Having Nice Things in Whitewater

Some months ago, a community group, while embarking on a new project, began using the saying, ‘yes, we can have nice things in Whitewater.’ One supposes that they meant the saying as an expression of optimism about their chances for success, along the lines of we can do this. It’s also probable that they intended the expression as one of desire, along the lines of we deserve this.

It was not the first time that I’ve heard this said about Whitewater, and when an account of the expression’s recent use reached me, I knew immediately whence it came.

It’s a sentiment, generally and beyond any group’s particulars, with which I very much agree: we can have, and deserve, nice things in Whitewater.

Our challenge is that nice is not a fixed quality, sealed in amber, forever unchanging. Nor is nice a thing to be decided from on-high, from a few planners and politicians. The very use of the expression is confirmation that residents will no longer settle for accepting whatever comes their way.

Sometimes nice is a simple thing, overlooked until ordinary residents voice their hopes for more, different, and better.

Look back a decade, and what does one see? Too many leaders and insiders crowing that Whitewater was the pinnacle of all the world, that change would come from them, and that to dare raise any questions about local conditions was somehow an offense against the natural order. They wanted for others little more than a lemming’s life, albeit lemmings who would smile and applaud when asked.

Time takes her toll: most of the leaders from that time have slipped from Whitewater’s public scene (some tumbling more than slipping, if the truth of it be said).

Nice things are sometimes simple, plain things, changing by definition as generations pass, unplanned from above, and decided commonly by many rather than exclusively by a few.

It’s fair to say that a grocery store would be among the plain and simple things of value to Whitewater’s consumers; it’s encouraging that residents are willing to say as much.

Update, Wednesday afternoon : There will be more to write about a new grocery when possibilities become clearer.  One can confidently guess that my own position will favor private, local transactions between businesses and shoppers without government subsidy.

Institute for Justice Fights Anti-Competitive Ban on Baked Goods

Wisconsin is lousy with anti-competitive statutes, designed to protect incumbents from free-market competition. One would prefer that private parties did not have to file lawsuits to protect their economic rights.  Unfortunately, some laws (and some official actions) compel private citizens to seek redress from the courts to protect their liberties.  Fortunately, the Institute for Justice is willing to file suit to make Wisconsin’s markets a bit freer:

Anyone with an oven and a recipe should be able to have a baking business—but that is not the case in Wisconsin, where selling baked goods made in your home kitchen is punishable by up to $1,000 in fines or six months in jail. Wisconsin is one of only two states (the other being New Jersey) to ban the sale of home-baked goods.

Wisconsin’s home-baked-good ban has nothing to do with safety. The state bans home bakers from selling even food the government deems to be “not potentially hazardous” such as cookies, muffins and breads. The state also allows the sale of homemade foods like raw apple cider, maple syrup and popcorn, as well as canned goods such as jams and pickles. In addition, the state allows nonprofit organizations to sell any type of homemade food goods at events up to 12 days a year.

The ban is purely political. Commercial food producers like the Wisconsin Bakers Association are lobbying against a “Cookie Bill”—which would allow the limited sale of home baked goods—in order to protect themselves from competition. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who owns his own commercial food business, even refused to allow the Assembly to vote on a Cookie Bill last session, despite bipartisan support.

That’s why on January 13, 2016, three Wisconsin farmers joined with the Institute for Justice in filing a constitutional lawsuit in state court against Wisconsin’s State Department of Agriculture. The lawsuit will ask the court to strike down this arbitrary home-baked-good ban and allow home bakers to sell home-baked goods—like muffins, cookies and breads—directly to their friends, neighbors and other consumers.

Via Wisconsin Baked Goods Ban: Wisconsin Farmers Challenge State Ban on Selling Home-Baked Goods @ Institute for Justice.

See, also, a copy of the plaintiffs’ complaint, embedded below:

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Friday Poll: Preferred Shopping Times, 2015

The Friday FW poll asks about how you’ll shop over the weekend.  It’s third year that I’ve run this poll (versions of it ran in 2012 and 2013).  Let’s see how this year’s answers compare with those earlier versions.  (Multiple selections are possible for those who’ll shop in different ways.)

Shop Small on Saturday, November 28, 2015

If you’re out and about on Saturday, I hope you’ll shop at some of the many independent, small merchants of Whitewater. You’ll find a wide selection of items for purchase as gifts, and good restaurants at which to eat while shopping during the day.

Best wishes to all for a happy and prosperous season —


See, for more information, Small Business Saturday® on Facebook.

Boo! Scariest Things in Whitewater, 2015

Here’s the ninth annual FREE WHITEWATER list of the scariest things in Whitewater for 2015. The 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 editions are available for comparison.

The list runs in reverse order, from mildly frightening to truly scary.

10. The Coming Ferret Invasion. Alternative title: The Unprepared Will Be Doomed.  Earlier this year, I predicted that Whitewater would experience a massive invasion of ferrets.  Why?  Because I correctly guessed that New York City would not lift its ban on ferret ownership in that city.  In consequence, the aggrieved, hidden ferrets of the Big Apple are sure to decamp for ferret another location.

Whitewater, of course.

In my estimation, they were supposed to be here by mid-October, but perhaps they’re walking more slowly than I’d calculated.

In any event, there’s a way to protect ordinary, decent residents from the rodent takeover.  (It’s mistaken to say that this website does not offer solutions to problems.  It often does.  I would also
remind officials of Whitewater that the easiest way to avoid problems is not to take actions that cause problems.)

Here’s how to protect Whitewater against thousands of invading ferrets.  First, find a city official who has time on his hands.  That’s the easy part. Second, station that official miles from Whitewater, in a rural location between here and the ferrets’ path.  Third, as these small, voracious mammals approach, it will be the official’s job to associate a picture with food, happiness, etc., in the ferrets’ minds. That way, they will seek the location in the picture, and avoid residents’ homes and businesses.  The entire advancing horde will congregate only at the location depicted in the photograph.

I’ve just the place in mind:


Problem solved.

9. Key People.  I heard a presentation recently where the presenter tried to reassure others that she would seek the input of key people.  There are no key people – at least not in a way that makes it worth using the term.  There are only key ideas.  All the rest is an attempt at flattery or an expression of insecurity.

A group of supposedly key people is no match for one ordinary man or woman with a key idea.

8. One’s Own Words.  They must be scary; one hears them so seldom.  There are a few who think that somehow they’re better off relying on poorly written and poorly read publications than speaking and writing on their own.   That’s a mistake.  Servile papers and websites will not prove enough, anymore; the readership dynamic in this city shifted irreversibly against their publications.

(Actual traffic measurements of various publications are nothing like how insiders or publishers want to portray them; realistic measurements show how far insiders’ publications have declined or stagnated, and how much others have gained.  One can be very confident about the future in this regard.)

Talented people – including many officials individually – are simply throwing away their opportunities when they rely on publications markedly inferior to their own abilities.

7. Potholes.  They must be scary, because we’re avoiding them, and spending more on big projects than we’d need for simple street repair.

6. Gaps.  The greatest republic in human history (ours) grew in liberty and prosperity though careful examination of projects and ideas.  We did not develop word-class technologies by believing ‘close is good enough’ on engineering or fiscal projects.  When, however, someone asks that American standards be applied to Whitewater’s projects, officials whine that identifying gaps is unfair, nitpicking, etc.

In what society do they think they live, for goodness’ sake?

America is great, in significant part, because she – unlike foul Third World autocracies, for example – expects high standards from her leaders and their proposals.

5. Open Government & Temporary Amnesia. Every public body has a website, on which they publish every big boast, but somehow these same officials can’t seem to remember how to post key public documents prominently.  They seem to forget, but only temporarily and selectively.

4. WEDC money.  Not just worthless – it is – but worse: a diversion of resources from far greater needs.  The many poor in this city get nothing from this money.



3. Data.  Presenting scores in a realistic context is harder for Whitewater’s school administrators than facing a pack of savage wargs.

2. Filth, Scum, and the Flimsy Scheme to Bring Them to the City.  I’ve a series about this, in WHEN GREEN TURNS BROWN.  There’s a burn-the-village-to-save it quality to waste importation as a means of revenue.  (And yet, the sadness here is that the entire digester-energy project was unnecessary, and the obloquy it brings being wholly deserved for being unforced.)

1. The Ethical Indifference of Act Utilitarianism. Some of the large public institutions of this city show time and again that they care more about their reputations – and that means the reputations of their leaders – than the health and safety of their ordinary members.

The worst example of this has been the repeated downplaying of violent assaults against women on campus while touting accomplishments that cannot, ethically, matter as much as those injuries. These have been self-protective, morally empty, and ultimately futile attempts at diversion and subject-changing.

A climate like this has invited and will invite further tragedies; the worst of this, sadly, surely is not over.

Other officials who allow subject-changing are, themselves, culpable of a supportive wrong.  See, An Open Note to Leaders of the Municipal Government, the School District, and UW-Whitewater.  It’s right and fair that officials who aid in diversionary conversations should be called out directly & specifically when they make that attempt.

For it all, we’ll get to a better city, consigning these ways to the dustbin.

There’s the 2015 list.  We’re more than able to overcome these problems, for a stronger community.

Best wishes to all for a Happy Halloween.

If Market-Based Solutions Are Superior to Cronyism, Why Are There So Many Cronies?

Here’s a question, concerning even small towns like Whitewater, for which the Financial Times publishes an answer: If market-based solutions are superior to cronyism, why are there so many cronies?

First, there aren’t that many cronies (or insistent insiders) in Whitewater or elsewhere, but the few there are manipulate or intimidate weak reporters at local papers into representing their numbers as though they were all the community.  So they’ll commonly speak about how Whitewater does something, when the people acting are a few insiders in a room, for example.

(The truth of Whitewater is that the adult, non-student population in town is only about half the city’s total population, and by the time one accounts for natural differences in interest, outlook, and ideology, the number of big-business lobbyists in town is actually small.  Sometimes, it seems like it’s one person, and a guy who follows along beside him dutifully – if awkwardly – carrying signs or flyers.)

Why, then, does cronyism persist, despite the greater intellectual, practical, and ethical strengths of voluntary, unaided transactions in the marketplace?

Prof. Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago’s Booth School has the answer:

While everybody benefits from a competitive market system, nobody benefits enough to spend resources to lobby for it. Business has very powerful lobbies; competitive markets do not. The diffused constituency that is in favour of competitive markets has few incentives to mobilise in its defence.

This is where the media can play a crucial role. By gathering information on the nature and cost of cronyism and distributing it among the public at large, media outlets can reduce the power of vested interests. By exposing the distortions created by powerful incumbents, they can create the political demand for a competitive capitalism.

SeeA strong press is best defence against crony capitalism @ The Financial Times.

Needless to say, I don’t think that the traditional local press (Gazette, Daily Union, Register) or an imitation (Banner) plays this role.  On the contrary, those publications are defenders of town squires’ repeated errors.

No matter: a new informational order now arises in many small places that progressively, effectively, decisively eclipses insiders to the benefit of those towns’ broader communities.

Tomorrow: Whitewater’s Major Public Institutions Produce a Net Loss (And Why It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way).

Film: From Dishwasher to Award-Winning Restaurateur

I suppose that if I wanted to curry favor with others, I’d talk about the need for immigration restrictions, or at the least I’d avoid taking a contrary view (a restrictive position being so popular these days). That would seem to me a timid way to face the world, unfit for robust Americans. One should be direct in one’s views.

So, I’ll say what I do believe — in the ethical and practical value of free markets in capital, goods, and labor.

A major party that once embraced these views has turned away from them. We who are libertarian will not do the same. We are confident that an economic philosophy of free markets was right yesterday, is right today, and will be right tomorrow.

Hugo Ortega crossed over the Mexican border and arrived in Houston, Texas, without documents and without knowing any English. Over the next few years, he would become a citizen through President Reagan’s amnesty program and go from washing dishes to owning multiple restaurants. Now, he and his wife, Tracy Vaught—whom he met while working as a dishwasher in her restaurant in the 80’s—are the “reigning powerhouse couple of Houston’s competitive restaurant scene.”

In this documentary produced by Katherine Wells for The Atlantic‘s American Dreams series, Ortega reflects on his journey within the industry. “I have a great responsibility to represent the Mexican cuisine in a proper way,” he says. “It’s a magnificent cuisine.”

Conservatives Against WEDC

Only a generation ago (not long, really), most conservatives would have rejected something like the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s ineffectual, wasteful attempts to manipulate the economy for the benefit of a few insiders’ friends.

Today, communities across our state are beset with any number of unctuous men hawking a kind of big-government conservatism, with false promise after false promise about community development or job-creation. It’s junk economics, to be sure, but for every oily salesman there’s an obliging, oily toad among the press happy to flack these shams.

Fortunately, there many who see though this, including conservatives who have not descended into hucksterism. (I’m a libertarian, not a conservative, yet I well know that there are varieties of conservatives, and conservatives who have not abandoned the truth of economic uplift through markets free of state interference.)

Consider the men and women of Wisconsin’s MacIver Institute as a positive example:

According to an article in the May issue of State Legislatures Magazine, states offer billions of dollars in subsidies with little to show for it.

“Today, every state offers at least some sort of tax incentive for businesses,” according to the article by Jackson Brainerd, a research analyst for the National Council of State Legislatures. “Yet, despite lawmakers’ enthusiasm for corporation-specific incentives, many economists, experts and other observers, from the left to the right, doubt they are an efficient use of public money.”

Groups including the conservative Madison-based MacIver Institute question whether states should even be in the business of subsidizing business.

“We believe government does not have a role in this arena,” said Brett Healy, executive director of MacIver, which promotes a free-market approach. “Any time the government gets involved in this type of corporate welfare, picking winners and losers, all sorts of problems crop up.

“If we take a step back and be honest with ourselves, this is not a critical or core mission of state government,” Healy said.


Via What should Wisconsin do to boost business? @ State Journal.


Wisconsin on Pace for Most Layoff Notifications Since WEDC Created

WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Now I thought, as it’s what I have heard again, again, and again, that the WEDC was the Laser-Focused Semi-Private Job Creator of Wisconsin™. 

How odd, then, to read that since the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s inception, Wisconsin is on pace for more job layoffs than ever. 

What a shock: who would have imagined that the grand claims of cronyism would meet their refutation in actual human experience?

When the first round of WEDC funding hit Whitewater (it’s been many trips to the trough since), one heard how this was to be a grand and astonishing triumph for the city.

It was, instead, what anyone might have guessed: water on sand, negligible and of no benefit to the many thousands of this city. 

The P.R. men, 501(c)(6) big-business lobby, and sycophantic officials who peddle these shoddy goods will keep trying.

It is impossible, nonetheless, that dollops of money preferentially allocated will produce a meaningful, lasting result for Whitewater. 

That’s why I have described these white-collar welfare schemes as an expression of a gutter ideology – they are such, as they are both intellectually, ethically, and in practice inferior to alternative methods of allocation.  (See, along these lines, Local Crony Capitalism via the WEDC (and similar schemes).)

I have every confidence in allocation of capital, goods and labor through free markets. 

However, to be clear, almost any allocation to the poor would be vastly better on moral and practical grounds than a compulsory allocation through taxes to well-fed, avaricious, big-business leaders and their unctuous flacks.

Jobs, jobs, jobs?  Not through the WEDC.

The New (But Old) Zero-Sum Game

Over at Rock Netroots, Lou Kaye makes this accurate observation about how most local communities’ officials understand development:

For the most part, city leaders here [he’s referring to Janesville] and across Wisconsin not only believe that communities are in competition with one another, they vigorously support and fuel those concepts by carving out special slush accounts from modest local tax treasuries just for business “incentives.”

That’s very true, but I’d add this modification: that officials think that the competition they face is part of a zero-sum game, a fight over finite and fixed resources.  (That’s implicit, I think, in Kaye’s remarks, but it’s worth stating.)

For the most part, Wisconsin’s local officials, development gurus, marketing & PR men, and lobbyists have a narrow, pre-capitalist, finite view of economic possibilities. One man’s gain is another man’s loss; one town’s gain is another town’s loss. 

They’d fit right in with the mercantilists of three to five-hundred years ago.  It’s as though the profoundly transformative power of capitalism, market theory, and free markets had never happened – these men are the modern-day practitioners of a (profoundly) lesser way of economic life. 

These re-worked ideas of the past are inferior, and offer neither real nor lasting prosperity for the communities that fall under their sway.  It’s just battening on the worry and uncertainty of others. 

The men who tout these development schemes present themselves as community champions, as though they were demi-gods come among mere (and struggling) mortals. 

In this, I am reminded of Captain America’s reply to Natasha Romonoff, when facing men who displayed seemingly mythical powers —

Natasha Romanoff: I’d sit this one out, Cap.

Steve Rogers: I don’t see how I can.

Natasha Romanoff: These guys come from legend. They’re basically gods.

Steve Rogers: There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.

WEDC Afflicted with Internal Strife

Not long ago, Messrs. Telfer, Knight, and Clapper met in Whitewater with Reed Hall, so-called CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, to ‘celebrate’ another round of public money in the service of crony capitalism. These gentlemen must have thought – somehow – that all this would look grand and spectacular, that it would be met with local acclaim. They could not have been more wrong. Their supposed success is nothing of the kind; they’ve foolishly tried to promote a failed – yet still failing – agency.

Consider how things are going at the WEDC:

A high-ranking executive at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. tendered, then rescinded, his resignation late last month, but not before leveling a withering criticism of the agency’s second-in-command, a former top aide to Gov. Scott Walker.

Lee Swindall, vice president of business and industry development, in a resignation letter submitted Aug. 25, criticized his boss, WEDC chief operations officer Ryan Murray, as “lacking either the talent or experience” to function in his position and “causing deep and lasting harm” to the organization.

“Murray confuses rigid control with stability and sound management,” Swindall wrote to WEDC CEO Reed Hall.

“What he is producing instead is instability, opposition and resentment in WEDC,” Swindall wrote.

“This state of growing unrest,” he continued, “will corrode the ability of the agency to perform and reach goals, not secure it. Ryan Murray is too committed to his own consolidated power to either notice or care about the swelling discontent in WEDC. It will likely be his undoing, and I fear, WEDC will share this fate, as well.”

Via Top WEDC exec threatened resignation, says boss was ‘causing deep and lasting harm’ to agency @ Wisconsin State Journal.

Everything about the WEDC, actually, is a ‘deep and lasting harm.’

If Whitewater’s local notables thought – as a matter of policy – that the WEDC’s business and market manipulation was a good idea, then they’re ignorant of good policy, ignorant of sound economics, and in the sway of a low ideology.

If, instead, they thought that, regardless of policy, they’d hit upon a public-relations triumph, then they’re ignorant of how normal and reasonable people actually perceive the WEDC. It’s a deceptive and manipulative clown-show.

As with a carrier of tuberculosis, it’s best not to get too close to the WEDC. That these local gentlemen thought it might be a good idea to offer Reed Hall a passionate embrace, so to speak, isn’t merely their private risk; support of these schemes shows a lack of public judgment as policy or public-relations.

Previously at FW on the WEDC:

A Tech Company That Seeks Private Support

What does a small tech company that seeks private support look like?  Often, we’ll not know, because those private companies seek the support of private venture capital, in thousands of encounters and presentations across America each day. 

Sometimes, though, one sees more because a private tech startup looks to something like Kickstarter to win backing from private parties (many of them ordinary people, making small contributions).

Here’s one example, that received $102,382 in private funding, far ahead of its $36,000 goal: Sprout: HiFi Stereo Amp that transforms the way you listen.

I well understand that Kickstarter’s not for everyone, but these tech companies (and other projects) are relying on support from consumers in the marketplace.

They can feel good about what they’re trying.  They’re not tenured, white-collar academics exaggerating their so-called discoveries while supping parasitically on the tax earnings of working-class wage earners. 

I strongly believe in the opportunities – and even more in the joy of learning – that a formal education can offer.

Proper academic life never has – and never will – include scheming university administrators funding their pals’ ideas with public money. 

Hundreds of years of university life on this continent merit more than that. 

Much more.

Because, you know, it’s government’s job to manipulate results among private businesses

The presumptions of a local government pol:

This ordinance has been an attempt to require the food trucks to put some skin in the game,” [Fort Atkinson city councilmember] Lescohier said. “That skin is through a fee structure, through an appropriate place for them to operate and to control the noise. Right now if you have a food truck, the deck is stacked in your favor to operate in Fort Atkinson. It is inexpensive and you have your pick of the location.”

‘Skin in the game,’ as though it were his place to decide what this commitment means. (This has become a common – but already tired – demand of some conservatives, among others. They want to collect additional fees from the poor, new businesses, etc., on the theory that this shows those businesses’ commitments.  All it really does is enrich the state, at the expense of some businesses and of consumer choice.)  

Now I’m a resident of Whitewater, not Fort Atkinson, so my concern is a secondary one: that ideas like these don’t damage our marketplace as it will theirs.  That a politician is a voice for incumbents to the detriment of others in Fort Atkinson is not my concern; that Whitewater needn’t make this same mistake is my concern. 

I’d suggest that there are arguments against these restrictions from economics, consumer choice, and economic liberty (as a legal argument). 

Resting on a foundation of those arguments would be the opportunity for a press-focused campaign against these restrictions.  (This is proof that a politician can have a background in politics and the press, but still an approach on this issue that’s pinched and small.) 

It’s easy for a councilmember to pick on a few working people, and rely on a sycophantic local press, but he’d look different if one expanded the focus farther afield. Campaigns against food truck restrictions are often successful, and cause regulators to look foolish in the eyes of a more sophisticated, cosmopolitan audience. 

But Fort Atkinson is not Whitewater, and my interest here is merely as an observer (with an eye to my own city’s policies, not another town’s bad choices).  Their mistakes will only make Whitewater more competitive by contrast.

If this were happening in Whitewater, I would have different feelings. 

Beyond all that, truly, there are other concerns in Whitewater that are both near at hand and of greater scope. 

Vandalism, of Property and Opportunity

Not long ago, at a nearby golf course, vandals caused tens of thousands in property damage. A newspaper account reported the damage at about $50,000, and included photos of the scene.

I’m not a patron of the course, and don’t know the owners. I have, though, cycled past it many times. The course has always been an early and happy marker on my rides into Jefferson County. It’s pleasant to ride by – golf’s not my sport, but it’s uplifting to see people enjoying their sport.

We’ve had more vandalism in Whitewater than our community deserves, because the right amount of vandalism is none at all. (For an earlier post of the senselessness of property destruction in town, see The Crude Illegitimacy of Vandalism.)

A few remarks seem in order.

Investigation. Since the newspaper account, I know of no official word on an investigation into the crime. The investigation is under the jurisdiction of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office. The community has a right to know about the progress of that investigation: (1) are there suspects? (2) has anyone been charged? (3) does that department expect to bring charges?

Property. There’s a waxing movement now to criticize private property, but that’s not seeing property rights correctly. Private property is correctly considered a foundation of liberty, and space from within which one may be secure from the state.

It’s more than that, though: private earnings committed to leisure are expressions of peace, of voluntary, cooperative exchanges. No one gets hurt, no one is insulted, no one denied, in a free and open market. All those people who patronize that course do so with their earnings, there and then spent on peaceful pursuits in off-hours.

So many trendy attacks on property, and the contention that property, itself, is wrong or excessive, ignore this truth: that private transactions on golf courses, at clubs, etc., are free, cooperative exchanges for mutual happiness.

A Teachable Moment. I’m not a Democrat, but I surely respect Pres. Obama’s use of the phrase a ‘teachable moment.’ An accounting of this vandalism affords an opportunity not for demonization but for a teachable moment, of reconciliation to a deeper understanding: that private property in a free market originates from effort and thereafter sustains voluntary, cooperative pursuits.

That teachable moment depends on a public accounting of ongoing investigatory efforts.

The Gazette’s Ideological Albatross

It was Carl Denham who once declared, famously, that “It was beauty killed the beast.”

In the same way, nothing matters more for a publication of news and opinion than its ideology, its intellectual outlook.  A misguided outlook will prove debilitating, if not fatal. 

A strong set of principles helps a publication steer true in good weather or bad.

Here’s FREE WHITEWATER’s ideological position, simply and confidently stated on this website’s About page:


Like many papers, the Gazette also has a set (ten in number) of editorial principles.

One may find them online.  (See, subscription required, Our Views: 10 principles guide Gazette viewpoints.)

Of these principles, many are typical and laudable conservative ideals. 

The first of the paper’s principles, however, is a debilitating one, an ideological albatross:

1.  The Gazette supports economic development and policies that promote growth of small businesses and jobs. We oppose rules that unnecessarily impede business expansion.

A principle like this seems sensible to many, but it rests on a pro-business, rather than a free market, foundation. 

These two foundations are not the same.  A free-market position (in capital, labor, and goods) is impartial between big and small, young or old, new or tenured, and between races, religions, and genders. 

The Gazette‘s pro-business position, by contrast, allows for support of insiders’ deals, favored players, and public subsidies for wealthy private interests, all in the name of supposed economic development. 

No, and no again. 

The most wide-reaching and efficient development comes from a market of voluntary transactions without public-private schemes bolstered with taxpayers’ earnings, without white-collar welfare, without crony capitalism, and without state capitalism. 

A paper taking this position will shy from standing up to powerful market manipulators, in favor of getting along, fitting in, and being a supposed player in its community.

In fact, influential and scheming members of that paper’s community will ignore its advice, and ordinary readers will see that the paper hesitates in the face of powerful but greedy, market-manipulating interests. 

Under the supposed principle of economic development, the Gazette‘s editorialist has supported – repeatedly – millions; in public money to a landowner for a park in the name of philanthropy, and offered excuses; for a bureaucrat’s lies and fumbling about a bus line for a multi-billion-dollar corporation. 

It’s all ‘development,’ you see.

I’m a libertarian, and there was a time when Republicans and libertarians, conservatives and libertarians, were closer ideologically. 

We haven’t changed; they did.  They abandoned markets and limited government for development projects for their friends, at public expense. 

They’re simply small-town versions of big-government conservatives.  In Whitewater, many of these men have never met a white-collar welfare deal they wouldn’t support.

Deals, deals, deals – and always for their connected friends.  

With the millions they’ve wasted in Whitewater, for example, we might have taken a portion and supported the truly needy, and returned an even larger remainder to taxpayers. 

(I see that some of these deals were grants for a purpose, of course.  That’s a greater shame, as the express terms of these grants have been ignored here, and they might have been of true and better use to other communities.  Grab it or lose it is a glutton’s motto.) 

As for the Gazette, their present concerns stem not from style, design, or tone, but from an ideological albatross that debilitates the paper with its readers and within its own community (as it would debilitate any paper in any community).

The Planning Commission Meeting for 11.11.13

Whitewater’s Planning Commission met last night, and among the topics was consideration of re-zoning and a conditional use permit for Casual Joe’s, a new restaurant, tavern, and distillery to operate at 319 W. James Street (at the site of a long-unused commercial building, the former Fort Auto Body).   

On 4-3 votes, a majority of the Commission approved both the re-zoning and the conditional use permit.

I’ve supported this project, hoped that an accommodation could be reached, and think this was the right outcome. See, along this line, Whitewater’s Planning Commission Meeting for 10.14.13. (Needless to say, I have neither a financial nor a personal connection to the proposal; I simply believe it’s a good idea for Whitewater.)

One well-understands that the idea is controversial to some; in two consecutive Planning Commission meetings, concerns were both heard at length and (I’d say) thoroughly and methodically addressed.  

One of Whitewater’s planning commissioners offered an observation about a prior project that was controversial at the outset, but has turned out very well (my transcription, however imperfect):

….Some of the conversation we’ve had reminds me of the drive-thru liquor store conversation over on the Westsider.  Some of you may not even know that we have a drive-thru liquor store, but if you’ve been here, calamity was ensured.  And, I don’t want to make light of this, because in that case there are residents nearby, but the slippery slope argument was used.

What happened in this case is that it was approved, and it was approved because the person, the applicant, did his homework, involved partners, amended the plan, and it was a known…it was somebody who was established in the neighborhood – long-established in the community, and he had a stake….

Well said.  I remember that discussion clearly; there are advantages to a long memory.

It’s also true that the project proposed for 319 W. James Street is exactly the sort of project that Whitewater’s Comprehensive Plan – whatever one thinks of it generally – does contemplate for a location like this one.  To read from those planning documents and believe otherwise, really, is a misunderstanding of what those documents both say and strive to foster.

To paraphrase from a recent presidential campaign slogan, this is the change for which we’ve been waiting.  

For us, in Whitewater, this is the emerging business and entrepreneurial culture, of restaurants, merchants, and independent professionals, for which we have been hoping.  

Big has failed us, stodgy has failed us, top-down has failed us. 

Not everyone sees this as opportunity, I know.  Much of this is comfort with the past, even if for the whole city the past has been embarrassingly less than a reasonable person would hope, excuses and exaggerations notwithstanding.    

What comes to us now, fortunately, will not be yesterday’s environment – it will be a new and better one, more prosperous, more vibrant, of greater opportunities for all the community.  

Best wishes to Chef Sailsbery and his staff for another successful venture.

Why Plan?

All people make plans for the future, even if that should be no farther ahead than for later the same day.

Why specifically, though, should government plan?  Every city has plans for development, plans for budgeting, and many (as we do in Whitewater) have a public commission with lawful authority to approve or reject certain private construction or mercantile proposals.  

Whitewater’s Planning Commission, I think, has a choice before it: will you establish fair rules by which private parties can engage in entrepreneurial activity, or will you pick and choose who succeeds and fails, at the outset?  

It’s the oft-repeated distinction between planning for others to compete and planning to control competition.  Watching Whitewater’s Planning Commission, it’s clear that some commissioners would like merely to establish fair rules, and others feel a right to engineer specific results, including preventing entrepreneurs from building and creating in response to consumer demand.

Commissioners who feel they have a right to stop projects based on their personal preferences, or even the authority to stop projects because as appointees they may decide the destiny of others rather than allowing consumers to decide for themselves, overstep legitimate, responsible authority.

Hayek, among so many others since, saw the difference between government planning to facilitate any number of private, voluntary possibilities and planning of a few to compel particular outcomes.  Here, from his Road to Serfdom, are succinct expressions of his views:

“PLANNING” owes its popularity largely to the fact that everybody desires, of course, that we should handle our common problems with as much foresight as possible. The dispute between the modern planners and the liberals is not on whether we ought to employ systematic thinking in planning our affairs. It is a dispute about what is the best way of so doing. The question is whether we should create conditions under which the knowledge and initiative of individuals are given the best scope so that they can plan most successfully; or whether we should direct and organize all economic activities according to a “blue-print,” that is, “consciously direct the resources of society to conform to the planners’ particular views of who should have what.

One might describe this as a case for limited planning, and for expansive private activity.  Hayek draws this distinction:  

It is important not to confuse opposition against the latter kind of planning [of state-mandated outcomes] with a dogmatic laissez faire attitude.

The liberal argument does not advocate leaving things just as they are; it favors making the best possible use of the forces of competition as a means of coordinating human efforts. It is based on the conviction that, where effective competition can be created, it is a better way of guiding individual efforts than any other. It emphasizes that in order to make competition work beneficially a carefully thought-out legal framework is required, and that neither the past nor the existing legal rules are free from grave defects.

Liberalism is opposed, however, to supplanting competition by inferior methods of guiding economic activity. And it regards competition as superior not only because in most circumstances it is the most efficient method known but because it is the only method which does not require the coercive or arbitrary intervention of authority.

The case for a liberal, private order rests on arguments of efficiency and morality.  

Conditions are better, in both ways, when one is free.  

Whitewater will be more prosperous when planning returns to its proper, limited, responsible role. We’ll not have broad-based growth – we’ll not be both hipper and more prosperous – until then.  

Many can achieve here, but only under conditions of political and regulatory restraint.  

Downtown Whitewater and an Emerging Business Culture

At Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, there was a brief presentation from two board members of Downtown Whitewater (DTWW), with others from that group also in attendance.  In the life of a small town, success of merchants matters greatly.  (I’m opposed to pitting local independent merchants against local chain stores, but I very much support local businesses generally.)  

Years ago, when we first saw a Main Street program in Whitewater, there was considerable attention to the effort.  The Great Recession later swept across all America, and despite it all, many of our local merchants survived where one might have feared they would succumb (difficult though that time was, and still is).

Now, with a national recovery slowly underway, and years since its founding, DTWW and her merchants look to the new year.  

I’ll consider a few points from that presentation.

New Merchants.  DTWW has new merchants moving in, and if there’s a single gain that a group could have, it’s the ability to attract and retain businesses.  

Nothing kills the way emptiness kills.  There’s a place for marketing, and a place for the look and feel that façade grants bring, but new merchants are the ultimate marketing, occupied storefronts the best façade.  

DTWW’s ability to draw new merchants is an unalloyed gain. 

Memorandum of Understanding.  DTWW is under a clearer arrangement with the city, by the way, that makes accountability more easily reviewed.  

Fundraising. Most of the money received for DTWW now comes from private sources or in-kind donations.  That’s a key accomplishment: one may be rightly suspicious of many government-private partnerships, but by design and inclination this program moves toward greater self-reliance.   

An Emerging, Entrepreneurial Business Culture.  There’s a point in presentation where Dave Saalsaa, DTWW board president, mentions that DTWW is looking to encourage UW-Whitewater grads to stay and be part of an expanding business culture (such as along Whitewater Street).  
He’s right to mention this possibility: there is a real possibility now of an emerging business culture for Whitewater, of independent restaurants and independent merchants.  It has not come – and it will not come – from big grants, state or federal schemes, or big institutions’ heavy hands.  

But we are starting to see it here, after many years of approaches that mostly made things worse, or at least no better.  

After headlines, after exclamation points, after Big Ideas, there’s something better: the actual accomplishments of smaller, independent business people with good ideas.

Once a culture like this takes root, even in a few places, it can spread quickly and inspire others.  

The efforts of an emerging group of small business people, striving mostly on their own, with a new, hip and more fashionable presentation to this town, may be an important development of the next few years.  

Communications.  How the group communicates among its leaders, members, and the community is something I’m sure they’ll sort out.  If it goes well for them, they’ll advance their goals; if not, they’ll have difficulty meeting them.  Communicating should, after all, be a simple routine, like respiration.  

It’s only when one notices it that it’s a problem.  

Whatever hard work it takes to get there, though, is something the group can and almost surely can accomplish.

Pig in the Park and the Jack Hanna Animal Show.  Downtown Whitewater is planning two events, among others, for next year: Pig in the Park near Cravath Lake, and a return of Jack Hanna’s animal show (this time in collaboration with the university).

Events like this, if handled well, endear people to the city.  They’re not a substitute for prosperity, but can advance an optimism that prosperity requires.

My youngest attended the Jack Hanna show when it was here, and very much enjoyed it.  

DTWW is a small group, and these events are sure to be demanding to them.  Whitewater can manage big, annual events very well (our Fourth of July celebration comes to mind), but it takes more effort and planning when the group is small.

One simple suggestion: each and every volunteer should carry a sheet with the behind-the-scenes work for the day, the public schedule of events, the mobile numbers of every other volunteer, and all volunteers’ designated responsibilities.

That way, whenever anyone asks about a given event or with a question, everyone volunteering will have access to information or a directory listing others of whom they can ask.  

Full storefronts and a full calendar are both beneficial.      

Façades.  In the end, it seems to be that nothing matters more than occupancy, but I see that the ‘look and feel’ of a shop matters.  

(About this topic, I’m thinking of Virginia Postrel’s excellent book, The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness.  Postrel’s a libertarian and former editor at Reason who rightly sees that a free society and economy offer the best opportunities for creative, inspiring design. )

Style does matter, and so façades do matter.  TID 4’s dried up; we’ll have to go on in any event.  Fundraising from private sources to provide money for new façades certainly has its place.  

2014.  Lasting gains won’t come from big organizations or so-called big players: it’s been tried and it’s failed.  

Whitewater will have to look toward gains from small entrepreneurs, often unheralded, yet truly meaningful to the town’s confidence and long-term prospects.

We have a good chance for a better year ahead.

Update: Victory for the Entrepreneurial Monks of Saint Joseph Abbey in Louisiana

Over three years ago, I posted about Louisiana’s attempt to prevent the monks of Saint Joseph Abbey from making and selling handmade caskets.  Their products were of fine craftsmanship and durability, and so sought-after. Despite the quality of their work, Louisiana insisted that only a state-licensed funeral director could sell caskets, and that it was a crime for the monks to do so.

This year, a federal appellate court (the Fifth Circuit) overturned Louisiana’s regulatory requirement, and now the United States Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from Louisiana.  This assures that the lower court decision will stand, and so the abbey has, at last, its long-sought vindication. 

See, from 2010, Institute for Justice: Free the Monks and Free Enterprise.

(Licensing requirements like this have the obvious consequence of protecting incumbent manufacturers or sellers from competitors who, despite the quality of their products, find themselves denied licenses or burdened with heavy regulatory fees.)

I’ve republished a video from the Institute for Justice, a non-profit law firm that represented the monks, and also the IJ’s latest press release about their win.

A case like this isn’t just important for Louisiana, or Saint Joseph Abbey, or the abbey’s customers.  It’s encouraging for small and independent artisans from one side of the country to another, who’d like a chance to offer good and valued products to willing, satisfied purchasers. 

Press release, 10.15.13:

Arlington, Va.—Today, the Benedictine monks of Saint Joseph Abbey won the final battle of their five-year confrontation with the State of Louisiana when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the petition of the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors seeking to overturn the brothers’ landmark constitutional victory.  In March, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Louisiana’s law requiring a funeral director’s license to sell a casket, affirming the constitutional right to earn an honest living without unreasonable government interference.

This case arose when the brothers of Saint Joseph Abbey, a century-old Benedictine monastery in Covington, La., began to sell their handmade caskets in late 2007 to support the monks’ educational and healthcare expenses.  The Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors moved to shut down the fledgling business before it sold even one casket because it was a crime in Louisiana for anyone but a government-licensed funeral director to sell caskets to the public.  The monks brought suit in federal court on the ground that this arbitrary restriction served no legitimate public purpose and existed only to funnel money to the funeral-director cartel. 

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s denial of review puts the final nail in the coffin for the state board’s protectionist and outrageous campaign against the monks,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Scott Bullock.  “The Abbey’s victory in this case will not only protect their right to sell caskets, but the rights of entrepreneurs throughout the country.” 

The monks’ victory is one of only a handful of cases since the 1930s in which federal courts have enforced the constitutional right to economic liberty. 

Abbot Justin Brown, who heads the monastic community said, “Today is a good day for us at the Abbey.  Knowing that not only has our economic liberty been protected forever, but that we also helped secure the same rights for others makes this years-long battle worth it.”  

“Back in March, the 5th Circuit rejected economic protectionism as a legitimate state interest,” explained Jeff Rowes, an IJ senior attorney.  “With the Supreme Court’s denial of the funeral board’s appeal, the 5th Circuit’s ruling becomes final.”

“The government cannot require individuals to go through onerous licensing requirements just to sell a box,” said IJ Attorney Darpana Sheth.  “This victory opens the door to strike down other irrational licensing restrictions that really serve to protect industry insiders.”

“Arbitrary licensing laws crush the dreams of countless aspiring entrepreneurs across the nation,” said Institute President and General Counsel William Mellor.  “This precedent gives them hope that the day will soon come when government no longer stands in the way of honest enterprise.”

Read the Fifth Circuit Decision: