10 months ago

Treading water on economic freedom

Economic freedom means the ability of individuals and businesses to contract freely with each other. The Fraser Institute recently released its 2018 Economic Freedom of North America, which rates freedom in the states. Alabama’s economic freedom score remained virtually unchanged from 2017, ranking us 25th among the states.

The state freedom rankings have three equally weighted components, government spending, taxes, and labor market freedom, and complement Fraser’s ratings of the freedom of nations. The scores range from 0 to 10 (the most freedom), and states are graded on a curve for each of the various elements of policy.

Alabama’s score now stands at 6.22, vs. 6.25 in 2017. Florida has the top score in 2018 at 7.87, followed by New Hampshire and Texas; New York brought up the rear (at 3.90), with Kentucky and West Virginia next.

Alabama does best on taxes, thanks to our low income and property taxes, while we trail the national averages for spending and labor market regulation. This year, our score for labor market freedom improved, our spending score declined and taxes remained unchanged.

Economic freedom indices were developed in response to a challenge by economist Milton Friedman about better measuring all the ways government impacts the economy. They have allowed economists to more thoroughly investigate whether markets deliver the benefits promised by some economists. Dozens of studies now document that economic freedom yields higher standards of living, faster economic growth, higher incomes for the poor, and better environmental quality. The strongest results are found internationally, as freedom varies more between nations than across the U.S. states. Still, the states with the most economic freedom have more entrepreneurs and attract more new residents.

And yet in recent years cities and states have enacted or considered laws curtailing economic freedom. For example, three states and Washington, DC, now have $15 per hour minimum wages. Seattle nearly passed a $275 annual tax per employee on large employers, dubbed the Amazon tax. A November ballot proposal in California nearly lifted a 1995 state prohibition on municipal rent control laws. If economic freedom spurs prosperity so significantly, why are so many states embracing freedom-restricting policies?

A first factor, I think, is our now nearly decade-long recovery. People are more willing to share when they feel prosperous. We see this in charitable contributions, and I think it carries over to politics and, specifically, policies intended to help less fortunate Americans. Forcing Amazon and Starbucks to subsidize housing for low-income Seattle families seems like less of an imposition when the companies are earning profits.

Second, the costs of policies restricting economic freedom are often hard to see. Consider the minimum wage. Businesses employ fewer workers in low skilled jobs when the minimum wage rises. But the job losses rarely come in the form of pink slips immediately following an increase. Instead, businesses change their staffing as they typically do, through attrition. Workers never being hired can often go unnoticed.

Finally, the tendency of free-market economists like myself to exaggerate the costs of rent control or the minimum wage contributes. We often claim that ill-advised policies will wreck the economy. Economists have warned that President Trump’s tariffs on imports from China will likely trigger a “crippling” trade war.

Why economists resort to extremes makes sense. News organizations which use alarming headlines to get people to watch or click are more likely to report dire predictions. And perhaps sound bites can only communicate extreme warnings. But dire predictions combined with largely hidden costs make the economy appear impervious to price controls, taxes, and subsidies.

So perhaps it is good news that economic freedom remained basically unchanged in Alabama in 2018. We are largely resisting the temptation to indulge in well-meaning but costly government assistance during a strong economy. When the next recession inevitably occurs, times will be tougher for states not exercising restraint now.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University.

5 mins ago

Ivey to undergo outpatient procedure with ‘very high rate of success’ after cancer discovered early

Governor Kay Ivey on Thursday announced that she will undergo an outpatient procedure at UAB on Friday after a recent routine exam revealed she had spot on her lung.

After more testing, “a tiny, isolated malignancy” was confirmed, meaning the spot was indicative of cancer.

The procedure and subsequent radiation treatments are not expected to interfere with her duties as governor, Ivey said in a statement.

Ivey said “this was discovered early, and it is very treatable.”

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She added that the procedure “has a very high rate of success” and expressed great confidence in Alabama being “home to some of the world’s leading physicians.”

The governor welcomes prayers and support from around the state.

Ivey’s full statement as follows: 

Throughout my life, I am constantly reminded that I have so much for which to be thankful; God has been incredibly gracious to me.

One of the highest honors you have given me is serving as your governor.

Because I always shoot straight with you, I want to share a recent challenge that has been placed in front of me.

Within the past few weeks, during a routine exam, my longtime family physician discovered a spot on my lung that was unusual. Additional tests confirmed that this was, indeed, a tiny, isolated malignancy.

The good news is I am one of the fortunate ones where this was discovered early, and it is very treatable.

The better news is Alabama is home to some of the world’s leading physicians. My team of doctors have assured me this treatment has a very high rate of success and will have a minimal impact on my schedule.

Tomorrow morning, I will travel to UAB for an outpatient procedure, which will allow me to soon begin a series of specialized radiation treatments. None of this will prevent me from continuing to serve as your governor and doing the work you elected me to do.

Naturally, I welcome your prayers and your support. Just as so many others who have been affected by cancer, I am confident of God’s plan and purpose for my life and feel extremely fortunate this was caught so early.

May God continue to bless each of you and the great state of Alabama.

Update 2:30 p.m.:

The governor also released a video message to the public.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

34 mins ago

On this day in Alabama history: Alabama legislature ratified the 19th Amendment

Sept. 19, 1953

The fight for the right for women to vote officially ended in 1920 when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In Alabama, there was an active suffragist movement, led by the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association, but opposition by some Alabama groups resulted in the legislature not taking up the amendment, and after Tennessee signed on the issue was moot. Thirty-three years later, the legislature decided to “record its approval of extending the right of suffrage to women” and officially ratified the 19th Amendment. Although the Alabama Equal Suffrage Association dissolved in 1920, many of its leaders and members joined the newly founded League of Women Voters, which remains active today in Alabama elections.

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1 hour ago

Canfield elected chair of Alabama Commission on Artificial Intelligence, Waggoner vice-chair

The Alabama Commission on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Associated Technologies recently held its inaugural meeting, at which commission members elected Alabama Department of Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield as chairman and State Senator Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills) as vice-chairman.

The commission plans to schedule additional meetings over the next seven months, with all meetings being open to the public.

The members will deliver a report in May to Governor Kay Ivey and the Alabama Legislature, recommending strategies and policies on how AI and other emerging technologies will be of benefit to the Yellowhammer State’s economy.

In a statement on Thursday, Canfield explained the importance of the commission’s work.

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“Artificial intelligence is a powerful, disruptive technology that has the potential to forever change the way we live our lives and how businesses across Alabama operate,” he emphasized.

“It’s critical that we understand how AI will bring about these sweeping changes, and this Commission will help us develop insights into what the future has in store for Alabama’s citizens and businesses,” Canfield concluded.

Waggoner spearheaded the legislative resolution that formed the commission. His leadership has been, and continues to be instrumental, in this process. The powerful chair of the Senate Rules Committee identified the goal of Alabama being on the cutting edge of AI research and job creation in the technology sector.

“We want Alabama to be a leader in AI research, innovation, technology start-ups, and technology jobs,” Waggoner stated. We believe that we are competitive with other states.”

He continued, “The Commission will look at how Alabama is positioned and ready for the opportunities of tomorrow. Those are some of the issues and questions this Commission is going to answer. We will meet with key business groups and different industry sectors to understand the impact of AI and automation on their industries.”

According to Waggoner, the commission will also examine how schools and universities can develop AI-educational programs, and investigate what privacy safeguards might be needed to protect consumers.

“We want Alabama’s education system in a place where we can equip students with AI-relevant skills through engineering and technology classes and apprenticeship programs,” he added. “As we promote innovation and educational readiness, we must also protect the privacy rights of citizens, and examine whether existing state laws are effective in regulating these emerging technologies. There’s a lot of work ahead.”

The commission will be divided up into five sub-committees, focused on the following:

  • state regulations, government oversight, and potential legislative action;
  • education and workforce development;
  • healthcare and medical services;
  • future and evolving industries, economic development, and research;
  • ethics, privacy and security.

The subcommittees will begin their work in mid-October.

State Senator Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook) was appointed to the commission by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston). Roberts came away from the body’s initial meeting impressed at the experience and expertise of its membership.

“Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning are very complex subjects. Thankfully, I think we have some of the finest minds in our state working on this project. The sub committees that have been established will allow every person on the commission to hone in on their particular areas of expertise,” Roberts outlined.

The 25 members of the commission are as follows:

Greg Canfield – Secretary of Commerce (chairman)

Marty Redden – Acting secretary of the Alabama Office of Information Technology

Ivey’s appointees:

1. Dr. Hari Narayanan— Auburn

2. Dr. Gerry Dozier— Auburn

3. Dr. Jeff Carver – UA (Tuscaloosa)

4. Dr. Curt Carver – UAB

5. Dr. Alec Yasinac – USA

6. Dr. John Beck – UAH

7. Dr. James Cimino – UAB

8. Melvin Evans – Hand Arendall

9. Jim McLane – NaphCare

10. Jacob Kosoff – Regions Bank

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth’s appointees:

Joshua Jones – StrategyWise

Dr. Vicki Karolewics – Wallace State Community College

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon’s appointees:

Rep. Kirk Hatcher

Rep. Craig Lipscomb

Marsh’ appointees:

Sen. Jabo Waggoner (Vice-chair)

Sen. Dan Roberts

Non-Voting members appointed by the governor:

J. Michael Hardin – Provost & vice president at Samford University

John Brandt – Southern Company

Leonard Tillman – Balch & Bingham

Mike Rowell – Senior VP & CIO at ALFA Insurance

James Mizell – Senior account executive at Microsoft

Jason Asbury – NXTsoft

Dr. Syed Raza – Jefferson State Community College

An Alabama CEO, also a commission member, said artificial intelligence is on the cusp of transforming every industry.

“Artificial intelligence is rapidly changing every industry, and it is incredibly important for us as a state to think strategically about what that means to our economy,” advised Joshua Jones, CEO of Birmingham-based StrategyWise, an AI and data science consulting firm.

He concluded, “I applaud Senator Waggoner and Secretary Canfield for leading Alabama to be one of the first states to really address these opportunities and changing dynamics systematically. It sends a message to the rest of the U.S. that Alabama is serious about investing in our future, and we’re growing our tech-based ecosystem. For companies that want to leverage all that AI has to offer, we’re going to be prepared with a trained workforce, accommodating public policy, and a strong tech infrastructure.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling open to Tennessee River toll bridge — If that moves freight, freight companies, truckers ‘would just be thrilled to do it’

For decades, traffic headed west from Huntsville and other points toward the Shoals has relied upon the Captain William J. Hudson “Steamboat Bill” Memorial Bridges to cross the Tennessee River into Decatur. Once traffic crosses that bridge, it either heads south on U.S. Highway 31 toward Hartselle and Cullman, or it makes a hard-right 90-degree turn on to U.S. Highway Alternate 72 and heads toward Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia and Sheffield.

As the manufacturing base in northern Alabama expands, freight traffic is expected to increase at that intersection and make the turn west even more precarious for commuters and commercial traffic.

During an appearance on Huntsville radio’s WVNN on Wednesday, Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling discussed that spot and possible solutions for the future, which could include a tolling component.

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“If you were to go now and sit in the Doubletree Hotel, which is where you’re talking about there where you make that turn to go to the Shoals, and just look at the amount of freight that comes in out of Memphis — Memphis is the distribution hub for America,” Bowling said on Wednesday’s broadcast of “The Jeff Poor Show.” “And that freight that comes out of Memphis, straight down [U.S. Highway Alternate] 72, and then it makes its way across our bridge and goes various routes from there — into Huntsville, Madison, Athens, gets on [Interstate] 65, has different directions it can go from there. But whenever we start producing a thousand cars a day, we have 4,000 employees plus the tiered suppliers who will be there. The amount of freight that will come in to take care of that I believe is going to double.”

Bowling noted the situation at the Hyundai facility near Montgomery as a sign of what is to come and commended Gov. Kay Ivey for the commitment to widen the existing Interstate 565 that connects Decatur and Huntsville.

“We visited the Hyundai facility manufacturing a thousand cars a day just south of Montgomery — just-in-time deliveries: batteries, tires, things of that nature — they receive a truck a minute,” he continued. “You think widening [Interstate] 565 is important? Heck yeah, it’s important. We’re thankful Gov. Ivey is going to get that done for us in the Spring of 2020.”

The Decatur mayor said the completion of a nearby overpass for Alabama Highway 20 remains his current top priority.  Once that is completed, Bowling said exploring the possibility of an alternate route over the Tennessee River would be appropriate.

“We’re working on an overpass on [Alabama] Highway 20 where Apple Lane Farms is,” he said. “That’s Decatur, and that’s a build grant that we received for $14 million from the Federal Highway Department. We’re very thankful for that. A lot of people made that happen. Once that project gets going, then we’ll start working on the other. But we want to be sure we do everything to make sure that project gets going first.”

As for the possibility of using tolls to finance a new bridge, Bowling said he expected that those moving freight would be “thrilled” if it expedited transit and that if it would improve commuter traffic on existing structures, it could be a possibility.

“If that moves freight, I would believe that the freight companies, the truckers would just be thrilled to do it,” Bowling explained. “If we were to take the trucks off of the [U.S.] Highway 31 bridges, I believe that our commuter traffic — it would be a lot easier to make that commute. And so, we’ll see what we can do. We’ll come up with a traffic plan. We’ll do traffic counts. Things to prove it out.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

3 hours ago

Patriot Flag to be displayed in Mobile on Thursday to honor fallen American heroes

The Patriot Flag will be displayed at the USS Alabama in Mobile on Thursday, September 19.

According to WALA Fox 10, the flag is currently on a national tour intended to honor and thank fallen American men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation’s freedom and safety.

Measuring 28 by 60.5 feet and weighing 50 pounds, the Patriot Flag’s nationwide journey began on the 15th Anniversary of 9/11 when the flag was displayed at all three locations that were attacked by radical Islamic terrorists. The tour will end in 2021, on the 20th anniversary of the attacks.

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On Thursday, the flag will be unfurled at 3:00 p.m. at Battleship Memorial Park. Mobile Fire-Rescue firefighters will assist.

You can read more about the tour and see photos from previous stops here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn