

3. The net result of Delaware’s policy choices is that “New Economy Index” produced by the liberal-leaning Progressive Policy Institute ranks the 2nd best in the nation, the conservative-leaning American Legislative Exchange scores 27th in their “Rich States, Poor States” publication, the business-backed Tax Foundation (disclosure: my former employer) ranks 14th-best, and even the libertarian Mercatus Center identifies as 17th “most free” in their Freedom in the 50 States report. A report by 24/7 Wall Street found Delaware to be the 13th best-run state in the nation, and academic measures of state corruption rank Delaware no worse than middle-of-the-pack. In fact, it is a real challenge to find any organization that scores Delaware poorly on any major policy metric or index.

Corruption in Delaware is not as bad as it is in places like Illinois, Rhode Island, California, or Louisiana. But saying it’s “good” is more on an indicator of how corrupt those states are. Delaware’s small size means “everyone knows everyone” attitude impacts the government but the state is not very forthcoming with state pension data or with how education dollars are being spent. That said, we are better than every other Mid-Atlantic state besides Virginia. We posted on the Tax Foundation’s analysis.

4. Likewise, Delaware has one of the lowest average price levels of any state in the region (except Virginia), and that price level is lowest in southern Delaware, where in-migration is highest.

I’ve repeatedly cast Delaware as a state that’s providing opportunities: for the young, for the less educated, and also for regional retirees who may not have the money for a bigger relocation to Texas or Florida (or who may not want to pay property and sales taxes in those states). That’s because Delaware’s migration record is simply the strongest across the most different categorizations of almost any state, especially among states without major oil and gas reserves. I’d love to hear more from people familiar with Delaware on how the state attracts people: beaches with rising popularity? corporate headquarters? retirement communities? strong university recruitment? sprawl from Philadelphia?

To Lyman’s final point, Delaware IS a very attractive place between Philly and Baltimore/DC. We are a train ride or short drive from all three cities and only three hours from New York City. The Beaches draw in tourists and retirees, and there is some Philly sprawl in the Claymont area. But Delaware is beginning to lose our status is a “tax haven”, now that Nevada and North Dakota are competing with us for our corporate business. The state spends way too much money and like most states will suffer from having to choose between Medicaid and public education once the federal government cuts back on its Obamacare obligations by 2019. Our three casinos are losing money and, barring a change in visitor habits ore legislative policy, will go out of business; 6% of our state’s revenue comes from casino taxes. We have a state carbon tax and cap-and-trade system (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) which is costing so much money CRI’s Energy Policy Director Dave Stevenson and our board member John Moore are suing DNREC to prevent a new carbon tax fee from being imposed on residents and businesses.

Delaware’s population is aging at a faster rate than the nation as a whole; right now half the state receives Medicare or Medicaid. By 2030 that number will be closer to 67% at current migration rates. Sussex County is already 25% senior citizens and that number grows ever year. As much as we at CRI love our seniors, someone has to help pay for Medicare/Social Security/ public housing assistance/public transportation, and other quality-of-life benefits seniors need to enjoy their retirement since we know the Feds won’t meet their future obligations.
Because of its strong migration record in a highly competitive area, other states could benefit from studying Delaware’s experience and determining which policies they can adopt for their own states.

Please don’t pass a gross receipts tax or block natural gas pipeline from reaching your states. We have high electricity prices and a mediocre public education system. Don’t be so aggressive and seizing abandoned property, even down to the Amazon gift cards which went unused. End the prevailing wage and establish a Right-to-Work law if your state doesn’t have one yet.

What do you think about Lyman’s blog post or our response?

Please consider eliminating your state’s sales tax and lowering property taxes, and have a court system which is seen as quick, efficient, and fair.

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The Wall Street Journal ran an article yesterday based on a longer study by the Brooking Institute on the trend of the average age of businesses in America aging:

“Why it’s worrying that U.S. Companies are Getting Older”

“Older firms are increasingly controlling the largest market share in different sectors of the economy, according to a paper by the Brooking Institution’s Robert E. Litan and Ennsyte Economics’s Ian Hathaway. By 2011, the portion of U.S. businesses aged at least 16 years reached 34%, compared to 23% in 1992. Moreover, those mature companies went from employing only 60% of private-sector workers in 1992 to employing nearly three quarters of the private-sector labor force in 2011.

The report attributes this trend to declining entrepreneurship, among other reasons. The rate of new business creation in the U.S. has been constantly shrinking in the past three decades. “The decline in new firm formation rates had occurred in every U.S. state and nearly every metropolitan area, in each broad industry group, and in all firm size classes,” the authors explain.

Moreover, it has become more difficult for younger companies to survive and compete with the bigger ones. Business failures are more frequent and likely among start-ups, which may account for the fall in business creation after the 1990s. The economy has grown more advantageous for incumbent firms and less helpful for fledgling ones.

The authors argue that younger companies are crucial to attaining a healthier economy as they have had the largest contribution to past “disruptive and thus highly productivity enhancing innovations” across different sectors ranging from airplanes and automobiles to computers and internet search.

“If we want a vibrant, rapidly growing economy in the future, we must find ways to encourage and make room for the start-ups of the future that will commercialize similarly influential innovations,” said the authors.”

 The first chart shows that more businesses close than open, which includes start-ups which fail. Nearly 90 percent of all businesses fail within 10 years. The second chart shows a specific breakdown by industry.

 

 

 

This is not difficult to understand: new business face the inherent challenges of promoting a brand of a product or service in the face of well-established, existing brands. Why try something new when the old version works for you? Then you add in the high tax rates, high energy costs regulation compliance costs, all sorts of entry fees (examples include taxi medallions and occupational licenses), and new laws pushed by the old businesses, mainly larger firms, which drive out the smaller competitors who cannot keep up with the ever-increases taxes and regulations, and the result is that fewer and fewer people even consider starting up a new business, and those who do are more likely to keep the size small enough to handle the taxes and compliance requirements  manage rather than spend energy trying to grown the business or make it more profitable. This is a significant reason why most of the new start-ups are companies which do not need a lot of energy use or space, such as a tech start-up where one only needs a computer with the right programming and internet access and which can be done from an apartment or coffee shop. The problem is that not everyone knows how to, or is capable of, learning to code and managing a computer-based business. On the downside there are fewer start-ups in other sectors of the economy like construction and manufacturing which can offer good-paying jobs needed for many working Americans. Start-ups provide people with job opportunities and can create new ideas which make civilization’s progress better for more and more people. Just imagine a world with no light bulbs, automobiles, or commercial internet access, for example.

The short- and medium-term implications is that this is a disaster decades in the making. Fewer competitors in a particular sector means less choice, which inevitably leads to higher prices and a lower quality product or service because the incentive to be better disappears if either a) you do not have competition or b) if you can simply lobby the government’s elected and unelected officials to devise ways to limit or defeat the competition’s ability to challenge the “established” brands. The resulting weakness in economic growth then fuels the “need” for stimulus dollars, tax credits, and subsidies to keep certain businesses competitive, rather than allow the private marketplace to decide what is valuable and what is not. But even in this way we are only taking money from those who produce and redistributing the wealth to those who are well-connected or who are in the business those in charge of the money deem “sustainable business.”

This is what cronyism does to the economy: it will enrich the well-connected and wealthy while making prosperity harder and harder for an increasingly few people. We are past the debate as to whether cronyism harms economic growth; the question is if and when the majority of people will recognize the problem and stand with organizations like CRI in opposing cronyism and the devaluing of the dollar.

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This week many people will be snowed in for Valentines Day (stay safe on the roads!), but we at CRI are pleased to announce our new Director of the Center for Economic Policy & Analysis (CEPA), Dr. Stacie Beck.

You can visit our website link at www.caesarrodney.org or click on “our staff” in the “About” section on the top right of the page to view Dr. Beck’s complete bio. Dr. John Stapleford, currently a member of the advisory council, left his position as CEPA director in October. Dr. Beck will be responsible for continuing CRI’s economic policy & analysis work and keeping you up to date on the most recent and relevant studies of Delaware’s economic policies. Dr. Beck will be quite busy: with the potential for a 10 cents per gallon gas tax increase, revenue from the casinos drying up and a new revenue stream needed, and the prevailing wage law still in place, CRI will be busy advocating for policies which benefit Delawareans and keep the size of state government in check.

 

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