Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Friendly Rebuke to the Missouri Chamber of Commerce

I am a fan of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce. I am a proud member. However, on the issue of investing state money in an International Air Cargo Hub, they are simply wrong. In the most recent issue of the Chamber’s newsletter to its members, Daniel Mehan, Chamber President and CEO, urges “lawmakers to show true leadership and finally put the unproductive tax credit debate behind them, and allow opportunities like these to create jobs in Missouri.”

Mr. Mehan casts the issue for discussion as follows: “We are spending time debating the wrong issue. The question is not whether Missouri should invest funds in economic development initiatives. The real question that we should be asking: How can Missouri best invest these funds?” It is very simple to waive the hand and dismiss a question; it is more difficult to engage an issue and resolve it. The remainder of Mr. Mehan’s piece is devoted to a speculative agenda of how investing “these funds” will bring jobs to Missouri. I hope by asking a few simple questions I will bring Mr. Mehan back to the point of asking the first question of whether Missouri should invest the funds and answer it in the negative.

First, if it is so important to invest “these funds,” would the Chamber be willing to provide these funds in its budget to be funded by Chamber members? (Be clear: if so, I will allow my membership to laps. I do not want to be an investor in Aerotropolis, whether it is by Chamber agreement or governmental fiat.) Remember, government produces nothing. Government produces laws. Through law, government must take funds from its citizens in order to pay for its services. To invest “these funds” it must take “these funds” from others. Is this investment important enough that the Chamber would be willing to invest them directly? Or should the legislature confiscate the property of Mr. Mehan to make the investment? If not, why should I be expected to by paying higher taxes?

Second, if it is not appropriate to debate whether “these funds” should be invested, then in every case the ends justify the means. Suppose that I can put four men to work if I possess a backhoe but I cannot afford a backhoe. If my neighbor has a backhoe that he is not using, but refuses to allow me to take it from him, am I justified in stealing it? After all, I can put it to better use than he can. According to Mr. Mehan’s analysis, I should be able to confiscate the useless backhoe, for it is not appropriate to discuss “whether.”

If we are going to have true economic development, it must be an economic development which is based on justice, not coercion. Economic development that is based on governmental incentives is fleeting and counterproductive. If I have a thousand dollars in disposable income, I have the option to spend it as I see fit. I may buy a new television, a new camera, or new equipment for my business. Each of these economic transactions is an investment in economic development. It is an investment in a product or service which has value to not only me but the individuals that previously invested in and developed the product or service. If the government confiscates five hundred dollars, it has not only deprived me of the ability to invest my full thousand dollars, it has invested in an inherently less valuable investment. If the tax credits are required to induce the investment, it is clear that the investment would not have been made but for the economic bribe needed to increase the investment’s return. And once the incentive ceases, there is no expectation that the investment will continue without the incentive.

The fact that the confiscation is guised in the power of the government for most changes the debate. We live in a culture in which government routinely takes from some to give to others. So it is appropriate to do it in this case as well, correct? NO. This is a mindset that must change. This last year, the Missouri Chamber took positions on labor legislation that was designed to reduce government power exercised by unions over employers. I applaud the Chamber’s positions on such matters. Economic liberty means minimizing or eliminating governmental coercion in economic transactions. However, in urging government to use its legal authority to manipulate economic transactions, the Missouri Chamber is undercutting its own position. Socialism is the abuse of governmental power against some citizens for the benefit of other citizens. The Missouri Chamber’s position as framed Mr. Mehan’s article, while being a different type of socialism from the Obama type socialism, i.e. corporate welfare, it is still socialism. Mr. Mehan should not be using the Missouri Chamber as a mouthpiece for economic injustice. If he expects the legislature to provide economic liberty to Chamber members, he should expect them to provide economic liberty for all.