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Investigative Reporting

Weapons of mass redistributionism

| Sunday, Nov. 5, 2006

"Zounds!" offered one of the wags with whom I regularly converse. The Ph.D. economist was offering his very technical assessment of the "blue-ing" of Pennsylvania.

"Given how 'blue' (i.e., Democrat-controlled and -thinking) the two major population centers (Greater Pittsburgh and Philadelphia) are and the control of the Legislature they have (despite Republican "majorities") the likelihood of addressing the horrendous statist policies in PA shrink with every resident who heads south in search of opportunity," he said.

Indeed, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of an America founded on liberty and independence, is suffering from an astounding progression of collectivist economic stupidity that only will invite more government dependence and tyranny. And, oh, yes, more voting with one's feet by those who, a) understand such things and, b) can't seem to get a place at the table.

Nearly half (47 percent) of those responding to a Trib poll question late last month said the state is moving in the right direction. Which means millions of people in a commonwealth lagging so badly in so many economic indicators believe that the massive wealth-redistributionist schemes of Gov. Ed Rendell actually are improving things instead of what they're really doing -- further exacerbating Pennsylvania's increasingly statist state.

It is an astonishing admission of brainlessness. And despite the availability of hard facts and exhaustive studies that show the danger of weapons of mass redistributionism, the concept suddenly seems to be in vogue. It is metastasizing like a cancer through all levels of government, nongovernment advisory panels, academia and think tanks.

Some examples:

  • In my little suburban community of Mt. Lebanon, the taxpayer-funded propaganda machine has been working full-time to promote a $4.6 million tax-increment-financing package for a very tony condominium project.

    As if that's not bad enough by itself -- both the public paying to be grossly misled, and this kind of blatant corporate wealthfare -- one dedicated community numbers-cruncher notes the real cost of this deal to taxpayers isn't $4.6 million at all but nearly $11 million.

    Simply put, capital costs should be borne by the developer. If the developer says he can't turn a profit building something on his own and with the sole aid of private borrowing, the project should not be built. Taxpayers are not venture capitalists. And neither should they tolerate their "leaders'" lies of omission.

  • US Airways' request for government proposals to help it build a new, consolidated flight operations center should redefine "audacious." But it doesn't because the public, ignored, has become so inured to these machinations.

    Phoenix has offered the airline $25.3 million to help build the $25 million center. Pittsburgh and the state have offered $16.3 million. It's not clear what Charlotte has offered. And the economic savants pushing Pittsburgh are attempting to sell a royal snookering.

    "No, no, no, we're not building this thing for US Airways," the project's government and union pimps say. "We're building this for ourselves. US Airways will lease the facility; should it leave, we have a facility to attract another airline."

    Gee, sure sounds a lot like the "reasoning" behind the Lazarus and Lord & Taylor deals from a few years back, doesn't it?

    But one of the seldom-mentioned dirty little secrets of this "great deal" is that the operations center won't be on the property tax rolls. Money being fungible, again taxpayers are being asked to cover capital costs and, in this case, with automatically handicapped returns.

    Honestly, folks, who keeps thinking up this government-as-landlord stuff that treats taxpayers as suckers and creates more liabilities than assets?

    Oh, and this just in: Fast Eddie Rendell says he'll personally lobby US Airways boss Doug Parker to put the flight ops center in Pittsburgh. Which can only mean the public will pay a far dearer price than being advertised.

  • And then there's the Institute of Politics at the University of Pittsburgh.

    Last time I checked, I still was a member of the board of fellows there and a member of its economic development committee. At least I thought I was on that committee; I signed up for it. Oddly, and if it has met, I've never been invited to any of its meetings.

    But I guess the committee has met. At least that's the impression I get from an IOP mailing last week that lists the goals of that committee and others. Perhaps it's all just a clerical snafu; perhaps it's intentional.

    That said, it was quite surprising to see that a committee of this "trusted ... nonpartisan policy organization" lists as one of its proposed policy "goals" this disaster-in-waiting:

    "Review state law and policy related to economic competitiveness, especially regarding establishment of regional entities that can raise revenue and engage in tax base sharing."

Now, if I didn't know any better I'd speculate somebody's angling to create some new super-duper liberaled-up regional jurisdiction with either bond-issuing or tax-raising authority in pursuit of wealth redistribution on a scale unprecedented 'round these parts.

Can you say "command marketplace"• Can you say "more expensive government"• Can you say "less efficient government"• Can you say "political chicanery"• Can you say "corruption"• Can you say "metropolitanism"• Can you scream?

Instead of constantly trying to figure out new ways to stick their hands deeper into the public's pockets in the name of being more "competitive" by, and most perversely, reducing competitive mechanisms, those in positions of public-policy influence would be wise to hit their friendly neighborhood hardware stores, buy a big monkey wrench and thread their heads back on.

As my Ph.D. economist friend might say, "They're nuts!"

The tales of failed government interventionism are legion in both economic and history texts. That our "leaders" keep believing they can somehow do the same thing with a different result does not speak well of their intelligence. Sadly, it speaks even less of the intelligence of a public that keeps letting these scaramouches turn out their pockets.

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