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For Free State pols, seemingly harsh policies are for the best

Last modified: 11/8/2014 1:14:09 AM
As a man who owns thousands of books does, state Rep. Dan McGuire refers to an economics text to provide an example of the way he says noble-seeming government policies end up devastating the people they were meant to help.

Here’s the scenario: A hoodlum throws a brick through a baker’s window. A crowd forms and an optimist reasons, “At least this is business for the window maker,” who will then spend his newly acquired $100 patronizing other businesses, and the economy flourishes. But what that fails to consider is that the baker was planning to use that $100 to buy a new suit. At the end of the day, because of the hoodlum, the world has just a window – not a window and a suit.

McGuire said this fallacy – focusing on the immediate, “the seen,” without considering the consequences to a third party or the long-term effects, “the unseen” – is common in government.

McGuire was elected to his third term in the State House on Tuesday, as a Republican in Merrimack County’s 21st district, covering Epsom and Pittsfield. Carol McGuire, Dan’s wife, was elected to her fourth term in the State House on Tuesday. She represents the floterial district 29, which covers Allenstown, Epsom and Pittsfield.

The couple are both engineers and graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They became two of the first 50 people to follow through on the Free State Project pledge when they moved to New Hampshire about 10 years ago. Neither is originally from the state.

Dan is more talkative than Carol, but he notes that she’s always led the way when it comes to the vote count.

“We have a consistent political philosophy, which is more freedom is better and that government tends to cause more harm than good, sometimes with the best intentions,” he said.

Increasing the minimum wage is an example of a concept based in fallacy, Dan said. “The seen” is that a few people working at minimum wage will get a raise; “the unseen” is that, on the macro scale, “you’re putting the low-wage worker out of business.”

He said a teenager or unskilled worker’s productivity might only be worth $5 an hour. With employment, they can make themselves more valuable by increasing their skills.

But with an $8 minimum wage, an employee with $5 per hour of skills loses, he said.

“You’re saying, ‘Sorry, you can’t have a job. Not until you’re worth $8 an hour can you get a job.’ And that’s the problem, because that teenager or unskilled worker has no chance of starting out in a job and bettering themselves,” he said. “That’s why teenage unemployment is the highest it’s ever been.”

Carol said the minimum wage isn’t intended to be a living wage, but rather “a starting wage so you can show you’re good.”

If the minimum wage were increased, “There are a very small number of people who are right on the edge of being more productive, and they keep their job and get a raise, but that’s not going to be a lot of people,” Carol said.

It’s a policy that on its surface may seem callous to low-wage workers, and some people can’t get past that. Carol said she gets along fine with her neighbor at the State House and has worked with her on a number of issues, but this one was a non-starter for her.

“She knows nothing about economics, she absolutely refused to accept that some people do not get hired because of the minimum wage and her only thought is ‘My cousin is making minimum wage and doesn’t have enough to live on’,” she said.

The McGuires understand their policies take some explaining. Dan knows that the University of New Hampshire was the least-funded state university in the country, yet he counts the 50 percent budget cut to the system in 2011 among his accomplishments. He said it’s unfair for people not attending the university, or attending private universities, to subsidize students and faculty at UNH; that the students and faculty there are for the most part healthy adults, whereas other taxpayer dollars are directed to the indigent, the sick, the mentally ill.

He said he’d prefer to see the state colleges become privatized. As for the state’s responsibility to offer a low-cost alternative and hopefully keep young people in the state, he said it’s better off supporting affordable community colleges, “which we didn’t cut the way we did the others” or give subsidies directly to students who don’t have the means, if they go to college in the state.

If people don’t buy into their policies, Dan said, “it’s our fault for not explaining it well enough. We have to get better at expressing ourselves, getting our message out.”

Dan said it’s a problem that “people look at the state budget as though it’s the product of Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy or something.”

“The money doesn’t just appear into government. It comes from people who are productive,” he said. “The fact that you’re taxing them makes it hard for the economy to work. It’s like grit in the gears of economy.”

He said some legislators feel accomplished simply by voting for something that feels good, but they don’t “see the harm you did on the other side.”

“It’s ‘the seen’ versus ‘the unseen.’ You help the glass guy but you hurt the tailor. It happens over and over and over again in government. ‘I helped UNH, but I took that money from all kinds of other people,’ ” he said. “It’s just something that you have to explain.”

Dan was born in Arizona and grew up in California. Carol was born and raised in Connecticut. They met in college in Boston and most recently lived on the Oregon-Washington border. That’s where Dan was one day when he learned about the Free State Project, early on in the movement, before the group even decided on New Hampshire as the destination to which 20,000 liberty-loving pledgers will move within five years of receiving the 20,000th pledge. Currently, about 16,000 people have signed on. McGuire said the movement is going slower than he and Carol would have liked, but close to 2,000 people have already moved to the state.

Some have argued that the Free Staters don’t care about New Hampshire, that it’s just a place that has a low population and some existing libertarian ideals that make it easy for takeover.

“We don’t look at the Free State Project in that way at all,” Dan said. It “exists only outside of New Hampshire. It’s a way to attract like-minded people to New Hampshire. Once you get here, you’re on your own as to how your political impulse will manifest itself.”

“There’s a large variety. There’s people like us that set their sights on the Legislature. There’s other people that are happy in their own towns. There’s other people like the guys in Keene that feed parking meters and don’t want to get near the voting booth,” he said.

“It’s not a political party. It’s at best a social thing,” Dan said, noting that the number of Free Staters will still pale compared with the number of residents after the move. “Really, nothing’s going to happen that people in New Hampshire don’t want to happen.”

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325 or nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickBReid.).


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