This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, which deregulated American freight…
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Happy 40th to the Staggers Rail Act, Which Deregulated and Saved the U.S. Rail Industry

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, which deregulated American freight rail and saved it from looming oblivion.

At the time of passage, the U.S. economy muddled along amid ongoing malaise, and our rail industry teetered due to decades of overly bureaucratic sclerosis.  Many other domestic U.S. industries had disappeared, and our railroads faced the same fate.  But by passing the Staggers Rail Act, Congress restored a deregulatory approach that in the 1980s allowed other U.S. industries to thrive.  No longer would government determine what services railroads could offer, their rates or their routes, instead restoring greater authority to the railroads themselves based upon cost-efficiency.

Today, U.S. rail flourishes even amid the coronavirus pandemic…[more]

October 13, 2020 • 11:09 PM

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Crony Capitalism Looms Large Over Pennsylvania Special Election to Replace John Murtha Print
By Ashton Ellis
Wednesday, April 28 2010
The people of the 12th district have been disserved by decades of crony capitalism, and their economic lives are about to change no matter who wins the May 18th special election.

As with any contested race, there are plenty of differences between Republican Tim Burns and Democrat Mark Critz, the two men vying to replace the late Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), in the May 18th special election.  For all the boilerplate disagreements, though, one issue has the potential to define not just the candidates, but their national parties as well: job creation. 

Specifically, the source of job creation.  To Beltway insiders, John Murtha was known as a member of the congressional version of the “college of cardinals” – a reference to his perch as a powerful subcommittee chairman on the House Appropriations Committee.  When these subcommittee chairmen speak, their colleagues listen.  In Murtha’s case, so did defense contractors.  As chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, Murtha funneled $2 billion to his Southwestern Pennsylvania district, directing funds to companies that set up shop in his hometown. 

Some might call that pork barrel spending.  But Murtha’s fellow residents of Johnstown, PA, could be forgiven if they viewed the ex-Marine and Nancy Pelosi confidante as a job creator.  Technically, he was responsible for wooing Concurrent Technologies Corporation and the National Drug Intelligence Center to locate near his hometown.  As of 2007, the companies employed 800 and 300 local workers, respectively. 

So, maybe that’s the dog whistle Murtha’s former staff member, Mark Critz, is trying to blow into the ears of 12th district voters.  Critz is running television and YouTube ads touting his experience as Murtha’s Director of Economic Development, a position it would be hard to interpret as much more than coordinating no-bid contracts to coincide with corporate relocations. 

But Critz’s line of attack is sharpening against his Republican opponent, Tim Burns, a self-made businessman who might be vulnerable on the job creation issue.  After starting a medical technology company in his basement, Burns sold his business for millions only to watch many of the 400 jobs he created be transported overseas by the new owners.  With polling data showing the race to be a toss-up, Critz could make headway if he starts strongly implying that private sector jobs are too illusory when compared to the stability offered by taxpayer-funded, congressman-directed “economic development.” 

That would put Tim Burns in a tough situation.  No politician wants to inform the working public that job creation in a free market responds to the same price signals that communicate good and bad opportunities for other actors.  If the price of doing business in Pittsburgh is more expensive than operating overseas, businesses will relocate.  Ironically, it’s the same incentive structure that made John Murtha the number one job creator in Johnstown.  Except that in Murtha’s case, he was responsible for both the supply and the demand. 

Of course, the problem with allowing politicians to impose contracts the military doesn’t want in areas where they otherwise wouldn’t be performed is that it corrupts the appropriations process, and by extension, the practice of taxation.  While government-generated job growth seems like the gift that keeps on giving, the 12th district’s employment largesse comes at the expense of every other American taxpayer.  And since Murtha-style earmarks are mostly only possible when an enterprising congressman wields a chairman’s gavel, Johnstown residents shouldn’t be surprised when the next “King of Pork” gets rent-seeking defense contractors to relocate to another district.

Not that Burns needs to denigrate major local employers to make the point that what Murtha termed “job creation” and Critz suggests is “economic development” is any more stable than a small business grown in a free market.  Instead, Burns should consider turning the Democrats’ public-private partnership model on its head, arguing that jobs will multiply when companies see the federal government cleaning up its regulations to be clearer, simpler and less hostile to wealth creation. 

Conservatives like Tim Burns owe their voters the truth about the damaging effects of market distorting government interventions.  The people of the 12th district have been disserved by decades of crony capitalism, and their economic lives are about to change no matter who wins the May 18th special election.  Critz lacks the power to keep the contractors near Johnstown, and Burns is unlikely to become the avatar of John Murtha.  In the final push towards Election Day, conservatives would be wise to help Burns test out a theme that will have national appeal come November: congressmen don’t create jobs – entrepreneurs do.   

Question of the Week   
Which one of the following was the first 20th century presidential candidate to call for a Presidential Debate?
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Quote of the Day   
 
"Wait until Scranton hears about this.One of Joe Biden's ways of contrasting himself with President Trump has been to declare the election a battle of Park Avenue values vs. Scranton, Pa., values.Now we learn that Biden has secretly been playing footsie with China.The statement Wednesday night asserting that the former vice president was a willing and eager participant in a family scheme to make millions…[more]
 
 
—Michael Goodwin, New York Post
— Michael Goodwin, New York Post
 
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