by Jon Sanders
Research Editor and Senior Fellow, Regulatory Studies, John Locke Foundation
John Hood writes this morning about the instructive philosophy of Cicero, originator of the phrase that would one day become North Carolina’s state motto. Esse quam videri. To be rather than to seem.
I have long urged our policymakers to apply this principle of being rather than seeming to their policies. And I’ve wondered why so many advocates for government solutions to problems actually favor policies that exacerbate those problems.
I recently praised a Maryland county leader who sought being over seeming when the issue was whether to hike the minimum wage. That is an issue where the impulse to seem compassionate causes more harm than good.
Isiah Leggett (D), the county executive of Montgomery County, resisted the urge to take the easy position of seeming to adopt a policy to help poor workers. Smartly, he asked for a study to see if the policy would actually help them. The study came back, and Leggett’s wisdom may have preserved tens of thousands of jobs.
Here is a chart from that issue showing the dismaying lack of effect of the trillion-dollars-per-year “War on Poverty,” especially compared with how the poverty rate was steadily falling on its own before the government intervened:
Overt, highly visible government interventions on behalf of the poor certainly seem to be essential policies. But negative unintended consequences, faulty assumptions, and perverse incentives show that the policies have not been effective at all.
Cato’s David Boaz recently highlighted how a bunch of government policies intended to help people and make us safer have instead left them stranded in poor areas with dwindling jobs and wealth.
Americans was once a land of economic mobility, where people could “strike out for greener pastures,” chase their dreams with “vagabond shoes longing to stray” and leave their “little town blues … melting away” — not so much now. Why?
Government aid programs and low-income public housing provide powerful disincentives to leave, even to go where jobs are. Overall growth in occupational licensing combined with broad differences in states’ occupational licenses combine to make moving a tougher choice. And cities’ highly restrictive land-use regulations jack up home prices beyond reach of poor people from small towns.
This decade we have seen North Carolina leaders adopting empirically tested policies (i.e., being) in taxes, spending, and regulation. North Carolina’s turnaround has made the state a national model for growth the right way.
But we have also witnessed the growth of a movement whose basis is proclaiming that the ad hoc opposition to those policies and others is “moral.” The desire for facile seeming is strong.