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Less, not more govt will overcome LA migration problem

Recently released census numbers only underscore the outmigration problem Louisiana has faced for many years, and add fuel to the fire for those who have argued for policy change to stem this tide. Unfortunately, the solutions offered typically range from the minimal to ineffective and ignore what really must be done.

It seems that Louisiana continues to be near zero population growth, courtesy of more emigration than immigration with births exceeding deaths taking up the slack. More worrisome is that a significant proportion of the migrants away are the prime productive – and therefore biggest taxpaying contributoring – citizenry, where well over half, or about twice the Louisiana average, had attended college and about a quarter made over $50,000 annually.

But some recommendations to deal with this rest upon the erroneous idea that government somehow has to prime the pump. For example, we get from the Council for A Better Louisiana the notion that government has to fund “research alliances,” even though that has been tried – and produced next to nothing – in most instances. Or also offered is appears-good but useless legislation such as attempting to bribe people to stay in the state by the state funding in part a down payment on a house – not understanding that a short-term incentive does not address the long-term disincentives present in the state.

In part, these ideas do little because they fundamentally misunderstand the nature of human economic activity and place too much faith in government to replicate the voluntary, beneficial exchanges promoted by free markets. The philosophy on which these public policy solutions need be built is neither novel nor complicated and best may be summarized by Edmund Burke’s quote, “To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.” In other words, if conditions that cause people to flee are mitigated, fewer of them will leave, and if they especially target the prime productive citizens, so much the better.

At least Gov. Bobby Jindal seems to understand what to do here, for the most part. He correctly noted that ethics reform he took the lead on will bring greater confidence in government to the citizenry that their tax dollars would not be wasted or misdirected. To a lesser extent workforce changes also will help although this is more of an attempt to realign resources than create incentives to generate new ones. But Jindal did not mention the most prominent successful such effort at beautification, this year’s tax cuts disproportionately directed at the most productive citizens, probably because he only belatedly jumped on board in support.

The latter, combined with restructuring of state spending that either will allow the state to do more with what it has or to make itself smaller and do the same, is what really will make a difference. The more government is gotten out of people’s way and the fewer resources it takes from them, the more attractive the state becomes for those who wish to pursue their passions for excellence. A state that taxes too much, regulates too much, misdirects resources to trivial pursuits relative to needs, allows politics to interfere too much with administration, and sees as its primary mission spreading the wealth is the state that will drive away those it precisely tries to attract.

Regrettably, the Louisiana of the recent past fit this description. Some, and in fact a growing number, like Jindal are trying to change it. But until we rid ourselves of the peculiar notion that it is more government and government itself, not the people, who create wealth, that kind of policy will deter those most capable of contributing to society through their marketplace activities from residing in the state, and the migration problem will continue apace.

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