Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan is traveling her state plugging her new “Gateway to Work” initiative. According to the press release, the aim of the program is to “expand New Hampshire’s work force and close the opportunity gap.”

I’ve learned to be skeptical of government programs for a variety of reasons. The justifications for them tend to be weak and vague. The goals are rarely stated clearly and measurably, making it impossible to tell if they are working as promised. They tend to be expensive, poorly run, and ripe for fraud and abuse. They are invariably funded by confiscating money from one person and giving it to another. Not only is this morally troubling, it casts government in the roll of picking winners and losers, and is often flat out illegal (i.e. unconstitutional).

That’s not to say that no one was ever helped by a government program. But the bar should be awfully high to justify taking, by force, what one person has worked for and giving it to someone else who has not. That’s simply not the proper roll of government.

So I examine programs things with a healthy amount of skepticism. You need to prove to me that this is needed, that it will do what you say, and that it is a proper function of government.

There is not enough information in the press release to know whether Hassan’s program clears all these hurdles, but let’s look at what she says about it:

As we educate our young people and build the highly skilled workforce of the future, innovative businesses looking to grow here in New Hampshire need more workers now. We have an opportunity to better use the talent of our own people right here in New Hampshire, helping our businesses thrive while closing the opportunity gap for New Hampshire’s children and families.

This first thing that pops out at me is the term “opportunity gap.” That’s a pretty slippery term that doesn’t really mean much. I gather she’s referring to the fact that some people have more life opportunities than others. But it’s unclear whether that gap, which is largely an accident of birth, is fixable, or even measurable.

Nature denied me the natural talent to play in the NBA, and the keen eyesight to be a fighter pilot. But just because I don’t have those opportunities doesn’t mean I don’t have plenty of others. Between free public education and a host of existing government programs (not to mention charities and non-profit programs),  it’s hard to argue that there aren’t opportunities available to those willing to take advantage of them.

The next thing I note is Hassan’s claim that businesses in New Hampshire need more workers. This is an odd justification for a work-training program. The traditional justification for spending tax dollars on work-training programs is because unemployment is so high that we have to help people acquire the skills they need to find jobs. (From what I’ve seen, these programs have a terrible track record of helping people find jobs, but that’s how they are sold, nonetheless.)

This had me looking up New Hampshire’s unemployment rate, which is currently 2.9% , pretty low by historical standards. Given that, I’m just not seeing how we have a problem. If Hassan is right about businesses doing so well that they need more workers, the free market will solve that problem much more efficiently than government can. Businesses that have to compete for labor pay higher salaries. Higher salaries pull new workers into the area. Problem solved.

What else does Hassan have to say about her program?

Through Gateway to Work, we can provide more of the workers our businesses need to thrive. We can help give more of our families the opportunity to work their way to self-sufficiency and into the middle class.

This is a bit of a mess. If the goal is to provide more workers, but the unemployment rate is at historic lows, the only way to get more workers is to import them from somewhere else. As mentioned before, businesses will take care of that on their own, by offering higher salaries, and even offering training if the demand for labor is high enough. I know that a lot of this is taking place in my area.

This means not only will new workers come in to to fill the high salary jobs, but many of the existing workers will be able to step up as well. That will, in turn, create a demand for workers to fill their old positions, which means those salaries will also have to increase to draw new workers to them. The free market really does work, by sending price signals that hook up people and businesses much more efficiently than any politician could ever hope to.

It sounds to me like Hassan is playing at solving a problem that doesn’t exist. My guess is that she’s simply handing out “free” candy in hopes of picking up votes in her run for the Senate. Giving away other people’s money is a reliable vote getter.

Speaking of which, who is paying for Hassan’s “free” candy? Politicians rarely tell us that, but in this case Hassan pulls back the curtain:

And we will do so using only existing federal funds, while achieving long-term savings for taxpayers by moving people off of public assistance.

And there it is. She’s going to take money out of the pockets of Americans all across the country, to solve a local “problem” that doesn’t exist, all as a charade to buy votes to get herself elected to the Senate, where she will undoubtedly find more ways to rob Peter to pay Paul.

(As an aside, what are people doing on public assistance if there are employers who are in such desperate needs of workers?)

The thing that irks me as much as Hassan manipulating voters by pushing an unnecessary  and immoral program is the fact that it’s also unconstitutional — not that anyone pays heed to the highest law in the land anymore. Nowhere in the Constitution is the federal government granted the authority to confiscate taxpayer dollars from some citizens and give them to others.

James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution”, put it this way:

I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.

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