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Post hoc or propter hoc? Public union malfeasance meets academic pusillanimity

A couple of days ago, in a column called "Phony Cuts/Real Taxes," I reproduced here a chart from Connecticut's Yankee Institute for Public Policy that contrasted the growth of the state's population for the last several decades -- only a tiny uptick -- with the growth of state expenditures: Yes, that's right, it's up, up, up and away! The increase is prodigious all along, but it really gets going after the "temporary" (ha, ha) state income tax came on line in 1991.

Those politicians: they're such cards. When it comes to taxes or other devices to convert the meum of individual wealth to the tuum of state appropriation, "temporary" always means "permanent." Did I mention, by the way, two facts about Connecticut? 1. It has the highest per-capita indebtedness of any state in the union. 2) Every statewide office in Connecticut is held by a Democrat. All of them. In 2008, the pseudo-Republican Christopher Shays -- the last Republican Congressman in New England -- said sayonara; in 2010, the rest of the offices went blue. (Bonus question: what happened to New England? Most of it used to be staunchly Republican. Now most of it is deep blue, and even more deeply in debt.)

Is there a connection here? Here's a hand-dandy chart, originally from Moody's, reproduced by CNN that tells the story.

(Click on the link for a version in which you can mouse over to see just how much you owe.) So it's states like Connecticut (your share: $4859), Massachusetts, New York, California, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, and Hawaii on one end of the spectrum and Wyoming, South Dakota, Texas, Nebraska (your share: $15), and Iowa at the other end. What are some differences between the two groups? Oh, right, states in the former group are overwhelmingly, some are exclusively, Democratic, the latter are heavily Republican. Is that an accident? Is the political complexion of a state irrelevant to its fiscal health? What do you think?

While you are pondering that, here's another post-hoc-or-propter-hoc quandary. After "Phony Cuts/Real Taxes" was posted, I heard from Andy Cowin, Chairman of the Yankee Institute, who sent me a remarkable op-ed he had published a few weeks before in The Wall Street Journal. It's entitled "Unions Try to Silence a Think Tank." (The link, I regret to inform you, presents not the full article, but only an opportunity to pay for the full article, which, let me hasten to add, is worth doing.) In his op-ed, Mr. Cowin describes how public-sector union leaders in Connecticut had filed a complaint -- what he aptly characterized as "a bizarre complaint" -- against the Yankee Institute. Their tort? "That the Yankee Institute is critical of Union practices and that our funders share the same view."

Heaven forfend! A think tank that is critical of entities that have systematically plundered their state's treasuries, defrauded taxpayers, and pushed many states to the brink of bankruptcy? How unfair!

What a bill of particulars the unions brought to bear against the Yankee Institute:

Item: that it is "funded in part by, and connected to, such 'think tanks' as The Heritage Foundation, and the Cato Institute and by billionaires such as the Koch brothers."

Wow! So, the Yankee Institute has some connection to two of the most creative and prestigious think tanks in the country. Miching Mallecho, as Hamlet put it: it means mischief, what? Alas for the Yankee Institute, the bit about the Koch brothers was pure fantasy on the part of the union leaders: much as Mr. Cowin might wish that they would take an interest in the Yankee Institute, as of his writing they had not. I hope they will now.

Mr. Cowin asks the obvious question: "Why would the fact that we associate with like-minded people and institutions be of interest to a law-enforcement official?"

Why, indeed -- unless of course you are someone who believes that (though of course you loudly champion "diversity") there is only one legitimate point of view about any contentious subject.

The complaint goes on to charge that the Yankee Institute has been critical of collective bargaining in public-sector unions -- Guilty as charged, Kemo Sabe! But then even FDR, even George Meany, head of the AFL-CIO, was against collective bargaining for public unions.

The complaint further charges that individuals at the Yankee Institute hacked into the state computer system. Yankee denied the charge and asked for proof or an apology from the unions. They got neither, but they were just exonerated by the Connecticut Attorney General, who determined that the state computer system was not improperly accessed and so closed the investigation.

But the story wasn't over, not quite. For although the Yankee Institute was completely cleared of any wrong doing, Mr. Cowin's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal had been of declaration of politically incorrect sentiment. Clearly, that could not go unanswered. Just a week or so after Mr. Cowin's article appeared, officials at Hartford's Trinity College, where the Yankee Institute has had office space for several years, announced that they would not be renewing the Institute's lease. Paul Mutone, Trinity's vice president for finance and operations, said that the decision give Yankee the boot "had nothing to do" with Yankee's criticism of public sector unions or the controversy it generated. "This was a non-Trinity function in Trinity space," he said, "and Trinity needs more space."

What do you think? Post hoc or propter hoc? Was it merely a coincidence that the Yankee Institute publicly criticizes one of the most politically powerful groups in the state and then, a couple weeks later, finds itself kicked out of its 800-square-foot college apartment? Trinity College occupies a hundred-acre campus in Hartford. It maintains scores of buildings. Is there really no space at all for a distinguished public policy think tank? "There just isn't any," quoth Mutone. I wonder. I smell a rat. Are there any Trinity alumni among my readers? I hope you'll ponder this story when you get your next appeal for funds from your Alma Mater. I know I'd think twice before giving them a penny. No, wait a minute: that's not right: I wouldn't have to think twice: I know straight off that I would never give them a cent, and I'd encourage you to do likewise.