A July 26 article in the Buffalo News rejoiced, “Job growth in WNY gains speed, credibility.” There is no doubt about the speed. The credibility may be another story.
Writer David Robinson gave due credit to “high-profile projects, from the Medical Campus to Solar City’s 1,500-employee solar panel factory, that are giving a jolt to the local job market, first because of all the construction associated with those projects, and eventually with the hiring that will take place as those businesses ramp up.”
What he didn’t mention was why those two sectors were enjoying such spectacular growth: tax breaks and other incentives provided by local, state and federal governments.
It has become fashionable to call tax breaks “subsidies,” based on the perverse idea the government not only has a legitimate claim to all wealth you’ve created in the past, but any you may create in the future. Tax breaks aren’t subsidies, but they are part of a larger economic system that has never worked.
Step One is to tax and regulate everyone into a state of complete economic paralysis. Buffalo’s local governments perfected that fifty years ago. They never got around to Step Two until now.
Step Two is to grant limited relief to those businesses who either represent something politicians like or who promise to deliver something politicians need. Solar City does both. They represent the green energy movement, the cause célèbre of politicians everywhere. They have also promised to create a significant number of jobs, which helps politicians get reelected.
This may seem like a win-win for everyone, until that buzzkill called “economic reality” turns on the lights and turns off the music. Growth created by government privilege almost always turns out to be temporary. Viable business plans don’t need government assistance to make a profit and create new jobs. They produce products customers are willing to pay for at a price that supports the company’s costs and profits.
Solar City may or may not have a viable business plan. We don’t know, because it is presently riding government “subsidies” in all its markets, not just in Buffalo. We do know its stock is down over 8% since it reported earnings in May. We’ll get another report later this week.
The risk is Solar City turns out to be another Chevy Volt, a product that never would have made it to market without similar assistance from the government. Despite that assistance, the product’s sales have consistently failed to materialize. The government continues to help keep the product alive, but if jobs were actually dependent upon producing it, they’d cease to exist. Chevy’s sales of viable products are what actually subsidize the Volt.
Not only does this form of central economic planning promote unviable business ventures over viable ones, it encourages businesses to do economically idiotic things, like hire more people than it needs. A June 11, 2015 article in the News lamented, “Billed by officials as creating 400 jobs, FedEx center in Hamburg will fall short of that tally.”
The article attempts to incite outrage that Fedex has reneged on its promise of 400 jobs in return for the tax incentives, although it acknowledges it may have been politicians who made that promise, not Fedex. Lost in all of this is the basic economic principle that a business venture is supposed to produce its product at the lowest cost possible. It’s economically harmful to everyone when it intentionally raises its costs for political reasons.
That the other significant contributor to WNY jobs is the medical sector is ominous for all the same reasons. Medical care was already the most subsidized economic sector in human history before Bush and Obama subsidized it even more. It receives real subsidies, meaning direct cash payments from the government that represent about half of all U.S. health care spending. What happens when those subsidies run out?
Central economic planning doesn’t work. They found that out the hard way in the Soviet Union and China, where tens of millions literally starved to death because of it. Central Economic Planning Lite as practiced in this country doesn’t work, either. If tax breaks stimulate growth, they should simply be granted to all businesses, no strings attached. Then, the market will allow viable businesses to create permanent jobs.
Buffalo should try this approach and lead the nation in demonstrating the power of the free market, instead of following Washington to another disaster.
Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.